Unaware that they were headed in the wrong direction, the force led by Adenburg marched west.
Demonic forces raided the ranks several times each day.
It was not that difficult repelling these attacks.
Until this point, the Astoria armies had fought in countless battles against the demonic horde, and as a result, the plains around the base at Panthea were under full control of the humans.
As a result, the number of demonic beings attacking the expedition force was remarkably small.
There was no need for the Adenburg knights or the Holy Kingdom’s troops to step up. The minor nobles and their troops gathered from across the lands were more than enough to dispose of these foes.
However, the leaders of this search force knew better than anyone that this situation would not continue for long.
Three days after leaving the base, they approached the end of the friendly territory.
There was no need to even open a map and check their whereabouts. Taking a deep breath was more than enough to understand that the atmosphere around them was completely different.
“It’s already begun to set in. It’s even faster than what the Holy Kingdom expected.”
“It’s clear the demonic horde has taken action while the Astoria forces remained huddled in their bases.”
The priests and the Templar Knights, particularly sensitive to the demonic energy, lamented the situation.
The fact that demonic energy was dense enough to detect before even reaching the Dark Lord’s realm could not be a good sign.
However, they were not in a position to worry. They recalled the reason they left the safety of their bases to come all the way out here, and they continued on.
“The Dark Lord’s domain starts there.”
Finally arriving at the border, the expedition force stopped their progress and looked towards the blackened, rotting land.
“This is the last time you can turn back. Once we cross that point, you won’t be able to turn back even if you want to.”
The priests and bards combined only numbered 50 in total, and for them, it was already difficult enough to prevent the remaining 6,000 from being overcome with demonic energy.
In such a situation, it would be impossible to dispatch individual priests to protect those seeking to turn back. Thus, this was the last opportunity to retreat.
“The fact that you journeyed with us here proves your righteousness. If any of you have reservations, nobody will blame you for turning back now.”
Adolph Hochnech once again asked about the people’s intentions, but not a single one voiced their decision to return.
Perhaps it was really to demonstrate their own brand of justice, or because they lacked the willingness to leave after coming all the way here.
All that was for sure was that among the people gathered, there would inevitably be some who would come to regret their decision - and they would never have the opportunity to return.
“Then we will rest here for today and leave at dawn tomorrow.”
The search party camped right at the border to the Dark Lord’s territory.
The day dawned.
It was clear neither the commanders leading their troops nor the soldiers had slept well, considering the dark circles under their eyes.
“There have been a few deserters.”
A considerable number of gaps were visible to say that there were only a few deserters. Almost a thousand soldiers had departed under cover of night.
“For all our work finding mercenaries known for their strength, all of them disappeared. It really was foolish trusting hired swords.”
“To think that they’d run away without considering who they have to thank for being alive. Such ungrateful people.”
The minor nobles were enraged at the empty spots previously filled with soldiers the day before. It was clear they feared their own dignity being questioned by their cowardice.
“We have no excuse. After wanting to help, to think that there are only a hundred of us left… it is truly embarrassing.”
It was not an exaggeration. Considering that there was not a single deserter among the Astoria forces or Adenburg’s troops, it was natural they would feel embarrassed about their own defectors.
“It was as expected. In any case, it’s preferable that they desert now if they were going to leave anyway. The protection offered by priests simply prevents demonic energy from seeping into their bodies - it cannot do anything about the deterioration of their mental fortitude.”
The Templar Knight leading the Astoria forces shook his head at the nobles’ suggestion that the deserters should be pursued and punished.
“Well, let’s get moving. We have to make as much progress as possible while the sun’s up.”
When even Adolph Hochnech stepped up to support the Templar Knight’s position, the nobles backed down. Even they were aware this was no situation to send out separate search parties.
“Be prepared. This is the real beginning.”
At the Templar Knight’s words, the troops of the search force gulped and followed the footsteps of the Astorian army.
Visually, only the color of the land they traversed changed, but so much was different.
First and foremost, the number of demonic beings attacking their ranks was incomparably greater than before, and among them were creatures too powerful for ordinary soldiers to handle.
However, the force remained strong.
The Templar Knights were natural predators of the demonic horde, and the holy warriors, ready to surrender their lives for the glory of God, never once backed down against their foes.
As they began to support the ordinary soldiers, the fights here began to feel even easier than the conflicts endured before crossing the border.
Since there were also Adenburg knights and foreigners in the mix, the momentum of the expedition force was able to reach a peak.
Among these powerhouses, the most prominent were the foreigners from Adenburg.
The unit consisting of the unfamiliar classes of two-handed swordsmen, guardians, and snipers proved even more effective than the Templar Knights in large-scale battles against the demonic horde.
They almost seemed accustomed to battles against demonic beings.
“We’re sick and tired of dealing with these kinds of enemies.”
When asked by one of the Templar Knights surprised by their performance, Soo-Hyuk shuddered as he responded, as though he was recalling a bad memory.
“Compared to illusory beasts that are impervious to swords, these demonic beings are almost cute.”
The knight did not know what these illusory beasts Soo-Hyuk referenced were, but quickly accepted the explanation that these were monsters unique to Adenburg.
In the end, the reckless decision to head west to find their leader was not completely delusional.
The foreigners from Adenburg seemed to have more than enough ability to survive whatever obstacle was thrown at them in this treacherous territory.
Nonetheless, this did not mean that the expedition was without its challenges.
The demonic horde attacked them endlessly.
Whenever they handled one group of foes, another appeared to harass them.
They were not given the time to recover and rest, but this was as they anticipated.
Even within the relative safety of the Astorian borders, the demonic horde did not offer them time to rest. How, then, could they possibly expect the situation to be better in enemy territory?
“We have to go further west.”
Choi Min-Young suggested the direction in which the expedition force headed. It was almost as though there was a path visible only to her.
It was not just a feeling.
In reality, she was chasing after Seon-Hyeok’s energy. The illusory beasts summoned from the illusion world led her in search of the dragon knight’s energy.
They repelled the demonic army’s attacks and continued on. They defeated yet another group and moved forward.
The daily routine of the expedition force was almost horribly simple and repetitive, and one day could not be distinguished from the nest.
But perhaps because of this, their journey became more efficient.
There was no need to stumble in search of the correct path, nor did they fear falling astray. They moved forward in a straight line.
As they continued on through the repeated raids by the demonic horde, the initially 5,000 strong army decreased to less than 3,000.
In just 2 weeks, two thousand soldiers had fallen in battle.
It was perhaps too significant of losses to endure in search of a single individual, but the expedition force never looked back.
They only looked forward, as though finding Seon-Hyeok’s whereabouts was the only mission in this world.
And how long had they continued in this manner?
“In battle formation! Prepare for b…”
Seeing the shadows in the distance, the senior knight, Adolph Hochnech, tried to give the command to prepare for battle. Min-Young cut him off.
“It’s not the demonic army! Those are humans!”
The baron’s eyes grew wide at her comment, having depended on her abilities and control over the illusory beasts in this enemy domain that dulled its inhabitants’ senses with demonic energy.
“There are far too many for those to be survivors.”
“But they really are human.”
Looking around at the still-wary expedition force, Min-Young once again confirmed the identity of the approaching individuals.
“I can sense people from my tribe.”
After not speaking all this time, even the Qeishas stepped forward to confirm that the approaching group was not hostile.
“Stand by in battle formation!”
Adolph Hochnech decided to wait until they were fully visible, ordering the expedition force to halt for the moment.
“Ah, they really are humans…”
And having confirmed the group’s identity with his own eyes, he realized that Min-Young was not mistaken.
The huge group of people in the distance really were humans.
This was the moment the Qeishas and the western refugees finally met with the Adenburg-led expedition force.
“You said you devoted your life to him! But then why are you the only one here now!”
Having heard of the preceding situation, Min-Young shouted in a rage.
“You should have stopped him! How could you let him stay there alone?”
Najima’s head dropped weakly at the pointed criticism.
“Do not blame that child. She had no other choice in that situation.”
The old Qeisha explained the urgent situation at the time in her place.
“You still should have stopped him! Or, if that wasn’t possible, you should have remained with him to fight!”
However, Min-Young was relentless. She could not accept that Seon-Hyeok was put in such a critical situation because of these refugees that had no connection to him, and she was furious that the Qeishas did not stay back to assist him.
“Wait. If you have something to say, wait until later. Let’s listen to the situation first.”
Soo-Hyuk calmed Min-Young down.
“Did you find any traces of the commander?”
He remained calm, but the look in his eyes was as sharp as hers.
“Even the most experienced hunters of our tribe were unable to find his remains or anything of the sort. We’re confident that he’s still alive.”
“But he might be barely hanging onto life! While you rushed away to survive, he might be struggling and desperately hoping to be rescued!”
Min-Young, barely suppressing her anger up to this point, once again exploded.
The Adenburg foreigners knew that her anger was directed at the wrong place, but they could sympathize with her feelings.
Those feelings were evident in their expressions, and this came across almost as hostility towards the Qeishas and the refugees.
“So you’re saying the Indomitable Duke did not meet his end.”
Adolph Hochnech stepped up to patch up the situation.
“I am certain of that. If something happened to him, we would have found out. He received our Mother’s legacy, and thus he is not completely unrelated to us.”
The old Qeisha repeatedly confirmed Seon-Hyeok’s survival.
“In that case, I think it would be meaningless to continue exploring this area.”
Adolph Hochnech quickly reached his decision. If these fairies searched for several days without finding any trace of Seon-Hyeok, he determined that they would not have any more success even if they went deeper into this hostile territory.
However, it was not as though they could simply turn back now, after sacrificing thousands of lives in this journey.
Adolph Hochnech thus explained the situation to the minor nobles and the leaders from Astoria and sought out a proper course of action.
“I will have to check for myself.”
As her sense of loss and anger reached its peak, Min-Young became strangely calm. She insisted she would dispatch her illusory beasts and find Seon-Hyeok’s whereabouts for herself.
“Hm. I wonder if that’s necessary. If he couldn’t be found in the area, it might be that he already left. After all, the Indomitable Duke is a wyvern rider.”
“I heard it was such a fierce battle that even the land was turned on its head. Do you think even the wyvern would be safe in such a situation? Just in case, we should continue to search for his whereabouts.”
Opinions were divided even among the expedition force. The forces led by the nobles, having joined in this mission for personal glory, were sick of endless battle and subtly suggested turning around, and even some of those wanting to repay Seon-Hyeok’s kindness agreed with them.
“We will continue this mission on our own.”
It would be reckless to continue this quest on their own, even if they were the Adenburg foreigners showing exceptional proficiency in handling these demonic beings.
However, not a single person from Adenburg opposed the decision. Even Adolph Hochnech, the pro-nobility aristocrat, approved.
Impressed by Seon-Hyeok’s heroic actions, the baron was now no less an enthusiastic supporter of Drachen than these foreigners.
Considering he also had an order from the Queen Regent, Ophelia, to locate Seon-Hyeok, there was no reason to hesitate.
“Our mission is to support the people of Adenburg until they leave this cursed land safely. And as such, we will follow your decision as well.”
When even the Holy Kingdom’s leaders came forward in support of Soo-Hyuk’s decision, the minor nobles proposing their retreat fell quiet. After all, the threat of the demonic energy and the malicious forces around them were far too terrible for them to return on their own, without the protection of the priests.
“I will join you.”
As expected, Najima joined the party. A number of the Qeishas likewise agreed to remain and help them explore the area.
It was decided that the refugees and the remaining Qeishas would continue on their way, and they immediately began to move.
However, they were unable to go far.
In the brief period of time they remained in place, the demonic horde blocked their path. Among these enemies were messengers of Chaos directly commanded by the Dark Lord himself.
Clearly, having suffered a minor defeat in his battle against Seon-Hyeok, the Dark Lord was too timid to enter the fray himself and sent his minions in his place.
“It’s all because of you!”
Min-Young had been seeking a target for her rage this entire time. Sensing the incredible malice emanating from the messengers of Chaos, her eyes flashed.
At that moment, the gate to the illusion world opened, and countless illusory beasts poured through the doorway.
His hazy consciousness gradually rose to the surface.
The voice, too feeble to understand at first, slowly became clearer.
And at a certain point, it became an intense cry jerking him to consciousness.
“Master! Please wake up!”
Seon-Hyeok finally awoke from his deep sleep at the sound of the earnest voice piercing his ears.Previous Chapter Next Chapter