Episode 216. Last Breath

“Why do you think I’m waiting for you here?”

The plains, once probably filled with wild grass and flowers, were now black and rotting due to the demonic energy. There were no signs of life on the barren land.

However, the fact that the land was rotting and dominated by the demon king did not mean that it lacked any remnants of its original vitality.

Somewhere far below the blackened soil remained a persistent and vital spirit that endured the terrible calamity.

“And why haven’t I moved a foot?”

Seon-Hyeok crushed the rotten ground with his feet as he looked towards the Dark Lord.

“Bluffing now doesn’t change the fact that you’re about to die!”

The demon king exclaimed as he unleashed the darkness, uninterested in what his opponent had to say.

Whoosh.

Seon-Hyeok did not falter a bit even as he saw the darkness pouring forth like a waterfall.

“I didn’t think you’d be interested either.”

The dragon’s aura, momentarily pushed back by the darkness, expanded once again.

“You’re too strong now to care about such minor details.”

The powerful darkness was the deadliest poison to living beings, and a terrible disaster in itself.

“And that strength is why you’ll be defeated here today.”

“What nonsense!”

Seon-Hyeok spoke coldly to the Dark Lord as the foreigner repeated his actions over and over again without understanding the situation.

“From what I can tell, you’re a kid who hasn’t even been in a proper fight.”

It was unreasonable to say that the demon king conquering the west had no practical experience. However, Seon-Hyeok remained confident in his claims.

“Bullshit! Nordic’s most valiant knights! Its strongest mages! They all fell at my hand…”

“Right. You killed them all.”

“Then what kind of nonsense is that?”

The Dark Lord stubbornly unleashed his demonic energy as he fiercely shouted.

“But I have to say.”

As the dark energy grew, Seon-Hyeok’s voice became even calmer.

“Pouring out demonic energy and raising the dead to force them into battle isn’t everything in war.”

The demonic energy was undeniably a powerful weapon. It was a terrible poison that polluted the mind and weakened the body, suppressing even the powerful knights and mages of this world.

However, this only applied to those the energy affected.

Seon-Hyeok was a dragon knight protected by the dragon herself, and no matter how powerful the darkness was, it could not disrupt his body and spirit.

“I’m saying it’s not all about stepping back into safety and using your powers, you coward.”

“What?”

The enraged demon king tried to say something, but Seon-Hyeok had no intention of continuing the conversation.

“What do you mean, ‘what’? I’m saying I’m ready.”

The ground began to shake. What initially started as slight tremors became a powerful earthquake that threatened to collapse the entire world.

“Instead of rambling on from the beginning, you should have killed me at all costs while you had the chance.”

Seon-Hyeok, standing firm on the shaking land, aimed his spear at the Dark Lord.

Thump. Thump.

The sound of the rapidly beating heart did not come from him.

It came from the earth veins, carrying the still-flowing energy of the land itself.

“Collapse.”

The persistent and yet unextinguished remnants of the earth energy in the west exploded at his command.

Whoosh.

The ground collapsed, and red columns of fire rose in all directions.

The mighty darkness covering the sky was torn to pieces by the hundreds of pillars of flame, and the tens of thousands forming the demonic army were swallowed up by the raging land, disappearing without a trace.

When the terrible ground collapse concluded, all that remained was the earth, torn apart and revealing its insides as though ravaged by a massive animal, and its boiling blood.

Having consumed the last of its energy, the land was completely spent and met its end.

“Keok!”

Seon-Hyeok, standing alone on the now hellish land, threw up blood.

The powerful visage of the dragon knight was nowhere to be seen - he was flushed and bloodied, clearly spent after using his ability.

It would not have been strange if he collapsed on the spot, but it was understandable.

After all, he had used all of the earth energy remaining in the area and allowed his own body to be the conduit for that power.

Though the spear granted by the Spirit King and the armor containing the ancient spirit relieved much of his burden, the cost of using a power he could not yet control was immense.

Ugh. I can’t do this a second time.

Thanks to the constantly flowing energy, his body, always full of vitality, was now so tired that it was difficult to even lift a finger. As the draconian transformation was forcibly released, the bones in his whole body were in severe pain, as though they had all broken at once.

That was not all.

The spirit armor restored by Nudar now barely covered his right hand, and the spear made from living wood left by the Mother Tree looked feeble and crumbly, like an old tree suffering from drought.

It would likely take quite a bit of energy to get those two pieces of equipment back to their original state.

Nonetheless, his gamble proved successful. Though he suffered significant damage himself, he successfully eliminated tens of thousands of the demonic horde and dozens of demons - it was not a disadvantageous exchange.

Was I being too greedy in trying to eliminate the Dark Lord...

However, he had failed to deal with the most threatening foe, the Dark Lord himself.

Although he could not recover all of the unleashed energy and seemed to shrink back, the demon king did not seem to have been hit too badly.

Nevertheless, the Dark Lord was no longer here now. He was not repelled, but rather seemed to have retreated of his own volition.

To think that the west fell to a loser like him...

The demon king, frightened by his opponent’s counterattack once his own assault using demonic energy proved ineffective, was far different from what he had imagined.

Park Sang-Jin was a coward given the class of Dark Lord and only acquired the Fragment of Chaos because of the events at the time. He was timid, cowardly, and self-centered, nothing more.

Seon-Hyeok almost felt sorry for the demonkin who had shouldered tremendous risk in approaching to beg him to save their comrade.

“If Sang-Jin really wanted to, the central kingdoms would have fallen by now, if not the east as well.”

The demonkin claimed that the demonic energy did not extend past the west because of the Dark Lord’s efforts. They suggested that his current rampage was due to the influence of the Fragment of Chaos.

They could not be more wrong.

The Dark Lord only remained in the west because he was horribly timid and a coward.

“Ack!

Seon-Hyeok could still hear the screams of the demon king. The Dark Lord had fled in confusion just from the minor damage inflicted on a portion of the darkness he unleashed, not even his own body.

It was as though the legacy of the Spirit Kings was no longer on his mind.

Seon-Hyeok frowned as he recalled this final image of the Dark Lord.

His body screamed out after serving as the conduit for the earth energy. His consciousness grew faint from the intense pain tearing his body apart.

It was time to pay the price for accessing this unmanageable power.

“Redvern…”

Before he lost consciousness, he barely managed to call his dragon subspecies.

Shriek!

Redvern immediately responded to his call. It was clear the wyvern had been circling the area, worried about its owner.

Seon-Hyeok closed his eyes as he heard the sound of flapping wings after the brief roar.

***

Shriek!

Finding Seon-Hyeok left alone on the lava-covered land, Redvern folded its wings and descended.

It was no easy feat, considering the heat of the lava that had not yet cooled.

Pop. Pop.

Some of the embers that rose up with the wind punctured holes in the wyvern’s film-like wings.

Shriek!

Surprised, Redvern shrieked like it was about to die. Nonetheless, the wyvern did not forget its purpose despite the pain of its wings melting in the heat, and ultimately managed to land next to its master.

Chirp!

Carefully folding its claws to avoid harming its owner, Redvern struggled for a while to secure Seon-Hyeok to its body.

Flap.

When it flapped its wings vigorously, the embers surrounding them once again began to damage the wyvern.

Shriek!

Even as it screamed, Redvern managed to rescue its master from the lava-covered land, and when it finally rose up to the point where the heat could no longer reach them, it looked around with its long neck.

Chirp.

Perhaps it finally found its bearings, as the red creature began to charge through the sky. However, the direction it flew was strange, completely different from where the Qeishas and refugees were.

***

The Central Alliance was in a stalemate against the demonic army. At first, they suffered considerable losses in defending the widely-spread front, but as time passed, they were able to adapt to the situation and begin effectively intercepting the enemy.

However, wars could not end through simple adaptation. The number of demonic beings was still great enough to cover the entire front, and the fighting continued.

The efforts of the humans desperately fighting the demons and the demonic army like their lives depended on it was as though they were living in a past, mythological era before humans became masters of the continent.

Countless individuals died, and there were innumerable defeats. But through those depths of despair, there were valuable victories, and new heroes were born.

The warrior, Park Joon-Min, was one of these new heroes.

The master of Balmung, the Holy Sword, and the Apostle of God. The first holy knight of Astoria.

These were the titles now given to him.

The people praised the warrior responsible for consecutive victories on the bleakest of battlefields.

Around the time news of the westward-bound Drachen could no longer be heard, Joon-Min became the new hope for the central front.

“Hm?”

Even today, Joon-Min had succeeded in hunting down a demon that had crossed the border under cover of darkness. He suddenly looked towards the western sky.

“Balmung, this…”

[It’s the Dark Lord.]

Joon-Min could tell because he was the true enemy of the demon king. The ominous energy and malice covering the western sky was clearly that of his mortal enemy.

“Why is the Dark Lord so close, when he should be in Nordic?”

The Dark Lord had previously been so far away that Joon-Min could not feel his presence. He frowned at the sudden change in their situation.

[The Dark Lord is fighting someone - someone truly powerful.]

At the words of the Holy Sword, an entity that was more insightful than any other when it came to the demon king, Joon-Min shouted out.

“It’s Seon-Hyeok hyung!”

[I am certain you’re correct. There isn’t anyone else aside from the dragon rider capable of forcing the Dark Lord to use this much of his energy.]

“I knew it! I knew he’d be alive!”

There were all sorts of speculations circulating around the unreachable Drachen, the most prevalent of which was that he died struggling alone in the Dark Lord’s realm.

[Everyone can know that without you making such a fuss, since his dragons are still around and well.]

“But still!”

It was easy for Joon-Min to know that Seon-Hyeok would be alive given the dragons remaining calmly in place, but he could not help but feel happy at this unexpected news.

“Considering how much of a monster he is, how could he ever have trouble?”

Joon-Min grinned like a fool as he celebrated news of Seon-Hyeok’s well-being.

[Wait.]

After being silent for a moment, the Holy Sword stopped Joon-Min’s rambling.

[The battle has ended.]

But somehow, the voice felt unusually heavy.

“Huh? Already? The Dark Lord’s energy is still…”

[There’s no way of knowing what happened to the dragon’s companion, but it’s clear that the demon king did not suffer much damage.]

Joon-Min immediately paled.

Around the time the ominous energy in the west died down, Joon-Min returned to the base at Panthea, situated at Astoria’s front lines and figuratively the tip of the Holy Kingdom’s sword pointing to the west.

What awaited him when he returned was the confirmation of the fears that bothered him during his journey.

“Drachen has fallen in battle.”

There had been countless distasteful rumors in the past, but the situation was different this time. THe news of Drachen’s death circulating in Panthea was unusually specific and was based in truth.

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