Side Story 5. The Corrupted Hero

Seol Jihu and Seo Yuhui returned to Paradise four days later. Valhalla’s members could not hide their shock at the sight of them walking out of the temple.

The bags under Seol Jihu’s sunken eyes were dark. He was noticeably thinner and could even be described as fragile. What’s more, he seemed to be having difficulty walking and was helped by both Seo Yuhui and the Spear of Purity, which he was using as a cane. It was like watching a zombie.

On the other hand, Seo Yuhui looked extremely well-rested. Her hair was glossy, and her skin was glowing.

“What happened to you?”

“Seol! Which bastards did this to you!?”

Some of the members immediately flew into a fit of rage. They only calmed down after Seol Jihu assured them repeatedly that he was fine, and they had nothing to worry about. They were still worried about him, of course, but thought he would return to normal in a couple of days and that their favorite ramen restaurant would open again.

But their anticipation was met with disappointment. A ‘Temporarily Closed’ sign remained hanging on the door of Seol Jihu’s restaurant. Seol Jihu was back, but he seemed least interested in reopening the restaurant.

At first, they tried to understand. They all saw how Seol Jihu looked when he first returned, after all. But as more and more time passed, they realized something was wrong. Not only was Seol Jihu getting worse every day, but also….

“Gula-nim, I have a favor to ask….”

[?]

“Could you please replenish my stamina with a Divine Wish….”

An unbelievable rumor spread among Valhalla’s members that Seol Jihu had used a Divine Wish to restore his stamina. 

In contrast, Seo Yuhui could not look better. Her beauty was blooming, and she exuded an alluring charm wherever she went. Her skin glowed brightly, making her look much more energetic.

But that wasn’t the only strange thing about them. One day, Eun Yuri visited Seol Jihu after just returning from an expedition. She had risked her life to secure a miracle elixir that she hoped would help Seol Jihu, who, she noticed, always looked tired these days. But when she walked up to the second floor of the restaurant with the elixir in her hand, she heard a strange noise.

Smooch, smooch.

Amid the silence, only the sound of sucking and occasional laughter filled the air.

Uup, uup….

With a strange sense of déjà vu, Eun Yuri tiptoed toward the door and burst it open.

“Kyak!”

Crash! A yelp of surprise rang out, followed by the sound of someone falling to the floor. Pillows and blankets began flying in every direction, but Eun Yuri’s attentive eyes did not miss the sight of Seo Yuhui turning her body away from the door and Seol Jihu rolling out of bed.

“M-Miss Yuri? What happened? I didn’t know you were coming….”

Seo Yuhui quickly buttoned her shirt and feigned a smile.

Seol Jihu was worse.

“Mm…. So, the Federation is….”

He sat at the edge of the bed, staring down at a piece of paper. Eun Yuri strode across the room and snatched the paper from Seol Jihu’s hand. It was completely blank.

“…”

Eun Yuri’s eyes narrowed. Seol Jihu coughed in embarrassment.

By this time, pretty much everyone knew that Seol Jihu and Seo Yuhui’s relationship had made progress. And under normal circumstances, whatever the two did in their free time wouldn’t have been anyone’s business but their own. But they just went too far this time. In Kim Hannah’s opinion, Seol Jihu had reverted to his past self, one where he was a gambling addict.

“I have to do something.”

Looking at the restaurant surrounded by a huge barrier, Kim Hannah arrived at this conclusion.


*


That day too, Seol Jihu and Seo Yuhui were having fun. They were trying out a new game, to be specific. Tired of the usual games, they set out for new stimuli and ultimately settled for horseback riding.

“You’ve been on a Horus before, right? You have to be careful with your legs when you sit.”

Seol Jihu was busy teaching Seo Yuhui how to mount. He clearly had no idea what he was getting himself into.

“You could fall if you position them weirdly…. Yeah, you got it. Now try moving forward like you’d do on a…. Heuk!?”

Seol Jihu’s words were cut short. Seo Yuhui seemed to have taken a liking to horseback riding. She drove her horse without rest, and Seol Jihu gasped and moaned relentlessly under her.

When their game finally ended, Seol Jihu got up from the bed and put on his clothes. The long exercise made Seo Yuhui hungry, and she wanted nothing more than a good bowl of ramen. But because there were no ingredients left, Seol Jihu had to go out to buy some.

Kim Hannah saw this as a perfect opportunity. She hadn’t seen Seol Jihu for days and was glad that he chose to walk out of the restaurant of his own accord. She immediately gathered reinforcements and stopped Seol Jihu on his way back from the grocery store.

“What the…?”

Confronted by Kim Hannah, Phi Sora, Agnes, and Yi Seol-Ah, Seol Jihu seemed puzzled.

“Don’t you think you’ve been a little too negligent, dear?”

Phi Sora was the first to speak.

“Are you aware that your restaurant hasn’t opened for business for days? How are you going to pay rent?”

“Hmm? But that building is mine.”

Seol Jihu replied, pointing at the restaurant.

“…Pardon?”

Phi Sora paused.

“I own the building. I paid double the original price for it. And Eva’s royal family guarantees my land rights, so I don’t really have to worry about money…. Also, I’m rich anyway.

Phi Sora did a double-take. It was just as he said. Seol Jihu was rich beyond measure. His temple storage was probably filled with endless amounts of gold, and the same would be true of Seo Yuhui.

“What about our promise?”

Seeing Phi Sora struggle, Agnes stepped in.

“Promise?”

Seol Jihu tilted his head.

“I believe I’ve kept my word on the location. I never made a promise regarding when I would open the restaurant. And frankly, as the owner, I’m the only one who has the right to decide that.”

Agnes flinched as she realized he was right.

“Idiot! You’re an idiot, Orabeo-nim!”

Even Yi Seol-Ah criticized him, which was rare for her.

“Yeah, I’m an idiot.”

But it didn’t affect Seol Jihu at all.

“An idiot who’s head over heels for Yuhui~”

He laughed, satisfied with his retort.

“You….”

Kim Hannah sighed.

“Do you hear yourself?”

“What?”

“You’re acting like your old self.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes sharpened.

“You’ve become an addict again, and—”

“Bullshit.”

Seol Jihu interrupted Kim Hannah.

“How is Yuhui the same as gambling? Stop talking nonsense.”

“Look at yourself! Look at how tired you are…!”

“Move. I have to go cook ramen for Yuhui.”

He clicked his tongue and tried to walk away, but the four women did not let him.

“I’m sorry, dear.”

Clang! Phi Sora clenched her teeth and drew her long sword out of the sheath.

“We’re not going to let you go until you promise to reopen the restaurant.”

Agnes also spewed strands of silk from her fingertips.

“Get ready!”

Even Yi Seol-Ah summoned Aura and pointed her arrow at him.

Seol Jihu’s expression turned cold.

“…If this is how it’s going to be.”

Whoosh! The Spear of Purity flew into Seol Jihu’s hand.

“Then I have no choice but to take all of you down.”

He pointed the tip of his spear at them.

“Don’t you know that you’re in no condition to fight? Though I respect your confidence, I must say that you’ve become rather dull.”

Agnes clicked her tongue.

“You should know that we’ve overcome many new obstacles since you resigned from the front lines!”

Phi Sora, too, snorted at him.

“The past is the past. I’m sorry, Orabeo-nim, but today I’ll surpass you!”

Yi Seol-Ah chimed in.

“I can’t believe all of you….”

Seol Jihu scoffed with a look of disdain.

“Is this all you’ve learned during your time at Valhalla?”

Suddenly, his eyes glowed with a menacing light.

“All bark and no bite?”

He stamped the ground and shot forward. The Spear of Purity flew through the air at the speed of light. The eyes of the three women widened in unison.

Whoosh!

Lightning struck down. A flash of light brushed past them.

When Kim Hannah opened her eyes again….

“What….”

Seol Jihu was already behind them.

Clatter!

Phi Sora’s grip loosened, and the long sword clattered to the ground. Her eyes trembled slightly.

“No….”

“Way….”

Phi Sora, Agnes, Yi Seol-Ah, and even Kim Hannah fell to their knees one after the other.

Seol Jihu glanced at them over his shoulder before turning around to leave. With a smirk, he ran toward the restaurant, toward the paradise waiting for his return….

The four came to their senses approximately 10 minutes later. They rushed to the restaurant, but by then, everything was already over. Seo Yuhui was happily slurping the ramen that Seol Jihu had cooked for her, while Seol Jihu lay on the floor, resting his head on her lap.

“Hold on right there.”

Phi Sora sputtered. Seol Jihu stopped just as he was about to shove his face under Seo Yuhui’s skirt. A look of annoyance crossed his face.

“Seriously, give me a break. Don’t you know that’s sexual harassment? Can’t you tell that she’s uncomfortable?”

‘She is?’ Seol Jihu tilted his back slightly. Seo Yuhui felt his eyes on her and dropped her gaze. The two briefly stared at each other before Seo Yuhui put her chopsticks down on the table. Then she brought her arms around Seol Jihu and hugged his face.

“It’s okay.”

She rested her cheek on his head and continued.

“My Jihu can do anything he wants.”

Seol Jihu’s face brightened. Anything. I can do anything I want. He muttered to himself inside his head and buried his face in her lap, freed of guilt.

“…I see, so she’s the real problem.”

Phi Sora muttered in disdain as she watched the two.

“Hey, you gotta pull yourself together. You’re spoiling him too much.”

“Pardon? Ah…. But….”

Seo Yuhui seemed slightly embarrassed.

“But he likes it so much… and he gets sad when I stop him. Seeing him like that makes me feel like I’m a bad person….”

She cupped her face with one hand and sighed.

“I don’t understand. They’re just fat! What possibly could be so great about them?”

“I agree. Why does he like them so much?”

Yi Seol-Ah touched her own breasts before suddenly stomping toward Seol Jihu, who looked almost as if he had been drugged with an aphrodisiac.

“Excuse me, Orabeo-nim! Move over!”

“Uaaah?”

She grabbed Seol Jihu by his ankles and pulled him out of the way.

“Please excuse me, Unni!”

“H-Huh?”

Then she jumped into Seo Yuhui’s arms without hesitation.

“Mi-Miss Seol-Ah?”

“Wait a minute. Mmm. I see. I see….”

Yi Seol-Ah’s voice slowly faded away as old memories flooded her mind.

“This is….”

That’s right. When she was just a kid, every time she came home from school, someone always greeted her with a warm smile….

“Mommy….”

Tears welled up in Yi Seol-Ah’s eyes as she slowly sank into slumber.

“…What’s wrong with her?”

With a scoff, Phi Sora pulled Yi Seol-Ah out of the way and hugged Seo Yuhui. She had to see for herself.

“…Ah…!”

Suddenly, an exclamation of surprise escaped Phi Sora’s lips. She felt as if she had returned to that morning when she woke up tired and sluggish, then realized today was Sunday. She pulled up her blanket over her head and snuggled into the warmth of the fluffy quilt…. And now, that same warmth was surrounding her. Phi Sora closed her eyes and fell asleep.

“Are you kidding me?”

Agnes muttered sharply, adjusting her glasses. This isn’t going to work on me. She asserted and pushed Phi Sora away with her foot. And then—she felt it. On that cold winter day in Russia, she came home exhausted. She thawed her body under a hot shower, put on a gown, and emptied a can of beer. Feeling slightly drunk, she slumped into the soft bed and fell asleep….

Agnes went limp.

“M-Mom…. Mom? Huh?”

“What the…. What just happened?”

The trio came to their senses only after Kim Hannah heaved a heavy sigh. Still looking somewhat drowsy from their sleep, they looked around in confusion.

“How embarrassing…!”

“But… it really was great. I can see why Orabeo-nim is so addicted to it.”

“Perhaps, this could even be used as a form of weapon?”

“Damn it! If only we knew this when the Parasites were around…!”

Seo Yuhui smiled bitterly at the three women whispering to each other.

“See? It’s not just me.”

Seol Jihu lifted his chin with a look of triumph.

Kim Hannah shook her head and left the restaurant behind.


*


After leaving the restaurant, Kim Hannah headed straight to the temple and returned to Earth. Then she took out her phone and punched in a number. She had acquired this number back when they were still planning Seol Jihu’s resurrection. In a strange turn of events, Kim Hannah had come to learn the true identity of a certain woman close to Seol Jihu. Of course, the said woman had asked Kim Hannah to keep her identity secret, and even Kim Hannah herself didn’t think she’d ever really use her number. Who would have thought she’d end up calling her for this kind of thing?

“Hello?”

The call connected.

“Yes, hi. Actually, I have something that I want to talk to you about…. Okay. Yes, I’ll meet you there.”

Kim Hannah hung up the phone and returned to Paradise.

The woman was already waiting for her at the place they agreed upon.

“Please help me.”

Kim Hannah cut straight to the chase.

“Jihu… is no longer the Jihu who defeated the Parasite Queen. He’s reverting to his old habits.”

The woman said nothing, only listened with her eyes closed.

“You of all people should know how serious the situation is.”

The woman’s brows furrowed slightly at Kim Hannah’s remark.

“I know you and Jihu have history, but….”

Kim Hannah paused briefly, then continued.

“You’re the only one left who can save Jihu.”

She whispered to the woman, who was still deep in thought, in a voice more earnest than ever.

“Open your eyes….”

The woman dressed in a traditional white robe—Baek Haeju—slowly opened her eyes.

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