Chapter 88. Strange Bedfellows (3)

Stab.

He stabbed something. Rather than penetrating deeply though, it felt like he just poked it. Having finally succeeded in pushing the spear forward, his body began faltering greatly.

'I can't endure anymore….'

He had scrounged up every ounce of energy until there was none left. As if it knew its job was done, what little strength left in his body scattered and disappeared completely. Just as he felt the irresistible enervation taking over him….

“?”

….His eyes opened wide.

Every single Parasite pouncing at him with murderous intents had all frozen in their spots. As for his spear, it was poking out from the chest of….

“…Eh?”

He stabbed it, but it was 'poking' out? Something didn't feel right. He looked again, and as it turned out, the speartip only managed to graze the Parasite.

He finally recognized that something had gone wrong. But at that moment, the Parasites began falling to the ground one by one. Each fallen creature sported a rapier stuck in its back.

'What the hell…?'

Before he could figure out what was happening, though, his eyelids threatening to close finally shut down on him. His knees went slack and his waist bent down. His body dangerously staggered about before powerlessly crumbling down as if to announce that it couldn't go on any longer.

But, just before he collapsed to the ground….

“Hm.”

…A single hand suddenly grabbed him by the scruff of his neck.

“With a body in this state, he still struggled right until he was about to pass out….”

When did this being arrive? A figure draped in an ivory gown was standing behind him.

“A rare willpower for a human.”

A hood was pulled low so only the half of her face was visible, but still, her red lips could be seen forming a slight grin.

“Take care of the remains, and… join us later after covering up all traces.”

The being issued her orders and turned around to disappear towards the mountain, while dragging the unconscious young man behind.

*

An unknown amount of time later.

“Euh…. Euh….”

The first thing Seol Jihu felt after regaining his consciousness was this burning thirst.

“Looks like he's coming around.”

And then, he heard an unfamiliar voice, as well as…

“Seol, how are you feeling? Seol?”

…A familiar one.

“Water…. Water….”

Abruptly, he felt something carefully slide under his neck and gently support his head upwards. Next up, something small but full entered his gaping mouth. He followed his instincts and immediately clamped his mouth shut.

“Ouch.”

The 'something' supporting his head flinched a little. But he was far too focused on that small, roundish thing inside his mouth to notice.

It was soft, but also slightly moist. Although it didn't contain a lot of moisture, he was like a little puppy busy sucking on its mother's teats. In the end, he couldn't hold back and bit down on it, causing rich liquid contained within to burst forth.

“…Pooooh!!”

The moment it did, he almost spat it right out.

'W-What kind of taste is this….?'

At once, bitter, sour, astringent, and salty tastes evenly assaulted his tongue. This taste had to be the result of mixing soy sauce and vinegar only to be left rotting for a few months inside the sewers. It was more than strong enough to cause terror in his heart. With it, the fog in his hazy mind was lifted up in an instant.

“To think he'd bite straight into a 'dulce'. He must be a pretty brave human being.”

A light chuckle followed after those words. He had no clue what she was saying, but regardless, he roused up a super-human level of endurance to fight back.

This was still liquid. Sure, it tasted like dogshit, but it wasn't as disgusting as one's pee. He took it as life-giving water and swallowed everything down in one go.

“Keuh…..”

An incredibly bitter aftertaste seeped into his throat. The thirst remained as strong as ever. It felt as if a handful of water drops fell on the boiling-hot metal plate and got evaporated in an instant. Still, he found enough energy to open his eyes with that.

“P-Princess….?”

He saw Teresa's face.

“You woke up.”

She formed a refreshing smile.

“Where….”

“Inside a cave. I'm sorry. The pursuers arrived while I was away…..”

Now that he could think a bit clearer, just what had happened back then? Seol Jihu could only tilt his head in confusion. The last thing he remembered was the Parasites falling down, not by himself but by someone else's hands.

“Was that you, Princess?”

“No, it wasn't.”

Teresa shifted her gaze to the side.

“It was these folks that saved us.”

He followed after her gaze and spotted six other figures, five of them sitting near the entrance of a cave. All of them wore similar gowns with hoods pulled up so he couldn't see their faces.

Seol Jihu was about to express his gratitude but flinched for a moment.

“….”

How should he say this? It felt a bit off to call them 'human'. He studied them deeply and eventually discovered the reason for that strangeness. He saw a pair of neatly-folded black wings on the back of the figure standing in front of the group.

“…An angel??”

“….An angel, is it? It’s been a really long time since I last heard someone call me by that name.”

The black-winged figure replied. At first, there was a strong hint of toughness within that baritone voice, but thanks to the gentleness of how it was spoken, there was no doubt the voice belonged to a woman.

“Well, I was called that once upon a time.”

Remorse could be felt from her voice.

“Well, on top of losing our place to be, we were even corrupted…. I no longer possess the qualification to call myself an angel.”

What was she talking about now?

“They are from the Federation.”

Teresa explained it to him.

“And, if my estimation is correct, then….”

She sneaked a glance at the black wings and continued on.

“…She must be a Fallen Angel.”

Seol Jihu panicked rather greatly after hearing those words.

He knew almost nothing about these 'Fallen Angels'. Although they had taken the lead in establishing the giant unified nation called the Federation, the 'Fallen Angels' were also a race alien to this planet. In other words, they were not natives of Paradise, just like Earthlings and Parasites.

Seol Jihu's head was resting on Teresa's thighs until then. He forced his body to stand back up again. It was only right and proper that he expressed his gratitude to those that saved him. But, if one were to get serious about it, they were still his enemies.

The Fallen Angel opened her mouth first.

“Well… I get why you don't see us in a favorable light. After all, we are invaders while you are being invaded.”

“….”

“However, our situation being what it is, won't you set aside your hostile thoughts for a while? Yours and our positions are about the same right now, at least the way I see it.”

“She's right. Seol? Please, you don't have to be too stiff.”

Teresa willingly nodded her head. Seeing her being like that, Seol Jihu could only scratch his head.

“….Thank you very much for saving us.”

“No need to say thanks. You, humans, reached out to us first, and we simply decided to join hands to cooperate, that's all.”

'Reached out first?'

Seol Jihu tilted his head again. Did they owe the Federation something in the past?

“Besides, there is worth rescuing a bloodline from the Haramark Royal Family.”

“You're overestimating me.”

“I only speak the truth. You are a human holding a favorable view towards the Federation, after all.”

Teresa shrugged her shoulders.

“We should be the one thanking you. With you people smashing apart their mass production plans, we can now all breathe a sigh of relief.”

“Fufufu. There indeed had been quite a few unhappy voices on our side.”

The Fallen Angel grinned refreshingly and pulled out a bluish stone from within her gown.

“They said that, with the amount of Thunder used to destroy the laboratory, we could have defended the Tigol Fortress…. In the end, it was choosing between one or the other.”

“You have chosen humanity's continued existence over the Tigol Fortress, in other words.”

“Many suggested that we ignore your problems. The Beastmen Alliance were especially vocal in their opposition.”

Teresa smiled bitterly. The Beastmen Alliance was the second largest political power once upon a time, but they couldn't endure the assault of the Parasites and ran off to join the Federation.

Furthermore, the humans had simply watched the Beastmen Alliance’s destruction from the sidelines.

“It was then that you all stepped forward proactively. Quite unexpectedly, too.”

“If you're talking about the Arden Fortress, it wasn't much.”

“No need to be modest. If you take into consideration the deployment of the Parasites' forces, you can easily tell that the Queen's attention has been dispersed rather greatly.”

“She probably can't afford to let the fortress go up in the Arden Valley.”

“Thanks to that, we were free to roam this far into their territory, too.”

Seol Jihu inwardly went, ‘Can it be?’ He could think of a certain something when the Arden Fortress was mentioned in their conversation. Back then, he didn't think too deeply about it, but who knew that the gold color would come back to him in this manner?

“In any case, it was quite a bizarre thing.”

The Fallen Angel lightly tossed the bluish stone up and down repeatedly before muttering to herself.

“What was?”

“I'm talking about the plan to mass-produce the mutated species. In order to disrupt that plan, we had to destroy the laboratory within the Delpinion Duchy. The other facilities aren't as important. Not only was that place the true headquarters of their plan, but it was also the advanced outpost for their upcoming campaign.”

“Right, now that I think about it, just what happened back then? I mean, the security must have been incredible, so how did you do it?”

“We can't be sure.”

The Fallen Angel spoke rather calmly.

“In reality, we were close to giving up. The supplies we brought were running out, yet we couldn't find a single opening… But then, an opportunity was suddenly created out of nowhere.”

“Out of nowhere?”

“Yes. For some reason, every single Parasite force guarding the surface rushed underground…. Thanks to that, we were able to bury not just every bastard below the surface, but those that went inside, too.”

She grinned, her pearly-white teeth now on full display.

“H-Hang on.”

Seol Jihu hurriedly asked her.

“You said that every single ground force entered the underground floor?”

“That's right. There’s no doubt since I confirmed it with my own eyes. Do you know what happened?”

“….Could it be…?”

He blinked several times before quietly opening his lips. If his memories weren't wrong, during his escape after rescuing Teresa and being chased by the entirety of the enemy forces, he distinctly remembered sensing the presence of Parasites rushing down the stairs connected to the surface.

Teresa heard him explain this and cried out “Ah!”

“Hoh.”

The Fallen Angel stopped tossing the bluish stone and pursed her lips.

“Is this human telling the truth?”

She looked behind, meaning she wasn't asking him. One of the hooded figures sitting around nodded briefly.

“He's speaking the truth. I didn't sense any falsehood from him.”

A beautiful voice came from this hooded figure. It was so beautiful, in fact, he grew curious now as to what she looked like. The Fallen Angel chuckled softly.

“In that case, this matter should be treated as the first cooperation between the Federation and the humans.”

“Worth celebrating, don't you agree?”

Teresa grinned and went along with the flow.

“Celebrate…. Celebrating sounds nice, but….”

The Fallen Angel fidgeted around with the bluish stone before letting a long sigh escape from her lips.

“That's for when we make it out of here alive.”

“W-Well, that….”

“At least, for us, that is.”

Those words managed to sink the mood in the cave pretty quickly. Indeed, their reality hadn't changed at all.

“So.”

The Fallen Angel's voice became lower in octave.

“Let's stop with the side-talk and begin discussing more constructive things.”

“I agree. Constructive things.”

Teresa nodded her head.

“Seeing you guys hole up here in the mountain range, that means….”

“There is no way out.”

“Yup, that's what I thought.”

Teresa's shoulders sagged visibly.

“It was the same story for us. We tried to go through the valley first but changed our direction to here….”

“We made rounds along the entirety of the border region but still couldn't spot any openings. Sure, we knew that they had deployed their forces in strategic points, but…. This, it feels like their net has become even longer and heavier than before.”

“Does that mean the Parasite Queen is really pissed off about the bombing of the laboratory?”

“We should assume that's the case.”

“Ehew.”

Teresa Hussey smacked her lips before carrying on with a dispirited voice.

“This is seriously annoying. With us, sure, we only have our legs, but for you to find it difficult to escape….”

She was referring to their wings, of course.

“Their anti-air defense network is perfect.”

The Fallen Angel replied with a forlorn voice.

“On top of flight-capable lifeforms, they have hundreds of snipers.”

“…Snipers?”

“The creature that wounded this human's shoulder.”

Seol Jihu reflexively took a look at his left shoulder and his eyes grew wide. He was wondering why his body felt a bit better than before, and now he could see clean bandages tightly wrapped around there.

“Uh, huh?”

Furthermore, his arm moved according to his thoughts. Although it still hurt, it was much more tolerable than before.

'They even healed me.'

While he was being deeply moved by their generous gesture, the Fallen Angel continued on.

“It is impossible to break through their arc of firing and escape. We might be able to go through it once somehow, but we definitely wouldn't be able to deal with their pursuing force. We’ll be shot down before we can escape the Forest of Denial.”

It was at this point that Seol Jihu's eyes opened slightly wider.

“That's why, we wanted to make an offer to you.”

“We'll decide after hearing you out.”

“Why don't you help us with causing a diversion?”

Teresa's expression crumpled.

“You want us to become bait?”

“Technically speaking, yes. Everyone here will become baits.”

What the Fallen Angel suggested was this.

Firstly, four out of six Federation members present would pair up into two groups and try their luck piercing the left and right sides of the enemy's manhunt. In case they were discovered, they would lead the pursuers away, creating a slight opening. Next, both Seol Jihu and Teresa would try their luck. The Fallen Angel and the remaining member would observe the situation and decide what to do.

One could say that this plan was devised for the sake of this remaining member, the one that the Fallen Angel was to accompany. However….

“This plan may not prove to be such a bad one for both of you.”

She wasn't saying that the two humans should sacrifice themselves for their cause. Right now, the story was roughly the same regardless of which part of the border region they got to. If they couldn't find any other way, the situation called for them to attempt a forceful breakthrough anyway. So, doing it this way might give them a better chance. In theory, the percentage of their survival would increase, even if that increase was smaller than a teardrop of a newborn chick.

“Judging by your plan, I guess you two hold important positions within the Federation that require you to go back no matter what, correct?”

“We don't have a reason to let you in on that. In any case. What will you do? It's fine if you don't agree. We shall leave the decision to you.”

“Mm….”

“If not…”

The Fallen Angel looked at Teresa deliberating seriously and added something else.

“If you can think of something better, please tell me. I'm all ears.”

Teresa shifted her gaze over to her companion; the young man in question seemed to be thinking about something quite deeply.

“Seol?”

“….”

“Darling~?”

“?”

Seol Jihu blinked his eyes.

“D-Did you say something, Your Highness?”

“If you didn't hear it, it's fine. What will you do?”

“Uhm… It doesn't sound good.”

“How come?”

“It's a plan based on sacrificing someone.”

“But, there's no other way.”

The Fallen Angel replied.

“Without someone sacrificing themselves, it will be difficult for even one person to escape. Of course, I'm aware of how humans think. However, our current situation dictates that we have to think realistically and act accordingly.”

“I understand what you're saying.”

“You know, yet you say that?”

“Yes.”

“Hoh-oh. Does that mean…”

“I think I have a better plan.”

Seol Jihu replied before shifting his gaze over to his side.

“Princess.”

“Yes?”

“Is this the mountain range where the Lioners used to live?”

“Well, that was the case, but… according to Ian's report, they seemed to have moved their nests to somewhere within the Forest of Denial.”

He knew that already. After all, he witnessed that with his own eyes.

“That means this mountain range is connected to the Forest of Denial.”

“Yes, it is.”

Teresa affirmed it.

“In that case, do you know where the Napal Hill is in relation to our current position?”

“The Napal Hill? I do know where it is, but….?”

Why was he suddenly asking her about the Forest of Denial and the Napal Hill?

Teresa dazedly stared at him. He looked to be slowly withering away not too long ago, but there was a hint of life returning to his eyes now. Those were the eyes of someone who found hope. She wasn't sure what he was thinking of, but…

“Please, hear him out.”

She suppressed her fluttering heart and glanced at the Fallen Angel.

“The defense of the Arden Fortress and the infiltration of the laboratory – he was responsible for making them happen. I promise you, you won't be disappointed by hearing him out.”

“Well, if it's only listening to him…. No, wait.”

Before anything else could be said, the Fallen Angel asked him first.

“Before you speak, I want to ask you a couple of things.”

Seol Jihu nodded his head.

“First of all, this plan you're about to put forward – will there be no sacrifices?”

“I can't guarantee that.”

“Is there a higher chance of success then causing a distraction?”

“Individually speaking, yes.”

“Fine. Lastly…”

The Fallen Angel took her time before slowly throwing her question out.

“Your plan. Is it a plan for not just the two of you, but everyone present here?”

“Of course.”

Seol Jihu replied without hesitation as if to imply 'Why ask something so obvious?' The Fallen Angel took a look behind her again. The hooded figure with the beautiful voice opened her lips.

“All truth. I couldn't sense a single shred of falsehood in him.”

“So that's how it is.”

The Fallen Angel crossed her arms. Her black wings softly fluttered a little, perhaps to signal that her interest had been piqued.

“Fine.”

She grasped the bluish stone tightly and spoke.

“Let's hear it.”

*

Around the time when the sun hit the middle of the sky.

All eight of them stepped outside the cave. They walked for a while before stopping at a certain point in the mountain range.

“It's not in a straight line, but this should be the general vicinity where you can see the Napal Hill.”

“That's fine. We don't need to be too precise with the location.”

Teresa Hussey spoke first and Seol Jihu replied back to her.

They didn't need to speak at length. They had finished discussing everything back inside the cave, so they simply got right into preparing themselves.

The Fallen Angel unfurled her wings wide. The other five also unfurled theirs, but unlike their leader, their wings were like a butterflies’.

The Fallen Angel embraced Teresa, and Seol Jihu was embraced by the one among the five that possessed a particularly beautiful pair of white wings. She was none other than the one who assessed whether he was lying or not earlier. With those two in the center, the remaining four positioned themselves to guard them.

When the Fallen Angel gave out her order, all five of them began murmuring something out. They cast magic using chants that were distinctly different from human Magicians, something no human ears could ever understand.

Swiiiish, whooosh!!

Out of nowhere, powerful gusts of wind showed up. The unseen winds wrapped their entire bodies, and they suddenly became as light as a feather.

They said that this was 'Spirit Summoning'. This also meant the one holding him was a Sky Fairy.

Seol Jihu dazedly studied this never-before-seen spectacle. Then, his ears caught the sounds of wings flapping softly.

“Wow….”

His body began floating up. Slowly, slowly….

“Oh… oh….”

The unfamiliar sensation of weightlessness caused his hugging arms to strengthen their grip. It was then, he heard a soft h-hmm from above.

“P-Please, don't hold so tightly….”

“S-Sorry…”

He quickly apologized while sounding a bit embarrassed.

Soon, they were all airborne. They stuck to the lowest possible flying altitude and flew behind the mountain range. In order to get to the highest speed attainable, they needed a considerable distance first.

After flying at an adequate-enough speed….

“This far should be enough.”

Everyone did a U-turn-like circling after the Fallen Angel raised her voice. In the blink of an eye, they increased their altitude. Seol Jihu swallowed nervously as he watched the mountain range grow smaller.

A short while later.

“This is it.”

Finally, the time had come. He felt his body tilt at an angle now. The Sky Fairy's head pointed straight to the front while her legs pointed to the back.

And so, after she became a straight line in the air…

“Begin!”

The moment the Fallen Angel's words hit their eardrums, every single Sky Fairy present shouted out.

El Jinn Acceleratio!

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