Episode 257. Imminent Awakening (2)

Even if it was a cheap trick, all Marek could do in the time span of one sword stroke was just throw dirt or spit in order to temporarily limit his opponent’s view.

None of those tricks would work on the Spirits.

“But just in case, don’t get close to him and finish it from afar.”

On the off chance that something might happen, Kim Seon-Hyeok ordered his Spirits to attack from a distance, and the Spirits never got close to Marek. 

With every step he took, the soft soil grabbed at Marek’s ankles. If he hesitated even for a moment, as if it wanted to bury him alive, the ground sank down and a pit would appear. 

But that wasn’t all. 

Winds as sharp as swords suddenly appeared and blew from all directions. Even with all the running and rolling around he was doing, it wasn’t easy for Marek to dodge this unexpected attack. 

Whoosh.

His hair turned into a rat’s nest as it was covered in dirt and sand. But in the end, even that was cut off by the wind. 

However, he couldn’t afford to worry about his hair. Marek continued to run and roll like crazy as he defended against Atiya and Nudar’s attacks. 

“Let’s go!”

How could a knight revered as the Sword Star, and as an Adjuster who worked hard for the balance of the continent, suffer something like this?

Kim Seon-Hyeok laughed as Marek’s face distorted. 

“This is karma.”

It was impossible for Marek to protest when that was something he had said himself. 

“Hm.”

Atiya and Nudar were attacking him but they weren’t delivering the final blow. That was intentional. At first, Marek had thought they were being careful because they were wary of the Adjuster, but now, he could see that wasn’t it. 

They were clearly playing with him. 

Seeing how seriously they regarded their master, it was obvious they were feeling hostile towards the man who had bloodied their master.

But he couldn’t stop them now.

Controlling the Spirits’ actions consumed a lot more mental energy than expected, and even with the continuous well of energy, Kim Seon-Hyeok was already mentally exhausted, so this was quite burdensome for him. 

He had lost too much blood to continue watching his Spirits attacking Marek. Kim Seon-Hyeok was afraid he would collapse from blood loss before Marek if he dragged things out any longer. 

“Hup!”

Perhaps Nudar knew Kim Seon-Hyeok's condition because she suddenly put an end to the repetitive situation. Previously, the ground had only been sucking in Marek’s ankle, but now, it completely collapsed and swallowed him whole.

Kaaaaaaaah.

Marek turned pale as he saw a tidal wave of dirt coming down towards him. 

“Wa, wait.”

The heartless Earth Spirit buried Marek alive without a single shred of mercy.


“Haaaaah!”

Marek had his eyes shut when he began breathing fitfully, but he started coughing before he could even breathe in a couple of times.

In a matter of seconds, he had breathed in so much dirt and sand that every time he coughed, he spat out dirt.

“Ugh.”

He must’ve felt that wasn’t enough because he began retching and throwing up dirt. It was pitiful to see the powerful superhuman so unlike his usual self as he coughed with a runny nose and teary eyes. 

Marek didn’t know how much time passed like this. After coughing and retching, he wiped the corners of his mouth and laid flat on his back.

“I lost.”

He had a complex expression that was simultaneously regretful and relieved. 

“You were definitely weaker than me. And yet, I’m the one lying on the ground right now.”

“You should have cut me down with that first Slash.”

If Marek had hardened his heart, then the duel would’ve been over at the beginning with that outrageous Slash. 

At that time, Kim Seon-Hyeok had been seriously injured and hadn’t been able to properly move his body. He had been truly defenseless. 

But for whatever reason, Marek hadn’t attacked and that gave Seon-Hyeok the time to recover from his injuries. 

Kim Seon-Hyeok had attributed it to Marek’s non-committal attitude towards this battle. Seon-Hyeok believed Marek’s attitude of trying to defeat his opponent without causing major injuries was the difference between victory and defeat for Marek. 

But the reality was, that wasn’t the only reason that Marek hadn’t attacked right away. 

At that time, Marek had thought that the reason his Slash hadn’t achieved the desired result was because of the Dragon. The Dragon had cleverly used that pause which caused Marek to be mistaken. 

He had been preoccupied with the Dragon’s emotions, and halfway through the fight, his cognitive ability had dropped because of his injuries. 

Marek might’ve felt that the situation was unfair, but he didn’t complicate the results of the duel by bringing up the Dragon. 

“You’re right. The difference between winning and losing could’ve been determined then.”

Instead, Marek just boldly admitted his defeat. 

“If I had fought you normally, I wouldn’t have beaten you.”

“Either way, you won.”

Marek’s non-committal attitude, the legacy left behind by the Earth Spirit King, the Dragon’s intervention, and the Drakanade’s strength all came together to create the basis for a miraculous victory. However, in the end, it was Kim Seon-Hyeok who had utilized all of that to win. 

Whatever the process was, Kim Seon-Hyeok had achieved another victory.

“You have to keep your promise.”

After opening and closing his mouth several times, Marek closed his eyes. 

“I would like to rest right now.”

With that, Marek didn’t move. For a second, Kim Seon-Hyeok thought Marek’s frail body couldn’t overcome the fatigue of the duel and the latter had died. But fortunately, that wasn’t the case; he saw that Marek’s chest was still rising and falling as he breathed. 

Thud.

‘Master!’

‘Master!’

Kim Seon-Hyeok plopped down on his butt. The Drakanade’s bulky body shrank down in an instant and became a humble human. 

“Ah, I should get some rest as well.”

It wasn’t just Marek who had reached his limit. All at once, Seon-Hyeok felt all the damage he acquired during the duel from the countless attacks. 

His vision suddenly began to blur because of the terrible pain and fatigue. 

“I’ll leave it to you.”

With blurry eyes, Kim Seon-Hyeok watched the white-feathered beast approaching him. He closed his eyes. 

***

Blink blink.

Kim Seon-Hyeok stared blankly at the ceiling that was both familiar and unfamiliar before abruptly sitting up. 

“Gak!”

He groaned at the unbearable pain as he bent over. He scowled as he realized that he had suffered a terrible injury. He hadn’t realized it until that moment. 

“Are you feeling awake now, sir?”

He turned his head at the low voice that spoke calmly. It was Asha Trail.

“Sir Trail.”

“You’ve been unconscious for ten days, sir.”

Before he could even ask, the lady knight told him what had happened. 

“When the griffin returned, I didn’t recognize it. His white feathers were dyed red and I never imagined that it would all be blood.”

Asha Trail told him that when Devon returned, Castle Mangsk fell into chaos. The Grand Duke, the spouse of the Empire’s only monarch and someone who ruled a vast territory from the Mangsk territory to the borders of Noctein, had returned in a bloodied mess. It would’ve been rather strange if there wasn’t a commotion. 

The Imperial Guards made a ruckus as if they planned on immediately destroying Marek, who had still been unconscious at that point. At the same time, the residents of Mangsk Castle were terrified they might get in trouble because of the nobles’ misfortunes. 

“I’m pretty sure I told you about this before we left. So why the fuss…”

The lady knight’s eyebrow twitched at his carefree tone. 

“Your right arm looked like it would fall off if it had been lacerated any more. Your chest and stomach were sliced open to the point it looked like your organs would be spilling out at any moment. Your left leg had been completely broken and was at such a pleasant angle. Do you think that’s all? Half of your ear was gone and none of your limbs were uninjured. Sir.”

Now that she mentioned it, his body looked like a mummy wrapped up in pure white bandages. He hadn’t realized it while he was fighting, but his body had been covered in injuries.

“Grand Duke, when you first arrived, I thought you were dead. That’s how severe your injuries were.”

When he thought about it, it made sense. There had been dozens of sword attacks that he had to just accept because he couldn’t dodge them in time, not to mention all the direct attacks. On top of that, he hadn’t been attacked by an ordinary sword. He had been mangled by the Sword Star’s sword. 

Looking back at it now, it was impressive that he was alive. 

“All the priests that could be summoned were summoned to heal your wounds. Some of the summoned priests even fainted several times in the process. That’s how serious your condition was, sir. But you’re saying it’s a fuss. Grand Duke, you’re too carefree about it.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok smiled awkwardly as he avoided her gaze. He was speechless when the knight, who rarely expressed her emotions, suddenly rebuked him. 

“Huu, well, I must go out and inform them that you’re awake, sir. If I don’t let the hard-headed Imperial knights know right now, they’ll commit suicide and I have no wish to see that.”

Asha Trail didn’t seem to be joking. It was even more frightening since there was a high possibility that the knights of the Imperial Guards really would do that.

“And I should let Her Imperial Majesty know as well. After all, she lost sleep because of her concern for you, sir.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok turned pale as he finally remembered Ophelia’s existence.

Oh shit, what should I do?

Ophelia was most likely pissed. He began to wonder whether it would be better if he passed out again instead, but he knew that if he did, it would cost him a lot more later, so he couldn’t do that. 

“And…”

Asha Trail hadn’t left through the door. She had stood there contemplating something for a while.

“If it’s with the Sword Star, then defeat isn’t something you should be disappointed about, sir.”

What on earth was she talking about? 

She stood with her back towards him. Kim Seon-Hyeok stared at her blankly before his eyes grew wide. 

After seeing him bloodied like that, it seemed like Asha Trail thought he had lost the duel. Most likely, no one imagined he would be the victor when he had returned with his entire body thoroughly injured. 

“If you think about it, you aren’t even half of Duke Roachim’s age …”

“I didn’t lose.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok smiled as he responded to the carefully spoken words of comfort. 

“What do you…”

Asha Trail turned around.

“Exactly as you heard.”

“Did you really...”

First, disbelief. Then astonishment spread across her worried face.

“That’s right. I won the duel, not Duke Roachim. So there’s no need for you to be worried that I’ll be disappointed.”

***

Mangsk Castle flipped out

There had been an uproar when they found out that the nobleman who had been on the brink of death woke up. And another one, once they found out that the duel they had thought would obviously be won by the Sword Star, had been won by the Grand Duke who had returned covered in blood.

The ones who didn’t care about the Gradus list and believed that the Sword Star was the best swordsman in the Empire could hardly believe this. 

“While I haven’t seen it myself, the Grand Duke isn’t someone to lie. If he said that, then it certainly must be true." 

But when they weren’t able to contain their curiosity and asked the knights of the Imperial Guard, they couldn’t continue to regard it as a mere rumor. 

They didn’t think the knights of the Imperial family and the Grand Duke would lie about the duel with the Sword Star. 

Of course, Kim Seon-Hyeok didn’t care a whit about the people’s reactions. 

From the start, the duel itself had only been to sort out the discord that happened between himself and Julian, someone he was supposed to be close to. The duel had never been for fame.

No, even if that wasn’t the case, Kim Seon-Hyeok didn’t have room to worry about the others. 

Immediately after the duel, a mage had entered his room and established a connection with the Imperial Palace. Seon-Hyeok, with a cut bisecting his face, had been harshly scolded by Ophelia. 

No matter what trouble he caused, Ophelia had always backed him up silently. But this time, she was extremely furious. As Ophelia reprimanded him so sternly, Seon-Hyeok was half bewitched by this new side of her that he had never seen. 

That was how angry Ophelia was. 

[You should forget about going out for a while after you return to the Imperial capital this time.]

In the end, she prohibited him from leaving the capital and he, as someone who had gotten in trouble for the same thing several times before, didn’t dare complain. 

But, there was one consolation. 

“The Countess of Mangsk has agreed to accept your offer.”

Julian hadn’t responded to the several letters he had sent, but now, she finally decided to accept her fate as an Adjuster. 

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