Episode 184. Great Wyrm (1)

The riders were finally able to shake off the burdens involved with crossing enemy lines once they traversed the Noctein and Griffindor Kingdoms.

The subsequent journey proved much easier. The central kingdoms had no axes to grind with the Adenburg Kingdom, and they viewed the Adenburg royal family in a positive light for deciding to actively send troops to alleviate the current crisis.

For these kingdoms, these few riders were a symbol of friendship.

Perhaps because of this, they actively supported the party.

They willingly dispatched their own cavalry to track down the drake, allowing Clark and the riders to rest and recover from the fatigue of chasing the monster. They even offered to guide the riders to their objective once they finished recovering.

Offering replacement horses for their exhausted mounts was just the cherry on top.

After a month of hard riding, Goldrake and the riders, led by Clark, finally reached the Holy Kingdom of Astoria.

It was around this time that Goldrake finally took a break after continuing to run nonstop.

Snore.

Clark and the riders dismounted and flopped down when they saw the monster snoring on the ground.

“Ugh. I think I’m going to die.”

Even though they received help during the process, it was unreasonable to expect fatigue accumulated over a month of traversing the eastern and central kingdoms to dissipate easily. The men held their backs and hips as they continued to groan.

“Hm?”

The white-robed priests of the Holy Kingdom helped them to their feet.

“Brothers from the east, welcome to Astoria.”

The priests appeared as though they had been waiting for the riders’ arrival, and they immediately used their holy energy on the exhausted cavalry.

Whoosh.

The party’s fatigue quickly dissipated as they were touched by the sacred light.

“We of the central kingdoms are truly grateful for Adenburg’s decision.”

Julian’s eyes narrowed at the sight of the extraordinary-looking leader of the priests.

Regardless of their status as the first volunteer forces from the eastern kingdoms, the hospitality offered to an advance force consisting of an apprentice knight and a group of ordinary cavalry seemed excessive.

Perhaps it’s for diplomatic propaganda purposes?

There was no way of knowing, as they had only just arrived in this kingdom.

However, Julian’s prediction that it would take time for them to discern the Holy Kingdom’s ulterior motives proved incorrect. The leader of the priests present unexpectedly mentioned the reason.

“If you’re the family of the Indomitable Duke, then you’re brothers of our kingdom.”

The riders quickly gathered at the unexpected mention of their lord.

“Is our lord safe?”

“Where is our lord?”

The mere mention of his name caused a commotion.

After all, these riders had traveled without rest for a month out of concern for their missing lord. Having finally received a clue to his whereabouts, it was natural for them to be excited.

The old priest, after a brief moment of surprise, quickly smiled as he realized the reason behind their excitement.

“The Indomitable Duke is safe and sound. We just don’t happen to know where he is at the moment.”

Julian carefully looked at the old priest’s expression and grew convinced.

The priests’ hospitality was not just because the riders were a symbol of the central and eastern kingdoms’ friendship. It was more because of their favor towards the Indomitable Duke himself, and because they were his subordinates.

If that had not been the case, the old priest’s expression would not have been so bright whenever he mentioned their lord.

What in the world did you do here?

Julian let out a sigh as she thought about her lord, who had the propensity to cause an accident(?) whenever he left his territory of Rheinperle.

Goldrake did not wake up for a while, as it seemed the drake was intent on relieving all of its accumulated fatigue.

“Leave the faithful drake to us, and please go recover at the temple.”

The riders felt relief from their physical fatigue thanks to the sacred energy of the priests, but their mental exhaustion remained. There was no reason to reject the old priest’s offer.

“Then I’ll leave the drake to you.”

Clark glanced at the drake, still deep in slumber, before leading his party and following the priest’s guidance.

“Ah…”

The temple they arrived at was completely different from their expectations.

There were no signs of saintly priests kneeling and praying in reverence.

“Ack!”

“Hold tight! Fix the restraints!”

“Priest! Over here!”

The screams of individuals thrashing in pain and the grimacing priests desperately holding them down were more reminiscent of a battlefield.

“Those people…”

“They’re survivors from the western kingdoms. They have been driven to madness after exposure and addiction to demonic energy.”

They heard stories about the effects of overexposure to demonic energy during their journey to Astoria. However, the reality was far more shocking than the rumors.

The patients addicted to demonic energy were not simply insane like they imagined.

Their dark-red blood vessels bulged hideously, and the whites and blacks of their eyes had flipped, giving the appearance of something inhuman. Their groans and screams were ominous like those of the dead.

“Damned priests! Damned bastards!”

“Curse you! Curse you!”

The addicted swore at the priests while openly displaying their hostility. There was not the slightest bit of gratitude towards the priests putting their lives on the line for their treatment.

“Ah…”

Though the eastern kingdoms were less pious than the central lands, where Astoria was located, the riders had never seen treatment of priests like this in their homeland.

The patients treated the priests like their mortal enemies.

Nod.

It would not be strange to wonder about the group of people suddenly visiting the temple, but the priests gave a quick nod of acknowledgement before returning to their work.

Likewise, the old priest did not bother introducing them, as he offered an excuse instead.

“The patients cut their restraints and flee at the slightest chance, so I hope you understand that they are unable to look away for even a moment.”

The riders thought it was strange the soldiers posted in the temple faced inwards, and it was clear they were mindful of any escapees.

But for some reason, most of these guards were gathered towards the west.

Thinking it was strange, Julian inquired about the situation, and the priest responded in a sad expression.

“Once the demonic energy permeates into one’s bone marrow, the patient is no longer able to live without it. They show few symptoms while living in a land full of the ominous energy, but withdrawal symptoms occur the moment they leave. When that happens, they begin to search out the demonic energy themselves.”

The old priest sighed deeply as he faced the west.

“Those addiction symptoms are why the horrendous situation in the west remained unknown to the public for so long.”

This world lacked the freedom of movement and residence offered in the other world, and there were even fewer people visiting the more desolate lands of the west. So long as the native people did not directly do so, it was difficult for outsiders to gain insight into the situation in the west.

“But there should still be people coming and going…”

“There are merchants occasionally traveling between the central and western kingdoms, but they aren’t free from the demonic energy’s influence either. By the time they noticed something was wrong, it would have been too late.”

Hearing the priest’s words, Julian once again looked at the addicts and asked.

“Then how did those people come all the way here?”

Even at first glance, these individuals were completely addicted to demonic energy. There was no way such people would have voluntarily left the west and come to the temples of Astoria.

“The Indomitable Duke and the griffin riders rescued them all.”

Julian and the riders stared in amazement.

“In Astoria, at least, he is better known as a savior than for his combat prowess.

This guy...

Clark gave a disbelieving look. It was ridiculous for his lord to come all this way to play the part of the hero.

However, he simultaneously smiled with indelible pride and respect. The other members of his party had the same expressions on their faces.

“Ahem.”

Belatedly noticing their bright smiles, the riders cleared their throats and tried to be stoic. They did not feel the need to act out of line in a place where priests and addicts desperately struggled against each other.

“You can be proud. The Indomitable Duke more than deserves it.”

Clark forcibly held back his grin as he asked.

“But I didn’t hear any of that on the way here. Her Majesty is quite worried about the Indomitable Duke…”

“It hasn’t been long since he came here with them. By now, the central temple should have sent magical communications to your kingdom reporting on the most recent events.”

The old priest guided the party further into the temple, saying that there was much to talk about.

Goldrake woke from its slumber three days after Julian’s party arrived at the temple.

Growl.

The drake raised its head and stared at the western sky before beginning to move. It was at a relaxed pace unlike before, but its movements were impactful, like those of a warrior before battle.

Thud. Thud.

Julian’s party followed close behind the monster showing off its presence as it headed west. They were joined by a hundred mace-wielding Templar Knights in their white armor, as well as thirty priests in their neat robes.

They were not the only ones joining the party.

They were surrounded by an escort of 3,000 holy warriors, veteran fighters recognized for their strong faith and the pride of Astoria.

The force headed west to the lands dense with demonic energy.

When they finally reached the beginning of this ominous energy, a pillar of holy light rose up from the western sky as though it had been awaiting their approach.

“It must be the signal mentioned by the Indomitable Duke!”

Ishmael, the old priest leading his kind, shouted out. Goldrake, having paused before the onset of demonic energy, roared fiercely.

Roar!

With this roar, the golden beast began to advance into the cursed land with pounding footsteps.

“Let’s go!”

Before Ishmael could even finish his words, the Templar Knights, priests, and warriors began to move.

“God’s grace will bless all of the world!”

The tendrils of demonic energy moving towards the army recoiled, pushed back by the priests’ clear, powerful chants. It looked as though the black waves were parting in front of them.

“All things are insignificant before God!”

They continued on.

“The light is disappearing!”

The Templar Knights and holy warriors had been closely listening to the priests’ chants to protect themselves from the dark aura around them, but they hastened their progress when they heard the cry.

However, the light completely disappeared before they could reach it.

In its place, a massive being raised its neck high into the sky.

Roar!

The monster was so large its size could not be discerned even from this distance. When it roared, Goldrake responded in turn. Their fierce and threatening vocalizations were surprisingly similar to each other.

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