Episode 264. Molting (2)

Like the rocks and boulders on a rugged mountain, none of the glittering scales looked alike. His neck wasn’t long compared to his large body, but it looked strong enough. 

Previously, Goldrake looked like a mutated dinosaur, but now, Goldrake looked like a living mountain.

“Goldie?”

He had changed so remarkably that Kim Seon-Hyeok was doubting whether he really was the Goldrake that he knew. That was why Seon-Hyeok ended up calling out the name of his loyal dragon.

Grr.

The earth dragon slowly lowered his head until he was at eye level with Seon-Hyeok. While Goldrake’s appearance had changed, his honest golden eyes were still the same. 

Only after he saw those clear and steadfast eyes did Seon-Hyeok realize that the monster in front of him really was the Goldrake he knew. 

“Why’d you change like this?”

Of course, he wasn’t expecting a response.

[Because I was able to recover a little of how I looked in the past.]

But surprisingly, Kim Seon-Hyeok got an answer.

“H, huh?!”

The corners of the earth dragon’s ferocious snout rose when Seon-Hyeok looked completely bewildered by a situation he had never imagined. 

“You’re talking…”

[This too is for the same reason, so there’s no need for you to be surprised.]

The corners of the monster’s mouth rose even higher and the vertical golden eyes narrowed even more.

Grr.

Kim Seon-Hyeok belatedly realized that that was Goldrake’s version of a smile. It was a smile that was as ferocious and fearless as it was wonderful.

[Thank you.]

That simple ‘thank you’ perfectly embodied Goldrake that Seon-Hyeok could only laugh.

“No, I’m the one who should be saying thanks.”

Seon-Hyeok jumped off the griffin and slowly approached him.

“Thanks for coming back, Goldie.”

The dragon had returned as suddenly as he had disappeared. Kim Seon-Hyeok smiled as he felt the corner of his heart that had been feeling empty for some reason filling up again.


“This is Goldie?”

Julian had been quietly watching the reunion of Kim Seon-Hyeok and Goldrake. Unlike Kim Seon-Hyeok, who thanks to their strong bond was able to recognize each other regardless of how different he looked, Julian wasn’t sure that the monster in front of her was Goldrake. 

“Why did he change like this, sir?”

At Julian’s question, Kim Seon-Hyeok glanced at Goldrake. But as if he didn’t hear Julian’s question, Goldrake didn’t bother responding.

“Why’d you change?”

In the end, Kim Seon-Hyeok repeated the question and Goldrake finally responded.

[I’ve recovered the horns I’ve lost and since I’ve found the origin, it’s only natural for my appearance to come closer to its original.] 

Goldrake’s answer wasn’t any different from what Seon-Hyeok had heard from the Fairy Dragon before and there wasn’t any new information either.

“Then let me change the question.”

So, Kim Seon-Hyeok posed a more substantial question.

“Goldie, why were you and the other dragon subspecies punished and exiled?”

Goldrake snorted at the words ‘punished’ and ‘exiled.’ It seemed like he felt awkward by Kim Seon-Hyeok’s question.

“No, before that.”

Seeing Goldrake like that, Seon-Hyeok asked a question he had for a while.

“Are you a dragon?”

Kim Seon-Hyeok’s doubts slowly turned to certainty when the punished and exiled dragon subspecies slowly got closer to their origins as they were freed from the punishment for their crimes.

He was certain that the subspecies were another form of the dragons.

[The current me isn’t a dragon.]

But Goldrake vehemently denied his conviction in a very mournful and self-mocking voice.

“Mm.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok shut his mouth when he saw old feelings of grief and self-mockery peeking through Goldrake’s voice. He felt it would be malicious of him if he continued to ask more questions to the dragon who was clearly suffering.

Although he hadn’t gotten the answer he was looking for, that didn’t mean the truth was far away. There were many many emotions mixed in Goldrake’s short answer, and he could see a sliver of truth peeking through. Goldrake asserted that he was not a dragon, but he had used a keyword, ‘current’ in his answer. That word was tantamount to saying that the past (or the future) was (or is) different.

For now, this was enough. The rest of the hidden truths would come naturally once the dragons fully recovered their origins.

Kim Seon-Hyeok felt that day was not far away.


Whether it was because he was hurt by the uncomfortable conversation or he was taciturn by nature, Goldrake didn’t open his mouth after that.

He only occasionally nodded or shook his head at Kim Seon-Hyeok’s words to express his intent. 

“Um, sir, don’t take this the wrong way, but it’d be best if you didn’t talk to Goldie anywhere else. There’s a possibility that people may think you’ve gone insane…”

Julian looked uneasy as she gave him the advice. Apparently, the way he was talking to Goldrake ceaselessly made it seem like he was a crazy person.

“More importantly, how much stronger did Goldie get, sir?”

At that, Kim Seon-Hyeok also began to wonder how strong Goldrake had become after he suddenly molted.  

“I’m not sure.”

In the past, the status of his dragons would have been clearly visible, but in the current situation where all the detailed figures were invisible, he had no way of knowing how strong Goldrake had become. 

Nevertheless, Kim Seon-Hyeok knew that with the way Goldrake was right now, there was no way he would have become a bloody mess if he had dueled with Marek in the past with Goldrake.

***

“Was there always a mountain over there?”

Up high on the castle wall, a patrolling soldier tilted his head as he saw a small mountain that rose over a wide plain.

“Are you still drunk from drinking all night? What nonsense are you spouting now?”

“What’re you talking about? I didn’t drink that much last night. No, that’s not important right now. Look over there.”

“Ha, this bastard. You’re gonna get it one day when you get caught by the higher-ups for drinking like that regardless of day or night…”

A fellow soldier who had been shaking his head and swearing at the first soldier suddenly widened his eyes. 

“What is that?”

“See, I told you. Was there always a mountain over there…”

“You crazy bastard! Is that a mountain?!”

“If that’s not a mountain to you, then what is it?”

Seeing the laid-back attitude, the second soldier screamed at the first.

“It’s moving!”

Even before he finished talking, bells rang out from somewhere on the castle wall alerting the inhabitants of an attack.

“Emergency! All men to positions!”

“A giant monster appeared! It’s heading towards the castle!”

The previous Count had spent his entire life training the Mangsk soldiers to become elite soldiers, and because of that, they showed a different reaction.

“Catapult! Quickly! Get it ready!”

“Archers! Ready your bows and get in positions!”

In an instant, the soldiers occupied the castle walls and were ready for battle. They stared at the unidentified monster approaching from afar. 

“Ugh, is that really a monster?”

“Why’s it so big?”

Even if the soldiers had grown stolid due to the war with Noctein, they couldn’t help but feel dread as they looked at a monster who was as massive as the residence of any noble family.

“The Imperial Knights are with us!”

One of the commanders was smart enough to bring up the fact that the Imperial Knights, who had remained in Mangsk to escort the Grand Duke, were with them. Thanks to this, the subdued soldiers’ faces brightened. 

However, at the same moment the soldiers were putting their faith in the Imperial Knights, the knights looked bewildered.


“Grand Duke, what on earth are you doing now?”

The person they were supposed to be escorting, the same person who had stubbornly insisted on leaving the castle, was riding on the back of that formidable monster.


With the help of the Imperial Guards, news quickly spread that the massive monster and the Grand Duke were related. However, none of the Mangsk soldiers stepped down from the castle walls.

“I heard that that’s one of the Indomitable Grand Duke’s sub-dragons.”

“With a monster like that, it’s no wonder the Noctein bastards would wake up in a panic if they heard the name Drachen.”

The soldiers all stretched out their necks to look at the terrifying beast that they would most likely never see again. 

“No, that’s not it. Four years ago, I fought in a war with the Indomitable Grand Duke but the drake that he rode on wasn’t a huge monster like that.”

Amongst them was a soldier from the Mangsk regiment who had participated in the last war against the Noctein. He spoke with a terrified expression as he looked at the monster that was as large as a mountain.

“If such a monster was our ally back then, then Noctein’s borders would’ve been pushed back much farther than it was.”

The monster approaching the wall stopped.

“Guaaaaah.”

A groan echoed all over the castle walls. Some of the timid soldiers on the wall collapsed when they saw the vertical pupils of the monster from a close distance.

The Mangsk commanders had always upheld the indomitable spirit of not retreating in the face of any enemy but none of them rebuked the soldiers who had collapsed.

It was only a difference in degree, the commanders were also weak-kneed and on the verge of collapsing.

“Grand Duke.”

The only ones who remained in their right minds were the knights of the Imperial Guard and the Reclusive Duke.  

Thud. 

Kim Seon-Hyeok didn’t enter through the castle gate. Goldrake straightened out his neck and held his head high. Kim Seon-Hyeok walked up and stood proudly on top of the castle wall. This was the moment that the high walls of Mangsk, almost 12 meters high, were outshined. 

“How on earth did this happen?”

When the Imperial Guards questioned him, Kim Seon-Hyeok glanced back as he replied.

“One of my dragons that left came back.”

As if he was talking about a lost pet dog, he spoke calmly.

***

Kim Seon-Hyeok didn’t forget to compensate the soldiers defending Mangsk who had ultimately suffered because of him. Although he wasn’t able to make a fuss due to the passing of the former Count, he still rewarded them for their hard work by providing them with plentiful food. 

Of course, all of this was done through the royal family’s assets, and in the process, Kim Seon-Hyeok had no choice but to communicate with the Imperial family.

[So, Goldrake has changed so much. I wish to see him as soon as possible.]

Ophelia had always been particularly fond of Goldrake and was very pleased with the return of the golden monster. She spoke in a soft voice that he hadn’t heard since his duel with Marek.

“We’ll be lucky if the Imperial Guards don’t riot.”

It had been a while since Ophelia was in a good mood, and because of that, the mood between them became softer.

For Kim Seon-Hyeok, this was a situation he had been wishing for.

Unfortunately, he had to displease her once again.

“I think I need to go to the West one more time.”

It was in order for him to look for the missing Warrior.

[......]

Kim Seon-Hyeok began to cold sweat at the uncomfortable silence that came through the crystal orb. 

“A guy that I consider my brother has gone missing. If I don’t go look for him, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. 

Seon-Hyeok explained everything. Everything except how he heard the news. Ophelia didn’t say anything until he finished explaining.

[I’m sure I told you.]

When Ophelia finally began talking, her voice was as cold as frost. It was one of the coldest voices he had ever heard.

[I do not wish for you to be involved in any trouble. Especially if it’s where the terrible Demon King is, the West that caused you to wander outside the Empire for so long.]

“But…”

[This is not a request but an order given to you as the Empress of the Adenstein Empire. You cannot object to it in any way.]

When she gave him no room to object, he turned to look at Marek, who had been waiting by his side, hoping for help.

“Your Imperial Majesty, Marek Schnall Roachim greets you.”

[Ah, Duke Roachim was also there.]

Having learned of Marek’s existence, Ophelia responded back in a slightly gentler tone. 

“Your Imperial Majesty, I will head west with the Grand Duke.”

[Explain it in detail.]

When Ophelia asked for an explanation in a straightforward tone, Marek calmly said that he would take responsibility for the Grand Duke’s safety.

[Hm…]

Despite the Sword Star guaranteeing his safety, Ophelia didn’t readily grant them permission.

“If things go well this time, then we’ll be able to recruit the Warrior that the Holy Kingdom is so proud of.”

But with much effort, Kim Seon-Hyeok succeeded in persuading Ophelia. 

[I understand. But before that, you’ll have to stop by the Imperial Capital first, Grand Duke.]

“We’re short on time so…”

He tried to talk his way out of that situation but Ophelia wasn’t persuaded.

[With Sir Roland and the griffin, it won’t take much time. I’ll be waiting.]

Without waiting for his answer, Ophelia ended the communication.

“I’ve done my best with this.”

“Ugh. Thanks.”

Marek shrugged as he looked at Seon-Hyeok’s troubled face. Kim Seon-Hyeok could only shake his head.

***

In the end, Kim Seon-Hyeok headed to the Imperial Capital to meet Ophelia before heading out West.

“It’s the capital, sir.”

As if he had received other orders, Roland had hurried them and Seon-Hyeok arrived at the capital before he had mentally prepared himself. 

“I really don’t know what to do with you.”

Ophelia sighed as she looked at her husband who had only returned after she had commanded him. 

“I would love to tie you up and make sure nothing like the past would happen again, but a monarch’s words must have weight so I can’t take back what I’ve already said.”

When Ophelia lamented, Kim Seon-Hyeok couldn’t decide whether to say thank you or I’m sorry, so he just kept his mouth shut. 

“Promise me one thing.”

Seeing him like that, Ophelia made a request.

“Promise me that you’ll prioritize returning safely above anything else.”

“I promise.”

He agreed to her request, a request she had most likely uttered after compromising her own desires.

“I hope your trip abroad doesn't take long this time.”

On his way to the Imperial Capital, he had imagined all sorts of situations, but Ophelia had been much more generous than he had thought she would be as she allowed him to leave. She seemed somewhat exhausted by her husband who never listened to her.

“Thank you for understanding, Ophelia.”

When he slowly approached her and embraced her, Ophelia let out a small sigh.

“I didn’t ask you to come to the Imperial Palace because I wanted to see your face.”

It was as he thought. There was no way that the considerate Ophelia would ask him to come just because she wanted to see him.

“Is there something else you want to say?”

She pulled away from his arms and looked up at him.

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