Chapter 348. The End of the War (2)

With the Parasite Queen’s appearance and escape, the enemies had retreated from Tigol Fortress completely.

However, the war wasn’t over yet.

The all-important postwar handling needed to be done.

The lively atmosphere quickly died down.

A festive celebration might seem appropriate given that this was an unprecedented, great victory since the appearance of the Parasites, with even the Parasite Queen personally fleeing.

However, now simply wasn’t the time for such a thing. Although the enemy suffered a near annihilation of their ordinary troops, the Federation and humanity also suffered serious damage.

Tigol Fortress quickly grew busy.

The allied forces first took care of the wounded.

Those who could still move all helped out. A medical relief station was set up inside the fortress to treat the wounded, and the allied forces quickly worked to carry the wounded inside.

During this time, there was no such distinction as foreign race or external faction. Beastmen supported humans up, and Earthling Priests healed Beastmen readily. It was a scene that no one would have expected to see in the past.

Once the wounded were all moved inside, the allied forces collected the corpses of the dead and cleaned up the battlefield. By then, the night had passed and the day entered early morning.

“Damn, I was wondering where she was. Why the hell was she lying still in the middle of the fortress?”

Phi Sora grumbled after coming back from throwing Hoshino Urara in the medical relief station.

Chohong, who was resting her exhausted body outside her tent, stared at Phi Sora fixedly.

“I’m talking about her. The crazy chick.”

Phi Sora muttered meekly.

Chohong nodded her head, thinking, ‘Oh, her.’

Then, she smirked.

“Didn’t she fall after meeting Vulgar Chastity’s eyes?”

“I don’t know, my memory is a blur… Oh right, where’s our representative?”

Chohong gestured toward the tent in front of her as she put a cigarette in her mouth.

Seol Jihu was found unconscious on the field and was moved to the medical relief station before just being transferred to Valhalla’s tent. He wasn’t in any serious condition. He had simply passed out from exhaustion.

The only reason he lasted so long was probably thanks to the World Tree revitalizing the expedition team before transporting them to the Middle World.

“Hah.”

Phi Sora snorted after peeking inside the tent.

Seol Jihu was dead asleep while giving his left arm to Teresa Hussey and right arm to Charlotte Aria as pillows. Like the saying, having flowers in each hand, Seol Jihu had a princess on one hand and a queen on the other.

After staring fixedly, Phi Sora pulled up the blanket that was half kicked off. Then, she turned back quietly.

“They sure are sleeping soundly while everyone else is working their butts off…”

Although she was complaining, she didn’t think so at all on the inside. If anything, she felt pity seeing him collapse into sleep the moment the war ended.

‘He must have pushed himself pretty hard…’

The two of them stood in completely different positions in this war.

Phi Sora was only a member while Seol Jihu was a representative. She only had to follow orders, but Seol Jihu was the one who planned and carried out the entire plan.

Looking back, this war was a series of dangers from the get-go. Even Phi Sora felt her heart sink on multiple occasions nearing despair. She couldn’t begin to fathom with what kind of mindset Seol Jihu must have endured the pressure on his shoulders as the person who planned and led the entire expedition. This was especially so given the number of times the situation took unexpected turns.

That was what made her all the more sorry.

“Argh, I’m tired as hell but can’t sleep…”

Phi Sora scratched her head in frustration before plopping down next to Chohong. After staying silent for a while, she spoke as if she just thought of something.

“Anyway, I wonder how that Unni and Miss Eun Yuri are doing. It’s been an hour or two since they left, right?”

“We got a call from Kazuki a while ago.”

“Oh really? What did he say?”

“Eun Yuri survived for now. As for Lust Noonim…”

Chohong sighed in the middle of talking.

“They’re rushing to Eva, so we’ll have to wait to find out.”

Phi Sora sighed and dropped her head.

“I don’t know if we should tell our representative that.”

“Don’t.”

“?”

“He’s going to find out later anyway. Let him sleep for now. He was running around like a headless chicken even before the war to make preparations….”

Chohong trailed off.

Phi Sora looked at her in a renewed way. She thought Chohong was just a tomboy, but it seemed she was more thoughtful than Phi Sora previously thought.

“What about you? Are you okay?”

“Me? Why?”

“You’ve had this dazed face since a while ago. Did you know your cigarette burned out?”

Chohong glanced down. The cigarette in her mouth had flickered off before she noticed, leaving only ash behind. Only then did she take out the cigarette and laugh.

“It’s just…”

“Yes?”

“…I don’t know. I feel dazed like you said.”

Chohong smacked her lips, licking her chapped lips.

“Maybe I should say I’m still in disbelief.”

When she added, ‘That I survived in this war’, Phi Sora nodded while looking up at the night sky above the fortress wall.

“I don’t blame you. It was a pretty absurd war, especially at the end with the Parasite Queen appearing…”

Phi Sora winced, recalling the event that happened only a few hours ago.

Chohong’s face also paled.

“I-It’s over, right?”

“Beats me… To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly jump over that wall…”

“Don’t speak it into existence.”

Chohong nudged her with her shoulder. Phi Sora fell to the side feebly, then let out an empty chuckle.

“Well, you never know. If they come, they come. But, to be honest, I don’t think they will.”

“Right? Didn’t they run with their tails between their legs?”

“That’s what I heard too. If they were going to regroup and attack, they probably wouldn’t have thrown away their mother species.”

“Right, that makes sense. So I can sleep in peace then. Let me just finish this.”

Chohong simpered as she took out another cigarette.

Phi Sora also got up and moved to the tent. She entered, thinking, ‘He’s already got two women clinging to him, so he won’t cling to me today, right?’

But when she looked inside the tent, her eyes widened.

There was no one between the queen and the princess.

“…Shit.”

Seol Jihu disappeared?

Suddenly, a chilly night breeze seeped in. Rustle. Something was pushed inside by the wind and touched Phi Sora’s foot as she stood motionless like a statue.

Her eyes lit up as she glanced down.

“This is… a leaf?”

The wind blew again. Phi Sora raised her eyes after subconsciously picking up the leaf.

A small part of the tent had been torn, just enough to carry out a person who was lying down.

Phi Sora crawled through the hole just to be sure and immediately furrowed her brows. There really was a long trail of someone being dragged left on the ground.

Someone must have taken Seol Jihu while she was talking with Chung Chohong.

But who? And for what reason?

Swallowing the questions that began to surface, Phi Sora followed the trail until her gaze stopped at the center of the fortress where the large World Tree was standing.

She then looked back and forth between the leaf in her hand and the World Tree.

“…Huh?”

And her eyes shot open.

She seemed to have realized something.

*


Fresh sunlight shone down on his face.

Seol Jihu tossed and turned without even opening his eyes.

Although he regained consciousness, he didn’t want to wake up.

He wanted to enjoy the refreshing wind and the cozy warmth enveloping him for a little while longer.

Other than something continuously tickling his cheek, everything was comfortable and relaxing.

‘Is someone licking me or something?’

Grumbling inwardly, Seol Jihu suddenly frowned.

‘Wait, is that wind?’

A pleasant wind blew once again.

Feeling his back becoming cool, Seol Jihu opened his eyes.

He saw leaves and branches messily blocking the sun hanging in the middle of the sky.

“This is…”

It was only then that Seol Jihu realized he wasn’t in the tent.

Branches and leaves were weaved together like a net, supporting his body like a bed.

Simply put, he had been sleeping in the World Tree’s embrace.

It was hard to believe that he sleepwalked all the way up this large tree, and it seemed even more unlikely that someone would have done something as insane as putting him up here.

“Did you bring me here?”

Of course, the World Tree didn’t answer. It only moved its branch and hugged Seol Jihu tightly.

Tickle, tickle. Meanwhile, a leaf continued to tickle his cheek.

Soon, the World Tree lifted the head-tilting Seol Jihu up high so that he could look outside.

“Ah!”

Seol Jihu exclaimed loudly. Looking down from the highest point in the surrounding land filled him with a new emotion.

A beautiful, splendid view was spread out before him, so much so that he doubted whether it was even the same place as where a brutal war broke out yesterday.

“You wanted to show me this?”

The World Tree rustled. Though he might be mistaken, it felt like the World Tree was laughing brightly.

The World Tree must have wanted to show him this scenery.

Seol Jihu also burst out laughing. Then, after looking around for a while, he caught sight of something and exclaimed, ‘Oh!’.

He saw two little dots looking up at him from the bottom of the World Tree. Though there was a bit of a distance between them, Seol Jihu’s eyesight, heightened from the Golden Wind Phoenix, captured them instantly.

It was the Foxmen sisters, Haeryeo and Haeya.

“Let me down.”

Seol Jihu descended slowly.

“Wooow!”

The sisters cheerfully came running as soon as he stepped on the ground.

“It’s been a while.”

They giggled brightly as Seol Jihu picked them up with a greeting.

“What are you guys so happy about?”

“We won! We won yesterday!”

“Oh, that. Yeah, the Parasite Queen ran away.”

“Un, un! I saw! I saw!”

“See, I told you, the Parasites are nothing much.”

Seol Jihu glanced sideways while chatting casually.

Haeryeo and Haeya weren’t the only ones here.

There were six pairs of twinkling, bead-like eyes that were staring at him.

White and yellow rice cakes were hiding behind the World Tree, peeking at him with their tails wagging. The little fuzzballs looked docile like puppies from a rural countryside.

When their eyes met Seol Jihu’s, one of the white rice cakes mustered up its courage and came up to him. Wagging its tail, the rice cake went on tippy-toes in front of Seol Jihu.

The way it poked his leg and stuck out its tongue, it seemed to be asking for a hug.

“Oooh.”

Seol Jihu put the sisters down before getting on his knees. He reached out to the white fuzzball in awe. It was soft and warm like a rice cake that was just cooked.

“Ah, you guys come here too.”

As Seol Jihu beckoned at the others, the five others that were staring yearningly flashed their eyes.

They rushed over with short and quick steps, then surrounded Seol Jihu while wagging their tails.

“Haha, you little fuzzballs.”

In the next moment, Seol Jihu yelled ‘Boo!’ and jumped. He grabbed a rice cake in his line of sight and bit down gently. The rice cake wriggled as Seol Jihu shook his head side to side with his teeth gently biting down.

“You cute little rice cakes.”

Seol Jihu didn’t stop there and tickled the fuzzball until it burst into laughter.

“Kking, kking!”

“Who told you to be this cute, huh? Who told you!”

“Kking….”

As the rice cake groaned, its friends jumped in to save their friend.

Seol Jihu giggled. He felt relaxed and at peace for the first time in a while.

By the time he knocked down Haeryeo, Haeya, and the six puppy-like Beastmen with his devilish tickling…

“I see you’re having fun.”

A familiar voice rang out.

Seol Jihu turned around and saw a woman wearing a thick coat and smoking a cigarette.

It was Cinzia.

“Ah, it’s Leopard Witch!”

Haeryeo pointed at Cinzia in a startle.

Cinzia raised her eyebrow.

“…What did you say, Foxman brat?”

“Run! She’s going to skin us and make us into her underwear!”

Haeryeo and Haeya escaped while giggling.

The group of white and yellow rice cakes hurriedly ran as well.

“Those damned brats.”

Cinzia murmured as she saw their little wagging tails getting farther away. She shook her head, then spoke.

“Did you just wake up?”

“Y-Yes.”

“And you’re already forming connections. Why don’t you rest a bit, Representative Seol?”

“Connections? Eii, they’re children.”

“They’re children, but not just any children.”

Cinzia smiled languidly.

“The child of the Beastman King was among them too.”

“?”

“You didn’t know? It was the whitest one. It’s a little hard to tell because of the brat’s age, but black stripes will start appearing on the brat soon.”

Cinzia snorted casually, then puffed out a cloud of smoke.

Her expression was slightly complicated.

Seol Jihu tilted his head in confusion before carefully asking.

“Are you okay, Miss Cinzia?”

“If you’re talking about my physical well-being, then I’m perfectly fine. Otherwise, I would be blacked out in the medical relief station. I went on a little walk and thought I should see the World Tree.”

Cinzia spoke indifferently before glancing at Seol Jihu.

“Why do you ask?”

“Uh, well, you looked a little feeble.”

Cinzia didn’t reply and smoked quietly. The way she dropped her head slightly and puffed out cloud after cloud of smoke, it looked like she was hesitating about something.

Eventually, Cinzia opened her mouth.

“The Star of Pride died.”

Seol Jihu’s heightened mood died down instantly.

“I’m talking about the Executor of Superbia. He died in this war. Quite unfortunate since he was a decent guy.”

“How…”

“Sung Shihyun sneak attacked him.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes turned sharp once Sung Shihyun’s name was mentioned.

“Speaking of which, I heard you met him?”

“…Yes.”

“How was he?”

“Kind of an annoying guy, if I’m being honest.”

“His character, yes. But what do you think about his strength?”

Seol Jihu closed his mouth.

Interpreting this silence on her own, Cinzia smiled bitterly.

“His conduct was never good, but he became a legend among Earthlings because of his strength. Just that. Well, he’s a traitor now…”

Cinzia let loose a long sigh mixed with smoke.

“But let’s look on the bright side. If he had mixed in with humanity while hiding the fact that he turned coat… It’s terrible just thinking about it. We might have to be content that it ended with only the Star of Pride’s death.”

Speaking in a bored voice, Cinzia pulled out the cigarette from her mouth and flicked it away.

As she took out another cigarette, a branch of the World Tree picked up the cigarette butt and threw it back at her.

Tak. Cinzia’s mouth twitched after being hit by the cigarette butt.

“This damned World Tree.”

Just as she was about to duke it out with the World Tree, she saw Seol Jihu, whose complexion had turned dark.

“Should you be worrying about others right now?”

Cinzia muttered with a heavy breath.

“Valhalla suffered heavy damage, didn’t it?”

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

*


Seol Jihu ran.

He raced to the tent as soon as he heard what happened.

[I’m talking about the Star of Lust and that female Magician.]

[That Magician was writhing in pain as soon as the war ended. I checked her out for a bit. Her body was boiling like molten metal because of her mana going berserk.]

[The Star of Lust is in an even worst condition. The scar left behind from the valley war seems to have burst. I heard she vomited out blood at least a dozen times and even had a seizure… It must be the price of risking death and overusing holy power.]

[Unfortunately, the World Tree that is in the Middle World is only an avatar. It was created to purify contaminated earth and protect the fortress from the Parasites, so it doesn’t have all of the Authorities that its true body has. And because the Sky Fairies used their last remaining Elixeer to save you in the last war…]

There was no way to treat her in Tigol Fortress, so she was sent off to Eva’s temple yesterday in haste. Kazuki and Philip Muller went with her as guards.

Cinzia told him where Valhalla’s tent was.

There was nothing Seol Jihu could do now that Seo Yuhui had already left for Eva, but he ran anyway.

For now, he planned to contact Kazuki. And if possible, he planned to leave Tigol Fortress and chase after Seo Yuhui immediately. He was prepared to return the lifeforce he received last time if it could save her.

But the moment he neared the vicinity of the tent, he came to a sudden stop.

There was a woman leaning against the tree who stood straight as soon as she laid eyes on him.

He was familiar with her face.

“Miss Baek Haeju?”

She sauntered toward him as if she had something to say.

“Miss Baek Haeju, by any chance…”

It was then.

Just as Seol Jihu was about to ask her, Baek Haeju glanced left and right before reaching into her pocket and taking something out.

A small note was in her hand.

Seol Jihu took the note when she waved her hand a couple of times.

“This is…”

—A message from Miss Seo Yuhui.

At that moment, her Mental Transmission rang inside his head.

—She asked me to give this to you without telling anyone else.

‘Yuhui Noona said that?’

—She also told me to tell you that she used the ‘souvenir’ you gave her and that you shouldn’t worry. She asked you to read the note and keep the contents to yourself.

Seol Jihu raised his eyes in a daze.

Baek Haeju was staring at him with an emotionless face.

—This is perfect. Everyone inside the tent is sleeping and there is no one around. You should read it now and burn it.

His confusion at her sudden words only lasted a moment.

Soon, Seol Jihu looked around carefully and opened up the note.

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