Side Story 47. Dark Clouds (4)

It was dead silent outside the imperial palace. Never mind a monster, not even a rat could be seen scurrying about. However, Rachel Chastain was pacing back and forth in constant distress.

“What do I do? What do I do?”

Rachel Chastain looked down at the communication crystal in her hand. The light had flickered off. It was connected even when the rescue team entered the room Yi Seol-Ah was in, but all of a sudden…

“Auuuuuu!”

Rachel Chastain clutched her hair. She remembered what Ian said. That she should run without looking back if she did not hear back from the rescue team for 20 minutes after the communication cut off.

He had told her to directly go back to Earth without even stopping to report to anyone, and seek help by calling the number on the paper slip.

However, she had been walking around hesitating for the past 40 minutes.

“What should I do….”

Do I go down and check up on them? Or do I run away as they asked me to?

Will that be okay? Shouldn’t I at least tell the Representative about what happened?

No, Team Leader agreed with what Master Ian said…

All sorts of thoughts ran through her head in circles. It was then.

“!”

The nervously fidgeting Rachel Chastain suddenly jumped in fright and tilted her head up. She had not sensed any sort of energy nor heard any sound. It was just that she felt something shooting up from the depths of the imperial palace.

Although she only saw the empty air, she felt like she was faced with an energy that could not be estimated by human standards.

‘Eh…?’

The dark sky turned even darker. It looked heavy as if it would sink down at any second.

A look of confusion rippled in Rachel Chastain’s eyes. A chill ran down her back as she felt something like mocking laughter ring out from the sky.

At the same time, her hesitation vanished.

By the time she thought, ‘I should have run away long ago,’ Rachel Chastain had found herself running away from the palace at top speed.

Setting aside the strange phenomenon, she could no longer bear to stay here. She felt like she had become a lowly insect that could be stomped to death at any moment.

Rachel Chastain ran with only her survival instinct guiding her.

“Aaaaack!”

Then suddenly, she fell over. It wasn’t that she caught her foot on something or tripped over. Something had grabbed her ankle and pulled her back.

Flailing on the ground, Rachel Chastain looked down at her leg at the flooding pain.

Her eyes widened. She was not mistaken. A claw-like hand had popped out of the ground and was grabbing her ankle so hard that she felt like her flesh and bones would shatter.

It did not end there. Dozens of arms immediately shot up and hurled down toward Rachel Chastain. A few of them soared up to the sky and flailed in the empty air.

No, it wasn’t completely empty.

Chwek!

A shining pendant barely grazed past a claw. Those who did not know anything might be shocked to see a flying pendant. After avoiding the deadly claw, the pendant hesitated slightly at the sound of Rachel Chastain’s screams for help, but it shot off in the next instant.

[Sorry…!]

A voice echoed out from the air.

[I’m sorry…!]

Indeed, the flying pendant was none other than Flone. Although she was pulled into the labyrinth along with Eun Yuri, she was able to escape midway thanks to Eun Yuri squeezing out the last ounce of her power to cut the pendant off and throw her ring.

Flone tried to save Eun Yuri frantically, but she was able to calm down with Roselle joining her.

[No… Impossible… It can’t be gauged even with origin… That could only mean one thing…]

[We were wrong from the beginning. There was a reason the Parasite Queen personally managed this place.]

[She wasn’t trying to do something here. She was trying to stop something…!]

[This is not something we can handle! Run! Hurry! It will become even more dangerous if we’re captured…!]

Roselle made a cool-headed judgment even at the sudden turn of events.

[Just what did the Empire… N-No, there’s still hope. We have him...!]

Flone heard Roselle mumbling worriedly during the escape, but she did not listen too carefully. Not only was she busy escaping, but she knew Roselle would explain once they got back.

However, the situation soon turned for the worse. Having noticed the duo escaping, the mysterious thing began to chase after them.

[At this rate, we’ll both..!]

[Go! The Authority of Gluttony might be able to resist it. Do whatever you can to make it back safely. Please!]

In the end, Roselle chose to become bait. As she yelled at Flone to not waste even a single second running away, Flone flew without looking back.

[You must reach him…!]

Those were the final words Roselle left behind.

In truth, Flone was afraid of the mysterious thing. Even as a soul, she could not make out what it was. And so, she ran with her eyes tightly shut.

Up and then up again… Once she barely escaped the imperial palace, she saw Rachel Chastain struggling on the ground. Something she had never seen before was ripping Rachel Chastain apart.

Though Flone did know her, she chose not to save Rachel Chastain and run away instead. She knew she was the only one left that knew about the situation and could seek help.

—KIAAAAAAAAAK!

A horrific scream echoed out behind her, but Flone did not look back. Accelerating to her topmost speed, she flew back home, leaving a trail of black smoke.

Flone disappeared in an instant. Despite this, the thing was fiercely brandishing its claws in the air, trying to capture her.


*


For the past few days, the atmosphere in Valhalla had been at an all-time low. It couldn’t be helped. They had gathered their elite members and even recruited outsiders to send a rescue team, but there was no news.

The last they heard from the rescue team was when they reported that they were going into the ruin. The same thing had happened with Team 1.

“Just what is going on…? They could even defeat Army Commanders.”

“Exactly. Could this be the second coming of the Parasite Queen…?”

Park Woori, who was whispering with another member, quickly shut his mouth. The clacking of heels rang out from the hallway outside.

“Quiet, everyone. Representative is coming.”

Just like he said, the door opened, and Kim Hannah showed up. She cut through the columns of desks and headed to the desk at the back.

Tang! Roll!

The office became dead silent at the sound of her throwing a communication crystal down.

“Huu….”

A deep sigh followed. Kim Hannah, who was pressing her forehead with her fingers, looked up.

“...Did you guys hear back from either team?”

“No. We’ve been on standby in front of the communication crystals around the clock and keep trying to contact them every thirty minutes, but….”

Park Woori trailed off as if he was ashamed to say the result.

Kim Hannah bit her lip.

“Um… Representative.”

Walking on eggshells, Park Woori spoke respectfully.

“It might be too early to tell… but you know how powerful both teams are. The fact that we haven’t heard back from them… Perhaps we should be preparing for the worst….”

At that moment, Kim Hannah’s eyes turned sharp.

“My apologies.”

Park Woori hurriedly lowered his head and shut his mouth.

“...I’ve been thinking the same thing.”

Kim Hannah spoke up after a brief moment of silence.

“I know how urgent the situation we’re in is. But we have to go through the proper procedures, especially when we need to move all of Paradise.”

“Right.”

“Imagine what will happen if we just make the announcement now. More than one or two people will enjoy our misfortune and say, ‘So what?’ I’m sure people will also pressure us to solve the problem since we’re the ones who caused it.”

Meaning, Valhalla should secretly tell its allies first before making a public announcement.

Park Woori nodded. He was worried Kim Hannah would say something like, ‘We have to take care of this on our own for Valhalla’s honor and reputation!’ Thankfully, it seemed she wasn’t so blind.

“Everyone leave. Keep the communication crystals with you, though.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Park Woori took the rest of the intelligence team and quietly left.

Left alone, Kim Hannah plopped down on her chair. As the footsteps of the intelligence team disappeared, she dropped her head, which she had been forcefully keeping up.

“Haaaaaa….”

A deep sigh escaped her lips.

“...How is this possible?”

She couldn’t understand how things came to this. The rescue team could very well defeat an Army Commander, which was the main reason she sent them off so confidently.

“....”

What if Park Woori was right? What if there was a monster deep inside the Empire that was even more powerful than an Army Commander?

In that case…

Kim Hannah’s face distorted. A face popped into her head before she noticed.

She swore not to burden him. She wanted to use this opportunity to leave the shade of the titan that was Seol Jihu. But seeing the outcome, she could only laugh at her folly.

‘...Now’s not the time to be sitting around.’

She had no information whatsoever. It was so frustrating that she wanted to go there herself. For the first time ever, she regretted choosing a non-battle-type class.

In any case, now that she knew the rescue team failed, she could no longer sit still and wait for news. She had to do something as the representative of Valhalla.

‘For now….’

Kim Hannah, who was impatiently tapping on her desk, leaped up. Before leaving the office, she walked to the window and looked outside.

‘...Was the sky always this dark?’

The sky outside the window seemed darker than usual. Dark clouds were slowly creeping toward the city. Feeling like the dark sky was an ominous omen, Kim Hannah groaned internally.


*


Same time. Seol Jihu was standing in front of a door with Seo Yuhui.

Today was the day he would introduce Seo Yuhui to his parents.

“Let’s go in.”

“W-Wait.”

Seo Yuhui stopped Seol Jihu before he rang the bell.

“How do I look? Okay?”

“You look beautiful as always.”

“I know that. I’m talking about the way I’m dressed. I have to give your family a good first impression….”

Seol Jihu smiled bitterly as he watched Seo Yuhui fix her makeup and straighten the hem of her clothes. Even he was nervous, so he could only imagine how nervous Seo Yuhui must be.

Thinking she would need some time before she was ready, Seol Jihu decided to wait patiently.

Seo Yuhui mumbled, “Good, this is perfect,” then took a deep breath. She picked up the gifts she brought along and looked at Seol Jihu.

“Let’s go now… Jihu?”

Seol Jihu was dazedly looking up at the sky. He lowered his head at Seo Yuhui’s calling and pulled his hands out of his pocket.

“Were you thinking about that place?”

“No, I didn’t touch that place at all.”

Seo Yuhui glared at him sharply. Seol Jihu flinched before laughing awkwardly.

“Yeah, I was. I just thought about everyone and what they might be up to now…”

Seol Jihu glanced at the sky again. Seo Yuhui asked.

“Then do you want to go check up on them real quick?”

“After coming this far?”

Seo Yuhui and Seol Jihu both laughed. They both knew it made no sense to go to Paradise when they already had an important dinner plan.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Of course. Don’t worry.”

Seol Jihu shrugged.

“Right now, there’s nothing more important than this. This is about our future.”

Shaking off the inexplicable feeling bothering him, Seol Jihu rang the doorbell.


*


Same time.

Flone arrived in Eva and raced to Valhalla’s building to report what happened. As if the day couldn’t get any worse, no one was inside the building. The building that was always full of vigor was completely empty.

[Now of all times!? Where did everyone go!?]

It wouldn’t be so bad if the remaining members had predicted what happened and left to respond to the crisis, but Flone had no time to think.

Seol Jihu was on Earth. To tell him what happened, an Earthling had to be sent back. She couldn’t just grab a random person and ask them for a favor.

In the end, Flone went to the first temple in sight and clung to the statue of the goddess.

[Save us!]

[Hmm?]

Luxuria was taken aback seeing the desperately shouting Flone.

[What’s wrong, child? Are you okay? Explain what happened slowly.]

[Do you not know what is going on…?]

Luxuria fell silent.

[...I know that something has happened and that it may lead to great danger. No, it would be more correct to call it a guess. After all, it did not happen quite yet.]

She continued calmly.

[Gods are not omniscient. Especially when it comes to this matter…]

Luxuria paused.

[I have no clue what you’re talking about. I just want to save my friends as soon as possible. No, I need to save them!]

Flone put her hands together and raised them.

[That’s…]

Inside her hands was an unidentifiable object that looked like a chunk of flesh or a tentacle. She had gotten it as a birthday gift from Seol Jihu.

Luxuria recognized what it was immediately. It was a piece of divinity containing divine power that was ranked higher than hers.

[Jihu said I could offer this item to gain a vast amount of contribution points. He said I could even make a Divine Wish. Can you take this and save everyone?]

Flone asked.

[Though you might find it hard to believe…]

Luxuria’s voice quickly sank low.

[Even that divinity is not enough to grant your wish.]

[In that case…]

Flone immediately spoke up.

[Send me to Earth.]

[Hmm? You?]

[I know you’re not allowed to. But maybe it’s possible with this… It’s okay even if it’s for a little bit.]

Flone’s eyes watered up.

[No one’s… left. I’m the only one who escaped from that place, and no one was inside the building.]

[Every second is precious. I just don’t know what to do.]

[They’re all good people. If they die because I didn’t do everything I could… I will go crazy and die.]

[So I need to see him. I need to tell him to come and help!]

Though what Flone said was close to gibberish, Luxuria wasn’t so stupid not to realize this was what Flone felt.

[Send me there… Please…]

Muttering with a choking voice, Flone lowered her head. Soon, the sound of her weeping flowed out.

Reading Flone’s mind, Luxuria made up her mind. Without wasting another second, she reached out toward the young lady crying tears of blood.

[Your wish…!]

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