Side Story 51. Monster and Monster (1)

There was nothing more difficult than fighting in the enemy’s territory.

This was easy to see by recalling the escape from the Empire and the final war.

The constant drain of vital energy had been quite a pain in the butt to deal with.

And this time, there was no telling what kind of negative effect the enemy territory would have.

And so, the expedition team brought out the World Tree. With its support, the upcoming battle should undoubtedly be easier.

Flash!

A bright light burst out. It was a sign that the transfer process was finished.

A majestic tree holding up the sky like a pillar took root in the empty plain.

PPIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!

At that moment, a sharp, high-pitched noise echoed out.

The sound came from the World Tree.

“H-Huh?”

Taihi blinked and faltered.

“World Tree-nim…?”

Yuirel was equally taken aback.

Seol Jihu also furrowed his brows. He could tell without looking.

The World Tree was screaming. The way the bark twisted and branches curled in, it was in pain for sure.

“Yuhui.”

When Seol Jihu called her, Seo Yuhui spread out her arms and cast a spell.

Level 10, Exquisite Dancer, Unknown — Miracle of Gloria Aeterna.

A bright clump of light instantly enveloped the World Tree before rippling out in all directions.

The World Tree’s screams slowly subsided.

The expedition team, which was just about to breathe a sigh of relief, showed a look of disbelief.

Kwaaaaaaa!

The light was failing to advance. During the final war, it had engulfed the Parasites’ territory like a vast tidal wave. But now, it stopped in front of the imperial palace as though running into an invisible wall and split out to the left and right.

The World Tree stopped screaming, but it seemed to be barely holding on with Seo Yuhui’s light.

“....”

Having run into a wall from the beginning, the expedition team fell silent. One of their trump cards had been rendered useless from the get-go.

They couldn’t say there was no benefit considering the energy required to suppress the World Tree, but that didn’t change the fact that the World Tree’s purification and healing power were nulled.

“Hold on. Over there….”

By the time silence returned to the area, Agnes’ eyes had narrowed.

It was the same for Seol Jihu.

From the imperial palace, something long and black shot up.

At first, Seol Jihu thought it was a pole of some sort. But upon closer inspection, it was an arm. He could see five, claw-like fingers at the tip and a person hanging on the sharp, long fingernail.

Next, the short-haired girl dangling in the air slowly raised her head.

“Seol-Ah…!”

Seo Yuhui, who was drinking an Elixeer, covered her mouth in shock.

Seol Jihu also gritted his teeth.

Yi Seol-Ah was in a horrific state.

“As if killing her wasn’t enough, how dare it desecrate her corpse…!”

White Tiger yelled angrily.

“No, she’s not dead yet.”

Agnes, who had the keenest eyes out of everyone, spoke.

“Most of her physical functions are suppressed, but she’s still breathing… No.”

Agnes raised her eyebrow.

“...Let me correct myself. Most of her mana and vitality have been depleted.”

Meaning, Yi Seol-Ah was very nearly dead other than barely breathing.

A hint of anxiousness crept up on Seo Yuhui, whose face was already pale.

What Agnes just said confirmed a few things. Seeing how Yi Seol-Ah was alive, there was a good chance the others were alive as well. Though this was a fortune among misfortunes… it wasn’t anything to be happy about.

There had to be a reason the enemy left them alive. What if that reason wasn’t just to use them to recover its strength?

Just thinking about the possibilities was horrific.

Seo Yuhui glanced forward. Seol Jihu was silently looking at the black hand. The way he held the Spear of Purity, it wouldn’t be surprising if he leaped forward any moment, but he was somehow holding himself back.

At that moment, Yi Seol-Ah slowly raised her hand. She straightened her shaking index finger and pointed at one person, Seol Jihu.

She then flipped her hand and beckoned him repeatedly.

“Looks like it’s telling you to come in alone.”

Philip Muller murmured while pushing up his glasses. As if to say yes, Yi Seol-Ah’s body drew a circle in the air.

A hint of hesitation flashed on Seol Jihu’s face. He wanted to accept its invitation but didn’t. It wasn’t that he lacked confidence. He just couldn’t leave everyone behind when it was so obviously a trap.

“What are you going to do?”

“There’s no reason for me to do as it says.”

Seol Jihu shook his head.

At that moment, the corner of Yi Seol-Ah’s mouth curled up, almost as if to sneer and say, ‘Oh, is that so?’

Suddenly, the area turned darker. A chilling, cold wind raged in the area, raising a tornado.

That wasn’t all. A ringing noise filled with indescribable evil will echoed out. As a mysterious energy surged out in all directions, everyone prepared themselves for battle.

“It doesn’t look like it’s asking you. It’s forcing you.”

Wooooong! Following a nervous comment, a virile noise resounded out.

“Now that it’s come to this, why don’t you just go? It’s provoking you so openly. You don’t have to stay behind for our sake.”

Cinzia stepped up and said so with dozens of purple magic circles spread out in the area.

“Indeed, we have enough Warriors as is. Having one person act independently shouldn’t be much of a problem.”

Agnes also chimed in while shooting out spiderwebs from her hands.

“I can take you there if you don’t think you can break through.”

White Tiger transformed and growled while glaring at the imperial palace.

Seol Jihu smiled while having mixed feelings. Leave this place to us and go save everyone. He wasn’t so dense as to not understand what they were saying.

“...No.”

There was a need to observe the situation a little more.

Seol Jihu wanted to go too, but he was still hesitant.

This expedition was formed because everyone trusted him. If he left, an incomparable void would be left behind.

Moreover, the enemy’s energy that Seol Jihu was feeling on his skin was rather unique.

If the root of the Parasites was parasitism, the current enemy’s root was closer to absolute evil. He was the only one in the team possessing powerful anti-evil energy.

The cold air suddenly vanished. Shadows began to rise from the distance, forming various shapes. They were all strange forms that Seol Jihu had never seen before.

In the next instant, the black hand piercing the sky suddenly snatched Yi Seol-Ah’s head.

“Ah…!”

Because of Seol Jihu not entering its territory, it swung Yi Seol-Ah down toward the ground, almost like a child throwing a tantrum.

Yi Seol-Ah only had one life left. When that thought crossed his mind, Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

Pzzt!

Lightning crackled.

That was it.

Although he kicked off the ground only once, Seol Jihu instantly became a dot in everyone’s vision.

Seol Jihu’s speed aside, everyone became dazed at how quickly it happened.

Not even a second had gone by.

Seol Jihu arrived at the same time that Yi Seol-Ah was about to be slammed down on the ground.

In that instant, the claw that was throwing Yi Seol-Ah toward Seol Jihu spread its fingers.

Chwaaak!

Hundreds of sharp thorns shot out. Not only were they incredibly sharp, but each of them was also dripping with black, venom-like liquid.

Seol Jihu quickly snatched Yi Seol-Ah up and swung the Spear of Purity to form a barrier. Simultaneously rousing the lightning energy inside him, he activated Thousand Thunder.

As the thorns were shooting at him from all sides, it was impossible to dodge them. And so, he planned to counterattack with a wide-area attack and escape through the manufactured opening.

It was then. Blaze! In a split second, a pillar of fire came flying out of nowhere and struck Seol Jihu.

‘This is…?’

Despite the blazing fire, Seol Jihu did not feel it was hot. Rather than feeling pain, what he felt was warmth.

As the incoming thorns shattered into pieces upon making contact with the flames, shock dyed Seol Jihu’s face.

‘Don’t tell me!’

Sacred fire?

The moment Seol Jihu realized this, a large blaze blanketed his vision.

A giant pair of wings gently wrapped around Seol Jihu and Yi Seol-Ah before flying up.

Seol Jihu could see clearly through his fluttering hair.

A long, giraffe-like neck, large flapping wings, and feathers glowing in five-colors.

“Ah…!”

Seol Jihu’s complexion brightened. He almost shouted at the unexpected appearance, but now wasn’t the time.

—Behind!

Perhaps furious at the sudden hindrance, the claw chased after them fiercely. However, the situation was different than before.

Entrusting Yi Seol-Ah to a giant wing, Seol Jihu kicked off the air and shot toward the claw. Golden reinforced sword qi radiated out from the Spear of Purity.

Crack!

The moment they clashed, the claw fell down in a startle from the terrifying destructive power. The problem was that a beautiful pillar of fire shot down on it again.

The claw squirmed and writhed in the sacred flame that gnawed away at its skin. It acted quickly. Realizing that its attack had failed, it quickly turned back to the hole it had shot up from.

Of course, Seol Jihu wasn’t the type to let his prey escape. He chased after it and snatched its arm.

“Heeeup!”

Then, he yanked it back out with all his might.

The incredible power of EX-ranked strength pulled the retreating arm back to the surface. Gripping the arm tight, Seol Jihu roused his energy further.

With his eyes wide open, he poured his mana into the arm.

PZZZZZZZZT!

Digging into the arm, the lightning energy spread immediately, instantly reaching the main body and electrocuting it. The claw at the end of the arm spazzing out furiously was clear proof of this fact.

Puhak!

The arm exploded a second later, spewing out black liquid. Some of the droplets shot toward Seol Jihu, but they disappeared into the mouth of a particular bird.

A splendid display of teamwork had unfolded.

Soon, Seol Jihu felt the arm snapping off.

—Hmph, it cut off its own arm. Don’t waste any more energy.

Seol Jihu let go of the arm, hearing the voice next to him. The long arm swayed in the air before helplessly falling to the ground.

“You…!”

Only then did Seol Jihu turn to the side with a look of disbelief.

“How?”

—How? What do you mean, how?

Little Chick snorted with Yi Seol-Ah under its armpit.

—I was on a date.

“A date?”

—Yes. I was going to the scene of the final battle to show off my greatness to my partners. But then, I suddenly detected a strange energy…. Anyways…

After explaining how he got here calmly...

—You little bastard!

Little Chick suddenly grinned.

—Why didn’t you tell me about such a delicious place? Hmm?

It craned its long neck forward and took a bite out of the arm lying on the ground.

—You should have told me if you knew such a good spot!

Hah. A chuckle escaped Seol Jihu’s mouth.

“I’m glad you came! Nice timing, really!”

Little Chick was an existence born to destroy evil. It could stand its ground against Twisted Kindness, so there was no way it wouldn’t be helpful here.

—I took a brief look. It looks like the guy’s hiding deep underground.

Little Chick peered down at the hole before looking back.

—The energy it’s emitting is a lot stronger than any of the Army Commanders. But… Although I can’t say for certain, I don’t think it’s so strong that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Little Chick raised its voice after looking at the strange shadowy creatures infesting the area.

—But, seeing as how it called you, it must have something in mind. A scheme, if you will.

“A scheme?”

—Yep. Do you remember what Twisted Kindness said when we first encountered her in the Spirit Realm?

Though this seemingly came out of nowhere, Seol Jihu nodded his head.

[Rest. During this time, you can eat or even sleep.]

[As long as you do not try to leave my view, I will not touch a hair on your body until you fully recover.]

[I’m telling you to eat, sleep, and recover and fight when you’re fully prepared.]

[Since I came all the way here, why can’t I enjoy myself a bit? With some of you looking like you’re on your last leg, I won’t be able to brag even if I annihilate you all.]

Although Seol Jihu almost believed her at the time, he shivered when he recalled almost falling for her trap. If he had agreed to her kind offer, Tigol Fortress would have fallen long before they went back.

“It was quite literally twisted kindness.”

—Right, and I have the same feeling this time. I’m just telling you to keep that in mind.

With that, Little Chick glanced at Seol Jihu.

—Of course, the current situation is nothing like what it was back then. You should be the one to judge, partner.

“....”

—Why? Are you not confident?

“Of course not.”

Seol Jihu laughed. Little Chick’s appearance had taken a load off his shoulders. All he had to do was make full use of the space it bought him.

[Don’t dawdle here.]

He’d heard some important advice before coming here as well.

Seol Jihu looked back for a second. He could see his expedition team fully prepared for battle.

He came to a decision without much difficulty. Perhaps because his old partner was back, he felt confident. Courage seemed to be surging up from his heart.

“Let’s get this over with then!”

—Good!

Little Chick opened its beak as if it was waiting for this answer.

Blaze!

The sacred flame it breathed out toward the imperial palace swept through the land. The shadowy creatures in its path melted down, leaving behind a pathway.

“Take care of Seol-Ah for me!”

Leaving behind these words, Seol Jihu kicked off the ground.

As he disappeared into the palace, Seol Jihu’s eyes shone with bright light.

Though he had been living in peace for a while, now that he was back on the battlefield, it felt like he had regained the energy of his prime.

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