Jang Maldong’s eyes widened.
Seol Jihu glanced at Jang Maldong nervously. He looked like a child who was caught red-handed.
Jang Maldong groaned quietly.
A gambling addict. He could picture Seol Jihu’s past as soon as he heard it but did not say much.
“Well, it’s better than being a murderer.”
He only smiled bitterly and chimed in.
Facing one’s faults was hard enough. Revealing them to others without any omissions was something that required a great amount of courage.
From Jang Maldong’s perspective, Seol Jihu had only just gotten to the starting line. If he criticized him, Seol Jihu might just go back and never take the next step forward.
That was why Jang Maldong didn’t say anything.
He nodded his head and promised Seol Jihu that he would hear him out.
Mustering up his courage at Jang Maldong’s attitude, Seol Jihu slowly began to recount everything that happened in the past.
The memory of the time he was a gambling addict was still vivid in his mind.
He recalled how his family tried wholeheartedly to pull him out of the mire of gambling addiction he had gotten himself into.
And he recalled how their relationship fell apart after repeated deceptions and betrayals.
Finally, he recalled how their relationship developed after he entered Paradise.
Although he couldn’t talk about his Nine Eyes with Kim Hannah being present, he did not hide anything else.
Kim Hannah tried to say something every now and then, but Jang Maldong hushed her and prevented her from chiming in.
As such, Seol Jihu was able to talk for a long time without interruption.
There was a lot to talk about, so by the time he finished, the alleyway was starting to get dark.
A novel feeling emerged within Seol Jihu as he poured his heart out in the narration. He was uncomfortable at first, but this feeling quickly disappeared as he continued talking.
He even felt lighter, like a huge boulder that was pressing down on his chest had been lifted.
On the other hand, Jang Maldong’s complexion was getting more and more uncomfortable. He thought Seol Jihu had simply indulged in gambling and ruined himself from it, but things were more severe than he thought.
It wasn’t just himself that he had harmed. He had caused harm to those around him as well.
Jang Maldong crossed his arms and frowned when he heard what Seol Jihu did to his parents.
He gripped his cane tightly when he heard how Seol Jihu got into a fistfight with his older brother, who came to drag him out of the casino, and ultimately left the groaning man collapsed on the ground as he walked back into the casino.
And when he heard how Seol Jihu stole his girlfriend’s credit card while she cried and begged him not to go, his body shook greatly.
Seol Jihu had been given many chances, and there were people around him that wanted to help. However, he had rejected their help not once or twice, but dozens of times.
Jang Maldong had braced himself for the worst, but he couldn’t help himself from seething with anger. By the time Seol Jihu finished his story, he found himself chugging down liquor directly from the bottle.
Seol Jihu, who was absorbed in telling his story, did not notice any of this.
“To be honest, I understand why Jinhee is like that. In a way, I’m more sorry for her than Seonhwa, especially for that time in the highway rest area…”
“What was that, brat!?”
Jang Maldong exploded in the end.
Seol Jihu jolted from the sound of a bottle almost shattering.
Jang Maldong, who had slammed the bottle of liquor on the table, was glaring at him with a trembling neck. His face was red to the point it was clearly visible with the naked eyes.
Jang Maldong swallowed his saliva.
“Your younger sister believed in you even after all the shit you’ve pulled… but what? You told her you finally quit gambling and would go to the casino to apply for an entry ban, then coaxed her into going with you because you couldn’t bring yourself to do it alone, and then did what?”
Keuk. Jang Maldong grunted as he quivered.
The pent-up anger inside him must have finally exploded as he raised his cane.
“You goddamned fooooool!”
If Kim Hannah didn’t stop him, he really would have hit Seol Jihu.
“Please. We’re here to hear him out.”
“He went too far! I wouldn’t be doing this if what he said wasn’t so unbearable!”
“I know, but! But…”
“You went to the rest area, telling your sister you’re hungry and that you’d buy food, and what? You stole the car and drove off while she chased after you in shock? And when she tripped and fell and started crying, you turned a blind eye? You son of a— Ah, let me go!”
Jang Maldong tussled with Kim Hannah before putting down his arm, disgruntled.
He then took several breaths as if he was struggling to calm himself down.
Seol Jihu became crestfallen and dropped his head.
“Fucking hell… Just what kind of people are your family? Did Buddhist saints reincarnate into one family?”
The growling Jang Maldong gradually collected his breath.
If what Seol Jihu said was true and he really did those things in the past, Jang Maldong would have to question whether the Seol Jihu he knew was even the same person.
That was how big of a difference there was between the current and past Seol Jihu.
“…Whew, okay, so…”
But no matter the case, Seol Jihu had changed. Seeing as how he revealed all of this truthfully, Jang Maldong forced himself to calm down.
“What do you plan to do from now on?”
Once Jang Maldong’s voice subsided, Seol Jihu spoke while constantly stealing glances at him to check on his mood.
“For now… I plan to go see them again…”
“That’s a given! And?”
“And… I’m going to beg for forgiveness… but I don’t think they’ll accept it. Just like the last time I went home.”
“Just because they won’t forgive you…! Whew, fine. And?”
Jang Maldong asked, allowing Seol Jihu to finish.
Seol Jihu continued while stammering.
“As I said… I hurt them too greatly, so much so that they might never recover from it…”
“So what are you going to do?”
When Jang Maldong snapped at him, Seol Jihu swallowed his saliva.
“If they won’t accept me, I figured it might be better that I disappear from their lives forever… There’s Paradise after all.”
It was then.
“…W-What? There’s Paradise after all?”
Jang Maldong’s mellowing face stiffened.
“M-My sister said that’s what I should do if I really feel sorry. And so I thought more about it, and—”
Seol Jihu paused, seeing Jang Maldong trembling once again.
“You… arrogant punk…”
Jang Maldong shot a look at Seol Jihu as he quivered. He looked like he was looking at trash that had no equal in the world.
“If they won’t accept you… you’ll disappear forever…? Then what if they do accept you?”
“Saying something so laughable… Are you in any position to be making that decision…?”
His voice came out trembling.
“N-No, Master. I’m not saying that I’m deciding for sure.”
Seol Jihu tried to say something, sensing how furious Jang Maldong was, but—
A wooden cane struck down on his head in an instant, followed by a loud shout.
Seol Jihu let out a yelp and clutched his head.
However, Jang Maldong did not stop there, having the emotions he suppressed burst out like a dam.
“You bastard, you son of a gun! You almost ruined other people’s lives as if your life wasn’t enough, and you’re saying what?”
Tak! Tak! As Jang Maldong’s cane consecutively struck Seol Jihu’s head, Seol Jihu screamed and rolled on the floor.
“There’s Paradise after all? So you wanting to stay in Paradise without returning to Earth was just you trying to run away!?”
“I told you to shut up! You son of a gun! How dare you pretend to be the victim, huh? Huh!?”
“Wait! I wasn’t pretending to be the victim!”
Tak! Unable to hold himself back, Seol Jihu grabbed Jang Maldong’s cane.
Jang Maldong flinched.
Seol Jihu looked flustered as well.
But now that he was at it, he decided he might as well speak out.
“You don’t know the full story, Master! Back then, I…!”
Jang Maldong’s eyebrows twitched. A cold voice flowed out.
“Back then I, what? I? See that!? You caused them so much grief for years, yet you’re not even thinking about their feelings and only thinking about yourself! You—!”
Jang Maldong shook his arm hard and raised his cane again. But after seeing Seol Jihu clenching his teeth, he bit down on his lower lip hard.
He threw the cane on the floor.
“You idiot, do you think your family abandoned you?”
“Damned fool. Think about what your father said when you went home.”
“When I… went home?”
“What your father said when you last went to their house! Didn’t you recount it yourself!?”
Jang Maldong got up from his seat. Pushing back Kim Hannah, who asked him to calm down, he shouted.
“You think money was the problem? You think everything’s over after throwing them an envelope of money?”
Seol Jihu took a deep breath and blinked rapidly.
He felt like he had heard the same words before.
Now that he thought about it…
[You want to talk about money? Fine.]
[You think the past’s all gone and done, now that you returned the money? You want to go back to acting like a son?]
[You shameless son of a bitch. You think money was the problem?]
[You think everything’s over after throwing us an envelope of money without even a simple explanation?]
“Why don’t you put yourself in their shoes, you bastard!”
Jang Maldong smacked his chest.
‘Put myself in their shoes?’
Seol Jihu stared at Kim Hannah, who was pacifying Jang Maldong.
He imagined the two of them giving birth to a beautiful daughter named Seol Jinah.
The bright, cheerful girl then became a gambling addict and wreaked havoc on the family before disappearing off the face of the earth.
Then one day, he found an envelope of money that she brought over to his house.
Where did she suddenly get so much money? Why did she leave so quickly? Was she being taken advantage of by bad people? Would she call? Did she quit gambling? Was she eating properly?
Seol Jihu became dazed.
‘I’m pissed off…?’
Seeing Seol Jihu’s expression, Jang Maldong blurted out.
“A son is always a son no matter how worthless he is! You suddenly brought a mountain load of cash and disappeared without giving a proper explanation! So how can you…!”
Jang Maldong didn’t finish, but Seol Jihu felt like he knew what his master wanted to say.
Seol Jihu sat dazedly before dropping his head.
He had no excuses to offer.
“You don’t understand your parents’ feelings even the slightest bit…!”
A sudden silence descended after Jang Maldong’s lamenting sigh.
The restaurant grew dead silent, and not even the sound of breathing was heard.
How much time went by?
“…I won’t say much.”
After a moment of silence, Jang Maldong said firmly.
“Go back to Earth by tomorrow.”
“To be completely honest with you, I don’t understand how your family acted like that! If it was up to me, I would have beaten you black and blue and thrown you out on the streets! Yet they still treat you like a son….”
Jang Maldong bit his lip.
“Well… it must be because they know you from before you fell into gambling. That’s why they’re holding onto a sliver of hope. I’ll choose to think that given what I’ve seen of you.”
“So go see your parents! Beg for their forgiveness! And at least give them a proper explanation before coming back!”
“But, but, but! If you can’t, try it until it works! And don’t even think about coming back to Paradise before you do!”
Seol Jihu’s jaw slowly dropped.
Jang Maldong scowled.
“No… um… shouldn’t you at least give me some time to prepare…?”
“Prepare? Do that once you get back to Earth. Nothing’s going to come out of you staying in Paradise day in and day out.”
Seol Jihu hesitated.
Going back to Earth by tomorrow?
That was too hasty.
Enhancing his weapon, raising his level, finding out his class name, eating the World Tree’s fruit… there were so many things he wanted to do.
Jang Maldong scowled even more, having noticed Seol Jihu’s hesitation.
“You still haven’t snapped out of it…!”
After grumbling for a long time, Jang Maldong suddenly let loose a deep sigh and picked up his cane.
He didn’t sit back down.
“I said it clearly. If you refuse to listen…”
Looking down at Seol Jihu, he spoke with force behind his words.
“Then I will think of it as you no longer regarding me as your teacher.”
Jang Maldong walked off after that ultimatum.
And just like that, only Kim Hannah and Seol Jihu were left in the restaurant.
“…Why didn’t you just say yes?”
Kim Hannah spoke carefully while constantly glancing at Seol Jihu.
“It was about time you went anyway, and your mom’s birthday is coming up. I was going to mention when I had the chance….”
Seol Jihu slowly pulled himself up, then shook his head.
He replied in a feeble voice, “I know, I know.”
Taking this to be a sign that he wanted to be left alone, Kim Hannah quietly got up from her seat.
After walking up to the restaurant owner, who was shaking in fear, she paid the bill, then left.
When she glanced back a final time, Seol Jihu was still sitting in his seat.
Jang Maldong walked quickly to Valhalla after leaving the restaurant.
He got angry the more he thought about it.
He planned to hear him out if possible, but there was a limit to how much he could hold back.
“Disappear? Hah! What a load of bull…”
He might have put it in a nice way, but wasn’t he just saying he was uncomfortable meeting his parents and so would move to Paradise?
How could Jang Maldong not be angry, seeing Seol Jihu running away without trying to solve the root of the problem?
At the same time, he felt betrayed.
[But I’m not coming to Paradise because of fame and money.]
[Because this is the place I belong.]
[It’s also the place that gave me a fresh start…]
[I really can’t think of anything to say other than that I like it here.]
Because Jang Maldong felt like he finally understood the real meaning behind his words back then.
Jang Maldong shook his head.
He couldn’t say Seol Jihu had ulterior motives for doing everything he had done so far.
The problem lied with Seol Jihu himself.
He said he had quit gambling, and Jang Maldong was impressed when he first heard this.
If one were to rank the primitive pleasures of men, gambling would be placed at the very top. It was to the point that gambling was recommended to substance abusers as a last resort.
Since Seol Jihu said he cut off gambling from his life, Jang Maldong had been somewhat proud. But it turned out, that wasn’t the case.
Though it was true that he quit gambling, Paradise had simply replaced it.
And Paradise was far more dangerous than gambling.
This meant Seol Jihu had already sunken deep into the mire called Paradise.
Suddenly, Ian flashed by Jang Maldong’s mind. Not just him, but many Earthlings who actively participated in Paradise for a long time before dying.
Just among the people he knew, seven or eight out of ten committed suicide on Earth.
Jang Maldong had no doubts. If Seol Jihu ever died in Paradise, he would commit suicide on Earth without lasting more than a few days.
What was more problematic was Seol Jihu’s past deeds.
Paradise wasn’t a safe world.
That was obvious to see just from the previous war.
He could have very easily died on at least three different occasions.
Although he managed to come back alive through miracle and luck, there was no guarantee that the same thing would happen next time.
Moreover, he was very clearly replacing his gambling addiction with the sense of accomplishment he got from risking his life and achieving an impossible goal, so he would undoubtedly throw himself into danger again sooner or later.
Jang Maldong could not let this go on.
Right, he could never allow this to continue.
He had to do something.
Just as Jang Maldong finished organizing his thoughts…
“You were too harsh.”
He turned around quickly.
Kim Hannah was standing behind him with a bitter smile.
Seol Jihu wasn’t with her.
“What was that?”
Jang Maldong stopped walking.
“I was too harsh?”
“Yes. Jihu also tried when—”
“Let me ask you something.”
Jang Maldong turned around, interrupting Kim Hannah.
Although his voice was subdued, it was seething like a volcano that was about to erupt.
“Why did you do that?”
When he asked like he just caught her red-handed—
Kim Hannah instinctively straightened her posture and widened her eyes.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t know.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, sir…”
“If you’re going to be like that, I’ll be straightforward.”
Jang Maldong glared at Kim Hannah with a burning gaze.
“Why did you give him the perfect amount of money to pay off his debts on his first return to Earth, and then use his parents’ wedding anniversary as an excuse to make him go home with a present?”
Miss Foxy, the cunning vixen, smiled bitterly.Previous Chapter Next Chapter