Episode 221. A Splendid Return (2)

Joon-Min headed straight to the command center.

“I heard you returned to the base, but I am relieved to physically see you here safe and sound.”

The leaders at the command, composed of key individuals from the Holy Kingdom and the alliance, looked pleased when they saw him.

“I heard there was a particularly troublesome demon even among the higher ranking demonic creatures leading the Dark Lord’s army, but it seems you’ve taken care of them all. You’ve done well.”

It had been almost a year now since the Holy War against the demon king began. At first, their foes were classified as demonic creatures and demonic beings, but now they were further divided as greater, middling, and lesser foes to further identify the threat level and the forces required to efficiently deal with the attacks.

Among these enemies, greater demons were impossible to contend with without an elite knight division led by at least two senior knights, or a mage unit consisting of offensively oriented spellcasters. Given that these creatures were also cunning and intelligent, the appearance of a single greater demon was considered an emergency on the front lines.

In unfortunate situations where the support of a knight or mage division could not be depended on, these terrible monsters had to be avoided at all costs.

And naturally, the superhuman beings on the front lines made eliminating these creatures their top priority.

However, one such creature crushed five infantry companies on the front lines and crossed the border.

In this situation threatening to turn the interior upside down, the warrior rose up to the challenge.

This individual fulfilled his duties with aplomb before returning.

From the perspective of the military command, under pressure to defend the expansive front, this was an optimal result without excessive deployment of troops.

“It was a struggle, but dealing with the lesser demonic beings was not particularly challenging after taking care of the greater demon.”

It was perhaps only because of the atmosphere that the warrior’s plain words did not sound arrogant.

“But this is quite the predicament. As the days go by, the demons and their subordinates are becoming even greater.”

However, the fact that the warrior had disposed of the infiltrating creatures did not significantly improve the situation on the front. Only one of many threats was eliminated, and there were forts and field troops everywhere asking for aid.

“But still, it’s a huge relief that the Indomitable Duke has returned, making the situation a bit better. We were worried the northern front would collapse at any moment, but the forces there were able to catch their breath thanks to him and the northern riders.”

Hearing this, Joon-Min smiled and asked about Seon-Hyeok.

“Oh, yes I heard that hyung, no, the Indomitable Duke, has returned. What exactly happened?”

“Oh! Come to think of it, the two of you were like brothers, and he was your benefactor.”

The relationship between the Indomitable Duke and the warrior was so famous that none on the front lines were unaware of it. The leader of the Templar Knights, the de facto commander of the base at Panthea, was likewise knowledgeable about this and spoke of the situation in detail.

“The Indomitable Duke was safe. No, not just that, it seems he’s even stronger now than before he disappeared.”

“Even stronger?”

Joon-Min was bewildered upon hearing that the already monstrous human had become even stronger.

“It’s been said that the Indomitable Duke can create an earthen fortress with a simple wave of his hands, and that a giant appeared to trample on the demonic horde. It’s a ridiculous rumor, but it clearly suggests his outsized role in the conflict.”

The old knight laughed as he spoke. It seemed he genuinely treated the rumors as absurd.

“These kinds of rumors are always exaggerated, but even if half of them are true, it’s clear that he’s achieved significant growth.”

The old knight spoke of the achievements Seon-Hyeok made since returning to the battlefield.

“4 greater demons, 12 demons, and 28 lesser demons. These are confirmed kills, disregarding those exaggerated rumors.”

“That’s too much even for hyung…”

By this point, Joon-Min had such a high opinion of Seon-Hyeok that he was confident he would not be surprised by his achievements. Even so, this was incredible.

“That’s not all.”

The knight was not yet finished.

“It’s estimated that he, with the 40,000 riders he led, has slain over 200,000 demonic beings. And those enemies were real opponents, not the lowly undead.”

Only recently, Joon-Min had singlehandedly taken care of an intermediate demon and 15,000 demonic beings. However, almost 80 percent of the creatures he fought were undead with their bodies already mutilated. In addition, these undead were the lowest of the lowly creatures, such that a reasonably skilled Templar Knight or priest could purify a thousand alone.

However, the knight was claiming that Seon-Hyeok was responsible for the annihilation of 200,000 respectable opponents founded on demonic energy, not these lowly beings. 

At this point, he seemed closer to a god of war than human.

“What the hell happened in that land that…”

As the old Templar Knight claimed, even if a quarter of the rumors were true, Seon-Hyeok must have grown tremendously.

“We were curious about that too. However, the Indomitable Duke did not provide additional details, and there has not been any news as he immediately moved onto the next battlefield after receiving the bare minimum in supplies.”

“Well, that’s expected of hyung. He was never one to stay in one place.”

“It is as you say. It was just a week ago that we first heard the rumors of the Indomitable Duke and the riders’ appearance in the far north. But according to the most recent news, they’ve already taken care of half of the front.

In fact, this did not suggest that they traversed half the continent in a week. The rumors only reached Panthea so late because Seon-Hyeok and the riders were moving that quickly.

How fast are they moving that even rumors can’t catch up with them?

Joon-Min somehow felt at a loss.

“But there’s an interesting rumor. The red wyvern the Indomitable Duke often rode is nowhere to be seen.”

The old Templar Knight was even aware of the surrounding rumors of the missing wyvern.

“Some say that it’s because the red wyvern was sacrificed in his battle against the demon king in the west, while others suggest that the Indomitable Duke is deliberately traveling on horseback to better connect with the northern nomads who only respect other riders.”

It was certainly plausible. The battle against the Dark Lord could not have been easy for the dragon rider without his dragon. It would not be strange if he lost one of his dragon subspecies in the conflict.

“Some of his critics suggested that everything the Indomitable Duke achieved was thanks to his dragon subspecies. I’m wondering what they’ll say this time.”

The death of the dragon subspecies was a painful loss, but the old knight said it was fortunate that the Indomitable Duke’s innate strength was still formidable.

“In any case, it’s an undeniable fact that the Indomitable Duke has given our alliance some breathing room. The leaders are trying to devise ways to make best use of this opportunity, so whatever it may be, there will be some changes coming soon.”

Having given a rough understanding of the situation, Joon-Min got up to leave, but the old knight stopped him.

“Oh, by the way, do you know anything about an existing relationship between the Indomitable Duke and the nomads to the north?”

“I’ve never heard of it before.”

Joon-Min pondered over it, but he could not think of anything.

“Really? That’s quite strange.”

“How so?”

Having heard Joon-Min’s response, the old knight answered with a disbelieving look.

“There’s a rumor that the northern nomads, people who treat those not born and raised on the steppes as beneath them, were different in their attitude towards the Indomitable Duke. According to what they say, the relationship between the duke and the riders was almost that of brothers, and I’m sure it’s not completely off the mark.”

“Hm, as far as I know, he’s never been to the north.”

It was even stranger knowing that the dragon rider, despite wandering all over the continent, had no preexisting connection with the north.

“I have no idea what he’s done, but to think that those aloof nomads were encouraged to participate en masse in this conflict…”

They could not come up with an explanation no matter how hard they tried, and in the end, they were forced to set aside their questions until the person in question arrived.

As for Seon-Hyeok, the protagonist they longed to meet, he was much closer to them than they could even imagine.

***

The sight of 40,000 riders charging in unison on the battlefield was nothing short of spectacular. This was even ignoring the fact that these riders were the northern nomads, almost never seen in these lands.

Compared to the traditional, colorful heavy armor of the kingdoms’ heavy cavalry units, the northern nomads looked to be little more than beggars in their full battle gear.

These riders even lacked the specially designed lances exclusive to the cavalry. They simply wielded crude, 2-meter spears generally used by ordinary spearmen.

Their armor was even more ridiculous.

Their almost ragged leather armor barely covered their upper bodies, and the fur hats they wore in place of helmets differed from rider to rider.

And perhaps most notably, their mounts made the riders look even shabbier.

These horses were less than two-thirds the size of standard war horses and were covered in uneven hair. The proud cavalry of the kingdoms would have laughed at the sight, saying such lowly horses were not even suitable to carry supplies.

The northern horses were simply that unassuming.

But these small, shabby horses were the cherished mounts of the northern nomads, and the source of the power of the infamous riders riding across the northern steppes.

These horses proved their mettle in their charges against the tens of thousands comprising the demonic horde.

Ack!

The roars of the demonic beings, capable of completely suppressing even the war horses accustomed to the battlefield, rang across the area.

However, the mounts favored by the northern riders neither balked nor froze. They simply paid attention to their riders’ commands, as though the screams of the demonic beings did not matter to them.

When their riders twisted their bodies slightly, the horses likewise turned. When they grabbed their reins, the horses adjusted their speed accordingly.

There were no unnecessary movements. The steppe horses were surprisingly sensitive and persistent.

But there was something even more surprising.

The riders of the steppes were almost eerily silent. There were no outcries, or even commands to lead their movements.

All that could be heard on the battlefield were the sounds of horses’ hooves and the roars of the demonic beings.

The only times this silence broke were when the cavalry lifted their short bows, which looked almost like children’s toys.

Whistle!

The sound of these projectiles were different from that of typical arrows. A strange sound, almost like that of tens of thousands of pipes being played simultaneously, resonated around them.

And as the sound spread, thousands of demonic beings screamed as they collapsed onto the ground.

It was truly spectacular.

The demonic army, strong enough to resist the spears of trained soldiers, were pierced and torn apart like sheets of wet paper.

Ack!

The demonic beings, accustomed to always rushing at their enemies, grew disoriented, unable to determine how to respond to these unfamiliar foes.

If the demon commanding these hordes was present, they would not have fallen so helplessly. However, that creature was already long defeated.

A rider conspicuously dressed in heavy armor among the simply equipped cavalry had charged forward like an arrow at the start of the battle and had thrust a spear into the heart of the demon commanding this demonic horde.

The man responsible for the immediate slaughter of the demon, separated from the riders, had stood alone like a great general in front of a collapsing wooden barricade and refused to move.

It was as though he was waiting for something.

“Collapse.”

And after quietly observing the battlefield, the man quietly spoke a word as he drove his wooden spear into the ground.

Rumble.

At that moment, the ground crumbled under the demonic beings, which had been driven into a single mass by the incoming charge of the northern nomads. 

These creatures screamed as they struggled to escape the collapsing terrain. However, the more they struggled, the more the land tenaciously grabbed at their ankles, and the horde soon found themselves in an earthen pit.

And immediately after, the ground swallowed up the creatures that had crawled into its maw.

“What the hell…”

The commander of an infantry regiment, on the verge of collapse from the repeated attacks by the demonic army, stood with his mouth wide open at the incredible sight.

However, this only lasted a moment.

“W, we won!”

“We’re alive!”

Hearing his troops, the commander cheered alongside them as he realized that he had been saved.

“We won! We won!”

The cheers soon grew into a raucous cry celebrating their miraculous victory.

“Long live the Indomitable Duke!”

“Long live Drachen!”

The spear-wielding man standing like an indestructible pillar on the battlefield, Kim Seon-Hyeok, raised a hand as if to respond to the infantry’s cheers.

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