Episode 217. The Seeds He Sowed (1)

“Drachen’s dragons have disappeared without a trace.”

The people were in an uproar, saying there was no way the dragons would all disappear at once unless something happened to Drachen himself. The sorrowful cries heard on the night of their disappearance further added weight to the people’s speculation.

“That’s not possible. Those have to be false rumors.”

Joon-Min’s face turned even paler when he heard the soldiers’ conversations.

[But it makes sense. If the dragon’s companion fell in battle, it would not be strange for his dragons to disappear with him.]

“Shut up. You saw for yourself what a monster he is. How could he have fallen so easily?”

[He is certainly strong. It’s almost unbelievable that he has not reached his complete form yet.]

The Holy Sword remained adamant.

[But even so, his strength is still that of a commoner who has yet to acquire the foundation of his power.]

Balmung voiced the reality that its owner wanted to avoid.

[In contrast, the demon king has grown by devouring the death and despair of countless people, and is in possession of the Fragment of Chaos. Maybe the situation would be different if the dragon accompanied him, but in his current state, there is no way he could defeat the Dark Lord in his complete form.]

“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”

The Holy Sword let out a sigh at the sight of its enraged owner.

[I also hope that he is safe. Just as you and I belong to the light, he also represents hope for the future.]

When the sword stepped back, Joon-Min let out a sigh, unable to remain stubborn himself.

He could still recall the image of Seon-Hyeok proudly calling him a brother and hero in front of countless people.

The emotions and gratitude he felt at the time lingered in his mind. These memories were even clearer because he had been chased around by the Astorian figures without anyone to rely on.

“Just shut up for now. Stop saying such unlucky nonsense.”

Perhaps recognizing it was useless to say any more, Balmung shut its mouth and did not poke at its master’s anger any further.

“I’ll have to confirm for myself first.”

The warrior immediately sought out the Adenburg expedition. It was possible they would know the truth.

Joon-Min froze the moment he opened the doors to the barracks where the Adenburg people gathered.

Heavy.

The atmosphere inside and out were completely different despite being a single tent flap apart.

The sinking feeling was even more uncomfortable because these were the fighters from Adenburg, generally unusually cheerful on the normally hideous battlefield.

“So you heard the rumors.”

When Joon-Min wordlessly opened and closed his mouth, unsure of how to proceed, Lee Soo-Hyuk, the leader of the two-handed swordsmen he was normally close to, reached out first.

“What happened?”

“Two days ago, all of the commander’s dragons disappeared.”

Two days ago was when he and the Holy Sword sensed the surge of demonic energy in the west.

“Where the hell…”

“We don’t know that either. There was definitely a guard stationed at the time, but nobody saw the dragons leaving the base.”

It was truly baffling. Not one, but four, of those large dragon subspecies had disappeared, but nobody had seen them.

“We’ve been looking everywhere, but there are no signs of them.”

“I’m sure he is fine.”

There was nothing else to say. Joon-Min just spoke with conviction.

“We believe so too.”

He could not be happier knowing that he was not the only one believing in Seon-Hyeok’s safety. However, the situation was not favorable enough to be outwardly pleased.

“But it’s clear something happened to him. Otherwise, the dragons would not have disappeared so suddenly like that.”

If Seon-Hyeok was in trouble, Joon-Min needed to find a way to help. He asked the Adenburg expedition about their future plans, determined to assist if possible.

“We will be heading west at dawn the day after tomorrow.”

They acted as though they were simply doing what they had to.

“It’ll be too much of a burden to venture too deep into that territory, but we intend to explore where we can.”

What kind of people would unhesitatingly decide to head into the hell overflowing with demons to check on the safety of a single person?

The warrior truly admired the extraordinary loyalty of the Adenburg people.

“I will help you.”

Joon-Min was likewise determined.

[The moment you enter the Dark Lord’s realm, all eyes will be on you.]

But there was a problem. It was the fact that he was the mortal enemy of the Dark Lord.

[In all likelihood, the Dark Lord will do whatever he can to get rid of you now, before you reach your complete state. And you are not yet powerful enough to overcome him.]

He could not refute the Holy Sword’s comment. As Balmung stated, the yet incomplete warrior was nothing more than good prey for the demon king.

[I understand your feelings, but they will lose more than they gain by having your support.]

“Damn it!”

In the end, Joon-Min was forced to give up heading west with the Adenburg expedition.

“That’s all right.”

Neither Soo-Hyuk nor the others gathered there blamed him, as they also vaguely understood the relationship between the warrior and the Dark Lord.

Even if that had not been the case, the interests of the Holy Kingdom and the warrior were too complicated for Joon-Min to accompany them.

The Holy Sword, Balmung, was a treasure symbolizing the authority of Astoria itself, and the Holy Kingdom was not so understanding as to send its owner to the west at great risk to itself.

“Everyone has to consider their own situation.”

Soo-Hyuk consoled Joon-Min, stating that Astoria had agreed to provide a great deal of support in their search for Seon-Hyeok’s whereabouts at the request of the Adenburg Kingdom.

“I will be unable to join you, but I will do my best to gather as much support as possible from the Holy Kingdom.”

It would certainly be a difficult journey. It was possible that the majority of people gathered here would not be able to return.

Joon-Min’s expression grew even darker as he knew this well.

“Don’t worry.”

But somehow, Soo-Hyuk seemed full of confidence, overshadowing the warrior’s concerns.

“We have an incredible monster on our side too.”

“Then have new reinforcements arrived from Adenburg?”

Soo-Hyuk shook his head.

“Then…?”

“To be honest, our main mission is not combat.”

What the hell is he saying?

Joon-Min looked confused as he looked at Soo-Hyuk, as he and the Adenburg reinforcements had been fighting well all this time.

“Rather, it is to escort.”

With that, Soo-Hyuk glanced towards one side of the barracks.

“Hm?”

Joon-Min followed that gaze as he unknowingly turned around. He was immediately taken aback.

A woman completely covered in a cape had her head weakly buried between her knees. It was as though she had fallen asleep after crying herself into exhaustion.

“She’s not in great condition at the moment and might not look the part, but she is the true strength of our forces.”

“Hm…”

Joon-Min was momentarily at a loss for words. Despite being in and out of these barracks before, he had never been introduced to this woman lacking any sort of presence, and it was hard to accept the foreigner’s words at face value.

“Another monster raised by the commander.”

Soo-Hyuk confidently spoke as he looked at the disbelieving warrior.

“She is the Illusion Beast Master.”

***

Public opinion reached a fever pitch as rumors spread that Adenburg’s figures would soon leave the Astoria base in search of Seon-Hyeok’s whereabouts.

‘Drachen was the first to step up when nobody wanted to help the Central Kingdoms.’

‘If the Central Kingdoms ignore Drachen’s plight, they have no basis to complain if the rest of the continent turns its back on them.’

‘If Drachen truly has met his end, it is only right that they recover his body and have it laid to rest in his home kingdom.’

The soldiers raised their voices, saying that it was necessary to repay Drachen’s heroic actions.

If that was all, the Holy Kingdom’s command could have ignored the comments and tried to take credit for what they did do.

But it was not just the common soldiers speaking up for Drachen’s cause.

‘The Indomitable Duke was the one with the greatest contributions in preventing our fall like the west. Our Iberian Alliance is willing to stand up for him.’

The nobles from the Iberian Alliance quickly rose up in support of Adenburg, as they had benefitted tremendously from Drachen using them as the conduit for spreading news of the calamity in the west.

‘If you turn your back on the plight of the Indomitable Duke, the one responsible for countless achievements, why would our eastern kingdoms choose to fight in this faraway kingdom? The Holy Kingdom must prove that the central and eastern kingdoms are unified towards the same goal.’

The officials from each eastern kingdom leading their respective forces stepped forward to pressure the Holy Kingdom.

“If the Holy Kingdom fears the development of a power vacuum on the front lines, I will fill that gap myself. Astoria must not worry about the situation on the front.”

When even Joon-Min, the emergent hero in this struggle, rose up in unison, the Holy Kingdom was no longer able to resist.

“30 fully-fledged priests, 20 bards, 50 Templar Knights, and 2,000 holy warriors will be dispatched to assist in their search.”

The average warriors aside, the remaining forces were important resources cherished by the Holy Kingdom. This declaration indicated Astoria’s wholehearted willingness to back the expedition, even at great cost to its own manpower.

“Thank you.”

Joon-Min welcomed this support, which was greater than what he anticipated, and thanked the leaders of the Holy Kingdom.

“There is nothing to be thankful for. We are not sending them because of your request or Adenburg’s.”

One of the two archbishops in charge at Panthea spoke solemnly with a serious expression.

“This is all for the Indomitable Duke. He was the first to spread news about the fall of the west, buying our kingdoms the time to fight this evil with one mind, and he saved countless lives by throwing himself into danger. He is truly a righteous man.”

The archbishop clicked his tongue, saying that if the present situation did not involve Drachen himself, he would never send his precious brothers into the cursed land.

The warrior inwardly snorted at the comment.

Sly like a fox, old man. Maintaining that facade knowing full well you were pressured into this course of action.

Joon-Min had once been at odds with the high-ranking figures of the Astoria Kingdom over the ownership of the Holy Sword. The archbishop in charge of Panthea had been one of his most fervent detractors at the time.

Because of this, he knew better than anyone how politically motivated and greedy this man was.

Even if the archbishop did not show it, Joon-Min knew he would be deeply displeased inside.

“As expected of the archbishop.”

However, Joon-Min also maintained a vastly different outward appearance. He pointedly pretended to praise the archbishop.

“Ahem.”

The leader at Panthea gave a fake cough in an attempt to hide his discomfort.

“It’s almost time to pray, so I will be on my way. Do what you must do, Brother.”

In contrast to his lazy words, the archbishop quickly rushed to leave the scene.

Joon-Min wanted nothing more than to follow him and shower him in even more sarcasm, but he suppressed these urges. Regardless of the reason, it was true that the Holy Kingdom was providing significant support for the expedition.

The 2,000 warriors, in addition to the Templar Knights and bards, was by no means a small force. It was more than capable of disposing of any reasonable force of demonic beings.

Even if the leadership is rotten to the core, those below are pure.

The forces being dispatched by Astoria consisted entirely of volunteers. Joon-Min felt nothing but admiration for their self-sacrificing spirit in volunteering for such a dangerous mission.

However, it was still too early to be surprised. Joon-Min only realized this the day the Adenburg forces were set to leave the base.

“What’s going on…”

The troops organized by the Holy Kingdom consisted of 2,000 warriors, the Templar Knights, and roughly 100 others. Adenburg’s forces numbered only around 120.

But for some reason, the number of individuals gathered at the entrance of the base was much greater.

The troops, carrying various banners and dressed in dissimilar uniforms, numbered over 4,000.

“Who are all these people?”

When Joon-Min asked in complete bewilderment, Soo-Hyuk responded with an encouraging look.

“That’s what I’d like to ask. What the hell did the commander do here in the Central Kingdoms?”

“What, what did he do that…”

Still unable to grasp the situation, Joon-Min next turned to Baron Adolph Hochnech, the head of the Adenburg forces.

“The people here have all received the commander’s favor or are indebted to him in one way or another.”

Joon-Min looked around at the baron’s words.

“I am Golas of Ostea. I am here to help because the Indomitable Duke showed his kindness in revealing the issues of the west.”

“I am Juan of Iberia. I’ve become indebted to the duke for this and that, so I am here to return the favor.”

Those who made eye contact with him each explained how they became associated with Seon-Hyeok.

“Hm. Well, to be honest, I’ve never met the Indomitable Duke. I’ve always admired his heroic deeds, so I came to help.”

“There are so many talented individuals here that I never had the opportunity to fight. As a knight, I volunteered, hoping my sword can be used where it’s most needed.”

There were those among them who volunteered because of Drachen’s renown, and others seeking to create a name for themselves, but the majority owed their lives to Seon-Hyeok at least once.

Soo-Hyuk and his party seemed genuinely surprised that one person was able to show grace to so many people in such a short period of time.

But that was not all.

“We will join you as well.”

A group of masked individuals quickly appeared. These were the Qeisha archers left behind when Seon-Hyeok departed with Najima.

“Don’t worry about the situation with the Holy Kingdom, as they are closer in reality to mercenary forces.”

Joon-Min was deeply impressed by the spirited forces, and full of emotion, he tightly grabbed his Holy Sword.

And at that moment, a holy light emanated from Balmung and covered the troops.

“May God bless the righteous!”

The words left by the Holy Sword’s master became a blessing and a spell protecting the forces from demonic energy.

“Troops, go forth!”

Adolph Hochnech, the head of the Adenburg forces, ordered the unit with a short command.

As the forces from Adenburg and those gathered from all corners of the Central Kingdoms became one and started departing for the west, Seon-Hyeok, the individual of concern, was being carried away somewhere on Redvern.

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