Side Story 12. Undefeated Record, Broken

In the spacious area around the living room were four people. It was hard to say they were human.

The first person Seol Jihu caught sight of was a long-haired woman sitting with her legs inside a kotatsu. Her pupils, hair, and even her skin overflowed with a clear, scarlet light.

She glanced at Seol Jihu when he came in but quickly went back to focusing on the Macbook on top of the table. Seol Jihu could tell that she was a little temperamental, but perhaps because she was watching a drama, a thin smile hung on her lips.

The second person was lying on the couch, watching TV, in the most relaxed position in the world. Her body emitted a red light, but it was slightly different from the first woman’s. Her hair, which flowed down like a waterfall, shone in the color of lava.

She also glanced at Seol Jihu when he arrived, but that was it. With a look of disinterest, she quickly went back to watching TV.

The third person was sitting by a table at the terrace, looking after the last person. Of the four, this woman was the only one who did not shine red. Her neatly cut short hair was the color of ice. In any case, she was quite unique.

The first two were wearing a turtleneck and a sleeveless t-shirt, respectively, but this woman was wearing a maid uniform straight out of an anime. It was as if she was cosplaying.

The way she smiled with her eyes closed gave off a virtuous aura, but Seol Jihu felt an inexplicable anxiousness. For some reason, he felt like her personality would make a sharp 180 as soon as she opened her eyes.

The last person also shone red. It was a cute, adorable girl with deep red, braided hair. She did not look older than five.

Lying on her stomach, she had her legs on the maid’s lap and was reading a fairy tale book. Other than occasionally opening her mouth to eat snacks that the maid fed her, she did not pay attention to anything else, including Seol Jihu.

Having examined each of the women, Seol Jihu felt his mind go blank. It wasn’t just because of their beauty. An inexplicable sensation crept over him only by looking at them.

It was truly a mysterious thing. They were simply sitting or lying, but an overbearing, absolute aura exuded out from them.

‘I’m positive.’

Seol Jihu became certain. These four were the ones that Seraph wanted Seol Jihu to convince to get involved in the matter. Naturally, that meant they had to be gods, not humans.

Seol Jihu only snapped out of his daze when a short sigh rang out.

“Why did you bring him here?”

A sharp but beautiful voice flowed out. Hwajung, the woman sitting by the table, paused the video that was playing on the Macbook. She took off her headset and asked.[1]

“What was the point of bringing him here, hmm?”

She seemed to be talking to Seraph.

“And you. Why are you so nosy?”

Hwajung moved her gaze to Seol Jihu.

“This has nothing to do with you.”

“That’s….”

It was true, but if he had to give a reason, it was because of the Golden Commandment. Because the Fallen Angels helped him, he had to help them as well.

“Hilarious.”

Hwajung snorted before Seol Jihu even said a word. It was almost as if she read his mind.

“Then tell me why I should help you out.”

“….”

“Do I have any reason to go out of my way and meddle in some insects’ struggle?”

“No, you don’t.”

The reply came from the woman lying on the couch, Gehenna.

“This is of no benefit to us. There’s nothing we can expect from this guy either. It’s not even intriguing or worthy of being an amusement.”

Seraph looked back at Seol Jihu in a fluster. It was because Hwajung and Gehenna were too harsh.

Seol Jihu was frowning.

“…Oh?”

Hwajung raised her eyebrow. But then she blinked in confusion.

‘Why are they boiling the noodles this long…? They should have taken it out 37.24 seconds ago…. At the very least, if it was 3.64 seconds ago, they could have revived it with cold water…. Aah, it’s too late. It’s way too overcooked…?’

Having read Seol Jihu’s mind, Hwajung made a dumbfounded face. She thought his annoyed expression was because of her words, but his mind was elsewhere. What was even more surprising was that he really was in a foul mood.

“…Hey, go turn the stove off.”

Hwajung looked at Cha Sorim and spoke.

“P-Pardon?”

“Weren’t you doing something?”

“Ah!”

Cha Sorim did a double-take and ran to the kitchen. Only then did Seol Jihu’s face liven up.

“Thank you.”

He thanked her sincerely. Hwajung shook her head, thinking he was quite an oddball.

“Whatever. I know why you are here, but they aren’t acting like this for no reason.”

She spoke in a slightly softer tone.

“Fallen Angels are the direct cause of the Martial God’s darkness. In general, origin does not care about one’s circumstances or situation. We barely managed to revive his light, but the darkness can very easily devour him again. Just like when he invaded the Celestial Realm…. Well, not that I expect you to know what any of this means.”

“I understand that there are some specific circumstances involved. But—”

“No buts.”

Hwajung spoke curtly.

“You do not have any say in this matter. Why are you so stubborn, child?”

“I’m not a child.”

Seol Jihu smiled bitterly at her consoling tone.

“You’re not? Weren’t you born not too long ago?”

“It must have been about a year or two in that world’s time.”

A nightingale-like voice rang out. It was the woman with the short, ice-colored hair, Mercedes.

She was still stroking the little girl’s hair with her eyes closed. Meanwhile, the girl was busy reading her book, hitting Mercedes’ hand away.

“What? Then he’s a total baby.”

Hwajung snorted and looked back at Seol Jihu.

“Let me tell you something. There is only one reason you are able to stand in my countenance and talk while looking down at me. And that is because I hold a tiny sliver of admiration for you.”

“….”

“I know who you are.”

The infinite Golden Constellation—a being who had more potential than even Chaos. That was the Seol Jihu that Hwajung saw.

“I know it’s best not to irritate you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything about you. I just don’t find the need to.”

“Mm…. That is true. It would become a little annoying. It might cause a universe-wide problem after all….”

Mercedes nodded.

“Come to think of it, I heard rumors that Astraios took a liking to the Golden Constellation.”

“Hmph, who cares about that star’s brat? There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Gehenna smirked.

As hard to understand words went back and forth, Seol Jihu felt himself stiffening from nervousness. He could feel confidence and arrogance from their voices, yet they didn’t seem unfounded in the slightest.

“Anyway, we can only overlook your impudence so much. Go back.”

He was clearly being chased out.

“Just once—”

“No, we won’t help. We have no intention to. Hurry on out.”

Seol Jihu tried to plead his case once more, but Hwajung was firm.

Seol Jihu bit his lower lip. He didn’t expect this to be easy in the first place. In fact, he could say that he made more progress today than he thought. He had no reason to feel dejected since he did not have any expectations, but….

‘Are they making something with those noodles?’

The kitchen kept bothering him. As the Artisan of Infinity, he couldn’t help but lament what it could have been.

‘Maybe that housekeeper is also in on it.’

Seol Jihu was beginning to think that the housekeeper was trying to make things unpleasant for him purposely to get him to leave.

“…Excuse me. I’ll be heading out then.”

“Good. At least you can understand words.”

Hwajung waved her hand and put her headset back on.

“Ah, wait…!”

When Seol Jihu turned around without hiding his displeasure, Seraph quickly stretched out her hand.

“I’m sorry….”

“No, it’s fine.”

“I’m truly sorry. If it’s okay with you, I would like to talk to you for a moment.”

Seraph really hoped Seol Jihu would not back down here. If he gave up, she felt like that would be the end of this matter.

“If you haven’t eaten yet, please stay for a bowl of naengmyeon…. We were in the middle of making it.”

Seraph pointed toward the kitchen and offered Seol Jihu to dine.

Seol Jihu furrowed his brows. How could it be naengmyeon of all things?

Seraph was at a loss for what to do. She could see why Seol Jihu would be mad when he suffered humiliation he did not need to.

“Please calm your anger and stay a little while longer….”

“I already said it’s fine. I can’t stay and continue being such a bother. I’ll take my leave now.”

Seol Jihu bowed and turned around to leave in a hurry.

“Please wait…!”

However, Seraph’s pleading voice caused him to stop.

“It’s not that….”

Seol Jihu smacked his lips and stared fixedly at the sullen Seraph.

“I’m just worried that I will commit an inexcusable mistake by eating that.”

“…Pardon?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t help it. It’s a condition I was born with.”

Seraph looked befuddled.

Seol Jihu sighed deeply. He knew it would be rude… but as the Artisan of Infinity, he showed an expression that was more serious than ever before.

“You overcooked the noodles.”

“?”

Seraph blinked rapidly. She stared blankly, not sure what he was talking about all of a sudden. However…

“….”

Seraph could not say anything because Seol Jihu’s eyes were all too serious. There wasn’t even a shred of silliness or jest.

“Naengmyeon….”

Moreover….

“Naengmyeon is not something you cook like that.”

Seol Jihu’s level of existence had suddenly soared. No, it was still soaring. It was a pure, spotless divinity that even a pure-blooded Angel like her could not surmise.

Seraph’s jaw dropped.

She wasn’t the only one who showed such a reaction. Hwajung stopped right before she pressed the resume button and turned to Seol Jihu.

“Hoh….”

Gehenna also took her eyes off the TV and exclaimed. A hint of surprise could be seen on her face.

Mercedes also narrowed her eyes and stared at Seol Jihu. Even the little girl, who ignored him all this time, glanced at him.

“…Then.”

Seol Jihu bowed and began to walk toward the door. It was then.

“Hey.”

A high-pitched voice stopped Seol Jihu.

“Hold on.”

Hwajung took off her headset again.

“What’s wrong?”

“Hmm….”

Hwajung scanned Seol Jihu from top to bottom before looking back at the living room.

“Come to think of it, wasn’t he recently selected as a new Universe Planet Cultural Heritage?”

“No. 778,712. It’s been 102,236 years since the last one. I remember the council raising the bar extremely high 100,000 years ago.”

Mercedes replied.

“Oho. And he achieved that just a year or two after being born….”

An intrigued smile hung on Hwajung’s lips. She locked her fingers together and spoke.

“Well, I guess I am a liiit~tle interested. It’s just a little, though.”

“Indeed. At first, I thought the rumors were exaggerated… but it looks like he can be of some amusement at the very least.”

Gehenne cackled as well.

“Child, are you interested in making a bet with us?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t be so dense. We’re saying we will give you a chance.”

Hwajung continued.

“If you’re that confident, try making it. A noodle dish, I mean.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes lit up.

“If your dish can satisfy my palate… I don’t see why I wouldn’t accept a simple request.”

“Really?”

Seol Jihu’s complexion brightened. Noodle dishes were his forte, after all.

“Do I look like a god who would say one thing and act another way? Me, Hwajung?”

Seol Jihu gasped under his breath. He had heard of the name before from Gabriel. Having the aliases Primal Fire and Everlasting Conflagration, she was a goddess at the pinnacle of all gods of fire, a Heaven-rank 9 god standing on equal grounds with the Creation God.

“…Alright, I accept.”

Seol Jihu clenched his fists.

“Good. You should have just started with this. As the Artisan of Infinity, you must surely have a restaurant or two, right?”

“I do, but it’s not on Earth….”

“No problem.”

Hwajung closed the Macbook with a grin. She got up and looked around.

“Anyone wanna go with me?”

“I’ll go.”

Gehenna also got up from the couch.

“I would like to, but I have to serve the king… oh?”

Mercedes’ eyes waned. The little girl had thrown the fairy tale book aside and hopped down from her lap. Though she looked apathetic, she was showing a desire to go.

“This is a surprise….”

Then, the astonished Mercedes also got up.

“Alright, then.”

Hwajung looked back at Seol Jihu and snapped her fingers.

In the next instant, Seol Jihu was shocked speechless as the surrounding scenery changed.

‘This is…?’

He was inside his Seol Jihu Ramen? restaurant. He had teleported before the blink of an eye.

“What are you standing around for?”

Hwajung’s voice rang out. The four goddesses sat down at the countertop table connected to the kitchen.

“Is there no menu?”

“There’s only one dish being sold.”

“Oho. That must mean you’re confident in it.”

Hwajung shrugged.

“Alright, we’ll take four of those.”

“About the promise….”

“Don’t worry. As long as you can satisfy even one of us, I will do whatever I can to help you meet the Martial God, whether it be acting cute or threatening him.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Seol Jihu raised the Spear of Purity.

“Wait just one moment, please.”

Then, he began to cook.

Pouring water into pots, turning the stove on….

“Iya~ He sure is precise with his times.”

“Indeed. He stopped at exactly 0 seconds, without the slightest discrepancy.”

“He cut those noodles cleanly too.”

“…Hnng.”

Seol Jihu concentrated more than usual as he felt several eyes staring at his every movement.

It didn’t take long for the ramen to be ready.

Soon….

“Four Seol Jihu Ramen Specials coming up!”

Four bowls of ramen came out along with moderately cold white rice and a plate of well-aged kimchi for each tray.

“Let’s dig in then.”

Hwajung and Gehenna picked up a pair of chopsticks each. Mercedes picked up the spoon and tasted the soup first, and the little girl stared at her chopsticks with a glum look. Only when Seol Jihu noticed her mood and changed them to a fork did she begin to move her hand.

Slurp, slurrrp. Only the sounds of noodles and soup being tasted were heard in the restaurant.

“Mm….”

Hwajung tilted her head slightly after slurping up the noodles. She furrowed her brows a little and took another bite.

Gehenna and Mercedes did the same thing. They were both eating, but it was hard to tell what they were thinking.

Seol Jihu observed the three women nervously. Then, when about a third of the noodles were gone….

“That’s enough for me.”

Hwajung put down her chopsticks.

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened. He immediately thought, There’s still a lot left, though.

“I’ll stop here too.”

“Me too.”

Gehenna put her bowl down after taking a sip of the soup, and Mercedes also lowered her chopsticks and took out a napkin.

Taken aback, Seol Jihu looked at the little girl. Then, he was startled speechless. The little girl was frowning heavily and puffing up her cheeks.

“Oh my, are you okay?”

Mercedes hurriedly brought the napkin to her mouth. Ptui. Then, the girl spat out the noodles in her mouth.

“!”

Seol Jihu’s eyes split open seeing this unfold right in front of his eyes.

The girl had spat out his ramen without swallowing it. The shock from the event struck him into a daze.

“It wasn’t so bad that it warranted being spat out.”

“A bite or two was acceptable, don’t you think?”

Hwajung and Gehenna each said a few words.

“Not really.”

The little girl retorted curtly.

“Really? I didn’t think it was that bad…. It was pretty much what I expected. Nothing extraordinary.”

Hwajung gave an objective review.

“I agree completely. The rumors were exaggerated, but it wasn’t all that interesting. If anything, it was bland and weak.”

Gehenna stretched out her arms and yawned. She now looked utterly disinterested.

“Indeed. He’s certainly impressive for a human… but the dish wasn’t something I particularly would want to eat again.”

Mercedes also gave her evaluation as she tapped on her lips with a napkin.

“Any of you have anything else to say?”

“It’s bad. What else is there to say about it?”

Hearing Hwajung’s question, the little girl muttered with a frown.

“Can’t you give it a more heartfelt evaluation? He, at least, kept his manners.”

Hwajung chuckled and pointed to the kitchen. The little girl glanced at Seol Jihu before frowning.

“Ah, fine, fine.”

She then spoke in an annoyed tone.

“I considered taking a bite.”

“You spat it back out, though.”

“Hmph, why should I eat something I actually don’t want to eat?”

The little girl hopped out of her seat after the harsh criticism.

“Anyway, this is a waste of time. I’m going back.”

Then, she vanished.

“Well… if there’s something to be pointed out, it would be that I tasted hubris from the flavor.”

Mercedes spoke.

“Mn. It’s good to have a solid personal philosophy, but this was at the level of stubbornness. It wasn’t so amazing to be worthy of such pride either.”

Gehenna also added an explanation.

“That’s true. There was a glitter for sure… but a dish of this level can be found all over the universe. Perhaps I might have been moved a little had you given me the ramen you cooked for the first time in your life.”

Hwajung stopped there and raised her eyebrows. It was because she saw Seol Jihu standing frozen in the kitchen.

“Oh, um, don’t take it too hard. I didn’t think this was a waste of time. The fact that the girl who just left went back quietly without causing a scene means you did well.”

Hwajung consoled him, but Seol Jihu was still speechless.

It couldn’t be helped. His test scores so far had always been a perfect 100 points out of 100 points, but the test he just took was akin to being out of 10,000 or even infinite points.

“Anyway, you lost the bet, but it was close. I guess you could say I saw potential.”

“….”

“Well, you’re welcome to give it another try. I can offer you that much at least.”

Hwajung got up from her seat.

“Of course, you’re free to accept or reject this offer. I don’t care either way.”

“….”

“But if you want to give it a go, I’m going to have to raise the bar for what constitutes a pass. After all, Suna irritated you, and you’re the Golden Constellation.”

She took out a notepad and jotted something down.

“You should be honored. You’re the first man to get my number beside my darling.”

Hwajung ripped out the note with her number and placed it down in front of Seol Jihu. Then, she turned back without a shred of hesitation.

How much time went by?

By the time Seol Jihu came to his senses, he was standing alone in the restaurant. He had his head lowered and his hands pressing down on the kitchen table.

“….”

Seol Jihu clenched his teeth and fists until they were on the verge of breaking.

It would be a lie if he said he wasn’t confident. There had been many challengers until now. Among them were people who tried to pretend the dish was terrible when they enjoyed it. But in the end, Seol Jihu’s ramen had forced them to confess the truth.

It’s good. The two simple words that Seol Jihu had taken for granted until now, the undefeated record of his ramen…

[It’s bad. What else is there to say about it?]

…was broken today.

“Keuk…!”

Seol Jihu shut his eyes. Teardrops fell from his eyes from frustration. Humiliated and disgraced, he trembled violently. He had never shuddered so much, even in the bitter cold of winter.

He finally understood how the chefs that had their naengmyeon evaluated by him felt.

…Right, he felt like he understood them. But….

[…If there’s something to be pointed out, it would be that I tasted hubris from the flavor.]

[…This was at the level of stubbornness.]

Understanding something and accepting it were two completely different things.

“No….”

In the next instant, Seol Jihu abruptly stretched out his arm.

“There’s… no… way…!”

He tasted each of the leftover bowls of ramen. They tasted just like they always did. They were delicious. Because of it, he could not accept that they tasted bad.

“I…!”

Seol Jihu began to cook a new bowl of ramen.

As if one bowl wasn’t enough, he cooked ten, twenty… and dozens more in the next few hours.

The way he tasted them, moved them aside, and hysterically cooked a new batch was like watching a total madman.

Despite this…

“My ramen…!”

His ramen’s flavor did not change.

There was no progress.

“Uwaaaaaaah!”

In the end, Seol Jihu bellowed out his pent-up frustration. Sweeping away the bowls of ramen littered on the tables…

“Aaaaaaaah!”

He pushed the tables down.

Clang, clang!

The bowls shattered, and noodles and soup scattered all over the ground.

The quiet restaurant quickly became noisy.

That day, from a small restaurant in Eva’s alleyway, a scream of a man rang out endlessly.

It was the despairing scream of an extraordinary genius, meeting a giant wall for the first time in his life.


1. Hwajung means Essence of Fire. Went with a more romanized translation here since it is used as a name.

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