Side Story 44. Dark Clouds (1)

Valhalla, the palace that appears in Norse mythology. Valkyries guided the souls of warriors who died honorably in battles here. It was also known as a utopia ruled by Odin, where gods and legendary heroes gathered.

The image of Valhalla in Paradise was not much different from its origin. Looking back, the way Valhalla made its debut was atypical. They attacked the auction house owned by Royal Pattaya, a longstanding organization of the city, and proceeded to destroy them completely. As if that wasn’t enough, they declared war against Eva’s organization alliance.

With this incident as the starting point, they led humanity, which was on the verge of collapse, to an advantageous position. Then, by ultimately defeating the Parasites in the final war, their Paradise liberation movement reached the pinnacle.

No one could deny that Valhalla stood at the center of the process of Paradise’s liberation. So when Seol Jihu stepped down from the position of Valhalla’s representative, many people were confused and worried.

What would happen to Valhalla from now on? Would it be able to prosper just as it did before?

It was a reasonable doubt. After all, Valhalla was synonymous with Seol Jihu. That was just how far-reaching his influence was.

Kim Hannah rose to the position of representative under such pressure. And what could be considered both a long and short amount of time went by. It would be a lie to say there were no troubles. However, most of the doubts that surrounded Valhalla vanished completely.

Upon becoming the representative, Kim Hannah founded a company on Earth and grew it aggressively. When the company rose to the radar, the two worlds showed a synergistic effect and grew exponentially.

The power of money could not be ignored in any society. A business needed to spend money, not on personal matters but professional matters.

Kim Hannah was faithful to this practice. She improved employee welfare internally and focused on community benefits externally. As a result, more talents came to Valhalla, and their fame only went up.

And so, Valhalla was standing strong despite Seol Jihu stepping down. No, it was doing even better than before. Its members even attested that things were a lot better internally than when Seol Jihu was in charge.

Kim Hannah thought so as well. Of course, she knew the difference between the past and the current state of Paradise, and she definitely wasn’t feeling a silly sense of superiority from it. In fact, Kim Hannah had vehemently opposed Seol Jihu stepping down from the role of Valhalla’s representative.

[What? You’re stepping down? Are you crazy?]

[You came this far after going through so much!]

[I’m not telling you to work nonstop. The war is over, so it’s not like I don’t understand that you want to achieve your dream.]

[But think about the future. You can achieve whatever you want if you just wish for it. Even becoming an emperor wouldn’t be impossible. Is opening a ramen shop really that important? Enough to give up on everything else?]

Seol Jihu responded to her questions as such:

[It’s not just because of my dream. After defeating the Parasite Queen… I just felt my story, the story of Seol Jihu, ended. That’s all.]

[The war is over. Paradise no longer needs a hero.]

[Valhalla is the same. The leader that Valhalla needs from now on isn’t a hero or an ambitious conqueror. It needs an entrepreneur.]

[So take good care of Valhalla and Paradise from now on, okay?]

If there was one thing that Kim Hannah remembered from that day, it was Seol Jihu saying that Paradise no longer needed a hero. This was also what made Kim Hannah give up trying to convince him. Then again, she wasn’t in any position to convince him anyway.

Thinking back, the reason she opposed the idea so much was that she was probably confused. With Sinyoung’s fall, she had gotten her revenge, and her personal aspiration was also achieved with Valhalla’s rise to the top.

She was simply confused because she did not know how to proceed in this new era. Thankfully, Kim Hannah found a new goal.

Seol Jihu was, without a doubt, a legend of Paradise. Kim Hannah also wanted to become a legend.

Going beyond living up to Seol Jihu’s expectations, she wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with equal qualifications no matter how long it took. Of course, she knew such a thing was near impossible. But she at least wanted to leave her name in the history of Paradise.

Kim Hannah thought this was possible. Though she was living in different times, she still had the opportunity to do this. The position of Valhalla’s representative had value. It was only a matter of how.

That said, one question remained. Was this Kim Hannah’s personal aspiration or ambition? And if it was ambition, was it truly essential for Paradise and Valhalla?

Kim Hannah was overlooking this critical point.


After Flone’s birthday party, a note went up on the ‘Seol Jihu Ramen?’ store. It explained that the business would be closed until further notice due to a private matter.

Valhalla then strengthened their force and attempted a second expedition. This time, Team 1, led by Marcel Ghionea, took charge.

When Seol Jihu, who was a member of the main team, stepped down, Valhalla naturally lost a huge chunk of its battle strength. Seo Yuhui, whom Seol Jihu had pulled in, also quit, and although people from the inner circle knew this, Phi Sora had also taken maternity leave.

Two Executors and one Unique Ranker. The loss of such a force could not be ignored.

However, Kim Hannah saw this as a chance. She knew Seol Jihu was holding her in check by managing his own team and making Phi Sora be the leader of Team 1. And so, Kim Hannah reformed the team system after taking hold of power.

While selecting new members to join the organization, she dismantled the existing teams under the guise of reinforcing each team’s strength and moved the team members around.

Just like that, Valhalla split into four new teams: Kim Hannah’s Intel Team, Marcel Ghionea’s Team 1, Ayase Kazuki’s Team 2, and Oh Rahee’s Team 3.

Team 1, which was in charge of this expedition, had a total of six members. Chung Chohong and Yi Sungjin were the Warriors, and Marcel Ghionea and Yi Seol-Ah were the Archers. The founding member Maria served as the Priest, and the role of Magician was taken by Marika Larisa, the creator of photon magic and the wife of the team leader.

Although the team was evaluated to have a good balance of offense and defense, it wasn’t without weakness. And that was in the Archers’ investigative ability.

Marcel Ghionea and Yi Seol-Ah had no trouble noticing an enemy’s ambush, but they lacked the ability to find safe paths or the keen eyes to read the situation of the battlefield.

Marcel Ghionea was mainly specialized for battle, and Yi Seol-Ah still lacked experience in the other areas. Because of this, Kazuki, Audrey Basler, and Hoshino Urara joined the team for the second expedition.

Looking at it this way, it seemed like all teams were participating.

Kim Hannah judged there were two reasons that the teams could join hands so readily. First, Team 2 and Team 3 had no reason to refuse. A ruin from the final days of the Empire. It was an enticing offer to Earthlings, who naturally loved uncovering ruins.

Second, Marcel Ghionea was a realist who was not blinded by greed. After leading the first investigative expedition, Marcel Ghionea quit midway. It was because the underground area became exceedingly wide and complex the further they went down. The entire place seemed to be a well-constructed labyrinth, designed to keep someone away or prevent their entry as much as possible.

If it was the former, the expedition would not be too difficult. After all, they had more than enough time to go through the labyrinth. But if it was the latter, things were trickier.

An Archer naturally could not rule out the worst-case scenario. Marcel Ghionea immediately ordered the expedition off. Although there were objections, no one could make the resolute Marcel Ghionea change his mind.

Though it was a little regrettable for Team 1, it made no difference to Kim Hannah. If anything, having all of Valhalla’s Archers participate would only increase the chances of success. This was perfect since this expedition was not one they were allowed to fail.

Currently, the expedition team had entered the area, and Marcel Ghionea was slowly advancing forward.

First, they went down the steps leading to the basement from the imperial palace. After going through countless crossroads, they saw a tunnel that led further down.

When they went down the tunnel, they ran into yet another maze-like pathway. Even the first crossroads they ran into had six possible paths. This was also where the expedition team stopped the first time around.

The expedition team picked one pathway and advanced forward. At the end of the pathway was a wide, empty room, which also had several pathways leading out.

“This reminds me of the first stage of the Banquet that Former Representative Seol told us about.”

Each pathway probably led to a room, which also likely had several pathways leading to other rooms. It was apparent that this labyrinth was designed with the purpose of making it hard for intruders to find their way through.

Having come to this realization, Marcel Ghionea changed the team’s tactic. They would go through each pathway and room and slowly expand their findings.

He left Marika Larisa behind in the first room to use as their base camp. The rest acted together and set up a communication crystal in each room.

Eun Yuri had enhanced the communication crystals to stay powered on for a long time. Unless someone turned them off forcefully, they would be able to remain in place and communicate for a set period of time.

Simply put, it was akin to setting up security cameras in each room and using the base camp as the control tower. Though it might take time to go through every room, it was the safest approach.

Marcel Ghionea had the rest of the team move together and set up communication crystals. How much time went by? After the team went through 52 pathways and 7 rooms and finished setting up communication crystals, Marcel Ghionea decided to split up the team.

They did not find anything suspicious or dangerous during the entire search, and with many Archers in the team, they had more options. Moreover, the labyrinth seemed to be bigger than they had anticipated. It didn’t look like there was a reason to advance like turtles.

“Uhaaaaam.”

Chohong yawned while leaning against the wall. She was currently at the base camp as Marika Larisa’s guard. As the first room acted as the expedition’s control tower, Marcel Ghionea had left behind an ace for protection.

“Argh, so boring. They should just run and get it over with. Why are they so careful?”

She grumbled loudly and glanced to the side. Marika Larisa was busy looking at a communication crystal. Perhaps she was pretending she did not hear. It was unsurprising that she would be on her husband’s side.

Thinking about it this way irked Chohong, so she commented.

“Ghio that bastard once he became a team leader, he changed a lot. He used to know how to play and have fun.”

Marika Larisa sighed quietly. She had definitely heard everything Chohong said.

“A team leader is responsible for his teammates’ lives, so it’s only natural.”

She finally responded.

Chohong snorted.

“It’s good to be careful, but you should do it in moderation. We’ve been here for hours now.”

“It can’t be helped. There’s no way to know what’s inside, and this is the Empire’s final ruin.”

“They got wiped out by the Parasites. What’s there to be afraid of?”

Marika Larisa spoke consolingly, but Chohong did not calm down.

“Everyone’s so scared. I miss having Seol around. He was so daring that it scared me sometimes.”

“I’m surprised. He was daring even by your standards? I can’t imagine how he must have been.”

Marika Larisa gave a bitter smile. Though she was angry at Chohong calling her husband a coward, she did not want to start a fight in the middle of an expedition with a Unique Ranker who was also a founding member.

“It wasn’t just once or twice. But who knew I would miss his recklessness? You’d think Ghio would change up the strategy after nothing’s come up all this time. Was splitting up the team the best he could come up with?”

“We’re going faster now. Wait a bit. I’m sure we’ll see some progr….”

At that moment, one of the communication crystals blinked. Marika Larisa hurriedly put her hand on the crystal.

“Oh, who is it from?”

Chohong ran up to her in a hurry. It was only natural as she was bored out of her mind.

—Tada! I found another empty room!

However, she turned around, grumbling after hearing Yi Seol-Ah’s voice in the crystal.

—Oh, I assume we haven’t made much progress?

Yi Seol-Ah said with a shrug after seeing Chohong’s face.

“...unfortunately, no.”

—The room I found must be the eighth then. Let’s set up the crystal. Where should I put it?

“How many pathways are in that room?”

—Just one. Well, two, if you include the pathway I used to enter.

“If the room isn’t that big, we probably don’t need to install it in the middle. Try to see if you can install it in the corner so that the pathways are in view.”

—Sure, hold on.

Yi Seol-Ah floated up with her Spirit’s help, and Marika Larisa stared in wonder.

—Anyway, you said no one else has contacted you, right?

“Mhm.”

—Aw that sucks. I don’t get why our team leader is being so cautious.

Yi Seol-Ah pouted while touching the ceiling.

—He let the other teams join the expedition, dividing potential gains, and he’s also making us advance at a snail’s pace. Jihu Orabeo-nim would have finished everything already, and we’d be on our way back.

“See? She knows what she’s talking about.”

Chohong nodded in agreement.

—Right? Can’t you say something, Unni?

Marika Larisa glared at the sniggering Chohong before clearing her throat.

“Seol-Ah, I know how amazing Former Representative Seol was. But you can’t forget Marcel is our team leader.”

—I know. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t respect him. There would’ve been a mutiny.

“What?”

—I’m kidding, kidding. There. I’m done.

Marika Larisa saw Yi Seol-Ah landing back down on the ground. Because the crystal was installed on the ceiling, the room seemed to brighten up slightly. Though, it was only like having a candle in the darkness.

“It looks good. By the way, are you alone?”

Marika Larisa asked, noticing that Yi Seol-Ah was alone.

—Two, technically.

Yi Seol-Ah glanced to the side and waved her hand in the air. Her short hair fluttered as if a light breeze brushed against it.

“Oh, you mean Aura…. But shouldn’t you have a Warrior with you?”

—It couldn’t be helped. We split teams based on Archers, and we have five Archers participating.

“But still….”

—To be honest, I think Team Leader is getting a little frustrated too. When he saw the seventh empty room, I heard him mutter, Fuck, again? under his breath.

“He cursed? Ghionea did?”

—Yep, I definitely heard it.

Yi Seol-Ah laughed.

Marika Larisa did a double-take.

“Well, I won’t say anything if that’s what Team Leader decided. But be careful.”

—Okay, okay. I’m going to go back the way I came from now and…

It was then. Yi Seol-Ah suddenly furrowed her brows and rubbed her eyes. Marika Larisa also narrowed her eyes. It was because Yi Seol-Ah’s hair was shaking left and right.

“What’s wrong, Seol-Ah?”

—Hold on. Aura, what’s up? Huh?

Yi Seol-Ah looked up at the ceiling and nodded.

—...What?

Then, she tilted her head.

—You can hear a beep?

“What do you mean?”

—Unni, do you hear a long beeeeep by any chance?

Marika Larisa shook her head. She did not hear anything.

—You don’t hear anything either, right? Aura! Are you pulling another prank? This place is spooky enough without you doing that!

Yi Seol-Ah got angry but then made a serious face.

—...You’re not? You can really hear it?

Hearing this, Marika Larisa listened closely again. She called Chohong over and made her do the same.

“...no, I don’t hear anything.”

“I don’t either.”

Marika Larisa and Chohong both said the same thing.

“Seol-Ah, did you see anything when you came in?”

—No. Nevermind a trace of something, I didn’t even feel anything. That’s why I came in.

“...Wait.”

Marika Larisa spoke as if she suddenly remembered something.

“Mana and Spirit are different.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m saying that mana, which humans use, is a fundamentally different type of energy than what Spirit’s use. This might be the reason for Aura hearing something that we’re not. She is a Spirit of Air after all…”

Chohong tilted her head, clearly confused.

“Just wait a second.”

Rather than giving a more detailed explanation, Marika Larisa roused her mana. She changed the undulation of mana that she transmitted through the hand placed on the communication crystal. This was only possible for Marika Larisa, who was a photon magician capable of wielding light.

As she slowly changed the undulation, hoping that her worries were unfounded…

Beep.

She heard a ringing noise very briefly.

“Ah, just now!”

At the same time that Chohong shouted in surprise, Marika Larisa adjusted her mana and matched the undulation to when the ringing was heard.

Beeeep.

The more she tuned the undulation, the louder the noise became.

Beeeeeeeeeep!

Eventually, it got loud enough to make their ears hurt.

“Shit, why is this noise so loud?”

—Hm? What’s loud?

“Seol-Ah, you don’t hear the ringing noise?”

—No. Aura said the noise is faint like it’s whispering….

“Argh. Hey, can you do something about this noise for a minute… Wait, what’s that?”

Chohong pointed to the communication crystal in fright.

“What’s what?”

“T-That! How long has it been there for!?”

Chohong poked the communication crystal with her finger.

Marika Larisa furrowed her brows. It was a little difficult to see because the light of the communication crystal did not reach this area. All she saw was darkness.

“I don’t see anything. Are you sure you’re not just looking at the shadow?

—Hmm? Is something here?

Yi Seol-Ah also turned around before looking back up at the communication crystal confusedly.

—I don’t see anything. Aura also says she only hears a faint noise.

“Really? Did I see it wrong? No, over there… No, for now, get outta there!”

With how flustered Chohong acted, even Yi Seol-Ah became a little scared. With a hunch, Marika Larisa adjusted her mana once again to the undulation that made the noise audible.

“...Huh?”

By the time the undulation fully matched the ringing noise, Marika Larisa could see something standing like a totem pole in the corner.

She didn’t know whether to call it a shadow or a mass of darkness. But one thing she could say for sure was that something that was staring at the wall began to move. Almost as if to turn toward Yi Seol-Ah.

—You two are just trying to scare me, right? Right?

Yi Seol-Ah winced slightly.

“!”

At that moment, Marika Larisa’s eyes widened.

“Ah.”

Chohong’s jaw dropped as well.

The two of them both saw it clearly.

In the next moment, Marika Larisa and Chohong pointed at the corner of the crystal screen. Then…

“...Fuck…!”

“Seol-Ah…!”

They shouted at the same time.

“B-Behind you! Behind yooooou!”

“Run! Hurry!!”

Yi Seol-Ah, who was looking up at the ceiling, widened her eyes.

It was then.

Pzzt!

The crystal screen distorted strangely, and…

Tk.

The crystal flickered off.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter