The ensuing battle was so one-sided that one could easily describe it as utterly overwhelming.
Two-thirds of the Parasite horde that entered the ravine were either crushed or gravely wounded by the rock fall. As for the remaining creatures at the rear of the horde, not only were they trapped in a net, they couldn't even put up a proper resistance at the assault coming in from ten different directions and were systematically massacred.
Originally, Seol Jihu thought that his plan would be a success if he managed to drag about half of the invading army's numbers. However, he ended up luring nearly 80% of the total horde instead.
Once the Medusa determined that the grave injury it suffered was not something to be ignored, it ordered the majority of its army to pursue him while leaving behind only the bare minimum number necessary to conquer the fortress.
Of course, some of the blame for that decision lay with its enraged state stopping the creature from properly deciphering the situation, and Seol Jihu pretending to shoot the damaging arrow worked wonders as well. Furthermore, him slipping through their encirclement like an eel played a big part too.
All thanks to that, every single Cockroach was now dead. As for the remaining horde, only Bugs managed to survive, but that didn't last for long, either.
Sensing that this was the perfect heaven-gifted opportunity, Teresa Hussey led the army from the front and immediately rushed to the fortress. The commanding Medusa suffered tremendously under Dylan's precise sniping, as well as the continued barrage of ranged attacks from the Archers, before falling to Ian's magic.
The confused, lost Bugs became nothing more than tasty treats the moment their 'mother' died.
And so, the battle of the Arden Fortress had ended, with the human coalition emerging as clear victors.
A loud cheer resounded out in the valley.
Teresa raised her longsword high up in the air to meet their cheers. She even forgot about saving face to cutely cry out, “Kyaaahk!”
Just how long had it been since she tasted a victory this sweet and this refreshing? She had been thirsting for a victory so much that she celebrated with all of her might. She was truly happy, not as a princess of a nation, but as a resident of Paradise. Of course, it was still a bit excessive given her position.
In the end, she still failed to completely vent out her happiness and so, with a flushed face, she began searching for the hero of this operation.
However, for some reason, Seol Jihu flinched grandly when their eyes met. He then covered his mouth and hurriedly ran away.
Teresa broke out in a fit of giggles and chased after him. Seol Jihu doggedly ran away from her, and eventually, sought shelter behind Chohong. Such joyous events happened here and there, but in any case, the fact that they were able to win without too much sacrifice from their side did not change.
Later that day, Teresa Hussey conveyed the results to the Haramark Royal Family with two simple communique.
[Parasites, annihilated. Defense of Arden Fortress, successful.]
[Casualties from the reinforcement army: none.]
A message of victory had been sent out for what felt like the first time in ages.
Even though the battle was over, the reinforcement army didn't leave the Arden Fortress right away. They still had to take care of the aftermath.
The battle may have been won, but it was only the reinforcement that suffered no casualties. The situation of the Arden Fortress was truly dire.
The structure that was supposed to be 'nearly finished' was now half in ruins. As for the forces that resided here, not even 200 managed to survive. It was pretty much a total annihilation.
While Priests hurriedly went around here and there to perform their roles, Teresa was making requests for various supplies to be sent over via a communication crystal. Skills laborers and materials to reconstruct the fortress, carriages that would transport the injured back to the city, relief and medical supplies, etc.
Seol Jihu wasn't lounging around either. He spent his time either getting rid of the Parasite corpses or helped out with the initial preparation to get the fortress's reconstruction started.
In addition to acting as a lookout in his spare time, he went on patrols with Dylan every now and then. Although the odds were low, they still had to consider the follow-up attack from the Parasites.
Perhaps preparing for this and that took more time than expected, the requested supplies only arrived eight days later. Earthlings got ready for the return trip back to Haramark only then.
Before he left, Seol Jihu took one last look at the Arden Fortress with his 'Nine Eyes' active. And it was still glowing in the same golden color.
'You gotta pay me back in the future, okay?'
He grinned slightly, and just as he was about to climb into the carriage along with the rest of Carpe Diem, his steps came to a halt.
From the open door of the carriage right at the front, a certain someone's hand was slowly gesturing at him, as if to order him to come closer. The owner of the hand peeking her head out of the doorway was none other than the grinning Teresa Hussey.
On their way back to Haramark.
As soon as the group left the valley, the road became comparatively smooth.
There wasn't anything worth mentioning about the princess's carriage. Well, Ian was riding in it too, but that was about it.
“I can only apologize to you, friend.”
“N-no, it's fine.”
Ian's voice conveyed how apologetic he was, prompting Seol Jihu to quickly wave his hands about.
“Even then, I don't feel good knowing that it was I who first made the suggestion, only to back out on you like this.”
After a lengthy period of rethinking, Ian decided to remain as the royal family's Magician for a little while longer. There were a few reasons for this decision, but the biggest one had to do with the royal family making more concessions. Also, Teresa begged him too, so there was that as well.
On top of that, the royal family also promised to wholeheartedly support him, so it'd become a step easier for Ian to break into the ranks of High Rankers. He said that once they returned to Haramark, he'd sign the revamped contract with them.
“Well, it wasn't as if we made a definite promise or anything. And I also delayed giving you a definite answer. So, Master Ian, please don't mind it.”
“Thank you for saying that. That certainly eases a load off my shoulders.”
Ian slowly stroked his beard and formed a relaxed smile.
“Please wait a while longer. You see, there is a substantial difference between a High Ranker Magician and a regular one.”
“The royal family has made some concessions. They promised not to interfere with my external activities, such as going on expeditions or explorations.”
Ian winked playfully.
“Although things worked out this way because this old man couldn't forsake the loyalty and bonds I've formed with them throughout the years, I was being honest when I said I'd like to form a team with you. I've learned a few things from this exped… Ahem, I mean, our mission this time, as well as the battles we fought together.”
“….Still trying to pretty up a swine, huh?”
Teresa took a look at the two men with a dumbfounded expression.
“Loyalty? Bonds? Let's be real. You said yes reluctantly because we promised to raise your research budget and let you roam around freely whenever you feel like.”
“Oh, my. Looks like she saw right through me.”
Ian stopped smiling like a wizened old man and formed a playful expression of someone pretending to not know anything. Teresa shook her head helplessly before seeing Seol Jihu’s face and going ‘oops’.
“I'm sorry. From the way I hear it, I guess you two were about to form a partnership.”
Indeed, Seol Jihu did regret it a bit. There was still a ton of things he didn't know, so if an experienced, street-smart veteran Magician accompanied him, that would certainly give him a lot of confidence.
However, it wasn't as if they had agreed to the partnership in the first place, and he was in no position to demand one either. So, Seol Jihu decided to be satisfied with getting acquainted with these people only.
“No, it's fine. It seems that Master Ian is a really important person from the royal family's perspective.”
“That’s indeed the case. Also, he's essential if I want to make my dream come true.”
Teresa's eyes gleamed brightly.
“The Arden Fortress is only the first step in my dream becoming a reality.”
“May I hear about this dream?”
“Of course. It's pretty simple, actually. The Arden Valley is an imposing mountain range, and it also serves as the border region that's holding back the Parasites. Plus, it's also the shortest route to Haramark for them.”
Seol Jihu also knew that much already.
“So, I plan to turn the entirety of the Arden Valley into a fortress. One large and impregnable enough to make the Parasite Queen voluntarily give up on the notion of invading us.”
Seol Jihu tilted his head slightly.
'Wait, it feels like I can… remember something here….'
A considerable time had passed since he had that dream, but if some part of it still remained in a blurry, indistinct form like this, then it must have been an incredibly shocking incident.
'The Arden Valley…. Haramark….'
“….Not just a small portion, but fortifying the entire mountain range. All I can hear is your naked desire to overwork this old man to death.”
While Seol Jihu was thinking to himself, Ian grumbled softly under his breath.
“The royal family will always reward you accordingly.”
“I am happy with the rewards, but this old man would like to hear a generous helping of your encouragement every now and then, as well.”
“Well, it won't be hard doing that for you, but… you’re just going to ask me to say things like, 'Kuek! Kill me instead!’ or 'That will not make me submit to you!' How does that qualify as encouragement?”
“Those are the perfect encouragements for this old man's body.”
“….I don't want to. I don't know why, but whenever I say those words, I feel strange.”
Hearing Teresa's refusal, Ian could only tut in disappointment.
Seol Jihu did his best to suppress his laughter. Still, he quietly gazed at Teresa with curiosity. Things have worked out well in the end, but his personal questions hadn't been addressed yet.
Why did he feel such a powerful attraction the first time he met this woman? He gave it a lot of thought, but couldn't figure it out at all.
Feeling way too curious now, Seol Jihu activated his 'Nine Eyes' again. Teresa remained colorless, but he wasn't looking for that.
'Green is the General Observation, right?'
[Teresa Hussey's Status Window]
[1. General Information]
Summoned date: N/A
Mark's Grade: N/A
Height/Weight: 168.5 CM/54.6 Kg
Current Condition: Good
Class: LV. 5 (Princess Knight)
Affiliation: The Haramark Royal Family
Alias: Haramark's Princess
—Stout. (Both her mindset and actions are sharp and substantial.)
—Responsible (Places importance on the duties or obligations she's been tasked with.)
—Heroic (Possesses vigorous spirit and does not hesitate to do minor matters if it needs to be.)
—Sagacious (Has a gift in quickly judging the situation correctly and to respond accordingly.)
—Breaking-through (Regardless of the difficulty of the situation, she will search for a way to survive and overcome the current adversity.)
[3. Physical Level]
Strength: Intermediate (High) +1
Endurance: Intermediate (Low)
Agility: Intermediate (High)
Stamina: Intermediate (Intermediate)
Magic: Intermediate (Intermediate) +1
Luck: Low (High)
Remaining Ability points: 0
1. Innate Abilities (1)
2. Class Abilities (6)
3. Other abilities (4)
[5. Level of Cognition]
Hard to please (Tenacious and persistent) / Curious / Melancholic (Feels hopeless and is frustrated in her heart)
That was someone else’s Status Window, something he hadn't seen in a long, long time. He actually found it weird that he could also see the status window of a Paradisian.
Did he stare at her too much? He didn't get to read past the first couple of lines before Teresa suddenly swiveled her head towards him. She must have sensed his gaze.
As soon as their eyes met, Seol Jihu flinched and hurriedly turned his head away, pretending to not notice anything.
'Was I found out?'
Just like a little kid who was busted for doing something naughty, Seol Jihu was inwardly feeling nervous.
He pretended to not hear her.
When he didn't reply, Teresa just got up from her spot and sat back down right next to him. Even then, he showed no response, so she brought herself even closer; close enough for their butts to touch. Seol Jihu flinched again and looked at her. A satisfied smile then formed on her face.
“Well, there is this thing. I'm curious about it, so can you help me understand it better?”
“Back when we first met? Why were you staring at me so~ intently? You were doing the same thing just now.”
It was finally here. Seol Jihu fixed his expression and opened his mouth.
“If you were offended, I'd like to apologize.”
“No? I wasn't offended or anything like that.”
Teresa raised her hands.
“Well, let's be honest, I know I'm quite pretty.”
She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly.
“So, were you staring at me because of how pretty I am~? Was that it?”
Her absolutely forthright attitude left Seol Jihu utterly lost for words. It took some effort on his part to say something.
“Ah, that…. Both your eyes’ color and your hair are quite beautiful, yes. From where I come from, pink color is very rare, you see.”
Seol Jihu smiled awkwardly all the while subconsciously trying to distance himself from her. He didn't feel like letting her steal his lips again any time soon.
“Oh, really? I don't feel much of anything, though.”
“I, I see.”
“Yes. I don't particularly feel anything about them since I grew up with them.”
As the conversation unfolded, Seol Jihu managed to create a bit of a gap between them. Teresa tilted her head, but when she saw him covering his lips with his hand…
She let off a soft gasp.
She then let out a strange moan as a clear-as-day playfulness filled up her expression.
“Well, I mean, you know.”
Her subtle but dangerous smile reminded Seol Jihu of a carnivorous predator taking aim at a herbivore.
“I've had these pinks eyes and pink hair since birth….”
She suddenly lowered her gaze and scanned her body for a second, and then…
She grinned brightly and leaned closer to Seol Jihu's ear – and whispered.
“I'm pink in the other place, too.”
After whispering, Teresa winked at him.
Seol Jihu hurriedly and rather painfully coughed and wheezed.
The traveling army arrived at Haramark on the fourth morning.
Time spent away was one thing, but perhaps because so many incidents had happened since the initial departure from the city, Seol Jihu couldn't help but welcome the sight of civilization.
Both Teresa and Ian were busy people. As a departing gesture, she requested for a firm handshake. She also told him to wait a little bit for his promised rewards. Ian bade goodbye with these meaningful words, “Let us meet again soon.”
After saying goodbyes to those two, Seol Jihu climbed out of their carriage all the while reorganizing his thoughts. He needed to receive the rewards and had to stop by a temple, too. He also had to worry about selling off his share of the loot, as well. He thought that, for a little while, he'd be kept somewhat busy.
In the end, nothing much had changed.
Ian decided to remain as the royal family's Magician. Once the splitting of loot was done, he'd have to go his separate way from Carpe Diem too. Sure, they had gone through a lot together, so some amount of friendship and trust had been built between them, but it'd still be hard to go on another assignment with them again out of sheer coincidence like this time.
'It'd be nice if I could level up.’
Although being in another expedition would be tough, wouldn't he still be able to weasel himself into an exploration party if he was at least a Level 2?
'If it doesn't work out, I'll just have to tough it out as a porter for a little while longer.'
While Seol Jihu stood there moistening his lower lip, a familiar voice suddenly pricked him in the ears. The trio of Dylan, Chohong, and Hugo were waiting for him by the city's gate.
“Sorry about that. Were you guys waiting for me for long?”
“…Nope, not really.”
Chohong sneakily averted her gaze. Seol Jihu wondered if something was up because Hugo was grinning brightly like a fool and Dylan was quietly observing the situation with his arms firmly across his chest.
Chohong coughed to clear her throat and quietly spoke up.
“So, what’s your plan from now?”
His rather nonchalant reply prompted Chohong to roughly scratch her head. As if she couldn't figure out what to say or how to say it, her lips restlessly parted and closed.
“Argh, damn it. You know, like…”
She said something that had neither the beginning nor the end. Seeing Seol Jihu's confused expression, Hugo began clapping his hands as huge laughter exploded out of his mouth. Chohong loudly yelled out, “So why did you ask me to do it in the first place?!”
After the commotion died down, Dylan opened his mouth.
“Seol, are you planning to stay in Haramark?”
“Yes, I am.”
Dylan advised him to leave Haramark, but Seol Jihu wasn't planning on doing that. Him being right or wrong was beside the point; he just wanted to remain in this city for just a little while longer.
“I see… Okay, in that case.”
Dylan uncrossed his arms and placed his hands on the heads of Chohong and Hugo.
“Listen. I am technically the leader of Carpe Diem, but even I find it pretty rough trying to control these two idiots.”
Seol Jihu was about to agree with that, but after seeing the scary glare shot from Chohong's eyes, he stopped right away.
“So I want to know, would you like to lend me a hand doing that?”
Seol Jihu blinked his eyes.
“As your compensation, I'll let you use a training facility that's not too shabby from now on, free of charge.”
Only then did the youth realize the meaning of those words, and his jaw dropped slightly.
Dylan grinned, baring his teeth.
“Well, how about hashing out the small details while we eat, drink, and enjoy?”
Seol Jihu also smiled brightly.
“Sounds good to me.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter