Chapter 157. Connections Call Connections

Seol Jihu was running with frayed logs tied to his waist today as well when he suddenly stopped while climbing the peak.

"?"

Perking his ears, he carefully scanned the area.

He had heard a strange noise. It sounded like someone quietly crying.

And following the sound to its source, his suspicion was proven right.

He could see a small girl crouching behind a large rock.

Yi Seol-Ah was quietly sobbing with her hands clasped against her mouth.

She looked like she was desperately holding back her tears, but big drops fell from her deer-like eyes whenever she hiccupped.

Seol Jihu put his hands in his pockets and quietly watched.

He could guess why she was crying without even asking her. Jang Maldong’s training method was to push a person to his or her limits before making them overcome it, so it could only be hard and painful.

There was nothing anyone could do but curse Jang Maldong for being evil during his training sessions. It explained why Chohong and Hugo so desperately prayed for his afterlife.

Seol Jihu himself had experienced it, so he could sympathize with what she was going through.

But as much as he expressed his sincere thanks to Jang Maldong the moment he came back from the Banquet, he knew how significant the process was.

'Hmm.'

Now that he thought about it, he hadn’t been able to pay her much attention after going through the trouble of recruiting her because of his own training.

While enduring the training was entirely up to the siblings, he could have at least talked with them for a minute or two…

Becoming apologetic after realizing that, Seol Jihu pulled his hands out of his pockets and walked towards her.

He had intended to quietly approach her, but forgetting the logs tied to him, he ended up making a loud noise.

Yi Seol-Ah raised her head in surprise.

"O-Orabeo-nim?”

"Ah!"

Seol Jihu bitterly smiled and quickly began untying the rope around him.

Yi Seol-Ah watched him drop the practically broken logs and sandbags with tired eyes before quickly hanging her head down when Seol Jihu plopped down next to her.

She didn’t want to show him her crying face.

"I-I’m sorry.”

"What’s there to be sorry for?"

"Still… You’ve brought me all the way here, but I’m just pathetically crying…”

Hearing her speak with a sinking voice, Seol Jihu realized that she had an obsession of some sort.

Dryly smacking his lips, Seol Jihu took out a cigarette and placed it in his mouth.

"You can cry when you’re tired. Even I cried.”

"Orabeo-nim too?”

"Yeah. For your information, crybaby is one of my nicknames.”

Even though it wasn’t something to be proud of, Seol Jihu made a V-sign with his hand and beamed.

Yi Seol-Ah made an expression of disbelief.

"You’re just trying to cheer me up…”

"No way. If you really think I’m lying then go ask Master.”

"…Really?"

“Yeah. Was it when I was going up the hill in front of the cave? I was so tired that I couldn’t take a single step further, but Master yelled ‘Hurry up! Are you going to give up like this?’ at me. I teared up that moment.”

"So what did you do?”

“I clenched my teeth and trudged up with all I had. The second I collapsed, a notification informing me that my strength increased popped up.”

Seol Jihu smiled as he recalled that day before lighting his cigarette. Yi Seol-Ah opened her mouth slightly.

She knew how hard it was to increase a person’s physical level through pure training, since she, too, had trained before without missing a single day.

“Master’s training sessions are just like that. Even though he pushes you to the brink of death, you don’t actually die. It’s only to the point where you begin to lament ‘I’m going to die at this rate.’”

Seol Jihu turned to look at Yi Seol-Ah with a slightly serious face.

“And it’s all up to you to surpass your limit when that moment comes.”

Yi Seol-Ah attentively listened, engraving his precious advice in her heart. Seol Jihu grinned before blowing out the smoke.

“Well I’ve said this and that but… The point is that you can cry when you’re tired. Just cry out everything until your heart feels refreshed.”

Yi Seol-Ah wiped her tears with the back of her hands and let out a bright smile.

"Sora sunbae’s words were true.”

"Miss Phi Sora?"

"Yes. I’ve actually been caught crying a few days ago, too.”

"What did that woman say to you? Did she do that Bitching Time again?”

"N-no."

Yi Seol-Ah shook her head. After scratching her cheek with her finger, she crossed her arms.

And as if she was imitating someone, she squinted her eyes in a haughty fashion.

“Well, fine. I’m not one to talk since I cried too… and she left just like that.”

"Wow! Even Miss Phi Sora?"

"Why?"

"Ah. The truth is…”

It was something Seol Jihu had only found out recently, but Agnes, too, was said to have cried after receiving Jang Maldong’s guidance for only a single day.

And of course, Kazuki who told him this, also cried after a day.

And when he told her about Chohong who screamed like crazy before rushing at Jang Maldong, threatening to kill him, Yi Seol-Ah broke out into laughter, clapping her hands.

Seeing her feel better, Seol Jihu extinguished his cigarette and rose up from his seat.

“Master might be harsh when he’s training, but he has high expectations from you."

"Really?"

"Yeah. And so do I.”

Seol Jihu continued as he put on the sandbags and tied the rope around his waist.

“Grow up fast. I’d like for us to do missions and go out on expeditions together.”

"Orabeo-nim…"

There was a saying that a randomly thrown stone might kill a frog. Not knowing how each and every one of his words would impact her, Seol Jihu tightly tied the rope and gave her final words of encouragement.

"I have a feeling you and I will work well together.”

He sent her a wink.

"Now then, do your best."

After those words, he resumed his training.

Yi Seol-Ah stared at the back of Seol Jihu gradually growing farther away with a slight blush on her face.

That he had high expectations from her… that he wanted to do things with her. Seol Jihu’s words remained in her mind, causing her heart to flutter.

Yi Seol-Ah immediately stood up.

"My limits…"

She still had red eyes, but after having her motivation reignited, her eyes contained a new sparkle.

Yi Seol-Ah clenched both of her fists.

And at that moment.

"Break through my limits. Break through my limits!”

Yi Seol-Ah’s growth direction was determined.

*

Sometime in the evening, Phi Sora approached Seol Jihu.

“Here, take this.”

What Phi Sora passed to him was a communication crystal. The faint light coming from it indicated that there was an incoming call.

“Ooh. Why are you being so nice to me all of a sudden?”

"Grandpa told me to give it to you. Don’t get me wrong.”

Coldly replying, Phi Sora left with sassy steps.

‘Why did that woman come here anyways…?’

She obviously wasn’t here to train. She didn’t look like she particularly had anything to do either.

After tilting his head in confusion, Seol Jihu let a bit of his mana flow into the crystal.

And a moment later, light spilled out, showing an image of Chohong and Hugo grinning cheekily.

—Yo! You rolling well?

—Look at what we’re eating!

Hugo teased him, waving the meat and liquor he was holding in front of him. After silently staring back, Seol Jihu angled the crystal to show him a glimpse of Seo Yuhui quietly looking up at the sky not far away.

Hugo screamed.

—Whaaaaat!? W-What’s going on? Why is the person destined to be my future wife over there?

"She had business to do on the Huge Stone Rocky Mountain. Hearing that we were coming here, she decided to tag along.”

—Come oooon! You should have told me!

"The two of you ran off. How could I tell you when I couldn’t even find you?”

—Aaaahhh! Nooo!

Hugo screamed in despair, disappearing from the screen.

— …What happened?

It was an unfamiliar sight seeing Chohong’s frosty face. Then suddenly, she flung her hair back and spoke.

—Whatever… I called you because…

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened after hearing out Chohong.

—We were surprised too. A dude we thought was dead suddenly showed up asking if we knew anyone that had been to the Forest of Denial alone.

“It seems like he was talking about me… but what would he find me for?”

—I don’t know either. I told him about you and that you weren’t here at the moment. But after asking where you went, he suddenly dashed off.

Chohong shrugged.

—He was an interesting guy. His tracking abilities are known to be terrible, so he even hired another Archer to look for you.

Seol Jihu’s face became complicated. It was because he couldn’t think of a reason that the unknown person would look for him so desperately.

—I don’t know what happened exactly but… Hey! Try to talk it out with him.”

"About what?"

—Recruitment! Ghio, that guy! He’s a Level 4 Archer.”

"Ghio? Level 4?"

—Don’t underestimate a Level 4. He was once evaluated to be the next talent to continue the line of Haramarks’s elite Archers, Dylan and Kazuki. And he still is.

Seol Jihu stared at the crystal with a questioning look. It was the first time he had seen the unsociable Chohong fervently praise another human being.

—He already has a nickname for himself. Even Dylan wanted to recruit him before, you know? Well, he was immediately turned down though.

"Dylan did?"

—Yeah. He’s not so good with scouting, but his insane combat prowess is more than enough to overcome his shortcomings. He’s a rather rare type among Archers.

“Well. I think I’ll have to personally see him first. And besides, I don’t think he’ll join even if I ask him to.”

Chohong grinned.

—It’s not that I don’t know that. I mean, what does he lack that he’ll want to join Carpe Diem… I do know that he’s probably being flooded with recruitment requests at the moment.

"Why?"

—His original team was torn apart during a war with the Parasites. And it seems like he lost the rest of his teammates recently. He has no one left now.

"Hmm."

—Anyways, just try asking. You never know, right? If by chance you do recruit Ghio, then it will probably only be a matter of time before Carpe Diem regains its former glory.

And after saying, ‘Well, good luck! And don’t come back too early!’, Chohong hung up.

'Ghio… Ghio…?'

Seol Jihu tilted his head in confusion at the unfamiliar name.

But since he was told that Ghio was coming to him, he resumed his training.

And the next morning. An unknown visitor came looking for him just like Chohong said.

Seol Jihu, who had been training on the peak just in case, discovered a person walking around the woods off in the distance and decided to approach him.

A tall, nimble man armed with sculpted muscles sent a sharp gaze the moment Seol Jihu drew near.

“Can I ask you a question?”

A husky voice rang out.

"Is there a person named Seol nearby?”

"That would be me."

Seol Jihu immediately answered, having been informed beforehand.

A glint flashed across the man’s intense grey eyes.

"…Finally."

After quietly muttering to himself, he let out a short breath.

Seol Jihu carefully observed the man. There were traces hinting that he had wandered for a while, implying that he had separated from his guide some time back.

His equipment looked a bit lacking, but judging from the bow he was holding, he was undoubtedly an Archer.

His neatly combed ash-grey hair, which looked like it received volumizing treatment, along with the defined sideburn, gave him a striking impression.

‘He’s handsome.'

If Kazuki was a cold man from the city, then this man who carried a noble atmosphere around him was a nobleman of the medieval times.

But he had too many conspicuous scars to say he was just a boy raised in a rich house.

If Kazuki was a bird of prey in the skies, then this man was a solitary white wolf wandering around a snowfield.

But most importantly, the man’s wary eyes that contained an unconcealable hatred towards something, made his face look dark and frosty.

"Are you the one called Ghio…?

The man flinched before opening his mouth.

"…So you knew. If it’s not rude, may I ask a few questions?”

As his manners could not have been more polite, Seol Jihu nodded.

"I’ve heard from Chohong that you’ve been to the Forest of Denial alone.”

"Yes."

"By any chance, have you fought with a herd of Tarneras on your way back?”

"Tarneras? I’m not sure."

Seol Jihu rubbed his necklace.

There was no response. As Flone had recently taken a liking to explore the Huge Stone Rocky Mountain, she was rarely in the pendant.

“But I did fight with a group of man-eating monsters…’

"Can I know how many times you’ve fought them?”

"Two times. They came back to ambush me around dawn after I drove them away once.”

The man let out a small gasp.

“The Tarneras are known to eat people. And the number of battle traces I’ve confirmed were two.”

"Then I guess it was me. But why…?”

“Did you know that there was a nest of Tarneras nearby?”

"No."

“Then you must be unaware of the fact that you’ve freed people that were held captive by them.”

Seol Jihu who had been tilting his head in confusion, widened his eyes. He had suddenly remembered something that he had read in a report before.

—…he was ambushed by a group of ‘Tarneras’ on the way home from Napal Hill….

—…Miraculously, he and four others trapped in the same way managed to escape….

—…many organizations have offered the Archer of Steel excellent conditions to recruit him, but Marcel Ghionea, being the straightforward person he is, refused….

—…he is hellbent on finding his benefactor….

"Oh."

‘He’s not called Ghio but….'

Suddenly, the man quietly kneeled, causing Seol Jihu to be perplexed.

“Let me formally introduce myself. My name is Marcel Ghionea."

He planted both fists on the ground before raising his head.

"I greet my benefactor."

At that moment.

[You dealing with the man-eating monsters..]

[You did well. Things got hard when Evangeline Rose died in vain, but with this, the hole has mended.]

He suddenly remembered what Gula had said to him before.

*

The Parasite Queen sat on the Corrupted Throne of the Empire like always.

Of course, that was what it looked like from a third-person’s point of view, but in reality, the world reflected in her eyes was completely different.

After devouring the Chief Deity who overlooked this planet, the Parasite Queen recovered her divinity that was once driven to the brink of extermination and obtained new powers.

And one of the powers she had gained was the ability to see the destiny of all things on the planet.

However, the expression of the Parasite Queen who had been observing the movement of the stars was strange.

Her usual leisure was nowhere to be seen, and she could be seen leaning her body forward to intensely stare at a certain place.

[Strange.]

Her eyes carefully searched around the place.

[Strange, strange.]

All Stars of Fate traveled along their destined path.

However, there were always exceptions.

A shining star that appeared with an extremely small chance. A star that exceeded the size of any normal star and shined brighter than any other.

The moment that such a star exceeded a certain ‘standard,’ it would be reborn to be an existence that simply could not be compared to any other stars around it.

Every time it orbited, it would attract the surrounding stars. Sometimes, other stars would voluntarily enter the brightly shining star’s orbit.

And the shining star would share its light to the stars around it.

It was like the concept of the Sun.

Like how the planets orbited the Sun and how the satellites orbited the planet.

[Why….]

One of the two insignificant stars that had always been stuck together was suddenly struggling.

As if to test its own limits, it radiated an intense shine, foretelling a tremendous growth.

[Why…?]

She had been relieved at the disappearance of a strong star a while ago, but a new star suddenly appeared in its place.

And it showed movements of gradually heading towards a certain direction.

That wasn’t all.

There was a gigantic star emitting a shine greater than any other star.

This star was tightly embracing a dead star that was at the source of the entire anomaly in the starfield. It was like a mother protecting her child from danger.

A dead, lightless star was causing this much commotion?

Stars of Fate on the trajectory of self-destruction were suddenly becoming chaotic?

That was impossible.

But that impossible thing was happening.

Right in front of the Parasite Queen’s gaze.

[Tsssss…]

When the Parasite Queen, who had been staring for a long time, finally set her ‘resolve’….

Boom!

Slamming her hands down, she stood up from her throne. At the same time, the 14 pairs of bone wings on her back unfolded.

The Parasite Queen who had been staring at the dead star opened her mouth

[Come— Undying Diligence—!]

Her furious call rang out throughout the entire land.

Undying Diligence (Industria).

This was the title of one of the Imperial Guards of the Parasite Queen and the leader of the Nosferatus.

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