It was hard to believe that such cherry-like lips could spew out such a deafening roar. It was like the rumbling of thunder that spread across the sky when lightning struck.
Everyone in the grand hall turned to face the throne in a startle.
Kim Hannah, who was getting ready to intervene; Sorg Kühne, who was standing speechless; and even the man who was triumphantly pointing his finger — all of them stared dumbfoundedly as the Queen was glaring straight ahead.
Her two pupils had gone beyond the point of being cold and were blazing with a frigidness.
“Killed while fighting the Federation?”
Charlotte Aria’s expression slowly distorted starting from the corner of her left eye.
“The Parasites will be repaying my grudge?”
Her throat quivered.
“A bastard who only cares for his own safety dares to say this… while not even knowing the determination of my elder brother… How dare you speak such words…!?”
The Queen’s face turned unusually serious. The man leading the mob must have realized the change in atmosphere as he hurriedly let out a cough.
“No, that is not what I meant.”
“I told you to shut your damned mouth!”
The man closed his mouth at the fierce bellow. A chilling silence descended. The commotion filling up the grand hall until just a moment ago disappeared like a mirage.
In its place, an indescribably heavy pressure swelled up and filled the space. The pressure was so terrifyingly heavy that it made the man’s lips tremble as if electrified.
After giving a deathly glare for a while, Charlotte Aria slowly leaned forward. Then, she asked.
“What is the reason?”
The man couldn’t answer. He was incapable of opening his mouth. His spirit was already crushed to the bottom, and he had a strong, ominous hunch that things would not end well if he gave the wrong answer.
He truly felt this in his bones. Though he might be mistaken, the Queen’s eyes seemed to be crackling with a sharp glint of lightning.
“Some are risking their lives and sticking their necks out for something that earns them no recognition. As the same Earthlings, just why are you so anxious and impatient to guarantee your own safety!?”
“I-It isn’t that we are anxious or impatient…”
The man shrunk back and frowned at the stern shout. His ears stung from the loud roar.
“As the Seven Gods guided you all here for the ultimate goal of saving Paradise…”
Charlotte Aria collected her breath before continuing.
“Earthlings are obligated to combat the Parasites that are disturbing the order of this world. This is the duty and responsibility that must be carried by all Earthlings that enter Paradise. Am I wrong?”
“I am asking whether I am wrong!”
Charlotte Aria burst out.
The man quickly waved his hand in denial.
“I-I never said so, Your Majesty. You are absolutely correct. Only, this war is the Federation’s—”
Charlotte Aria’s complexion distorted abruptly.
“This war is the Federation’s?”
When she repeated the man’s words, the man quietly shut his mouth.
“Are you truly so ignorant? Or are you asking this when you already know the answer? …Well, it must be the latter.”
Charlotte Aria scoffed as if she heard the most ridiculous thing.
“Fine, I’ll tell you. The Parasites have attacked the Federation. The point of invasion is close to Eva, and the Federation is currently in a close relationship with humanity. If Tigol Fortress falls, the Parasite’s next target is obvious.”
She spoke quickly, allowing for no interference.
“The reason Eva could stay safe until now was because of the Federation’s existence and Tigol Fortress standing strong. Did you insist so doggedly because you truly did not know this?”
“Will you be able to say the same thing when the Parasites’ forces storm into Eva’s walls?”
The man became mute and only smacked his lips quietly.
But even this must have enraged Charlotte Aria as she continued to bombard the man without rest.
“Did this royal self command you to rescue the Spirit Realm which even the Federation gave up on? Did this royal self command you to charge into the heart of the fallen Empire? No! This royal self only gave a reasonable command— to fight the invading Parasites!”
“It was to save the Federation and, on a larger scale, protect Eva… But what? What does that have to do with us? It might be different if Eva was being invaded?”
It was at this moment that one of the Earthlings standing behind the stunned man raised his hand.
“You are absolutely right. Of course, you can think about this that way. Your Majesty was born and raised in Paradise, so I understand your caring so much for Paradise.”
This young man was gentler than the previous man and was clearly trying to soothe and persuade the enraged Queen.
“We simply want Your Majesty to think about the various circumstances that we Earthlings might have.”
Charlotte Aria’s eyes were still cold. It was as if the man’s words were nothing short of being absurd.
“We have our homes, just like you, Your Majesty. We may have unavoidable circumstances come up, so how can you—”
Charlotte Aria snorted. She opened her eyes wide as if to say, ‘You’re so busted.’
“Then let me ask as well. If you were going to bring up personal circumstances, why did you enter Paradise?”
“If you have extenuating circumstances, is it not your job to take care of it in advance?”
The young man nibbled on his lip. He knew what the Queen said wasn’t wrong. One of the unwritten laws for Earthlings was creating an environment on Earth that would allow them to safely stay in Paradise for an extended period of time.
“I see you are struggling desperately to escape your duties even in such an emergency. I can’t go because of this, I can’t go because of that. The number of Earthlings talking about some extenuating circumstances and going back always skyrocketed in the time of war. This royal self is failing to understand this phenomenon.”
The rage on Charlotte Aria’s face grew an inch deeper. She had recalled another infuriating matter while saying this.
“…Some of you must have heard of the name, Jung Sua.”
Jung Sua. She was the representative of the Evangeline organization, the previous royal partner of the Eva Royal Family.
“She was like that too. Whenever something happened, whenever we issued a draft call, she would tell me, ‘I have an important appointment. I have no choice because a missing report came in. My one and only family member is ill and on the verge of dying.’ She would give all sorts of excuses to go back. And she would surprisingly sneak back by the time everything was over.”
Kkadeuk! The sound of her gnashing her teeth rang out so loud that those around her worried she broke her teeth.
“You must think this royal self is a fool!”
“Gathering up all the Earthlings residing in Eva, telling them that war broke out and that those with extenuating circumstances may go back. Do you seriously need to see how many of them will stay to stop flapping that crafty tongue?”
“T-There might really be people with unavoidable circumstances….”
The young man averted his gaze and muttered.
“You truly have no shame…!”
Charlotte Aria took a deep breath in the middle of her speech. Then, she spoke solemnly with resolute determination.
“As you said, there might really be Earthlings with unavoidable circumstances.”
Then, she turned her head and called out a name.
Kim Hannah, who was suddenly called out, straightened her back.
Charlotte Aria immediately continued.
“Send a royal edict to the seven temples.”
“By edict, you mean…”
“An edict ordering them to rewrite the oath containing divine power.”
The grand hall stirred at the mention of the oath.
“The new oath shall contain a clause banning the re-entry of Earthlings who lied about their circumstances or purposely did something to create these circumstances to avoid fulfilling their duty! They shall be forbidden from setting even a foot in Paradise again!”
A bombshell announcement left her mouth.
Even the royal administrator stood in utter shock, not expecting the Queen to make a move as powerful as permanent expulsion.
As for the mob of Earthlings, their faces had gone beyond shock and entered the level of being frightened out of their wits.
“What are you talking about!?”
“Is there a problem?”
Charlotte Aria asked back as if the man’s question was strange.
“I do not understand the reason for such a vehement protest. I am suggesting the expulsion of self-indulgent Earthlings who abandon their duties and pursue freedom. Shouldn’t ordinary, dutiful Earthlings rejoice and encourage this rule?”
Odelette Delphine, who was quietly watching from the side, let out an impressed “Hoooh”. She didn’t expect the Queen to be so skillful with words.
“…Fuck! Aren’t you crossing the line here!?”
The leading man voiced his pent-up anger.
“It’s not like you’re participating in the war! You’re going to sit back in the safest place on Paradise alone!”
He began to throw a tantrum after finding out that the person with the louder voice did not necessarily win arguments.
Of course, this was only a child’s tantrum that had no chance of working.
“Yet you’re telling us—!”
“If it is about that, you do not have to worry.”
Charlotte Aria snorted.
“Because this royal self will directly participate in this war.”
The Queen’s declaration made the man drop his jaw and then cough.
“This royal self will faithfully fulfill the mission entrusted to me. As soon as the Magician coming from Haramark arrives in this city, this royal self shall personally lead our troops to Tigol Fortress.”
Hearing this, the young man who brought up matters about Earthlings’ circumstances grew more and more anxious. He was starting to question whether this was really the Queen he investigated prior to this event.
In any case, what was important was that, at this point, they would really be dragged into war.
No matter what, he had to find something to nitpick.
And so, just as he was about to bring up Eva’s army that could only be called a militia at best…
“Those are truly invigorating words!”
Out of nowhere, a clear voice rang out in the grand hall.
Along with the clacking of boots, a man of chivalrous spirit walked in through the door.
Sorg Kühne’s complexion brightened instantly.
As everyone’s gazes turned at the sudden appearance.
“Johan Nikola salutes Her Majesty the Queen!”
After revealing his name, the man cut through the mob of Earthlings and prostrated in front of the Queen.
“This servant has returned after hearing Your Majesty’s message!”
Eva once had a famous Equites battalion that was its main force and pride. The captain of this now-disbanded battalion had made his return.
A faint smile bloomed on Charlotte Aria’s face. She had heard what King Prihi did. The captain really couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It has been a while.”
“I am truly ashamed. Although this servant wanted to come earlier, it took some time to wait for my old comrades. Please excuse this servant’s tardiness.”
“No need for apologies. I am sure you have already heard the news. Though it might be difficult when you only just got here, you must make preparations to set out.”
“Yes, Your Majesty! Throughout all these years, your servant has been waiting to resume the war against the Parasites! There will be no mistake!”
Johan Nikola glanced at the mob of Earthlings standing next to him and grinned.
“Your servant is ready to go at your command! The entire army is already waiting outside!”
Charlotte tilted her chin in joy. Turning to the Earthlings standing entranced, she asked.
“Do you have anything more to say?”
When the man’s face contorted, she smirked. She no longer put him in her eyes.
The man wearing a black suit, Hao Win, looked up.
“I have heard you are the head of the Triads and a close friend of Valhalla’s representative.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“In that case, I hereby command you to join hands with the Magician’s Guild and the Assassination Guild to help Valhalla. From this point onward, seal off the temples’ warp gates leading to Earth. Only those with legitimate circumstances may be permitted to use the portal, and among them, those who refuse the oath must not be allowed to leave.”
“I shall heed your command.”
Hao Win lowered his head obediently.
Sorg Kühne instantly collected his thoughts when Charlotte Aria called him. Though he opened his mouth reflexively, no sound came out. The edges of his eyes had turned red before he noticed.
It couldn’t be helped. The current image of Charlotte Aria had overlapped with the past image of the king.
Just how long has he waited for this moment? How long did he yearn to see this sight?
“Open up the royal family’s storage. Contact the Dongchun Merchants and do your best to secure the supply of goods.”
No, it was far too early to be crying tears of joy.
This was only the start.
The Queen would grow even more from now on.
“…Yes, Your Majesty.”
Speaking in a slightly hoarse, emotional voice, Sorg Kühne bowed deeply.
Charlotte Aria collected her breath and strengthened her grip on the armrest.
“I hereby command everyone.”
And thus, the Queen of Eva slowly rose from the throne.
“There will be no withdrawing of the draft call.”
She put the nail in the coffin for the last time.
“Though we may have pointed our swords at each other in the past, the Federation is currently an indispensable and irreplaceable ally of humanity.”
“Thus, Eva will accept the Federation’s request for help. Swiftly finishing our preparations, we shall leave for Tigol Fortress.”
Looking around at the audience, she spoke in a more dignified manner than any other time. Then, she fixed her gaze on the mob of Earthlings.
“Those who do not accede to this order and spread falsehood or incite protest—”
The Queen’s eyes crackled with lightning once again.
“They will be punished severely under the name of Aria!”
Eva’s declaration of war, though within the expectations of the Parasite Queen, marked the first moment…
“Do you understand?”
…when the Parasite Queen’s calculated gears of fate began to fall out of place.
The expedition team that left to rescue the Spirit Realm was wandering around an unknown place.
Their surroundings were dead silent. A white fog completely eclipsed their vision and obfuscated the path they’d already trodden.
The sole saving grace was that there were no attacks from monsters.
But that was to be expected. Whether human or monster, anyone wandering into this place must go mad before long.
This wasn’t simply due to anxiousness or a sense of fear toward the unknown.
First, their senses turned faint. No matter how much Seol Jihu focused on his senses, he couldn’t tell whether he was walking on earth, clouds, or sea.
It wasn’t just the sense of touch, but all five of his senses. Naturally, his sense of direction and time became blurred as well.
Did one hour go by or ten? Even a whole day might have gone by.
With visible restlessness, Seol Jihu stared at the white-haired girl leading the way. Her feet, which he barely caught a glimpse of, were limping slightly. It was obvious that she was exhausted.
‘I thought we would have arrived by now.’
When the team looked down from the mountainous hill, the central region did not seem all that far off. It should have taken them three to four hours, top.
But the moment they entered the foggy region, Oana Halep did not walk straight and turned left. Even now, she was taking a roundabout course.
When Seol Jihu asked about it, she said there was a severe fissure in the front. Although Seol Jihu couldn’t quite understand it, he was told walking straight would only bewitch him to walk astray.
Oana, who was looking around the surroundings, abruptly stopped. Covering her mouth with her hand, she bent down.
This was already the twelfth time she was throwing up. The closer she got to the center, the more often she was vomiting.
Maria quickly chanted a spell and placed her hand on her back.
Seol Jihu stopped before he walked up too far. A gaze of some sort swept past his neck. It wasn’t the stare of his comrade, but a more unpleasant, ominous leer.
On the other hand, he heard the sound of something being dragged along the ground.
‘What is it?’
Just as he was about to turn at the never-before-felt sensation—
Oana barely grabbed ahold of her body and warned hastily.
Seol Jihu, who was close to her, stopped himself in the middle of his actions. However—
“What is it?”
Chohong, who didn’t hear her, stared fixedly in one spot.
Whish! In the next moment, along with the sound of a chilling breeze, her eyes shot open and her body went limp.
Chohong reeled before falling on her knee with a scream.
Thankfully, her life didn’t seem to be at risk. She only trembled like a leaf fluttering in a fierce gale.
“Are you alright?”
“I-I don’t know. It felt like something suddenly penetrated my body and shook my soul…”
When Chohong raised her head with a look asking for an explanation, Oana shook her head.
“I don’t know what it is either.”
“But can’t you see it?”
“I can, but…”
Oana’s eyes narrowed to a slit.
“To tell you about its outer appearance, it’s covered from head to toe with a piece of straw mat. It’s dragging a burlap bag in one hand of what looked like a tiny corpse of a baby.”
Everyone’s expression turned sour. No one had heard of a monster that resembled the one she just described.
“I think… this monster is in a similar situation as us. It was pulled in by the Astral Phenomenon and is now aimlessly wandering around the space.”
“Then what’s the reason it pounced on me?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe it was asking for help? That’s only if it can see or feel us in some capacity.”
Chohong shrunk back at the hair-raising explanation and blurted out.
“I wasn’t going to say this.”
Kazuki, who was quietly listening in, spoke.
“But I had a similar experience some time back while walking in this place. Something resembling a human face sprouted out of a bamboo tree, and its mouth moved up and down, almost as if to tell me to come close.”
“Do not go near it. Ever.”
Oana spoke with an exhausted voice.
“No matter what you see or what you hear, only follow in my footsteps. I have no way to guarantee what will happen if you veer off even a little bit.”
Chohong got up with a pair of fatigued eyes. It wasn’t just her. Everyone’s faces were full of exhaustion.
Their bodies were failing to interpret the new, strange sensations. Since they had to mind other things on top of this, it was no wonder they were exhausted.
The most strenuous part was not knowing how far they were from the destination.
‘This can’t do…’
It was only at this moment that Seol Jihu fully realized the danger of this place.
One had to rest when tired, but it was impossible to do so in this place. However, that didn’t mean they could go back and re-enter later.
In the end, they had one of two choices — running out of steam and collapsing, or reaching their destination.
‘We have to find the exit soon….’
Tigol Fortress might already be in the middle of a fierce battle. As the communication crystals stopped working when they entered the fog, they had no way of knowing the current state of affairs.
This made him want to hurry even more, so having no way to help only made him frustrated.
Oana turned back.
“Are you okay?”
“To be honest, I’m not. The more we walk, the more I feel out of place… But considering the goal of this expedition, this is a good phenomenon.”
“What do you mean?”
“The fact that this feeling is getting stronger has to mean we’re getting closer to the center, right?”
Oana brought up hopeful words.
Hearing this, Seol Jihu suppressed the frustration in his heart.
He already knew the Parasites would make a move. He had made all kinds of preparations because of it.
Of course, it wasn’t as if he could completely erase his worries, but he believed the comrades he left behind would take care of the rest.
No. Now, he had to believe.
Having organized his thoughts, Seol Jihu ordered the march to continue.
Shaking off the idle thoughts, he pushed his sluggish feet onward and cut through the dense, blinding fog.Previous Chapter Next Chapter