Episode 72. Gradus (3)

“Shield!”

Hearing his enraged shout, Julian hurriedly threw Seon-Hyeok a buckler secured to the horse’s saddle. He snatched the small shield out of the air, grabbed the handle, and immediately smashed downwards.

“Keok!”

The man running in front had his face smashed in by the shield and fell down screaming.

“Die!”

The second thug trampled on his fallen comrade and brandished a knife. For Seon-Hyeok, the attack felt incredibly sloppy and slow. He almost yawned as he kicked at the man, not even bothering to block the clumsy attack.

“Ugh.”

Kicked in the stomach by a hard leather boot, the man collapsed while letting out a grotesque noise. The man running right behind him stared wide-eyed, shocked that two of his fellow thugs had been taken out in an instant. Seon-Hyeok smashed the blank face with the buckler.

Thud.

“Ugh.”

A piece of a tooth and crimson blood spewed into the air as the third man collapsed.

“Huh?”

The unidentified assailants hesitated, belatedly realizing that they had picked the wrong target. However, Seon-Hyeok was furious and had no intention of letting them run away. He secured the handle of the shield. Although it was a cute little buckler barely large enough to cover one’s head, in his hands, it was a terrifying chunk of iron and an efficient weapon.

“Ack!”

“Kuack!”

Seon-Hyeok approached, swinging the buckler in a wide arc, and the men in front fell, faces slashed by the edge of the shield. He pushed forward without hesitation, recklessly swinging both fist and shield as he tore through the assailants.

“Hiik!”

“Oh? Closing your eyes? You don’t even have the basics of fighting down.”

The man shut his eyes in fear even before Seon-Hyeok could reach him. His face, sporting knife scars, was truly pathetic.

“I, I’m sorr… keok!”

He prostrated before the foreigner, head down as if begging for forgiveness. He was promptly kneed in the face and began foaming at the mouth.

“We lost two of them.”

Seon-Hyeok turned to see Hansen and Jackson standing on top of two archers.

“What. That was it?”

Still angry, he looked for another opponent. However, anyone able to stand on their own two feet had already disappeared.

“Ugh.”

“Sob.”

The unidentified attackers had tears and snot running down their faces. It was a completely different sight from just a moment ago.

Seon-Hyeok grew even more enraged. These men would’ve been beaten up by the lowliest of soldiers on the western front, but here, they were brandishing their blades like they owned the settlement. He searched out the ones who still seemed to have their wits and kicked them.

“My Lord. There are people watching.”

He came to his senses after hearing Jackson. He looked around before stopping.

“But nobody’s paying attention?”

They had left the alley as they beat up the assailants. However, despite the commotion, none of the people passing by looked at them. They hurried about, afraid of making eye contact. It was as though midday stabbings were commonplace in these parts.

“Wow. What kind of shitty neighborhood is this? People actually live here?”

As Seon-Hyeok exclaimed in bewilderment, he heard a whistle from afar. With that, the guards approached.

“Wow. So early. Way to get here after they’re all taken care of.”

He clicked his tongue at the horribly slow guards as Julian came to take the bloodied buckler.

“Halt!”

“It’s been a while since things stopped.”

The mass of guards glanced at the alley and awkwardly stuck out their spears.

“We received a report that you ambushed innocent citizens. Drop your weapons…”

“Just stop. I’m actually going to get angry.”

Seeing the guards about to call the victims the attackers, Seon-Hyeok warned them in a low voice.

“If you surrender, you will be brought to justice…”

“This place is a mess.”

The guard’s demand for surrender wasn’t even worth listening to, so he called Julian. She had been wiping the blood and flesh from the buckler using a man’s coat lying on the ground, but quickly came to his side when he called.

“Take care of this.”

“Would you like to go to your accommodations first?”

“No. Let’s go together in a bit. This place really is a shithole. We shouldn’t split up and invite any more trouble.”

“Then I’ll take care of this as quickly as possible.”

The noisy guard gave them a fierce look as they spoke.

“What are you doing…”

Smack.

Julian walked up to the guard and smacked him across the face before he could even finish.

“What are you doing…”

“Identity and affiliation, guard.”

Overwhelmed by the commanding attitude, the guard stroked his swollen cheek and answered reflexively.

“Rugenburg guard forces, Carls…”

Smack.

Julian once again smacked the guard.

“How can a commoner speak that way in front of a noble?”

“A, are you a noble?”

Smack.

Julian was ruthless. The guard captain was in a daze after being slapped repeatedly.

“Apologize before you even think about asking who you’re talking to. Your complacent attitude and carelessness almost resulted in the noble coming to harm.”

Smack. Smack. Smack!

Julian continued to smack the guard even as she demanded an apology. He didn’t have the chance to open his mouth.

“You don’t deserve to know the name of this noble man. Take those trash and get out of here. If I hear that they didn’t get properly punished, I won’t let you get off so easily.”

The guard captain, slapped dozens of times by the small but sharp hand of the young girl, was almost delirious. The remaining guards stepped up to gather the unidentified assailants and disappeared.

“Is it okay to treat them so harshly? They’re still guards of this territory.”

Considering how the guards stood by the thugs, it was evident what kind of relationship they normally had. Even so, Seon-Hyeok couldn’t help but be worried that they were mistreating the guards of a different territory.

“My Lord, you should be more aware of your position as a noble. No noble asks forgiveness from those beneath him. He was the one who tried to accuse you of being a criminal.”

In the end, he was scolded for voicing his concerns.

“Let’s go. I was already tired before having to waste my energy on those bastards.”

Aware that he’d continue getting reprimanded, he gave an excuse to leave. Julian gave a disapproving look, but shut her mouth.

Fortunately, they didn’t have to worry about being attacked once they reached their accommodations. As befitting a large port city, Rugenburg’s accommodations and service were excellent. There was only a single wall between him and the outdoors, but the atmosphere inside was completely different from what he just experienced.

“I feel so much better now.”

The group looked like they had forgotten their recent troubles as they gathered at the restaurant after washing themselves. Considering they had been unable to wash properly during their journey, they felt refreshed after finally getting rid of the dirt and mud caked on their bodies.

“Hm.”

Even Julian, the squire responsible for delivering such feisty slaps earlier in the afternoon, wasn’t above the afterglow of the hot bath, as she dozed off like a young child.

“I’m back.”

At that moment, Jonasson returned from the sailor’s guild.

“You actually managed to find this place okay?”

“You caused such a scene outside, so it’d have been strange if I couldn’t.”

Jonasson casually responded to Hansen’s verbal jab and immediately began to talk about what he had heard.

“Around 4 years ago, three merchant ships heading southwest encountered a giant sea monster. Of those, the flagship and one of the accompanying ships sank, while the remaining ship was half-wrecked before the people were rescued by a passing merchant fleet.”

“Was it the sea serpent’s doing?”

“They say it’s probably a sea serpent. However, nobody’s actually seen the monster, so we’ll have to ask the survivors tomorrow to find out the truth.”

Jonasson claimed that asking around too openly from the beginning left one open to pranks or false information. He seemed quite familiar with the task at hand.

“Let’s get something to eat first. It’ll be our first time having a proper meal in a while.”

Seon-Hyeok didn’t expect much considering it was their first day at Rugenburg. He was about to order their meal when the door of the inn opened and guards rushed in.

“Ah. This place really doesn’t suit me.”

The party was just about to get over their earlier situation, and thus, they didn’t welcome the guards. Julian rose from her seat and glared at them.

“Affiliation…”

“I am Squire Harold Tyrone of the Rugenburg guard forces.”

Contrary to their expectations, however, the man was polite as he introduced himself.

“I heard that my men had a misunderstanding earlier and treated you rudely. I came to apologize in person. Please be understanding.”

Julian sighed as she saw the squire in traditional knight attire politely apologize.

“I am Squire Julian Vanquish.”

Considering it was not a common soldier, but a squire, showing them this respect, Julian couldn’t blatantly ignore his apology. She reluctantly returned the courtesy.

“Carls. Beg for forgiveness.”

At Harold Tyrone’s command, Guard Captain Carls knelt down. The group of soldiers behind him likewise bowed down and asked for forgiveness.

“We were wrong. Please show us mercy.”

“Hm.”

Seon-Hyeok wanted to mention the deplorable behavior of the guards and their close affiliation with the street thugs, but it was ambiguous whether he, as a guest, should meddle in other territories’ affairs. He waved his hands as a sign of understanding, unable to reject Harold Tyrone’s politeness, and the squire discreetly asked.

“May I know your name? A nobleman has come all the way to our territory, and I don’t know how I am supposed to address you. I worry that you will be inconvenienced again.”

It was obvious that this was the true purpose of his visit. However, he had no justification to refuse the question of the polite man.

“This is Viscount Seon-Hyeok Rheinperle Kim Drachen. The royal princess has given him the name Drake Knight, and His Majesty has personally appointed him as a knight.”

“Oh! You’re the famous Drake Knight. It’s an honor to meet you. If the lord knew of this, he would run here immediately to greet you.”

“He is just stopping by for personal business, so he doesn’t want to cause a disturbance. We don’t doubt that the Lord of Rugenburg would want to welcome us personally, but we’ll unfortunately have to push that off until next time.”

Up to this point, Seon-Hyeok had not spoken a word. Julian was asking him not to speak with her eyes.

“That’s unfortunate. If only the lord could meet a knight with Gradus. He wouldn’t spare any expense.”

“Gradus?”

This time, even Julian was confused with what Harold was saying. She stared.

“Don’t you know what Gradus is? These days, it’s common for the capital to rank everyone, whether they’re mages, knights, or summoners.”

Harold Tyrone looked at her like she was acting strangely.

“The border territories are too remote, and we’ve been focused on the movements of the Nocteins. I apologize for our lack of familiarity with the happenings at the capital. Would you care to explain, Squire Tyrone?”

Harold Tyrone spoke excitedly at Julian’s words.

“Ever since the medium called newspapers became popular in the capital, there has been an interesting development called magazines. It’s a separate publication containing articles and conversations with the renowned knights and mages of the capital, and it is becoming hugely popular there. Among them, the most famous is known as Gradus, which ranks people by their power.”

Upon hearing the explanation, Seon-Hyeok felt as though this bizarre ranking system known as Gradus must be the work of a foreigner. Likewise, he could tell that Gradus would be no different than rankings used in the other world.

“The proud knights of the capital are allowing people to make such a big deal about this?”

“For a while, the capital was in a state of chaos because the knights unhappy with their Gradus kept fighting to prove their skills. But now that almost half a year has passed, there are fewer of such duels, and people are mostly satisfied with their Gradus.”

Harold Tyrone went on to say that Gradus was given only to 100 proven talents, including knights and mages, and that having it was a great honor.

“And what is my master’s Gradus?”

As if guessing Seon-Hyeok’s innermost thoughts, Julian asked about his rank.

“The Drake Knight is…”

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