Side Story 41. IF: We Are Friends

Twisted Kindness headed to the imperial palace as the Parasite Queen had summoned her.

When she arrived in the grand hall, she saw the Parasite Queen sitting comfortably on the throne. Seol Jihu, who had built a nest on her lap, was nowhere to be seen.

...No, she did feel his energy.

[You’re here.]

“Yes, responding to Your Majesty’s summons. Anyway…”

Twisted Kindness raised her head slightly before tilting it to the side.

“I can feel Temperance’s energy from Your Majesty’s back. Did something happen? And why are your wings folded in such a way?”

As she said, the Parasite Queen’s bone wings were crossed together like interlocked fingers.

[It’s nothing.]

The Parasite Queen spoke calmly and raised one wing. From the small gap that opened up, Twisted Kindness could see Seol Jihu sticking to the Queen’s back like a koala. He was sound asleep, even drooling all over the Parasite Queen.

[He fell asleep like a baby when I blocked out the light. He seemed a little uncomfortable when he was on my lap, so it’s good.]

“I feel like I am looking at a baby animal.”

Twisted Kindness furrowed her brows. She looked like she couldn’t understand why Seol Jihu was acting this way.

[I haven’t figured out the reason yet.]

The Parasite Queen smacked her lips.

[It’s not like I don’t have a guess, though.]

“May I ask what it is?”

[Mm, I believe this child sees me as his mother.]

“...Pardon?”

[Using my tissue to turn him into a parasite seemed to have influenced him.]

“It is true that all parasites think of you as their mother…. But did you not do the same thing for the First Army Commander?”

[That is the only part I cannot explain. This child’s attachment to me is too extreme.]

The Parasite Queen raised her head and glanced at Seol Jihu.

[But still….]

A thin smile hung on her lips. Though Seol Jihu was quite a bother most of the time, he was like an angel when asleep.

[I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I can feel that this child’s affection toward me is growing deeper every day.]

“That indeed doesn’t sound bad, but…”

Twisted Kindness asked, seemingly at a loss.

“Are you going to coddle him like that forever? I don’t think that is appropriate.”

[I know. I told him to go out and play for a bit not too long ago, and he really did go out to play for a short time.]

“....”

[That is why I called you.]

The Parasite Queen straightened her posture.

[Take care of this child for a bit.]

“?”

[There is a matter I need to attend to. I will be away for a short time.]

“What matter requires you to leave the throne to… ah.”

Twisted Kindness realized in the middle of her sentence.

“Are you going to the basement?”

[It seems I must. I took care of it recently, but it looks like a rift has opened up again.]

“The time between each opening is getting shorter, I see.”

[It won’t be a huge matter for concern so long as we continue to manage it.]

The Parasite Queen spread her wings slowly. She then carefully placed Seol Jihu down in front of Twisted Kindness as he drowsily opened his eyes.

[Anyway, take good care of him. I don’t think I can leave him alone. I’ll be relieved if he is with you.]

The Parasite Queen stood up from the Corrupted Throne and vanished.

Only Twisted Kindness and Seol Jihu remained in the grand hall. An awkward silence flowed in the air.

Seol Jihu woke up completely and turned his head left and right in search of the Parasite Queen, and Twisted Kindness stood quietly with her arms crossed.

The silence did not last long. Seol Jihu quickly showed interest in Twisted Kindness. To be more precise, he showed interest in the lizard tail that was sitting on the floor.

Twisted Kindness glanced at Seol Jihu. She was wondering what he was looking at and noticed that he was trying to grab her tail.

Whoosh!

The tail quickly moved to the side. Seol Jihu’s hand grabbed the empty air. Though he flinched momentarily, he did not stop. He clenched his teeth and reached out for it again.

Twisted Kindness did not give in easily. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh! Her tail flew in the air left and right. Eventually, Seol Jihu threw himself at the tail in frustration.

“Brat.”

Twisted Kindness quickly dodged him and spoke.

“What are you doing?”

Seol Jihu did not even bat an eye as he hurled forward again.

“Brat, do you really want to have a go at it?”

Twisted Kindness spun, her eyes twitching as she scolded.

“A battle?”

Seol Jihu tilted his head. Twisted Kindness’ eyes lit up.

“Oho. That doesn’t sound bad. I’ve been wondering how strong you’ve gotten.”

Twisted Kindness accepted the challenge confidently. Seol Jihu thought for a moment before shaking his head.

“No, Her Majesty said I shouldn’t fight with you guys.”

“Isn’t it fine as long as you don’t kill me?”

“Hmm. Rather than fighting with swords and spears…. we can determine the winner some other way.”

“For example?”

“Tactics.”

Twisted Kindness tilted her head.

“Tactics? That’s not a bad idea… but it doesn’t interest me as much.”

“Don’t worry. We can put something on the line that will make us give our all.”

“Oho, so you want to make a bet?”

“Yep. If you win, I’ll have a proper battle with you.”

“Hoh!”

Twisted Kindness exclaimed. Fighting with an opponent who could fully control all of his divinity from birth. As someone who had a fiercely competitive spirit, there was nothing else that Twisted Kindness wanted more.

“Good. And if you win?”

“Then you’ll have to give me the right to touch that interesting Squirmy as I want.”

“My tail isn’t a toy… but fine. That is a risk I’m willing to take.”

Twisted Kindness sat in front of Seol Jihu.

“I accept. What battle of tactics are you thinking of?”

“I can choose?”

“Since you risked a bigger danger, it is only right that I give you the choice.”

“Mm, in that case….”

Seol Jihu pondered for a moment before infusing mana into his finger. He drew a 10 by 10 grid before asking.

“Have you heard of Omok?”

“Omok?”

“Yep. Each player takes turns placing down their piece on this board, and the first person to make a five in a row wins.”

“That sounds pretty simple.”

“It might sound simple, but you’ll quickly realize it’s not.”

“Fine. It doesn’t sound all that difficult, and it looks like we can determine the winner quickly. Let’s start right away.”

Twisted Kindness shrugged as if the game didn’t matter.

“Wait. Before we start, we have to choose who plays black and who plays white.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Black is the challenger, and white is the one being challenged, or in other words, the champion. That’s why black always goes first.”

“Aha, so the expert allows the challenger to make the first move. Then I should be white.”

Seol Jihu stared at Twisted Kindness fixedly. The corner of her lips curled up slightly, but it only lasted a split second. He put on a displeased expression immediately afterward.

“What’s wrong?”

“Why are you the one playing white? I should obviously be playing white.”

“No way. I am the Parasites’ strongest Army Commander. Obviously, I should be white.”

“No, no, listen to me. I haven’t explained all of the rules yet.”

Seol Jihu cleared his throat.

“As I said before, black is the challenger. So black gets to make the first two moves when the game starts. Two! That’s a huge advantage. Plus, this is the first time you’re playing this game.”[1]

“Oh, is that so?”

Twisted Kindness did not seem to mind.

“I understand what you’re saying, but that is fine. I’ve played similar games and never lost. You don’t need to worry.”

She even added that it was only normal for an expert to receive a penalty when facing a weaker foe. She seemed quite confident.

“If you’d like, you can fight to determine who’s the strongest Army Commander first.”

“Then there wouldn’t be a reason to play this game.”

Since Twisted Kindness was going so far, Seol Jihu backed down as if it couldn’t be helped.

“Okay, fine. I’ll be black.”

“Fufu, that’s only obvious.”

Twisted Kindness smiled in satisfaction. She took playing white as a victory.

“You better not complain later. This is part of the rule, so don’t cry about it later and try to call this off.”

“Who do you think I am? Don’t worry about that and start.”

Just like that, the game of Omok began. It went without saying that Seol Jihu won. There was no way Twisted Kindness could win since he could make a second move at the beginning on top of being the first one to go.

Twisted Kindness made a dumbfounded face after looking at five circles drawn beautifully in a diagonal.

“See, I knew this would happen.”

Seol Jihu boasted.

“Okay, let’s just say that was a practice game. Let’s switch colors. You play black. That way, it will be…”

“No way!”

Twisted Kindness protested right away.

“I’ll admit the game was more complicated than I imagined. I’ll also accept your generosity in making the previous game a practice game. But I will absolutely not give up white!”

Seol Jihu smiled inwardly. He felt the same thing in the Spirit Realm, but Twisted Kindness seemed to be very, very proud. Perhaps it was because she was a dragon.

“Okay, then I won’t go twice in a row at the beginning. That should be fine, right?”

When he tossed the suggestion…

“I refuse. There is no reason to change the rules. Are you pitying me?”

Twisted Kindness got angry.

“Okay, then let’s just start. I’m not going to go easy, just so you know.”

“That’s exactly what I want. And who’s going to go easy on whom? You’re the challenger. Don’t forget.”

The game started again. Seol Jihu played the game more seriously this time and thoroughly crushed Twisted Kindness using his early advantage. As a result, Twisted Kindness lost again.

“No way….”

“Give me your tail.”

“Keuk! Again!”

Twisted Kindness challenged him. Of course, the result was obvious. It was because Seol Jihu used an underhanded tactic like the three by three.[2]

“No way…. I don’t believe it…!”

“I don’t even have four in a row, so why did you block the other side? You should have placed that piece elsewhere.”

“But then the other side would be open!”

“Then you shouldn’t have let me get to this point in the first place.”

Seol Jihu cackled as he caressed Twisted Kindness’s drooping tail.

“Keuk!”

Twisted Kindness trembled.

“A-Again!”

“I don’t mind, but I will be taking your butt next time.”

No one with a brain would lose when they were going twice in a row at the start. As a result, Twisted Kindness had to suffer the shame of losing 15 times in a row.

Seol Jihu felt sorry in the middle and gave up going twice in a row to begin, yet Twisted Kindness still lost. She even threw away her pride and went with black, yet still lost!

Although they played over a dozen times, Seol Jihu won each time. For the record, Seol Jihu had never lost a game of Omok since he learned it at the age of six.

In any case, after suffering such a crushing defeat, not even Twisted Kindness had anything to say.

“Whew.”

Seol Jihu wiped the sweat from his forehead, saying he narrowly won.

Twisted Kindness was in a state of shock. While she was in despair, Seol Jihu thoroughly enjoyed the right of the victor.

“Oho, it’s chewier than I thought.”

He nibbled on the tail a couple of times…

“Aha, so it’s connected like this.”

He pulled down her pants and examined how the tail was connected to the tailbone…

“Go! Agumon! Evolve~!”[3]

He even hopped on her back, grabbed her twin horns, and controlled her head left and right. Twisted Kindness’ face turned red with shame. Even as she trembled, she continued to review the games she played and looked for ways she could have won.

“Ah, that was fun.”

Eventually, Seol Jihu got tired of Twisted Kindness. He hopped off her back and went elsewhere.

“Wait! Where are you going!?”

“You’re not fun anymore.”

“I…!”

“What? You lost 15 times. Do you have anything to say?”

Twisted Kindness shut her mouth.

“You can rechallenge me when you figure out a way to win.”

Seol Jihu left those words behind and disappeared.

‘Who should I play with now?’

Seol Jihu skipped out of the grand hall with twinkling eyes.

Left alone, Twisted Kindness pulled up her pants and cried in total humiliation.

And when the Parasite Queen came back after finishing her business…

[Just what… happened…?]

She became speechless after seeing a bunch of doodles that even made their way onto the Corrupted Throne.


*


“Just where is this guy?”

Vulgar Chastity, who left the grand hall, flew around the palace while looking around. She had just received a special order from the Parasite Queen.

“Her Majesty said he left not too long ago…. Argh, why is he concealing his energy?”

After flying around for a while, Vulgar Chastity finally found her target.

As the saying went, it was hard to see under one’s nose. Vulgar Chastity’s target was found amidst her army.

The problem was the shocking scene unfolding beneath her.

“Darling~ Over here~ Over here~!”

“I’m over here~”

Dozens of succubi were running around, clapping their hands. At the center of the group was a blindfolded Seol Jihu, walking slowly with his arms reaching forward.

“I can’t see you guys! Where are you?”

“Lies! I know you can see just fine!”

“Ah, you knew?”

“Hehe, I’m going to get captured before you can catch me!”

One succubus ran into his arms on her own. Other succubi threw their bodies as if to compete with each other, and Seol Jihu fell back, pretending to lose to their combined strength.

Kyahahaha! Hohohoho!

Vulgar Chastity let out an empty chuckle as she saw the succubi having fun fooling around with Seol Jihu. She gazed at the cheerfully laughing crew before swooping down at lightning speed.

Startled, the group of succubi scattered in all directions. Seol Jihu, who was enjoying a happy time, tilted his head in confusion.

“...Do you want to join in?”

He pulled down his blindfold and asked Vulgar Chastity.

“Screw off.”

Vulgar Chastity refused flatly before putting her hands on her hips and sighing.

“Just what the heck are you doing?”

“?”

“You’re an Army Commander. The Parasites’ Fourth Army Commander. Are you aware of that at all?”

Vulgar Chastity glared at Seol Jihu with a scowling face. The succubi watching from the sidelines flinched before slowly flying back.

“That’s not all. Just what did you do to make Twisted Kindness cry? I’ve never seen the Seventh Army Commander in tears!”

“Oh, really? But we only had a fair and square match.”

“Fair and square or not, keep things in moderation. Now get up. Her Majesty ordered me to take you around, so you’re not doing anything stupid.”

“Me? Where am I going?”

“Wherever I want!”

Vulgar Chastity shouted. She was obviously not happy with her assigned role, which was no different than being a nanny.

“Where you want. Hm….”

Seol Jihu tapped on the ground with his finger before asking.

“Come to think of it, where did Her Majesty go just now?”

“Hmm?”

“She said she was going to the basement to take care of an important business.”

Vulgar Chastity, who was rolling her eyes, did a double-take.

“Oh, that place…. Well, I guess it wouldn’t be bad for you to take a look. You’re an Army Commander, so you have the qualification. Her Majesty allowed it too…. Do you want to try going there?”

Vulgar Chastity asked.

‘Just what is this place?’

Seol Jihu nodded.

Soon, the two of them arrived at the basement of the imperial palace. Vulgar Chastity operated a secret mechanism that opened up the wall, and a complicated network of crossroads unfolded beyond it.

After going through the maze-like structure, they ran into a hole connected to an even deeper level of the basement. The hole was also small so that it could only fit one adult man crawling.

“Follow me. And be sure not to touch anything here. You can’t release your energy either.”

“...Do we really have to go like this?”

Seol Jihu spoke while looking at Vulgar Chastity, who was leading the way on her fours.

“Can’t we just break down the wall?”

“Don’t even think about it! Even Her Majesty will not let you be after that.”

“Then, can’t we teleport there…?”

“I told you, you can’t use your energy recklessly.”

“Why?”

“You’ll know once you get there.”

Seol Jihu had no choice. He obediently went on his fours and crawled into the hole.

How much time went by?

‘Mm… Indeed…’

There was no end in sight even though he felt like he crawled down quite deep. Something unpleasant and sticky stuck to his body, and the atmosphere seemed to dampen. Unless he was hearing things, screams seemed to be echoing out in the void of outer space. It was as if he was being sucked into an endless blackhole….

“The place we’re going to is where humanity prepared their final counterattack.”

Vulgar Chastity, who was leading the way, spoke. She did not find the place pleasant either.

“Final counterattack? Wasn’t that the Imperial Oath?”

“That’s what you Earthlings prepared. This is before you guys even came to this world.”

Vulgar Chastity rebuked him.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know the details either. All I know is that the Empire’s sages gathered together in this place to prepare a final counterattack. Luckily, Her Majesty noticed it in time and stopped their plan.”

“So, they struggled at least somewhat.”

“A struggle would be an overestimation. Her Majesty said it was foolish. What they came up with was nothing but self-destruction.”

“Self-destruction?”

“Wait.”

Vulgar Chastity abruptly stopped.

“Eup!”

Because of it, Seol Jihu’s face dug into her butt. He hurriedly scurried back. Vulgar Chastity turned around and was glaring at him sharply.

“I-It’s because you stopped so abruptly.”

“...Keep away from me next time.”

Vulgar Chastity resumed crawling down, her face red.

Feeling embarrassed, Seol Jihu struck up a conversation.

“I have a question.”

“Don’t ask.”

“What’s up with your outfit?”

“I’m free to wear what I want.”

“Don’t you get embarrassed? Does it not get cold?”

“...Hey.”

A deep sigh came out.

“Why are you so nosy? Are you interested in me?”

“Hmm?”

“Sorry, but I don’t see you that way.”

“No.”

“Let me take this opportunity to be clear. I’m a succubus, but I’m also a queen. You’re wrong if you think all succubi will throw themselves at men.”

“Listen to me—”

“Moreover, I detest humans, especially men. You’re no exception since you’re a human at the core. I haven’t accepted you as one of us yet either.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Quiet. All I’m saying is that you should give up if you plan on doing anything with me. If you want, I can send a few succubi to you. It looked like you were having fun with them too.”

Vulgar Chastity took a dig at him. Seol Jihu’s eyes narrowed. Vulgar Chastity was rambling on saying one thing after the other without giving him a chance to talk. Perhaps she was acting like this from the trauma she developed while being treated as the Empire’s luxury escort, but as someone who had no knowledge of this, Seol Jihu had no choice but to be taken aback.

“I think you’re too self-conscious.”

“Hmph, don’t act like it’s not true just because I rejected you.”

Vulgar Chastity laughed.

“Men. They’re too proud.”

She clicked her tongue and shook her head.

‘Oh?’

Seol Jihu, who was gritting his teeth, suddenly flashed his eyes. He wasn’t the type to take a blow sitting down. He charged toward Vulgar Chastity’s rear and slammed his head into her butt. From the sudden movement coming towards his nose, he could feel Vulgar Chastity jumping in a startle.

“W-What are you doing? Get your face off me!”

Seol Jihu ignored her angry protest. Like a coachman reining his horse, Seol Jihu moved his face continuously and slapped Vulgar Chastity’s butt repeatedly.

One slap with the left cheek, one slap with the right cheek, then one slap with the left cheek again. Eventually, Vulgar Chastity stopped moving.

“Hey, you son of a bitch.”

She threw her head back and cursed.

“What the hell are you doing? Are you a pervert?”

“Ugh, it smells.”

Seol Jihu pinched his nose while laughing.

“Did you not shit today?”

“What?”

“Or did you fart? How can you do that when there’s someone right behind you?”

“You…!”

“Ugh, I can’t. From this moment on, you are Shit-Smelling Chastity. Or do you like Farting Chastity better?”

Seeing Seol Jihu’s shamelessness, Vulgar Chastity immediately turned around.

“Okay, that’s enough! Fuck, you’re dead once I catch you!”

Of course, Seol Jihu was already crawling up at a rapid speed.

“Stop! Stop right there!”

“Catch me if you can~”

Vulgar Chastity chased after Seol Jihu as though her life depended on it. She had no idea that right she now looked no different from the succubi playing tag with Seol Jihu before.

“Stop! Stop!!”

Of course, the distance between them did not decrease. In fact, it grew rapidly. Seol Jihu crawled up so fast that Vulgar Chastity thought she was facing a cockroach.

“You’re so deaaaaad!”

Vulgar Chastity’s scream echoed in the tunnel.


*


Seol Jihu bounced as soon as he left the hole.

“Phew, that was fun.”

He didn’t want to continue going down anyway because of how unpleasant it felt. He simply moved on, praising himself for the excellent prank.

‘Who should I play with next?’

It was then.

“Oi, you.”

Seol Jihu stopped at the sound of someone calling him. When he turned around, he saw a young man standing against the wall with his arms crossed.

It was Sung Shihyun. It seemed like he was waiting for him to come out.

“What?”

“What do you mean ‘what’?”

Sung Shihyun grinned slyly and then suddenly put on a serious face.

“I came to challenge you.”

“Challenge me?”

“Yep. Accept my challenge.”

“No. You already know Omok and everything.”

“No, no, I’m not trying to challenge you in something so boring.”

“Then what?”

“What I want to challenge you in is….”

When Seol Jihu started to walk by with a bored look, Sung Shihyun’s eyes flashed sharply.

“Pranking.”

Seol Jihu halted.

“...Pranking, you say?”

“Yep. I’ve been watching your pranks. They were decent, but….”

Sung Shihyun grinned.

“I’m quite a prankster myself.”

“...Hoh.”

Seol Jihu glanced at Sung Shihyun arrogantly. This statement was not one that he could ignore.

“You dare to challenge me, the prankster king, in pranking?”

“Heh, I’ll show you what real pranks are.”

Sung Shihyun spoke confidently before pulling Seol Jihu over by the arm.

“Follow me. And be quiet. Suppress your energy too.”

Soon, the two pranksters discovered their target and hid nearby.

“My target is her.”

An Army Commander was standing where Sung Shihyun was pointing. From the looks of it, she seemed to be heading to the grand hall. She looked like an elegant noblewoman from the outside, but gave off an eerie aura due to the garment of the dead she wore.

It was the Fifth Army Commander and the queen of the banshees.

“Exploding Patience?”

“Yep. Isn’t she kind of annoying?”

Sung Shihyun nudged Seol Jihu and asked for his affirmation.

“She always goes on about how humans are lowly creatures and treats us like insects. You’ve seen how she acts around us, right?”

“I wasn’t too fond of that either, but….”

“That’s why we should take this opportunity to teach her a lesson. A well-deserved lesson.”

“How?”

“I’ve been meaning to ask her a question. Just watch and play along.”

Sung Shihyun rubbed his nose and walked forward with a chuckle. For some reason, he seemed to be having the time of his life, just like hanging out with a close friend.


1. The actual game of Omok does not have this rule. BUT, it is already true that black (the first player to go first) has a huge advantage.

2. Three by three is a rule banning a move that simultaneously makes two open rows of three stones.

3. Digimon reference.

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