The Forest of Denial used to be the center of a raging storm of thunderclaps and gunshots, but from a certain point onwards, it became eerily quiet as if things that happened before were all a hallucination.
Within this leisurely-flowing stillness, Teresa Hussey remained plopped on her butt for a long while. Would being shipwrecked and floating aimlessly on an endless ocean feel like this? She might have suspected that the frantic escape of a few minutes ago was all a bad dream if it weren't for all the traces of blood and guts messily strewn about nearby.
Eventually, she regained her wits after spotting the Sky Fairy lying still on the ground unmoving like a corpse. Now that she thought about it, Seol Jihu’s injuries were rather grim too. If she didn't see it wrongly just now, then his thigh area was soaked in fresh blood. Most likely, he must have been sniped again.
His body was already in a sorry state, so would he be able to endure another injury? And also, would that ghost lady be able to treat the young man?
Nothing seemed certain at this point. She figured that his treatment should take priority whatever the case may be. Teresa pushed herself off the ground and helped the Sky Fairy to stand up. She really wouldn't have minded crumbling to the ground and taking a break, but this escape attempt was still far from over. Taking a long, long rest could wait.
She managed to drag herself and the Sky Fairy back to where the tomb was and saw that the Fallen Angel was occupied with treating two other Sky Fairies moaning heavily in pain. Everyone had been inflicted with injuries, both big and small. Two others couldn't shake off the pursuers and died. Even then, six of them had made it out. At a bare minimum, they could see this as a resounding success when compared to the plan of causing diversions.
Teresa laid the Sky Fairy down and asked the Fallen Angel.
“What about Seol?”
“….She took him inside.”
The Fallen Angel replied with a calm face, but her voice was trembling slightly. It seemed that she had seen the ghost lady, too.
“We need to treat Seol, too….”
“Go in and fetch him, then.”
The Fallen Angel curtly spoke.
“I will never step a foot inside that place.”
She then added one more thing, her attitude firm and unwavering.
“I don't know what atrocity this unknown human committed in this forest, but there's little doubt that the person in question was a madman.”
“What do you mean?”
“Surely, you can figure it out for yourself since you've also felt that evil aura.”
“That soul, she died as her heart was being filled with truly a horrifying amount of resentment. But then, in a situation where appeasing her may or may not even produce a desirable result, they even forcibly confined her here. Concentrated resentment has been condensing here for several hundreds of years, so how can there not be a birth of a vengeful spirit?”
Teresa rubbed her exposed arms. She could still vividly recall all the corpses of Parasites killed in a variety of cruel ways. In all honesty, she should have been feeling liberated to see her sworn, hated enemies dying like that, but….
The hostile aura emitted by the ghost lady was so ominous and vicious that Teresa could never consider her an ally. In all honesty, she was thankful that the ghost lady didn't harm them along with the rest.
Teresa didn't want to face her again if she could help it, but she couldn't leave Seol behind, either.
Summoning all of her courage, Teresa stood before the tomb. Brrr… The evil aura oozing out from the structure was so scary that her body was trembling all by itself, but she felt sure of a couple of things. It was unknown just what method Seol Jihu used, but that ghost lady seemed to be protecting him for some reason. That meant that words could get through to her. And also, although some animosity was displayed, the ghost didn't attack anyone else.
Teresa opened her mouth to speak.
Polite speech jumped out all by itself. She might be a veteran Princess Knight who had experienced all sorts of battles and hardships like aerial dogfights, street fights, etc, but still, there was no helping it. The thing was, she had a traumatic experience when she was a young child and that played a part in her really, really hating ghosts and specters.
“Uhm, can you open this door, please?”
There was no reply. Still, Teresa persisted with it and continued on.
“I'm sure you have noticed it by now. He's one of our comrades. He's in a really bad shape right now, and if he's not treated soon, he could really die. I swear I won't do anything bad, so please, let me in.”
She explained herself so the other party could understand her, but again, there was no answer. At this point, she began wondering if the ghost was using this opportunity to confine him and let him die. She couldn't help but suspect that the ghost lady was trying to turn Seol into a ghost too so they could live together all lovey-dovey. If that really was the case, then she simply had to risk everything and stop that from happening.
“Please, I beg of you. That guy, he rea~lly had to go through hell just to get here. We've just about survived our ordeal, but if he ends up dying here…. Heuk?!”
Click. The sound of the door opening resounded out. Teresa was getting ready to cover her mouth with one hand and plop down on the ground to start crying just in case, but when she saw the metal door wide open, she fist-pumped the air.
She yelled out in an excited voice, but the Fallen Angel simply looked back at her with a face that said, “So? What do you want me to do about it?”
The Fallen Angel spoke.
“Go in and bring him out.”
“Well, I…. Eh?”
“I said this before. I'm not going inside.”
“Look here, Miss Fallen Angel.”
“No, hang on. You're supposed to be a Fallen 'Angel', so how can you be scared of a ghost?”
“It's not as if I started out being scared by them. I just grew to fear them, that's all. Please, do try to understand.”
The Fallen Angel turned around. It was then.
Swish. Something exploded out from the interior of the tomb and brushed past Teresa's neck. The aura was so strong that it only brushed by her yet still ended up causing her messy, matted rose-colored hair to dance upwards.
Just as Teresa's expression was about to blank out, a stream of black smoke suddenly wrapped tightly around the Fallen Angel's waist and yanked at her. She desperately flailed her arms and legs, but still ended up getting dragged inside the tomb. Her long scream trailed after her figure disappearing into the tomb, and right behind her, the metal door solidly slammed shut.
For a scream, it sounded a bit plain.
Seol Jihu opened his eyes about an hour later. The condition of his body was really grave and sleeping for the whole day wouldn't have been all that surprising to see. However, the habit of sleeping for a short period of time became ingrained in his body after trying to stay awake as long as he could to look out for the enemy pursuers. That led to him opening his eyes much sooner than what should be considered normal.
Even then, he felt this snug coziness enveloping his senses. He couldn't explain why but began thinking that he was safe now. Of course, he was still conscious of the fact that his problems hadn't been resolved yet.
His body still felt like it weighed a ton. Hunger and thirst still tormented him. He groaned and whimpered in pain before reaching out to grasp his spear out of habit and bit on it. He hurriedly sucked in the cold air spreading inside his mouth.
[You look terrible.]
When he did, he felt a hand cautiously brushing his head. Seol Jihu was taken greatly by surprise, and his eyes quickly shot wide open to look around him. With a bit of flurry, he raised his upper torso up and found himself inside a rather familiar location. His jaw then fell to the floor after seeing the sarcophagus, too.
How could he ever forget this place? Besides all that, the fact that he was in here meant…..
He heard the voice he so badly wanted to hear. Even then, he felt a little bit uncertain. Now that he was actually here, he just couldn't believe it.
“Uhm, well, ah….”
[I killed them all. I ripped apart every single thing threatening you, so you don't have to worry anymore.]
Although she spoke in a graceful tone of voice, the contents of her words were somewhat horrific in nature. Still, he felt deeply reassured by them.
Seol Jihu couldn't say anything else and simply closed his eyes, instead. The memories of the past eight or so days entered his mind one after the other. Starting from the moment he entered the laboratory, rescuing the Princess, getting sniped, getting confined, escaping, going back the way they came from, getting surrounded, running away, and running away some more, until….
If he were to be honest with himself…. he never expected to make it out of this ordeal alive. He tried to hypnotize himself, telling his brain that there was a hope of survival, but the knowledge of his death being only around the corner constantly accompanied him. Especially when he and the Sky Fairy got sniped in the air and fell – he really thought that he was done for.
Just how badly frustrated and at the mercy of despair was he? More than once, he thought that going insane was more preferable than all this misery. However, here he was, not dead.
….Indeed, he survived. He made it out alive. He didn't die and managed to stumble his way this far.
[It must have been really hard.]
At that moment he heard those words…
[It's going to be alright now.]
Tears suddenly rushed out from his closed eyes.
And he thought that his body had no more moisture left by now; yet, hot tears he couldn't hold back trickled down his face.
A flustered voice entered his ears. While crying, Seol Jihu opened his eyes. The only reason he was able to live was all thanks to the Saintess. If it weren't for this soul, he'd have died ten times over.
He couldn't rein in the gratitude mushrooming rapidly in his heart and knelt down on the floor. He pressed his hands on the ground and bowed down until his forehead touched the floor.
'Thank you so much…!'
[W-What are you doing? S-Stop it.]
Tug, tug… She began tugging at his arm. However, Seol Jihu didn't move. His forehead remained pressed against the ground, his body trembling as he sobbed softly.
It seemed that the Saintess was in a serious panic mode right now. The black smoke leisurely floating around in the air a moment ago suddenly began whooshing around uneasily all over his bowing figure.
A short while later. The clearly-panicking and confused black smoke abruptly stopped moving around. It was as if it had come up with a great idea. It slid around a sarcophagus and quickly returned to his side. And just like how one would try to pacify a crying child, it began sneaking something just below his face.
Seol Jihu saw a beautiful bracelet crafted out of gold and blinked his eyes several times.
[Let me give you this, so please stop crying.]
“N-No, hang on. Please, I don't need it. What you gave to us last time was more than enough for me.”
[B-But, I thought you guys love stuff like this? It’s fine as long as you feel better.]
“I'm, I'm fine now. Also, how can I accept something from you again? You even saved my life.”
“Take it”, “I can't” – they quarreled with each other for a little while like this, trying their darnest to make the other party give up, only to stop after hearing someone leak out a hollow chuckle from the side. This person seemed to have witnessed this weird scene in its full glory. Seol Jihu used this opening to force the bracelet back, and only then did he discover the Fallen Angel squatting by the corner of the tomb.
“Why don't you accept it already? That artifact possesses quite a lot of mana.”
“Even a leech knows shame, you know. I didn't come here for the treasures anyway, and…. Ah.”
Seol Jihu replied reflexively, went “Oops!”, and took a hasty look around his vicinity. The Fallen Angel answered his silent query.
“You don’t need to worry. They are waiting for us outside.”
“Don't ask me. I was also dragged in here against my will because of you.”
The Fallen Angel spoke in a flat voice and quietly pushed herself up off the floor. She glared at the sarcophagus and asked.
“In any case, he has regained consciousness, so… I can go now, right?”
[How is your body?]
For some reason, he felt a tickling sensation on top of his head, but he ignored that and looked down on his thigh first. It was wrapped expertly in bandages. The pain had dulled to a significant degree as well. Meanwhile, the Fallen Angel snorted unhappily.
“I've done the emergency treatment, but it'd be for the best for you to return home as quickly as possible to get proper medical treatment. The wound caused by the Evil Phantom is truly vile and doesn't heal that easily.”
Never before in his life did the words 'return home' touch him so deeply. Seol Jihu nodded his head.
“Don't mention it. Thanks to you, four of us managed to survive as well.”
The Fallen Angel stated her opinion clearly and turned around to leave without hesitation. Seol Jihu almost asked, “You're leaving already?”, but kept himself in check. It was only obvious that she'd leave now. Their escape attempt was a success, so with that, their cooperative relationship had come to an end, too.
The hastily-evacuating Fallen Angel stopped walking abruptly.
“What's your name?”
“You heard me, so why are you asking back?”
The Fallen Angel pouted and complained softly. Seol Jihu sheepishly scratched his cheek and opened his mouth.
“Seol, is it? Thanks for the info. I shall remember you.”
“What about you, Miss Fallen Angel?”
The Fallen Angel was nodding her head sagely until then, but she flinched slightly at his question. She seemed to be deliberating on something, just like the young man standing before her had done, and shrugged her shoulders.
Mikael, she said. He heard that name a few times before in his life.
'She really is an angel….'
Seol Jihu looked back at her with mystified eyes.
'Why did she come to Paradise?'
In a self-proclaimed ‘corrupted’ state to boot.
He had more than just one or two questions he wanted to ask, but since the Fallen Angel who revealed her name as 'Mikael' was displaying obvious hints of wanting to get the heck out of this place, he didn't want to make her stay any longer than necessary.
“I’ll remember the name too.”
Mikael grinned softly before turning around once more. Soon, he heard the sound of the door closing. Seeing that the Saintess was also keeping quiet, she must have given up on making him accept the bracelet. Seol Jihu scanned the tomb's interior one more time and smacked his lips.
“By any chance, do you have any water?”
[How can you ask for water in this place?]
'But, of course. Obviously, there wouldn't be water in here.'
Seol Jihu could only bitterly chuckle from that answer.
He exited from the tomb twenty minutes later. The ghost was curious as to how he ended up in this miserable state, and once he began with his detailed explanation, he ended up spending more time than he expected.
He said that he was sorry about bothering her like this and promised to come to see her again soon with a pinky swear. The ghost lady seemed reluctant to part with him but didn't try to stop him. Even at a casual glance, one could see how poor his current condition was, so she judged that it was for the best that he returned to civilization as soon as possible.
The folks from the Federation were long gone by the time he came outside. Teresa, now left all alone by herself, was squatting on the ground sucking on a blade of unknown grass. She jumped in delight seeing the young man emerge unscathed. The two of them hugged each other and celebrated their survival for a short while. That wasn't all, though.
Teresa pushed forward an ivory-colored gown at him, saying that she got two of them from the Fallen Angel. It was small and barely covered his butt, but it sure was better than nothing. Besides, he was quietly getting worried about when they were to enter the city itself, so Seol Jihu gladly accepted them.
“By the way, what's that?”
“What's what, Princess?”
“Why is there something tied to your head?”
Teresa pointed with her index finger and asked. He reflexively felt around his head and became dumbfounded immediately. The gold bracelet was tied to his hair.
He remembered briefly wondering why his head felt ticklish.
Of course, he tried to return the artifact, but the entrance remained tightly shut. He knocked and tugged at the door with all his might, but his efforts were in vain. The door showed no signs of budging. He decided to leave it behind in front of the tomb, but then, less than ten seconds later, his head felt ticklish again. By the time he freaked out and raised his hands up there, the dang thing was already tied prettily to his head.
Seeing the back of that black smoke run away like a naughty child, Seol Jihu had no choice but to sigh under his breath.
'It's not that I don't want it…'
Indeed, who would reject such a valuable gift? It was just that he had no right to ask for such a gift in the first place.
Still, he decided to accept it. He bowed towards the tomb one more time and turned around to leave.
They may have escaped from the grips of the Parasites, but it was too early to say that they were completely safe. Their new priority was to escape from the Forest of Denial without running into another incident.
Seol Jihu walked forward without a single thought occupying his mind but had to stop his steps after seeing Teresa suddenly go down on one knee.
“….So, it has this kind of effect, huh.”
“Are you alright?”
“Don't worry about me, this is nothing.”
Teresa slowly got back up again while wiping her lips with the back of her hand.
“Compared to the pursuit of the Parasites, this much is…..”
Her voice abruptly got louder before her eyes opened wider. Seol Jihu wanted to ask her what was wrong, but she placed her finger on her lips first.
“Shh. Please be quiet.”
Her eyes narrowed to a slit next. He raised his spear and began scanning his surroundings, only for his own movements to come to a halt without warning, as well. Trickle, trickle…. They heard the sound of flowing water.
They looked at each other in a bit of daze. Did they even need to say anything here? As if they had made a promise earlier, they dashed in the direction of that flowing water.
A short while later, they discovered a huge lake at the mouth of the Forest of Denial. It was connected by a small stream, and its surface glistened like a mirror under the sunlight, while the water itself was so pristine and clear that they could actually see the bottom of the lake.
However, never mind stopping for a second to admire the beautiful scenery, they just dipped their heads straight into the lake the moment they saw this place.
Gulp, gulp!! Slurp, slurp!!! They breathlessly and crazily drank the water.
The lake's water was too pure and teeth-shudderingly refreshing. Heck, it even tasted sweet. The longer he drank it, the wetter his throat became, and it felt as if water was sticking to his tongue like glue. The sensation of burning flames instantly being quenched was a divine ecstasy that no words could describe.
'So sweet! So good!!'
Teresa finally lifted her head up and broke out into boisterous laughter after spotting Seol Jihu half-way submerged under the lake to drink. He was holding his breath right up until his limit to hoover up the water and belatedly raised his head while forming a sheepish grin.
He had no idea that water could taste this great until now. He was truly happy. So happy, as a matter of fact, he might just die of happiness. For real, he briefly thought that he wouldn't mind dying right about now.
The two of them drank to their hearts' content. Their bodies that had been demanding for any kind of moisture for a long while began to completely sag in relaxation, now that they were topped up with water. But then, Teresa urgently stood up as if simply drinking wasn't enough for her. She threw off the gown and the miniature chain mail to the ground, and then…
Splash! She jumped straight into the water.
“Ah, aaaaah~…. Huwaa~ang…!”
Her entire body trembled, and she let out a weird noise.
“Do you have any idea just how badly I wanted to take a bath?!”
She even grew tearful as she dived deep below the surface before emerging back again. Seeing her go for a bath like that, Seol Jihu couldn't hold back anymore. Following his instincts, he shrugged off the gown and the yellowing underpants to dive into the lake's water.
Seol Jihu's entire body shivered powerfully. He now understood why Teresa did so earlier.
The sensation of water touching his body that felt dirty and caked in sweat? In a word, refreshing. So, so refreshing and eye-opening that he might even lose his mind here. Every time he felt the clean water flow past his groin, this wonderful chill brushed past his entire body, and he just wanted to cry out in delight and roll around on the floor without a care in the world.
He plunged all the way down to his head and began washing his body in great haste. He rubbed and rubbed hard, causing the dried-up pus and caked-up dirt and sweat to melt off his skin. He felt pity for the fish population living in the lake, but still, he didn't stop cleaning himself.
“Aaaaaah~~. I'm so happy~.”
Teresa hummed in pure joy as well. Their gazes met, and simultaneously, happy peals of laughter escaped from their mouths. It wasn't funny at all, but they just couldn't hold back.
“It's so much better to be alive, right?”
Teresa asked him with a wide grin on her lips. Seol Jihu nodded his head, but then, his gaze stopped moving out of the blue. The Princess was enjoying the warm rays of the sun while sweeping back her drenched hair behind her.
Was this because all the accumulated layers of dirt had been finally removed from her? Having regained its original look, her nude form was eye-searingly beautiful to behold. Her skin, wet with a copious amount of water sensuously dripping down, reflected the sun's rays and emitted this soft, peach-like ethereal glow. Her neck and her shoulders arched gracefully like a wild orchid, and just below them, a pair of peaks that proudly boasted unparalleled bounciness….
[Very good! Of course I'll tell you! First of all, she's 70D around her chest, and her waistline is like…..]
….Suddenly, Seol Jihu recalled Ian's words quickly averted his gaze. He also didn't forget to sing Korea's national anthem in his head just for a good measure.
After seeing him panic and get flustered like that, Teresa gradually realized what was going on here. A refreshing smile emerged on her lips.
“What are you feeling shy about? We've already seen pretty much everything there is to see, haven't we?”
Well, that was true. They were rather used to being almost completely nude now, and during the nights, they embraced each other tightly in order to fall asleep too.
“B-But, that's that, and this is something else. Our circumstances have changed, wouldn't you agree?”
Seol Jihu inadvertently stuttered somewhat. Teresa stared at him for a bit, but then, the corners of her lips sneaked upwards. Now that she was feeling refreshed and alive, her mischievous streak clicked into gear again. She easily parted the water and got closer to him before suddenly throwing out a question.
“So, what do you think?”
“It's pink, isn't it~?”
Honestly speaking, he did see 'it'. He couldn't pretend that he didn't know what she was talking about, but that didn't mean he could think up of something to say right this moment.
“Isn't it? Or am I wrong?”
He squeezed his eyes shut involuntarily. With that, she got him for good.
“Oh, my. Oh, my~. My knight doesn't want to say anything. Are you disobeying a direct order~?”
“…I'd like to avoid being put to death for lèse-majesté, Your Highness.”
“What are you talking about? We don't have a law like that. In any case, I guess you did see 'it', right?”
Seol Jihu barely managed to nod his head. He really didn't want to be led around the nose by her. Unfortunately for him, Teresa remained rather persistent now that she had bitten into her prey.
“Hmm~~. So, where were you looking, then?”
“You know, you said you confirmed 'it' to be pink, so I'm asking you, which part?”
She took a superhero pose – with her hands holding her waists – and confidently asked him.
“…You know already.”
“I honestly don't. It's not just one or two places, so how can I know?”
Teresa twirled her lush hair with her fingers before shrugging her shoulders. While doing his very best to cover his groin, he studied her and her disarming smile.
'Why is she doing this?'
…A certain emotion began boiling over in his chest. He remembered that they were still inside the Forest of Denial and inwardly went, “Ah, shit”, but the effects had activated already.
'She must know that I'm getting embarrassed here, so why?'
The flames lit up inside and grew too powerful for him to control in an instant.
'Does she enjoy making fun of other people? Is her personality like that?'
Seol Jihu stopped covering himself. He was planning to let it slide after a while, but he couldn't hold back any longer.
“I can't be sure.”
“Ei~ii. You said you saw it before!”
“Well, I did see, but everything went past just too quickly. I can't remember all that well.”
Seol Jihu began answering back in a cheeky manner now. Teresa sensed that something had changed, and her eyes blinked in confusion.
“I really can't be sure, so…. Ah, Princess, maybe you can tell me.”
“Please, tell me in your own words where it’s pink.”
Seeing her get flustered in return like that, a victorious expression emerged on his face next.
She quickly recovered her composure and crossed her arms while shooting him a prim glare.
“Ohhh, so… you want me to personally tell you. Is that it?”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
She smirked, her expression seemingly implying “You dare to go up against me?”
“Of course, it's not like I can't tell you, right?”
She took a look around her surroundings before lightly clapping her hands.
“Can you ask me if I have seen a ghost before?”
“No, well, just. It's not a strange request, is it~? You can ask such a question, right?”
'Ask her if she's seen a ghost before?'
Although he felt rather suspicious of where this was going, he still did as asked.
“Princess, have you seen a ghost before?”
It was then – Teresa formed a refreshing smile as if he had fallen for her trap.
And she replied back to him.
“You pussy-ed against it before, don’t you remember?”
For some reason, she greatly emphasized that one word in the middle. What ensued was a short bout of silence.
Seol Jihu tilted his head a bit, but eventually, his expression stiffened up like a rock, and then….
…He hurriedly dived under the water.
On that day, S.S. Seol Jihu raised its banner of rebellion for the first time ever only to be sunken to the depths of the ocean by a single concentrated strike from S.S. Teresa.Previous Chapter Next Chapter