Side Story 49. Heroes Gathering (2)

It was around this time that Park Woori’s situation took a turn for the unexpected. He was busy preparing for the upcoming meeting when he heard that a member of the rescue team had come back alive.

Rachel Chastain.

The archer he had recruited as Dylan’s backup returned alone.

This was good news not only because she was still alive but also because they could finally find out what had happened to the rest of the team. And that too from someone who experienced it firsthand.

Typically, Park Woori would have called the representative immediately to deliver the good news. But he couldn’t this time, because….

“Uehehehehehe!”

Rachel Chastain wasn’t herself.

“Dead…. They’re all dead…!”

Her smudged and tattered appearance was certainly out of the ordinary—but even more frightening was the way she muttered the same phrase over and over again with her bloodshot eyes wide open.

“Calm down, Rachel. We already know what’s going on, and we’re taking measures against it.”

Park Woori decided he should first calm her down. He brought her a potion and kept talking without skipping a beat.

“And the Federation is also coming to our aid. Hey, can you hear me?”

Thanks to his efforts, Rachel Chastain seemed calmer now.

“A meeting is about to take place here soon, and your testimony would help us greatly. What I am saying is that we need information. Do you think you can talk?”

Still shaking, Rachel Chastain slowly raised her head. Her lifeless eyes stared at Park Woori before looking around the conference room.

“How are you feeling? Any injuries?”

“…”

“Can you talk?”

After a moment of silence, Rachel nodded slowly.

“Good. I know this must be hard for you, but we don’t have a lot of time. So… what happened there? What happened to the rest of the team?”

“What… happened….”

She mindlessly repeated his words, then suddenly widened her eyes. Her mouth also fell open as if to scream. No sound came out, however, as she slumped down and beat her forehead against the ground.

“You’ll die!”

“Rachel!”

“You’ll die! We’ll all die! It’s…!”

She clutched her disheveled hair in fists and broke out in tears.

Park Woori smacked his lips as he stared down at Rachel Chastain.

Because she seemed unstable, he planned to collect as many statements as possible from her while he could.

‘Just what did she see…?’

But her face, full of fear, told him that was now out of the question.

“Rachel. Calm down. You did well to return. What’s important is that you’re alive.”

“I was alone outside…! They told me to run as soon as the communication was lost…!”

Park Woori quickly took out a small notebook, not missing the precious piece of information.

“They told you to run… and then?”

“I was scared… I thought I was gonna die…!”

“I see. I understand. Hang in there just a little longer. Will it make you feel better to know he’s on the way?”

He…?”

Rachel’s voice suddenly lowered.

“That’s right. You’ve never met him before, have you?”

Park Woori continued in a casual tone. He failed to notice the subtle change in Rachel’s voice because he was busy taking notes of everything she said.

“Now that he’s back, everything will work out just fine.”

“But all of you—all of you will die!”

“Haha. Right…. Just how scary was this monster?”

“Did you see it? Did you? I did. I did! That horrible, terrifying energy sneaking up from behind…!”

“To take out both the expedition and rescue team… I guess this one isn't a small fry. Still, you don’t have to worry.”

Park Woori placed a hand on Rachel Chastain’s back.

“I don’t know what kind of monster you ran into, but—”

“…”

“We have monsters of our own.”

Rachel Chastain raised her head slightly.

It was then.

KOONG!

“What’s with the noise?”

Heavy footsteps were heard at the same time as an authoritative voice rang through the room. A tall woman in a coat with an upturned collar strode across the conference room with both hands stuck in her pockets.

“I don’t care who you have a lovers’ quarrel with, but you should think about whether this is the right time and place.”

“Don Cinzia. You’re here.”

Park Woori immediately straightened his posture. He met her eyes, gleaming like those of a lioness, and gulped nervously.

“Hrm?”

Cinzia was about to pass the two but stopped suddenly.

“…Why are you staring at me like that?”

She asked Rachel Chastain.

Park Woori alternately looked at Rachel and Cinzia and hurriedly explained.

“She’s an archer from the rescue team.”

“What?”

“She returned just now. I was going to inform the representative after calming her down a bit.”

“…Just now, you say.”

Cinzia lifted her chin slightly.

“The timing is rather suspicious…. Oh well. We’ll see what she has to say.”

She shrugged and continued toward her seat.

A slim woman dressed in a maid’s outfit followed Cinzia.

‘The Star of Sloth and the Star of Pride….’

Park Woori clenched his fists. He could never get used to their overwhelming presence. He always felt so small in front of them.

The roll call wasn’t over.

“Valhalla’s Representative—I mean, ex-Representative. Is he here yet?”

Philip Muller, the Star of Avarice….

“Keu! I never thought we’d meet again like this!”

…And Wu Lei, the Star of Wrath, entered the conference room, followed by Taihi and Yuirel, the heads of the Cave and the Sky Fairies, respectively. White Tiger arrived soon after.

Park Woori couldn’t help but stare in awe. They didn’t move a finger when Kim Hannah asked them for help but gathered in a flash at the news of Seol Jihu’s return. Once again, he realized just how much Seol Jihu meant to the people of Paradise.

“What do you think? Are you—”

“…Them?”

‘Are you relieved now?’ was what Park Woori was going to say, but he suddenly paused. Rachel had poked her head out from behind him and was staring at the big shots of Paradise.

“These are….”

She scrutinized them carefully….

“…the monsters?”

And then, her lips curved upward into a condescending sneer.

“You…?”

Park Woori’s expression turned uncomfortable.

It was then that Rachel Chastain suddenly turned with a look of alarm. Park Woori’s gaze followed hers, and the next moment, his lips parted open.

About four to five people stood at the door. Among them were Phi Sora, the Sacred Empress, the Star of Lust….

And then, he felt it—an immeasurable presence. Aura strong enough to overpower everyone gathered in the room.

Seol Jihu, the Apostle of Gluttony, was here.

“Rachel Chastain?”

A look of surprise crossed Kim Hannah’s face as she entered the conference room after Seol Jihu.

“What happened? Why is Rachel…?”

“Ah. She just arrived.”

“What? Why didn’t you—”

“I’m sorry. I was going to let you know.”

“That’s not what I meant. Why didn’t you treat her right away? That should have been the first thing you did. She’s wounded.”

“Pardon? Oh, no, she doesn’t have any external injuries. And she told me she was fine.”

“What? Then why does she look like….”

Suddenly, Seol Jihu stepped forward. He stretched an arm in front of Kim Hannah and looked at Rachel Chastain, who was glaring at him for some reason. Her face was full of ill will, but she also looked a little surprised.

Kim Hannah furrowed her brows.

“Miss Rachel? What’s wrong? Could it be that—”

But before she could finish her sentence, Seol Jihu grabbed the Spear of Purity.

“Stand back.”

It happened simultaneously—Rachel Chastain shot up from her chair, and Seol Jihu extended his arm forward like a bolt of lightning.

Puk.

Kim Hannah and Park Woori flinched in surprise. Seol Jihu’s spear pierced through Rachel Chastain’s neck. Then, without any explanation, he quickly thrust his spear upward and tightened his grip.

Pzzzzzzzt!

Golden light blazed around Rachel Chastain’s body hanging in the air. It was anti-evil energy, which they had not seen in years.

—KIAAAAAAAK!

An ear-splitting scream pierced the air. Rachel Chastain’s body convulsed in pain as a stream of black smoke flowed out of her nose. The sparks of light devoured the smoke, and soon, it disappeared completely. The scream ringing in the air also stopped.

“…”

Kim Hannah fell speechless. If her eyes weren’t tricking her—Rachel Chastain smiled just now. She smiled at Seol Jihu as if to praise him for a job well done.

Seol Jihu shook his arms lightly, and Rachel’s body fell to the ground without a sound.

“Just now….”

Kim Hannah noticed something strange while looking at Rachel’s body, which was now emitting white smoke and steam.

There was no blood.

“Something did feel off about her.”

Cinzia said flatly.

The rest of the Executors, like her, didn’t seem surprised at all.

“Don’t you think it’s a waste to kill her so early? We could have gotten some information from her.”

Philip Muller chimed in.

“…No.”

Seol Jihu shook his head.

“We wouldn’t have gained much from her.”

“How come?”

“She wouldn’t have said anything.”

“How do you know?”

Instead of replying, Seol Jihu carefully moved his arm to cut Rachel Chastain’s clothes with the tip of his spear. Once her naked body was revealed, shocked gasps filled the room. Her arms and legs—no, her entire body was covered in stitches. It was as if someone had dismembered her into a dozen pieces and then glued them back together into the shape of a human figure. This must have been why she looked so off.

Philip Muller winced.

“…So she wasn’t possessed.”

“If that had been the case, then perhaps we could have saved her. But she was already dead. Nothing more than a puppet.”

“She was sent here to spy on us. I get it now.”

Philip Muller sighed as he closed his book.

“Kim Hannah.”

Seol Jihu eyed Kim Hannah. She flinched but quickly spoke.

“Oh, um, yeah. Park Woori, you take care of the body. I’m going back to Earth.”

If she could find Rachel on Earth and bring her back to Paradise, they could finally find out what had happened to the rest of the team.

“Thank you for coming all this way.”

Once Kim Hannah and Park Woori left, Seol Jihu walked across the conference room and sat at the head of the table.

“We haven’t seen each other in so long. As much as I’d like to catch up with each one of you… we don’t have much time. We should commence the meeting. It is my understanding that you already more or less know why I called you here.”

“Sounds good to me. They say time is money.”

Cinzia smirked.

“I’m sure everyone knows why you summoned us.”

Said Philip Muller.

“What we need are the details. Can you tell us what you need from us?”

“I need your strength.”

Seol Jihu answered simply.

“And not just yours. I may need Paradise’s entire strength.”

“Paradise’s entire strength….”

Philip Muller tapped his finger a couple of times.

“Sounds a bit extreme to me. But knowing you, I believe you have information to support your claim.”

“Not a lot, but yes.”

The first thing Seol Jihu did after he returned to Paradise was to visit the temple. He made a Divine Wish, but Gula told him his wish was ‘out of bounds’.

“But that means… the enemy is a god.”

Wu Lei clicked his tongue and crossed his arms.

“A god stronger than the Seven Sins.”

“Yes. I believe our enemy is on par with the Parasite Queen.”

The atmosphere suddenly grew heavy.

“Even the essence of the Parasite Queen wasn’t enough to make my wish come true. The Seven Sins tried but couldn’t change the result. This enemy may even be stronger than the Parasite Queen.”

“Good heavens! I can’t believe it!”

Wu Lei exclaimed angrily. He couldn’t stay calm after hearing such shocking news.

“Even if that’s true—why? Why did something like this happen? And here I thought Paradise was finally at peace!”

Seol Jihu closed his eyes. He had just arrived in Paradise. There was still much he didn’t know. For a moment, nothing but heavy silence filled the air.

“ …There is no use asking why.”

Suddenly, Philip Muller’s bitter voice broke the silence.

“We still need more information. You said you might need Paradise’s entire strength. Do you mean there is a possibility that you don’t need it?”

“Yes. I’ve talked to Gula-nim, and we found some discrepancies.”

Seol Jihu nodded his head.

“But we still have to prepare for the worst.”

The fact remained unchanged that they might have to face an enemy stronger than the Parasite Queen. Now, the first and the most important order of business was….

“And we have to prepare for war. The enemy has already beaten us to it.”

It was evident that the enemy had sent them a puppet to spy on them. This meant that it now had the means and resources to collect information on those it considered its enemies.

“I hope that territory doesn’t get contaminated again.”

Cinzia swept her hair up with one hand as she sighed in annoyance.

“We’ll prepare the World Tree for migration.”

“I’ll authorize a draft.”

“No. Against a god, the size of the army doesn’t matter at all. Our chances may be better if we gather only the elites and strike quickly.”

“You’ve got a point there. I agree. I have a bad feeling about this. We should move before the enemy grows too strong.”

Discussions ensued.

“I believe Valhalla’s ex-Representative agrees with me.”

Philip Muller turned toward Seol Jihu.

“If all he cared about were preparing for war, he wouldn’t have called us all the way here. Because that would’ve been easier if we stayed home.”

He continued.

“But the fact that you brought us here at the expense of Divine Wishes…. That tells me your priorities lie elsewhere.”

“Distance doesn’t matter. I can always make another Divine Wish to send you back home in an instant.”

“But you never waste resources in situations like this.”

“I didn’t think this meeting would be a waste.”

Seol Jihu continued after sorting out his thoughts.

“Of course, I want to help my comrades as soon as possible. But we can’t rush against an enemy so strong. We need more information.”

Philip Muller nodded in consent. He definitely looked more relieved now. He was worried that Seol Jihu would be overcome with a thirst for revenge and suggest that they immediately march into the enemy territory. But the man in front of him was as calm as he had always been when faced with a crisis. And he had always found solutions to the most challenging situations, time after time.

“All right. So your plan is to wait until Rachel Chastain returns?”

“No.”

Seol Jihu shook his head. Frankly, he didn’t think Rachel Chastain would help a lot.

“I’m going back to Earth.”

Everyone’s eyes widened as Seol Jihu slowly got up from his chair.

“It won’t take long. Meanwhile, you should….”


*


After the meeting concluded, Seol Jihu returned to Earth through the warp gate. His heart was heavy with worry as he walked down the streets of Seoul. Everything happened so quickly, and—there was still so much he didn’t understand.

‘The wishes didn’t work.’

The energy of the Seven Sins, the essence of the Parasite Queen… both didn’t work. He even used the divinity he had collected while working at his restaurant, to no avail. Seol Jihu panicked a little. In the end, he resorted to using the Heaven-rank 10 contribution points that he was saving for an emergency.

However….

[These contribution points cannot be used to fulfill this particular wish.]

He was met with an unexpected response.

[She placed these restrictions herself.]

[You’re only supposed to use them for certain things, but you’ve already spent some a couple of times before where you wanted them. So….]

[You shouldn’t blame her. These contributions points that she gladly bestowed on you are powerful enough to defy even gods and reshape the entire universe. It’s only natural to limit such power.]

So she said, but he couldn’t give up hope. This was their easiest and fastest way out of this situation.

“Huuuu….”

SY Apartment.

Seol Jihu took a deep breath in front of his neighbor’s door.

“…All right.”

He patted his cheeks with both hands and pressed the doorbell.

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