Episode 279. A Hero's Path Smells like Flowers (4)

[I had no choice.]

There was no need to wonder about whose voice it was. Even Goldrake, who hadn’t been able to talk, was able to learn the language, so why couldn’t Bluegon? Besides, Bluegon had spoken to him quite fluently in the past, so their current situation didn’t feel strange at all. 

[In order to heal your broken body, I need an enormous amount of water. However, merely immersing your body in the shallow waters wouldn’t have been enough water qi, so this was unavoidable. So do not think that I am doing this because I have an ax to grind.]

Kim Seon-Hyeok had finally heard the sea serpent’s voice after a long time, but he couldn’t help but think that it sounded like an excuse. That was probably because Bluegon hadn’t needed to attack so ferociously, nor had the serpent informed him in advance.

But, he didn’t bother mentioning that and criticizing the sea serpent. There were more important matters right now than something trivial like that. 

“Then, are you saying that I can be healed as long as there’s enough water qi?”

Thanks to the priests’ great efforts, all his flesh wounds had been healed. However, because it had needed so much energy and power, rather than healing, his destroyed insides had only worsened over time instead of getting better. 

He was slowly dying.

It may not be visible on the outside, but even at this moment, his life force was steadily draining out of his broken body.

[There is a place I have found. It will take some time.]

Immediately after the sea serpent finished speaking, an unknown energy enveloped him. Before he could fully enjoy the pleasant sensations, he slowly began to fall asleep.

[The deep sea isn’t good for humans like you, so it won’t be a bad idea for you to sleep for a bit.]

At first, Bluegon’s voice was clearly audible, but slowly, as if he was dreaming, it turned faint. Then later, he didn’t hear anything at all. 

[I hope you have nightmares.]

***

Even after they had waited for two full days, the vanished Indomitable Grand Duke didn’t appear.

The old admiral thought that perhaps Kim Seon-Hyeok had drifted away in the currents, so he had the fleet spread out and expand the search range. However, no traces of the Indomitable Grand Duke could be found.

“All ships, as of this moment, training is over. We’ll be returning to Granado.”

In the end, Admiral Lopes had no choice but to give up searching for the Indomitable Grand Duke. 

“But sir, the Indomitable Grand Duke is an important figure in the mainland. If we go back like this, we may earn the wrath of the mainland and Iberia may be abandoned.”

At his lieutenant's worried comment, Admiral Lopez looked out into the blue waters silently.

“If I don’t return, return home immediately…”

Although the Indomitable Grand Duke hadn’t finished talking, there was no doubt what he was trying to say. He had been calm on the rocking ship and stood firm even as he watched the waves rushing toward him as if to swallow him.

“The Indomitable Grand Duke will surely return.”

The Indomitable Grand Duke was someone who had gone missing several times already. 

And each time, people had said he would not return, but he had proved them wrong. Even when everyone talked about his death, as if telling them to all look at him, he had always returned. In the end, he became someone who shone brightly. 

Of course, no man was ever free from death. One day, even this great knight might never come back. But Admiral Lopez didn’t believe that day was now.

He was putting all his expectations on the resolute appearance the Indomitable Grand Duke had shown at his last moment.

***

The 1st Fleet returned but the Indomitable Grand Duke didn’t return with them.

“All warships anchored in the port will leave a minimum number of defenders and set off to find the Indomitable Grand Duke! Actually, no, it doesn’t have to be a warship! Ask all the captains of the merchant ships to help as well!”

The Iberian Grand Duke turned pale and immediately organized a search party. However, even though there were close to a hundred large and small ships scouring the nearby sea, they could not find the Indomitable Grand Duke.

“How can this be? All this is futile…”

The Iberian Grand Duke hadn’t lost his resolve even when the Holy Kingdom declared war, but he half-fainted when the search turned out to be unsuccessful.

Although this war had started because Iberia was protecting the Indomitable Grand Duke, it wouldn’t end just because he had disappeared.

From the beginning, the central kingdoms had attacked Iberia in order to take over Iberia’s abundant financial power and sea routes. Now that it had gotten to this point, the whereabouts of the Indomitable Grand Duke’s wasn’t important. 

But it was different for the Adenburg Empire.

The biggest reason they had mobilized the entire eastern region to support Iberia was that the Indomitable Grand Duke was in Iberia. But now that the Indomitable Grand Duke had disappeared, it was questionable whether the Empire would continue to support Iberia.

This was the very reason why the Iberian Grand Duke was so preoccupied.

“Contact the Imperial family immediately.” 

Terrified that Adenburg might cancel the promised reinforcements, the Iberian Grand Duke requested a communications channel with the Imperial family to be established.

“The Indomitable Grand Duke has…”

The Iberian Grand Duke didn’t dare think about lying and prostrated himself as he reported the entire situation.

[This has happened more than a time or two.]

However, the Empress’ reaction was very different from what he had expected. She wasn’t angry nor was holding him accountable. 

[Among the Indomitable Grand Duke’s subspecies, there is a sea serpent named Bluegon. The reason the Indomitable Grand Duke went out to sea most likely has to do with him.]

She only let out a small sigh; she didn’t express anger or hold him responsible.

“The admiral of the fleet who escorted the Indomitable Grand Duke said that he saw a giant snake-like creature right before he disappeared.”

[If, by a giant snake, you mean the beautiful blue scales then yes, that’s Bluegon, the Indomitable Grand Duke’s sea serpent.]

“Ah…”

The Iberian Grand Duke hadn’t been able to sleep at night in fear of the mainland’s wrath, but that fear disappeared instantly.

[If he is with Bluegon, then the Indomitable Grand Duke will never suffer misfortune in the sea. So do not worry any longer and focus on what you need to do.]

“I will obey your commands, Your Majesty.”

Once the conference was over, the Iberian Grand Duke finally forgot all his anxieties and his face brightened. But that was only for a moment. His face, which had become happy, quickly hardened.

Although the problem of the Indomitable Grand Duke was settled, Iberia's reality hadn’t changed at all. 

Iberia was still at war with the central kingdoms and the enemy continued to fiercely attack Iberia’s borders.

There were about a dozen emergency reports that flew in from the frontlines daily, and all of them were important.

Of course, this was only natural.

The enemy forces were increasing day by day, but the only Eastern Kingdom Alliance’s army that had joined the frontline was the infantry regiment from the Belgrade Kingdom. This was because the central kingdoms had united and blocked the route connecting the West and Iberia. 

The only reason that Iberia’s borders hadn’t been breached immediately was all thanks to the Northern Cavalry that had gone beyond the Iberian border and burrowed deep into the Asrael Kingdom. 

The Northern Cavalry was remarkably valiant and cruel.

The cavalry boldly divided into groups of hundreds and rampaged through enemy camp. When the enemy’s supply unit appeared on the front line, they sniffed it out like dogs and rushed in to behead the supply unit soldiers. Then, they replaced the supplies on the cart with the enemy soldiers’ heads and sent them into the enemy’s garrison. 

Such cases happened countless times. And because of that, the morale of the enemies deployed to the frontline plummeted instantly.

That wasn’t the only activity of the Northern Cavalry. Surprisingly, they even raided the marquisate of the Asrael Kingdom and burnt it to the ground. 

When news spread that even the mighty marquis’ estate had fallen, the minor lords on the front lines were frightened.

They realized that their dreams of helping to bring down Iberia and share a part of Iberia’s immense wealth from their trading were futile. The reality that unfolded in front of these minor lords wasn't as rosy anymore. 

These lords stirred at this cold reality. 

This was different from the war against the Demon King. Back then, they hadn’t needed to worry about their backs. They only needed to deal with the demonic monsters in front of them. Although there had been some who wanted to take advantage of the chaos, those people had been suppressed by the powerful army of their lord. 

But not now. There were no rules in a war fought between humans, not in a war between nations, and not in a war that was being fought for their own wants and needs.

Since the implicit rule that limited the participation of superhumans so that it would prevent a major war from happening had long been broken, nothing would be strange. 

“I will be returning back to my estate.”

“The only one left at my estate is my only child. If I make a mistake, my family’s bloodline will be cut off, so please, do not hold onto me any longer.”

One after another, the lords who were defenselessly exposed to the cavalry’s attack broke rank and left the frontline to go back to their territories. But before they could reach their estates, they were attacked by the ferocious cavalry that was waiting for them in the middle of the road, and were all beheaded.

The brutal Northern Cavalry loaded a cart and sent off the heads of the minor lords, along with their soldiers’ heads, back to the enemy camp.

No one else was willing to leave the frontlines when the people who had left it returned as corpses.

Now, they couldn’t leave the frontline or concentrate on the war. So it was rather strange that morale was maintained. 

But, even the Northern Cavalry's amazing performance couldn’t change Iberia’s overall situation. 

It wasn’t only the Asrael Kingdom’s troops that had been deployed to the frontline. The lords who came beyond the Asrael Kingdom may have felt alarmed, but they didn’t consider their territories to be in danger. Their estates were too far away for even the swift-footed Northern Cavalry to reach. 

“Either way, they’re wandering around without a base. As long as Iberia is destroyed, they won’t have a place to set foot.”

Whether the Northern Cavalry rampaged behind them or their soldiers starved, the central kingdom’s nobility continued to launch an offensive on the Iberian border. 

The fortresses of Iberia seemed like they would fall, but they never fell. 

All this was also because of the Indomitable Grand Duke’s arrangement.

Marek Schnail Roachim. 

Before the appearance of the Indomitable Grand Duke, Marek had been considered to be the strongest knight. And now that the Sword Star was free of his shackles as the Adjuster, he was holding onto the Iberian borders. 

Riding the griffin, the Sword Star flew all over the frontlines saving the fortresses that were in critical condition without sleeping.

“How many troops are deployed to the frontline?! And how many kingdoms are joined?! Yet you’re saying that you can’t do anything about Iberia?!”

The leaders of the Holy Kingdom raged when the war didn’t go the way they expected. 

“This war is not simply a war! This war is a Holy War that judges the heretical and evil Indomitable Grand Duke!”

The Holy Kingdom finally declared it a Holy War and even threatened the central kingdoms’ nobles saying that those who passively engaged in the war would be excommunicated.

The commanders who had been optimistic and sure that in spite of the slow progress, that the Iberian fortresses would eventually fall, suddenly found a fire lit under their hindquarters. 

Perhaps it would’ve been different once upon a time, but now, the entire central region was under the influence of the Holy Kingdom and to be excommunicated in a situation like now would be tantamount to being sentenced to ruination. 

The nobles were wary of and tried to please the Holy Kingdom. No one would interact or trade with anyone who was excommunicated. 

On top of that, even the serfs most likely wouldn’t acknowledge the authority of their lord if they were excommunicated. This wasn’t something a royal family could avoid either.

“Bring the fortress down immediately.”

Until now, the nobles had been afraid that the first occupant would be covered in injuries, so they had been pushing the ‘glory’ of being that person onto someone else. But now, all of them drew their swords. 

Previously, they had pushed the conscripts to the front while the ordinary soldiers and superhumans had retreated to the back. But now, they all appeared on the battlefield in large numbers.

The strong walls of the fortress began to show cracks when the mages poured their magic at it. Knights climbed up ladders, and the fortress guards were slaughtered by their blue sword energies. 

And in less than two days, the first Iberian fortress collapsed.

There were no survivors. Even the civilians in the fortress had been treated as heretics and brutally murdered. The black smoke that rose from people being burnt alive covered the entire sky like dark clouds.

Absurdly, the central kingdoms’ soldiers all believed they were carrying out the mission of a just God while performing such cruel acts.

To them, the murders and tortures were nothing more than upright acts of purifying sinful heretics.

It was the very definition of madness of faith, and once it was added to the madness of war, it looked as if hell had spread throughout the world.

The second fortress collapsed.

Once again, there were no survivors. Even the mercenaries who had surrendered were all decapitated merely because they had taken the side of Iberia, who was on the side of the evil Indomitable Grand Duke. 

Now, the Iberian army had no choice. 

The only option left for them was to resist with all their might against the fanatics who understand the word tolerance. 

The Iberian soldiers decided that rather than surrendering and dying gruesomely under the name of ‘purification’ they would die with their arms cut off and guts pouring out but resisting with their swords in their hands.

That desperate will of the soldiers gave them the strength to just barely continue supporting a fortress that was about to collapse. However, none of them believed they could endure forever in the face of the enemy’s overwhelming force and madness.

‘It’ll be soon, so Iberia, do not give up.’

The Iberian Grand Duke gripped the message that came in from the Empire tightly as he raged. 

“Just when will it be ‘time’?! Are they planning on stepping in after Iberia is completely destroyed?!”

Two fortresses had collapsed. It was unknown when the remaining fortresses would fall, but it was only a matter of time before the border was breached. There was no way the Iberian Grand Duke would be in a good mood.

“Is the Imperial family planning on giving up on Iberia?!”

A month had passed since the Indomitable Grand Duke had disappeared. By this point, even the Imperial family must’ve begun to feel anxious over his safety. So even if they had previously said they wouldn’t hold him accountable, it wouldn’t be strange if the Imperial family changed their mind.

The Iberian Grand Duke began to suspect that the Empire had decided to withdraw from this war.

But then, a miracle happened.

‘The Northern Cavalry attacked the royal capital of the Asrael Kingdom and beheaded all of the family members.’

The Northern Cavalry had disappeared beyond the frontline as they rampaged at the enemy’s rear. Surprisingly, they had broken through the formidable defense and destroyed Asrael's royal castle. 

Unfortunately, this was only the Kingdom of Asrael, a country that had already exhausted a considerable amount of manpower at the beginning of the war and had needed to retreat. Although the nobles and commanders of the central kingdoms, who were heavily consumed by the madness of war, were shocked, it didn’t slow down their attacks.

‘The Northern Cavalry, advancing north!’

At least, they weren’t until the news that Darun and his men reunited and were heading towards another kingdom. 

The central kingdoms completely panicked. But before the commanders could calm them down, another message arrived at the frontlines.

‘Adenburg Imperial forces attacked Georg Fortress at the eastern border of Rosehog Kingdom! Georg Fortress about to fall!’

Even if the Adenburg Empire participated in the war, all the kingdoms had expected that they would be able to attack Iberia using the sea routes. But as if they were ridiculing their expectations, the Adenburg Imperial Army attacked the Central Kingdoms Alliance using land routes. 

‘Georg Fortress captured!’

Before a day had passed since the news of the Adenburg Empire’s participation in the war, a message arrived saying that Georg Fortress in Rosehog had been captured. 

‘Allies who were attacking Seville Fortress were defeated when Eastern Kingdoms Alliance and the Iberian Army joined. Currently, the remaining troops are retreating to the rear.’

Just as the command center of the central kingdoms was hit by the unexpected attack and thrown into the chaos, the previously hidden Eastern Kingdoms Alliance’s reinforcements for the Holy War appeared at Seville fortress. 

The Adenburg Empire had been preparing for a long time, and this wasn’t all of it. 

All the borders that the central kingdoms shared with the eastern kingdoms were attacked simultaneously.

‘Brothers of Adenburg! The time is ripe, advance!’

This was the prelude to the counterattack. 

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