Episode 73. Sea Dragon (1)

Why am I so nervous?

Seon-Hyeok subconsciously gulped.

“The Drake Knight received Gradus 89.”

He was at a loss after hearing the delayed answer. 89 seemed like a low number, but at the same time, there were only a hundred individuals in the kingdom even holding this status. He couldn’t contain his curiosity and asked.

“What Gradus are Sir Asha Trail and Marquis Reinhardt?”

Harold Tyrone had clearly brought up the topic of Gradus in order to gain his attention. He grinned as he replied.

“Sir Asha Trail is Gradus 46, and Marquis Reinhardt is Gradus 4.”

Asha Trail was a genius with the sword and someone he had never bested, even in training duels. He was dumbfounded to hear that there were as many as 45 knights who were stronger than her. Even more absurd was the fact that Marquis Reinhardt, whose power was incomparably strong even compared to Asha Trail, was only ranked fourth. Seon-Hyeok felt discouraged at the thought of there being three even greater monsters.

“To be honest, the Drake Knight’s initial Gradus was 99. However, the person below you, the Sword of Lightning, reached Gradus 90 through repeated duels, and your status likewise rose as someone who defeated him.”

Seon-Hyeok almost burst into laughter. He could guess how Raiden Laylark must have felt, winning duels to raise his status to find that he had given his mortal enemy a free boost in the rankings. He couldn’t suppress his grin at the thought of how unfair it must have seemed.

“If you would like, I can get you a magazine with last month’s Gradus.”

Embarrassed that he had sounded overly enthusiastic, Seon-Hyeok awkwardly cleared his throat.

“However, that magazine happens to be in our lord’s library. It wouldn’t be difficult to bring it to you, but I’d need to get his permission…”

Seon-Hyeok smirked at the obvious intent behind the words.

“It’s fine. I’m satisfied knowing that my Gradus is 89.”

Harold likely imagined that a knight wouldn’t be able to resist the curiosity of knowing who was ranked above him.

However, Seon-Hyeok was not an ordinary knight, but rather a foreigner. Not only that, he was naturally easygoing and unconcerned with such matters. He was satisfied knowing that his name was among the great knights and mages of the kingdom, and he flatly rejected the cunning squire’s suggestion.

“Aren’t you curious?”

“Well, I’m more hungry than curious. If you’ve finished your business here, I’d like to start eating with my attendants.”

After trying to entice the foreign lord a few more times, Harold Tyrone gave up and shut his mouth.

“Please feel free to call me if you need anything. I would be happy to be your hands and feet.”

“I’m grateful for the thought.”

Hearing the aloof response, Harold Tyrone said farewell with a disappointed expression and left the inn.

“You did well. Rugenburg’s lord is in charge of the purse strings of the nobility. There’s no reason to have a private meeting with such a man and draw the attention of the royal family. You did really well.”

“No. I really was just hungry.”

As if to prove that his indifferent response wasn’t empty words, Seon-Hyeok called in the server and ordered their food.

Eighty-eight above me in the Adenburg Kingdom…

He thought about Gradus and smiled as he idly moved his hands.

It’s good to have a lot of people to surpass.

He wasn’t confident of beating Asha Trail yet, let alone the marquis, but he knew he’d be able to overcome them eventually if he continued to grow stronger.

“My lord, if you’re not going to have that…”

While Seon-Hyeok was lost in thought, Hansen emptied his own plate and reached out. Seon-Hyeok hurriedly grabbed his plate and began to focus on his meal once again.

The following day, Jonasson and Hansen left to interview the survivors from the incident. Worried that he might get caught up in another conflict given the chaotic situation in Rugenburg, Seon-Hyeok decided to stay at their accommodations.

“Isn’t Gradus such a groundbreaking idea? The lower-ranked will try to surpass those higher than them, while the higher-ranked will desperately train to maintain their status. Those who aren’t fortunate to be ranked will work to reach that level. I think it’s a beneficial system for everyone.”

All Seon-Hyeok could do was listen to Jackson chattering away.

“More than that, I’m surprised that Raiden Laylark is ranked so low, considering he’s only ever lost a single duel.”

The outstanding knight, the victor of consecutive duels in the capital and owner of the nickname ‘Judge of House Laylark’, was only at Gradus 90. Seon-Hyeok wasn’t sure whether it meant that there were that many strong beings in the kingdom, or whether this specific knight’s reputation exceeded his abilities.

“The reason the second son of House Laylark became renowned was that he defeated a senior knight as a newly ordained one. There aren’t that many knights capable of championing for nobles in a trial by combat. Of course, this means that Raiden Laylark is a skilled knight, but also that there are plenty of stronger men in this kingdom.”

“I’d like to take a look at that thing called a magazine sometime.”

Jackson showed genuine interest in Gradus, while Julian seemed apathetic. She wondered how reliable or meaningful these arbitrary rankings could be.

Hearing her reaction, Jackson shut his mouth with an embarrassed look.

At that moment, Jonasson and Hansen returned from their mission. Accompanying them was a black-skinned man.

“My lord. This is the survivor I mentioned before.”

“You found him sooner than I thought.”

The fact that the survivor was located in less than half a day was astounding.

“Balboa, the humble sailor, greets the lord.”

The man identifying himself as Balboa sloppily bowed.

“I’ll get to the point. Can you tell me more about the incident at sea?”

At Seon-Hyeok’s question, Balboa immediately began to stutter about the incident he survived.

“For some reason, the sea was calm that day. There were no waves that rocked the boat, and not a single seagull was seen hunting for scraps on the decks. Looking back, it was strange.”

After pausing for a while, Balboa continued his story.

“At the time, everyone celebrated, thinking it was the perfect day to be out at sea. If conditions persisted, we would have traversed the kingdom’s south sea faster than expected. However, that’s when it happened.”

“Go on.”

Terror flashed through Balboa’s eyes. Even though the incident took place years earlier, the healthy-looking man shuddered at the memory.

“The flagship was the first to fall victim. It had been in the lead, and it turned unnaturally, as though it had hit an underwater reef. Even until then, we thought that maybe the ship had just hit something invisible. However, the ship began to tilt in addition to being pushed off course. An accompanying ship approached to attempt a rescue operation, but met the same unfortunate end.”

Balboa’s eyes were full of tears as he said he couldn’t forget the faces of the sailors begging for help from the sinking ships.

“The captain realized that there was something under the surface and decided to save our boat instead of going headfirst into danger. The crew blamed the captain, but could only watch as their fellow sailors got sucked into the monster’s maw.”

It looked as though the captain of the third ship refused to allow a rescue attempt.

“The monster appeared when the flagship and envoy ship were about a third of the way underwater.”

Balboa’s eyes, filled with hatred and fear, trembled.

“The monster’s body was thick as the ship’s main mast, and gross and horrible like a snake. The beast quickly wrapped around the sinking ship and swallowed the screaming sailors.”

Seon-Hyeok’s eyes flashed at the word ‘snake’.

“What did it look like, exactly?”

“Uhh. Its mouth was large enough to swallow two or three large sailors at a time, and its scales glistened horribly. Its body was large enough to wrap around at least one small merchant ship. Other people didn’t believe me, but it was most certainly a sea dragon. The whirlpool I saw when the ship sank was the splitting image of the stories about the sea serpents’ hunting grounds.”

The sailor’s explanation was rambling, but it was sufficient to assure Seon-Hyeok of the sea serpent’s existence. Even if this world was full of monsters, there more likely wasn’t another snake-like monster large enough to completely wrap around a merchant ship.

“And where did that happen?”

Balboa’s eyes suddenly changed at his question. They had been shaking in fear until then, but they suddenly burned with ambition.

“I can show you.”

Seon-Hyeok had given up hope that Balboa would be a guide, given the traumatic nature of the incident. However, contrary to his expectations, Balboa was stepping forward to show them the way.

“Just find us a ship. I will make sure to find that monster.”

***

“That Balboa. I feel a bit uneasy about him.”

Even if Jonasson hadn’t said anything, Seon-Hyeok would have had reservations about Balboa’s attitude. Balboa’s gestures looked like he was having a mental breakdown, while his ever-changing eyes felt abnormal.

“Let’s survey the other survivors. We can worry about him later.”

Jonasson and Hansen left again the following day, but they returned with dark expressions. They couldn’t find many survivors, as though they were hiding, and the ones they found showed no inclination of ever returning to the sea.

“My lord. Please reconsider. That man isn’t normal.”

“There isn’t any other way. As long as we can hire other people capable of keeping him from doing anything, we can avoid any catastrophic situations.”

After much consideration, Seon-Hyeok hired a reliable captain and crew so that they could set sail. Having acquired a ship, they were about to head into the sea when they ran into a problem.

“We can’t go out to sea with that cursed person.”

“We’ll return the deposit. We’re very sorry.”

The captain and crew they went through the trouble finding refused to go with Balboa. Finding his contracts nullified one after another, Seon-Hyeok was unable to even get his feet wet – despite being in front of the sea where the sea serpent resided.

“This is driving me crazy. We can’t leave Balboa because nobody else can guide us, but nobody will lend us a ship if we take him.”

Seon-Hyeok alternatively tried to cajole or intimidate the sailor, but Balboa resisted, insisting he needed to personally lead the way. Unable to find any other option, Seon-Hyeok was forced to look for a ship not through the sailor’s guild, but instead through other avenues.

“My lord, these people are no different from pirates. If we encounter even the slightest danger at sea, we’ll be damned before we can do anything.”

The ship they found here couldn’t possibly be normal. Jonasson and Julian expressed their concerns, but Seon-Hyeok remained stubborn. He couldn’t bear to leave the sea serpent, which resided less than two days’ distance away.

“If you don’t like it, you can wait here. I don’t want to endanger others while taking care of personal business.”

Seon-Hyeok said this, not wanting to be stubborn and unreasonable, but he was reprimanded for his actions. Julian grew angry, saying she wouldn’t send her master alone to a dangerous place once again. Hansen and Jonasson, meanwhile, expressed their regret that Seon-Hyeok was taking their loyalty lightly. Jackson didn’t outwardly show disappointment, but didn’t seem to have any intention of remaining on land.

“Stay alert from the moment we get on board. Don’t accept the food or water offered by the crew. Especially you, Hansen. Don’t accept whatever you’re given.”

Hansen nodded sullenly at Jonasson’s instructions.

“Welcome to our ship, Undutiful Son, sir.”

The captain of the Undutiful Son reeked of alcohol and had hollow eyes. He greeted the party with exaggerated gestures one might expect in a play.

“Then we’ll get going. I will do my best to make the trip enjoyable.”

The crew, with too many scars over their bodies to be average sailors, kept glancing at the party. Among them were those who looked at Julian with evil expressions. It was obvious this would not be an uneventful voyage.

“Balboa. I don’t know what you’re planning, but I will not hold you at fault if you properly lead the way.”

“I will take you there no matter what happens.”

Balboa’s enthusiasm after getting on board the ship felt ominous, but they had no other options.

Seon-Hyeok’s goal was to scout out the area before returning with a proper fleet in order to form a contract with the sea dragon. He just hoped that the worst would not come to pass. However, the worst-case scenario was bound to happen in times like these.

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