Side Story 13. The Star Shines Again

“Jihu~ I’m he...re?”

Baek Haeju, who entered Paradise after finishing her cafe work, sniffled. The smell of ramen had saturated Seol Jihu’s restaurant.

“Ah?”

Looking around, Baek Haeju found the restaurant in total chaos—tables and chairs toppled over, shattered bowls and plates, and splattered soup and ramen noodles that had dried up on the floor.

Lying in the middle of all this mess was Seol Jihu, looking up at the ceiling blankly.

“J-Jihu?”

“Keuhehehehe….”

Baek Haeju couldn’t tell whether he was laughing or crying.

“Why….”

A pair of shaded eyes glanced at Baek Haeju.

“Are you here… to laugh at my ramen too…?”

Baek Haeju’s eyes widened.

‘Don’t tell me.’

She had never seen Seol Jihu in so much despair and anger. Even his big-sulk state wasn’t this bad.

“Jihu!”

Baek Haeju ran up in a hurry and embraced Seol Jihu.

“It’s okay. It’s okay. I don’t know what happened, but it’s alright now….”

Seol Jihu’s expression loosened gradually.

“Don’t cry….”

Baek Haeju’s eyelids trembled as she repeatedly caressed Seol Jihu’s cheek.

“Keuk…!”

“Jihu, my Jihu….”

Inside the messy restaurant, only the crying voices of the duo rang out.


*


After returning from an expedition, Eun Yuri, Yi Seol-Ah, Chung Chohong, and Phi Sora immediately headed to Luxuria’s temple. It was because they heard from Kim Hannah that Seol Jihu was staying inside the intensive care unit like a cripple.

“Hey, Seol!”

Chung Chohong brushed off a group of Priests trying to stop her and threw the door open.

“What the hell happened!?”

Seol Jihu was lying in bed, not moving an inch like a dead fish. It seemed he hadn’t eaten for days as he looked like a skeleton.

“What…. Just who did this to you…!?”

Chohong couldn’t hide her shock after seeing his state.

Seol Jihu’s head flopped to the side. After looking at the speechless Chohong…

“Ah….”

Transparent tears streamed down his face.

“Cho….”

“Yeah, it’s me! Me! Can you recognize me?”

“Chohong….”

“That’s right! Why are you crying, dude!? Don’t cry!”

“Chohong…!”

In the end, he burst out crying. Unable to hold back his tears, Seol Jihu ran into Chohong’s embrace.

Chohong hugged Seol Jihu in the heat of the moment and patted his back. She was taken aback in the next moment, though, as Seol Jihu dug into her breasts like a drill.

“T-That’s right. A grown-up man shouldn’t be crying.”

Rub, rub~

“Just tell me who did this.”

Rub, rub~

“Come on. Tell me what happened! I’ll grab my Thorn of Steel and….”

Rub, rub~

“...That’s enough, you son of a bitch!”

Chohong kicked Seol Jihu off.

“Ah, what was that for!?”

Seeing Seol Jihu thrown to the bed, Yi Seol-Ah yelled in fright.

“Look at this!”

Chohong pointed at her chest area and yelled. Her shirt was stained with Seol Jihu’s tears and snot.

“Come on! He’s emotionally hurt!”

Yi Seol-Ah glared at Chohong before opening her arms to Seol Jihu.

“Orabeo-nim! Over here!”

“No, come here.”

Eun Yuri also spread her arms out.

Seol Jihu looked back and forth between the two women…

“....”

...before making a very disappointed face.

How should he put it? It was as if they weren’t enough to satisfy him.

Then, seeing Phi Sora, who was dazedly standing in the back, he immediately got up and trudged over.

“Miss Phi Sora….”

“Hmm?”

“Miss Phi Sora…!”

“Eeeh? Why are you targeting me?”

“Is my ramen… bad…?”

Seol Jihu blurted out an abrupt question. Phi Sora flinched while trying to push off the stealthily clinging Seol Jihu.

“...No, it’s delicious.”

“Delicious…?”

“Yes. You know I go crazy for it. Why, did someone say it was bad?”

Seol Jihu’s complexion darkened noticeably. Recalling what happened that day, strength escaped his limbs. It was so bad that he gave up on Phi Sora’s breasts and trudged back to his bed.

“Wait a minute, is that what this is about?”

Phi Sora asked while dusting her clothes.

Seol Jihu dejectedly dropped his head in response.

“Just because of that…!?”

Phi Sora muttered dumbfoundedly before smacking her lips. It was because she remembered the absurd status window Ira showed her not too long ago. No matter what, Seol Jihu’s passion for his ramen was real.

“Come on, hold your head up high! People have different tastes. It’s only natural for some people not to like it!”

It was then.

“I agree as well.”

An aged voice suddenly barged in.

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

“Master Ian?”

Ian was standing by the door. Next to him was Seo Yuhui, who was looking at him with worried eyes. Since Seol Jihu wasn’t showing signs of getting better, she had brought Ian to Paradise as a special measure.

“I heard what happened. You suffered a loss, huh?”

Ian walked in with a gentle smile.

“I won’t say it’s not a big deal since you’re a restaurant owner and a chef. But satisfying everyone’s taste is a very, very difficult thing. You might even say that it’s near impossible.”

“Right….”

“All you can do is try your best to satisfy everyone as much as possible. Failure is only natural in that process. Haven’t you heard of the saying, failure is the mother of all success?”

“I have… but….”

Seol Jihu gave a sorrowful, bitter smile.

“I guess… it was only natural for me to fail….”

Right, the opponents he faced were too difficult. Satisfying the palates of Heaven-rank 9 gods wasn’t something a mere human could do.

“I must have dreamed too big.”

A dream that could never come true.

“When there’s nothing you can do… right, that would be when you should give up.”

Seol Jihu dropped his head. It seemed as if he had given up completely.

Seeing this, Ian’s expression sank. He seemed a little angry, as well.

“This reminds me of the past.”

Ian spoke.

“Do you remember when we first met?”

“Pardon…?”

“During the Forest of Denial expedition, I mean. Surely, you remember what I said to you when we first met.”

Ian said while stroking his white beard.

“My friend, do you like titties?”

Seol Jihu doubted his ears. Just what the heck was Ian talking about all of a sudden?

“Master Ian, I’m not sure what you’re….”

“Just answer me. Do you like them?”

“...Yes.”

“I don’t know. I think your answer is too half-hearted.”

Ian chuckled.

“To me, it doesn’t look like you do.”

Seol Jihu blinked.

“You are a fan of big titties. You don’t even glance at small ones. Wouldn’t it be right to say you’re into big titties and not all titties?”

“...Master Ian, excuse me, but I’m not following what you’re trying to say.”

What Ian said wasn’t wrong by any means. It wasn’t as if Seol Jihu disagreed, but he just couldn’t understand how his taste in titties had anything to do with this matter.

“Hmm….”

Ian stared at Seol Jihu. He seemed a little disappointed and regretful.

“I didn’t believe it at first… but it seems the rumors were true.”

“Rumors?”

“Mmm. Rumors that the hero and legend of Paradise, who exterminated even the Parasite Queen, fell into a rut and lost his former glory.”

Seol Jihu furrowed his brows. There was no way he wouldn’t know who Ian was talking about.

“If it were the man I knew….”

If it were the man who risked his life at Arden Valley to lure the Parasites, brought up the incredible Delphinion Duchy Laboratory rescue plan, and led the Spirit Realm expedition to success despite countless hurdles blocking his way…

“Then, at the very least, he would have thought about this matter again and racked his brain to solve the problem.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes slowly narrowed.

“Well, I understand. A long time has gone by since then.”

Ian clicked his tongue.

“Still, I’m disappointed.”

Those words were the final straw.

Seol Jihu’s face contorted.

Clunk!

The bed shook.

Seol Jihu shot up and glared at Ian.

Ian, however, brushed off his piercing gaze.

“J-Jihu!”

“Master Ian!”

A few women stepped between them.

After glaring at Ian for some time…

“Ah, okay, I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

Seol Jihu muttered a few words before stomping past him.

Koong!

He slammed the door shut, and his footsteps quickly grew further away.

“Master Ian….”

Not sure what to do, Seo Yuhui sent Ian a resentful look.

“You shouldn’t have been so harsh. He’s already in a great shock….”

Ian closed his eyes and sighed.

“Anybody here wants to be my drinking buddy for today?”

He spoke with a hint of bitterness.

“I don’t feel too good. I’m going to need alcohol to soothe my stomach.”

Smacking his lips at the bitter taste, he turned around.


*


“Hmph!”

Seol Jihu stomped out of the temple in a huff.

‘What? I fell into a rut? He’s disappointed?’

He was dumbstruck, just thinking about it. He felt wronged.

‘He doesn’t know anything.’

I did everything I could. I tried my best!

‘He doesn’t even know who I’m up against…!’

What would Master Ian be able to do against Heaven-rank 9 gods? Seol Jihu grumbled angrily.

Walking while lost in thought, Seol Jihu found himself in front of his restaurant. After glaring at it for a long time, Seol Jihu tore off the ‘Temporarily Closed’ sign and shouted.

“We’re open!”

Because of his loud voice, his surroundings immediately buzzed.

“We’re open for business! We’re open for business!”

After shouting a couple more times, Seol Jihu walked in angrily and prepared to open the shop.

As the restaurant had been closed for a long time, a large crowd quickly gathered and filled up the available seats in the restaurant.

‘This is more like it.’

Every customer couldn’t hide their shock at the flavor of the ramen and left satisfied.

‘This is my ramen. This is normal. Those goddesses were the strange ones.’

It was fine even if people called him out for being complacent. A pine caterpillar should eat pine leaves, not oak leaves.

“Iya~ I can never get enough of this.”

“Exactly! You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to eat this again!”

“Do you want me to teach you a way to make it tastier?”

“How?”

Seeing a couple that was happily enjoying his ramen, Seol Jihu smiled in satisfaction.

‘I wasn’t… wrong.’

It was then.

“Take a closer look. You put this in and then….”

Seol Jihu jumped in a startle. It was because the man took out canned tuna and poured it into the ramen bowl.

“W-Wait!”

When Seol Jihu shouted, the couple looked back at him, confused.

“That….”

“Yes?”

“That isn’t how you eat ramen….”

“Hmm? Is there a set way to eat ramen?”

The woman asked.

“Of course, not. The best way is to eat it how you like it.”

And hearing the man’s reply, Seol Jihu became speechless.

“But… the ramen has its original flavor….”

“What original flavor? Besides, why do you care how we eat it? I know plenty of people who do this!”

The man continued.

“It’s written on the ramen pack too. That you can add green onions and other ingredients to make it better.”

“Exactly.”

The woman pouted.

‘W-What?’

Seol Jihu hurriedly ran to the trash can and looked for a ramen pack. Then, when he read the back…

“!”

His eyes split open.

He gasped. He had a shocked expression as if he was punched in the back of his head.

‘No….’

Seol Jihu’s eyes trembled.

‘No way….’

His hands, which were clutching onto the ramen pack, shuddered as well. Everything he believed in until now came crumbling down at once.

“H-Hold on….”

“What is it now?”

“Just, just one spoonful is fine. Please let me have a taste of the soup….”

Seol Jihu took a spoonful of the ramen soup mixed with canned tuna.

He closed his eyes as soon as he put the spoon in his mouth.

He couldn’t tell whether it was good. No, it certainly was. What was important was that a unique flavor had been added to the original one. It was the new flavor Seol Jihu had been searching for all this time.

Tk. The soup spoon fell from Seol Jihu’s hand.

Seol Jihu lifted his chin and looked up at the ceiling.

‘I see….’

[People have different tastes.]

[You are a fan of big titties. You don’t even glance at small ones. Wouldn’t it be right to say you’re into big titties and not all titties?]

The words Phi Sora and Ian said, Seol Jihu finally understood them.

“...Ah.”

He regained his senses. In the next moment, Seol Jihu ran out of the restaurant, leaving everything else behind.

“Master Ian! Master Ian!”

He ran around the city, looking for Ian crazily.

Ian was drinking wine at the pub, his nose completely red from inebriation.

Crash, crash!

A crashing sound was heard outside. Having finished his glass just then, Ian blinked.

“Master Ian…!”

Seol Jihu was running toward him, panting.

“I’m sorry.”

He knelt down as soon as he reached Ian.

“I’m truly sorry. I was wrong.”

“....”

“Please… please give me your teachings.”

Ian fixedly stared at the kneeling Seol Jihu.

Seol Jihu looked more desperate than ever before.

“...Let me ask you again.”

Ian asked softly.

“My friend, do you like titties?”

Hearing this...

“...Yes.”

Seol Jihu nodded firmly.

“I love them.”

He spoke in a choking voice.

“I’m not lying this time.”

“...Heh.”

A gentle smile surfaced on Ian’s face.

“Haha, hahahaha!”

Then, he burst into a hearty laughter. Putting down the glass in his hand, he got up.

“I knew you would come to your senses!”

“Master Ian, I—”

“It’s fine, I understand. Now get up. I will share with you some of my valuable knowledge.”

“Master Ian…!”

“Get up! A legend shouldn’t kneel to others so easily!”

Ian personally pulled Seol Jihu up.

“Let’s go. You and I have a lot to talk about today.”

Ian grinned. Seol Jihu also smiled and nodded his head.

Soon, the two chummy men left the pub.

“....”

“....”

After they left, silence descended in the pub. Seeing Seol Jihu’s figure disappear into the distance, Chohong rubbed her nose. She looked like she didn’t understand what she just saw.

“...Hey.”

“Don’t ask me!”

When she turned her head and asked, Phi Sora quickly retorted.

“I, I don’t know either. I gave up on trying to understand him long ago.”

Waving her hand and shaking her head, Phi Sora distanced herself from the situation.

“Haaaaa….”

Meanwhile, Kim Hannah sighed and raised the glass that Ian put down. After chugging down the remaining contents, she placed her hand on Phi Sora’s back and patted without a word.


*


Kwaaaaaa!

In the middle of a gushing waterfall, one man was sitting cross-legged.

It was Seol Jihu.

After talking with Ian, he had come here to organize his thoughts.

‘I was wrong from the start.’

The three goddesses had not been wrong. Thinking about it now, there wasn’t just one standard in how to cook ramen. One manufacturer might say 550mL while another might say 500mL. As if not knowing this wasn’t enough, Seol Jihu had not even read the packaging properly.

—To control the amount of sodium, please put in the soup powder in an amount that is right for you.

—Depending on your preference, put in green onions and eggs to enhance the flavor.

Those were the words that Seol Jihu read on the back of the ramen pack.

‘Depending on your preference.’

Until now, he had ignored these words completely.

Of course, it wasn’t a bad thing to keep to the basics. But like Gehenna said, in that case, Seol Jihu should have shown something surpassing a simple change while keeping true to the basics.

Seol Jihu had failed to do so.

Instead, he wasn’t even trying.

For someone who was using ramen made by others, he had not even tried to change the tap water to higher quality water.

Despite this, he was telling his customers that the way he made his ramen was the best.

What would that be if not stubbornness and hubris? A crappy philosophy based on arrogance?

Having come to this realization, Seol Jihu could not hide his embarrassment.

‘This isn’t the time to be standing around.’

Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open, a sharp glint flickering within them.

Then, as he raised his body with great force…

Rumble!

Something mystical happened.

The waterfall soared to the night sky.

By nature, water fell from top to bottom. However, Seol Jihu’s energy twisted this natural law for a moment as he walked out to the riverbank.

A golden light flashed in the dark night sky.

The slumbering golden star had begun to shine again.


*


Seol Jihu left Paradise that day and went back to Earth.

A few days later, an unbelievable rumor began to circulate inside Valhalla. It was that Seol Jihu had gotten a job at a ramen factory. Apparently, he had also caught the manager’s eye, got his skills acknowledged, and was promoted to the development team.

But when a few Valhalla members went to check up on the truth of the matter, they could only confirm that he had quit.

Seol Jihu had entered the ramen company to get back to the basics. He wanted to see how ramen was manufactured and learn the process.

Next, Seol Jihu left on a trip. Famous restaurants naturally had a reason for being so. Seol Jihu visited every renowned ramen restaurant in Korea without exception. And whenever he found a place he liked, he pestered the head chef.

“Please! Please teach me your recipe…!”

“Impossible! I went through all sorts of struggles for 10 years to develop this recipe!”

“I’m not asking you to give it to me for free! I will pay…!”

“Hah! Keep on dreaming! Even 100 million won wouldn’t be enough to move me!”

Seol Jihu took out 200 million won. The head chef made a dumbfounded face.

“Are you insulting my life’s work? I don’t need your damn money.”

Seol Jihu took out another 300 million.

“Stop! My passion, which I’ve traded my youth for, cannot be bought by money!”

Seol Jihu took out another 500 million.

“I’ve been feeling under the weather recently and have been looking for a successor. With your passion, I would love to entrust this recipe to you.”

Just like that, he traveled all over the country to obtain different recipes for research.

When he finished his travel in Korea, he turned his eyes outside. It wasn’t just Japan. If there was a well-known ramen restaurant, he visited without discrimination.

Only when he finished his travels did he come back to Paradise.

He was not done yet. Seol Jihu’s travels continued in Paradise.

He plowed fields or went on solitary expeditions. He did not spare any effort to obtain even slightly higher quality water.

For example, he went to the Spirit Realm and visited the World Tree’s lake or battled demonic creatures slumbering in ancient caves to find heavenly essences.

There was even a time he searched uncharted territories to find the mythical Mountain of Beginnings, where Pangu was said to be sealed, and locate the river water flowing through heaven and earth.

Going around the world in madness, he succeeded in finding appropriate ingredients, but that still was not enough.

‘Mindblowing.’

Seol Jihu wanted to break away from the ramen he had always been making and create his own mindblowing ramen.

Doing so alone proved to be difficult. He needed the help of someone who knew ramen as much as he did. And so, Seol Jihu entered the Path of the Soul.

“Everyone might have different tastes, but you still need to keep to a certain standard. No one wants to eat a soggy….”

“I know that. The problem is….”

Seol Jihu passionately discussed the way of ramen with Black Seol Jihu, researching and developing anew.

Meanwhile, seeing Seol Jihu’s actions, existences all over the universe swallowed their saliva.


*


A cold, breath-fogging winter arrived.

“So cold~”

Ahn Sol walked in while shivering from the cold.

The people inside greeted her.

“You’re a bit late today.”

“Yeah, something came up right before work ended….”

“What about dinner?”

“I haven’t eaten yet~”

Ahn Sol looked sullen.

“It’s so cold today. I kept thinking about getting hot ramen soup on my way home~”

“Ramen, huh.”

Hwajung muttered.

Ahn Sol looked surprised. Hwajung was usually never interested in what a human had to say.

“Ah, I was just reminded of someone.”

Hwajung chuckled.

“I wonder what happened~? It’s been a while, and he hasn’t called. Well, I had forgotten about him until now too.”

“Now that you mention it, the universe has been stirring recently.”

Mercedes murmured calmly.

“Is it? Why don’t we take a look then? Let’s see….”

Hwajung took out her phone.

Then, she furrowed her brows slightly.

“...Oh?”

With a snort, she immediately typed up a message. Less than a minute later, her phone buzzed.

“Was he waiting for it? He responded instantly… hmm?”

Hwajung’s eyes widened after reading the text.

“Haha!”

She then tilted her head back and burst into laughter.

“Ahahaha! This kid is hilarious!”

Seeing Hwajung laugh, a few people gathered around her. Hwajung showed her phone, revealing the following text message.

[I’ve been waiting, Madam. I will attend to you faithfully today.]

“Madam, huh…. He surely has good eyes.”

Hwajung chuckled while wiping the tears around her eyes.

Turning the phone off, she got up and looked back at everyone.

“Anybody wanna go eat ramen tonight?”


*


And so, Hwajung, dressed up in a fancy white suit and wearing a black, luxury handbag, led the Martial God’s remaining fifteen wives. Accompanying them was a red-haired little girl.

A total of 17 people visited ‘Seol Jihu Ramen?’.

Seol Jihu was not flustered. Not only did he make ample preparations, but he also had not forgotten Hwajung’s words that he would be judged more strictly the second time around.

“Welcome.”

A deep, slightly hoarse voice rang out.

Having entered the store, most of the 17 people could not hide their shock. Goh Yeonju did not even recognize Seol Jihu at first. His disheveled hair and shaggy beard made him look like a hermit who had trained for several dozen years in a mountain.

However, his eyes were clear. Burning with passion, Seol Jihu’s affable pupils were emitting an elegant light.

That wasn’t all.

‘What…?’

‘That person…. Just who is he…? This pressure….’

Seven or so people flinched. Even Goh Yeonju gulped from a rising nervousness.

The man in front of them was giving off a dignified divine aura. The terrifying intensity was something even Gehenna, Mercedes, and Hwajung did not dare to estimate at a simple glance.

“Hoh…!”

Hwrrrrr!

A destructive fire rose from Gehenna’s eyes.

“W-What are you doing?”

“Let go of me. It’s been a while since my competitive spirit has been provoked!”

Ahn Sol dissuaded her, but Gehenna did not listen. Her lava-colored hair rose up as if she would start a fight at any moment.

“How scary~”

Mercedes also observed Seol Jihu with her eyes open.

“To come this far…. What a terrifying growth speed. It’s been a while since I felt like I lost before the fight even began.”

A permafrost energy flowed out from her icy, transparent eyes.

“...I told you, it’s better not to irritate him.”

Hwajung snickered.

“...Hmph.”

The red-haired little girl snorted.

“Anyone who doesn’t have the confidence to eat his ramen should leave now.”

With hard-to-understand words, she walked forward and took a seat.

“Everyone else, please follow me.”

Seol Jihu spoke solemnly and turned back.

Hwajun asked.

“What about the menu? Do you still only have one dish?”

Seol Jihu opened his palm in reply.

Chwaaarak!

17 papers safely landed in front of each woman.

There was only one item on it. However, from the thickness of the noodles to the garnish that went on the soup, there were dozens of checkboxes that the customer could use to customize their dish.

“Haha, now this is more like it.”

Hwajung picked up a pen in joy.

The others did the same.

“What should I get~?”

“Spicy, I need spicy ramen….”

They marked the menus to their preference and turned them in. After going through the paper slips, Seol Jihu tied the sash around his waist tight.

Under the gazes of many women….

“Then.”

He stood alone in the kitchen and raised the Spear of Purity.

“I will begin now.”

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