Episode 53. Proper Use of the Earth Attribute (4)

Seon-Hyeok shook his head at the commander’s suggestion. He knew too well that listening to this seemingly straightforward man meant getting caught up in his plans, and so he flatly rejected the offer.

“I don’t have any plans to do so for the time being.”

The commander clicked his tongue when he saw that Seon-Hyeok showed no signs of reconsidering. It was evident he had someone in mind. It was also evident that this someone would have kept an eye on him and tried to influence him according to the commander’s wishes.

“That’s unfortunate. I thought you’d need someone to carry around your weapons and armor.”

The equipment used by riders and knights was incredibly varied and heavy. Without anyone to help, it was enough for someone to be exhausted before even getting onto the battlefield. However, he was not an ordinary rider, but rather a dragon rider. Goldrake’s broad back and strength were enough that he could run all day while carrying equipment for an entire group of cavalry.

As such, he had no need for a squire.

“If that’s all, then I’ll get going.”

The commander saw him off, telling him he would provide a guide whenever he decided to check out the offered territories.

Clang.

After the private meeting with the commander, Seon-Hyeok headed for Emma’s bar to find his comrades. As he opened the door, he heard a sharp noise and flinched.

“You idiots!”

He heard a series of furious shouts and belatedly noticed the situation inside the bar.

“That’s not it, Emma.”

“You’re trying to show off a coat? How many people died so you could get that? How many? What’s so great about having a named unit? What’s there to even brag about?”

Emma was in tears and shouting while the huge riders stood around her, unsure of what to do.

“Don’t you have feelings? Why are you so inconsiderate? Don’t you know how I feel right now?”

“Emma, just relax. We’re soldiers. This is what we do.”

Even Jonasson, who was considered well-spoken among the cavalry riders, seemed to have no idea what Emma thought. Seon-Hyeok sighed when he heard the harsh words offered as a poor attempt at consolation.

“How long are you going to live like that? How long are you going to fight, never knowing when you might die?” Emma sobbed, no longer having the energy to shout.

“Ugh.”

Jonasson and Hansen noticed him enter and gave him a look. Seon-Hyeok knew it wouldn’t be right to jump in, so he stood quietly at the door and watched.

Tumble.

It looked like Emma was leaving, but she returned carrying a sack and turned it upside down. The money the riders had sent her poured out.

“Take it. I don’t need it. Neither I nor the others can accept this money covered in your blood.”

“Emma. Don’t be like that. Please calm down.”

Hansen and Jonasson desperately tried to reason with Emma. However, she seemed determined and did not back down. It seemed that the death of half the riders in the previous battle had taken a toll on her.

“Why don’t we set up a store or something instead? It might not be enough for a place in the capital or a big city, but we can still run a business in a nice place. I can cook and you can help me. You can escape this life where you don’t know when you might die.”

“Uh. Emma. Let’s talk about this again later. We’re on a mission right now.”

Emma belatedly saw Seon-Hyeok, took a quick glance, and disappeared into the hall.

“Ugh. That wasn’t a good look.”

“Why would you even brag about something like that in the first place?”

“How could I have known? I never thought Hansen would be such an idiot and say that in front of Emma.”

“Yeah. I deserve to die. It’s all my fault.” Hansen looked dejected as he admitted to his mistake.

“Well if you’re guilty, then you should.”

Jonasson kicked Hansen while he was down.

“And what did Jackson do wrong?”

“Ah, Jackson.”

The two belatedly realized they weren’t alone and turned to look for their companion. Jackson was squatting on the floor, cleaning up the broken plates.

“Ugh. I wanted this to be a good experience, but I guess that’s not happening today.”

“That’s okay.”

In fact, Jackson seemed rather impressed that the riders were secretly helping someone get by rather than squandering their earnings. Seeing Jackson’s sparkling eyes that did not fit the situation, Jonasson sighed and asked.

“Are you mostly finished? We can go drink now, right?”

Seon-Hyeok wanted to go take a look at the offered lands right away, but he couldn’t after seeing Hansen and Jonasson’s gloomy faces. He nodded, and Hansen immediately picked up a bottle that had been placed atop a cupboard.

“I’m going to need a drink today.”

The two men began to drink with a grim look on their faces, and the bottle quickly emptied. This time, Jonasson went to grab a new bottle of liquor, and that, too, quickly ran out.

Thud.

How many bottles had they finished? Emma approached, holding a plate in her hands, and nervously placed it atop the table. She had prepared snacks, worried they were drinking on an empty stomach.

“Thanks, Emma. You’re the only one who looks out for us.”

“Why do I bother? You don’t even look after yourselves.”

Hansen acted nice, thinking Emma had gotten over her feelings, but her response was icy. Even so, it seemed as though the worst of it had passed, as she still continued to take care of them and provide additional food.

Hansen and Jonasson became completely drunk and passed out. Jackson had unexpectedly good alcohol tolerance, and Seon-Hyeok didn’t drink out of concern for his drinking habits. As such, in the end, it was up to the two of them to take care of the drunken giants.

“Ugh. You shouldn’t have drank so much. And why are you so big?”

As though she had expected this to happen, Emma had already prepared a place for them. Seon-Hyeok and Jackson struggled to throw the two men on top of the beds.

Watching the two men snoring along, Jackson spoke with a slightly red face.

“I wondered whether I was doing the right thing coming along, but I think I did.”

Seon-Hyeok wondered what he was talking about all of a sudden, and Jackson went on to praise Hansen and Jonasson’s kind actions. Then, he quietly added, as his face grew redder.

“And Emma. I think she’s really cool.”

Seon-Hyeok laughed. It seemed that the last comment was what Jackson was really getting at.

“Do you have a crush on her?”

“Yes.”

Seon-Hyeok was taken aback by Jackson’s casual admission and replied with an awkward expression.

“Okay. Do your best.”

Just then, Emma appeared to straighten Hansen and Jonasson in bed and cover them in blankets.

“What are you looking at? I left food downstairs, so go eat. I’m sure you weren’t able to eat properly because you had to listen to these bums.”

Emma seemed like an older sister or a mother used to taking care of others, and Seon-Hyeok smiled softly. As if unhappy with his reaction, she went away with a huff.

“Um. I’m willing to stand down if you’re my rival here.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Seon-Hyeok blurted out a response to Jackson’s unnecessarily serious words.

After coming to their senses the following day, Hansen and Jonasson were only able to leave the bar after listening to Emma’s harsh nagging.

“She’s really a strong person.”

Hearing Jackson’s comment, Jonasson replied. He hadn’t fully recovered from the previous day’s drinking, but his gaze was clear.

“Of course she is. It’s impossible to survive along the border unless you’re strong.”

The Sastein devils that used to invade across the border were now gone, but they hadn’t been the only Noctein cavalry unit to loot and pillage their land. People living along the border were used to rebuilding burned-down villages and burying the dead in their hearts, and Emma was no different.

Once they left the bar, Seon-Hyeok and his party immediately went to visit the commander, and he provided a rider who would guide them to the offered territories.

However, the guide was far too young to be an elite soldier belonging to the Mangsk cavalry. Beyond that, the guide did not look the part. His blond hair shone in the sunlight and he had a fair, elegant face that could be mistaken for a woman’s, and a uniform befitting that of an aristocrat.

“Forward! It’s nice to meet you. My name is Julian Vanquish. I received orders from the commander to guide you and your attendants to the different territories. Please command me however you see fit during the journey.”

The guide had a last name, and even his manner of speaking was elegant. He most certainly was not the average guide.

“Ugh. That damned old man.”

Seon-Hyeok immediately guessed that this fine young man was one of the squire candidates that the commander had hinted at. The rascally commander was playing tricks once again.

“Um, is there a problem?”

The boy, who was maybe fifteen years old and hadn’t even gone through puberty yet, asked nervously. Seon-Hyeok couldn’t bring himself to send him away after seeing his eyes filled with anticipation and worry.

“No, that’s not it…”

He thought the situation was unlikely to change even if he did. He was certain the commander was the type of person to prepare several different candidates.

“Let’s get going.”

“Please feel free to speak casually. I’ve long admired the Drake Knight…”

“Stop! No using that title in front of me!”

Seon-Hyeok was shocked to hear this embarrassing title outside of the capital and quickly shut the boy up. Julian had a bewildered expression, but he didn’t ask for an explanation.

Julian disappeared to retrieve his horse before they left Fort Mangsk, and Jackson approached while he was away.

“Senior, that Julian’s most likely the child of a noble.”

“I know.”

“And also, she’a girl.”

Given the last name, it would have been strange for him not to notice that Julian was of noble birth. However, he failed to recognize that Julian was a woman.

“It’s a bit hard to notice because she’s still young, but she’s definitely a girl in men’s clothing. It used to be trendy among nobles, so I’ve seen it before.”

Seon-Hyeok started to get a headache. This time, he couldn’t grasp the commander’s intentions.

“Are you certain?”

“I am. You can ask her yourself later.”

Jackson seemed confident. At that moment, Julian returned. She seemed to have no intention of hiding her noble birth, as she was riding a white horse whose pedigree seemed far too great for a young rider.

“Is there something on my face?”

Julian asked nervously as she saw the men staring at her.

“No, that’s not…”

“Are you a girl?”

Seon-Hyeok tried to equivocate, but Hansen cut him off and asked her directly. Even the others in the party were taken aback by the sudden question.

“Yes, I am. Is that a problem?” However, Julian admitted to it coolly. The only change was that her polite expression, which had seemed almost mask-like, had now turned cold.

“I’m a proud rider capable of carrying my own weight. I have experience fighting and have even had accomplishments in battle. But if you think that I’ll be unable to carry out my duties as a guide in this enemy-less territory just because I’m a woman, I’ll call for someone else right away.”

Her retort was sharp. It was evident that she had been treated harshly simply because of her gender in this environment filled with macho men. Then again, it was difficult to fit in even as a man, so the conditions must have been much worse for a young girl.

“No, that won’t be necessary. I don’t know how many days we’ll be traveling together, but I just thought we should know about each other.”

Since she was selected by the commander, Julian wouldn’t lack the ability to carry out her duties. There was no need to send her back just because she wasn’t a man.

“Is that so? I apologize if I spoke too harshly.”

Julian's apology was polite, but proud. Once the situation was adequately resolved, she took the lead, and the men behind her looked at each other and whispered quietly.

“She really is a noble.”

“And a powerful one at that.”

They were convinced after seeing her unbending attitude despite her young age. Julian Vanquish was clearly the child of a powerful family.

There was a bit of a situation when Julian first saw the drake, but the party was able to reach the first territory as planned.

“I can’t tell even by looking at it.”

Julian spoke about the number of local residents, their key produce, and the territory’s general characteristics, but Seon-Hyeok was incapable of passing judgment. He decided to see the other places first before reaching a decision.

“I’m not sure about this place either. The only thing different is that there are more people here.”

“Is that so? Then let’s go straight to our next destination.”

Hansen and Jonasson were of no help, but Jackson was unexpectedly able to provide advice.

“If it was me, I would pick the first territory over this one.”

“Why?”

“This place might seem crowded and bustling, but they’re all travelers. It could be good if they’re merchants, but they look more like refugees from the previous war. It’ll take a long time for them to all settle down.”

Seeing Seon-Hyeok praise his explanation with an admiring look, Jackson continued on excitedly.

“And unlike this place, the first territory had well-paved roads to Count Mangsk’s main castle. This land is too remote.”

The explanation was somewhat helpful as he tried to reach a decision. While they spoke, the group arrived at the third territory.

“And this is the final one. The commander said it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get help from other experts or think about it for a while if it’s difficult to decide. It’s too important a matter to make an immediate decision…”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Seon-Hyeok shook his head at Julian’s words. “I choose this place.”

The party members urged him to reconsider, thinking his decision was hasty, but he remained adamant.

“You don’t need to rush to make a decision. Please think…”

“No. I like this place.”

As he spoke, Seon-Hyeok grabbed at the air as though he could feel something.

“What I’ve been looking for is plentiful here.”

- You have discovered an earth vein.

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