63 – Fated Demise – 3
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1/2. The first of a double release. Enjoy!

Time flowed like a stream, the days blurring past as everyone made frantic preparations.

During that time, two pieces of news came out. The first was that Yuhui had become the second level eight in Paradise's history.

But I knew that was coming, so I didn't care too much about it.

The second was that Scheherazade announced they would mostly reinforce Haramark, even declaring an emergency draft call.

That in itself wasn't surprising. But the reason behind it was.

According to the newspaper from the information guild that Cinzia lent me, there had been a big fight about that.

Yun Seohui had been adamant about leaving Haramark alone due to Arden Valley's fortifications and Teresa's resources. While a strategic position, she argued that it wasn't a first priority in terms of allocating men and resources.

But Seora had disagreed.

Vehemently.

Arguing the dangers of what would happen if Haramark fell, along with the domino effect that would occur, she stressed that they couldn't afford the risk. And not only that, but she went so far as to personally request help from the Daughter of Luxuria and the other Executors, pleading for them to gather so as to prevent the worst case scenario.

On one hand, there was Seohui with the full backing of Sinyoung.

And on the other, there was Seora, who had managed to persuade the Daughter of Luxuria... who in turn convinced her fellow Executors to help.

Or so it seemed.

In truth, I knew that it was a mix of fortunate events. The karmic bonds I made were starting to overlap, Yuhui doing her best to help me while Seora was doing the same.

But whatever the case, the end result was that Haramark's situation wouldn't be as hopeless as it appeared.

...And yet. Even with all of that, my color didn't change. My 'Fated Demise' was still inevitable.

And as the days passed, no matter what I arranged, the color only deepened.

Until finally... The morning to march on Arden Valley finally arrived.

xxx

Jang Maldong swept his gaze across the street in front of Carpe Diem's building.

It was morning, the blue sky clear and picturesque. A peaceful sight.

But Haramark was filled with chaos.

Although not as bad directly in front of their building, in the distance, Maldong could hear an unfading din as Earthlings and Paradisians alike worked to prepare for the march.

But that wasn't important.

Instead...

Maldong let out a sigh and focused on the people in front of him. On the members of Carpe Diem preparing to set off for war.

First were the recent recruits. The five that had joined the team after Jihu became leader.

Marcel Ghionea, the First Steel Archer. An ardent man with a clear objective. Armed with a sleek obsidian bow and a flowing black cape, he had a firm resolve in his eyes, staring off into the distance while his silvery hair flowed in the wind. Although still a level four, he had managed to step onto his own realm as well, developing a path that ensured the arrow would always strike.

Phi Sora. That rambunctious girl that insisted on calling him her grandpa. While she joked around a lot, this time she was serious. Armed with a new crimson sword and a pair of black gloves that let her use anything she picked up as a blade, she would be a sight to behold on the battlefield, more than she had been before.

Then there was Maria Yeriel, the Priestess that had recently joined. A young woman who acted sweet and coy but was truthfully anything but. A side that showed herself after going through Maldong's harsh training. Even so, she was persistent and stuck through, showing dividends in the form of her ability to chain her healing and defense spells with the new items Jihu gave her. While not yet a level five, and while still lacking enlightenment, with her items, she had the capacity to act as a Priestess beyond a High Ranker.

Next were the Yi siblings.

Seol-Ah nervously adjusted the string on her silver bow before fiddling with a knife at her left side. After visiting the temple, she had leveled up to be a Level Four Pathfinder. But not only that, due to her natural aptitude and the Competence Jihu supplied, she was just as skilled in close combat as she was an Archer and could even utilize some magic spells and rudimentary healing in a pinch.

In contrast to his older sister, Sungjin was calm. The young boy had become a young man through his training, his wiry body becoming firm and muscled as well as gaining height that gave him an appearance beyond his age. The concerns and doubts of his own talents had been cast off, replaced with a stalwart determination. And that determination was rewarded with a unique class when he leveled up to level four: The Unwavering Guard. Idly resting his hand on the sword sheathed at his left side, Sungjin stood at ease, simply waiting for the march.

Altogether, they were fine additions to Carpe Diem. No, the best that Maldong could have hoped for in their circumstances. While their personalities were a bit of an issue... it wasn't a problem for the current leader to handle.

Or rather, it was better to say that it was because of the current leader that they could be handled at all.

Thinking that, Maldong shifted his gaze to the older members of Carpe Diem.

Chung Chohong. While she had become a Templar and a High Ranker suited to leading her own team... And while she had a fiery personality that didn't yield to anyone, she had chosen to defer to the current leader. No, after hearing how Jihu was running around preparing, the young woman who ran away from Maldong's training purposefully came back and endured it.

The same was true for Richard Hugo. The warrior complained the entire time, but seeing Jihu's focused and serious expression everyday, he dragged himself to Maldong and grit his teeth, training his body. Enough to where he broke through in his stats to the late Intermediate stage.

Then there was Miss Flone. The mysterious Saintess... who was in truth the resentful spirit from the Forest of Denial who had been given new life by Jihu's hands. A Level Six Saintess who had both the abilities, stats, and skills to prove it, despite her history.

And finally, there was Jihu.

...No, there was still that Ian, but since Maldong's old friend had gone ahead with the Royal Palace's magic research team, he wasn't present.

In any case, the last and most important member of Carpe Diem. The leader... and the miracle worker who was forcing a change to Paradise and to everyone he met.

A monstrous talent that made the impossible possible... And who was also the probable source for this situation.

It seemed that he was aware of it as well.

Jihu was usually relaxed and confident. A carefree and jovial atmosphere hovered around him... But it was different now. A sharp aura like a drawn blade. Deep eyes that seemed to see into the core of the situation and carried a resolve to see it through to the end.

Jihu turned towards Maldong, meeting his gaze with dark and unfathomable eyes.

Maldong hesitated.

...They couldn't risk him. Maldong wanted to say that. Jihu was a once in a lifetime... No, a unique talent that couldn't and wouldn't come again.

Even if there were countless casualties, as long as Jihu was alive and had time, there would come a day where the situation was overturned.

All he needed was time. The time to fully develop his abilities and power.

But it seemed that the Parasite Queen wasn't allowing that time.

So run. That was what Maldong wanted to say. Run and hide. Let them buy him time to develop. To overturn the situation once and for all.

He wanted to say that. But seeing the determination in the young man's eyes... and knowing his personality, Maldong also knew that it was pointless.

So instead, Maldong said, "Are you prepared?"

Jihu nodded. "I am. And don't worry, Coach. I'll make sure everyone stays alive."

'Everyone', he said. But his eyes told a different story. That 'he', Jihu, wouldn't be included in that number.

Maldong tightened the grip on his wooden stick and then gave a curt nod. "You'd better."

Jihu laughed and said, "Don't worry. I won't throw my life away that easily."

Silence. Neither Maldong nor anyone else responded to his laughter.

Because everyone could tell.

...No. Perhaps everyone except for Jihu could tell.

The young man who gave everyone hope. The young man who crafted tools for everyone to seize their future with their own hands. The young man who was willing to always take the lead and bear the burden of the world on his shoulders without question.

He hid it well. No, he thought he hid it well.

But they could tell. They all could tell.

...That he wasn't planning to come back from the fight.

"...Good."

But that was all Maldong could say. That was all anyone could say.

Because if that man wanted to carve the way forward for them. If he wanted to cleave an opening in a situation where one didn't exist... then they just had to follow him. Follow him and go past where he left off.

Maldong adjusted his fedora, covering his eyes and turned around. "...Don't die. And good luck."

"Thanks, Coach."

Jihu's voice echoed. The usual tone.

And then, with a surge of mana... they were gone. Jihu had warped them directly to Arden Valley, saving the trip since time was of the essence.

And Maldong was alone.

Walking back into the building, the old man stared at the empty room and said, "...I hope this old man has done enough, Jihu."

xxx

We arrived at Arden Valley in a flash. And the moment we did, the members of Carpe Diem went our separate ways, moving according to the plan we laid out ahead of time and the formations Cinzia and Teresa devised as the commander in chief of the Earthlings and Paradisians respectively.

And in accordance to that, the members of our group went to where they were needed... Though that mostly meant that just Ghio and Maria were pulled out since there was a lack of skilled snipers and healers.

Since the Earthlings were a mixed bag that couldn't be organized into proper marching formations like an army, the overall strategy was for them to stick to familiar groups and work together, moving as needed.

Which meant that Carpe Diem would be moving under my command as necessary. And for the moment, I commanded everyone to get familiar with the terrain, our allies, and the strategies Cinzia planned.

As for me...

"...And that's our strategy." Ian looked up at me and said, "What do you think?"

A conference room in the main fortress of Arden Valley. While everyone else was preparing, I had been dragged off by Ian as a 'magical consultant.' And the reason for that...

I looked at the diagrams laid out before me.

They were blueprints- No, they were maps. A secret weapon that only Teresa, Cinzia, Ian, and Muto knew about in detail.

After examining that, I looked at the sample they had placed next to those diagrams. A glittering violet object that radiated corrosive mana while thrumming with energy.

Rudium.

But not just any rudium. One that had been carefully chiseled into an arrow and linked with a master control source split in two parts. One was in Ian's rapier, and the other...

A handsome man with flowing green hair and wise eyes stared at me. Arbor Muto, having returned to his youth. Clutching a staff with a rudium orb at the tip, he smirked and said, "It's not as good as the one you made, but I think it's pretty close."

I nodded. "It is. And this should definitely throw them all for a loop."

It was a radio network. Maybe spending time with me had rubbed off on Ian, but the alchemist got the idea and used it to incorporate when designing the fortresses around Arden Valley.

A series of relays and connection ports with two controllers to send commands at a moment's notice.

Muto would stay with the high command and overlook the battlefield with his magic, directing commands as necessary from a safe distance while Ian would fight in the thick of battle, using his rudium to subtly shift the flow of battle as needed.

Not only that, but with the resonance factor in play due to the carefully thought out formations, it should be enough to even turn high-ranking mutant Parasites.

Muto grumbled and said, "It had better, considering all the work we put in."

Ian smirked. "Don't worry, old friend. You'll get your chance to be a war hero soon enough."

"Bah. I might look like this now, but an old man like me doesn't need that sort of recognition. As long as it gives a chance for us to make a decisive blow, that'll be enough. Although..." Muto turned to look at me. "What's your plan?"

"Hm?" I blinked and said, "What are you talking about?"

"Don't play the fool." Muto narrowed his eyes and said, "A man like you doesn't plan to just sit around at a time like this."

"My plan, huh? Well, in that case..." I smiled and said, "Just keep an eye out. When I move, I'll need you guys to clean up the mess."

Muto frowned.

Ian though... He seemed like he understood. And he also looked like he wanted to say something. But in the end, he sighed and gave me a smile. "Don't worry, Friend. You can count on me."

I smiled back.

xxx

Was it because I knew the time was drawing near? Or because of the severity of the situation?

Either way, time blurred and before I knew it I was standing on the wall of Arden Valley's Fortress, looking out at the approaching horde of Parasites. A horde that looked like a black sea drawing closer. A black sea that suddenly accelerated towards the fortress and tore up everything they passed.

It was enough to terrify an ordinary man.

But I wasn't ordinary... and even if I was, I wasn't alone in facing it.

"Looks like the bugs are as dumb as ever." Chohong placed her hand on the mace at her right side and stared out at the approaching tide.

"That's great for us." Hugo grinned and said, "All we gotta do is smash them up!"

Sora rolled her eyes. "Dumb muscle head. No wonder you're still a level four."

"W-What?!" Hugo's eyes widened. "Hey! I'm not stupid!"

"Sure, sure. Whatever you say."

Chohong chuckled. "She's got a point, Hugo."

"Come on, Chohong! Not you too!"

Seol-Ah glanced at the three and then looked at me. "Um... Oppa? Is it fine to be messing around like this...?" She shifted her gaze down at the Parasites, nervously clutching her bow.

Flone smiled and said, "Don't worry, Seol-Ah! Stick close to everyone and you'll be fine!"

Sungjin nodded and said, "That's right, Sis. Don't worry. I'll make sure no one gets close."

Seol-Ah frowned. "...I don't want to be protected by my little brother though..."

"You'll be fine." I glanced back at her and nodded. "All of you have prepared well enough to deal with these bugs. And if higher rank ones come out... I'll handle them."

Sora looked over and smirked. "Getting a bit cocky there, Leader."

"It's not being cocky if it's true. Although, the person mentioning that seems to be letting out some Freudian slips."

Sora blinked. "Eh? Freudian-" She paused and then turned red, glaring at me. "Hey! You know that's not what I meant!"

"Just saying." After giving her a brief smile, I glanced back at the battlefield.

Teresa was still standing on the fortress in the distance, staring at the Parasites. Muto was beside her, his green hair flowing in the wind while he clutched his staff, waiting. And on the other side, carefully scanning the battlefield to warp away casualties at a moment's notice, was Ian wearing the Carpe Diem cape and clutching his crystal rapier.

And then...

"Target the Cockroaches! Everyone, load!"

...Muto swept his staff out and shouted those orders.

Was it because he helped fit the valley with fortifications? It seemed like Teresa gave him the authority to declare the initial barrage.

Loud clunking noises echoed as hidden panels fell down on the fortress walls, revealing glittering boomerang blades.

Seol-Ah's eyes widened. "Ah! Those are-"

"It's starting." I narrowed my eyes and conjured a sword. "Get ready. Our turn is coming up."

Muto's staff glittered, causing the Cockroaches to slow down. And with that opening, he shouted. "From the left! In order! FIRE!"

It was like a movie. A low, reverberating sound erupted as the giant blades flew through the air. And then the sound of tearing flesh and clattering chitin echoed as the swarm of Cockroaches were ripped apart.

One barrage. Two.

It seemed like the battle was in the bag. The siege weapons that Muto and Ian helped fit Arden Valley with were working wonders.

And from the cheers erupting around, even from Hugo and Chohong in the back, everyone believed that.

But I knew that wasn't the case. Because...

'They're red.'

The infantrymen lying in wait at the front of the wall were dyed a bloody red, and their color was turning black.

Not only that-

"Get ready!"

A general called out. Jan Sanctus, that scar-faced man who escorted me to the palace one time. Teresa gave him orders and he quickly went about executing them.

"Infantry, with me! Earthlings, wait for us to clear a path and then eliminate the Medusas!"

Drawing a sword, he opened the gate to the wall and marched out along with the Paradisian knights.

Sora placed her hand on her sword and said, "Looks like we're up."

I nodded and walked forward, heading towards the gate. "Come on, everyone."

The other Earthlings had the same idea, various teams following after the infantry and waiting outside the wall.

As we took our places, Teresa's voice echoed from above.

"All Archers, LOAD!"

Faint twangs echoed as the Archers in the watchtowers loaded their bows.

"Hold! Hold...! FIRE!"

With a clear, ringing voice, a fusillade of arrows fell upon the remaining horde of Parasites. The Cockroaches in front were cut down and stalled. But there were ominous creatures in the back still lying in wait, continually birthing more. The Medusas, grotesque beings seemingly cobbled together from random body parts.

It wasn't over. But it was enough.

Jan Sanctus pointed his sword to the sky and then roared. "CHARGE!"

The infantry met his cry with their own and then raced forward, splitting in two in order to flank the enemy.

Again, a pulse swept throughout the battlefield as Muto used the rudium to slow the Parasites' movements. Not enough to completely stop them, especially since this was only the opening act. But it was enough to be decisive.

The heavily armored elite infantry of Haramark cut through the Parasites, sending countless figures into the air.

The chaos of war was on full display.

It was terrifying. It was horrific. Even with the rudium slowing the Parasites down, there were still casualties. 

The Paradisians couldn't handle the inhuman strength of the Parasites. And it seemed like there were hidden enemies lying in wait as well, shadows flickering between the Parasites that cut down the infantry when they lowered their guard.

Blood stained the mountain pass crimson. Viscera turned the ground slick, making the battlefield treacherous. Death cries from both sides cut through the air.

And as a result, I could hear Seol-Ah whimper behind me and Sungjin carefully control his breath. 

I narrowed my eyes, carefully examining the battlefield.

...It wasn't enough. Was the rudium not effective, or did they decide to conserve it again? The advantage from the preemptive strike was shrinking, the Parasites slowly pushing back against the infantry.

An undead wolf ripped out the throat of a spearman before being shot down by an arrow.

A trio of Cockroaches ran over a man, shredding him to bits before being forced back by shield bearers.

Shadows slithered like black snakes, tearing through armored knights like their steel platemail was just paper.

Even so, the Paradisians didn't falter. "Shield formations! Line! Hold the line!" Jan Sanctus roared, causing the infantry to reform, making an impregnable wall of tower shields and armor.

"Hyung...!" Sungjin grit his teeth and looked at me. His eyes were bloodshot, as if he couldn't accept what he was seeing.

"Oppa!" Seol-Ah looked at me as well, begging.

"Not yet." I shook my head. "It's still too early."

It was a grisly sight. Lives were being lost... but we also couldn't run off on our own. Even if I could probably handle the situation, there weren't just enemies among the Parasites to consider. Not to mention that while I could deal with bad PR that might come from disobeying orders, the others couldn't. So...

"Too early?!" Sungjin glared at me and said, "If you go, then-"

"Quiet, kid." Sora spoke up and blocked his gaze. Staring back at Sungjin's fierce eyes, she said, "This isn't a one man show. And remember, when you came here, you promised to listen."

"You heartless bi-!" Sungjin bit his tongue, holding back his words. But he growled and grabbed his sword.

I stared at him and said, "Sungjin. Calm down."

He looked at me and then let out a slow breath, taking a step back.

Chohong nodded. "Save your energy, Kid." She glanced back and said, "I don't think we'll have to wait much longer."

As if on cue, Cinzia called out. "Earthlings! It's our time to shine!"

Roars echoed and the Earthlings charged. The sound of steel being drawn, arrows and magic spells flying through the air, clattering armor... A chaotic din emerged as everyone charged to reinforce the Paradisians.

"Hyung!" Sungjin urged me, his body trembling with adrenaline and anticipation.

I chuckled and said, "Alright, alright." I brushed my earring, activating my boosts, and said, "It's time for us to seize the day."

A surge of wind erupted around me. No, not wind. Raw kinetic energy. At once, the world seemed to slow down. But it didn't. Instead, everything I perceived had been accelerated.

And that was where it should have ended. The Festina Earring I got from Flone only went that far. And before, it could only apply to me.

But now...

A slight twist in the structure. Resonance in the mana signatures of everyone in my team. The capes that I gave them serving as markers. Linking us together with All as One.

With that...

"Let's go."

...Carpe Diem cut across the battlefield.

xxx

A ridiculous sight.

The moment Cinzia let out the command for the Earthlings to attack, the forces lying in wait charged, aiming to cut down the Parasites being held back by the Paradisians.

But despite that charge, it would take time. At least, it 'should' take time.

And yet while the majority of Earthlings charged forward, a small group took the lead. A blur of seven people, flying across the battlefield like a bolt of lightning and ripping through the Parasite army.

"Heh." Cinzia lowered a cigar she had been smoking and said, "Looks like we don't have to worry about Carpe Diem falling behind anymore with Dylan gone."

Back at the top of Arden Fortress. There, Cinzia, Ian, Muto, and Teresa were overseeing the battle, waiting to give orders at a moment's notice.

Teresa didn't respond, her eyes wide in surprise and excitement.

It was another miracle. That was the only way she could describe it.

Each of the members of Carpe Diem alone were enough to handle a hundred Parasites. Moving at blinding speeds that went beyond the levels of even a High Ranked Archer, they were clearing out the Parasites even before the other Earthlings could arrive.

Phi Sora shot around like a flame, every swing of her sword cutting swathes through the Parasites.

Flone glided here and there like a silver ghost, tearing apart everything that drew near with a shimmering pure white sword and shield.

Hugo burst onto the scene like a mighty meteor, jumping and landing on the ground with reckless abandon and forming craters. But with each crater, dozens of Parasites were flattened, no matter what kind.

Chohong flew like a silver comet, cleaving paths through the Parasites and sending limbs flying in the air. Where her mace swung, Parasites scattered before getting crushed as gravity intensified.

Seol-Ah's bow fired continuously like shooting stars, mowing down everything in front of her. And her younger brother, Sungjin, stood before her, steadily advancing while swinging his sword and cleaving trenches into the ground.

And then there was Jihu himself.

Teresa could tell. He was holding himself back. No, rather than holding himself back, he was focusing on supporting his team members. Even so, he did more than anyone else in Carpe Diem.

A trio of glowing orbs floated around him, shimmering an icy blue, a steely gray, and an electric gold. With those, countless magical attacks flew out like a stream, precisely striking down Parasites trying to run away or sneak past Carpe Diem.

A medusa roared and recklessly dashed across the field to cut him down, recognizing Jihu as a threat. But without batting an eye, he stepped forward and threw a punch. 

An explosion of gore.

The medusa burst, sending limbs flying through the air.

But before any of it could touch him, Jihu had touched back to his position in the center of Carpe Diem, carefully observing the others fight and supporting with his magic.

"Goddammit...!" Teresa groaned and leaned on the wall, clenching her hands on the rock. "Why do you have to be so goddamn hot, Darling?!"

Ian chuckled. "Well, you should hurry on putting a ring on your hero then, dear Princess. At this rate, it won't be a surprise if the other royal families try to rope him in."

Teresa slammed her fist on the wall, turning a portion into dust, and said, "Like hell I'd allow that!"

Muto ran a hand through his green hair and said, "To think that this is the royal princess... But I suppose such royalty is necessary in a time like this." He looked out at the battlefield and said, "Better than the foolish princesses that only hid away during the reign of the Empire."

"Mm." Cinzia nodded. "That's true. Although I heard that the Princess can be surprisingly girlish around that man."

"Cinzia!" Teresa narrowed her eyes. "Not now!"

Cinzia laughed and then narrowed her eyes, focusing on the battlefield. "Speaking of that man... It seems like we'll need to readjust our plans."

Teresa followed her gaze.

The original strategy had been to have the Paradisians open a path for the Earthlings to strike at the Medusas, but...

"They're too fast." Teresa muttered.

It was inevitable. An unexpected variable.

Carpe Diem was just too incredible.

The seemingly endless horde of Parasites had been reduced to the size of a small battalion. Not only that, but half of the Medusas had joined the fray to try and kill Jihu... and then immediately perished when he faced them.

It was an impossible phenomenon. A ridiculous sight that made the war seem like a joke. Like a play with the stage set just to have Carpe Diem as the main actors. 

...But there was a problem.

Because Carpe Diem was so outstanding, there was a gap between them and the other forces.

The Paradisians couldn't keep up with the godly speed that Carpe Diem attacked with, and only a few elite Earthlings like Agnes managed to get anywhere close. But even she still needed a few minutes to catch up.

Teresa bit her lip, wondering what to do.

It was a perfect opportunity. At this rate, they could press the advance and push the Parasites back- No, wipe them out entirely. But that would rely on Carpe Diem. And if their momentum slowed down or if their stamina ran out, they'd be stranded in enemy territory against their elites. In that case...

"Heh." Cinzia shook her head. "Looks like we worried for nothing."

"Hm?" Teresa shifted her gaze back into the battlefield.

xxx

'That's enough for now.'

I nodded to myself and then jumped back from the corpse of another Medusa that I struck down. Shaking my hand to get rid of the gore, I looked out in the distance.

...Easy. This was too easy. Like grinding beginning mobs on new game plus- No, like if we were the protagonists in a game of Dynasty Warriors or something, we wiped out all the mooks in the surrounding area, leaving only the elites off in the distance along with a few stragglers running back to their base. 

But I had a bad feeling. Something wasn't right.

An eerie calm filled the air. Silence. 

Sora walked over to my side. Flicking her blade to remove the accumulated gore, she looked at me and said, "Is the fun over, Dear?"

Sungjin walked over too and then gazed in the distance at the Hydra and Medusas lying in wait. "Are we not going further?"

I looked at the retreating Parasites and the towering multi-headed monster in the distance before shaking my head. "No. This is far enough. Going further is going to end poorly."

A flicker of yellow. A warning.

"For now, we fall back." A decisive order.

It was too risky. While I was fairly confident we could wipe out the remaining Parasites, I was also fairly confident that their own reinforcements would show up the moment we reached their base. And considering that the Army Commanders hadn't shown up yet, we couldn't risk it.

Hugo tilted his head. "Huh? Retreat? When we're doing so well?"

Chohong smacked his shoulder and said, "Listen to our Leader, muscle head. If he says we fall back, we fall back. Besides..." She looked back at me and said, "Enhancing us all like this must be exhausting."

It wasn't, but it was a good enough excuse.

And also...

"Sure. Let's go with that." I dropped the boost from the Festina earrings and then turned around to walk back.

"E-Eh?" Seol-Ah looked at me and said, "Oppa... A-Are you sure it's fine to leave like that...?"

I glanced back at the remaining Parasites... specifically the Medusas, before turning to my teammates. I smirked and said, "Let's take our time walking back- Ah, make it seem like you're exhausted. Since we've pulled so far ahead, we might as well make it look like we burned out, right?" I winked.

Sora chuckled and then sheathed her sword. "You sneaky bastard."

Flone's eyes lit up and she said, "Oh! Then..." She quickly darted over to me and draped herself around my shoulders. "Jihu~ I'm tired."

Chohong's eye twitched.

Sungjin laughed. "Hyung is incredible as always."

I sighed and said, "Well... I guess that'll make it a bit more convincing." I glanced at the others and said, "Anyone else want a lift?"

It was a joke. It was obviously a joke. But just as I finished said joke, Chohong and Sora draped themselves on me as well, the Templar grabbing my left arm and the swordswoman grabbing my right.

"I'm tired too, Oppa. Don't mind me."

Sora leaned her head against my arm and said, "Thank you, Dear. I'm just so exhausted from taking in your essence for so long..."

Seol-Ah tripped, staring at me with wide eyes and a deep red blush.

Hugo cursed and said, "Fucking bastard! Why can't I be like that?!"

I sighed. "...Whatever. Let's just get going." I glanced at Sungjin and Seol-Ah and said, "You two take the front... Ah, you too, Hugo. Let's do our best to piss off our enemies now, mmkay?"

xxx

"...What a brazen move." Ian shook his head, watching his fellow team members stroll back. Especially seeing Jihu carrying three beautiful women back with him.

Cinzia glanced in the distance and said, "But effective."

The Medusas and Parasites that had been retreating suddenly paused. And then, as if furious by Jihu's nonchalance, they turned about face and started charging back. Even the massive Hydra, the hulking multi-headed monster that had been standing back, started to move.

Teresa grit her teeth, but forcefully calmed herself. "...It's fine. It's fine! I'll just have to fight harder later..."

Ian decided to ignore Teresa's muttering for his own safety and then focused on the battlefield again.

A change in tides. Because Jihu and Carpe Diem had pushed so far ahead, everyone else lagged behind. But that didn't mean they had stopped their advance. Even though it was unexpected, everyone present was trained enough to move according to opportunities. And even while they watched Carpe Diem dominate the battlefield in awe, they didn't stop their charge. So...

"...It should be enough." Ian calculated the distances and noted that Carpe Diem would reconvene with the main forces at the same time that the Parasites entered range of the siege weapons again. Not only that, but Jihu's little act had infuriated them enough that the Parasites were charging in a blind rage... Or perhaps they were tricked into thinking that Carpe Diem had run out of energy and were desperately trying to cut them down before they recovered.

Either way, it was effective.

Ian glanced at Muto and said, "We still have enough charge, right, Friend?"

"Mm." Muto glanced at his staff and said, "Plenty. Since Jihu decided to cut loose, we didn't need to use much."

"Perfect." Ian grinned and looked back out at the battlefield.

A rout. That was the only way to describe it.

The Parasites had been thrown off by Carpe Diem's blitzkrieg and were desperate in trying to reach them again. But they were also weary as a result of that desperation.

In contrast, the allied forces of the Earthlings and Paradisians had managed to save their energy, fresh to the fight.

As a result, it was an inevitable and anticlimactic conclusion to the battle.

The Medusas were cut down by the charging High Rankers. Snipers mowed down the small fry. The siege weapons that were placed around the wall cut down the Hydra.

While there was still the problem of the Nests hidden somewhere in the distance, the battle seemed to be over.

And then there was a change.

Ian froze and quickly looked in the distance.

Muto gasped, clutching his chest. "This ominous sensation...?!"

Cinzia narrowed her eyes, glaring into the sky. "So it happened after all."

It was still far out. The only reason those three could sense it was because they were finely attuned to mana.

But it didn't take long for everyone else to notice.

Soldiers on the ground trembled in fear.

The weaker Earthlings froze in their spot.

The High Rankers and above were better, but all of them were wary, slowly starting a retreat.

Ian clutched his rapier, feeling his heart race. Even so, he forced a smile on his face and said, "To think, that queen would send out three of them... It seems like she's not taking our friend lightly."

Those words snapped Teresa out of her gaze. Pulling out a communication crystal, she stared out at the battlefield and roared. "RETREAT! ALL FORCES, FALL BACK!"

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