Chapter 91. After a Storm Comes a Calm

Seol Jihu and Teresa Hussey stayed at the lake for dozens of minutes, but they knew they couldn’t stay there until the end of time. Now that they had quenched their thirst and filled their canteen with water, they reluctantly left the lake.

Pain still pierced their bodies with each step they took, but things were much better now that they relieved their thirst. Their steps were much lighter as they exited the Forest of Denial and climbed up the Napal Hill. Of course, they didn’t push themselves and took periodic rests, walking both day and night.

On the third night since their departure from the Forest of Denial.

“What are you going to do first when you get back?”

Teresa asked in the middle of their night march.

‘When I go back to Haramark?’

There were many things he wanted to do – meeting his comrades, eating delicious food and drinking beverages until he couldn’t stomach them anymore, treating his wounds, going to the temple, training once he recovered, and….

‘Eh?’

Suddenly, he felt like he was forgetting something important….

[In the future, when you need to go somewhere, anywhere, you give me a call first. Do you hear me?]

‘Ah!’

He barely stopped himself from shouting out loud. In truth, Seol Jihu had hesitated in calling Kim Hannah before he departed for the rescue mission. Ultimately, he decided against it, knowing she would never approve of him going.

He wanted to complete the mission secretly and pretend he didn’t know a thing about it, but… well, now that things had come to this, there was little to no chance that she wouldn’t have found out.

‘My back….’

Remembering the power of Kim Hannah’s slap, Seol Jihu sighed inwardly. Teresa continued talking, not knowing what the youth was thinking.

“Do you want to follow me to the royal palace?”

“Royal palace…?”

“Yes!”

Seol Jihu hesitated. He figured he might live if he requested protection from the Haramark Royal Family. However, he soon shook his head.

Setting aside whether that was possible, he couldn’t stay cooped up in the royal palace forever. Like the saying, ‘the sooner the better’, he didn’t want to risk five slaps turning into twenty just because he was afraid.

“Thank you, but… I think I’ll report back to Carpe Diem first. I have to let them know I’m alive.”

“Don’t worry about that. We’ll just invite them to the palace too.”

“That’s fine, but actually, I want to surprise them.”

Teresa was rather shocked.

“You have a quite a strange personality. Okay, then, I’ll summon you later.”

It seemed she was adamant on wanting to invite him to the palace. Seol Jihu had no reason to refuse, so he nodded his head.

The grassy path they were walking on soon connected to a wide artificial road. They could then see a grey wall standing tall under the night sky. Although they were still quite a distance away from it, it was undoubtedly a castle wall.

The duo stopped simultaneously. For the next few minutes, they stood still and simply stared at each other.

A castle wall. Without a doubt, it was Haramark.

*

They finally returned to Haramark. Once they entered the city safely, Seol Jihu couldn’t hide his surging emotions. The roads pooling with filthy water, the old and dilapidated buildings shrouded by darkness, everything moved him.

Perhaps because it was late, there were only a few people out about in the streets. Teresa and Seol Jihu crossed the streets side-by-side, only separating once they arrived at the plaza.

They stared at each other fixedly. Were words even necessary? Teresa suddenly held out her hand.

“Congratulations.”

It wasn’t ‘Well done’ or ‘You did well’, but ‘Congratulations’. Seol Jihu took her hand firmly. The Princess’s palm carried warmth that wasn’t present before.

“Congratulations to you, too.”

“Rest well. I’ll summon you soon to the palace, so don’t refuse.”

“Why would I?”

“Hehe, you can look forward to it.”

Teresa winked. It seemed she was referring to the reward.

‘I wonder how much she’s planning to give….’

Seol Jihu chuckled indifferently. He was just about to jokingly ask, ‘Shall I be expecting you in bed?’, but quickly swallowed it back. He had to go back and rest as soon as possible, so he didn’t want to get himself in trouble by making stupid, teasing remarks.

After saying their farewells, the duo turned around. Teresa headed towards the palace, while Seol Jihu headed to Carpe Diem’s office.

‘Why does my body feel so heavy?’

Was it because his body was no longer tense? The built-up fatigue inside him seemed to have exploded when he entered the city as his body lost strength. He used his spear as a walking cane to forcefully drag his feet forward.

When a familiar building entered his sight, he began to sob. One step after the other, he trudged up the stairs before pushing the door on the brink of fainting.

Tung!

“…Huh?”

The door was locked. He tried to turn the doorknob again, but the door didn’t budge in the slightest.

‘Is no one here?’

Kwang, Kwang. He knocked on the door, but there was no response.

‘Could it be?’

A sudden thought popped up in his head. Could Chohong have left for the laboratory to save him?

‘…She couldn’t have, right?’

In any case, he had no choice but to turn back.

‘Damn it….’

If I knew no one was home, I would have followed the Princess to the palace.

A belated regret set in. Seol Jihu grumbled inwardly, and after walking down the stairs, he let out a sigh and looked up at the sky. His eyes caught sight of the building on the other side of Carpe Diem’s office.

‘I guess it finished….’

He became curious who moved in, but that only lasted for a moment. He smacked his lips and turned around. Now that things had come to this, he only had one other place to go. Soon, Seol Jihu arrived at Luxuria’s temple after an arduous walk and dragged his feet inside with great difficulty.

“Um….”

The woman dozing off at the reception desk opened her eyes. When her sleepy eyes caught sight of the youth leaning against a blue spear, her eyes widened in surprise.

He barely managed to eke out his next words.

“I’m looking for a treatment….”

*

Seol Jihu was almost chased out because he threw off his gown completely when the female Priest asked him to show her his wounds, causing her to scream. Thankfully, she stopped screaming in five seconds, and after noticing the gravity of the wounds on his body, she hurriedly called for better Priests.

After being escorted to the emergency treatment room, Seol Jihu maintained his sanity as he was hit with a barrage of questions. He got to lay down on a comfortable bed for the first time in a long while, but his brain refused to let him fall asleep so easily.

The several-day-long pursuit had made his body used to sleeping outside. Of course, the unnecessarily loud treatment room also had something to do with it.

“Spray more healing water!”

“Back, side…. His wounds are at least seven days old. We’ll try Massive.”

“Wait! His left shoulder and thigh are…! W-What the hell!? What happened to him!?”

“This…. It looks like he received emergency treatment.”

Seol Jihu let out a hollow chuckle. The way everyone was running about shouting made him feel like he was at a real ER room.

‘Are my wounds that bad?’

At that moment, the talking in the room suddenly ceased. Seol Jihu was looking at the ceiling with narrowed eyes, but when the room suddenly fell silent, he tilted his head to the side.

‘Is the treatment over?’

Now that he thought about it, he had been feeling like someone was staring at him since a while ago.

“I can’t believe this, really….”

‘W-What…? Who is that…?’

He could barely catch a glimpse of a figure.

‘Why…?’

I might be half-dead, but I came back alive, didn’t I?

While he was feeling somewhat sad, he spotted a strapless Priest robe that looked just like a white dress along with long, ebony-colored hair.

‘Chung Chohong?’

No, Chung Chohong didn’t dress like that. For some reason, Seol Jihu felt as if he’d seen that robe before.

“…Meanie…. I was so worried….”

Her voice grew faint. Seol Jihu strained his ears to listen to her mumbles. It was then that a hand gently touched his forehead. He might have been mistaken, but the hand seemed to be trembling intensely. Soon….

“Cure Critical Wounds.”

A familiar voice rang out…

Paaat!

And his vision flashed white. The erupting light shot out of the room and even dyed the hallway white. Watching this scene, Seol Jihu couldn’t hide his shock. He had never seen such a beautiful, brilliant light before.

Soon, he closed his eyes, feeling the light seep into every corner of his body. His flickering consciousness finally cut off. After days of staying alert, his brain finally fell asleep. Seol Jihu left his body to the drowsiness flooding in. His sleeping face displayed a smile happier than anyone else in the world.

*

That morning, the Haramark Royal Family made an unprecedented official announcement. The content of the announcement was the return of ‘Seol’ and ‘Teresa Hussey’ that morning. With this, every member who participated in the rescue mission had returned alive.

The Haramark Royal Family added a few more details. The first was that the duo cooperated with the Federation during their escape. The second was that they destroyed the Delphinion Duchy’s laboratory, the headquarters of the Parasites’ mass production facility. The last was that they had successfully returned after breaking through the Parasites’ increased encirclement. It was an added bonus that the Parasites’ plans had been foiled and their forces severely cut down in size.

The news…

“Hey! Chohong! Chohoooooong!”

—O-Old Man? What’s the fuss about? Did you drink this early in the morning?

“Where— No, just come back! Hurry!”

—What is it? I already told you, I have to…

“Seol is back! Seol is back!”

—W-What?

…Not only spread in Haramark…

“What about the Temple of Luxuria? Didn’t that damn Ice Queen say she’ll find him no matter what? She even said she would become active again if he was found.”

“Yes, Lady, we’re looking into the matter. It seems to be true that he survived with his own strength. After all, the Order of Luxuria was still in their preparation stage and never left Haramark.”

“Hmm… What an interesting turn of events. What was the man’s name again?”

“It’s Seol. Ah, speaking of which, I heard rather interesting pieces of news today.”

“Interesting news?”

“That youth named Seol. It appears that the Daughter of Luxuria is personally taking care of him.”

…But also in Scheherazade and other kingdoms. In less than a day, the news of his feats traveled far and wide, reaching even the lands of the Federation and the Parasites.

However, the talk of the world was…

“Zzz….”

…Currently wandering about in his dreamland. Even after sleeping for a whole day, he didn’t show signs of waking up. Once his sleep-deprived body tasted genuine sleep, it desired it endlessly.

Seol Jihu was currently feeling very happy with himself. He didn’t know why, but there was a soft warmth constantly embracing his body. No, that wasn’t enough to describe this sensation. It was cozy, relaxing, purifying…. If there was an essence of warmth in the world, he firmly believed this had to be it.

Plus, although it sometimes made him stifled for breath, there was also something tender and squishy. This unbelievably soft and elastic thing also packed quite a size. Every time Seol Jihu buried his face in this softness, an unknown comfort and kindness entered his brain.

‘This is happiness.’

He became languid, so much so that he thought it would be okay to die like this. Even when he woke up, he immediately fell back asleep from the coziness.

That wasn’t all.

“Here. Aaaah—”

The light was only scary at first. It grew gentler as time went by, and more importantly, there were times that it talked to him in his dreams like a real human being. He just did as he was told, and delicious food would enter his mouth.

‘Mm… it smells amazing. Is it porridge?’

Seol Jihu sniffed repeatedly and opened his mouth like a baby waiting to be fed. As expected, a warm porridge gently entered his mouth. Seol Jihu still believed he was dreaming as he gulped down.

‘Delicious, delicious….’

However, he never let his guard down. There were times when a bitter smell would be mixed in with the food.

‘!’

As soon as he sensed it, he would shut his mouth instantly. It didn’t matter whether he was eating delicious food before. Just like now.

“H-Hey….”

The light was taken aback.

“How did you know it was medicine….”

With this, Seol Jihu became sure. He was thankful to the person taking care of him, but he hated medicine.

“Come on, you have to eat this after your meal.”

“….”

“Don’t be like that. Do you know how precious this herb is? Be good, okay?”

“….”

“Come on. Say, aaaah—”

“….”

Seol Jihu kept his mouth shut in protest, but the voice constantly persuaded him. Eventually, he gave in to the gentle pressure and opened his mouth.

“Euuuuh….”

The man-child grimaced. After barely managing to feed him the medicine, the mysterious person let out a deep sigh.

“Really… when are you going to grow up?”

He could hear the voice say something, but he was sleepy now that he ate something. After taking a big yawn, Seol Jihu dug into the warmth. He never imagined that someone stroking his hair and patting his back could feel so good.

‘This is happiness!’

Like the saying, ‘after the storm comes a calm’, Seol Jihu thoroughly enjoyed the blissful life he now had. Of course, he had no way of knowing what was going on in the outside world.

*

Seoul, Sinyoung Pharmaceutical’s headquarters.

“Yes, yes…. Today at 6:25 p.m. Yes, I understand.”

Click. The sound of a phone hanging up could be heard.

“Hm….”

Kim Hannah had an odd expression as she looked down at the office phone on her desk.

‘Seol Jihu.’

She had found out long ago that he joined the rescue mission without telling her. Of course, it was already too late to stop him then. She just received the report that he had returned alive. Because she had an urgent matter to take care of on Earth, the news of Seol Jihu’s return had reached her late.

In any case, she was relieved to hear that he came back alive. Right, she was relieved….

“Ehew.”

Kim Hannah covered her face with her hands.

‘You motherfucking son of a bitch….’

He was already garnering unnecessary attention due to his Golden Mark, but the problem he caused this time was too great for anyone to ignore. This matter was on an entirely different scale compared to the defense of the Arden Fortress. As it would affect the whole of Paradise, there was no way his name wouldn’t spread.

It was already well beyond Kim Hannah’s capabilities to deal with alone. Although Seol Jihu was still oblivious, Paradise wasn’t a simple world. As Earthlings could use achievement points to bring Paradise’s items back to Earth, countless interest groups were battling it out in chaos.

There was a reason Paradise housed large, violent organizations from Earth. If one got unlucky, he would have to be careful not only in Paradise but also on Earth.

Kim Hannah had just received a call from her secretary, telling her that the First Lady wanted to see her. Kim Hannah could only come up with one reason that pervert would suddenly want to see her.

“Huu…..”

Kim Hannah slapped her cheeks in despair. It was a stroke of fortune, no, a stroke of miracle from the heavens that the Daughter of Luxuria was taking care of Seol Jihu.

Seo Yuhui was undoubtedly one of the most influential Earthlings in Paradise. Although she retired from her position a long time ago, her abilities, fame, influence, and organization did not go anywhere. She would be able to become a stronger shield than any other Earthling.

Kim Hannah breathed a sigh of relief when she found out Seo Yuhui volunteered to help herself. At the same time, she couldn’t help but wonder.

‘Why is she protecting Seol Jihu?’

Kim Hannah was positive the two had no prior connections. There was no one named Seo Yuhui among Seol Jihu’s network of friends, family, and acquaintances. In fact, Seo Yuhui was a woman wrapped in a veil of mystery. Practically no one knew her identity on Earth.

‘Is she trying to raise him?’

That was certainly possible. Of the acclaimed Earthlings playing an active part in Paradise’s conflicts, more than a few had crossed her hands. After all, even that Sung Shihyun was her work.

Thinking about it this way, Kim Hannah could begin to understand. Of course, she had too many things on her plate at the moment to think too deeply into it. For now, she decided to focus on the problems at hand.

‘I’ll need to pull the plan forward.’

But before that, there was something she needed to do.

‘Bastard, just wait until I see you again.’

Her eyes flickered with a cold, grim light.

‘I’ll show you.’

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