Side Story 48. Heroes Gathering (1)

Introducing Seo Yuhui to the family was more nerve-racking than Seol Jihu imagined.

The reason was—Yoo Seonhwa. Although Seol Jihu had ended his relationship with her long ago, the two of them had been together for over twenty years.

Seol Jihu’s parents had seen the two of them together ever since they were babies. Everyone in the family believed they would eventually get married.

They knew their relationship spiraled toward a collapse during Seol Jihu’s gambling addiction, but that did not mean Yoo Seonhwa’s presence disappeared.

When Seol Jihu entered with Seo Yuhui, that was the atmosphere he felt. His father was quietly sitting while smoking a cigarette. His emotionless expression made it hard to guess what he was thinking, but Seol Jihu knew his father well enough to know this was how he acted when he was nervous.

His mother, on the other hand, seemed to have mixed emotions. Seol Wooseok looked intrigued, to say the least, while Seol Jinhee was glaring with her arms crossed. Her face seemed to be saying, ‘Just which vixen is trying to take over Seonhwa Unni’s place?’

Seol Jihu smiled wryly, remembering how hard she worked to separate Yoo Seonhwa from him, even going as far as introducing a man to her.

Of course, he did not mind it too much as Seol Jinhee’s change in attitude meant she now looked at him differently.

“I’m sorry for being late.”

Moreover, he had received a special command from Seo Yuhui not to go out of his way to do anything for her, and that no matter what happened, she would take care of it herself.

“This is my girlfriend.”

As such, Seol Jihu only gave a simple introduction.

“Hello.”

Seo Yuhui smiled and bowed respectfully.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Seo Yuhui.”

Seol Jihu studied his family members’ reactions nervously. In truth, all four of them looked surprised from the moment they walked in. To be more precise, their faces seemed to say, Just where did he find himself a girl like that?

‘She wasn’t called the Flower of Paradise for nothing.’

Not knowing that a certain someone had stolen the title in a single day, Seol Jihu smiled and gestured with his eyes.

“Ah, just what was I thinking!”

Waking up from her daze, Seol Jihu’s mother smiled sweetly.

“My goodness! Your beauty surprised me.”

“No, not at all. But thank you for the kind words.”

“Come in, come in. You haven’t eaten yet, right?”

Dressed more nicely than usual, Seol Jihu’s mother pulled Seo Yuhui toward the kitchen. Looking at the dining table, Seol Jihu couldn’t hide his shock. All sorts of dishes were placed on the table.

“Wow… They look amazing.”

“Hoho, do they? We eat like this every day. Come, take a seat.”

Seol Jihu’s mother laughed like a noblewoman and offered Seo Yuhui the food. Seol Jihu was just about to call her out on the lie when he froze.

“Hmm? I just had kimchi and rice last night, though.”

It was because his older brother beat him to it first. Of course, he shut up right away when his mother glared at him.

Seol Wooseok looked at Seol Jihu as if to ask, ‘what was wrong with that?’, and Seol Jihu shrugged lightly. Looking at the two brothers, Seo Yuhui smiled, mortified.

The lunch began. Seol Jihu’s father moved his arms like a mechanical doll while his mother conversed with smiles. There was also Seol Jinhee, who was constantly eyeing for an opportunity to butt in. Seeing this, Seol Jihu could tell the real match was just about to start.

Shortly afterward, Seol Jihu was able to experience a magic spell, a miracle that he never thought was possible.

After lunch, when everyone gathered in the living room to have fruits and tea, laughter did not stop in the Seol residence.

Despite knowing Seo Yuhui for only a couple of hours, Seol Jihu’s mother seemed to like her a lot. This wasn’t too surprising given her naturally polite and amiable personality. Moreover, she wasn’t just docile. She knew how to talk too.

Of course, most of the conversations were about Seol Jihu. Excited by Seo Yuhui’s reactions, Seol Jihu’s mother revealed all sorts of embarrassing stories from when Seol Jihu was little.

It wasn’t just his mother. As the target of Seol Jihu’s pranks ever since she was little, Seol Jinhee seemed to be touched that there was an outsider who finally understood her, and she condemned Seol Jihu without rest.

She did a double-take in the middle remembering her original goal, but Seo Yuhui’s charms had already mesmerized her.

Before anyone noticed, the three women were laughing and talking amicably.

However, Seol Jihu was most surprised by his father. He never knew his brusque father could laugh so brightly like a child.

“Uhahahaha! Right! He is kind of lame!”

After learning the word ‘lame’, he made fun of Seol Jihu excitedly.

“You’re so fun, so I don’t understand how Jihu’s so lame.”

“Hahaha! You hear that, you lame kid!?”

Knowing that he deserved any criticism headed his way, Seol Jihu just laughed and played along. Plus, the atmosphere was pretty good.

“Wow, look at the time.”

At one point, Seol Jinhee looked at the clock and commented. Time had flown by before they realized it.

“Unni, why don’t you stay for dinner too? There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you, actually.”

“Hm? What is it?”

“Why is someone like you dating my manchild of an older brother who only knows how to prank people for a living?”

Seol Jinhee had a rather sharp evaluation of Seol Jihu.

“I do have to admit he’s kind of childish.”

Seo Yuhui giggled. Though she toned down the harshness, it was more or less the same thing.

“Still…”

Seo Yuhui glanced at the dazed Seol Jihu. She was no longer affected by the emotions of her first life when looking at him. She had feelings for him, even without them.

“Damn, you’re one lucky guy.”

Seol Jinhee clicked her tongue, seeing a gentle smile blooming on Seo Yuhui’s face. She could easily see the love overflowing from Seo Yuhui’s eyes and knew there would be no point in saying anything.

Seo Yuhui, who was staring at Seol Jihu affectionately, suddenly put her hands together with twinkling eyes.

“Oh right, do you have pictures from when Jihu was young? I really want to see them.”

“They should be in my room. I’ll go get them.”

“I’ll go with you~”

Seol Jinhee and Seo Yuhui stood up. As soon as they walked up to the second floor, Seol Jihu’s mother whispered.

“She’s a kind girl.”

“Isn’t she?”

“Her personality and the way she acts are very amiable. I’d love to have her as a daughter. Though you’re my son, I have to say she’s too good for you.”

“Right, a fun person like her is too good for a lame person like him, uhahaha!”

His guffawing father also agreed.

“Hey, can you introduce me to one of her friends?”

Seol Wooseok also asked.

“Didn’t you say you weren’t interested in marriage?”

“I changed my mind after seeing your girlfriend. I want to marry a girl like her too. And you know what they say, friends are like two peas in a pod. So ask her.”

“What about one of my friends?”

“Hell no.”

Seol Wooseok refused firmly. Seol Jihu, who was thinking about introducing him to Maria, shook his head regrettably.

‘But I’m glad.’

He was worried the atmosphere would be too stiff. Seeing how everyone liked Seo Yuhui, Seol Jihu was both relieved and happy.

Of course, there were other hurdles that needed going over. But the important thing was they stepped off on the right foot.

It was then.

‘Hmm?’

Seol Jihu blinked.

He saw a familiar puff of black smoke flying outside the window. It was Flone, no matter how he looked at it. She was clinging onto the window, waving her arms frantically.

“Uh…!”

Seol Jihu subconsciously stood up and did a double-take. His parents and Seol Wooseok were staring at him fixedly.

“What’s wrong?”

Seol Wooseok asked.

“Nothing. I’m gonna go out for a bit. I just got a call.”

After making an excuse to leave the house, Seol Jihu immediately opened the door and left. When he stepped out into the garden, the black smoke hurriedly flew toward him.

As expected, it was Flone.

“...? ...Right?”

Flone did not answer. She only looked at him with eyes that were brimming with tears.

“It’s you, right? How did you get here? Don’t tell me…”

At that moment.

[Help…!]

Tears of blood poured down from her eyes. Seol Jihu’s expression sank.

“Calm down.”

Placing his hand on the crying Flone’s shoulders, Seol Jihu asked calmly.

“...What happened?”


*


“Oh, what took you so long?”

Seol Wooseok looked at Seol Jihu as he walked in and then blinked rapidly. Seol Jihu’s complexion was dark like he just heard a shocking piece of news.

“What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

His parents also looked at him curiously. A deep sigh escaped Seol Jihu’s lips. Everything was going well. For this to happen on such an important day…

...No, now wasn’t the time to be sitting still. A new danger had befallen Paradise, one that was perhaps greater than the appearance of the Parasite Queen.

Furthermore, the life and death of most of his comrades were unknown. Though Seol Jihu found this a bit hard to believe, if Flone was telling the truth, then every second was precious.

“...Father, Mother.”

Seol Jihu held his fists tight.

“I’m sorry.”

Clenching his teeth, he continued.

“It looks like I have to go.”

Everyone’s eyes widened. The lively atmosphere sank in an instant.

“What? I thought you had the day off?”

Seol Jinhee asked grouchily.

“Did your company ask for you? What kind of company bothers their employees on their day off!?”

“Okay.”

Just as his mother was starting to express her displeasure, Seol Jihu’s father spoke unexpectedly. He looked at Seol Jihu fixedly before nodding his head.

“What’s there to be sorry about? You can come back another time. Looks like you have an urgent matter to tend to. Hurry on out.”

“I guess that’s true. Salaried employees don’t have much choice. I heard Jihu’s been pretty busy lately too, what with signing a contract with Beauty Vivian and everything.”

Seol Wooseok also sided with him. Seol Jinhee dropped her head, going ‘Ah.’ Seemingly recalling the recent incident, she looked at Seol Jihu pitifully.

“It’s fine, so go do your job. Don’t forget this.”

Seol Wooseok patted Seol Jihu’s back and raised his pinky.

Seol Jihu put on his jacket and left with Seo Yuhui.

“What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

Seo Yuhui asked as soon as they finished saying goodbye.

“We have to go there.”

“Hm? All of a sudden?”

“...came.”

“Who?”

“The ghost. It looks like she used a Divine Wish with the help of the divinity I gifted her last time.”

Seo Yuhui’s eyes widened.

“But why?”

Seol Jihu explained while walking quickly. By the time his explanation came to an end, so did Seo Yuhui’s footsteps. She seemed to be in quite a big shock.

“I’m coming too.”

“No.”

Knowing she would say this, Seol Jihu immediately shook his head. He stared at Seo Yuhui before carefully placing his hand on her stomach.

“It’s not just you anymore.”

“But—”

“Yuhui.”

“We can at least go back together. It shouldn’t be dangerous just to follow you to the city.”

Seo Yuhui wasn’t the type to back down so easily.

“Let’s hurry. I’ll contact Miss Phi Sora.”

Seo Yuhui took out her phone before Seol Jihu could even answer.

Seol Jihu scanned his surroundings before rummaging through his pocket and taking out a small piece of paper.


*


On the other hand, a heavy silence had befallen Valhalla’s building.

—I refuse.

While a crushing silence filled the air, a voice flowed out of a communication crystal.

Kim Hannah bit her lower lip. Before announcing this matter to the public, Kim Hannah had started making preparations. As expected, the Eva Royal Family and Haramark Royal Family readily agreed to help.

But they weren’t enough. To gather Paradise’s forces together, the support of an Executor was also necessary. So she had contacted the Magician’s Guild and Sicilia, whom they were close with. However...

—I don’t see the reason we have to go there.

The reply Kim Hannah received was not what she had hoped.

—I understand the situation you are in… but it’s too obvious. You’re asking us to lend you a hand because something happened.

“Don Cinzia, all I am asking is that—”

—Everyone knows Valhalla’s strength. Each member is a battle-tested hero.

Kim Hannah tried to say something, but Cinzia waved her off.

—You say you lost contact with two teams, the second being more prepared than the first… This is no simple matter. But here’s the problem.

Cinzia’s eyes shone sharply in the crystal.

—The person leading these heroes has no solution to this problem. She doesn’t even have any information.

“....”

—You did not provide even a speck of certainty, yet you are asking me to send my precious men into a death trap?

“No, not at all.”

—Then why are you asking us to come together? Is Sicilia an organization you could order around to your liking?

Hearing this, Kim Hannah closed her mouth. Silence filled the air again.

—...Perhaps I was a little harsh. As you know, I am not the type to beat around the bush. I apologize if I crossed the line.

Upon reflection, Cinzia seemed to think she was too harsh as she softened her voice.

—I’m not saying that I won’t help. We owe you a debt, after all. But that debt is owed to the Valhalla of the past, not the current Valhalla.

Kim Hannah’s face stiffened.

—You do not have the qualification to ask me for a favor. If you want to talk about this again, show me a different face on the crystal next time. I hope you understand, Representative Kim.

Tk. Cinzia ended the call.

Kim Hannah’s face paled. It had been a while since she was forced into silence.

—...Though it happened long ago.

Philip Muller, who was quietly listening in on their conversation, spoke up.

—Did you know Valhalla’s previous representative went to Sicilia before the Tigol Fortress War to seek their help?

“....”

—Cinzia refused him back then as well. But the previous representative managed to get her to collaborate, albeit conditionally.

Philip Muller continued.

—It’s like Cinzia said, and I agree with her. It sounds like Valhalla is the cause of the recent phenomenon… As the party who caused this mess, Valhalla should be the one to take responsibility.

“....”

—You might not be able to find a solution because you don’t have any information to work with. To make matters worse, Valhalla has lost the ability to solve this problem. Even its representative is a non-combatant.

Kim Hannah flinched. Philip Muller was on point.

—I am not criticizing you. All I am saying is that you have not fully utilized your ability to solve this problem.

In short, Philip Muller was reminding Kim Hannah that she should accept reality and not talk about this matter with them without doing all that she could.

Philip Muller sighed and placed his hand on the communication crystal.

—If you can at least bring someone who has the ability and determination to risk danger with us… I’m sure Sicilia’s representative will have a bit of certainty.

With that, the remaining crystal flickered off.

Standing in front of the two communication crystals, Kim Hannah could not raise her head for a long time. Her hands shook. Her mind blanked out, and all sorts of negative emotions swirled through her head.

The problem was, there was no time to waste.

Despite feeling enervated, Kim Hannah forced herself to get up. She felt she would slump down if she stayed seated and have everything that she had worked toward disappear for sure. So, she forced herself to walk toward the temple.

As if the day couldn’t get any worse, when she returned to Earth and called Seol Jihu, he did not pick up. He wasn’t reading her messages either.

Though she called him dozens of times and even went to see him, all she heard was that he wasn’t in his old apartment house or SY Apartments.

‘Why… Why isn’t he picking up? Why…!?’

Just as she realized what she was thinking…

“...Hah.”

An empty chuckle escaped Kim Hannah’s lips.

An intense self-hatred suddenly rose inside her.

Chwaaaaa—!

Tiny droplets began to fall from the sky. Drenched in the rain, Kim Hannah trudged through the streets. Not knowing what to do, she just walked.

“....”

Her chest felt stuffy.

In the end, she was an Earthling who could not do anything alone.

Though she refused to think so until now, she could no longer deny it.

‘So heavy….’

Her shoulders rapidly got heavier when she couldn’t contact Seol Jihu. Meaning, she was subconsciously relying on Seol Jihu as a final resort.

What was funnier was that she still thought so.

‘How did you… for so long…’

She never thought it would be easy. Now that she was experiencing it first-hand, it was anything beyond her wildest imagination.

Her shoulders ached from the crushing pressure. Just how did Seol Jihu endure for so long? Just how did he find a solution in every crisis that happened?

[Take good care of Valhalla and Paradise.]

The loaded meaning of his departing words finally reached her.

Perhaps Kim Hannah would never know the true meaning. After all, she was a non-combatant. She did not even have the determination to throw herself at a problem and face it directly.

...No, she just got the determination.

‘I can’t cry.’

No matter how difficult a problem was, she could not be weak.

She had to put on a strong appearance.

That was what Seol Jihu did.

So she had to do so as well.

Because she was Valhalla’s representative.

Standing still, Kim Hannah bit her pale lip. Taking out a small piece of paper from her handbag, she ripped it without hesitation.

Though she walked to Valhalla with determination, when she saw the building… Kim Hannah blinked rapidly.

Murmur, murmur.

The main gate was bustling.

Kim Hannah’s eyebrows went up. She doubted her eyes for a second.

The building that was completely emptied after the second failure was now crowded.

Many people were going in and out of it.

Walking through the crowd and entering the building, Kim Hannah ran into someone she did not expect to see.

“Hmm? Why are you soaking wet like a mouse drenched in the rain?”

A woman straightening out her coat looked at Kim Hannah and asked.

It was Sicilia’s representative, the Star of Sloth, Taciana Cinzia.

“How….”

“How did I get here so fast? He told me to hurry up because it was urgent. Since he said he’d even use a Divine Wish, I had no reason to refuse…. Hmm?”

Cinzia opened her eyes wide in the middle of talking.

Kim Hannah had her mouth open as if she did not understand what she was talking about.

“Aha… Looks like he was in more of a rush than I thought.”

Cinzia chuckled and turned around.

“I’ll be waiting in the conference room. Time is gold.”

Staring at Cinzia in a daze, Kim Hannah tilted her head up.

“Ah, representative!”

Park Woori, who was busy guiding people, found Kim Hannah and shouted.

“Perfect timing. This is incredible! Right now…!”

He paused and then quietly smiled.

Kim Hannah was already walking toward the staircase.

Her legs, which climbed the stairs with quick steps, began to run before anyone noticed.

‘Could it be…!?’

Half in belief and half in doubt, Kim Hannah felt something inside her begin to flare up.

KWANG!

The door burst open.

The moment she looked inside, Kim Hannah let out the breath she had been holding in.

The air of the sunlit office touched her skin warmly. Just being in the same space seemed to calm her spirit.

It was a magic power Kim Hannah did not have.

She slowly looked around the room. A total of three women were sitting around the table.

Seeing Kim Hannah, Phi Sora, who had her hand on her lip, lifted her chin.

Baek Haeju glanced at her sideways, and Seo Yuhui handed her a towel with a gentle smile.

They were all Earthlings she was familiar with. To be more precise, they were all women who stood on the frontlines with a certain person in the past.

That could only mean one thing.

“You’re here?”

Kim Hannah turned her gaze forward. Beyond the main desk, she could see a man sitting with the back of the chair turned toward her, looking at a document she wrote with the Spear of Purity resting on his shoulder.

“You did a good job organizing everything. I had no clue what was going on, but this report gives me a good idea.”

Kiik. The chair spun back.

Their eyes met.

“As expected of Kim Hannah. Good work.”

The moment he grinned under the brilliant sunlight, Kim Hannah shut her eyes tight and clenched her fists unknowingly. While feeling relieved on one hand…

“I’ll hear the rest in a bit. Everyone should be waiting for us in the conference room.”

She felt like her heart would burst from an unknown heat.

“Alright then.”

...Right.

“Let’s go.”

Seol Jihu was back.

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