Side Story 58. And That’s Where the Pantyhose Comes In (2)

After the expedition, most problems were resolved quickly. Everything returned to normal except for the Seven Sins, who, despite Seol Jihu’s plea, remained steadfast in their attitude toward him.

[Welcome back.]

Seol Jihu, who was on his way back to Paradise from the hospital with Seo Yuhui, sighed at the voice ringing in his head as he passed through the warp gate. He sensed Gula’s presence down the path leading to the temple. He was the only one who seemed to be able to see and hear her. Others did not respond to her at all. He had to be the only Earthling in all of Paradise to be personally greeted by the goddesses whenever he left or returned to Paradise.

[Your humble servant greets you.]

“I told you not to do this.”

[But—]

“I told you this makes me uncomfortable. And I know I’ve said this a million times, but this isn’t going to make me want to become a god.”

Seol Jihu sighed as he watched Gula drop her head in silence.

[Oh my. You’re back!]

It was then that a sensual voice echoed in his head. He felt an energy approach him in small hops from afar. This energy obviously belonged to Luxuria, the Goddess of Lust.

[Welcome!]

Luxuria jumped into Seol Jihu’s arms and hugged him tightly. A bitter look crossed Seol Jihu’s face. Luxuria was the only god to accept his request to be treated the same as before, at least in her own way. The problem was that Seol Jihu wasn’t happy with the direction she had taken.

[I’ve missed you!]

For one, she was still using honorifics.

[How about you, Seol Jihu-nim? Did you miss me?]

Seol Jihu admitted that he was partly at fault here. In an attempt to restore their relationship to what it was, he pulled some pranks on Luxuria. During one of the pranks, he ordered her to “come out and show yourself, if you really want to serve me like you say you do!” To his surprise, Luxuria actually physically manifested before him. He couldn’t remember much of what happened after that, except how warm and cozy Luxuria felt until Seo Yuhui rushed in and dragged him out.

Even after that, Seol Jihu secretly visited Luxuria’s temple and demanded her to appear before him. When she expressed concern, he consoled her by saying everything would be fine and that he was there for her. Thanks to his efforts, he was able to get quite close to Luxuria.

[Why don’t you come to see me these days?]

Now, however, the situation seemed to be out of his hands.

[Are you sick of me? But you said you’d love me! I’m so upset!]

[Stop it. Can’t you see that you’re troubling him?]

When she saw Seol Jihu shut his eyes tight, Gula quickly intervened.

[That’s not the kind of language and attitude you should be using in front of our hero.]

[But!]

[Silence!]

Gula, who only rarely raised her voice, scolded Luxuria.

[Your actions today will be formally challenged at the meeting. Be grateful for his mercy and repent your acts.]

Gula let out a dry cough and turned again toward Seol Jihu.

[Please excuse the commotion. Come inside.]

“What do you mean come inside? No way. I’m leaving.”

With a grumble, Seol Jihu looked back at Gula before leaving.

“If you do this again, I’m going to call you Little Gula the next time I see you. Okay?”

Gula flinched. Even for her, the name Little Gula was too much to handle.

Hoping that the threat would work, Seol Jihu left the temple and headed to his restaurant.

As soon as he opened the door, he heard a clatter. Excalibur and the Spear of Purity were lying side by side in the kitchen. Someone had covered them with a blanket, and they looked like they were taking a nap.

“Ah. Did I wake you?”

Click. Excalibur rolled over and covered the Spear of Purity with itself.

“…”

Ever since Kim Soohyun left Excalibur in Seol Jihu’s care, the sword hadn’t left the Spear of Purity for a single moment.

‘Where’s Rara…?’

As soon as he thought so, a black spear flew across the air and slipped under the blanket that the sword and spear were sharing. Naturally, a commotion broke out.

Clang! Clang!

Seol Jihu shook his head when he saw Excalibur and the Spear of Purity fighting the Sura Demon Spear. It didn’t even surprise him anymore. He had already given up trying to comprehend them.

It was then that he heard someone knocking on the door of the restaurant. The man who entered with Seol Jihu’s permission was astonished at the scene before him.

“Oh, they’re fine. Don’t mind them.”

Seol Jihu spoke quickly to reassure his guest, who seemed ready to scream any moment.

“What brings you here? The restaurant’s closed today.”

“Oh, um….”

Seol Jihu’s expression stiffened as he listened.

The man had come bearing a message from Kim Hannah.


*


First, Seol Jihu scolded the sword and the two spears. When he saw that they were sorry, he headed to Valhalla. There was a familiar figure in the lobby. She was sprawled out on the couch, waving the Thorn of Steel up and down.

“Hmm? What are you doing here?”

Chung Chohong greeted Seol Jihu.

“Kim Hannah called me here. How are you feeling? Are you okay now?”

“You bet I am. I’ve been fine for a while…. I just realized I never got a chance to say thank you.”

“You don’t have to.”

“?”

“You don’t have to thank me. I already know how you feel.”

“How?”

“I just do. You know what they say. Husband and wife can read each other like an open book.”

“Bullshit. You still remember that? When are you gonna stop?”

Chohong raised her head with a laugh. Seol Jihu smiled in return. Her smile made him feel much better. Now he knew for certain that she had recovered fully.

“But seriously, why are you here? What does the fox want from you?”

“No idea. Maybe she’s finally going to confess her love for me?”

“Ha! This guy. He hasn’t changed one bit. Get going already, will ya?”

Even while she said so, Chohong’s gaze remained on Seol Jihu. After their little chat, Seol Jihu climbed the stairs to the second floor.

He knew that she would want to talk to him at some point. The recent incident was too big and shocking for them to pretend it never happened. He didn’t mean to blame her, of course. He just regretted that things didn’t work out as best as they could. Seol Jihu had briefly wondered whether he should visit Kim Hannah first but decided against it as it might bother her when she was obviously busy. Also, knowing her strict nature, he was confident that she wouldn’t look away as though nothing had happened.

And today, she finally contacted him. There was something she wanted to tell him, she said.

“You’re here.”

As soon as Seol Jihu opened the office door, he saw Kim Hannah sitting at her desk.

“Take a seat. You’re a little late, aren’t you? I thought you’d be here sooner.”

Kim Hannah said, closing the file and taking off her glasses. Seol Jihu was about to explain that he was late because he had to stop the fight between the sword and the spears but paused before he did. He knew that she would see it as an excuse.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the famous Miss Foxy. Why did she call me all the way out here, I wonder?”

Seol Jihu said playfully.

“What are you playing at? Are you trying to imitate Miss Cinzia?”

Kim Hannah smiled bitterly before letting out a small sigh.

“I’m sorry.”

Suddenly she apologized.

“I tried not to, but I ended up relying on you again. And, well… I just thought I should apologize first.”

Seol Jihu quickly straightened his posture.

“I feel like this all would’ve ended much faster if I had made a different choice. Then I wouldn’t have felt as guilty as I do now. It’s just a thought.”

Seol Jihu nodded quietly.

“It is regretful.”

He said after a moment of silence.

“I only found this out later, but the situation would have ended a lot sooner if you had contacted me when you lost contact with Team 1 during their second search. Apparently, the arrival of the rescue team drastically widened the crack.”

Kim Hannah remained silent.

“Of course, I can only say this because I know the result. I know you were looking out for me, and I understand why you decided to send a rescue team. There’s no way anyone could have known that a god stronger than the Parasite Queen lay hidden under the ruins of the Empire.”

Kim Hannah reluctantly nodded. He was right. This was beyond anyone’s imagination.

“But in the end, that doesn’t change the fact that I made a mistake.”

Kim Hannah continued after a long silence.

“I’m sure you must be curious about why I didn’t contact you sooner. Why I didn’t tell you for as long as possible.”

“You said you didn’t want to worry me.”

“There’s that too, but….”

Kim Hannah cleared her throat.

“Do you know what happened to Valhalla after you resigned?”

“Huh?”

“We’re a mess.”

Seol Jihu’s eyes widened at Kim Hannah’s straightforward assessment.

“Why?”

“Because our hierarchy has crumbled down.”

Kim Hannah said simply.

“I emphasized this several times when you were the representative. An organization—”

“—Is a community that needs rules and regulations to function properly.”

Seol Jihu finished her sentence. His reaction was almost automatic because he had heard the same phrase more than a dozen times before.

“You’re right. And it’s especially true between subordinates and their superiors.”

Kim Hannah paused briefly, then continued.

“Our current system is ineffective because our subordinates ignore the rules and regulations that are in place.”

“…Who are you talking about exactly?”

Seol Jihu asked carefully.

“Almost all of them.”

Kim Hannah clenched her teeth.

“I won’t say everyone. But there’s this one thing that all team leaders always say during our leader meetings. They say that their team members are rebellious, and they’re always complaining and grumbling.”

She continued.

“All of our team leaders are exceptional. Marcel Ghionea, Ayase Kazuki, and Oh Rahee. They will thrive in any organization in Paradise, but you already know that.”

“Yes.”

“But every time they give an order, their team members complain. It wasn’t like this in the past, they say. Or Jihu wasn’t like this. Jihu Oppa was different. Even the experienced members are no different. How can this be?”

Seol Jihu was speechless. Insubordination had never been an issue when he was the representative.

“You wouldn’t know. This never happened when you were here.”

It couldn’t be helped. Valhalla was an organization founded by and for Seol Jihu. Each member had a close relationship with him. Seol Jihu was a beloved and respected representative, so no one disputed his decisions—not even the risky ones. Their blind faith in Seol Jihu worsened over time as he began to yield results.

“If you had stayed, this would never have happened. That’s why I tried to stop you from leaving.”

Kim Hannah closed her eyes.

“I tried to step out of your shadow, but….”

Her voice trailed off as she slowly tilted her head back.

“What can I say? My greed aggravated the situation. It’s my fault.”

Kim Hannah failed. Although the situation ended well, the fact that Seol Jihu came to save her was a big problem. Seol Jihu left Valhalla a long time ago, yet his influence over the organization was still growing.

Suddenly, Kim Hannah opened the desk drawer.

“I’ve already taken care of urgent matters. Now, as Valhalla’s Representative, I think I should take responsibility for my mistakes.”

She took out a white envelope from the drawer. It was her letter of resignation.

“Tomorrow morning, I’ll gather everyone and apologize for my mistakes. I will then resign from my post.”

Seol Jihu glanced at the envelope, then turned his gaze back to Kim Hannah.

“It isn’t a whim.”

Kim Hannah declared.

“I’ve thought long and hard about it.”

Seol Jihu stared at Kim Hannah. He rolled his eyes and tilted his head slightly.

“I don’t know.”

Seol Jihu muttered, rubbing his chin.

“I don’t think this is a good decision.”

Kim Hannah’s eyes widened.

“You said a lot of things, but…. Well, they all sounded like excuses to me.”

“Jihu.”

“You’re pinning the blame on me. And now that you have reasonable grounds to resign, you’re willing to take that opportunity…. Am I wrong?”

“…What?”

Kim Hannah’s eyebrows wriggled.

“Do you have to put it like that?”

“See, I never thought I’d say this to you, but….”

Seol Jihu interrupted her.

“Did you really think that your position could be thrown away so easily?”

Kim Hannah frowned.

“I can’t believe you of all people would say that.”

“Me? What about me?”

Seol Jihu opened his eyes wide.

“I resigned at the right moment. I defeated the Parasites and proposed a treaty so that Paradise could recover in peace. I accomplished my purpose and took care of everything that needed to be done before stepping down. So why should I be considered the same as you?”

Kim Hannah’s eyes widened in surprise. She never knew Seol Jihu could be so logical. Suddenly she saw him from a new perspective.

“You, on the other hand…. You’re not even close to achieving your goal. To resign now just means to run away.”

“That’s…. It’s because of the latest incident—”

“That was inevitable.”

Seol Jihu said firmly.

“Have any of the members complained about your decision regarding this matter?”

“…”

They hadn’t. Some of them asked why she didn’t contact Seol Jihu sooner, but no one took issue with her decision to send out a rescue team. They all understood that she, or anyone else for the matter, could not have predicted the enemy’s true identity.

“I thought there was something you wanted to achieve when you first accepted that position.”

“…”

“And… I think this may be related to the problem you mentioned.”

Kim Hannah blinked.

Seol Jihu’s stiff face cracked into an awkward smile.

“It feels strange to say this myself, but… no one could have solved this situation but me.”

Kim Hannah closed her mouth. She couldn’t deny that he was right.

“It’s not just you. The result would have been the same with anyone else, no matter how competent they were. This was that big of a deal.”

“…”

“And it’s the same with Valhalla. If you can’t solve it yourself, maybe you should rely on others.”

“Who? Who could possibly pull them out of your shadow?”

“Who, you ask?”

Seol Jihu’s lips curved into a smile.

“Me, of course.”

Then he pointed with his finger at himself.

Kim Hannah seemed annoyed.

“So you’re saying that I should become a hypocrite?”

“That’s too harsh.”

“But it’s true. You want the others to break away from your shadow but still want me to stay in it.”

“About that…. This is what I think.”

Seol Jihu raised his hands to calm her down.

“Who cares if you’re in my shadow?”

“Wha-What did you say?”

“Only the members need to step out of it. It doesn’t matter if you stay, does it?”

Kim Hannah opened her mouth, speechless.

“Why are you trying to do everything by yourself? You shouldn’t do that.”

“…”

“It’s not like I did everything by myself. I relied on my comrades and even hid behind them when needed.”

He was talking about the Spirit Realm expedition and the beginning of the Path of the Souls.

“Anyway.”

Seol Jihu got up from his seat and walked over to Kim Hannah’s desk.

“What I’m trying to say is… you should think again.”

He pushed the white envelope on her desk to the side.

“You’ve been doing well so far. And you’re better than me in some areas.”

“…”

“You should do things your way. But you’re not perfect, so let others help you when you need them.”

Kim Hannah looked hesitant.

“I know what you think of me. But you should still reconsider.”

Seol Jihu stared at Kim Hannah.

“You and I have known each other for a while now. I want you to rely on me more. If you’re tired, taking a break isn’t a bad idea. Or have someone by your side who’s willing to help you always, and forever.”

At that moment, Kim Hannah’s eyes instantly shot open, and her face stiffened.

“What?”

“Am I wrong?”

Seol Jihu shrugged. Kim Hannah began to blink rapidly. With confused eyes, she looked up at Seol Jihu, and….

“…Hey.”

“Ho.”

“Cut the bullshit. What did you mean by what you just said?”

“What do you mean by asking me what I meant? I thought I was fairly straightforward?”

She dropped her head again at his answer. I knew it. She muttered to herself.

“Asshole.”

She even cursed softly. Kim Hannah then muttered to herself for a few moments before slowly raising her head.

“…Okay.”

She looked at Seol Jihu with calmer eyes and grabbed the envelope that he had put aside.

“For you to say all that… I may have been too hasty. I’ll think about it again as you said.”

And then she ripped the envelope in half.

‘For a moment, I thought my heart was going to explode. How can he say that without warning? He hasn’t changed at all. What an asshole.’

No, not in half—she was ripping the envelope into a million pieces, as if to vent her frustration. Seol Jihu shivered but decided to take this as a good sign.

“All right. I believe in you, Miss Representative.”

“I guess I was really worn out from everything. I can’t believe I made you say all that.”

Kim Hannah shook her head, then asked as she pulled her hair into a ponytail.

“So what are you gonna do now?”

“I’m going to stay here until your problem is resolved.”

“What about Earth? I thought you had something to do there?”

“I’ll put it off for a while. It was never meant to be rushed anyway.”

“That makes me feel a little guilty. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Help?”

“Or something you want from me?”

“Something I want from you….”

Seol Jihu tilted his head. His gaze turned to the gray suit Kim Hannah was wearing. Kim Hannah, who noticed his gaze, let out a chuckle.

“What? You want this? But I got it out of my closet this morning, so the smell won’t be strong.”

“What are you talking about? Do you think I’m some sort of pervert?”

“You are a pervert. You pervert.”

“I’ve changed a long time ago….”

Seol Jihu grumbled softly. Suddenly, his gaze moved down.

“I don’t need it, but if you really want to compensate me, then give me that.”

“What?”

“That over there. The brown thing.”

With a frown, Kim Hannah lowered her eyes to where Seol Jihu was looking. A pair of slender legs in brown pantyhose came into view. Her eyes immediately widened. She quickly closed her legs and pulled her skirt down as much as she could.

“You—”

“Just kidding~”

Seol Jihu quickly stepped back with a laugh.

“Let’s keep this a secret between us. If she finds out, I could die. That won’t be good because then I can’t help you!”

He waved and ran away before Kim Hannah could say anything.

His footsteps disappeared quickly.

—You guys!

Soon, Seol Jihu’s voice rang out from the garden.

—Mozzarella Schnauzer!

Kim Hannah walked out to the terrace. She saw Seol Jihu throw himself at a group of baby Beastmen. For a while, she watched him happily roll across the grass, surrounded by fluffy tails.

“…Ha.”

She pulled lightly on her pantyhose, then quickly released it as a dumbfounded chuckle escaped her lips.

“I can’t believe that guy. What a pervert! Who does he think he is?”

Of course, whether or not this would end as a joke….

“He really doesn’t know when to stop. Does he think everyone’s like him?”

Or what would happen in the future….

“Quit dreaming. I’m never going to give these to you.”

Both Seol Jihu and Kim Hannah didn’t know—yet.

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