Chwing! A metallic whistle of a sword being drawn rang out.
As soon as Seol Jihu gave his command, everyone cut off the rope and raised their weapons to prepare for battle.
‘I have to investigate a bit more…’
He didn’t feel right commanding everyone to charge forward out of the blue.
However, they didn’t have time. The Spirits were very clearly on the verge of death, helpless against the onslaught of the attackers.
‘If I can save even one of them, I should be able to get information on the current state of the Spirit Realm.’
Thinking so, Seol Jihu kicked off the ground in full force. He planned to save the Spirits first.
With over ten people simultaneously making a move, the enemy noticed them instantly. They stopped their massacre and turned to look. Then, when they saw the members of the expedition team that were charging toward them—
They changed their course with a shrill, bone-chilling scream.
Phi Sora shouted as strange gaseous lifeforms glowing blue closed in on them in an instant like the blowing wind.
‘Will o’ wisps?’
At a closer distance, the creatures’ blue light was even more distinctive. Blazing like flames from a gas stove, the ghostly lights flew over like tiny comets.
Although Seol Jihu wanted to observe them a bit more—
Crackle! With the scorching fire nearly touching him, Seol Jihu stabbed forward with his tightly gripped spear.
Then, he immediately paused in hesitation. It would be normal to feel the spear blade penetrating something, but no such sensation was transmitted to his palms.
But he expected as much since he was stabbing a gaseous lifeform. The reason he paused was because the enemy froze as soon as his spear blade pierced it.
Unable to move an inch, the will o’ wisp let out a bizarre cry while convulsing painfully.
On closer inspection, holy energy could be seen flowing out of the evil-exterminating weapon, the Spear of Purity, and disturbing the will o’ wisp’s insides.
‘Don’t tell me.’
Thinking what if, Seol Jihu immediately roused the anti-evil energy.
Then, as a golden current violently gushed out of the spear tip, a sound akin to a balloon-popping boom struck his ears.
The blue gaseous lifeform exploded, its color dimming in an instant.
The will o’ wisp seemed to be vanishing just like that, but then it disappeared into the horizon as if it was sucked in by something unknown.
Seol Jihu’s eyes narrowed, seeing the lifeform disappearing in an instant.
‘What was that?’
He couldn’t help but think that it was too easy. However, his hesitation didn’t last long. Not only was he still in the midst of battle, but another will o’ wisp had also flown toward him.
Seol Jihu pulled his upper body back and threw his arm up. As the spear blade emitting a golden light vertically swept the will o’ wisp, it was split in half and melted down without uttering its death throe.
Immediately afterward, four will o’ wisps simultaneously rushed at him from four directions, but the result was no different. When Seol Jihu swung his spear, they exploded with no resistance. It was really a piece of cake.
What was surprising was that Seol Jihu wasn’t the only one overwhelming the enemy. Chohong and Hugo were also pushing the enemy back, swinging the Thorn of Steel radiating white light and an axe carrying holy energy, respectively.
While they weren’t overwhelming the enemy like Seol Jihu, they were fighting them off with no difficulties.
Phi Sora had even run into the midst of the enemy forces and was showing off a sword dance in high spirits. As a sword scattering flames danced freely in all directions, any will o’ wisp that was touched by it was quickly devoured by the flames.
With High Rankers and even a Level 4 doing so well, there was no need to say anything about the higher leveled combatants.
The expedition team subjugated the enemy forces in an instant, and the battle ended earlier than anyone expected.
“What’s going on? Aren’t these guys too weak?”
“Yeah, that was too easy.”
Chohong and Hugo, who had a good exercise, spoke with a laugh as they wiped their sweats.
They were rather nervous before the fight, but with such an easy victory in their first battle, they were overjoyed.
Seol Jihu kept silent as he was about to say something. Subjugating the enemy wasn’t a bad thing, and morale was an important aspect of any battle. He kept quiet, not wanting to ruin the festive mood, but it wasn’t that he wasn’t suspicious of the situation.
Some of the others seemed to be thinking the same thing as Agnes, Oh Rahee, and a couple of others were also silently in deep thought.
Philip Muller calmly spoke up.
“They’re Spirit Creatures that subsist off of yin or negative energy.”
“You mean the guys we just fought?”
“That’s right. There’s just one thing…”
Philip Muller trailed off, then smacked his lips.
“I assumed there would be at least one Army Commander in the Spirit Realm. This isn’t just a guess. Although the Parasites have seven armies, two of them almost never appeared in the Material Realm, or the Middle World, since very early on.”
“The Fourth Army Commander, Raging Temperance, and the Seventh Army Commander, Twisted Kindness.”
“These two didn’t appear even in the past all-out war when the Parasites conquered Tigol Fortress. Though it isn’t as if they’re completely shrouded in mystery, they’re still the hardest to see Army Commanders among the seven.”
Seol Jihu nodded his head.
“So which part is strange?”
“Hear me out. From what we know, Raging Temperance is from the Mythical Beast race, while Twisted Kindness is the last member of the Dragon race.”
Philip Muller continued.
“But the Spirit Creatures you just saw are normally from the Spiritual Dimension. They have nothing to do with Mythical Beasts or Dragons.”
In other words, a race that should have no connection with the invading Army Commanders were in the Spirit Realm.
“Why would that be…?”
This wasn’t so unacceptable given the Parasites’ uniqueness as a species, but there were definitely more than one or two suspicious points.
As Spirit Creatures didn’t have physical bodies, it was hard to say they were a part of the Corpse Army, and they couldn’t be considered a reproductive species birthed by mother species for the same reason.
In that case, they had to be the army under the banner of an Army Commander.
“What are the chances that there is another Army Commander here?”
“There’s Exploding Patience who is also a Spirit Creature, but I heard her army consists entirely of Banshees. I’ve never heard of her leading an army of Nightshades.”
As Philip Muller explained, Seol Jihu’s expression turned complicated.
‘It really is strange…’
“But it isn’t as if I’m out of guesses.”
Philip Muller suddenly lowered his volume and whispered.
“Though there’s no way to be sure, I heard something from the previous Star of Sloth.”
“The previous Star of Sloth?”
“I’m talking about the Executor who preceded Taciana Cinzia.”
Philip Muller continued.
“After becoming an Executor, he fought the Fourth Army Commander once. He barely escaped death and came back. That was when he said that Raging Temperance was a Unicorn.”
“Here’s the problem. It’s true that Unicorns are of the Mythical Beast race, but they still have nothing to do with the Spiritual Dimension.”
It was at this moment that Seol Jihu realized Philip Muller’s guess and what he was trying to say.
“You’re saying the identity of Raging Temperance might have changed.”
“That could be it, or there might be something we don’t quite understand. We have to be open to all possibilities.”
Seol Jihu bit his lip as something Gabriel told him in the past suddenly crossed his mind.
‘A new card…’
Survival of the fittest. It was a simple concept. If the Parasite Queen found a stronger race, there was nothing holding her back from changing out one of the Commanders.
In any case, nothing was confirmed yet. They couldn’t jump to any conclusions. They would have to see with their own eyes to be sure.
“I know you’re talking, but…”
At that moment, the silently-listening Kazuki cut in between them. He raised his finger and pointed to the front. A small group of Spirits that survived the Nightshades’ attack was murmuring among themselves.
[Humans? Aren’t they humans?]
[No way! How can humans enter this world…!]
Seol Jihu swallowed his saliva. Each of the Spirits shone in one of the five colors, having a wide variety of appearances ranging from animals to a small girl. They were all small. Frankly, they didn’t look all that powerful.
[They defeated those bastards! Maybe they’re here to help!]
[I might believe that if they were Sky Fairies. But humans?]
[But it’s true they helped! They saved us!]
[Wait, there’s an aura of a Spirit I’ve never felt before…]
Judging by the way they were talking among themselves, it was obvious that they were young. Still, they should be able to explain the Spirit Realm’s current state.
When Seol Jihu walked forward, the Spirits’ gazes all turned toward him. Looking up with unbridled eyes…
[Save the Kings!]
[Please save our world!]
They began to chatter in front of his foot.
As Seol Jihu stood in a fluster from the Spirits pulling on his leg, he flinched feeling something poking his neck.
Little Chick was standing on his shoulder before he noticed.
“Let me talk to these younguns.”
“Un. I’m curious about a few things.”
Seol Jihu thought for a moment before nodding his head. Since Little Chick was also a Spirit, it should have an easier time talking with the Spirits.
Little Chick jumped down once it received Seol Jihu’s permission. As soon as it landed on the ground, the pestering Spirits were all shocked.
[Eh? Who’s this?]
“What do you think? I’m a Spirit, just like you.”
[But I’ve never seen a Spirit like you…]
“That’s obvious. That’s the way it should be. It wouldn’t make sense if you younguns knew about me.”
[Eeh? This smell… it’s the smell of the five elements and even the sealed light and darkness… Just who are you?]
“Quiet! Even your Kings wouldn’t dare to talk to me that way! A low-ranked Spirit should talk respectfully when speaking with their elders!”
When Little Chick raised its voice, the Spirits immediately quit chattering. They must have felt the difference in their leagues as they all looked dejected.
“…Anyway, I have a few questions to ask you all.”
Little Chick cleared its throat and spoke.
“If you haven’t realized already, these humans are reinforcements sent by the Sky Fairies to save our world. Meaning, we are allies.”
Hearing this, the Spirits’ complexions brightened.
“But we just got here, so we know nothing about the details. Every second of every minute counts. Answer to the best of your abilities, got it?”
“Good. First— where are the Spirit Kings?”
“I can feel them, but it’s too faint. Just what the hell happened for the Spirit Realm to turn out like this?”
[…They were captured.]
When a Spirit retorted in a dejected voice, Little Chick furrowed its brows instantly.
“Captured? Ifrit, Aqua, Terra, Ea, and Sylphid. All five were captured?”
[Uun. The enemy they were fighting was too scary…]
Sobs were heard from the small Spirits. Little Chick let out a dumbfounded laugh, then gritted its teeth.
“Damn it, then what about the two Spirit Lords?”
“I’m talking about Ophinü Odor and Diffidem Odor.”
[We… don’t know. We were told we can’t unseal them so recklessly…]
Little Chick burst out before the Spirit finished.
“Those shit-for-brain bastards! Even in such a situation…!”
Its short hair stood on ends as it shook furiously.
After muttering with a heavy pant, Little Chick turned its head and looked up at Seol Jihu.
“The situation is worse than we expected. If it’s okay with you, I’d like the team to prioritize rescuing the Spirit Kings.”
Rescuing the Spirit Kings. There was no problem doing it if it would help with saving the Spirit Realm, but Seol Jihu asked regardless.
“Are they alive?”
“I can feel them.”
Little Chick clicked its tongue and spoke.
“Spirits are mortal existences, but they don’t return to nothingness after death. Instead, they return to the World Tree and reincarnate. You can think of it as an eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.”
“But the World Tree is—”
“Dead. Since this cycle is broken, Spirits should disappear when they die. That should be the case, but…”
Little Chick paused before sighing.
“The Spirit Kings that were captured long ago aren’t dead yet. It’s also strange that they’re all in the same place. I have a bad feeling about this. If left alone, I’m afraid…”
Little Chick trailed off, but Seol Jihu understood what it was trying to say.
‘Well… I don’t see why not.’
He also had a feeling that something terrible would happen if the Spirit Kings were left in the enemy’s hands. On the other hand, rescuing them quickly and receiving their help seemed to be a good idea.
As kings of a world, the Spirit Kings should be helpful in fighting the Commanders.
“Alright. Do you know where they are?”
“I do. It’s where the World Tree is.”
Seol Jihu’s eyes lit up.
“Let’s go. There’s no need to delay then.”
[Let’s go together!]
[We’ll help too!]
Hearing Seol Jihu’s reply to Little Chick, the young Spirits eagerly spoke. However, Little Chick snorted and refused adamantly.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You twerps can’t even handle a single Spirit Creature…”
“Listen to me. I’m not telling you to just sit here and do nothing. I’m sure you have your circumstances, but you must have been traveling to save the Spirit Kings because you were pushed to a corner and didn’t have any other choice.”
The Spirits nodded carefully.
“…Tsk, if the lowest-rank and low-rank Spirits are doing this, it’s easy to see what happened to the higher-ranked guys.”
Little Chick spoke regretfully.
“Dragging this out will only put the enemies in a more advantageous position. It’s a do or die situation now. You guys spread out and gather everyone.”
“There must be other remnant groups in hiding. Bring them with you to the fight. At the very least, you can act as our shields. Even if you die, you’ll come back to life once the World Tree revives.”
[You can resurrect World Tree-nim!?]
“I don’t have time to sit around and explain. Just do as I say. This is a pressing matter. The longer you guys take, the smaller the chances get of us saving the Spirit Kings. Got that?”
Little Chick emphasized the urgency of the matter multiple times, and the Spirits finally looked convinced.
[Got it! Then we’ll meet up at the World Tree?]
[We’ll hurry and bring as many Spirits as we can!]
It wouldn’t be strange for them to ask for protection since they could be ambushed again. Seol Jihu couldn’t help but feel a little proud seeing the little guys courageously scattering in all directions.
Perhaps this was only natural. Unable to see any hope for the future, they were charging forward with their lives on the line out of pure desperation. Since a lifeline was suddenly thrown at them from the sky, it made sense for them to grab onto it with all their might.
‘If only Earthlings were half as courageous and resolute as them…’
Seol Jihu chuckled before shaking the thought off his head.
“I’ll take the lead, partner.”
The expedition team began to march with Little Chick at the head. Seol Jihu fell silent, walking quietly while being wary of his surroundings.
‘Little Chick said the Spirit Kings are around the World Tree?’
This meant he could potentially achieve his two goals simultaneously.
‘If all goes well…’
The expedition they expected to be greatly difficult might just end easily. Just like how their first battle ended with an easy victory.
Of course, he wasn’t all that optimistic. It would be great if everything went smoothly like a sailboat following a fair wind, but the Parasites weren’t fools that could be looked down on.
‘I doubt they’d stay still…’
Just as he thought that—
[I have a theory I’ve kept to myself.]
[I haven’t said it until now because it was all a conjecture.]
Seol Jihu remembered the words Ian spoke before he died.
[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.]
[The reason two of the Seven Armies aren’t in the Material Realm.]
Mulling over each word he heard back then, Seol Jihu unknowingly bit his lower lip.
[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.]
[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…!]
His heart became heavy as he recalled the warm, genial old Magician.
In truth, he still wasn’t sure what he meant.
[Then I will answer you. As everyone’s representative—]
He knew one thing for certain.
[It certainly is worth it to protect a Star that even the Parasite Queen fears.]
…Right. There must be a reason.
A reason that Ian told him to abandon everyone and escape alone.
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Sorry for the delay guys! - Momo