Episode 240. Gradus Number One (2)

Although the duel between the Indomitable Duke and Marquis Reinhardt was held in secret, because of the roars and flashes of light that could be seen all the way in Rugenburg, rumors quickly spread.

But, as if they had made a promise between themselves, the main parties remained silent on the outcome of the duel. And since the sole witness of the duel kept his mouth shut, no one knew the results and speculation ran rampant.

Even when the expedition left the Rugenburg territory after relieving their fatigue from the voyage, they still didn’t share the outcome and only numerous rumors remained behind.

“Ah, I’m so bored.”

The journey to the capital of Adenburg was so peaceful that it was boring.

But, the expedition wasn’t used to it. 

Adenburg was far away from the battlefield, but the expedition was still high strung. 

It wasn’t unreasonable. 

Afterall, the expedition had spent more than half a year in a cursed land that didn’t differentiate between day or night.

The expedition team had been attacked multiple times a day by the demons, and every time they woke up, they had to clean up the remains of their comrades who had been eaten by the demonic creatures overnight.

The foreigners, who had known nothing in the beginning, gradually got used to death in such harsh circumstances.

However, what was even more terrible was the abominable demonic energy that could trick even death. 

After effects began to appear when they were exposed to the demonic energy for a long time. The soldiers who went insane began to attack their allies. 

The priests and Templar Knights tried their best to delay this demonization, but it was only a temporary measure. 

Eventually, the corrupted soldiers either committed suicide or were killed by their allies when they could not overcome the madness.

Having gone through such terrible times, this peacefulness felt like clothes that didn’t quite fit for the expedition team.

Despite being surrounded by what could be called the finest of the kingdom, the thousand Central soldiers and the knights of the Royal Guards, the expedition team still felt anxious.

It was to the point where they decided amongst themselves and set up a night watch.

Kim Seon-Hyeok tried to tell them several times that there were no demonic creatures or beasts here, but they didn’t listen.

They had finally escaped hell, but pitifully, their souls were still wandering somewhere in the cursed land. 

“Kahhhhh!”

The foreigners couldn’t shake off their nightmares and woke up screaming every night, and each time, the campsite was thrown into chaos.

Belatedly, the knights and soldiers realized that it was the aftereffects of the war that the foreigners could not shake off and they tried their best to ignore the terrible screams they heard every night.

They believed the foreigners’ nightmares would end soon.

But contrary to their belief, the foreigners’ condition did not improve even though they had reached the peaceful lands of Adenburg a while ago.

“Ughhhhhhhh!”

The sentry who had been standing with his back to the fire turned around with a pale face.

“It’s starting again.”

They should have gotten used to it by now, but the desperate screams of the foreigners horrified the soldiers each time.

“What on earth did you experience in the West…”

The campsite felt eerie in the dark with the occasional screams and groans. Without realizing it, the sentry had approached the campfire and was gripping his spear tightly.

Soon, it became day again and the darkness around the campsite disappeared. The soldiers who had been disturbed all night by the foreigners looked tired and bleary-eyed. It was as if they had been up all night. 

Marquis Reinhardt clicked his tongue with displeasure when he saw that.

“Tsk. How could the soldiers of the Central Army, the one who are supposed to be supporting the center of the kingdom, be this weak.”

Next to him, the Central Army’s officers’ faces hardened when they heard that.

They weren’t sure, but they had a feeling that the Marquis’ complaints would have big consequences.

However, it seemed like the marquis was indifferent to the central military’s situation.

“Anyway, it’ll be impossible to bring them to the royal palace in their current state.”

Marquis Reinhardt expressed concern about the foreigners’ situations. It was a natural concern as the head of the Royal Guard and the commander in charge of the royal castle’s defense.

“They were in the central region’s frontlines until they came here, sir. And even after we joined the Iberian Navy, we were attacked several times by sea monsters. They’ll need more time to realize that this isn’t a battlefield, sir.”

The marquis let out a sigh at Kim Seon-Hyeok’s response.

“I hope they come to realize that before we arrive at the royal castle.”

“They’ll overcome this, sir. They’re the ones who managed to keep sane even in that hellish place. They aren’t weak.”

Even as he said that, Seon-Hyeok could see the foreigners’ bright expressions, as if the fuss overnight had never happened.

“It’s a problem if they’re too sharp, but it’s also a problem if they're too calm like the Qeishas. I can’t tell what they’re thinking and that makes me uneasy.”

The marquis turned to look at the Qeishas.

The Qeishas, covered up until only their eyes were visible, continued to walk quietly without caring that the marquis was staring at them.

“I am reluctantly carrying out my order because you are guaranteeing them and because Her Highness the Regent has commanded, but I feel ill at ease with them.”

The marquis seemed uncomfortable by the fact that a different race whose power was equivalent to that of a high-level knight was openly roaming around.

It was only natural for the marquis to feel uncomfortable since he was responsible for the royal’s safety and the Qeishas, whose strength were equivalent to a thousand high-level knights, were strong enough to overturn the entire kingdom.

And the marquis’ concern was also seen in the ranks.

At first glance, the soldiers’ positions seemed like an ordinary escorting arrangement, but it was actually closer to encircling the Qeishas. Even as they were moving, the soldiers constantly had a hand on their weapons so that if they were ever given the command, they could annihilate the Qeishas located within the encirclement.

There was no way Kim Seon-Hyeok didn’t see that intent.

Having spent longer time rolling around on the battlefields than in a comfortable castle, Seon-Hyeok had become an experienced field commander who was able to read most military intents and the ‘air’ of the room. It would be stranger if he hadn’t noticed the way the soldiers were deployed.

But, he didn’t object to it.

He had expected this kind of action. The relationship between himself and Najima had grown more solid after he met the Mother Tree, but the marquis didn’t have such bonds with the Qeishas

It would be impossible to change the mind of this stubborn marquis with only a couple of words.

The Qeishas must’ve understood the situation as well because they didn’t express dissatisfaction even when the Adenburg soldiers were at times overly wary of them.

They were fairies who were several times more sensitive than humans, but even though they must be uncomfortable by the military, they remained silent as they listened to the orders.

“Don’t worry, sir. They’ll be satisfied with a bit of land for their Mother to settle. Even if they have a different intent, I’m sure it’s nothing that you need to be worried about, Marquis.” 

“You can never know what people are actually thinking. Moreover, they’re not even humans. Even you don’t know what they’re up to, do you?”

But Kim Seon-Hyeok remained unshaken by the marquis’ words.

“How could I? I don’t have the kind of talent to know what people are thinking about, so how could I know that. But, there is something that I do know.”

“And what is that?”

Seon-Hyeok spoke with a determined look as he saw the marquis frowning.

“No matter what happens, they will not cause trouble in front of me.”

Depending on how one perceived it, Seon-Hyeok’s statement could be understood as him being able to suppress more than one thousand fairies whose strength was equivalent to high-level knights by himself.

But even when he said something that could be understood as boasting, his expression remained calm. However, because of that, the words didn’t seem like a lie.

“So you didn’t give it your all that day.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok responded indifferently to the marquis’ words. 

“Wasn’t it the same for you, sir?”

Kim Seon-Hyeok knew that just as he hadn’t taken out his war dragon form, the marquis hadn’t taken out his hidden trump card either.

“Well, I couldn’t cause Her Highness to worry just so that I could change something as small as a number, could I?”

“The same goes for me, Marquis. It is well known that Her Highness cares a great deal about you and I didn’t dare cause her concern.”

The two looked at each other and smiled calmly. But that smile was so dry that it was chilling. 

However, since they were not mortal enemies, it was impossible for them to duel again using all their abilities. 

If two knights of their level fought with all their might, then one of them would definitely shed blood. 

“Hmph.”

In the end, it was the marquis who turned his head first. He seemed to think that if he continued to act prideful here, then it would seem as if he was disagreeing with the results of the duel and was acting shamelessly.  

“Since I have things to do right now, we’ll continue this when we get to the royal capital.”

Seemingly unhappy, the marquis changed the topic with a glint in his eyes.

“But be very prepared. There will be many hardships you’ll have to face once you get to the royal castle.”

“If it has to do with the Sword Star, then I’m prepared, sir.”

The corner of the marquis’ lips raised at Kim Seon-Hyeok’s response.

“I’m not talking about the Sword Star right now.”

“Then…?”

The marquis’ smile deepened.

“I’m talking about the scar on your face. After all, Her Highness does not know about it yet.”

The narrow-minded marquis had to get the last word before he was relieved. And the marquis was successful.

Kim Seon-Hyeok also knew that Ophelia would not overlook his obvious scar.

He closed his eyes with a pale face.

***

Since there was no place in the entire country where the royal family or the lords’ influence didn’t reach, the country was in a rare state of stability.

No, even if it didn’t, unless they were crazy, no one dared to cause trouble where the flags of the Royal Guard and the Central Army were fluttering.”

And thanks to that, Kim Seon-Hyeok and his party were able to quickly reach the royal capital without getting caught up in anything unpleasant.

“Hm, seems like it’s gotten a bit better these days.”

The foreigners continued to scream during the night, but recently, the frequency of the screams decreased significantly. They seemed to have slowly begun to realize that this wasn’t the battlefields on the West where it was teeming with demons.

But it would still take more time for them to completely get rid of their nightmares.

Marquis Reinhardt slowed down the procession as much as possible in order to give the foreigners, who were still a bit bloodthirsty, more time to soak up the peace.

“I’m sorry, captain.”

Lee Soo-Hyuk apologized with a dark face. He seemed to have noticed that they were moving too slowly, to the point it was noticeable, so that they could buy time for the foreigners’ condition to improve.

“It isn’t your fault.”

In a rarely used softened voice, Kim Seon-Hyeok encouraged Lee Soo-Hyuk and the other foreigners.

No matter what anyone else says, they had gone into the hellish West in order to save him.  If he didn’t back them up, then who else would empathize with their circumstances. 

The marquis also treated the foreigners who had jumped into hell to save their commander in a friendly manner. The same was true for the other knights and soldiers.

They treated these devoted foreigners with honor. 

And with such consideration and care, the foreigners quickly improved. By the time they reached the outer edges of the royal capital, the foreigners no longer screamed and overturned the campsite at night.

“Cavalry approaching in the front! Seems like it's the royal capital’s long-distance patrol, sir!”

Kim Seon-Hyeok’s expression brightened as he took in the cavalry running straight towards them.

They had finally arrived at the royal capital.

But that bright expression didn’t last very long.

“Her Highness is waiting 20 kilometers outside the royal capital for the arrival of the Indomitable Duke, sir!”

He felt like he ran into the final boss before he could even finish preparing himself. 

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