Episode 220. A Splendid Return (1)

The war between the Dark Lord’s forces in the west and the Central Alliance intensified.

There was never a quiet day on the front lines given the daily battles against the demonic horde, and the veteran elites of the kingdoms continued to suffer losses through these endless battles.

The comrades one fought back to back with on one day became a corpse the following day that rushed with reckless abandon against its former allies with his rotting claws and teeth. The soldiers shed blood and tears as they stabbed these comrades through their hearts.

The battlefield where even death was blasphemed was nothing short of hell.

Time continued to pass, and the end of the war remained nowhere in sight. The soldiers even grew desensitized to the acts of beheading their former allies turned undead.

“If I fall to the demonic beings, kill me before I become one of the undead.”

“I don’t want to become undead. Don’t leave my body behind.”

The soldiers no longer calmly waited for their deaths. If they suffered hopeless injuries, they chose to be decapitated by their closest comrades’ swords, and the bodies of the deceased were gathered together and burned.

The smoke of burning corpses rose and blackened the skies above the battlefield.

It would not end at this rate.

The leaders of the Central Alliance intuitively realized that the kingdoms would collapse at this rate.

The issue was not with the casualties suffered by their forces. By now, it had already been months since the war began. This all-out war, which involved even the superhuman powers of the kingdoms, was so draining that even the wealthy city states of the Iberian Alliance felt burdened.

Any food produced was sent to the front lines, and all iron and metals were commandeered to be wielded by the soldiers.

The kingdoms’ lords suffered the brunt of this aftermath.

The terrible war shook the foundations of these lords’ power, and some of the smaller territories had already begun to show signs of insolvency.

In such a situation, the major nobles and royal families worked to prevent their fall from grace. Having reigned as rulers for decades and generations, their finances were incomparably solid compared to those of these minor nobles.

The major lords opened their storehouses and supported the territories facing bankruptcy.

But the problem was not limited to financial difficulties.

In the midst of all this confusion, all kinds of malicious groups reared their ugly heads. Criminals joined forces, while ambitious malcontents criticized the kingdoms with bizarre sophistry.

“God was enraged and delivered his justice. This is all thanks to the immorality of the royal family and the nobles.”

“We must reject all immorality and irrationality to allay the wrath of God.”

Shockingly, they blamed the Dark Lord’s invasion on the royalty and nobility, and sympathizers rose up in support.

The lesser nobles, having already sent their elite forces to the front lines, could not contain these masses growing like wildfire.

At this time, it was the major nobles once again flexing their strength.

“Crush the brigades of criminals, and wipe out the seditious people mixed in among the commoners.”

These nobles had sent more soldiers to the front lines and shouldered more burdens than the others, but their hidden power was truly formidable.

The insurrectionists rising up given the opportunity provided by the ongoing turmoil were quickly suppressed by the greater nobles’ forces.

“This is a war between humans and demons. All will fall if we cannot emerge victorious.”

“Now is the time for humans to join forces.”

They used their strong leadership and charisma to suppress the chaos and prevent any cracks that could lead to systemic collapse.

“We cannot last long at this rate.”

But even they had their limits. The storehouses of the greater lords were abundant, but not enough to feed all the peoples and nobles, and they lacked the ability to completely eliminate the dark clouds that had descended on the kingdom.

The same was true of the royal families.

If the eastern kingdoms did not actively support their war efforts, the economies of the central kingdoms would have already collapsed.

As time passed, the lingering effects of the war shook the central kingdoms even more.

The majority of married women became widows, and few children still had their fathers. As the heads of households headed for the battlefield, the kingdoms’ productivity drastically declined.

Society became diseased, and the public sentiment became hideous. Despite the efforts of the royals and the greater nobles, security within the kingdom greatly deteriorated, and the commoners living in the central kingdoms feared leaving their own houses.

The situation was even more dire for those outside the territories.

Groups of the demonic army, having crossed the front lines and even reached the less-defended interior, began to encroach on these areas. Their numbers were too great and too dispersed for soldiers to sweep through and wipe out these invaders.

The merchants going back and forth between territories even in the harshest of times stopped in this turmoil, and the supply carts sent by the greater nobles to support the others were often exposed and raided.

The major nobles now could not even feel secure about the situation in the innermost parts of the kingdoms, and they had to be wary of attacks whenever they sent food and supplies.

The precarious social system, barely maintained through great efforts by the major nobles and royal family, began to falter.

And such, the war ate at the central kingdoms.

But despite this, the central kingdoms could not stop their struggle.

The present war was not a power struggle between kingdoms. It was not a normal war in which kingdoms could agree upon a victor and loser and save face by signing a treaty.

They would be annihilated the moment they stopped fighting. They would immediately become prey for the demonic horde.

The winner and loser of this war would only be decided when either the Dark Lord or the Central Alliance was completely destroyed.

Despair deepened in this mire of war that could neither be stopped nor avoided.

However, it was not as though there was no hope at all.

Knights. Mages. Spiritualists. Paladins. Priests. Magic swordsmen.

All kinds of superhuman beings, after remaining unknown and curled up in the deepest depths of their kingdoms during times of peace, finally appeared on the battlefield.

They clearly proved why they were called the true powerhouses of their kingdoms, and they were the catalysts for numerous victories.

Of course, this was not easy.

Though these superhuman beings wielded tremendous power, they had spent far too much time under the protection of their respective kingdoms. Lacking any sort of real experience, they were vulnerable to the venomous claws and fangs of the demonic horde armed with hatred and malice.

These individuals, each and every one a treasure of their kingdom, likewise suffered losses.

Faced with harsh combat for the first time, the superhuman beings were cut, broken, and worn down. The ones successfully overcoming all of these trials and tribulations became known as the truly superhuman of these respected figures.

Countless heroes were born through this turbulence.

General Romain de Amerian, who took 5,000 infantry and achieved absolute victory over tens of thousands of demonic beings.

Sword Saint Aslus Dayne Jaskaya, who slaughtered a powerful demon responsible for singlehandedly wiping out an entire allied regiment.

Archmage of Immortal Flame Charles de Mannein, who incinerated 10,000 demonic beings alive.

The Knights of the Golden Lion and their master, Leonberger von Doyle, who successfully broke through tens of thousands of enemies to protect an isolated, besieged fortress. 

The miraculous victories they achieved across the kingdoms were individually each a ray of light and source of hope in the darkness.

The common soldier was able to hold his ground and resist the urge to flee even when the seemingly indomitable demons emerged on the battlefield because of the presence of such individuals.

They trusted that these heroes would unfailingly take care of those mighty monsters.

And, in turn, the superhuman beings repaid those expectations with aplomb.

A giant demon the size of a small castle was torn to pieces by the magical flames of a mage unit, and the flying demons terrorizing the battlefield were decapitated by the sword energy used by the knights.

As the war dragged on, the distinction between light and darkness became even clearer.

The people prayed to their God that the light would repel all of this pervasive darkness, and they prayed that this never-ending night would disappear as soon as possible.

Their earnest prayers became a great hope and gathered in one place.

The Holy Sword Balmung, which contained the holy spirit of God in its metal tethers, absorbed all of the wishes and prayers.

The warrior, Park Joon-Min.

The master of the Holy Sword, incapable of fighting on the front lines despite his identity as the great enemy of the Dark Lord as a result of his lacking strength, finally acquired the power to stand against the great evil.

An overwhelming victory was achieved on every battlefield the warrior participated in. Even in the bleakest of situations where defeat seemed inevitable, Joon-Min miraculously emerged victorious, and he soon became the very symbol of triumph.

The warrior, Park Joon-Min, was the true enemy of all beings related to the demon king, his demons, and his energy.

Having singlehandedly annihilated an enemy army of demonic beings and undead numbering 20,000 strong, Joon-Min took a few quick breaths before plunging his weapon into the ground.

A radiant light spread in all directions, as the land contaminated with the blood of the demonic horde regained its natural color.

“Hm. Not bad.”

The warrior smiled in satisfaction after devouring the residual demonic energy of the tens of thousands of enemies.

“How about it? Don’t you think that’s enough?”

[You’re still lacking, but I don’t think you’ll lose one-sidedly against the Dark Lord in your current state.]

Not long ago, the Holy Sword Balmung insisted he must not come face to face with the demon king, but it now acknowledged its master’s power for the first time.

“So you won’t stop me now?”

The Holy Sword did not respond, but Joon-Min soon realized that this was affirmation.

“Then I should get going - to save the people of Adenburg.”

It had already been a month since the Adenburg expedition force and the Astorian troops had headed west in search of the dragon rider.

“But isn’t hyung really incredible?”

When refugees numbering 15,000 suddenly appeared on the kingdom’s borders, Joon-Min was truly taken aback. He could not help but admire Seon-Hyeok upon learning that he had saved them all/

“How did he ever come up with the idea of evacuating all those people in such a situation? I would have given up.”

[The spirit and righteousness he showed are great, but the you of today would have been able to guide them until the very end.]

Perhaps feeling a sense of competition from the dragon’s companion, the Holy Sword Balmung tried to downplay these achievements. It was an attempt to compliment its owner, but Joon-Min frowned as he retorted.

“But I wasn’t there, and he was.”

Seon-Hyeok’s decision to remain alone in combat against the demon king and tens of thousands of his minions to evacuate the refugees embodied his sacrifice and dedication.

“He really is a hero.”

The warrior longed to become someone like Seon-Hyeok.

“Those who went in search of him still haven’t returned. It’s time for me to live up to my class of warrior.”

[Do not take the demon king lightly. The entire west is feeding demonic energy to the Dark Lord, so you will feel as though the entire world is rejecting your very existence. It will not be easy…]

“Stop with the nagging, and let’s finish up here and get going.”

Joon-Min quickly grew fed up with Balmung’s nagging.

“Huh? Why is the situation so chaotic? Is there another breach in the front lines?”

Of late, even the most secure of fronts on the Astorian border suffered repeated breaches. It was because the demonic horde, after ignorantly charging the front lines all this time, began to change their approach and cleverly identify the gaps in the defenses.

“Or maybe not? The people’s expressions don’t look that negative for it to be a breach.”

[Morale is high. The soldiers are strangely positive.]

It was as Balmung suggested. The soldiers’ faces were full of excitement, as though they had received word of a great victory rather than bad news.

That made the situation even stranger.

The war was a continuous back-and-forth between the sides, and the average soldier was even desensitized to normal victories at this point. It was strange to see them so excited like this.

“Apostle.”

Recognizing the man returning to the base, the soldiers saluted him with respect and military discipline. The warrior acknowledged them before asking about the strange atmosphere.

“Drachen! The Indomitable Duke has returned alive!”

Joon-Min unknowingly celebrated at the soldier’s words.

“I knew it!”

He clenched his fist and pressed the soldier for additional details.

“Have the people of Adenburg returned with him?”

“No! The duke appeared from the north!”

His excitement did not last. The warrior quickly frowned as he turned back and forth to face the west and the north.

The Adenburg force had headed west in search of Seon-Hyeok, but strangely, he had returned from the north.

Joon-Min could not understand what was going on.

“So that’s why the people are so excited right now.”

“That’s part of it, but there’s even more!”

The soldier was excited, like someone unable to show off what he knew.

“The Indomitable Duke did not return alone!”

“Didn’t you say he wasn’t accompanied by the Adenburg people?”

“I did. The duke did not come with the Adenburg troops,”

The soldier gulped before blurting out.

“But rather the riders of the north!”

“What?”

Now, the excited soldier determinedly blabbered on.

“Right now, the Indomitable Duke, with tens of thousands of riders from the Northern Plains, is moving south after repeated victories against the Dark Lord’s armies on the precarious front lines!”

What the hell is he saying?

When Joon-Min remained dumbfounded, the soldier continued his explanation.

“The nomadic peoples of the Northern Plains, after keeping to themselves all this time, have united and declared their participation in the war! I have no idea how the hell the Indomitable Duke managed this, but he was able to get not 4,000, but 40,000 elite cavalry reinforcements from those stubborn and self-centered shepherds!”

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