Chapter 174. The Second Coming

“This is no joke.”

A man chuckled as he looked down at Arden Fortress with one foot on Dawn Peak. He was exceptionally burly, being over 2-meters-tall and wearing pieces of armor that would easily weigh tens of kilograms altogether.

“Whore, Queen Fanboy, and Obnoxious Blackie… The hell? Did the Parasite Queen suddenly go crazy?”

“I’m going back.”

A husky voice rang out. The burly man stroked his shaggy beard and looked back with a face that seemed to ask, ‘What the hell are you on about?’

A small group of people was standing on Dawn Peak, with each member wearing a nervous expression. Although the Parasites had now pulled their armies back with Haramark being the only exception, the unprecedented threat of war had forced humanity to achieve a never-before-done collaboration.

After returning to the Temple of Luxuria, Seo Yuhui had joined hands with Sinyoung’s Yun Seohui and brought all existing Executors together.

Just now, one of these Executors announced a boycott.

It was a young, bespectacled man giving off a stubborn air with a book under his armpit. Described in the way of Paradise, he was a Level 7 Magician and also the apostle of Avaritia.

“Huh? Really?”

When the young man turned back without hesitation, the burly man quickly held him back. The young man glanced back before opening his mouth.

“I agreed to help given that there weren’t more than two Army Commanders present. Since there are three here, forcing me to fight would be going against the terms of our agreement.”

“Ya crazy bastard. You’re gonna talk about some contract in this situation? If you leave now, what are you gonna do about her!? Looks like she already joined the fight!”

“She’s not even an Executor. It’s none of my business.”

The young man snorted.

“I am refusing to participate in accordance with our contract. That woman stormed off without a single word. Who’s the one who acted as they pleased?”

The young man’s skillful rebuttal made the burly man speechless.

“Bro, but still… you’re just going to give up and go back?”

“Hm. I might have thought about it a bit more if we had just one more Executor. I don’t want to die a dog’s death, you see.”

“But we do! Can’t you feel her aura down there?”

When the burly man gestured toward the fortress gate, the young man burst into laughter.

“Don’t jest. She and her Servant are half-dead.”

When he refused flat-out as if there was nothing else to discuss, the burly man’s expression distorted.

“Damned guy. Just what the hell is your God thinking? Making a punk like you an Executor.”

“I’m curious too. Well, if our goals no longer align, I can just quit.”

The young man retorted with a hoarse voice and turned around completely.

“You’ll regret it.”

A cold voice rang out. The young man was familiar with this voice.

Sensing a gaze on his back, the young man opened his mouth without looking back.

“Will I? Haramark isn’t my base of operation. My leaving is fully justified.”

“I’m not saying you aren’t.”

“Then I’m leaving. It’s not like I haven’t been criticized before.”

The corners of the young man’s mouth curled up.

“Well, if you come back alive, I’ll give this worrying thing a go.”

Light enveloped the young man’s body before he vanished. It was the Unique Rank spell, Teleport.

The Magicians amidst them suddenly grew chatty. They didn’t know what to do now that their leader had suddenly disappeared.

The burly man scratched his head roughly.

“Damned guy, what does he want us to do? Huh?”

Shouting, ‘Do we go or stop?’, the burly man abruptly shut his mouth. A powerful, never-before-seen energy undulated around him, spreading out over the entire battlefield.

The holy energy caused heaven and earth to rumble.

At last, the burly man was able to see Seo Yuhui kneeling on the peak, praying with her hands together.

Seeing as how her mouth was moving, she seemed to be reciting a ritual prayer.

Similar to how Sacred Empress, the strongest member of the reinforcement group, acted on her own accord, Seo Yuhui was also making her move.

‘Come to think of it…’

Seo Yuhui had recently advanced to Level 8 after returning to her position as an Executor. This was only the second time in the history of Paradise that a Level 8 Earthling was born.

When the burly man saw her maintaining her holy and noble appearance and praying in such a messy environment, he couldn’t help but think, ‘Could it be?’

At that moment, the rumbling stopped. The noise faintly ringing in everyone’s ears vanished, leaving behind absolute silence.

In this odd soundlessness, people could see the valley suddenly turning bright.

The clouds split, the ray of daylight dawned, and brilliance dyed everyone’s vision white.

Seo Yuhui’s chin slowly tilted up. Opening her gently closed eyes, she stared at the blue sky dancing with light.

Gazing at the sky with profoundness in her eyes, her lips opened slightly.

“…O Stars.”

Level 8 Atera’s Saintess.
Wide Area Buff / Debuff.
Requiem of Stars.

Countless stars quietly appeared in the clear sky. The incandescent stars burned white and rained down on the ground like shooting stars.

The moment the countless particles of light gently touched the ground, they spread out in a circular motion and dyed the ground white.

“You slut!”

Vulgar Chastity exploded in anger.

All troops fell into disarray. The succubi flew around like mosquitos, frantically dodging the sudden shower of starlight.

Those who were hit by the light had their bodies melt, and even when the light fell on the ground, it dyed the earth white, turning it into its own territory.

What would happen when two conflicting energies took control over the earth was as clear as day.

Seeing the dazzling brilliance dancing in the air, Vulgar Chastity gritted her teeth. Spreading her wings wide and rousing her strength, the earth reacted to her terrifying energy and quaked violently.

[KIAAAAAA!]

Vulgar Chastity let out a piercing scream. Cracks formed on the rumbling earth, and violent pillars of lava shot up from the ground, rushing towards the falling starlight.

Boooooom!

Light and lava clashed, pushing against each other in a spectacularly fierce tug-of-war. By the time they devoured each other until they reached mutual annihilation…

“Heuuuu!”

With her hair drenched in sweat, Vulgar Chastity glared at Dawn Peak.

Now that the battle had progressed in this manner, she no longer showed any signs of leisure.

“Go!”

The Parasite army that had been waiting on standby after retreating marched forward like a tide. Vulgar Chastity also flew up high.

An all-out war.

Although the precious Nests might be threatened, this was something they had to risk.

Soon, the group of succubi led by Vulgar Chastity began to fly toward the distant peak.

On the other hand, Unsightly Humility was also in a hurry. Just as he was about to finish off the Star of Sloth and enter the fortress gate….

“Huaat!”

The burly man suddenly dropped from the sky and struck down with his body-sized greatsword. Simultaneously, a chained arrow flew in and tried to restrain Unsightly Humility's body.

Detecting a threat to its owner, the spectral horse quickly kicked off the ground and dodged the attack, but Unsightly Humility’s complexion— no, his skull texture— was not so great.

Thud! The burly man landed on the ground with a thud.

“Iya~ Iya~ It’s been a while, eh?”

A burly man who was resting his greatsword on his shoulder and swaying it gently, and an Archer aiming his weapon after blending into the surroundings to become invisible.

The Star of Wrath and the Star of Pride.

New Executors had appeared. Two of them, in fact.

Seeing the two Executors’ Servants retrieve the Star of Sloth and her Servant, Unsightly Humility clattered his teeth.

The Executor of Wrath spoke.

“Geez! I know we haven’t seen each other in a while, but what happened? Those two did this to you?”

“…It was a bad matchup, unfortunately. Her skills are nothing to scoff at either.”

Unsightly Humility replied with an eerie voice and held his longsword straight. The half-blown-off skull regrew, and the destroyed remnants of the Death Knights gradually reformed themselves.

Seeing the enemy who instantly regained his battle prowess, the burly man clicked his tongue.

“Damned guy. So you had strength left over.”

“No comment. I’ll be starting now.”

Unsightly Humility kicked the spectral horse’s stomach and rushed in.

“What? Why are you in such a hurry today?”

The burly man smiled and took up the challenge without hesitation.

Undying Diligence, in the meanwhile…

“…Ha….”

…held his chest and breathed out a deep sigh.

With a despondent look, he stared at the woman who had interrupted him. She was holding an apple-green spear diagonally and wearing a white traditional jacket that was long enough to brush against the floor. Altogether, she was giving off a rather mysterious atmosphere.

“I don’t know why you came here, but…”

Staring fixedly at the woman who was leisurely returning his gaze, Undying Diligence opened his mouth.

“Do you mind leaving here quietly? We will not chase after you. I shall promise you that.”

Undying Diligence glanced outside the fortress. The Parasite army was flooding in after remaining on standby for a long time. Vulgar Chastity was also heading towards Dawn Peak with her army of succubi.

The woman in front of Undying Diligence was one of the few humans he couldn’t let his guard down against. But if one were to ask whether Undying Diligence was shaking in fear, the answer would be a resounding ‘No’.

The Parasites also had strength left over, so humanity’s reinforcements did not pose much of a problem. However, the arrival of the spear-wielding woman and the Executors had turned their plans of returning to Tigol Fortress to null.

In addition, there was now a small chance that they would fail to accomplish the Queen’s mission.

He had glanced at the woman to signal, ‘Even if you fight, you will still lose.’ However, the woman wasn’t looking at him but at the youth coughing behind him.

Seol Jihu had woken up after being grabbed by Undying Diligence. It was just that he lost consciousness again because of Undying Diligence’s powerful grip.

“…You stupid idiot.”

A soft whisper flowed out.

Seol Jihu raised his teary eyes. Perhaps because his vision was blurry, he couldn’t see well. When he subconsciously tried to put more strength into his eyes…

“Run.”

The woman muttered calmly and lightly waved her hand. A fierce wind blew out from her palm as though she had fired an energy blast.

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

“Ah.”

As Seol Jihu reflexively caught Ian who was sent flying with him, the woman quickly darted forward and transformed into a tiny speck.

Pushed back by the wind and flying through the air, Seol Jihu eked out a groan when he felt a heavy impact on his back.

Cough, cough. Young Miss… did what I wanted to do myself.”

After landing on the ground with Seol Jihu, Ian muttered with coughs. Seol Jihu fought the dizziness he was experiencing and barely managed to open his mouth.

“Master Ian?”

“I’m fine. First… let’s go there. I’ll need your help now that my body’s like this.”

Ian looked left and right before gesturing at the wreckage of the broken watchtower.

It was then that Seol Jihu realized he struck a wall while he was flying through the air.

“Deeper. Go in deeper. So they won’t discover us.”

Seol Jihu walked in while supporting Ian who had trouble moving. When he gently placed Ian down and helped him lean against the wall, the old man with a hole in his chest took a deep breath.

Even at a glance, Seol Jihu could see that he was in a terrible state. He was bleeding from every exposed surface of his body, and judging by the sound of air coming out of his mouth, it seemed he broke a few of his teeth as well.

“Are you alright?”

When Seol Jihu asked worriedly, Ian grinned.

“Of course I’m not. But you aren’t any better, Seol.”

It was then that Seol Jihu examined himself and let out a chuckle. Just like Ian said, he wasn’t in a state to be worrying about someone else.

“Seol, there are two healing potions in my gown. Can you take them out for me?”

Seol Jihu understood his intention and quickly took the potions out. He uncorked a bottle and brought it against Ian’s mouth, but Ian only shook his head.

“You first.”

Seol Jihu didn’t have the energy to argue. He drank half of the potion, splashed the rest on his wounds, and then used the final bottle to treat Ian.

Seol Jihu could feel his body recover slightly, but the potion didn’t seem to be all that effective for Ian. Well, he was one-sidedly battered by Undying Diligence, so it was already a miracle that he was alive.

“Wait just a bit. I’ll bring a Priest here.”

He knew that finding a Priest in this situation would be akin to finding a needle in a haystack, but Seol Jihu spoke with confidence and turned his body.

However, Ian quickly stopped Seol Jihu. The strength coming from the hand holding onto his wrist was so powerful that it was hard to believe it came from an old man who was so badly wounded.

At the same time, his grip felt incredibly hot.

“It’s too late.”

‘It’s too late?’

Seol Jihu looked back doubtfully.

“The reinforcements, I mean. It would have been great if they were here from the beginning… Well, we can only applaud the Parasite Queen for her bold decision.”

“But—”

“No. It would have been a different story if the receiver of the Divine Vestige and every Executor were here. But I don’t think that is the case. That is why she told you to run.”

“The battlefield simply got more chaotic. The Parasite army won’t remain on standby forever, so it will only be a matter of time before the battle falls in their favor. What you need to do is wait for the healing potion’s effect to kick in and flee.”

“You want me to run away?”

Seol Jihu asked. The way Ian was talking made it sound like he should escape by himself.

It was then. Ian’s face contorted from pain. He began to pant in a curdling voice before clenching down on his teeth.

“Seol. Listen to me carefully.”

Ian’s voice was abnormally clear given the state of his body.

“I… I have a theory I’ve kept to myself. I haven’t said it until now because it was all a conjecture. But after hearing Undying Diligence’s offer today, I became certain. I’m now positive my theory is right.”

Seol Jihu bit his lower lip. He had a hunch why Ian was saying this at this moment.

“Seol. Right now, the Parasite Queen, for whatever reason, is being greedy. The reason she’s left humanity alone as much as possible, the reason she suddenly abandoned Tigol Fortress and attacked Haramark, and the reason two of the Seven Armies aren’t in the Material Realm. If we think hard and connect these together, I believe we’ll be able to arrive at the answer— at the key to defeating the Parasites.”

Ian spoke very quickly.

“Master Ian. Wait, for now—”

“Don’t try to understand everything now. If it’s you, you’ll be able to understand what I mean one day. So for now, just remember what I told you. So…!”

He grimaced heavily. However, he refused to stop.

“So… run!”

Cough! He shouted as he spat out a mouthful of blood.

“…Huh?”

“I know it’s hard. I know you don’t want to. But you have to endure it. No matter what, run away… and live! That is the only piece of victory and hope we can recover from this war.”

‘Endure it?’ Seol Jihu understood what he meant, but he found himself shaking his head.

At that moment, Ian’s body slouched forward. When Seol Jihu quickly caught him, Ian raised his head while breathing roughly.

“You must be blaming yourself a lot right now. If only I accepted his offer back then… if only I didn’t attract Undying Diligence’s attention… right?”

“You probably want to ask as well. What makes me special? Why did everyone sacrifice themselves for me? Am I even worth it?”

Seol Jihu was feeling a pang of pain in his heart but doing his best to hold it in. But when Ian accurately pointed out how he was feeling, Seol Jihu became speechless and he felt something well up inside him.

Ian squeezed what little energy he had left and placed his hand on Seol Jihu’s shoulder.

“Then I will answer you. As everyone’s representative—”

Looking into the youth’s eyes, he opened his mouth, more seriously than ever before.

“Yes.”

Seol Jihu flinched.

“It certainly is worth it to protect a Star that even the Parasite Queen fears.”

And before the youth could say anything, Ian put more strength into his arm and leaned against the wall.

“I… don’t regret it.”

Muttering as if to convince himself, Ian slowly closed his eyes.

Silence filled the atmosphere.

Seol Jihu stared at Ian, not sure what to say. Before he noticed, his Nine Eyes had activated, showing the old man’s color. Ian was emitting a splendid golden radiance that he had only seen once before. Right, his color was just as brilliant and dazzling as the color Jang Maldong was giving off.

‘How… how have I not noticed it until now?’

“But… if there’s one thing I regret…”

After cutting off for a moment, the aged voice flowed out once again. The voice continued intermittently as if it would be cut off at any second. Seol Jihu swallowed the saliva pooling in his mouth.

“Master Ian, don’t talk any more than this.”

“At the Forest of Denial… if I didn’t retract… the offer I made you….”

[In any case, I’ll soon be unemployed, and no team is asking me to join them… So, how about it? Would you like the two of us with similar circumstances to partner up?]

[What I’m saying here is, don’t you want to go on the next expedition alongside this old man? After two of us form a team, that is.]

After remembering what Ian said in the past, Seol Jihu’s mouth opened.

“You, Maldong, me… Chohong, Hugo… and the Princess too….”

“Master Ian!”

“It would have been real fun… Don’t you think so…?”

Seol Jihu’s eyes tinged red.

“…Yes.”

He nodded his head after blinking his eyes several times.

“It would have been fun. Truly.”

The youth eked out a hoarse voice. Ian smiled faintly.

[I didn’t have regrets… they just appeared now, you bastard.]

‘Maldong….’

Ian opened his eyes furtively. Seeing the youth staring at him fixedly, their first meeting flashed through his mind.

After his loyal friend left and he was struggling soullessly in the changed Paradise, he had one day witnessed a shocking freshness, like seeing the miracle of a flower blooming in a barren wasteland.

Ian gasped as if he was taking his last breath. He clutched onto this last breath and desperately spat out his last words. Although he no longer had the energy to even stroke his long beard, there was one question he had always wanted to ask.

“…Come to think of it, you haven’t told me your full name, right? Seol is your surname.”

Ian’s voice suddenly turned clear.

“Huh? Ah, yes.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened, and he quickly nodded his head.

“But didn’t you say your name was Seol when we first met?”

“Ah, that’s…”

Seol Jihu licked his lips.

“I was too embarrassed to say my name… I didn’t mean to deceive you or anything. Really.”

“I see…. Then.”

Ian paused for a moment before continuing.

“Can you tell me your name again? Properly, this time.”

Hearing Ian’s request, Seol Jihu was at a loss for what to do. He had no clue why Ian was making such a sudden request at a time like this.

But, when he saw Ian’s eyes, which were sparkling like candles blazing their final light…

“Seol… Jihu.”

He had a feeling he should answer…

“Seol Jihu… Seol as in the surname, Ji meaning steadfast, and Hu meaning jade. It’s Seol Jihu.”

So he answered with emphasis.

“Seol… Seol Jihu.”

Having heard the youth’s name at last, Ian smiled warmly.

“I don't understand what you were so embarrassed about.”

Not knowing that he was stroking the hem of his blood-drenched clothes and not his disheveled beard…

“Seol Jihu. Now that’s a cool name!”

He burst into laughter.

Just as Seol Jihu was about to smile in return—

The laughter stopped.

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