Side Story 36. Cave Exploration

By the time Seol Jihu and Teresa left the net cafe, the sky had turned dark.

“Ah, that was fun.”

Teresa stretched with a satisfied smile. She could not remember the last time she enjoyed a free day without a worry. Of course, she had no intention of going back after only having fun. After all, that was that, and this was this.

But, for the sake of her plan, there was a need to let herself go. The key was to make Seol Jihu think, ‘Ah, she’s genuinely here to have fun.’ And so, Teresa took the lead joyfully.

“Princess, where are you going?”

“I don’t know~ But I’m sure something will come up that catches my fancy.”

Seol Jihu looked at the surroundings while the merrily humming Teresa walked through the streets. It was dinner time, and they were in a bustling food alley.

Though Teresa was wearing a hat, her foreign appearance couldn’t be hidden. Her hair was also rose-colored, and her light-pink sweats made her eye and hair-colors stand out even more.

As a result, she became the center of attention as soon as she stepped into the alleyway. Everyone who walked by stopped to stare, and a small crowd formed around Teresa. As someone who disliked unnecessary attention, Seol Jihu was not particularly happy with the situation.

Teresa also recognized the crowd that was gathering around her, but that did not slow her down. In fact, she straightened her back, crossed her arms, and walked proudly. Unlike Seol Jihu, she was someone who knew how to enjoy public attention.

Teresa stealthily glanced left and right, a smile appearing on her face. Without even a hint of exaggeration, everyone she saw had a dazed look. This could only mean that her beauty worked on Earth as well.

“Wow… who is that?”

“Pink pupils, pink hair, and even her clothes…. Someone can look good in all that?”

Two teenage girls whispered among themselves, unable to take their eyes off Teresa. Then, when their eyes met, they screamed as if they saw an idol.

Teresa lifted her chin proudly. It wasn’t just the two girls that were reacting like this.

“H-Hey! Take a look at that person.”

“Who? Wow…. Look at those arms.”

“Look at those hips! Those curves! I bet that person hits the gym often!”

“I wonder how that person would be in bed.”

A group of men was whispering among themselves.

Teresa snorted. All men were the same, swallowing their saliva when they looked at her, imagining all sorts of obscene things to do in bed.

‘Hmph.’

Teresa harrumphed before looking away.

However, the group of men was not looking at Teresa. They murmured amongst themselves while looking at Seol Jihu, who was walking a short distance behind her.

Teresa blinked. Feeling her gaze, one of the men glanced at Teresa. He frowned immediately afterward like he saw something he could not accept.

“Who’s that woman?”

“It looks like that hyung is following her. Is she his girlfriend?”

“It looks like that… but look at her dyed hair! And what’s up with her eye color?”

“Chet, why is a handsome, well-built hyung like him following an e-girl like her? He should hang out with us instead.”

The group of men all turned back regretfully. One of them even glared at Teresa and spat in a fit of jealousy.

“....”

Teresa became speechless. As she was torn between shock and respecting a foreign culture…

“Princess!”

She snapped back to reality when Seol Jihu pulled her hand.

“Where are you going? We’re almost at the main street.”

Teresa saw cars running along the road of the main street. Returning to reality, she reminded herself of her duty. At the same time, she looked around in search of a suitable place.

Luckily, there was a perfect place that fit all her needs. Many people were sitting in a crowded area, laughing and talking merrily while drinking from a wine glass. She was certain that this was Earth’s bar.

“I wanna go there!”

Teresa immediately put her thoughts into action. Looking in the direction Teresa pointed, Seol Jihu showed a troubled face. Out of all the places she could have chosen, Teresa had picked an alcoholic-drink cafe, which sold different kinds of alcohol.

“Didn’t you say you were hungry?”

Seol Jihu suggested going to a different place.

“That person, and that person! I want to try what they’re eating!”

However, a place with drinks naturally had food to go along with them.

“I know, but… this place mainly sells alcohol.”

“All the better! I’ve been wondering what Earth’s alcohol tastes like.”

“I’m actually not a big fan of alcohol…. How about we go somewhere else? I know an excellent restaurant nearby.”

Seol Jihu insisted. Teresa clenched her teeth and stared at Seol Jihu fixedly. She looked a little disappointed, her face seemingly saying, ‘You brought me here saying you would do anything for me. You can’t even do this?’

“I… really want to try going there….”

Teresa muttered with a dejected look. Those words were enough to finish the job.

“Okay, let’s go.”

Seol Jihu raised the white flag.

Teresa lowered her head, the corner of her lips curling up faintly.


*


“Wow, the menu’s huge.”

After sitting down, Teresa exclaimed in surprise.

“Beer, soju, rice wine, wine, cocktail, sake…. Look at all the drinks they have here!”

“Princess, I need to tell you in advance. I can’t drink.”

“Oh, that’s okay. We’re here so I can have fun.”

Teresa spoke uncaringly and flipped through the menu.

“Can I try everything that’s on the menu?”

“You might die if you do that.”

“That’s not a bad idea. Eat, drink, and die! Let’s start with this.”

Teresa picked a drink and then chose a side dish to go along with it.

Seol Jihu observed Teresa carefully. One reason was to check whether she had any ulterior motive, and another reason was to find out what she thought about today’s trip. Thankfully, it didn’t look like she had any ulterior motive. She was busy exploring a new culture.

Of course, there was a possibility that all of this was an act.

[5. Level of Cognition]
Shrewd (Meticulous and astute in personality, appearance, and action) / Having Fun / Anxious (Uneasy and nervous)

His Nine Eyes were saying so too. The second slot was what described her current state of mind. Just like it said, she must be enjoying herself.

‘The third slot….’

Just what was she anxious about?

Rather than asking directly, Seol Jihu decided to throw a light question.

“How was today?”

“Fun. It’s been a while since I’ve let myself go this way just for the sake of fun.”

Teresa spoke clearly.

“Also….”

After a brief pause, she continued.

“I’m a little envious.”

“Envious?”

“Yes. I’m not talking about cultural or technological differences. Earth might have science, but my homeworld has magic. Only….”

Teresa paused again and cleared her throat.

“Walking around today… how should I say this… everyone looked like they were having a good time.”

“Mmm….”

“I know. I’m sure people have their own worries and problems. But at the very least, it didn’t look like they were worried about their safety.”

Seol Jihu nodded. He knew what Teresa was talking about.

People who were alive in the 1960s might be different, but the current younger generation did not know the cruelty of war. After all, they had not experienced it. Seol Jihu himself was the same.

“Scars from war last a long time. It wouldn’t be fair to expect them to go away after a few years. It’s not like I didn’t know that… but I still couldn’t help but get a bit envious.”

“Don’t worry. That world will be like this eventually. No, it might even be better now that all races have formed the half-century peace treaty.”

“That’s true, but….”

Teresa trailed off.

“I doubt it will be so smooth-sailing.”

She smacked her lips and continued.

“There is a dark side to every world. Whether it be that world or Earth….”

A dark side. Indeed, where there was light, there was bound to be darkness as well.

At that moment, the food and drinks they ordered arrived. Seol Jihu looked around the cafe before pouring the alcohol into Teresa’s wine glass and said.

“Here, you can talk about whatever you want.”

“Haha, yeah, I doubt they would have followed us all the way to Earth.”

Teresa gave a furtive smile while watching the wine glass getting filled up. She then looked straight at Seol Jihu as if she made up her mind about something.

“There’s something I want to say… but it might not be all that interesting.”

“An uninteresting story is fine too.”

“It’s nothing long or amazing.”

“That’s good. We can finish talking about it before the food gets cold.”

Thinking that Teresa’s anxiousness was flaring up, Seol Jihu replied appropriately.

“Okay.”

Teresa chuckled and took in a deep breath. Then, she said.

“There is a cave.”

Seol Jihu furrowed his brows.

“It’s a very secluded secret cave that ordinary people can’t reach.”

The way she was describing it made it sound like a secret hideout. Seol Jihu nodded, signaling her to continue.

“Obviously, this cave isn’t an ordinary cave.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know how to put it except calling it… a living cave.”

“A living cave?”

“Yes.”

Teresa nibbled on her lip.

“I can’t explain everything in detail because I’m restricted by an oath. But a cave that moves like it’s alive… I couldn’t believe it even after seeing it myself. It was almost as if….”

Teresa trailed off, but Seol Jihu narrowed his eyes. It was because the trait Teresa described fit a specific entity.

‘A Parasite.’

A Nest or a parasitic creature would fit the description.

“The thing is.”

Teresa wasn’t done yet.

“This cave is inside our city.”

“Huh?”

“Inside the royal palace… no less.”

Seol Jihu’s face stiffened. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t want to jump to a hasty conclusion, but if this cave was really related to the Parasites, then this was no joking matter.

A parasite could not survive once its host died. So the fact that it was alive… It could only mean that the Parasite Queen had not perished completely.

‘That’s not all.’

How should he accept the fact that this cave was inside the Haramark Royal Palace? Was it a coincidence that the Delphinion Duchy’s experiment crossed his mind just now?

“Nothing is certain yet.”

Seol Jihu regained his senses at Teresa’s sharp voice.

“All I know is that the man in front of me is the one who killed the insect queen.”

“...Right, I did.”

Seol Jihu replied with incredible difficulty. He then spoke after organizing his thoughts for a bit.

“But we can’t underestimate the gravity of this matter. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Let’s form an expedition team and—”

“I would have done that if the cave was located outside.”

Teresa sighed. It seemed she had the same worry as Seol Jihu did. If people found out that such a suspicious cave was within Haramark and inside the Royal Palace no less, it would most certainly cause a scene throughout Paradise.

“I plan on investigating it secretly first. There’s no way of knowing when it appeared or who is aware of its existence.”

“I understand that you’re trying to keep it under wraps, but… given that it’s inside the royal palace, it will be difficult to explore it alone. Dangerous too.”

“But that’s the plan for now. As I said before, I can’t rely on you every time there is a problem.”

“No.”

Seol Jihu shook his head.

“If what Princess said is true, I can’t just stand by.”

“....”

“Besides… I doubt you would have told me about this if you really expected me to do nothing.”

Teresa gave a bitter smile when Seol Jihu hit the mark perfectly.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I respect your wishes too. But if it really is what we think it is… then you might need my strength.”

“But—”

“I know. Nothing is certain. But we can’t ignore it if there’s even the slightest possibility.”

Seol Jihu spoke firmly.

“I’m not saying I will cause a huge scene. You can do as you like. It’s just that you’ll have to allow me to tag along with you. Just to be safe.”

Teresa had nothing to say with Seol Jihu going so far. After a slight hesitation, Teresa smiled.

“...I’m going to die of embarrassment if it turns out to be nothing special after all this.”

“I’ll definitely make fun of you if that happens, but wouldn’t a little bit of embarrassment be worth it to avoid a potential catastrophe?”

Teresa laughed at Seol Jihu’s witty comment.

“You’re right. It will be a thousand times better than tens of thousands of people shedding blood.”

“We can go take a look together as soon as we go back. For today though, don’t worry about anything and just have fun.”

“Great. It’s really reassuring to hear that.”

Teresa shrugged. It seemed that was it for this topic.

A short silence flowed between the two. Unlike the other tables in the cafe, their table was quiet.

“Mmn….”

Teresa, who was fiddling around with her wine glass, pointed towards a table and asked.

“By the way, what’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“That over there. Cheers? They’re holding their wine glasses up and hitting it against each other.”

“Oh, when friends drink together, they do it as a show of goodwill or to pray for something to go well. It’s called a toast.”

“Oho….”

Teresa’s eyes widened. She observed the table intently before looking back at Seol Jihu.

“Why don’t we try it too?”

“Oh, I can’t drink—”

“Eii, just a glass is fine, right? Just one.”

“Mmm….”

“We have an important business ahead of us. Let’s toast to pray that it’s nothing. Please?”

Seol Jihu found it hard to say no. It wasn’t as if he had low tolerance, so a part of him thought that one glass might be okay.

“Then I’ll have just one glass.”

“Yay!”

Teresa cheered.

“Excuse me for just one moment though.”

Seol Jihu got up.

“Let me go to the restroom real quick. I’ve been holding it in for a while.”

“Oh, sure, take your time.”

For some reason, Teresa seemed to be happy to hear that.

After entering the restroom, Seol Jihu took out several bottles of medicine from his pocket. He had all kinds of sobering up pills from the pharmacy.

‘I can’t let my guard down until the end.’

Seol Jihu took the pills before leaving the bathroom. When he came back, his wine glass was already full. Snowflakey bubbles were rising from the wine as if it had just been poured in.

“I got it ready for you.”

Teresa smiled while rubbing her thumb and index finger together and dusting them off.

“Now then.”

Seol Jihu and Teresa raised their wine glasses. Then, they shouted at the same time.

“Cheers!”

“Cheers!”

The sound of two glasses hitting each other rang out.

Seol Jihu brought the wine glass to his lips and tilted it toward his throat. An aromatic scent flowed in, followed by a bubbly liquid. Then, just as the liquid was going down his throat...

“!”

Seol Jihu’s eyes suddenly shot open. He shuddered with his head tilted back.

“Kuhaaa!”

His entire body shook with a furious shock. An electrifying sensation of mysterious origin swirled through his insides before rushing up to his head and seemingly taking control of his brain.

“Heeeuuu…!”

Seol Jihu dropped his head with great difficulty before lowering the glass.

‘W-What’s wrong with me?’

His breathing became rough, his body felt hot, and his heart pounded loudly. Moreover, he couldn’t stop himself from giggling in a heightened mood.

“You drank that well. Do you want another glass? I’m not forcing you, so you can say no.”

Teresa poured wine into Seol Jihu’s glass that he was still holding onto.

“No, I—”

Seol Jihu tried to refuse, but for some reason, his body would not listen to him. Before he noticed, he was taking the wine glass and tilting it toward his throat. It was almost as if his body wasn’t under the control of his brain anymore.

“So you do want more! Here, here, have some more.”

Teresa laughed, filled Seol Jihu’s wine glass, and then ordered more. Seol Jihu could see Teresa grinning from ear to ear with her chin resting on the back of her hands. But he was too gone to care about it.

“Cheers~!”

He just drank whatever he was given, almost as if he was entranced.


*


How much time went by?

The night was deep, and Seol Jihu was being propped up by Teresa.

“Where’s your house? Which way do we go?”

“Euuu….”

“Ah, did I make him drink too much? Looks like it was effective though.”

“Uhh….”

“Let’s see. Doing it outside doesn’t feel right. Is there anywhere to sta… oh?”

Teresa stopped. The alleyway they were in was full of motels, and there was one motel in particular that caught Teresa’s attention. The words ‘Pink Motel’ were shining brightly in neon-pink color.

“Ahahaha! Pink Motel!? Let’s go there!”

Just like that, the rabbit that had fallen into a trap was dragged over by the lioness.

When Seol Jihu opened his eyes, he found himself lying on the bed. A hazy pink light entered his blurry vision.

‘No….’

Noticing that something had gone wrong, Seol Jihu reached for his pockets instinctively. He planned to tear the paper slip and enter Paradise.

However, his efforts were for naught. He noticed his lower half felt breezy.

“...Whoa.”

His heart sank. Because he was drunk, he didn’t have the strength to carry himself.

“For the record, I don’t think what I’m doing is right.”

Suddenly, a coy voice rang out. When Seol Jihu turned his head to the side, he saw a shadowy figure walking over with just a towel wrapped around her.

“But if you ask if this is all on me, I wouldn’t say so either.”

Seol Jihu stared at Teresa with trembling eyes.

“In the first place, isn’t there a person who brought this upon himself?”

“What….”

“I told you how I felt. And you knew too. You even said, You must like me a lot, Princess.

“So, suddenly….”

Yes, I like you too. No, I can’t be with you. Couldn’t you have at least given me an answer? What did you say again on the day before the final battle? That you’d give a proper answer after the war?”

Seol Jihu blinked rapidly.

“You acted all cool back then, but when the war ended, you forgot all about it and just had fun laughing and fooling around with Miss Seo Yuhui!”

“That’s….”

“And then you laid your hands on Miss Phi Sora! Do you know how anxious that made me?”

Seol Jihu froze. The cause for her anxiousness wasn’t the Parasites, but this?

“And so, I believe you are partly responsible for things turning out like this.”

“D-Don’t tell me…”

Hearing Teresa explaining her logic, Seol Jihu spoke with a shaky voice.

“Everything… was a lie…?”

“A lie?”

Teresa tilted her head. She grinned and then pulled down her pants with both hands.

“No.”

She spoke while taking her legs out of the pants. Seol Jihu watched in a daze.

“You’ll find out soon.”

Teresa laughed like a seductress. Seol Jihu struggled to free himself but in vain.

“Hoit.”

Soon, a weight pressed down on him. Teresa was looking down at him after getting on top. Seol Jihu shook his head.

“N-No….”

“Eii, don’t chicken out. You promised, didn’t you? That you’d help with my cave exploration.”

“How is this an exploration…!?”

“Oh, it’s an exploration alright.”

Teresa grinned, laughing his comment off.

“Now then—”

Placing her hands on Seol Jihu’s chest, she pressed down gently. Then, she shouted while flashing her eyes.

“Let’s start the exploration!”

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