Side Story 33. The Rabbit’s Resistance

Haramark was thriving in the era of peace. The kingdom’s role as a leader on the frontlines during the war against the Parasites was widely recognized by all. Its royal family and representative organization were maintaining good relations.

Thanks to Valhalla, or more precisely Seol Jihu, Sicilia, a criminal organization once called the South’s Warhawk, was willing to cooperate with Haramark’s royal family.

Cinzia knew that Seol Jihu cherished Haramark just as much, if not more than Eva, and that he could annihilate Sicilia in just one day if he wanted to. So she was always courteous to the royal family, and Prihi respected the representative organization in return. Their relationship laid the foundation for the rapid growth of Haramark during the postwar era.

And the Earthling who made it all possible was heading toward the Royal Palace of Haramark, humming to himself as he walked down the streets.

It was around sunset that Seol Jihu arrived at Haramark. He wondered if he should wait until morning to visit the palace, but they invited him to dinner when he contacted the royal family.

“Haha. The view here is the same as before. Oh, hello!”

Seol Jihu greeted the guard at the front gate cheerfully.

The guard dropped his jaw when he realized that the man standing before him was the famous war hero.

“I… I will contact the palace right away!”

“That’s okay. I already called them.”

“But….”

“It’s fine, really. They’re probably waiting for me inside.”

Seol Jihu calmed the guard and passed through the gate.

As he walked down the city streets, looking around at everything, he came to a sudden halt.

‘Huh?’

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

‘Those guys… they’re here?’

His gaze was locked on the fuzzballs—the baby Beastmen—sleeping in a row at the corner of the street. Under the warm glow of the sunset, the tips of their tongues were sticking out of their mouths.

Just as sparrows cannot pass a mill, Seol Jihu could not pass up an opportunity to pull a good prank.

He immediately threw himself at them with open arms.

“Mozzarella Schnauzer!”

“!?”

The fuzzballs’ eyes shot open in surprise.

Their big adorable eyes turned to the man rushing at them.

A commotion broke out almost immediately.

“Lethal move! Tickle!”

“Kking! Kking! Kiiaaaahahak!”

“Raspberry! Abubububu!”

“Kkihihing!”

The fuzzballs resisted, of course. They craned their necks toward the sky and howled.

Immediately a pack of fuzzballs appeared from all over the city.

“Kking, kking, kking! (Comrades! Hang in there a little longer! We’re here!)”

“Kkrrrrrrrr! (The past is the past! The legendary hero has turned evil!)”

“Kkiaa! Kkiaa! (Today we’ll build a new future with our claws!)”

The fuzzballs attacked Seol Jihu from all sides. They climbed his back and bit his hands. Of course, it didn’t hurt because they were still babies, but Seol Jihu pretended it did and fell to the ground.

“Kkiuuuuuuuu!”

One fuzzball stepped on Seol Jihu’s head and let out a roar of victory.

But he celebrated too early.

“Huhu. How naive.”

“Kkiuuuu!!! Kking?”

“The reason I fell….”

Seol Jihu grinned. Perplexity crossed the faces of the fuzzballs standing on him.

“…Was to take all of you down at once!”

Seol Jihu hugged the fuzzballs who had unknowingly walked into a trap.

“This is it! Rasengan!”

He began rolling across the grass, keeping his grip tight around the soft fur.

The fuzzballs squirmed and whined, trying to wriggle out of his embrace.

“Ahahaha!”

Seol Jihu, who was happily rolling, laughing to his heart’s content….

“Uck.”

…Suddenly bumped into something.

He jerked his gaze up and saw three women looking down at him.

“…Hello.”

Seol Jihu hurriedly got to his feet. Now freed, the fuzzballs scattered quickly in all directions. Of course that was after they howled, ‘This isn’t the end! We must retreat for now, but we will never forget this humiliation!’

“…You’re amazing. They always ignore me when I hold out my hand.”

Said a woman with long, pink-colored hair that flowed down like a waterfall and glowed golden under the setting sun. The pair of upturned eyes set above her sharp nose glowed with admiration. She was Olivia Hussey, the eldest daughter of the royal family of Haramark.

“I’m sorry. They were just so cute…. I’m sorry you had to see that.”

Seol Jihu scratched his head, smiling awkwardly.

“I don’t mind it. You looked like you were having fun.”

A calm voice flowed. A woman, the owner of the voice, smiled gracefully as she covered her mouth with a folding fan. Her hair, which was the same pink hue as her daughter’s, was braided and neatly coiled around her head. The slight droop in the corners of her eyes made her smile all the more appealing.

This woman was Fertina Hussey, the Queen of Haramark.

“I didn’t think I’d get to see them here after the Half Century Treaty….”

“Nothing’s wrong with the treaty. They’re here to promote cultural exchange.”

Prihi explained.

“Cultural exchange?”

“At least, that’s what it’s called officially. But basically, they’re here because they want to.”

“Ah….”

“Some Beastmen oppose the idea of them staying here. They tried to take their babies with them, but the babies resisted with all their might. The younger generation finds life in the city more convenient and comfortable, so what could I do? I told them to do as they want.”

It wasn’t difficult to understand why the baby Beastmen thought urban life was more convenient. Thanks to their adorable appearance, they could practically obtain anything from humans just by wagging their tails.

It also came as no surprise to him that the prideful Beastmen disapproved of their children being tamed by humans.

‘Hm?’

Deep in thought, Seol Jihu suddenly felt intense gazes observing him and raised his head.

The three women were staring at him.

Their pale-pink hair, symbolic of the House of Hussey, and their eyes, bearing the hue of the Pink Star diamond, sparkled under the setting sun.

It was perhaps due to the blood of Sky Fairies flowing through their veins that they looked more like three sisters than a mother and her two daughters.

‘This is….’

It was easy to see where Teresa got her beauty from.

But for whatever reason, Teresa looked pale. Her eyes, which always brimmed with confidence, now looked sullen, and her lips were pursed, exposing her dissatisfaction. She seemed on guard.

“Princess….”

“We should hurry inside.”

Seol Jihu opened his mouth to talk to Teresa, but Olivia cut him off and grabbed his arm.

“A delicious meal is waiting.”

Fertina stated, pulling lightly on his other arm.

Seol Jihu glanced back over his shoulder as the two women practically dragged him inside.

Teresa clasped her hands and raised her arms above her head. She stretched her neck from side to side as if preparing for a fight.


*


The dinner was great. The food was delicious, and the conversation was lively. Everything was perfect, except for the excessive praises and flattery, which left Seol Jihu feeling a little overwhelmed.

But then again, seeing as he was the one who revived them and also saved Paradise, he could understand why they were so head over heels for him.

“Try this, Jihu.”

Teresa seemed particularly committed today. She filleted the fish and placed small pieces of flesh on Seol Jihu’s plate.

“What is it?”

“Go on. Take a bite. A young fish, cooked to a turn. It’s very tender and fresh.”

A young fish. Seol Jihu nodded as he skewered a piece of pink flesh and raised his fork to his mouth.

“Teresa? It wouldn’t do for you to coerce him against his will.”

Olivia scolded, cutting her fish with a knife.

“Your sister is right. He should be free to choose what he likes. You may think it’s delicious, but he may think differently because, after all, people have different preferences.”

Fertina sided with Olivia.

“Oh my. Something tells me this isn’t just about the fish.”

Teresa snapped, a hint of anger in her voice.

“Don’t be mad. We’re just offering you advice…. Oh, can you tell us that story again?”

Olivia took advantage of the brief silence to quickly take charge of the conversation.

“The Arden Valley Baiting operation! That one is my favorite.”

“Oh, that….”

Seol Jihu slowly began to speak.

“…And then I ran like crazy. Honestly, I don’t remember much. I was too focused on running. I climbed a high hill, slid back down, and ran toward the narrow valley as fast as I could….”

Seol Jihu suddenly paused in the middle of his sentence.

He heard a stifled snicker from Olivia.

“I never imagined you’d be so crude. What a disappointment!”

“Pardon?”

“You slid down the hill and headed for the valley. Sounds a bit vulgar, doesn’t it?”

Olivia wrapped her hands around her elbows and hunched.

“It’s a brilliant strategy.”

Fertina stated.

“One must take into account the topography of his surroundings during intercourse. You faced the valley with your back to the hill. You’ve applied the principle of the idiom, ‘With back to the mountain and facing the water.’”

Olivia and Ferina looked at each other and smiled.

“...”

Seol Jihu fell speechless.

‘This family…. How….’

He heard Teresa sigh next to him.

“…Anyway, thanks for inviting me today.”

Sensing danger, Seol Jihu quickly changed the subject.

“You said so many good things about me, and the food was great. I don’t know how to thank you.”

Fertina smirked. The look on her face was affectionate but also teasing.

“The letter said there was an important matter we need to discuss…?”

Seol Jihu thought it was about time to get to the point. He decided to bring up the subject first.

“Princess Olivia, I heard you got married just before the war.”

Olivia flinched.

“Oh, um, did you?”

She tried to avoid the topic.

“Yes! You’re right!”

But Teresa quickly joined in, not missing her chance.

“She’s married! She doesn’t have a child, but she’s a married woman!”

Olivia grunted.

“I see. So then, would you like me to….”

“If you’re offering to revive my dead husband, I’ll decline.”

The princess turned her head away.

“You don’t have to hold back. If you want to, I—”

“See, that’s the problem. I don’t want to. If he comes back to life, I’ll kill him myself.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened at the unexpected declaration.

“I… still remember that day as if it were yesterday.”

Olivia’s head dropped low. Her eyes began to well up with tears.

“He told me to become the bait, kicked me toward the Parasites, and then ran away…!”

Seol Jihu had no idea that something like that had happened to Olivia. He realized why she wouldn’t want her husband back.

“It’s hard to think about… even now…!”

“I didn’t know…. I’m sorry for bringing it up.”

“Asshole! I loved you! How could you have done that to me!?”

Finally, Olivia broke out in tears and buried her head on Seol Jihu’s shoulder, like a distraught heroine from a soap opera.

Seol Jihu tried to calm her but to no avail.

Fertina whispered, filleting the fish with her knife and fork.

“You made her cry.”

“I-I’m sorry.”

“Now, you must take responsibility.”

“Right…. What?”

Seol Jihu looked alternately between the two, clearly confused.

Olivia looked up at Seol Jihu with teary eyes.

“Please console me.”

“Console…? Oh, um, sure. I’m sorry for everything you had to go through….”

“Not with words.”

“?”

“I want something more direct, something more… personal."

Seol Jihu furrowed his brow. Something more personal? She couldn’t mean what he thought she meant. Could she?

‘She’s a strange one.’

He couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. Both her parents were refined and perfectly proper, so he wondered where Olivia got her audacity from.

‘She’s even worse than Teresa,’ Seol Jihu thought, clicking his tongue. ‘I mean, look at how sophisticated the Queen is.’

It was then.

All of a sudden, Seol Jihu flinched. He froze in place.

‘…Huh?’

A soft sensation was creeping up his leg. He quickly glanced down and saw a woman’s naked foot rub his leg slowly under the table.

Seol Jihu raised his head and looked across the table. Fertina was chewing the fish as if nothing had happened.

Then, their eyes met. The queen’s right eyebrow raised slightly. At the same time, her lips curled up in a pleased smile.

As if that wasn’t enough, Olivia’s hands were now moving down to his thigh.

“Um, Queen Fertina.”

“You should try this.”

Seol Jihu tried to object, but Fertina cut him off. She put a piece of fish on his plate.

“Teresa can be naive sometimes. Young fishes aren’t always the best. Fresh can also mean raw.”

“I—”

“Many factors contribute to the taste of a fish. Older ones are much bigger in size and richer in flavor. That’s why some people only look for fishes with eggs.”

“Wait.”

“Here. Say, ‘Ah.’”

Fertina poked a big chunk of fish with her fork and brought it to Seol Jihu’s mouth.

Without thinking, Seol Jihu grabbed the fork.

“How is it? Is it good?”

“…Yes….”

“The richness of the flavor is incomparable to this, isn’t it?”

Fertina asked, pointing at the pieces of fish that Teresa had placed on his plate earlier.

“Mm….”

Seol Jihu shrugged his shoulders as he chewed the remainder of his bite.

“I think I prefer Princess Teresa’s recommendation….”

At that moment, Fertina tightened her grip around her fork, and Teresa raised her chin. A triumphant smile crossed her face.

The queen slowly looked around the dining hall, and a maid rushed to her side.

“Who made this dish?”

“The Royal Chef, Your Highness.”

“Bring him here.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“No, tell him I’d like to speak to him in private after dinner.”

“Hmph!”

It was then that Prihi made a coughing sound.

“That’s enough.”

He expressed his discomfort.

“Olivia is permitted, but you should know better….”

‘What?’ Seol Jihu freaked out. ‘Why is Princess Olivia permitted? What are you talking about?’

So he’s the biggest problem. Seol Jihu thought as he tried to defend his body. He could still feel the two women’s touch on his skin.

It was then. Olivia, who was crying above and stroking below, suddenly pulled her hand back with a sharp cry of pain.

And if his eyes weren't deceiving him, a knife had just flown between the two princesses.

“What was that for?”

Olivia growled.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I dropped my knife by accident.”

Teresa quipped shamelessly, in the most obvious throwing posture.

Then she grabbed the edge of the table and shoved her chair against the table.

Puk!

Seol Jihu flinched. A dull sound rang out from under the table. At the same time, the foot rubbing against his leg disappeared.

The queen’s face remained the same.

“Hmmmm….”

But a strange groan escaped her lips.

“…You’ve become rather violent, Teresa.”

She smiled, dabbing at the corner of her mouth with a napkin.

“I could say the same to you, Mother.”

Teresa crossed her arms and scoffed.

And at that moment, Seol Jihu became certain that a war was taking place in this very dining hall. Fertina and Olivia were his enemies. Prihi was a powerless bystander. Fortunately, Teresa was on his side, against her mother and sister.

“Can I offer you a drink? I think a change of atmosphere will do us good.”

Fertina raised a wine bottle.

“It’s a rare wine. You should try some….”

Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open.

“No, no, that’s okay.”

Fertina’s eyes widened.

“You see, I’ve recently decided to quit drinking. I’m afraid I have to decline.”

“But maybe take just one glass….”

“No. I’m willing to make exceptions, but only when I’m sure of my safety.”

Suffice to say, he wasn’t feeling very safe at the moment.

Olivia seemed surprised by his rejection.

Fertina also let out a small exclamation of surprise. She thought this rabbit wouldn’t be too hard to catch, but he was more careful than she had expected.

“…I see. My apologies.”

Fertina lowered the wine bottle without a fight.

But the way she licked her lips made it clear that she was still after Seol Jihu.

‘I’m not the same person I was before.’

Seol Jihu looked straight at the two women, not afraid to make eye contact.

‘Everything will be fine, as long as I stay sober.’

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