Seol-Ah frowned and resisted the urge to look back.
Sungjin noticed and glanced at his sister. "Is something wrong, Noona?"
"No, but... I can't help but feel like someone's watching us?"
Sungjin narrowed his eyes and looked around. "Is it a stalker? I told you that you should be more careful going around by yourself, Noona. This place isn't like where we go with Hyung."
"I know, Sungjin. But... It's not like that?" Seol-Ah frowned and kept walking, hugging the flowers closer to her chest.
"Uh-huh... Are you sure we should keep going then? What if it's a loan shark trying to get the payment for mom's medical bills?" Sungjin frowned. "We made the last payments already, but..."
Seol-Ah sighed. "It's fine. Those guys shouldn't bother us too much..." She smiled and said, "Especially after what you did to the last one."
Sungjin cracked his knuckles and said, "That'll show them. Those ahjussi need to know when to back off and take their time on things. Though..." A flicker of nervousness passed the young man's face and he said, "Is it going to be fine? Hyung said we should rely on him here, right?"
Seol-Ah shook her head. "No. He's done enough for us in that place already. Besides, don't you remember? We need to be strong enough to stand on our own if we want to be by his side."
"True... I'm still a bit worried though. We don't have anyone else to depend on but ourselves now that the old man left."
Seol-Ah sighed. "...It'll work out somehow. But enough talking about that stuff." She put on a smile and looked up at the building in front of them. "We're here to see Mom, remember?"
Sungjin nodded. "Alright... Though I think she'll be a bit worried when she sees me like this..."
"Mm... Maybe we can just pass it off as your growth spurt?" Seol-Ah walked through the sliding doors of the building and glanced back. "I mean, boys grow up fast, don't they?"
"...I think me growing a whole head taller and getting this much muscle is more than just growing up fast, Noona."
Seol-Ah chuckled and then glanced back in the building.
It was a private hospital in downtown Seoul. From what they got told, it was also run by Sinyoung, which meant they had the best care available.
Somehow or another, Seol-Ah and Sungjin had managed to scrape up enough money to keep paying the bills recently, but there was still the issue of their previous debts... Their father hadn't left much behind and with their stepmother now sick...
Seol-Ah shook her head and stepped forward, making her way towards the elevator.
Sungjin followed behind her, carrying the homecooked meals for their stepmother.
Seol-Ah pressed the button. There was a soft chime, but the display showed that the elevator was still on the top floor. It would take some time for it to arrive, so she glanced back to look at Sungjin. "I wonder how Oppa is doing?"
"He's probably fine. Hyung is invincible, you know?" Sungjin put on a proud face and said, "After all of that, he still came out on top. And you remember how everyone was talking about him? He's incredible!"
"...I know. And that bothers me..." Seol-Ah pulled out her phone and glanced at the last text message she received. The one from Jihu, asking for their address so that he could help heal their mom.
"Oh. Right..." Sungjin muttered. "Should we tell him? I mean, this isn't really something we could solve by just working hard, right?"
That was true. After training more and learning about things in Paradise, the Yi siblings had come to realize that the magical heal-all elixir they sought to heal their mom could only be obtained in the Federation. And that the Federation rarely if ever gave it out, no matter how many contribution points were offered.
But Jihu said that it wasn't an issue for him. And after all that Seol-Ah had seen him do, she believed him.
Yet, Jihu had already done so much for them. And not just her and Sungjin.
Seol-Ah could still remember the terrible shape that Jihu was in after the fight. The horrific and eerie sight of his untouched body that reeked of blood. The terrifying diagnostic from Mister Ian and Miss Yuhui that Jihu's body was just a shell of flesh with the interior completely vaporized.
Like Sungjin said, the fact that Jihu survived that and was well enough to chat with them all showed that he was almost invincible. But just because he was invincible didn't mean they should bother him with all of their problems.
Just how much would it have hurt to go through that? Just what kind of resolution did he have to jump in without hesitation and leave everything to them?
Seol-Ah learned a lot about what Jihu did while he was unconscious to prepare for the war, and that only made her more hesitant to ask.
Jihu... Oppa was a wonderful person. A heroic and humble guy who would do anything for his friends and allies. One who put others before himself, even if he pretended not to.
That was fine in Paradise. But on Earth...
This wasn't just a matter of money. If Jihu knew just what troubles they were in...
The elevator door opened.
Seol-Ah sighed and walked in. Turning around to face the door, she pressed the button for the thirteenth floor and said, "Oppa's done enough. And I'm sure he has enough to worry about as is."
Right. With the aftermath of the war, Jihu would be busy organizing everything. And so in order to prepare for that, he was relaxing on Earth.
Dragging him into trouble when he needed a well-deserved rest wouldn't do.
Sungjin nodded. "I don't really agree... but I see what you mean, Noona." He sighed and leaned against the wall next to Seol-Ah. After, he put on a smile and said, "We'll just have to wrack our brains when we get over there again. Maria Noona said that we could ask her for help too, so if we work together I'm sure we can find something out."
"Yes! I'm sure-"
A man walked into the elevator.
Seol-Ah's eyes widened and she cut off her words.
"Ah." The man adjusted his suit and then said, "My apologies. I didn't mean to interrupt you two."
"N-No!" Seol-Ah shook her head. "It's fine. We were just... talking about our jobs."
The man... A typical businessman in suit and tie and carrying a briefcase nodded. "Jobs while being so young... Pretty responsible of you two."
"Y-Yes. I suppose..." She glanced at the man's face and frowned.
There was something about the guy that seemed familiar... But Seol-Ah couldn't place it. She felt like she should know him, and yet-
The man chuckled. "My. I didn't expect to be eyed up by a cute young lady this early in the morning."
Seol-Ah blushed and quickly shook her head. "N-No! I'm sorry, sir. U-Um..."
The elevator doors shut. Hearing that, Seol-Ah glanced at the elevator buttons and said, "O-Oh! What floor do you need to go to?"
The man glanced at the buttons. As he did, he shook his head and said, "It's fine. I'm just heading to go take care of a sick relative of my friends on the same floor."
"Oh really?" Seol-Ah blinked and said, "What a strange coincidence."
Sungjin frowned and pushed himself off the wall. "Yeah... Coincidence."
The elevator started moving.
The man held up his hands... Well, his left hand, considering his right was preoccupied by a case. "Relax. I really am here to see someone."
Seol-Ah frowned and glanced at her brother. "Sungjin. Stop it."
"...Sorry Noona." Sungjin gave another look at the man and then leaned back. Even so, he didn't turn his gaze away from him.
The man chuckled and said, "Siblings, huh? Well, better that than a boyfriend. I've already had enough romance drama this morning... Wouldn't want to get wrapped up in any potential NTR."
Sungjin blinked and muttered, "NTR?"
The man coughed and then turned around. "Anyway... Don't mind me." After saying that, he walked over to the corner of the elevator and pulled out his phone. From how he used his left hand to tap on the screen, he was probably sending some texts.
Seol-Ah averted her gaze to give the man some privacy... But she still found it a bit strange. For some reason or another, she kept finding her gaze drawn towards him, like something was off about the guy. Not in a hostile way... but in a sense that he wasn't all he seemed to be.
Sungjin had picked up on it too from how he reacted... But then again, this *was* a place run by Sinyoung...
Seol-Ah decided to ignore the man as best as she could. They couldn't afford to have anything happen here. Not while they were just starting to turn things around.
The rest of the elevator ride passed in a tense silence. But then the chime echoed and the doors opened.
The man slipped his phone away and nodded. Turning back to the siblings, he nodded and said, "Well, it was nice seeing you two. But I'll be going ahead then."
With that, the man walked out, quickly making his way down the corridor.
The Yi siblings walked out of the elevator as well and then stared at the man's departing form.
"...Something's off about that guy." Sungjin muttered and glanced at Seol-Ah. "You think it's fine, Unni?"
"...I think so." She frowned and said, "I didn't sense anything malicious from him, but-" She cut her words off as she saw the man turn and walk into a room.
A familiar room.
Seol-Ah's eyes widened and she quickly ran after him.
Sungjin's eyes widened as well and he followed after her. "Noona!"
Seol-Ah's heart pounded in her chest, suddenly realizing all that could be going on.
The strange man. The briefcase. 'Taking care of' a friend's relative. The same floor... and then the feeling of being watched all day...
Forgetting all about where she was, Seol-Ah ran to the door and wrenched it open. Instinctively, she spun around the plastic tag in the flower bouquet to use as a makeshift knife. "Stay away from my mom!"
Sungjin barged in after Seol-Ah, holding the bags of food like a makeshift flail. "If you touch a single hair on our mother, I'm going to- Eh?"
Seol-Ah froze. But she couldn't help it.
The man that had been with them in the elevator. The one who seemed so suspicious and the one who should have been in the room with their stepmother.
That man was nowhere to be seen. Instead...
"Geez. I should have known you two were hiding things from me."
...It was their reliable and confident leader, Jihu.
I stared at Seol-Ah and Sungjin, resisting the urge to laugh at their confused faces.
"Hyung?" Sungjin was the first to recover. He quickly closed the door behind him and said, "You... What are you doing here? And where did that man go?"
"Oh, you mean this guy?" I winked and then focused.
-Conceptual Manipulation. That was one of the new skills I gained from my endeavor back in Paradise. While I still wasn't sure to what extent I could use it, after a bit of testing, I managed to make a disguise out of it. Borrowing the logic of how I used to bend and send energy waves through my body to turn invisible, I changed my appearance and 'presence' to hide from the siblings while I tailed them.
As to that appearance...
I didn't see it, but from the reaction on both Seol-Ah and Sungjin's face, it seemed like it worked. From what I knew earlier, instead of my usual mug, there should be an average salaryman there instead.
Sungjin's eyes widened and then he closed them, rubbing his hands against his eyelids as if to make sure he was seeing things right.
Seol-Ah finally got over her shock at that and then let out a deep sigh. After, she got angry and said, "Don't do things like that, Oppa! Do you know how scared we were that our mom-" Her eyes widened and she quickly turned towards the side of the room.
There, a pretty middle-aged woman with long black hair was fast asleep. Her face was a bit wrinkled, and there were a few stray hairs of silver from stress, but she was still beautiful. At least, above average.
I shook my head and said, "Don't worry about her. I made sure she's fast asleep." I turned towards their mother and said, "A hardworking woman like that needs it."
Seol-Ah let out a sigh of relief. But then she turned to look at me, realization in her eyes. "Wait... Oppa." She tilted her head and said, "...Did you put her to sleep?"
Sungjin's eyes lit up and he pointed at me. "Hyung! You're a superhuman!"
I chuckled. "Not quite. I'm just... more thorough than others. But anyway..." I put on a serious face and said, "What was that I heard earlier about loan sharks?"
Seol-Ah let out a nervous chuckle.
A sigh echoed from the other line on my phone. "You really know how to keep me busy, don't you? Didn't I tell you earlier that I'm already swamped with work?"
"Bastard. I'm expecting my ramen tomorrow morning."
I chuckled and said, "Sure thing. I'll just show up in my car and cook for my sleepy partner then."
"Wait, that's not what-"
"Catch you later, Hannah. Take care of yourself, okay, Honey?"
I hung up on her and then glanced at my surroundings.
Deep in the middle of Seoul. After a long scolding of the Yi siblings for keeping their troubles from me, I called Hannah and made arrangements with Seora to take care of their mother while she was on the mend from her illness.
Well, on the 'miraculous' mend.
Apparently, she had contracted some unknown viral strand that was shutting down her immune systems and weakening her body's defense systems. Treatment for it wasn't hard, but curing it was supposedly impossible...
Fortunately, the siblings made the choice of having their mother be placed in a place owned by Sinyoung and Seora had already been keeping tabs on her.
A phone call there, a quick heal spell here, and things were sorted out as their mother being cured by a proprietary experimental treatment proposed by Seora's pharmaceutical team in Sinyoung.
Hannah, of course, would be the one sorting out the logistics for that.
Anyway, with one promise settled, and preemptively running out before the siblings started bawling and professing undying loyalty *again* for helping them out, I started walking around the streets of Seoul while plotting out the rest of my day.
I still had to talk with Seora and sort out our future plans with Sinyoung. My gut was telling me that they wouldn't just sit around after the stunt I pulled off.
Putting things into context... I could objectively say that I was both the most feared and respected person in Paradise at the moment.
After all, I pulled off the ridiculous stunt of killing two Army Commanders while eliminating three whole armies by myself.
Well, technically two since I just neutralized that last one.
Right now, I was sure that people would be scrambling. The ones trying to squeeze out every drop from Paradise would be antsy and wracking their minds on how to neutralize me. At the same time, the defectors working with the Parasites would be trying their hardest to find a way out of the mess.
And, logically, they would start to move here as well when they finally got around to it. After all, if I was invincible in Paradise, all they had to do was neutralize me on Earth where I was just an ordinary person, right?
"...Ah. That'll be a bit troublesome."
I suddenly remembered that I had an issue.
While *I* was definitely safe from harm by whatever stupid attempt on my life they tried, that didn't mean that the same was true for my friends and family.
And after what happened with Jinhee...
I opened the contacts in my phone and dialed a number. And as if waiting for my call, it immediately connected.
"Bro! So you finally decided to wake up, huh?"
"Real funny, Hao. Now... I was wondering if I could ask a favor from you-"
A shiver down my spine. Someone's sharp gaze staring at my face.
Hao's voice echoed from my phone. "Bro?"
"...Scratch that. Send me your address later and we'll talk in person. I just ran into a casual acquaintance."
"...Sure. But Bro. Be careful, alright? Over there you might be invincible, but on Earth-"
I chuckled and said, "You've got it flipped, Hao. But I'll let you in on that later. Take care, alright?" I hung up on Hao and slipped my phone in my pocket.
As if that was the cue, a beautiful woman in a designer dress walked over towards me.
Although the streets were packed, the crowd parted as she moved. Like she had an air that they didn't dare intrude.
"My, my." The beauty smiled, idly tucking a strand of her silky black hair behind her ear. "What a coincidence to meet you here again, Mister Vain. Or would it be better to call you Mister Seol?"
Yun Seohui. She came to a stop a few paces in front of me and then eyed me up and down. "You certainly have done quite well for yourself recently, haven't you?"
I didn't respond. Instead, I stared at the colors flashing off of her.
A clear azure blue. A startling violet. A deep shade of indigo... And... curiously enough, strands of crimson thread along with a faint shimmer of gold.
Staring at her, a familiar vision played out in front of my eyes. The one I saw all that time ago when I was presented with Sinyoung's contract.
[Well, my hero?] Seohui turned to look at me, a gaze of pure devotion clear in her eyes. [Shall we finish it?]
A man with cold eyes stared on in horror, shock, and confusion. And on my right side, there was Seora.
The Sinyoung take over.
But that wasn't all.
I saw another vision. One where Seohui laughed as Scheherazade fell to pieces around her.
...In short, good or evil. Ally or enemy.
The result would turn on my actions and decisions. So...
I put on a smile and said, "I have indeed. But this isn't the sort of place to talk about that... Have you had lunch yet?"
Her dark eyes glimmered with mirth and she said, "Not yet. But I do have a reservation for a well-renowned sushi restaurant nearby... Would that suffice?"
I bowed my head and then swept out my arm in front of her. "Lead the way, Miss Yuni- Ah, I mean Miss Seohui."
The glimmer in her eyes increased, along with the faint smile on her face. "My, letting me take the lead? Quite different from most men, aren't you?"
"I'd say the same to you, Miss Seohui. You seem pretty comfortable with pulling people along to your strings for a delicate beauty like yourself."