Side Story 34. Operation: Rabbit Hunt

After the meal, Teresa brought Seol Jihu out of the dining hall. Seol Jihu didn’t refuse as he was uncomfortable during the entire dinner. His face was so flushed that he was too ashamed to look at Prihi.

“I’m terribly sorry.”

Teresa closed the door after entering her room and then bowed with her hands cupped together. Seol Jihu raised his guard, realizing this was Teresa’s bedroom.

“I didn’t think they’d go this far….”

Teresa seemed to be apologizing sincerely, not joking as she usually did. Seeing her being this apologetic, Seol Jihu’s heart softened a bit.

“I thought this might happen, so I didn’t want to send the letter…. But they insisted, saying that having dinner together shouldn’t be a problem…. I shouldn’t have trusted them.”

With this, Seol Jihu gained a new piece of information. That Teresa had not invited him of her own accord. By the sound of it, the Haramark Royal Family… or, to be more precise, Fertina Hussey or Olivia Hussey must have been behind it. It might even have been both of them.

Seol Jihu stared at Teresa, who couldn’t raise her head, and then said.

“Do you know why they did that?”

“Well… probably it was to open my eyes. They were sending me a message.”

“A message?”

“Yes, they were probably trying to say that this is what they would do if I weren’t more forward.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes narrowed.

“What do those two want?”

“That’s….”

Teresa trailed off. When she did not show any signs of answering him, Seol Jihu decided to change the question.

“Come to think of it, I heard Haramark has been working hard to track down traitors.”

“Yes.”

“And is that making good progress? Has anything happened in Haramark recently?”

He wanted her to say something. Anything. But despite his efforts, Teresa remained quiet. She seemed to be hesitating as though something was weighing on her conscience.

Seol Jihu was a little disappointed to see her like this, but he fell into deep thought. Up until now, Teresa openly asked for help whenever there was trouble. So the fact that she was hesitating this much...

‘Family.’

It could only mean that the Haramark Royal Family was directly involved. If that was the case, it made sense that Teresa was hesitating. After all, they were related by blood.

Seol Jihu also had a hunch. His fame in Paradise was at the absolute pinnacle. He had no equal in both fame and martial prowess. If Seol Jihu claimed the Empire’s territory to be his own and declared himself the emperor, no force would be stupid enough to try to stop him.

This naturally would be a concern for native Paradisians, and this was also one of the reasons Seol Jihu stepped down from the position of Valhalla’s representative.

‘It’s not just Haramark that has this concern either.’

Although he was living a reserved life away from the center of attention, that did not mean that the public no longer cared about him. Even in Valhalla, Kim Hannah periodically asked him to come back. His former comrades, including Dylan and the Eva Royal Family, also dropped by now and then to ask if he had thoughts of making a return.

The important thing was how they asked this. If Fertina and Olivia were provoking Teresa with a simple political marriage in mind, Seol Jihu was willing to overlook it despite not thinking too highly of them.

‘But if it was just that… Princess wouldn’t be this hesitant.’

At that moment, Seol Jihu’s old habit from the days of fighting the Parasites flared up. He assumed the worst-case scenario.

What if the royal family had made contact with the traitors somehow and were trying to make use of them to expand their influence?

As the saying went, there was no way to see into a person’s mind. That was especially so for Fertina and Olivia, who had not experienced the brutality of the war and had only seen the end result. There was no telling what Prihi thought either.

Thinking this, Seol Jihu tasted a hint of bitterness in his mouth. Of course, it wasn’t like he didn’t understand Haramark’s unfortunate position. Despite taking the lead in fighting the Parasites and suffering the most, the benefits they received were no different than what the other cities did.

‘I can’t let Haramark do something stupid, even if I have to give them more rights.’

Worst case, clouds of war might once again sweep through Paradise.

‘Haramark’s army can’t be ignored. The soldiers are all veterans honed through years of war, and there are many Earthlings within the city too.’

There were even two Executors in the city. Seol Jihu hoped his fears were unfounded, but this scenario could not be disregarded. Especially so with how antsy Teresa looked.

In any case, the Haramark Royal Family’s intention was clear. They wanted to rope Seol Jihu in and receive his support.

However, Seol Jihu had no intention of doing that. He had announced in front of everyone during the signing of the Half Century Treaty. That if a force tried to defy this treaty, he would treat them as the second Parasites regardless of the reason. No one could be exempt, not even Haramark and Valhalla.

And so, he had to stop the royal family before they did anything irreversible. Teresa must be thinking the same thing.

After thinking things through, Seol Jihu raised his eyes. He saw Teresa’s pupils shaking from anxiousness. He had been quiet for too long from letting his imagination go wild.

“Princess.”

Seol Jihu said with a gentle smile.

“You have nothing to worry about.”

“....”

“I have not forgotten how helpful and supportive Haramark was during the war against Parasites. I also understand why you’re hesitating to tell me about the details.”

“Ah….”

“I am on your side. You have my full support. Of course, in ways that you want.”

Hearing this, Teresa smiled in relief.

“Thank you. Hearing you say that makes me feel a lot more lighthearted.”

“I know what it’s like to have family troubles. It puts you in a really tough spot.”

“Oh, is that coming from personal experience?”

“You got me. Yes, it is.”

A light chuckle came out.

“Where do I begin….” After a moment of silence, Teresa spoke. “You asked before, right? If we made good progress.”

“Yes.”

“It’s too early to come to a conclusion, but not long ago….”

It was then. Just as Teresa was about to say something, a sound was heard behind the door. Seol Jihu and Teresa’s eyes turned in one direction. At the same time, hurriedly running footsteps rang out.

Seol Jihu grabbed the Spear of Purity right away and got up.

“We’ve been investigating, but nothing entered our radar!”

At that moment, Teresa shouted in a hurry, causing Seol Jihu to pause. When he looked back with a questioning gaze, Teresa winked at him before shaking her head.

Seol Jihu sat back down, tilting his head. He had been too much at ease, thinking that the royal palace was safe. Seol Jihu nodded his head after confirming no one else was around them.

Teresa sighed deeply.

“Princess.”

“It’s okay.”

Teresa muttered with her teeth clenched. She sounded a bit angry. Not at anyone but herself.

“I know how strong you are. Never mind your actual battle prowess, but I’m sure you also have an unimaginable amount of contribution points saved up.”

Teresa spoke as if to lament.

“I’m sure you can blow away my worries with a single thought if you so wanted. No, I’m sure you would. Like always.”

“Then why—”

“Because.”

Teresa bit her lower lip and looked straight at Seol Jihu as though she just made a tough decision.

“I don’t think I should.”

Her eyes shone with resolution.

“It’s not an alien race that invaded us. The Earthlings are of no fault either. This happened in Paradise because of Paradisians.”

Teresa continued.

“I can’t rely on you to solve every problem that comes up.”

Indeed, it wasn’t as if Seol Jihu could stay in Paradise forever and help out.

“The Parasites were different since we Paradisians were powerless against them. But that’s not the case now. How can we ask for help from outsiders each time?”

Meaning, Paradisians needed to learn to solve their own problems.

“Moreover, this is Haramark’s problem. As its princess, I should be responsible for taking care of any problems that arise.”

Seol Jihu smiled at Teresa’s resolute speech. He was proud of her for saying that with her chest held high, but at the same time, he pitied her a little. Even though she should be getting some well-earned rest after the war, she was still getting pestered by worries.

“It’s not that I don’t want your help.”

Teresa slowly lowered her clenched fists.

“It’s just… on top of what I told you before… I know you stepped down from the front lines….”

Seol Jihu nodded. He understood Teresa very well.

“I didn’t misunderstand. I respect your wishes, Princess.”

“I’m glad.”

Teresa smiled bashfully.

Judging by the way she was acting, it seemed the situation had not gone too out of hand.

‘It looks like there’s still time. I’ll keep a close eye and see how things develop.’

Seol Jihu looked at Teresa gently and spoke.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Hmm?”

“It doesn’t have to be about this. Anything is fine. It can even be something as simple as helping you take your mind off things.”

Teresa’s eyes widened as if she had not expected to hear these words.

“I, I appreciate the thought, even if you don’t mean it.”

She stammered a little, clearly taken aback.

“No, I do mean it.”

Seol Jihu was serious. Teresa probably did not know this, but she had played a significant role in helping him get to where he was. She was the one who helped him start over. Seol Jihu had yet to pay her back for using the Royal Oath for his sake in the previous life.

“Anything’s okay.”

“W-Why are you so nice today? It’s like you know the right words to say to make me feel better.”

“I wouldn’t hesitate to use dozens of Divine Wishes for you. I mean it wholeheartedly.”

Seol Jihu said with a serious face. Teresa had a dazed look.

“Hah.”

No, rather, she looked like she was in disbelief.

“Damn it, man, if you thought about me so much, eh!? You should have, eh!? Then I wouldn’t have to resort to this crap, eh!?”

Teresa suddenly burst into a fit of anger.

“Pardon?”

“...Ah, nothing! I misspoke. I’ve just been too stressed recently.”

She then did a double-take and put on a meek face again.

“That’s no good! Maybe you should go on a trip somewhere to relax.”

“A trip? I don’t have anywhere I want to go, though….”

Teresa tilted her head before suddenly opening her eyes wide.

“Ah….”

She glanced at Seol Jihu and then asked.

“Did you really mean what you said before?”

“Yes, of course.”

Seol Jihu nodded his head, telling Teresa to just speak if there was anything she wanted.

“Good.”

Teresa crossed her arms.

“There is actually a place I’ve always wanted to visit.”

“Where?”

When Seol Jihu showed interest, a strange smile appeared on Teresa’s lips before disappearing a moment later. She then spoke.

“Earth.”

“...Come again?”

“Earth.”

Teresa repeated.

“I’ve wanted to go there even if it was just once. I’m curious about the foreign world, and I want to know more about the place you and other Earthlings came from….”

Teresa eyed Seol Jihu before speaking quietly.

“And if it’s that place….”

“Ah.”

Seol Jihu dropped his jaw at the realization. Just like what happened before, in Paradise, there was no telling if anyone would be eavesdropping. On the other hand, Earth was 100 percent safe.

“Okay.”

“Really?”

“I don’t see why not.”

It wasn’t like it was impossible. In the future that Seol Jihu saw, Teresa was happily living on Earth.

“Yes!”

Teresa clenched her fists and shouted. A bright smile bloomed on her face. Seeing her so happy, Seol Jihu felt a lot better as well.

Seol Jihu got up.

“Do you want to get going then?”

“Huh? Right away?”

“Yep. You know what they say, strike while the iron is hot.”

“But….”

“It’ll be fine. King Prihi is here, and so is Queen Fertina and Princess Olivia.”

“But still….”

“A trip is more fun when it’s spontaneous and secret. What do you think?”

Seol Jihu reached out his hand with a grin.

Teresa hesitated for a moment before biting her lower lip. She trembled from joy. Carefully planning a trip wasn’t Teresa’s style. She very much enjoyed spontaneity and deviation from the norm. And so, there was no way she would refuse.

“Okay!”

Teresa also got up and snatched Seol Jihu’s hand like a hawk eyeing its prey.

“Let’s go to the temple then,” Seol Jihu spoke.

“Ah, my lower belly is already tingling from nervousness!”

The duo laughed while quickly leaving the bedroom.


*


After Seol Jihu and Teresa made the night escape…

“...Is this really okay?”

Prihi said with a flustered face while receiving a report from a mysterious man dressed in black clothes.

“My conscience wouldn’t let me agree to her plan… so I pretended to be oblivious under her threat… but it is really weighing on my conscience.”

“What can we do?”

Fertina giggled while covering her mouth with a fan.

“Our daughter asked for it so desperately. Parents just can’t win against their children.”

“Still….”

“Darling, just quietly cheer for her. It’s not like we are trying to harm him. What’s so wrong about cheering for our daughter’s love?”

“That’s not what I mean….”

Prihi trailed off in the middle of saying something. He felt like the point of the conversation was getting lost as he continued.

“Anyway, the matter is already out of our hands. Teresa swore to leave as two and return as three, so let’s just believe in her.”

“Right, right. And besides, that man isn’t entirely innocent either.”

Olivia agreed with Fertina.

“I’m not saying I agree with Teresa here, but how bad must it have been for her to resort to this?”

“....”

“She’s waited long enough. If he’s not trying to be a polyamorous casanova, he should have given her an answer already! I think he’s partly to blame for not being clear.”

“You and your logic….”

Prihi clicked his tongue before looking down at the black-attired man kneeling before him.

“Anyway, Jan Sanctus, I didn’t think you would be in on this too.”

“I am not Jan Sanctus.”

The man replied calmly in a deep voice.

“Do I look like I was born yesterday? Who do you think you are trying to trick here? So, your role was to pretend to eavesdrop and then run away?”

Prihi did not pull any punches with his words.

“I do not understand, Your Majesty. I have never heard of this man.”

“Then take off your mask.”

“....”

“This is a royal command. Show your face.”

With no other choice, the man slowly took off his mask. As expected, Jan Sanctus’ tough-looking face appeared.

As the three royalties stared at him fixedly, Jan Sanctus let out a dry cough and looked away.

“Princess Teresa said she would expand next month’s military budget if I helped….”

“This is the first time I heard of this.”

Jan Sanctus slowly got up. He looked up at the sky, which was dyed orange by the hue of the sunset. He then spoke.

“What beautiful weather!”

Prihi closed his eyes.

“...Yes, how beautiful.”

He then shook his head as if he had given up as well.

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