Episode 194. Gardeners of the Forest (4)

“What?”

Najima’s smile was bright and innocent as the elf said she found a solution. This made Seon-Hyeok even more uneasy.

After all, he had already witnessed the fragmented and extreme views of the Qeishas the previous day.

The Qeisha pursed her lips and whistled. It was such a soft sound that he might not have heard if he was not paying attention, but small footsteps could be heard outside his window in response.

Tap.

A new Qeisha entered through the window. With that, the elf reached for her hood, as if doing something completely natural.

It was at this moment Seon-Hyeok realized what the relentless Qeishas planned, and he desperately tried to stop them.

“Stop! I said stop! Don’t do that!”

His words were not enough to soothe his anxiety, and as such, he rushed forward to grab the Qeisha’s hands. The Qeisha’s eyes grew wide as she was about to remove her mask.

She seemed surprised by his sudden behavior.

“Wait, is that what you’re thinking? That I don’t like you personally, so you should bring another of your tribe? Is that it?”

Najima, now masked once again, tilted her head in confusion as she asked.

“Were we wrong?”

Naturally, Seon-Hyeok drew a firm line.

“Yes. You have the completely wrong idea.”

He had not yet accepted their request, and he could not keep accepting advance payments. It was even more burdensome knowing that these advances were in the form of living beings.

“Send her away first, and let’s continue discussing this.”

The ends of Najima’s eyes noticeably drooped in disappointment, but the Qeisha did not reject his suggestion. Given a look, the second Qeisha quietly disappeared out the window.

Whoosh.

When the second elf disappeared, Najima revealed her face once again. She was visibly depressed.

“Phew.”

Seon-Hyeok felt as though he had done something terrible as he watched her sullen expression.

“Najima. I’m going to tell you my perspective, so listen carefully.”

But instead of placating her, Seon-Hyeok chose to explain his position first. In doing so, he hoped this bothersome fairy and her kind would not cause additional problems.

“Ah…”

He revealed that he had a spouse, and that he had to be considerate as to not damage the authority of her position. Likewise, he explained that though he came to the west for personal reasons, he was now officially in charge of the expedition force here and was no longer able to accept such requests on a whim.

Najima was deep in thought for a while after Seon-Hyeok gave his reasoning. She tilted her head in confusion as she replied.

“There’s a contradiction in what you’re saying.”

It was not arguing for the sake of arguing, but genuine confusion.

“What do you mean?”

She was not the only one having difficulties following the conversation. When Seon-Hyeok blurted out his question, the Qeisha looked straight at his eyes as she answered.

“You’re already the dragon’s companion.”

He was left speechless by her unexpected response.

“Are you going to stand up for your spouse’s position and authority when that time comes?”

Najima was suggesting that his current spouse’s authority was meaningless in front of the dragon’s solemn existence.

Seon-Hyeok could read her unspoken intentions through the look she gave him, and he struggled to find a rebuttal.

“The dragon’s different.”

The excuse he finally settled on after some thought felt lame, even to himself.

“Is that because dragons are different from humans?”

Seon-Hyeok’s eyes narrowed as he clearly realized what Najima wanted to get at.

“Then that’s also the case for me. My kind are descended from spirits, and we’re clearly different from humans.”

As expected, she tried to persuade him using her race as justification. However, just because his relationships with the dragon and Ophelia were not clearly delineated, it did not mean that the same had to apply to this fairy.

“The dragon is an inseparable existence from me, and likewise, regardless of how we started, my spouse is now also a special person to me. Najima, you are not like them.”

It could sound cold, but Seon-Hyeok needed to draw a firm line at this point.

He was with the dragon out of necessity and Ophelia because he wanted to. It was incomparable to the current situation with the fairy in front of him.

“You are neither special nor important to me.”

Najima was a stranger he did not know until just a few days earlier. Same race or not, there was no reason for him to listen to her arguments and be together.

“I understand what you’re saying. Your explanation is reasonable.”

Seon-Hyeok imagined the Qeisha would be stubborn, but contrary to his expectations, Najima readily accepted his explanation. In fact, she did not even seem hurt by his cold tone.

“I’m nothing to you ‘yet’.”

Somehow, the word ‘yet’ felt ominous.

“And so, I will do my best to become a special person to you in the future.”

Seon-Hyeok sighed when he saw Najima express her determination.

Najima left, and she returned as soon as the day dawned the following day.

“The longer we spend together, the more memories we will share with each other. Those memories will make our relationship special.”

Seon-Hyeok was at a loss for words.

The Qeisha’s face was covered in her mask, but somehow, he could imagine Najima cheerily smiling behind it. He could feel the onset of a headache because of this stubborn fairy.

“See! I knew it! I knew she’d be pretty!”

Seon-Hyeok’s headache grew at the warrior’s loud complaints.

“You can only see her eyes, so how do you know that?”

“You can tell a beauty just by her eyes.”

Hearing this shameless response, he decided to ignore the troublesome pair.

However, this did not prove to be easy.

It was easy enough ignoring the talkative and noisy warrior, but less so ignoring the determined Qeisha following him.

“I just want to see what you’re seeing. It will help me understand you better.”

Clark and the others were startled when Najima casually said such words. They sounded like a profession of her love.

“M, my lord. What is this lady saying?”

“If I didn’t hear incorrectly...”

It could be embarrassing, but Najima ignored the others. Her eyes, which slanted up warmly whenever she addressed Seon-Hyeok, remained emotionless when dealing with the others.

Geheimnis explained that this was also characteristic of the Qeishas, and that they only truly open up to their eternal partners.

“Ugh. I don’t know anymore.”

Seon-Hyeok simply hoped the mage responsible for communications would quickly recover so that he could check the message from Adenburg as soon as possible.

***

There was a saying that the passage of time continues, regardless of what else happens.

Around the time Seon-Hyeok grew insensitive to Najima’s presence, the mage managed to recover from his previous exhaustion.

Without delay, he immediately contacted Granado, and as expected, he received a magical message from Adenburg.

‘To the Indomitable Duke. Holy War expedition force of 120 headed to the Iberian Alliance by sea. Get more detailed information from the expedition force. Adenburg.’

As the Adenstein royal family did not want the turmoil in the west to impact the east, Seon-Hyeok expected a substantial dispatch of troops.

However, it was clear the eastern kingdoms took the threat out west more seriously than he anticipated.

‘Alliance of the eastern kingdoms has been formed.’

Surprisingly, the eastern kingdoms followed the central kingdoms in forming an alliance. Even more shocking was Adenburg’s ascension to the leadership of this alliance.

However, his surprise was fleeting, as Seon-Hyeok quickly understood the political situation.

Having won the recent war with the Nocteins and drastically expanded their territory, Adenburg now had the power and authority to represent many different kingdoms.

In addition, it was Drachen, the pride of Adenburg, who first announced the fall of the western kingdoms, and though it was only for political maneuvering, Adenburg was the first to dispatch actual troops for this upcoming war.

In such a situation, it was difficult for another kingdom to claim leadership of the alliance in both status and cause.

That said, it could not have been easy to form such an alliance in the first place. If nothing else, the Noctein and Griffindor Kingdoms would have strongly opposed Adenburg taking the leading seat in their alliance.

But despite this, the eastern kingdoms were able to reach an unusually quick decision, and this was all thanks to the fear instilled by the demon king.

‘Elite troops have been, or will soon be, dispatched from each kingdom.’

Regardless of the process, it was encouraging that the eastern kingdoms were sending troops, regardless of their numbers, for this cause.

It was an indicator that all kingdoms felt threatened by the Dark Lord and the demonic energy he spread.

From Seon-Hyeok’s perspective, their concerns were not exaggerated.

The demonic creatures and beings full of hostility and hatred towards the living were threatening predators to mankind, and the demonic energy rotting the land was a terrible curse that took away the very places humans called home.

“Hm…”

As he continued to check the magical texts sent from Adenburg, he was able to find one about the Qeishas.

‘The matter of the Qeisha’s request is left to the Indomitable Duke’s discretion. If accepted, however, the seedlings are to be brought back to Adenburg.’

Since it was impossible for all matters to be coordinated from Adenburg, perhaps it was decided it would be best for Seon-Hyeok, already at the scene, to have final say in decisions.

Adenburg’s guidelines gave him full authority over most matters, including those of the expedition force.

“Ah. Guess I’m back to planning again.”

Seon-Hyeok preferred to run free in the boundaries of predetermined plans, as he knew he lacked the talent to carefully maneuver and set up his own playing field.

He simply hoped that someone in the expedition force would have the skills to make up for his own shortcomings.

‘Put your safety first in all matters.’

It was clear this final message was from Ophelia.

“If you say that, then I’ll have to try even harder.”

He smiled bitterly as he sensed her overflowing feelings of affection.

***

Shortly after the eastern kingdoms decided to send a small number of reinforcements, the central kingdoms accelerated their plans for war. They pledged temporary nonaggression with one another as they vowed to fight with one mind until the war against the Dark Lord was over.

The kingdoms further from the front lines advanced their elite forces to the border between the central and western regions of the kingdom. In an instant, an unprecedented front was formed across the continent.

Priests from across the continent gathered to these extended front lines. They were the only means and hope for the allied forces to resist the terrible demonic energy.

Each kingdom guarded these priests as thoroughly as they guarded their leaders, and they formed measures to deal with the threat of any potential demonic creature.

When they finished their preparations, war began.

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