It started out like any other day. He woke up in the morning, opened the restaurant, sold ramen with Baek Haeju and Seo Yuhui, and prepared to close for the day when the sun set. But his routine was altered when a customer arrived. The small bell attached to the door chimed as the door opened.
“I’m sorry, but we’re closed for—”
‘…the day,’ was what Seol Jihu was about to say, but stopped when he saw the man standing in the doorway. The man in a black suit and sunglasses closed the door behind him and entered the restaurant. Seol Jihu’s face brightened with surprise at the unexpected visitor.
“Mister Hao Win…!”
“Do you mind keeping this place open for another hour or two?”
Hao Win pulled down his sunglasses just enough to show his eyes and raised the shopping bag in his hand.
“I’ll be even more glad if you offer corkage service.”
“It’s what restaurants call when they charge to open and serve the wines that customers bring to the restaurant."
Baek Haeju explained. A smile spread over Seol Jihu’s face when he realized what was inside the shopping bag.
“Of course. Come in, come in.”
“I can’t believe it took me this long.”
Hao Win settled down at a table, clicking his tongue.
“I was going to drop by during the day, but the line was just too long. Ah, no need for bartenders tonight.”
He said, looking at Baek Haeju and Seo Yuhui. The pair understood his intention and left with a smile.
“Let me get you some snacks. What would you like?”
“That’s okay. All I need is cinnamon, salt, and sugar. And a thin slice of lemon or orange, if you have some.”
“Cinnamon, salt, and sugar…?”
With a smile, Hao Win pulled out a bottle from the shopping bag and placed it on the table. The transparent liquid swayed gently in the clear bottle.
“The truth is, I don’t really like drinking.”
Hao Win smirked.
“Sometimes, work requires me to drink, but I always drink to enjoy, not to get drunk. But….”
Suddenly, his voice faded. Then he licked his lips.
“Lately, I’ve begun to realize why some people are so eager to get drunk.”
Seol Jihu’s gaze lingered on Hao Win for a moment before he turned around to grab the requested condiments. He brought them to the table and sat across Hao Win.
The pair then began to talk about trivial and random issues, about the past and present, while emptying their glasses.
Soon, the topic moved to recent events.
“A festival was held here recently, no?”
By then, the bottle was about half empty.
Seol Jihu answered, sprinkling salt over a thin slice of orange.
“It was fun.”
“Didn’t Nur also have one?”
“How was it? Nur’s a port city, so I expect—”
“It was boring.”
The reply came promptly. Seol Jihu raised his eyes and saw Hao Win slam another shot of tequila down his throat.
Tak. Hao Win put the glass down on the table, picked up the slice of orange that Seol Jihu had sprinkled with salt earlier, and sucked on it.
His face warped into a frown.
“It was… boring.”
He repeated yet again. Seol Jihu tilted his head.
“Do you not like festivals?”
“I like them. I do. But….”
Hao Win’s mouth opened, then closed with hesitation. Finally, he let out a long sigh.
“I don’t know how to explain this.”
“Is there a problem?”
“Everything’s fine, at least on the outside.”
Hao Win continued quietly.
“Seol, I know you appointed us as Nur’s representative organization for our sake. You promised Nur support, and thanks to your help, most of the city has been restored to its prewar condition…. The city has, that is.”
He stressed the word city.
The Parasites had destroyed Nur during the war. All the inhabitants of the city were killed regardless of origin, and the royals were no exception. Nur’s current population consisted of Paradisians who had migrated from other cities. The city’s throne had been left empty until not long ago when Hao Win became Nur’s new king.
“Honestly, I thought I’d excel as a king.”
“To be accurate, I thought the people of this world would be fed up with the royal families’ incompetence.”
“Mister Hao Win, that’s—”
“I know, I remember what you told me. The Chief Deity in charge of causality made a big mistake, and that’s why everything went awry.”
“But it’s not like the public knows that.”
Hao Win took off his sunglasses. His face appeared pale under the dim light. Only his eyes were burning quietly. It was unlike him to complain like this; it must be the alcohol. Instead of speaking, Seol Jihu chose to listen. Hao Win’s words were raw with emotion. This presented Seol Jihu with an opportunity to better understand what was troubling his guest.
“I… I liked Haramark.”
Hao Win said after a moment of silence.
“The atmosphere was gloomy, but there was hope there because Haramark’s royal family really cared about their people, and strived to protect them from the Parasites.”
“Eva is even better. Sure, it was trash at first, but now it’s the most vibrant city in Paradise. Am I right?”
“The problem is—”
Hao Win’s voice shot up a notch.
“Nur… just doesn’t have that kind of energy. Even though the Parasites are gone….”
He loosened his tie.
“So what exactly is Nur’s problem? I’ve thought long and hard about this and concluded that Nur lacks two things that all the other cities have.”
Hao Win popped the top button of his shirt and let out the breath that he had been holding.
“First, it has no royal family.”
“Second, it has no hero to make up for the absence of the royal family.”
“It’s only been a year since the war ended.”
Seol Jihu began to speak.
“One year. And the war lasted more than two decades.”
“At first, I thought things would get better with time.”
Hao Win smiled bitterly.
“Will it, though?”
“Mister Hao Win.”
“I’m not talking about the wounds of war or anything like that.”
Hao Win’s voice suddenly dropped to a whisper.
“This world is fundamentally different from ours. There’s a big difference between the way we see our president and the way the Paradisians see their king.”
It looks like the royal families’ incompetence did nothing to change people’s perception. Hao Win added.
“In this world, we’re strangers.”
“We can pack up and leave whenever we like, and they know that.”
Seol Jihu shut his mouth. He finally realized what Hao Win was trying to say and why he was so worried.
“Things might have been different if the Parasites had been here.”
But the Parasites had disappeared from Paradise forever.
“It’s not that I miss them, but… I just regret that I wasn’t able to become a hero whom people can trust.”
Hao Win grabbed the bottle and shook it. It was now empty.
“I’m still not 100% sure about this. I’m hesitant even now. But….”
Tang. Hao Win placed the bottle back down on the table.
“Ever since the festival, my thoughts have been leaning to one side.”
Hao Win continued.
“The highest position allowed for an Earthling like myself may be the representative of an organization partnered with a traditional royal family.”
Seol Jihu stared down at the table in silence. He didn’t know what to say.
“It’s not like I can suddenly introduce democracy to Nur, you know.”
Hao Win broke into a helpless laughter. Seol Jihu hardly managed to form a smile.
“I’m sorry. I know this must be sudden for you. It’s just that I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. I feel like I can finally understand why you resigned from Valhalla after the Half Century Treaty.”
Hao Win shook his head.
“Now, I’d like to tell you why I came all the way to see you.”
After the laughter subsided, Hao Win began to speak with a relaxed expression. His face still showed hesitation, but he looked much more comfortable than before.
“I have a favor to ask of you.”
“I’ll do it.”
Seol Jihu answered right away. Hao Win’s eyes widened.
“How can I say no? You helped my family and me.”
A soft smile spread across Hao Win’s lips.
“Do you mean it?”
Seol Jihu winked.
“As long as it’s something that can be granted with a wish.”
The day after Hao Win’s visit, Seol Jihu left Eva for Scheherazade. His conversation with Hao Win reminded him of a certain individual and he headed over to pay her a visit. But when he finally arrived at Sinyoung, he became a little worried. Would he be able to meet her? Retired from Valhalla, Seol Jihu was now officially nothing.
Fortunately, his worry soon proved unnecessary. Upon hearing of Seol Jihu’s arrival, a woman ran out barefooted to receive him at the door. This woman was Yun Seora, the executive director of Sinyoung.
“You surprised me! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”
“I thought I brought my communication crystal, but it turned out I didn’t.”
Seol Jihu smiled awkwardly.
“I didn’t realize it until it was too late….”
But his smile soon faded as he realized just how exhausted Yun Seora looked. It was no surprise. She must be overexerting herself, trying to fix everything that had happened to Sinyoung and Scheherazade.
Yun Seora gave a weak smile.
“It can’t be helped, I guess. A year in Paradise is only four months on Earth after all.”
“No, Earth is fine, actually.”
Yun Seora shook her head.
“We’ve taken matters into our own hands from the start, and the public is quick to forget.”
Seol Jihu nodded. Lately, he hadn’t seen Sinyoung on the news as often as he used to, come to think of it. Front pages no longer mentioned Sinyoung.
“The problem is Paradise.”
Yun Seora sighed.
“A lot has changed… but some things just don't change.”
She remarked meaningfully.
“And it’s not just limited to Scheherazade. But then again, with everything that’s happened, I can understand why some people don’t like Sinyoung.”
Yun Seora gave a bitter smile before turning her gaze to Seol Jihu.
“So please, help me.”
Seol Jihu was about to speak but stopped.
“Isn’t that what you’re here for?”
His eyes widened.
“I’ve decided to be more honest from now on.”
A pink blush spread across Yun Seora’s cheeks as she dropped her eyes in slight embarrassment. Seol Jihu could not help but smile at the sight.
“A few days ago….”
Finally, he told her why he came to see her in the first place.
Yun Seora listened patiently.
“I see. The Triads’ representative….”
“I've faced a similar dilemma in the past. Should I do it, or should I not? I think I might really have done it if it was Eva.”
Seol Jihu said, looking down at Yun Seora, who was gazing at the floor.
“I’m not trying to force you. I’m just asking your opinion."
“The truth is….”
Yun Seora raised her head as soon as Seol Jihu finished speaking. Her face showed no sign of surprise.
“I’ve been having similar thoughts.”
She continued with a hesitant look.
“But, I’m worried that you’ll….”
“You don’t have to worry about me.”
Seol Jihu dismissed her worry with a wave of his hand.
“I have a ton of Divine Wishes in stock.”
Seol Jihu paused. He looked deep into Yun Seora’s eyes and spoke in a heartfelt voice.
“No price is too high to make you happy. I mean it.”
Yun Seora’s eyes widened. Her breathing quickened, and a strange groan escaped her lips.
As the woman opened her eyes, a familiar view came into focus.
‘This place is….’
She knew she had been here before.
But before she could remember where exactly she was, a cheerful voice interrupted her thoughts. The woman’s blonde hair fluttered lightly in the air as she quickly turned around in the direction of the voice.
Her eyes widened instantly.
“Welcome back to Paradise, Roe Scheherazade.”
Seol Jihu grinned brightly.
Roe Scheherazade stared at him for a moment before turning her gaze to Gula’s statue. She finally understood what had happened to her.
“You… revived me.”
“Yes, I did.”
Roe Scheherazade asked sharply, the anger in her voice evident.
“For what purpose?”
Seol Jihu looked sideways as if in thought. Then he turned his eyes back to Roe Scheherazade before suddenly breaking into a playful grin.
“Because you’re pretty?”
“Because your beauty suits my taste. Let’s just say that I’ve fallen in love.”
Roe Scheherazade furrowed her brow.
“That’s your reason for bringing me back to life?”
“It may not be a big deal for you, but it is for me.”
Seol Jihu shrugged, and Roe Scheherazade heaved a sigh. This man was saying that he revived her just so that he could take her. A dumbfounded chuckle escaped her lips.
“In the end… you’re no different from those scumbags.”
“You know what they say—all men are the same at the core. Even the ones that are different change when they rise to positions of authority.”
Seol Jihu answered fluently. Roe Scheherazade closed her eyes, for she felt that he wasn't even worth talking to.
“Well then, shall we get going?”
Seol Jihu grabbed Roe Scheherazade’s arm. She tried to wriggle free but to no avail.
“Stop wasting your energy and save it. You’ll need it for plenty of other occasions.”
His hand pulled her forcefully against her will.
“For your information, it’s been a little over a year since you died.”
Seol Jihu explained as they descended the stairs.
“The Parasites have disappeared from Paradise. Everyone is living in harmony now. Take a look over there.”
Seol Jihu pointed at the streets of Scheherazade, but no answer came from Roe Scheherazade. He felt as if he was dragging a broken doll.
“I have a question.”
Seol Jihu turned back his head slightly.
“Why did you save me?”
“I never saved you.”
Roe Scheherazade replied coldly.
“Somebody must have found my necklace, and—”
“Even that requires a formal transfer of rights.”
Roe Scheherazade shut her mouth.
“I also read your will.”
“…Please kill me.”
She muttered with a heavy sigh.
“Why did you…. Why….”
Seol Jihu declined without hesitation. Roe Scheherazade’s eyes narrowed.
“How naive! Did you really think that I’d let you have your way?”
“Resist if you want, but keep in mind that I can always revive you again.”
Seol Jihu chuckled.
“I’m the one who killed the Parasite Queen, actually. And it turns out that I can make hundreds of thousands of Divine Wishes.”
A look of disgust crossed Roe Scheherazade’s face.
Soon, the pair arrived at the palace.
Seol Jihu walked down the hallway and stopped in front of Roe Scheherazade’s room.
“Go on. Get dressed and come to the throne room. Make sure you look nice, alright?”
He pushed Roe Scheherazade toward the door, but her feet remained planted firm.
“I wouldn’t be so disgusted if you revived me for the sake of revenge.”
Her gaze pierced Seol Jihu.
“I’ll make you regret this.”
Her eyes flashed with hatred and vengeance.
“And how exactly do you plan to do that?”
Seol Jihu asked in a slightly mocking tone, resting the Spear of Purity against his shoulder.
“Even the mighty Parasite Queen knelt before me.”
He continued with a smirk.
“I hope you get your revenge. But until then, I look forward to spending time with you.”
Seol Jihu opened the door and pushed Roe Scheherazade inside.
“Oh, by the way.”
He asked just before he closed the door.
“How did you feel on your way here?”
“Did you feel sad? Hopeless?”
Roe Scheherazade’s eyelids trembled.
“…Truly the most despicable man I have ever seen.”
Seol Jihu smiled before suddenly clasping his hands in front of him and bowing his head.
“Please forgive me. It’s just that I felt the same way back then.”
The door closed on her with a thud, and Roe Scheherazade blinked in confusion.
A couple of servants were already waiting for her in the room. They took her to the bath, washed her, combed her hair, and powdered her face. Then they dressed her in royal apparel, in which she looked absolutely stunning as a queen should. And not even once did Roe Scheherazade resist while all this happened. She had already lost all hope for herself.
Soon, she found herself walking down the corridor to the throne room. All of a sudden, without any warning, tears streamed down her face. She felt stupid and pathetic. She thought everything would be over, but it wasn’t. Now, she could no longer even take refuge in death. Instead, she was forced to repeat those days—those days of devastating pain and humiliation—possibly for eternity this time.
‘Perhaps this is also karma.’
It didn’t take her long to arrive at the throne room. Without any hesitation, Roe Scheherazade proceeded to enter the room but suddenly paused.
“Therefore… the royal family must take care of this issue….”
She heard voices from inside the throne room.
Through a crack in the door, she saw a familiar face. Yun Seora was sitting in a chair, smiling, and talking to someone. Their eyes met briefly. Yun Seora greeted Roe Scheherazade with a small nod before getting up from her chair. Then she bowed her head politely to the person she had been talking to and walked out of the room.
Yun Seora brushed past her. The door to the throne room swung open. Roe Scheherazade, who intuitively took a step inside….
…Stumbled before she could even take the next step. She couldn’t help it, because the man standing in front of her was not Seol Jihu.
Her gaze reached the bright blond hair reflecting the sunlight shining through the window, then crossed over to the broad forehead and the kind eyes beneath it. A handsome, middle-aged man with a well-groomed beard and a crown over his head stood waiting for her words.
This man was Gairos Scheherazade, the King of Scheherazade.
Roe Scheherazade stood frozen for a long moment. Her mind went blank, and she couldn’t tell whether this was a dream or not. Through tears, her vision kept blurring.
Gairos waited patiently. He opened his mouth as if to speak but soon threw his hands up and shrugged his shoulders. Then he spread his arms wide with a bright smile that showed his fine teeth.
“I've missed you, dear.”
Roe Scheherazade couldn’t wait any longer.
She still wasn’t sure if he was real. But the unknown emotion boiling in her stomach had already spread throughout her body and taken hold of her.
When she realized that, Roe Scheherazade was already running toward Gairos Scheherazade.
Crying and screaming like a child, she jumped into his arms. And then….
Seol Jihu, who had been watching them from afar, broke into a satisfied smile. He turned around quietly and left the palace.
A few days passed by. The revival of Nur and Scheherazade’s royal families became the talk of Paradise. Newspapers reported that the Triads and Sinyoung would cooperate with their respective royal families as partners in overseeing Paradise from now on.
“So this is why you wanted to close the restaurant for a few days.”
Seo Yuhui muttered as she skimmed through the newspaper. Seol Jihu, who was sitting at the table, coughed in mild embarrassment.
“What made you change your mind? I thought you said you didn’t want to interfere in other people’s business?”
“I didn’t interfere.”
Seol Jihu shook his head.
“I only did it as a favor to the two people who are my comrades, friends, and benefactors.”
Seo Yuhui stood up, giggling. She wrapped her arms around Seol Jihu’s neck from behind and asked.
“…Will you be alright?”
“What do you mean?”
Seol Jihu rubbed the back of his head against Seo Yuhui as he tilted his head back.
“Nur is fine, but Roe Scheherazade…. She’s a scary person.”
“Hmm. I think we’ll be fine.”
A chuckle escaped Seol Jihu’s mouth before he turned his attention back to honing his spear.
“I was just a bit curious.”
“About what could have… no, what will happen if I reach out first.”
Though I can’t deny that it took me way too long. Seol Jihu muttered as he pressed the spear’s blade with his fingers. Seo Yuhui tilted her head in question.
“But I understand why you’re worried, Yuhui. If what you’re afraid of really happens….”
He continued, inspecting his spear from different angles.
“That’s when I’ll really have to interfere.”
Seo Yuhui smiled at the remark.
“Okay, let’s leave it at that. But I have one more question for you.”
“Why do you think your ‘comrade, friend, and benefactor’ called me out to talk?”
“Huh? Which one?”
“Miss Yun Seora.”
Seol Jihu’s eyes widened. He shook his head as if to indicate that he had no idea what she was talking about. Hmph. Seo Yuhui said. She pinched Seol Jihu’s cheek and rolled her eyes before turning around and heading toward the kitchen.
“But I didn’t do anything wrong this time.”
Seol Jihu tilted his head and lifted the Spear of Purity above his head.
“You agree with me, right?”
It was then that the Spear of Purity slipped out of his hand, and its shaft struck Seol Jihu on the head. Seol Jihu asked, puzzled.
“…What was that for?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter