Yun Seohui’s face contorted with pain. She tried to scream with a venomous expression, but she couldn’t finish her sentence. That was because Yun Seora’s longsword swung down without hesitation.
Chop. The blade slashed Yun Seohui’s throat, a fountain of blood spurting out along with her head.
Tk! Drrr…. The severed head spun in the air before falling on the ground and slowly coming to a stop.
Yun Seohui’s long, silky hair was spread across the ground, her face distorted like an evil spirit as her eyes looked up at the sky.
Yun Seohui’s death was swift and clean.
Seol Jihu scanned his surroundings in secret and quickly realized what happened.
Valhalla members weren’t the only ones around. There were some who had managed to escape the city.
Yun Seora had to be one of them.
She gasped for breath, standing in the same posture that she swung down her sword. Eventually, her arms went limp.
After a moment of silence…
She spoke with a trembling voice and slowly looked back at Seol Jihu.
Her face was red from the blood of her older sister. Her eyes were glistening as if she would break out into tears at any moment.
“…Unni… was always like that….”
A hoarse voice came out.
“Whenever she did something wrong… she would always find someone to blame… or think of ways to avoid taking responsibility alone… ever since she was young….”
Yun Seora bit her lower lip after mustering up an explanation. Though she tried to hold it in, a teardrop fell from her teary eyes.
“To be honest… I knew it too….”
“The things Sinyoung’s executives have been doing… I tried to stop them… and correct their wrong….”
“But there wasn’t anything I could do by myself….”
Eventually, two streams of tears rolled down from Yun Seora’s eyes.
Clang. Her longsword fell to the ground.
Yun Seora lowered her head and cried like a child.
“I’m sorry…. I’m sorry that I couldn’t do anything…. I’m so sorry….”
What should have come out from Yun Seohui’s mouth came out from Yun Seora’s instead.
For something she didn’t do, for something she tried to stop, Yun Soera cried and apologized for a long time.
The first person to arrive at Scheherazade was none other than Philip Muller.
After hearing about what happened, he judged the situation to be of utmost significance and used Teleport consecutively to lessen the travel time.
After blankly staring at the transparent barrier surrounding Scheherazade, Philip Muller turned his head and discovered Valhalla’s members gathered in one spot.
He became speechless as soon as he ran up in a hurry.
Yun Seora was crying quietly, Seol Jihu was looking up at the sky with a sour face, the remaining members of Valhalla were standing still with their mouths shut, and there was one corpse with its head and arms detached.
Tightly held in the severed hands were two items—a Thunder and a scroll imbued with the ancient Empire’s short-distance teleportation spell.
Neither were easily obtainable items.
Seeing Yun Seohui’s corpse, the words, ‘just what happened here?’ were swallowed back.
He could guess what had happened from the information that was relayed through the communication crystal.
Seol Jihu wasn’t late by just a step but by several steps.
It was then. Seo Yuhui flinched amidst the heavy silence.
She then turned towards Scheherazade with a look of disbelief.
She muttered quietly.
Seol Jihu came to his senses at her words, asking for clarification.
Seo Yuhui’s eyes shook.
“The barrier I cast inside Gorad Boga… just broke….”
What this meant was obvious.
[I prayed for a hundred days inside the ruin to set up a barrier. I even left behind a holy artifact to keep it semi-permanent.]
[I’ll be notified if anyone tries to forcefully break the barrier. And it’s not easy to break the barrier through normal methods.]
One of the two barriers protecting the stele had just been broken through.
The barrier Seo Yuhui spent a hundred days to cast had been shattered all too easily.
Though there was no way to be sure, the five Army Commanders likely had a hand in it.
What mattered the most was that the enemy was on the move.
Seol Jihu clenched his teeth.
After confirming Yun Seohui’s death, Seol Jihu left the vicinity of Scheherazade and set up camp.
That was all he could do at the moment.
When time passed, and dusk fell, reinforcements began to arrive one by one.
Odor, Haramark, Eva, Caligo… By the time reinforcements from Grazia arrived, humanity had formed a giant encirclement around Scheherazade.
While familiar faces showed up one after the other, Seol Jihu chose to leave the area. He wanted some time to think after remembering something he had forgotten about until now.
A voice entered his ears while he was absorbed in thought.
Looking back, Seol Jihu saw Philip Muller standing dejectedly.
“It’s my fault.”
“If I didn’t oppose you back then… things probably wouldn’t have come to this.”
Before the Valhalla Attack Incident, Seol Jihu and Philip Muller had argued about how to settle the matter afterward.
Seol Jihu wanted to wipe out every traitor and their organization while Philip Muller wanted to leave them with a way to survive.
If they had gone with Seol Jihu’s idea and destroyed every involved organization, including Sinyoung, things indeed might have turned out differently. Surely that was what was weighing on Philip Muller’s mind.
However, Seol Jihu shook his head. As far as he could tell, there was no way of knowing what would have happened.
“I’m the one who accepted your idea and carried it out. Even if we had gone ahead with my idea, there’s no guarantee this wouldn’t have happened. We couldn’t have predicted what Yun Seohui would have done either.”
“Perhaps the situation might have become more dangerous than it already is.”
Philip Muller smiled bitterly, thinking Seol Jihu was just trying to cheer him up.
He heaved out a deep sigh and stiffened his shoulders.
“I know it’s not my place to say this, but why don’t you go back to the camp? Things are getting pretty intense.”
Seol Jihu nodded his head. He knew now wasn’t the time to be sitting around in a daze. He had to do something.
Moreover, if the plan he just thought of was possible, they would now have a race against time on their hands.
Seol Jihu followed Philip Muller back to the base camp. Despite it being the early hours of dawn, a light was shining from the tent at the center of the camp.
Loud voices leaked out from time to time. Both Baek Haeju and Seo Yuhui were participating in the meeting, as was Teresa Hussey, Cinzia, Agnes, and the Star of Wrath, Wu Lei.
Beastman King White Tiger, who had arrived with Eva’s forces, was also present at the meeting, and Yun Seora was sitting in the corner with her head down like a criminal.
Just like Philip Muller said, the air inside the tent could only be described as intense.
“There’s no choice. We have to gather up a stronger force, even if we have to give up on the city…”
“That’s absurd. Don’t you know how difficult it is to reclaim a city that’s been taken over? Recouping the production power is one thing, but a city that’s been contaminated by Nests is…”
Some were in heated debates…
“That damned Sung Shihyun. In the end, he ruined everything he achieved with his own hands…!”
“Sinyoung is a piece of work too. How do they plan on taking responsibility for this?”
While some were criticizing Sung Shihyun and Sinyoung.
Seol Jihu stared at Yun Seora as she silently endured all the criticisms. Then, he walked over to the empty seat at the head of the table.
The moment Seol Jihu sat down, the chattering disappeared like a lie.
It was because Seol Jihu’s complexion was just as grave as the air inside the tent.
As Seol Jihu was someone who usually had a stupid grin on his face, he gave off a different aura when he was this serious.
Though it might sound ridiculous, Seol Jihu was called the Problem-solver or the Enforcer of Victory due to leading every expedition and war he had been a part of to success.
This was Seol Jihu’s first failure. Since the cause of his loss was an enemy from the inside, it made sense for him to be mad.
“How’s the situation?”
Seol Jihu asked in a low voice as soon as he sat down.
“Not good. It’s complicated.”
Philip Muller pressed his forehead.
“We just got a call saying that the Parasites have begun to arrange their forces along all border regions.”
Teresa swept her hair up angrily.
“We launched all sorts of attacks on the barrier just to be sure, and it didn’t budge even a bit. This is the first time I’ve seen a barrier unfazed by a Thunder.”
Wu Lei grumbled softly.
“The Federation’s military headquarters also organized their troops and are running over… They let us know that they discovered Unsightly Humility’s army and the Parasite Queen near the Hiral Mountain Range.”
And White Tiger murmured while smacking his lips.
Everyone gasped at this news.
The Parasite Queen had lifted her heavy butt.
Of course, she wouldn’t be able to leave the Empire’s territory, but her intentions were clear.
She was holding Tigol Fortress in check.
Seol Jihu tapped on the table with his finger while organizing his thoughts.
They had succeeded in besieging Scheherazade for now, but that was it. To break Gorad Boga’s barrier, they would need to expend an incredible amount of firepower.
Even if they somehow succeeded, that would only be the start of their problem as they would need to face five Army Commanders and their armies, all the while attacking them on their home turf.
Breaking the barrier and defeating the Parasites’ elite forces before they could secure the stele… To be honest, it didn’t sound plausible.
That wasn’t all. The Parasites were supposedly deploying their forces in every city’s border region, so they had to be wary of that as well.
One wrong move and it might not be the five Army Commanders that were surrounded, but humanity’s forces that were gathered around Scheherazade.
Things were complicated, just like Philip Muller said.
And once Seol Jihu thought this far, he judged that avoiding a battle was impossible.
Though there was no guarantee of victory, a war was inevitable.
The problem was with the stele.
They had to prevent the Parasite Queen’s revival no matter what. Currently, the joined forces of humanity and the Federation had some hope of victory, but if the Parasite Queen regained her full power and joined the front lines, then they would really be out of options.
Seol Jihu thought deeply before asking.
“Can the Parasite Queen regain a portion of her strength by having one or two of the stele pieces?”
“No, definitely not.”
Philip Muller answered.
“All three pieces have to be put together to form the complete stele. With even a single piece missing, they’re no different than ordinary stones.”
Seo Yuhui nodded, agreeing with Philip Muller’s explanation.
‘I see.’ Seol Jihu murmured inwardly and then turned his gaze to Baek Haeju.
“Miss Baek Haeju, I heard you were responsible for hiding the last piece of the stele.”
“I heard you didn’t hide it in the Federation’s or humanity’s territory. Does that mean…”
Baek Haeju gave an affirmation a beat later.
“I hid my piece of the stele in the Parasite’s territory.”
“Of all places….”
Teresa groaned quietly, but no one who took part in that expedition raised their voice. They knew from personal experience just how hard it must have been to hide the stele that was giving off such terrifying darkness.
“I had no choice. I wanted to hide it in the Spirit Realm at first… but the Federation refused.”
White Tiger let out a dry cough.
“The Parasite Queen had fallen into a deep slumber from the effect of the Imperial Oath. I had to hide it before she could recover and sense the stele’s location. I didn’t have time to be picky. If it was a suitable place, I had to go with it.”
Baek Haeju continued.
“At the time, I obtained a piece of information from Miss Seo Yuhui and investigated things related to Gorad Boga. Though I couldn’t quite find a divine city, as a result, I was able to locate a similar place.”
“What? You mean you went back into the Parasites’ territory on your own?”
Wu Lei expressed his astonishment.
“It wasn’t that difficult. The Parasite Queen was incapacitated from the Imperial Oath, and most of the Army Commanders were recuperating from having released their divinities. It was the prime time to infiltrate the Parasites’ territory with them having lost most of their forces in their failed war against Tigol Fortress.”
“Ah, right, right….”
Wu Lei did a double-take and rubbed his chin.
“Then is the current plan to secure the last piece of the stele before the Parasites?”
After a moment of silence, Philip Muller carefully asked Seol Jihu.
“It’s not a bad plan. If we succeed, not only will we prevent the Parasite Queen’s revival, but the five Army Commanders’ invasion will also have been for naught.”
If they succeeded, that is.
It went without saying that the process involved in such a success wouldn’t be easy.
“There are too many things happening right now. First, the Parasites are deploying their troops to the frontline.”
“Unsightly Humility is still with the main army, and more importantly, we will have to enter the enemy territory. Fighting within the Parasites’ territory will not be easy.”
Speaking of which, Gabriel also said that the Parasites’ corrupted territory was essentially equivalent to having four or five corrupted World Trees on their side.
“And that’s not all. Roe Scheherazade said she would give us time, but how can we trust her? For all we know, she might have used the Royal Oath already.”
“The Parasites might already be on the move to secure the last piece of the stele.”
The points that were brought up were all correct.
In fact, that was what Seol Jihu was worried about the most.
Entering the Parasites’ territory would be difficult enough. Their efforts would have been wasted if they arrived at the last stele piece’s location, and it was already taken.
There was a considerable chance that they would suffer meaningless sacrifice.
“They shouldn’t be able to get their hands on it right away.”
At that moment, Baek Haeju spoke up.
Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open.
“What do you mean?”
“They might be able to figure out the location, but taking the stele out would be another problem.”
Seol Jihu’s dull eyes finally lit up.
“You mean the place you hid the stele is also protected like Gorad Boga?”
Baek Haeju explained.
“I hid the stele in the catacombs that were managed by a family from the era of the ancient Empire. How should I say this… an odd, spiritual aura flowed inside it. The catacombs went deep underground and had complex corridors. Moreover, there was a guardian preventing others from entering the deepest level.”
“Guardian? Then how did you…”
“Though I had no relationship with the place, I was able to talk with the guardian. He was once a noble and wise sage of the Empire, and he understood the situation humanity was in. I passed his trial…”
Baek Haeju raised her hand in the middle of talking and drew a circle.
“And I obtained the qualification to enter the deepest level.”
Next, she took out a faded insignia from her Dimensional Pocket.
Though her fingers were covering it, Seol Jihu felt like he had seen the insignia before.
“The guardian disappeared after giving me this insignia, but the barrier blocking the way to the deepest level is still active.”
“How powerful is that barrier?”
“It’s beyond human understanding to judge its strength. I only noticed after going down, but the deepest level was not in the Middle World. If someone without the insignia enters, they will be trapped in an unknown dimension and forced to roam there for eternity.”
Baek Haeju put the insignia back into her Dimensional Pocket.
“Of course, I’m sure that the barrier can be broken from the outside…. But I’m sure even a god will have a hard time breaking a barrier that is connected to an unknown number of dimensions.”
Seol Jihu clenched his fists.
The place Baek Haeju hid the stele was similar to Gorad Boga, but there was one key difference.
The Parasites would not be able to get their hands on it even if they knew where it was.
In contrast, Baek Haeju would easily be able to obtain it as long as she got there.
“Can you tell us where the stele is located?”
Baek Haeju looked around at her surroundings.
Philip Muller quickly chanted a spell, and an opaque barrier was cast around Seol Jihu and Baek Haeju.
Baek Haeju examined the barrier before saying.
“Do you have a map?”
Seol Jihu immediately took out a map from his pocket and spread it open on the table.
“The place I went to was…”
Baek Haeju placed her finger on the map and traced out a course in a fluid motion. When she eventually stopped, she stared at the location with a slightly surprised look.
Seol Jihu looked at the map more closely. A small circle was drawn where Baek Haeju’s finger had stopped.
“Why is there a…?”
Baek Haeju blinked. She seemed to be asking why a circle was drawn on this spot.
“Wait, this place…”
[Eh? Isn’t this… that?]
Flone also sounded surprised.
Right, the circled spot was one of the five places where the Rothschear’s inheritance was buried. Among them, it was the place that Flone had only heard of without knowing exactly what was buried.
[This is where my family’s inheritance is buried!]
Baek Haeju showed a rare hint of fluster.
[But how… What was inside?]
“Just… a bit of everything…”
[What did you do with it?]
“…I took it all….”
Baek Haeju replied with an uneasy feeling, and Flone responded dejectedly.
Seol Jihu chuckled.
He finally figured it out.
The guardian Baek Haeju mentioned must have been an existence that protected the Rothschear’s inheritance like Roselle.
Unlike Roselle, who had lingering attachments in the world, the guardian must have left unencumbered after meeting someone who was qualified.
“It’s fine. Knowing where it is, is enough.”
Though having the inheritance taken away was a bit of a shame, it was a common occurrence in Paradise. Moreover, the inheritance wasn’t much of a concern at this point.
Seol Jihu checked the location one last time before knocking on the barrier.
The opaque barrier quickly disappeared.
“I’ll sum it up.”
Seol Jihu looked around at everyone and continued.
“The stele inside Gorad Boga and the stele inside the catacombs… We must not let the Parasites take both. Furthermore, the Parasite Queen and the Parasites’ main army, excluding the five Army Commanders and their armies, are stationing themselves at the Federation’s and humanity’s border regions. Is everything correct so far?”
Seo Yuhui, Baek Haeju, and Philip Muller nodded one after the other.
Seol Jihu’s low voice instantly turned clear. He had finally found a faint piece of hope.
“We still have time.”
Hearing this, everyone fixed their gaze on Seol Jihu.
It sounded like he had a plan, one that would overturn this rapidly deteriorating situation.
While everyone was staring with eyes full of expectation…
“I will explain the plan.”
Seol Jihu’s eyes lit up with elegant light.Previous Chapter Next Chapter