Episode 205. The Great Escape (1)

The spear had a straight shaft, a sharp, awl-like head, and a handle carved to improve its user’s grip. The grip was covered in an unknown leather.

With no special features or modifications, it was completely different from the Adenburg-style heavy lance he primarily used up to this point.

The spear could initially be mistaken for any old spear.

Of course, this did not mean that the spear made from a part of the Spirit King herself felt clunky or looked unappealing.

The rough bark of the branch had been carefully removed, revealing the inner wood. It had a strange, mysterious pattern he had not seen before, and was almost closer to red than brown in color. Its hue and form were so beautiful that the spear looked like a work of art painstakingly carved by a master craftsman.

However, just because the color and texture of the spear were stunning did not mean that it was any less functional.

Mahomed preserved the living branch’s practicality while minimizing the damage to its original form, and as a result, the spear felt more suitable for stabbing than any other weapon he had ever used.

“In the past, there were individuals known as Cataphractos among our tribe. These warriors were the embodiment of bravery at the time, equipped with heavy wooden armor and long spears, and riding unicorns as their mounts. This spear is an imitation of the weapons used by those Cataphractos.”

Seon-Hyeok had thought it strange that the Qeisha craftsman, despite living in a society equipped solely with bows, was able to create such a masterpiece. However, it seemed there was inspiration behind his craftsmanship.

However, it was too early for him to express his admiration. The true value of the spear crafted by Mahomed was revealed when he finally held it in his hand.

“Ah…”

The moment he carefully placed his hand on the leather-covered handle, a sudden warmth rose from his fingertips. An unknown energy began to spring up all through his body.

“In addition, even holding the wood will allow your earth spirits to exert greater power, and so long as you are on the ground, you will enjoy a constant flow of vitality like an endless stream.”

Seon-Hyeok could feel a bit of the limitless vitality the Mother Tree referenced.

But this was only a part of the spear’s effects.

Pop.

Nudar, the highest-tier earth spirit, suddenly appeared from the ground without being summoned.

“Why did you pop out all of a sudden…”

- Your contract with the highest-tier earth spirit, Nudar, has been renewed.

- The provisional contract with the highest-tier earth spirit, Nudar, has become a standard contract.

When he stared at Nudar in bewilderment at the sudden message, the normally arrogant spirit looked back at him with an unprecedented polite attitude.

‘What you hold in your hand is the legacy of the Spirit King, and I, Nudar, the child of the earth, will follow the king’s representative in the future.’

The spear, which Seon-Hyeok imagined would simply amplify his strength and be indestructible, was, to his surprise, a special object for the earth spirits. Nudar prostrated herself on the ground and pledged obedience.

It was an unexpected development, but given the current situation in which Atiya and the other spirits could not be summoned, it was a welcome one.

Seon-Hyeok had felt immense pressure at the prospect of bringing tens of thousands of refugees across the Dark Lord’s domain, and he was delighted by the fully-fledged support of this powerful highest-tier spirit.

But even this feeling did not last. His expression was serious as he looked across the boundary of the forest, now beginning to be completely torn down and consumed by demonic energy.

Something far more sinister and evil than even the manticore, the most powerful demonic creature he fought to date, was fast approaching.

His hands and feet already felt numb from the vast malice that rushed forth like a tsunami.

It was not that he was afraid. Rather, his sense of hostility and fighting spirit was heightened by the will of the dragon that despised evil.

“Whew.”

Seon-Hyeok suppressed his desire to activate Drakanade then and there.

Now is not the time to fight.

If he gave into his instincts and fought the enemy head-on, there was no telling what would happen to the tens of thousands of refugees and the Qeishas trusting in his leadership.

“We don’t have much time. Please hurry up and get ready.”

The Qeishas had already been busy preparing when he spoke, and they immediately redoubled their efforts.

***

The Qeishas were quick. Though they showed strong aversion to leaving behind the forest they felt such affection for, they did not forget the task assigned to them.

The refugees were the problem.

They were far too exhausted to travel long distances, and there were too many children and elderly.

Even though he told them in advance to prepare for evacuation, there were countless disturbances when the time to leave finally arrived.

“Throw away anything you can’t carry.”

Their personal belongings, which they kept even while being chased around by the demonic energy, were abandoned upon receiving the command.

Damn it. I feel like I’m the bad guy here.

Seon-Hyeok sighed as he saw the blaming looks in the refugees’ eyes. It was bad enough that they lacked insight into the situation, and it was frustrating they were so slow to act.

Half a day from now.

It would take half a day for the unidentified source of malice to arrive at their location. One way or another, he had to lead them away as far as he could.

“Hurry up.”

In his frustration, he continued to press the refugees.

But despite doing so, it took a long time before the group was ready to depart the forest.

“Our tribe has finished distributing our assignments. There are so many humans that it’ll be impossible to protect them all, but this is the best we can do for now.”

Najima’s expression was dark when she offered her report.

No, she’s not the only one.

The Qeisha tribe all looked sorrowfully towards the giant tree, now little more than a dead husk of what once towered over the forest.

In this time of mourning following the death of their beloved Mother Tree, they were forced to abandon their ancient homeland without the opportunity to grieve.

It would have been strange if the Qeishas were in a cheery mood.

However, there was no time to mourn the death of the Mother Tree now.

The demonic energy, scattered at the cost of the Mother Tree’s life, was once again gathering in the area.

Seon-Hyeok quietly patted Najima on the shoulder and climbed onto Redvern, stationed at the front of the line.

“Let’s go!”

At his command, the huge procession began to move.

As expected, the refugees held everyone back.

They had not even traveled for very long, but too many of the weakened refugees fell behind, complaining of fatigue.

“If you have the strength to complain, use that to take one more step. That is, unless you want to be killed by the demonic beings here.”

Seon-Hyeok rebuked the exhausted and collapsed refugees as he urged them forward.

“Just leave us here and go. Any further is too much.”

There were some among them refusing to move until the very end, but Seon-Hyeok continued to lead them regardless.

“That jerk is traveling comfortably on that monster…”

“Shouldn’t we find a way to live on our own?”

“Why do we have to go through all this trouble when it’s their fault this happened from the beginning?”

Their hostility and resentment, originally meant for the Dark Lord and the rulers of the western kingdoms, lost their targets and was redirected towards Seon-Hyeok instead.

“Damned noble bastards. Acting all high and mighty and giving us commands.”

Seon-Hyeok grew dizzy from the refugees’ complaints.

Do they even know how I feel in leading them on this journey?

He could not save them all. But even knowing this, he did not want to give up on any of them from the very start. It would be difficult, but he was determined to save as many people as he could.

There would come a time when he would be forced to abandon some of them. And at that time, he would have to console himself with the knowledge that it was inevitable for the greater goal of saving the majority.

Who am I to decide who lives and dies?

Seon-Hyeok constantly gritted his teeth envisioning the moment he would have to make this decision. He felt suffocated by a pressure he had never experienced before.

However, he never showed any signs of his internal struggles.

“Younger people with more strength, take care of the children and the elderly!”

He simply gave forceful commands. He comforted himself, saying that this course of action was the only way to save even one additional life.

I will bring them back alive. So long as I can, I will save as many lives as possible.

It was a vow he made to himself, without anyone else knowing.

Grab.

Seon-Hyeok was looking towards the procession of refugees with a gloomy expression when he felt a hand at his waist.

“Najima…”

Only her shining blue eyes could be seen behind her mask, but Seon-Hyeok felt a little encouraged by the kind and supportive gaze.

“Thank you, Najima.”

The gifts left behind by the Mother Tree prevented the Qeishas and the refugees from being overcome by demonic energy, but it did not purify the pervasive aura enveloping them.

The entire world was full of it, and it even dulled the dragon knight’s keen senses.

“I will have to take a look around.”

***

John softly swore as he watched the monster flying high up into the sky before disappearing.

“Damned bastard. You aren’t even a westerner, so why did you come here and cause this mess?”

When the terrible curse first swept through the kingdom, the nobles insisted that the situation would soon be resolved. Though these nobles were cruel and vicious, there were knights and mages among them capable of achieving things that ordinary people like him could never dream of.

As such, John and the other commoners of the territory believed in them and waited for the ominous sky to clear up as soon as possible.

Their faith was thoroughly betrayed.

He thought he heard the sounds of horses’ hooves in the night, and it turned out that the lord and his family had all abandoned their territory. The following evening, monsters raided the land.

It was then that their hell began.

These demonic foes massacred the people at random and devoured their corpses. The commoners tried to escape in the chaos, but only a few survived.

John likewise lost his entire family and only barely managed to save his own life.

The western forest is safe.

During that desperate time, he heard a rumor. He heard that the western forest, said to be home to a divine, spiritual entity, was safe from these monsters.

The survivors banded together and headed west. Of course, this journey was anything but easy.

Among those who first grouped together, the majority died in the monsters’ attacks. Refugees continued to join on the way, but even more perished.

Their lords had run away. Even their king abandoned his palace and fled.

As the people gathered, they were able to get a clearer picture of what the situation was in the kingdom.

There were no more esteemed individuals left in this damned land. They took their wealth and fled to neighboring kingdoms to the east, and all that remained were the peasants unaware of their own predicament.

After only being afraid of the nobility and royalty, John felt hatred towards them for the first time.

When he woke up in the mornings, only corpses remained where he insulted the nobles with his comrades just the previous day.

Even more disappeared without leaving their bodies behind.

Through this nightmarish experience, he grew to despise the nobles even more.

And finally, they arrived at the forest said to be protected by a divine power. Fairies he saw for the first time blocked entry into the forest, but John was relieved that there were no demonic beings in the immediate area.

He gritted his teeth and endured. The refugees hunted the occasional animal popping out of the forest, and they gnawed at roots and tree bark for nourishment.

It was a miserable life, but he wanted to live.

But it was not easy. Few animals left the forest, and there was always a shortage of food. After so desperately fleeing to the forest, many starved to death.

But they endured.

It was during this time that the black-haird noble appeared.

His appearance screamed his status as a noble. John and the other refugees immediately knew that he was a noble of such high rank that they dared not even look at him.

“If I see any nobles, I will hang them myself if it’s the last thing I do.”

John had boasted of this during the journey almost out of habit, and he truly intended to carry out his promise. After all, the nobles he knew were worse than trash.

He was willing to dedicate his life to malice, and anything was possible.

However, he instinctively bowed his head the moment he saw the black-haired noble. His hatred and rage were nothing in the face of such overwhelming dignity and presence.

When he came to his senses, he was already prostrating himself on the ground and trembling in place.

And how much time had passed?

“Prepare to leave as soon as possible.”

The damned noble bastard was taking away even their final source of solace.

“Does that bastard think we’ll leave just because he tells us to?”

“Let’s just hide somewhere suitable. There are plenty of hiding spots here.”

The people outwardly pretended to obey while secretly mocking the unidentified noble behind his back. So long as the divine presence protected the forest, there was no need to worry about monsters here.

But such thoughts did not last long.

The vegetation suddenly began to wither, as the ominous energy began to erode the edges of the forest. With that, they heard the cries of demonic creatures for the first time since arriving at this place of refuge.

These changes all transpired after the black-haired noble appeared.

“I’m sure he’s the cause of all this trouble.”

“Everything’s been a mess since that noble showed up.”

The people all blamed these events on that cursed noble. John was in agreement.

From his perspective, the sudden withering of the forest and the appearance of monsters was all connected to that person.

“We have to leave.”

That damned noble forced them to abandon their precious belongings in the forest, and he continued to pressure them.

And their hell began once again.

They began their journey with their weakened bodies. A healthy man like him found the trip arduous, so how would the children and elderly feel?

Eventually, many collapsed from exhaustion.

However, the noble shed neither blood nor tears as he ignored the refugees’ pleas to rest for a while. He dragged the children and elderly whose feet were blistered from the endless travel.

“Just try a little harder.”

It was detestable. The noble rode his monster with an unidentified, unknown figure John was certain was a woman as he urged the refugees on. John cursed him with every fiber of his being.

“That bastard. I’m sure he’ll run away.”

That noble bastard would disappear and return from time to time. John was convinced that they would soon be used as bait or abandoned, just as the other nobles of his homeland had done to commoners like them.

And one day, the unstopping procession came to a halt. Unlike usual, this stop came not long after they had begun to move for the day.

Soon after, the noble bastard climbed on his monster and disappeared.

Seeing this, John slowly snuck out of the ranks.

He was paralyzed with fear when his gaze met those of the fairies among the refugees, but they glanced indifferently at him before turning their attention elsewhere.

John was convinced the noble bastard had fled, and he believed the direction he flew on his monster was towards safety.

And so, he secretly left the group and ran towards the place the noble had disappeared to.

He felt sorry for those left behind, but it was status quo for commoners to either sink or swim. And naturally, the quick-witted among them would be able to live longer.

People like me.

“Heok. Heok.”

When he escaped the procession and recklessly ran away, around ten other men followed behind. They gave him a meaningful look as they exchanged glances.

“I have pretty good eyesight. He landed not far away, so let’s cheer up a bit.”

The man was correct. John and the others were soon able to spot the damned noble after running for a bit.

“Huh? Huh?”

However, they saw neither the safe haven they expected nor the despicable noble relaxing alone after fleeing the procession.

Instead, they saw a warrior valiantly swinging his spear while surrounded by at least a thousand demonic beings.

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