It was a call from his mother. Seol Jihu pressed the answer button even in his confused state.
A voice mixed with tears immediately struck his ear. Seol Jihu’s heart sank.
—You rascal, why weren’t you picking up your phone!?
“M-Mother. I’m sorry. I was just a little too busy.”
—Still! Do you have any idea how much Wooseok and I…!
“Mother, calm down. Just what happened?”
An unknown nervousness slowly crept up inside him, but Seol Jihu suppressed the feeling and asked.
The uneasy sense of foreboding came true.
Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.
“W-What was that?”
He almost let go of his phone.
It was then.
—A policeman was lying in the middle of the street.
—A gunshot echoed out from an unknown place, and…
He could even hear the news report coming from the TV he had turned on subconsciously.
The screen was saying this: Shooting in Downtown Area, Two Policemen Dead.
—Around six p.m. when crowds of people getting out of work were flocking to the streets…
—I don’t know whether the police opened fire first or if it was the gunman, but I heard one gunshot, followed by a series of shots.
—The culprit was hiding in the bushes, firing his gun…
—Miss Seol, a 23-year-old college student who was walking by the area, was hit by the gunman’s bullet in her stomach.
His mother’s crying voice, the anchor’s explanation, and the eye-witness testimonies mixed together and agitated his mind.
Seol Jihu’s mind went blank.
“Jinhee… Where’s Jinhee?”
His voice trembled. His pupils, throat, hands, and entire body shuddered.
Of all people, his younger sister had been shot.
At this point in time.
It was too much of a coincidence.
“What about Father? And you? And Hyung, and Seonhwa, and Seunghae? Where are you all?”
—We’re at Soyoung Hospital…!
“I’ll be there right away.”
Seol Jihu turned around.
He was no longer even thinking about the text messages.
Confirming Seol Jinhee’s health became his top priority.
And so, he ran out of his room as soon as he hung up. But—
He ran into someone outside.
When he raised his eyes in a startle, he saw a tall, willowy man in a black suit. He was standing in front of the door, looking at him through black sunglasses.
Seol Jihu started, remembering Kim Hannah telling him to be careful, but upon looking at him again, he realized he knew the man.
The man took off his sunglasses.
It was the Triads’ executive, Ming Jie.
As if he had no intention of harming Seol Jihu, Ming Jie raised his left arm and gestured toward the hallway. He seemed to be telling Seol Jihu to come with him.
In front of the house, several black sedans were lined up and waiting.
Seol Jihu got in one of the sedans, and when the car went down the sloped road in front of his apartment and entered the main street, Seol Jihu took in a short breath.
It wasn’t just in front of his house. From the alleyways connecting to the main street, black sedans popped out one after the other.
They drove beside the sedan Seol Jihu was in while maintaining a fixed distance.
Ming Jie tapped Seol Jihu’s shoulder. He then handed him a phone, which was already in a call.
—It’s me. This must be the first time we’re talking on Earth.
A man spoke in fluent Korean.
Seol Jihu recognized the voice.
“Mister Hao Win?”
—Mm, given the situation, I’ll keep it short and simple.
Hao Win cleared his throat from across the phone.
—First, your younger sister is okay.
—She was moved to a nearby hospital immediately after the shooting. She received emergency treatment there and was transferred to Soyoung Hospital afterward. Her surgery was a success, and she escaped with her life.
Hao Win’s assurance calmed Seol Jihu’s beating heart at least a bit.
—Sinyoung acted faster than we thought.
That was until he heard these words.
—Soyoung Hospital has its best doctors and nurses tending to her 24/7. They’re paying for a hundred percent of her medical expenses, and the executive director personally went and wished a speedy recovery…. You can see how much they’re caring for her.
Seol Jihu doubted his ears.
It was because he suspected Sinyoung was behind the attack when he heard Seol Jinhee was shot.
“Sinyoung is… helping?”
—I know what you’re thinking. It’s certainly suspicious. But you need to think clear-headedly and look at the truth that’s been shown.
Hao Win continued.
—The Triads and Sicilia were taking turns guarding your family members. Sicilia was in charge of your younger sister. But it seems there was a little mishap.
—The attacker was shot at the scene. Though it’s not someone we know, we can assume Jung Minjong is behind this. It’s not surprising for Sinyoung to have acted quickly after losing track of him.
—Jung Minjong disappeared after being let go by the police, but since Taciana Cinzia and the mafia are chasing after him with bloodshot eyes, so it should only be a matter of time before he’s caught.
—This is what has been revealed so far.
Hao Win spoke calmly and reported the findings.
—If I may give you a word of advice, return to Paradise as soon as possible. The situation has been taken care of for the most part, but we don’t know what else might happen.
—I understand how you must feel right now, so I won’t tell you to return immediately. But to be blunt, there isn’t much you can do here.
—You might be the next target. I’m sure it isn’t just Jung Minjong who’s gritting his teeth, looking for an opportunity to strike.
—The Triads and Sicilia are both going to increase our guard. Perhaps Sinyoung will, too.
Hao Win paused briefly before continuing.
—If you plan on staying here, we will make protecting you our top priority. Of course, that naturally means the guard around your family members will get thinner. I want you to know that.
Long story short, he was telling Seol Jihu to leave the matter on Earth to the experts.
—Good. Hold on to the phone Ming Jie gave you. We’ll update you if we make any progress on the matter. I’m sure it will come in handy somehow.
Before Seol Jihu hung up, Hao Win added one last thing.
—Don’t forget. You can’t let your emotions get the better of you. This is the time when we need to act wisely.
Seol Jihu arrived at the hospital. The sedan stopped in front of the main gate.
Ming Jie bowed after getting out of the car.
Seol Jihu expressed his thanks and hurriedly ran into the hospital.
After asking the receptionist, he heard that Seol Jinhee was in a private room that ordinary people could not enter.
It supposedly cost more than a million won per day.
Seol Jihu was guided to the highest floor of the hospital and saw Seol Wooseok sitting on a bench in the hallway with his head lowered.
Seol Wooseok flinched.
He raised his head and got up as soon as he saw Seol Jihu.
“Why is it so hard to get hold of you?”
Though he was suppressing his voice, he had a critical tone.
“Sorry, I left my phone at home.”
“You didn’t have your phone on you while working?”
“I have a separate phone for work.”
“…Let me see.”
Seol Jihu took out the phone that Ming Jie gave him. Seol Wooseok, who was looking at him suspiciously, spoke.
“When did you hear about Jinhee getting hurt?”
“Today, when I called Mother.”
“Your company didn’t say anything?”
“All I was told was that something happened and that I should go back home. They didn’t tell me anything specific even when I asked…”
Seol Wooseok furrowed his brows. He was clearly confused, but he shook his head dismissively.
Seol Wooseok pointed to the hospital room.
Seol Jihu carefully opened the door.
He smelled a strong smell of alcohol as soon as he entered.
The patient monitoring system made periodic beeps while drawing a graph. And on the bed next to it, Seol Jihu could see Seol Jinhee lying with her eyes closed.
She was breathing regularly with a long IV attached to her left arm.
Seol Jihu walked forward step by step and kneeled in front of the bed.
She was shot.
A bullet went through her stomach, making a hole.
She was a kid who never once got a cut.
How painful must it have been?
‘It’s because of me….’
Seol Jihu grabbed Seol Jinhee’s feeble hands and pressed them on his forehead.
“Director Yun Seohui came to visit early morning.”
Seol Wooseok’s voice rang out behind him.
“She said she was shocked after seeing the news and looked into the matter more closely since Seol isn’t a common last name… She consoled Mother and Father and helped us out a lot.”
“What’s the relationship between you two?”
“…I don’t know.”
“I don’t know. I really don’t.”
Seol Jihu muttered quietly and lowered his head.
Seol Wooseok didn’t say anything with how confused Seol Jihu looked to be.
Seol Jihu did not leave Seol Jinhee’s side.
He stayed in the hospital room all night and for the next few days.
He rarely left the hospital room other than the times he was dragged to the restaurant by his parents and older brother.
He knew he had to return to Paradise, as Hao Win said, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave.
He was just too sorry.
His younger sister was hurt due to his activities in Paradise. He couldn’t raise his head from the guilt.
Meanwhile, Hao Win continued to update him on the situation.
The man who shot Seol Jinhee had died at the scene, and the police were chasing after the mafia members who shot the attacker.
And four days later, a new update came in.
Seol Jihu, who was reluctantly eating inside the hospital’s restaurant, made a dazed face after seeing the TV screen on the wall.
—This morning in Incheon Jung-gu, Eurwang-dong…
It was news that a Mister Jung was found dead on a hill near Incheon International Airport.
He was later told by Hao Win that the Triads and Sicilia were not behind it, and he was already dead when he was found.
The media did not connect Jung Minjong’s death with the recent shooting.
With this, the incident seemed to be coming to an end, but Seol Jihu was still in a haze.
“Aren’t you tired?”
Today, Seol Jihu was holding onto the hands of his comatose younger sister when he was shaken back to his senses by Yoo Seonhwa’s voice.
“You should rest if you’re tired. Isn’t your company saying anything? You said you came back in a hurry in the middle of a business trip.”
“The doctor said she’s in a stable state and that she should wake up soon.”
Hao Win had been suggesting that he go back too.
As Hao Win said, there was nothing Seol Jihu could do on Earth.
He didn’t think this was a coincidence.
Someone who knew about Paradise had to be behind it.
In that case, the correct thing to do would be to resolve the issue in Paradise, where he could exercise his power.
For his family.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about going back.”
Organizing his thoughts, Seol Jihu let go of Seol Jinhee’s hands with difficulty.
“That’s good. I was actually worried that Jinhee might explode if you’re the first person she sees after waking up.”
Yoo Seonhwa said so jokingly, but Seol Jihu didn’t laugh.
She let out a dry cough and continued.
“Anyway, Uncle Seol and Wooseok Oppa said they’d come as soon as their work ends, so you should rest up a bit too.”
“Well, if you’re that worried, why don’t you just quit work?”
Seol Jihu chuckled, thinking she was joking.
He got up slowly and then suddenly put on a serious face.
“You be careful too.”
Yoo Seonhwa stared at Seol Jihu fixedly. She then laughed and pinched his cheeks.
“You’re the one who should be careful.”
“No, I’m not just saying this.”
“I know. My pipster’s worried about me, right? Hehe, how kind.”
Yoo Seonhwa picked up her bag, smiling cheerfully.
“Let’s go. I will see my pipster off.”
Seol Jihu sighed and turned around.
“…I’ve always wondered, why do you call me a pipster?”
“It’s a mix of pipsqueak and prankster. Sounds cute, doesn’t it?”
The man and woman conversed affectionately while leaving the hospital room.
At the same time, Seol Jinhee’s expression waned slightly.
When the sound of the door closing rang out, her closed eyes opened narrowly.
Seol Jinhee glanced at the seat that Seol Jihu was sitting on until just a moment ago. She then raised her eyes and stared at the door that opened and closed repeatedly.
Seol Jihu finally returned to Paradise.
He stopped on his way out of the temple.
His dazed face stiffened in an instant, and his eyes shot open.
The rage he had been holding in finally exploded.
His family had been targeted. His younger sister was shot. The image of Seol Jinhee lying unconscious in the hospital bed was still clear in his mind.
Seol Jihu almost lost control of himself from the seething rage...
But he held it in.
No, he tried to.
He knew he shouldn’t let his emotions get the better of him, as Hao Win said, but his enemy had touched his reverse scale.
‘Because of me…’
‘Yun Seohui, you motherfucker…!’
‘No, no, it’s only a conjecture…’
‘But it’s unlikely that Jung Minjong is the mastermind behind all this. If it’s not Yun Seohui, who could it be…?’
All sorts of complicated thoughts swirled through his head.
The more they raged, the higher the fire inside him roared.
If he weren’t calming himself down with Clear Water, Still Mirror, he would have flown off with his spear long ago.
Seol Jihu collected his breath and stepped into the street. Since it was dawn and everyone was asleep, the city was eerily silent.
The same went for Valhalla’s building. Only one person was in the garden, training while sweating profusely with his top off.
The man swinging his long, muscular arm and brandishing his chained scythe was none other than Vlad Halep.
He always woke up before dawn and trained until daybreak. Jang Maldong had even given him pointers, rating his diligence highly.
Vlad Halep, who was up early like any other day, turned around at a sudden presence.
A young man was trudging in from the main entrance.
Feeling a strange sense of déjà vu, Vlad Halep observed Seol Jihu carefully.
Tightly shut lips, unusually wide eyes, and the whites of the eyes taking up over half of his eyes because of it… He looked like a ghost burning with resentment.
While Vlad Halep felt a shiver run down his spine, he finally figured out where the sense of déjà vu was coming from.
Looking back, he had seen this side of Seol Jihu once before.
In Stage 3 of the Banquet.
Despite only being a Level 3, his terrifying killing intent overwhelmed both him and Oh Rahee, who was a High Ranker at the time.
Just what could have happened for Seol Jihu to be filled with such killing intent again?
‘...Now that I think about it, I heard something happened on Earth.’
Valhalla’s internal atmosphere in recent days had been a bit turbulent.
Although Vlad Halep didn’t care much about other people’s matters, his younger sister, Oana Halep, was rather curious.
She told him things she heard from Valhalla’s members and even jokingly suggested that they should give a piece of advice as veterans in this field.
‘He does look a little dangerous…’
Seol Jihu had become far stronger than when he was at the Banquet. Incomparably stronger, in fact.
Perhaps because of it, his killing intent had gotten stronger by several degrees as well.
Though he seemed to be holding himself back, it was obvious that a storm of blood would rage the moment he exploded.
‘What should I do?’
Vlad Halep hesitated for a moment. Then, after remembering his sister’s request, he took a step forward.
Seol Jihu paused once he called out with his rough, deep voice.
“Can we talk for a bit?”
Seol Jihu slowly turned his head, his fierce eyes widening in surprise.
Vlad Halep gestured toward the building.
“Let’s have a cup of coffee. If you have time, that is.”
Seol Jihu blinked.
Seol Jinhee placed her hands on her stomach and nodded firmly.
“I knew it! My body’s sturdy!”
She spoke with satisfaction before turning to look at Yoo Seonhwa, who was cutting a peach by her side.
“You saw it too, right, Unni? The doctor was surprised too. He said this is the first time he’s seen a gunshot wound heal so quickly.”
Yoo Seonhwa smiled sweetly without saying anything.
And while Seol Jinhee was giggling to herself, she poured a few drops of transparent liquid into Seol Jinhee’s drink.
Yoo Seonhwa then swirled the drink with a straw before handing it to her.
“Here you go. Drink the whole thing, alright?”
Seol Jinhee gulped the water down and then opened her mouth wide.
Yoo Seonhwa smiled bitterly and gave her the plate of cut peaches.
Seol Jinhee moaned after taking a bite.
“Ah~ It’s sooo good. Are you sure I’m allowed to eat this?”
“I’m sure it is. The doctor said it was okay.”
“Mm. What a sweet peach. Were peaches always this good?”
Seol Jinhee gobbled the peaches down like a squirrel. Then…
“Those are expensive. Jihu bought them.”
She spat them out after hearing what Yoo Seonhwa said.
She coughed as if she was choking on them.
“I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I bought them.”
Yoo Seonhwa apologized and handed her another peach.
Seol Jinhee glared at her but happily munched down on it in the next moment.
Then, her gobbling slowed down as if she lost her appetite, and she made a bitter face. She even shuddered.
Yoo Seonhwa laughed in disbelief.
“You hate him that much?”
Seol Jinhee’s voice suddenly got low.
“Do you know what that bastard’s been up to lately?”
Knowing who Seol Jinhee was talking about, Yoo Seonhwa gave a sidelong glance.
“He’s working at a company.”
“Are you positive? What if his debts finally caught up to him, and he’s forced to do dangerous jobs to pay it off?”
“...Why are you asking this all of a sudden?”
“Well, I actually woke up a little while ago.”
“You did? But why—”
Seol Jinhee cut Yoo Seonhwa off.
“I woke up in the middle of night… and that bastard was murmuring something with my hand on his forehead.”
“...What was he saying?”
“Whoever you are, motherfucker… I’ll kill you and everyone involved…”
Seol Jinhee smacked her lips.
“He held my hand every night and murmured to himself endlessly… I almost screamed at first, thinking he was a ghost. Auu~ I still get chills thinking about it.”
Yoo Seonhwa feigned a laugh, seeing Seol Jinhee rubbing her arms.
“Think about it. His precious sister got hurt. It’s only natural for him to get angry.”
“Aiya~ Unni, let’s not write novels here.”
Seol Jinhee snorted.
“This is the same guy who abandoned his precious sister in the middle of a highway. I waited a hundred days after that incident. A hundred days! Just to be sure. Argh, I’m getting riled up just thinking about it.”
Seol Jinhee leaned back on the bed, grumbling.
“Anyway, watch over him and make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid. Don’t let him run around pointlessly and get shot like me.”
“Oh, so you’re worried about him?”
“No, I’m not!”
Seol Jinhee burst out.
Yoo Seonhwa asked teasingly.
“I’m feeling fantastic right now. The hospital room is comfortable, the food is great, and I saw a cute, short-haired nurse with milky white skin and also an incredibly handsome oppa. If that bastard gets shot, he’ll experience this bliss too, and I don’t want that to happen.”
“No way, this isn’t a place anyone can enter, you know.”
“I’m telling the truth!”
“Ah, right, an incredibly handsome oppa stayed by your side every night and held your hands. You must be delighted.”
Seol Jinhee grabbed the pillow by her head.
She threw it at the giggling Yoo Seonhwa and then pulled the blanket up to her head.
1. Dragons have one scale growing in the opposite direction to all the others. Touching this reverse scale is said to enrage the dragon. “Touching the reverse scale” means “to offend the emperor or a man in power.”