Episode 199. Destiny (4)

Seon-Hyeok quietly looked at the 100 or so foreigners. In contrast to their playful attitudes, their faces were full of trepidation. It was clear they were worried he would refuse their request. He sighed as he noticed their desperation. Even when he first found them, there were many low-tier foreigners mixed in with the survivors. Unfortunately, these individuals had been comparatively weak in combat and all fell in battle, unable to withstand the endless onslaught of demonic beings. The only survivors were the superhuman beings who awakened with mid- or high-tier classes.

The 100 foreigners each possessed strength at least on par with a knight, and having overcome the chaos of a hundred battles, this group should be capable of easily overwhelming a standard knight division, normally consisting of 70 percent apprentices. It was certainly a coveted force. But at the same time, it was also threatening.

The survivors from the west could not escape the stigma of being accomplices to the rebellion. Even if they insisted they were unintentionally caught up in the turmoil, the dishonor of being branded rebels could not be erased.

The rulers of the continent’s kingdoms would be wary and afraid of these foreigners rather than try to make use of their powers.

This situation could not be helped. In this world, it was typical of even the most merciful of monarchs to punish three generations of a family for treason.

Moreover, the continent had already suffered once before from a mass summoning. The damage incurred at the time was said to have resulted in a steep decline in the superhuman beings of each kingdom, and this loss had not yet been fully recuperated.

In such a situation, who would possibly welcome the foreigners from the west?

That was, aside from Adenburg.

Ophelia will be thrilled.

‘Admirable. How admirable.’

Seon-Hyeok smiled, already able to envision the delighted princess’ reaction.

“Any deadweight’s going to be fired immediately.”

The foreigners anxiously awaiting his answer beamed.

“Thank you! We will do our best!”

They repeatedly bowed, overcome with emotion upon finding a place to settle down after suffering severe abuse and exploitation in the west.

“Hm…”

The figures of the Astoria Kingdom and Baron Hochnech both had complicated expressions on their faces as they watched the scene unfold.

It was natural.

Their definition of loyalty and that of the foreigners could not possibly be the same.

The people here could not understand the attitudes of the foreigners not once kneeling while voicing their loyalty, or that of Seon-Hyeok playing along without reprimanding them.

No, perhaps they even thought it was an act befitting of unjust people revolting under the previously unheard banner of democracy.

However, this was all fine for Seon-Hyeok.

Hesitating at this moment would be tantamount to having the foreigners’ long-harbored anxiety surface once again, after they found a final source of hope.

For those who endured years of harsh abuse, what was needed now was a protector they could trust and rely on. He was more than willing to be that figure for them.

“Queen Regent Ophelia Laurel Ro Adenstein, appointed by King Theodore Tiberius Ro Adenstein, the rightful ruler of Adenburg and head of the Adenstein royal family, previously granted me the title of duke.”

The moment he decided, his tone changed. His casual manner of speaking became serious, and his presence, even greater now after his advancement to dragon knight, began to dominate the area.

Tap.

The knights of the expedition force, after casually watching the situation, were overwhelmed by his dignified aura and found themselves kneeling before they knew it.

“And I am here today to exercise my authority as duke, as granted by the Queen Regent, for the first time.”

The delighted foreigners were also overcome, as they instinctively straightened themselves.

“Kneel.”

Without realizing it himself, Seon-Hyeok’s words carried his will and became absolute commands.

“And swear allegiance.”

The foreigners fell to their knees and swore their allegiance.

“I, Seon-Hyeok Rheinperle Kim Drachen, the Lord of Rheinperle and Indomitable Duke, bestow upon you the title of knight using the authority granted by the Adenstein royal family.”

The foreigners once again bowed their heads wordlessly, and Seon-Hyeok declared as he watched.

“So long as you remember the values of your oath, I will always continue to be your protector.”

***

“So long as you remember the values of your oath, I will always continue to be your protector.”

When Soo-Hyuk solemnly tried to mimic what he heard, the two-handed swordsmen and the other foreigners of the expedition force booed.

“Hey, our commander didn’t say that so frivolously!”

“It’s not the same just because the words are! The dignity behind it is different!”

Despite his comrades’ jeers, Soo-Hyuk remained excited.

“In any case, didn’t you get goosebumps too? I still have them.”

He was not exaggerating. Soo-Hyuk’s arms were covered in goosebumps.

“Well, it was cool.”

The foreigners recalled the knighting ceremony they just witnessed and expressed their admiration.

Though it was not nearly as splendid or formal as the ceremonies at the capital prepared over weeks, the solemn and dignified aura Seon-Hyeok emitted was no less than that of the royal family.

“I will continue to be your protector. Wow! It sounds so cringeworthy when I say it, but…”

The scene of knights in heavy armor and 100 foreigners kneeling down and looking towards one person was a truly spectacular sight never to be seen again.

“Ah, I’m getting goosebumps again just thinking about it.”

They truly admired Seon-Hyeok’s dignity in carrying out the knighting ceremony, which could only feel like an empty courtesy for those coming from the other world.

“Is that why he’s a duke?”

They did not know whether the position made the individual, or whether Seon-Hyeok was able to reach such heights because of his personal characteristics. In any case, it was unimportant. What really mattered was that Seon-Hyeok did not seem at all lacking to have the lofty title of Indomitable Duke.

“Ah, I’m jealous. How nice would it be if we were knights at Rheinperle?”

“Didn’t you once say you’d be happy just standing together on the battlefield?”

Soo-Hyuk and the other foreigners even felt jealous of the western foreigners knighted by Seon-Hyeok himself.

It was perhaps a silly feeling for those knighted by the royal family, but they could not help how they felt.

“Well, it’s not like there isn’t a way.”

The atmosphere among the foreigners suddenly changed at this comment. They belatedly realized why they volunteered for this war in a faraway land.

“Let’s have our achievements in battle. We’ll be free too once our debts are paid.”

***

“Indomitable Duke, it’s possible diplomatic issues may arise from this.”

Baron Adolph Hochnech was a strange man.

“There is a high possibility that the neighboring kingdoms will disapprove of our acceptance of these foreigners.”

“Hm…”

If this pro-nobility knight showed the slightest concern about the expansion of royal power, Seon-Hyeok would have immediately shut him down using his own authority.

However, Baron Hochnech’s expression seemed selfless. It seemed to Seon-Hyeok that this middle-aged knight was genuinely concerned about the kingdom’s future.

Perhaps this was what the Adenstein royal family hoped to see after having these knights serve in the Central Knights under various pretexts.

Despite being a knight, Adolph Hochnech also showed talent as a bureaucrat.

“I am not asking you to abandon those you’ve already taken under your wing. However, please reconsider your decision to send them back to Adenburg first.”

The knight suggested they remain in the west and be given an opportunity to cleanse themselves of their sins, thus tempering opposition from other kingdoms.

In its own way, his suggestion was sensible. It was at this moment that Seon-Hyeok realized why Ophelia chose Baron Hochnech as the leader of this expedition.

However, being reasonable was not necessarily the best option.

Though Adolph Hochnech was wise, he lacked war experience. Knowing only theory, the knight did not know how extended wars exposed its participants to horrible mental exhaustion.

And from Seon-Hyeok’s perspective, the survivors had suffered abuse from the western lords for far too long. They also had to fight in the Dark Lord’s territory for an extended period of time.

Regardless of their abilities or motivation to fight, Seon-Hyeok judged that they needed their rest, and thus, he had no intention of leaving them on the front lines.

“There are no changes to the plan.”

“My lord…”

Adolph Hochnech tried once again to persuade him when he remained resolute. However, nothing changed.

“If the other kingdoms are displeased with Adenburg and conjure up schemes in response, would that really be because we accepted those impure foreigners? Or would it because they fear our kingdom adding another 100 superhuman beings to our ranks?”

It was certainly the latter.

“They wouldn’t like Adenburg, already on the upswing after the recent wars, setting the stage for another great leap forward. They’ll try to pressure us to reject this great gift. Am I wrong?”

The middle-aged knight shook his head.

“That’s all because they still consider us to be pushovers.”

The Adenburg Kingdom had achieved a complete victory over the Nocteins, the Wolf of the East, and it had also brought Griffindor’s pride, the Knights of the Azure Sky, to heel. However, these were merely the end results, and in reality, it was not as though Adenburg was an absolute force over the other kingdoms.

With greater authority came efforts to hold them in check. It was likely that these attempts would become even more explicit following this incident.

“However.”

Despite being well aware of this, Seon-Hyeok showed no signs of concern.

“And what if Adenburg reaches a position where it can no longer be overlooked?”

“What are you suggesting…”

Adolph Hochnech looked at him in a daze, unable to understand what he was getting at.

“I intend to gather all of the survivors in the west and send them to Adenburg.”

If the addition of 100 foreigners made Adenburg a kingdom to be wary of, the solution would be to add even greater strength and become feared by the others.

“But…”

Belatedly realizing his intentions, the baron continued to voice his concerns, saying that unless they were able to recruit an unreasonable number of foreigners, these foreign attempts to keep them in check would only increase.

He was correct.

But there was something the late-arriving expedition team was not aware of. It was the deal Seon-Hyeok negotiated with the Qeishas.

In the event that the Mother Tree’s seedlings were successfully transplanted in Adenburg, the countless fairies with strength greater than senior knights would end up residing in the kingdom.

And when that time came, these Qeishas would show no hesitation in becoming their powerful allies.

Seon-Hyeok disclosed this plan to the Adenstein royal family. It just so happened that there was a high-ranking mage in the expedition force, and there were plenty of communication stones at their disposal.

[You always give the royal family much to think about.]

Having heard his perspective, Ophelia sighed. However, contrary to her words, she clearly seemed thrilled at the prospect of having countless superhuman powers join the Adenburg Kingdom.

[But it’s worth the risk.]

Ophelia anticipated the geopolitical situation on the continent to change drastically when the war in its center concluded. She believed Adenburg would require even greater strength to retain its current status then.

[As always, the royal family will support you. Do not give in to the pressures around you, and do not dwell on such issues.]

The royal family was happily willing to support his plan, one which might be considered extreme.

[But you never listen to me.]

At first glance, her tone seemed the same, but Seon-Hyeok could tell.

He could tell that Ophelia was angry with him.

“Ah…”

Only then did he realize how their previous communications had ended, and he blanched.

[I clearly remember telling you that you are not the only person there at the center of this continent, and yet you still act as though you are.]

It was clear that she heard of his solitary endeavor deep into the Dark Lord’s realm from someone.

[You are not a hero.]

She was neither mocking nor rebuking him. It was merely an attempt to ease his burden.

Seon-Hyeok found himself unknowingly laughing at Ophelia’s ability to worry about him despite her anger.

“I will keep that in mind.”

However, his carefree response further fanned the flames of her ire.

[Your words and actions do not add up. If you truly kept my words in mind, you would have refused that fairy’s request.]

Ophelia seemed particularly wary of Najima, and Seon-Hyeok quickly brought up what he prepared in advance.

“But even if it is not for the purpose of bringing the Qeishas to Adenburg, it is still necessary to fulfill her request.”

[Explain.]

Despite giving into emotion for a moment, Ophelia immediately returned to her usual attitude when Seon-Hyeok became serious.

After inwardly sighing in relief, he was about to continue when he realized the mage could listen in on their conversation.

[He’s trustworthy. Do not hesitate.]

Immediately figuring out the reason behind his hesitation, Ophelia guaranteed the reliability of the mage, and Seon-Hyeok was then able to explain.

Qeishas have much longer lifespans than humans. This is not just because they are descendants of the spirits.”

Seon-Hyeok was able to learn something unexpected while speaking with the Qeishas about his desire to purify the corrupted dragon subspecies.

“The reason they have been able to maintain their youth for so long is because they are blessed by the Mother Tree.”

His explanation was somewhat out of the blue, but Ophelia quickly grasped where he was heading.

[It can’t be…]

“If my hypothesis is correct, then the Qeishas should be able to solve your problem.”

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