Chapter 162. Struggle

Racing back, the carriage came to a stop in less than a quarter of a day.

It had arrived at its destination.

Haramark was unexpectedly quiet. It wasn’t that it had to be noisy, but it was odd that it was so quiet.

It wasn’t as if there was no one on the streets, but the overall atmosphere was subdued and still.

Seol Jihu ignored everything and went straight to Luxuria’s temple. Only then did he realize the reason for this sense of incongruity.

A group of Earthlings walked up the stairs while glancing at each other and quickly disappeared into the temple.

There were more than one or two people doing so. Everyone coming to the temple was stealing furtive looks at each other, and Seol Jihu couldn’t help but be reminded of the tiring second stage of the Banquet.

An important thing to note was that many people were entering the temple, but not a single one was coming out.

Considering where the portal to Earth was located, Seol Jihu could only think of one reason for this.

“….”

He glared at the backs of the disappearing people before stomping his way up the stairs.

He took out his items from the vault, but even then he didn’t see a single person leave the temple.

Seol Jihu suppressed his anger and turned his steps towards the exit.

Seo Yuhui was preparing to leave for Scheherazade.

He had heard her communicating with the Temple of Luxuria, and the Order of Luxuria based in Scheherazade kept repeatedly asking her to return.

It wasn’t as if the Parasites were at the doorsteps of humanity at this very moment. As her class advancement could only be performed at Luxuria’s main temple where the ‘holy item’ was located, she had no choice but to return to Scheherazade.

Seo Yuhui was low-spirited the entire carriage ride back. From the way she seemed reluctant to return, Seol Jihu guessed there were things he didn't know as an outsider.

After coming back with the items he had promised, Seol Jihu could see Seo Yuhui who was looking slightly angry.

“You’re back?”

However, her complexion brightened up as soon as she saw Seol Jihu.

Seo Yuhui checked the items Seol Jihu brought and muttered in awe.

“So this is how they look like….”

“I’ll bring the item appraisal scroll.”

“No, you don’t need to.”

Seo Yuhui cusped her hands over the Proof of Castitas and Proof of Devotion and closed her eyes.

“Holiness that hasn’t dissipated after hundreds of years…. I’m certain they’re the real deal.”

She opened her eyes again and picked up a cylindrical flask. She looked a bit touched as she looked at the Divine Elixir.

“You purchased this from the Neutral Zone?”

“Yes.”

“The fact that you kept it until now means you were saving it…. Are you sure you can give it to me?”

Rather than giving her a reply, Seol Jihu raised his hand where anti-evil energy slowly gathered and shone with a golden light.

Seeing this, Seo Yuhui snickered.

“Okay, okay.”

She hesitated for a split second before swallowing the Divine Elixir of Luck. Then, she immediately gazed into the empty air.

“I see. So that’s what comes after Highest….”

She nodded her head after confirming the effect of the elixir.

“Wait. There’s something I need to give you.”

She grabbed onto the rabbit that was about to race back. Then, she brought out a heavy cloth bag.

“These are Dissonant Wishes.”

After seeing the contents of the bag, Seol Jihu’s jaw dropped.

“How…?”

“Do you remember Stage 3?”

With just these five words, the sharp Seol Jihu instantly understood. Seo Yuhui must have taken the Dissonant Wishes of the five who died there.

“But—”

“These are yours, Jihu.”

Seo Yuhui cut him off as if to say she didn’t want to argue again.

“At first, I planned to leave them there, but Luxuria-nim reminded me to take them along with me when I regained consciousness.”

“Luxuria-nim did?”

“Yep. She told me to give them to you. If you feel bad about receiving these for free, go complain to Luxuria-nim.”

“Why would she….”

It wasn’t that he hated it, but as the Golden Rule was engraved into his mind, he was confused by the unexpected kindness.

When Seo Yuhui saw Seol Jihu hesitating, she persuaded him to hurry up and take it.

“It’s because she likes you. You’ve already made great contributions towards Paradise, so I’m sure she must be expecting a lot from you.”

“But—”

“Take it. If it weighs on your mind that much, you can pay her back by contributing to Paradise. Plus… you’ll need them for what’s coming up.”

Hearing this last sentence, Seol Jihu accepted the bag reluctantly. Inside the bag were nine Dissonant Wishes. Without a doubt, they would come in handy in the upcoming war.

“I understand. I will use them for Paradise.”

Seol Jihu burned with eagerness, and Seo Yuhui gently grasped his hands.

“I want to ask you to come with me… but you won’t, right?”

Seo Yuhui’s question came out of the blue, but Seol Jihu did not hesitate for even a moment.

“I know you must be worried, but I’m sorry. I have to be in Haramark.”

Seo Yuhui sighed, but knowing that he would say this, she smiled kindly.

“Take care of yourself, alright? You’ve gotten stronger, but Parasites are terrifying enemies.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Wait just a little bit. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

Seol Jihu smiled brightly. With the entire human territory in danger, knowing that the Daughter of Luxuria would be helping out Haramark was a relief.

Perhaps, she might be going to Scheherazade to bring reinforcements for Haramark. How nice would it be to receive the support of the Temple of Luxuria, which was known as the home of all healing Priests?

Thinking about it that way, Seol Jihu became even more grateful for the woman in front of her.

“Thank you, Mom— no, Noona.”

Seo Yuhui glared angrily before smiling gently.

*

‘A longsword, a shield, a suit of armor, a crossbow….’

After separating from Seo Yuhui, Seol Jihu checked each Dissonant Wish with a slightly regrettable expression.

Items from the Banquet were guaranteed to be high-quality goods. That was what made it so regrettable. He was hoping for a good spear, but nothing in the bag seemed useful for him.

Seol Jihu stopped before climbing up the stairs. He could see Marcel Ghionea stretching on the first floor.

When their eyes met, he opened the door and walked out before giving Seol Jihu a slight bow.

“You’re back, Leader?”

Thinking about it now, Marcel Ghionea’s equipment was practically nonexistent considering his level. This was because he had lost most of his equipment during the time he was held captive by the Tarneras.

As Seol Jihu had confirmed Marcel Ghionea’s willingness to participate in the war, he asked another question.

“Do you know how to use a crossbow?”

“I can use all types of bows. But a crossbow is actually my weapon of choice.”

“It is? Perfect.”

Seol Jihu took out a crossbow from the bag of Dissonant Wishes.

The crossbow resembled a violin, with a barrel attached to its circular white body. It was rather sizeable as well.

When he activated General Observation, the name ‘Laurel of Triumph’ popped up along with the weapon’s specs.

“Laurel of Triumph…. Enhanced rapid-fire functionality that can shoot twelve bolts with a single load…. Infuses the power of wind to…?”

Seol Jihu stopped murmuring as he saw Marcel Ghionea staring at him with a dumbfounded face.

“This crossbow… has a rapid-fire functionality?”

“Yes. Why?”

“If I may be impudent, crossbows are weapons with horrible rapid-fire power. Although each shot contains great power, the time it takes to reload is….”

Seol Jihu glanced at the message outputted in the air. He hadn’t said anything wrong, and he didn’t think his Nine Eyes were lying either.

“There are methods to mitigate this weakness. For example, increasing the range of the crossbow with add-ons. But that decreases the accuracy. Although it might be useful in forming a firing net, but—”

“I’m not really sure. Why don’t you just try it?”

When Seol Jihu cut him off and pushed his hands out, Marcel Ghionea took the crossbow obediently.

Click, click. With dexterous hand movements, he examined the crossbow.

“?”

He then tilted his head.

“…This has quite an odd structure….”

He looked slightly taken aback.

“I’ve used crossbows since I was in the Neutral Zone… but this type of crossbow is….”

From the way he was stammering, Seol Jihu could tell how confused he was.

So he explained, “It was a reward from the Banquet.”

“Excuse me?”

“Dissonant Wish. You’ve heard of it, right?”

Hearing this, Marcel Ghionea’s complexion changed.

“Ah, Dissonant Wish. So that’s why….”

He chuckled as if he finally understood something.

“It is a different story if it is an item bestowed by the gods. They must have matched the technique to what is capable for humans, but it makes sense that we cannot comprehend it with our knowledge.”

“You can still use it, right?”

“Of course. Understanding how to use it and understanding its structure is completely different. It won’t take me long to get used to it.”

Marcel Ghionea answered clearly before abruptly sending Seol Jihu a profound gaze.

Seol Jihu shrugged.

“I’ll lend it to you.”

“You have a heart of gold, Leader.”

Since Seol Jihu was lending such a weapon out for free, it made sense for Marcel Ghionea to be surprised.

However, Seol Jihu had already vowed to use the Dissonant Wishes for Paradise, and Marcel Ghionea didn’t look like the person to become blinded by greed and run away.

Even if he did, Seol Jihu could employ Kim Hannah’s help to find him.

All according to the Golden Commandment.

“A war is coming up. My predecessor was a High Ranker Archer. Having a skilled Archer makes life much easier.”

“Edward Dylan…. I understand what you mean.”

Marcel Ghionea revealed a smile. This was the first time Seol Jihu was seeing him smile. How could he not be happy after receiving such a high-quality weapon for free?

“I was worried about my weapon…. With this, I will be able to perform beyond my abilities. I’ll use it well and return it to you clean.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it.”

“…Ah, wait, Leader.”

Seol Jihu paused his steps.

“I think you will have to go to the royal palace.”

“The royal palace?”

“An emergency draft call has been issued. Master Jang received a call. The royal palace would like you to participate even if you’re late….”

Marcel Ghionea bowed and apologized for telling him late.

Seol Jihu found himself incredibly busy as soon as he returned to Haramark. But knowing the situation all of Paradise was currently in, he turned his steps to the palace without complaining.

After arriving at the royal palace and going through the identification process, Seol Jihu was guided to a conference room.

Dozens of people were already sitting around a long table in the middle, and a meeting was well underway.

There were many familiar faces. Cinzia, Agnes, Hao Win, Kazuki, and many more.

He could see the Level 6 Imperial Knight Erica Lawrence, whom he had rescued from the Delphinion Laboratory, as well as many other old faces like Mary Rhine and Yasser Rahdi, who had accompanied him during the rescue mission.

From the looks of it, everyone gathered here seemed to be powerful influences from Haramark.

Seol Jihu, the leader of Carpe Diem, was naturally one of them.

Seeing the tardy student, Mary Rhine smiled and waved her hand.

Yasser Rahdi dropped his jaw with widened eyes before winking.

Seol Jihu stood around wondering what to do, but he then saw Kazuki glancing at the seat next to him. Seol Jihu carefully walked forward and sat down on the empty chair.

Teresa greeted Seol Jihu with a glance before picking up where she left off.

“…Tigol Fortress was a fierce battlefield until recently, but now that it has fallen, a huge hole has been created between the Federation and our border.”

She looked back at a huge map hanging on the wall and pointed at an area with her hand.

“As a result, the Federation lost their influence over the region bordering us. The Parasites are marching in because of this.”

This was the cause of the six cities other than the central capital being in a panic. Now that a clear pathway has been created between the Parasites and humans, even the cities furthest away from the Parasites’ territory were not safe.

“This time, the Parasites raised an army of unprecedented scale. As for the reason— it should be one of the following. Either to completely eliminate humanity, or to put pressure on us.”

Arranging the army in a besieging formation to restrict the movement of armies between cities, and then focusing a vast majority of the forces in one place. This way, reinforcements would be blocked off completely.

“And if the Parasite Queen’s intention is the latter….”

Teresa blurred the end of her speech.

The former was a huge problem, but the latter wasn’t any less worrying.

Because…

“It’s likely that Haramark will be her first target.”

“Because of Arden Valley.”

A man sitting at the end of the table muttered harshly. Teresa nodded her head.

“Yes, that is a possibility.”

“Ha.”

Hearing this, the man spat out a short chuckle.

“Aren’t you saying that too calmly?”

“Then what do you want to do?”

Teresa asked back temperamentally.

“You want us to pull out from Arden Valley? You think the Parasites will back off if we just give up our fortress? Can you guarantee that?”

“No, I mean…”

“Yes?”

Teresa gestured with her chin as if to say the floor was all his. The man could only smack his lips in response.

“You mean what? Say it.”

“….”

In the end, he avoided her gaze.

Teresa shook her head disappointedly, and Seol Jihu looked at her with worry. She seemed more sensitive than usual today.

“How is the Federation doing?”

Cinzia spoke up.

“Their eyes are all bloodshot trying to recapture Tigol Fortress.”

When Teresa replied with a softer voice, Cinzia lowered her head.

“Then it’s unlikely that the Seven Armies will appear.”

“…I assume so. The Federation is gritting their teeth for an opportunity to attack. Unless they plan on abandoning Tigol Fortress, I doubt they’ll relocate them.”

Teresa gave an uncertain affirmation.

‘The Seven Armies?’

This one phrase cast a heavy silence in the conference room. When the air suddenly became heavy, everyone’s complexion darkened in return.

Looking side to side, Seol Jihu quietly asked the frozen-faced Kazuki.

“Mister Kazuki, what are the Seven Armies?”

“…The seven main forces of the Parasites led by the Queen’s direct subordinates.”

Seol Jihu blinked his eyes several times. Kazuki glanced around and lowered his voice even further before continuing.

“Hundreds of years ago, the humans who lived on this land worshipped the Seven Virtues.”

With that, he began his story.

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