Side Story 40. IF: Pranking Temperance

Seol Jihu was a hero who fought for the Federation and humanity’s freedom against the Parasites. There was no reason for him to defect now that Jörmungandr’s activities had stopped. The logical conclusion was that he had something else on his mind.

‘We’ll pretend to welcome him, but in reality, keep an eye on him until he cracks.’

When the time comes, they would strike him and kill him for good, the Army Commanders decided. This was for the sake of their queen, who greedily took Seol Jihu under her wing, knowing that he could be scheming behind her back.

However, Seol Jihu defied everyone’s expectations.

He would have to be alone to contact his comrades, escape the Parasites territory, or attempt any other scheme.

But Seol Jihu was never alone. He was always by the Parasite Queen’s side, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Curious what he was up to, the Army Commanders decided to spy on him one day. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Seol Jihu was taking a nap on the Parasite Queen’s lap! But this turned out to be one of the less shocking events.

One day, when the Army Commanders arrived at the throne room, they noticed that Seol Jihu was missing and that the Parasite Queen’s bone wings were moving up and down, alternating between the left and right one.

Soon they found out that Seol Jihu was playing with the queen’s wings. “I’ve been curious about these,” he said and claimed that he was helping the Parasite Queen exercise her muscles. “One, two, one, two!” He shouted out loud.

Then, another day, Seol Jihu crawled up the Parasite Queen’s shoulders. He clutched the queen’s tentacle-like hair and pulled. He even jumped off her shoulders and dangled on the rope that was her hair.

Things got even worse when he became tired after playing and returned to the queen’s lap to take a nap. Even the slightest movement woke him up. Overcome with drowsiness, he threw tantrums and went as far as to kick the Parasite Queen in the stomach. He didn’t appreciate being disturbed, obviously. The Parasite Queen had to keep still for hours, just so that Seol Jihu could sleep.

“…”

Exploding Patience couldn’t hide her shock at the sight. She couldn’t find the words to describe how utterly appalled she was. She had never seen anyone so rude.

The Parasite Queen’s reaction to his antics wasn’t any less shocking. If any other Army Commander had done what Seol Jihu was doing to her—not that they would ever dare do so—she would have flipped out.

But right now, the Parasite Queen seemed perfectly content. She was evidently acting very leniently. And what was more, sometimes she would look down at Seol Jihu on her lap and stroke his head with affectionate eyes.

‘She’s obviously biased toward the Fourth Army Commander,’ the Army Commanders complained among themselves, ‘Her Majesty has changed.’

“My liege, please allow your servant to speak a word with the Fourth Army Commander.”

Finally, Abhorrent Charity, who couldn’t sit back and watch any longer, stepped forward.

“He and I are comrades now, but we still have much to learn about each other. Also, he is the only one among us to have successfully mastered divinity upon birth. I believe I can learn a lot from him.”

Conscious of Seol Jihu’s presence, he carefully picked his words, but he meant what he said.

[I approve.]

The Parasite Queen consented without hesitation.

She was well aware of the Army Commanders’ growing dissatisfaction.

The problem was with Seol Jihu.

[Abhorrent Charity came all this way to speak with you. You should try talking to him.]

Seol Jihu looked up at the Parasite Queen without a word.

By this time, the queen could read Seol Jihu’s thoughts just by looking into his eyes. ‘I’d rather stay here,’ he seemed to say. It was a flat refusal.

[You’re our Army Commander. I cannot force you to make friends with others, but you should at least be prepared to discuss strategies with them.]

The queen tried to persuade Seol Jihu but to no avail. He yawned, curved his body like a cat, and nestled deeper into her lap.

The Parasite Queen let out a sigh.

[…Go outside and play for a bit.]

She changed her choice of words.

This was effective, for Seol Jihu quickly pulled himself up from her lap.

‘I have to play with him?’

Abhorrent Charity looked at the queen with puzzled eyes.

The queen remained silent.

“…All right, let’s go out and play. Let’s talk and play….”

Abhorrent Charity shook his head left and right.


*


“Honestly, I was shocked when you first came to see us.”

Abhorrent Charity began to speak as soon as they stepped out of the palace.

He hurried because he wasn’t sure how to handle Seol Jihu. He couldn’t exactly play rock, paper, and scissors with his tentacles.

“Jörmungandr hasn’t been active, and… it hurts me to admit this, but the Federation and humanity won by a landslide at Tigol Fortress.”

“…”

“And it’s my understanding that everything has been smooth sailing since then. The two forces joined hands with each other, and humanity has successfully screened out its defectors. The growing brightness of your star is the proof.”

Abhorrent Charity glanced behind him as he walked ahead.

Seol Jihu was looking around. Nothing about him seemed out of the ordinary, but he did look a little bored.

“Of course, that isn’t to say that you joining us isn’t worth celebrating. We’re truly rejoicing.”

Abhorrent Charity let out a dry cough as he slowed down.

“But, you see, we’re curious to know why the hero who led his people to victory suddenly decided to leave them, even though the situation has never looked better for humanity….”

Seol Jihu stopped in his tracks.

“Is that really important?”

Finally. A response.

Abhorrent Charity, too, came to a stop.

“Well, it’s not not important.”

He slowly turned around and faced Seol Jihu.

He could sense that the atmosphere around him had changed.

“I’ve defected to the Parasites. I’ve become a parasite and was generously bestowed a divinity. What you’re worried about won’t happen.”

“Oh, of course.”

Abhorrent Charity gently waved his tentacles in an attempt to calm Seol Jihu down.

“We’re merely curious about your ulterior motive. Or your wish, if you’d rather call it that.”

Abhorrent Charity continued.

“We Army Commanders have gathered under the Queen for the ideals she has set forth. We’d like to hear your story because we believe transparency will help us trust you. Simply acknowledging you as an ally and trusting you are two completely different things, you see.”

Seol Jihu scoffed.

“Well then, let me ask you a question first.”

“Please do.”

“If I tell you why I switched sides—will you promise not to laugh at me?”

“Hrm?”

“You may think the reason is trivial, but it isn’t for me. Everyone has something that they just can’t condone.”

Seol Jihu’s voice shot up a notch.

Abhorrent Charity smiled inwardly.

He seemed to have hit a sore spot.

“I was once a human, so I know what you mean.”

“No, you don’t.”

“?”

“The fact that you were once a human is precisely the reason I can’t trust you. You won’t get me, just like the others.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes narrowed.

“Humans aren’t the only problem. Gods, too. Damn it! It’s not like I asked for money or fame! I’ve done so much for them, yet they refuse to give me the one thing I want—”

Abhorrent Charity had a hundred questions but kept quiet and let him go on. Seol Jihu seemed enraged, which was a good thing. He was finally starting to show his true feelings.

“My wish? Fine. I’ll tell you.”

Seol Jihu clenched his teeth after the rant. An eerie light flickered in his eyes.

“What I want is humanity’s total destruction. Paradisians, Earthlings, the Seven Sins…. I’ll make sure everyone pays for the humiliation and torment I had to suffer at their hands.”

“Hoh….”

Abhorrent Charity let out a small exclamation.

He had no way to know the details, but the keywords were all there.

‘The one thing I want’, humiliation, torment….

At this point, it wasn’t difficult to pinpoint Seol Jihu’s true motive for defecting.

‘So it was revenge, after all.’

Most importantly, the walls of hatred surrounding Seol Jihu were real. And his hate was undoubtedly directed at the Parasite’s enemies.

“I apologize for asking such a personal question.”

Abhorrent Charity turned around, now freed of all suspicions.

“That’s right. You should also talk to Unsightly Humility. I know he’s very interested in you.”

Of course, he made sure to pass the buck to the Second Army Commander before leaving.


*


“Advance! Advance! Move forward!”

Rumble!

Unsightly Humility was busy drilling his soldiers, the Second Army, and the Undead Army.

“Keep moving! Do not fall behind…. Hrm?”

While screaming at the top of his lungs, Unsightly Humility suddenly felt a gaze fall on him and turned around.

There he saw an unexpected visitor. Seol Jihu sat on his haunches, watching them not far away.

“What brings you here?”

Asked Unsightly Humility as he took off his helmet and approached Seol Jihu on his spectral horse.

Seol Jihu replied without moving.

“Abhorrent Charity sent me here. He said you wanted to talk to me.”

“Is that so? I would love to chat with you, but I do not remember telling him that.”

“Yeah?”

Seol Jihu shrugged casually.

“Anyway, what you have here is great. Your soldiers move in perfect order. I always thought that was cool even when I was your enemy.”

“Ah, you’re too generous.”

Flattered by Seol Jihu’s praise, Unsightly Humility began to make clattering sounds with his teeth.

“Although it isn’t without faults….”

But at the next comment, the sound came to an abrupt stop.

“Hoh. I always knew you were an outstanding warrior, but I never thought you were also a commander.”

Unsightly Humility lowered his voice with a hint of sarcasm.

“Tell me, great war hero, what is it that I lack? I shall heed your advice.”

A light flickered in Seol Jihu’s eyes.

The corners of his mouth also curved upward.

Unsightly Humility, who didn’t know how to read these signs, grew displeased.

“Why are you silent? Tell me what my problem is.”

“It’s not a problem per se, just a point of improvement. That’s all.”

“Which is why I am asking for your advice.”

“ …Well then.”

Seol Jihu’s smirk suddenly disappeared, and his face turned serious.

“Do you remember what you said earlier?”

“Mm?”

“Advance! Advance! Move forward! Do not fall behind! …Do you remember saying these commands?”

“Well, yes.”

“That’s the problem.”

Unsightly Humility tilted his head.

“I do not understand. I would like to request a more detailed explanation.”

“It’s simple, really. Just a simple ‘Advance!’ would’ve done the trick, so why did you have to make it so much longer?”

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t have?”

“Of course. It’s a waste of energy.”

Unsightly Humility stared at Seol Jihu.

He couldn’t tell if he was serious.

“I did it to lift the soldiers’ spirits. As a commander, I am obliged to lead my men, and raising their morale is one of my many duties.”

“Well, I think it’s a matter of competence. If the soldiers already trust their commander, that process won’t be necessary.”

“I don’t understand. You’re saying that a word or two can have a big impact on the course of a battle?”

“Yes. And is it not the commander’s job to consider all possibilities and pick the best possible route?”

Unsightly Humility tightened his grip around the longsword in his hand. He didn’t like the way Seol Jihu spoke, not to mention his claim sounded utterly ridiculous.

But it was true that he brought the Parasites to their knees time after time. He clearly has his own philosophy of battle. Unsightly Humility decided to think so.

“…I still cannot understand. I do not think my way is wrong.”

Thinking this conversation was a waste of time, Unsightly Humility turned his spectral horse around.

No, he tried to turn it around.

“There’s a saying in my country.”

Seol Jihu clicked his tongue and stood up.

A small change makes a big difference.

“…Hrm?”

“It is my opinion that a commander in charge of thousands of lives should not ignore even the slightest details. And yet you’re disregarding my words…. I might have overestimated you.”

Seol Jihu turned around. Just as he was about to leave, a bulky hand grabbed his shoulder.

He looked back and saw that Unsightly Humility had stopped him.

“I cannot ignore those words.”

“…”

“Honestly, I’m still not sure about your theory, but…. A small change makes a big difference. That resonated with me.”

Seol Jihu looked up at Unsightly Humility with an expression more solemn than ever.

“I think perhaps I should hear more. Please share your wisdom with me.”

Seol Jihu gave a small smile at the Army Commander’s candid request.

“All right, I don’t see why not.”

“Thank you.”

“To cut to the chase, the battlefield is hardly ever still. It is always in the middle of a turmoil.”

“Right.”

“I get that you want to encourage your men….”

“Yes.”

“But when an unexpected event erupts at an urgent time, for example, just before the vanguard of two forces collide with each other when you have to make a split-second decision and command your soldiers, are you going to shout as you have been doing? That will take at least 4 seconds.”

“Mm….”

“I know my example is a bit extreme, but you should never underestimate the force of habit.”

“Then what should I do?”

“Simple. You need to be more efficient.”

Seol Jihu smiled.

“You could say ‘Charge!’ and that would still mean the same thing, right?”

“Right.”

“Using shorter commands has two advantages.”

“What are they? I shall take note of them.”

“First, the response time between the delivery of commands and the execution of commands is reduced. It’s a minuscule difference, but you should know better than anyone what that means in a battle.”

“Hmm….”

“Second, you can save your stamina.”

“My stamina?”

“Yes. Talking consumes stamina. Even breathing consumes stamina. You may be an exception to that because you’re undead, but even choosing words requires concentration.”

Seol Jihu continued.

“Save the stamina you use to command and use it for your own battle instead. A warrior of your caliber must have been in many life-or-death situations.”

“Well, yes. A few times when I was alive….”

“Same goes for me. In times like those, I become desperate not to waste even a breath, so that I can get to as many enemies as possible.”

Unsightly Humility stroked his chin. To be honest, Seol Jihu’s argument felt far-fetched but also unexpectedly logical.

“There’s more. Take it to the next level, and you can gain one more advantage.”

“Again?”

“Yes. Look here.”

Seol Jihu squatted back down and wrote ‘GO’ on the ground with his finger.

“This language is from my world. It’s pronounced go. The meaning is the same as ‘charge’.”

“Aha. So you shortened the word advance to charge, and again shortened charge to go.”

“Yes, you’re quick to catch on.”

Seol Jihu clapped his hand once and then wrote ‘G’ on the ground.

“You can go even shorter. This character is pronounced gee. It’s the first character in the combination GO.”

“Aren’t they basically the same? They’re both one syllable.”

“Although the difference is minimal, it is a bit easier to pronounce than go….”

“Aha!”

Unsightly Humility nodded.

“Let’s say you say g instead of ‘advance’. Do you think the enemies will understand you?”

“Probably not.”

“You got it. Which means that it can also be used as a secret code.”

“I see! That makes sense.”

Unsightly Humility replied contentedly. Seol Jihu had completely won him over.

“Well, then.”

Seol Jihu dusted his hands off and stood up. He beamed at his fellow Army Commander.

“Would you like to practice using it?”

Moments later.

Rumble!

Unsightly Humility ordered his army to advance.

“GG (go go)!”

Just before they reached the target point, he shouted again.

“NN (no no)!”

The army stopped.

“BB (back back)!”

The soldiers began to retreat after their commander.

Seol Jihu, who had been watching them from the sideline, lowered his head and covered his mouth with a hand.

“Keuk…. Hup…!”

He was trying his best to hold back his laughter. He barely managed to wave at Unsightly Humility, who was looking back at him, seeking approval.

“Uhehehehehehe!”

Sung Shihyun laughed.

He was literally rolling on the ground.

Seol Jihu looked at him in surprise.

“What the. When did you get here?”

“A while ago. I was wondering what you were up to, and…. You’re such an asshole!”

Sung Shihyun began pounding the ground with his fists in bursts of laughter.

“Hey. Just don’t get in my way.”

Seol Jihu let out a dry cough and turned around to leave.

“Hey! Wait! Wait for me!”

“Go away. Don’t come any closer.”

“But why? Let’s play together!”

Still laughing, Sung Shihyun chased Seol Jihu.

“RR (redo redo)!”

Unsightly Humility began his training again.

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