Chapter 1: whose reality
the night was truly beautiful in soul and kings - brightly lit stars interrupted the inky sky while the soft, rhythmic sounds of various creatures filled the air. they called out to any heroes brave enough to go forward, beckoning them to the adventures that awaited them. the breeze that flew through jaebum’s hair and shifted his robes when the wind picked up was almost enough for him to forget this wasn’t real.
that the grass beneath his feet wasn’t genuine. the sense of accomplishment jaebum felt as his sword lead his party to victory was only a poor imitation of what pride really was. this feeling that crept through the warrior’s mind, the sense of discontent filling his thoughts, as well as the words of the game’s creator, inched along as he spent more time in this world. it was starting to worry him.
what exactly anchors the human mind to reality?
the peculiar phrase had lingered from the day jaebum started playing soul and kings. the creator of the game - the one who had hired jaebum to test out the various features of the game’s highly immersive atmosphere - had questioned the players as they were getting ready to log on to the game. he asked them to keep that phrase in their mind as they jotted down whatever had caught their interest during their explorations. other than that, the creator had little to say about the game itself, only giving short instructions about it before the players put on their headsets
that was over a month ago, and jaebum was starting to blur the lines: he knew for a fact that this strange, interesting world was not real. but the sights and the feelings that accompanied him throughout this expe -
“ jaebum hyung ! “ a booming voice called out to him, shattering whatever inner monologue he was having. one of his party members had arrived. “ hyung - did you fall asleep ? you weren’t answering our group chat,” jackson drawled out over the connection, whining as if jaebum could actually see the monk, “mark scouted ahead and found those skeletons in the caves - we have ‘bout ten minutes before they respawn.”
“ ah uh - um sorry jackson, i’ll be right there. can you get yugyeom to do his mage shit for quicker cooldowns?” jaebum muttered as he began to scroll through the drop box menu before quickly teleporting to the location where his party was headed.
his feet stumbled upon landing, the sudden upheaval was something that jaebum could never get used to. the warrior found himself jostled forward, bumping into yugyeom as he struggled to find his footing. the mage snorted and tried to hide his amusement as the so called leader of the party fumbled. Jaebum clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes at yugyeom before wedging an elbow in his side.
“ ouch, hyung, come on i have to cast a spell i can’t do that when i’m hurt.” the youngest whined. his staff shone in the night sky as he rubbed his side and a pout surfaced on his lips.
jaebum scoffed, watching as the younger’s hp bar remained at full length, “ shut up, there wasn’t even any damage, and we can’t feel pain because it’s a game, in case you forgot.”
before yugyeom could retaliate with whatever bullshit excuse, a flash of black appeared before the party’s eyes and signaled the arrival of the group’s assassin.
“ i’ve disarmed the enemies in the closest areas to us right now, let’s get started before they spawn again.” mark’s tone didn’t leave much room for argument, and jaebum let out another sigh before ushering his team into the caves.
“ y’all know the game plan right ? I’ll go in first and then Jackson get in behind me and yug try not to use any magic unless needed.”
coming out of the caves with dirt on his face and sore muscles, jaebum began to wonder why he hadn’t just picked the merchant class in the beginning. he could have made more money than a mere adventurer, and the idea of actually having a home in game instead of paying to stay at random inns throughout town was more appealing.
but it was too late now. a grimace twisted his lips as he and his party made their way into the inn centered in the nearest town. god, he was going to have to pay for his avatar to get a bath at the inn. the dirt stuck in his hair made him envious of his short hairstyle in real life - he thought it would be cool to base his character off of a joseon military official but the long hair was more constricting than he’d hoped.
jaebum opened the door of the lodging and a thin boy with black hair falling messily across his forehead, as though he was in the midst of cooking or cleaning, greeted them. pointed, leaf-like ears peeked out from underneath his untidy locks. jaebum had to hand it to the creator, the character designs were always .. erm, top notch. but this was the first time he found himself thinking an npc was cute - god, he was really becoming a shut in. thinking a game character was cute ? that was too far.
maybe he’d been logged in too long, he needed to take a break and bring his focus back to his real life.
the innkeeper smiled cheerfully as he studied their group, halting his bookkeeping to give them his full attention.
“ hello! welcome to the hogwash inn! my name’s jinyoung, how can i help you travelers today ?”
jaebum found this aspect of the game a waste of time - needing your avatar to eat and rest made the gaming experience a bit too real, but he supposed the old man wanted the game to be as challenging and realistic as he could make it.
and oftentimes it was helpful for newbies, as these npcs gave out hints on how to level up, as well as informed them of various quests that helped rookies gather rare items quickly.
but that didn't stop jaebum from ranting about it every time a report was due from the old man. it was just a hassle since no one could skip the dialogue like in older games.
so he made no effort to speak to the npc. instead, he headed towards the board positioned on the nearest wall to look at the quests the townspeople's had put up for passing adventurers.
“ ignore our fearless leader - he’s more feline than human at this point - he gets grumpy when he hasn’t had his nap,” jackson said as he strolled in moments after jaebum. even with dirt and grime, the monk still seemed as cheerful as he did when he had first logged on.
He knew he shouldn’t allow jackson to shorten his fuse, but jaebum was finding it hard to focus on a farmer’s call for help with the goblins in his garden, and he found it impossible when he heard jackson’s rambunctious laughter fill the inn - the monk had zeroed in on the innkeeper. “ wow, you’re a cute one aren’t ya.”
jackson pushed forward and leaned against the desk. he took out the party’s money pouch and sent jinyoung an easy smile on his lips. jackson always got a kick from speaking to the npcs ever since they had started the game. “ four single rooms please, and can we get some baths with that ?”
his gaze returned the innkeeper, watching as he broke into a polite smile. his eyes crinkled like the crescent moon that decorated the sky outside. he found himself irritated at how jackson was able to smitten the innkeeper, as if the boy’s reaction wasn’t programmed, handed out to whatever traveler arrived in his presence.
Jaebum slammed down his jeonrip in irritation as he watched jackson’s exchange with the innkeeper. jinyoung seemed to be the only one who noticed the sudden noise, glancing in his direction before he quickly returned to his books and gave jackson the price for the four rooms.
a familiar laugh rose beside him, starling jaebum for a moment. his fingers settled on the sword attached to his hip. mark rolled his eyes, the dagger in his hand swinging as he, too, watched the scene with little interest. “ you’re on edge today aren’t you ? why ? something in real life got you bugged ?”
jaebum only shook his head, unsure of what was causing his sour mood. he answered with a question of his own. “ aren’t you jealous ? seeing jackson flirt with all the npcs ? “
mark’s dagger stopped spinning, the aloof expression never leaving his face. “ why would i ? it’s not like they can flirt back.”
the tavern was located on the first floor of the inn and wasn’t as crowded as the ones in other towns, which was understandable since it was one of the lower-leveled towns. though nearly empty, there were a few familiar faces in the room and jaebum found himself sitting amongst old allies. they sat around the tables and discussed plans and strategies.
“ jaebum come on, the quest would be a lot easier if we had some more hands on deck.” sungjin, a fellow adventurer, urged. he drank as they spoke about the most recent mission that the old man had patched into the game a few days prior.
“ there’s these new sirens by the river of ai, and i heard from one of those npcs that if we’re able to pass by them we’ll be able to gather some contracts with the friendlier ones - we’d be granted such an advantage before the game even opens to the public.” jae added, absently plucking the strings of his guitar.
‘ i don’t know about that man, how can i put my party on a quest that hasn’t been prepared thoroughly ? i mean i know we go in blind since we’re supposed to be testing things out but yug has exams soon, we’re not at our most accessible right now.” jaebum sighed. his fingers tapped against the wooden table and his eyes shifted as he watched the innkeeper from the corner of his eye. jinyoung was busy pouring drinks for the other patrons. “ i’m sure nayeon’s girls would help, i heard they’re looking for a new quest last time we spoke. “
his face pulled into a frown - the throbbing in his head was starting to get to him. maybe it was time to log off after playing for nearly three hours.
“ listen sungjin i’ll talk to you about it later or something, i’m gonna log off.” he said with a wave of his hand, ignoring the complaints on his companions’ lips. he spared one more glance at jinyoung, who, by then, was finished pouring drinks and had returned to his station at the desk.
only sungjin responded to his goodbye, though he was obviously miffed at the rejection. he turned his attention back to his party members.
jaebum’s mind buzzed with mundane troubles as he walked away from the other adventurers. the image of his empty fridge was the most prominent picture in his mind as his vision slowly faded to black.
it was blurry when his vision returned - his fingers grasped at his bed sheets. they were rougher than he remembered. but this wasn’t his bedroom, nor was it the lab where the old man sometimes conducted their trails.
aside from the bedding on the floor, there was a single bowl of water with a damp towel at its side. the walls were almost paper thin with various paintings decorating the wall, like the rooms in historical dramas he sometimes watched.
this wasn’t his room - where the fuck did he wake up?
panic began to run through him - the realization that something wasn’t right filled the air. his vision cleared enough for him to notice someone else in the room. the innkeeper from soul and kings ? jinyoung’s face was full of worry. his brows pushed together as he watched jaebum come to his senses.
this wasn’t possible, he logged out ? he should be offline now, why was jinyoung here ?
“ what happened - why ?” he croaked out, his voice heavy with sleep. his eyes shifted as the panic continued to surge through his veins.
“ uh - ah, jaebum-ssi right ?” jinyoung’s voice was softer than it was before, the concerned look in his eyes made jaebum’s heart stick to his ribs. its frantic, heightened beating made jaebum frown before he managed a nod.
“ jaebum-ssi, you passed out in the main lobby. we brought you here to relax, you must have tired yourself out during your quest.”
yes, that was the protocol when they would overexert themselves and their avatar revived at the nearest inn.
but - he had logged out. why was he still here ?
“ ah thanks jinyoung-ssi but can you uh give me a moment ?”
the innkeeper was caught off guard by the request, but he quickly bowed, stood, then left the room after saying, “ if that’s what you need sir, but i’ll come back with a cup of tea in a few minutes. “
as soon as he left, jaebum quickly opened up the menu box. his eyes searched for the logout button, cursing when he struggled to find it. “ what the fuck, it was just here a few moments ago, come on, what’s going on ?” he continued to scroll up and down, scanning the menu for any sort of answer. his eyes widened when he noticed the messaging function was gone, too.
was he stuck ?
did this mean he was stuck in soul and knight ? no,no way.
“ shit shit shit, i gotta find jackson and everybody else. “
a searing pain ran up his stomach when he sat up - shit, what the fuck is going on ? his mind flashed to the last quest the team took: jaebum had sustained some damage when he diverted the enemies so yugyeom could cast a spell. jaebum felt another sense of dread wash over him as he realized this was the first time he had ever felt actual pain from an injury in the game.
but he couldn’t focus on that, he had to find his party. he grabbed his jeonrip and pulled on his hat. the beads swayed as he adjusted it. woah that’s heavier than he remembered it to be, but nevermind that. he needed to get out of this room.
the panic continued to fill jaebum’s mind as he pulled the door open to rush out. he bumped into jinyoung and the innkeeper nearly dropped the tray of tea on them both. jinyoung let out an exclamation of surprise before his face twisted into something jaebum had never seen on a npc before - was that irritation ?
“ jaebum-ssi ? why exactly are you running around my inn ? you’ve only just passed out, you should be resting in bed.”
“ uh, look jinyoung i appreciate you looking after me, but i got to find my party - i need to talk to them - i got t-”
jinyoung’s full lips fit into an annoyed frown. He wasn’t sure of how the npc would react any further, but instead of doing anything rash, jinyoung moved past jaebum and placed the tray on the floor next to the mats. “you’ve been asleep for almost a whole day, your party left a while ago to gather supplies , you’ll have to wait for now.”
but jaebum wasn’t paying much attention to jinyoung, too lost in his own thoughts.
jaebum couldn’t comprehend this. his party had left, the messaging system was down and the log off button was suddenly gone.
was he actually stuck in this game ?
he had to be dreaming. this had to be a dream, it wasn’t possible.
a breathlessness wrapped around him - as if the the oxygen in the room was disappearing, leading jaebum slowly and urgently to accept his faith. he tried to breathe in carefully, tried to calm the spinning in his head. causing panic in his own head was never a solution.
he forgot that jinyoung was still in the room and only remembered presence when jinyoung laid his hand gingerly on jaebum’s arms, almost warily. he gave the warrior a concerned smile. “ jaebum-ssi, please don’t worry - i’m here to assist you in anything you need while you stay here.”
his words were comforting, like a stream that ran through his mind, cooling whatever anxieties he had for the time being, though jaebum knew it was one of the many dialogues jinyoung was programed to say.
“ i don’t think you can assist me with my current issue jinyoung-ssi.” jaebum uttered, suddenly aware of an exhaustion washing over him. he paused, glancing at the innkeeper.
the creator’s question, of what anchors the human mind to reality, rose in the jumble of jaebum’s thoughts. his eyes glanced over at jinyoung and he thought of the clarity he felt at the npc’s touch - it made him suspicious of the fate of it all, both the question and his being trapped in the same game he was testing.
the line between game and reality had only became more blurred as he played. he had allowed himself to become increasingly attached the world he was currently stuck in, but as he noticed jinyoung’s worried expression, he was unable to give it more thought. instead he surrendered to the exhaustion that had been cloaking over him since he’d waken.
“ but i’ll take that cup of tea i guess.”
Chapter 2: leaves on the vine
hi! i'm back again with another chapter! and i just wanted to thank my friend pepijr for editing this and helping me with throughout this whole thing as well as everyone else i bothered while writing this! anyways i hope you guys enjoy this chapter so please comment if you have anything to say! also! happy lunar new years!
jaebum sat on the floor and crossed his legs as his nerves continued to consume his brain. when jaebum was in the world of soul and kings, he always felt a surge of confidence go through him at every turn. as if uncertainty was impossible during his time here, but that was hardly the case now.
it was odd how much could change in such a short time.
jinyoung made his way to the tray, kneeling behind the two tea cups lined across it. his slender fingers brushed against the flowers decorating the teapot before he glanced up at jaebum with a soft smile.
“ the tea set is a family heirloom, when my mother’s around she allows it out for only the utmost important guests.” jinyoung muttered as he poured the tea into the cups. when done, he pushed it toward jaebum.
jaebum’s arched his eyebrow as jinyoung spoke - it was odd to hear such a personal statement from an npc.
“ so am i an important guest then? jinyoung-ssi ?” jaebum teased gingerly, unsure if the innkeeper was able to comfortably converse.
when jaebum spotted jinyoung’s pointed ears turning red - it brought an odd drop in his stomach. a sense of giddiness filling up jaebum’s stomach from being able to pull that sort of reaction from jinyoung.
as if gaining the upper hand in their conversation would have a reward against a computer program. a notion that was merely an afterthought in his mind as he continued to bask in whatever confidence that came with it.
a beat of silence stretched between them before jinyoung pushed the tea further towards jaebum. whatever shyness came over him disappeared as he spoke.
“ not many guests stay for tea.” the smile on jinyoung’s lips was no longer coy or shy, but like the kumiho that feast on men if they came too close.
jaebum, caught off guard at the comment, spat out his tea, the tea that was so carefully and elegantly poured into the cups, in a matter of seconds. this time, jaebum found himself turning red when jinyoung let out a soft fit of laughter at the his clumsiness.
jaebum’s panic was not constant - it came and went. his fear of being trapped was only appeared at certain points of the day.
jaebum knew if he was left in his thoughts that the fear would consume him.
and, as if jinyoung were aware of his discomfort, he invited jaebum to a game of baduk.
as jinyoung began to set up the baduk board, his movements just as gentle as when he served tea that morning, jaebum couldn’t help but note that jinyoung did not truly belong in this world. the way his robes swayed softly as the light breeze blew through the garden made jinyoung seem too real and too human to have come from some creator’s design.
jinyoung’s beauty was the type that was immortalized by poets and lovelorn scholars of the past. as if the creator of soul and kings had based jinyoung’s appearance off of some old portrait of some beautiful god.
but perhaps jaebum was too smitten with this innkeeper’s kindness. because of his panic, he had quickly grown an attraction to the one person that stood at his side, the way a baby chick imprinted on the first person it locked eyes with after birth.
jaebum’s infatuated musings were cut short when a catapulted stone collided with his forehead, bringing with it a sharp pain. even with quick reflexes, jaebum was unable to dodge it and his head jerked back with a curse on the tip of his tongue. across from him, jinyoung’s bright laughter filled the air, uncovered and unabashed.
“ what was that for ?” jaebum grunted. a redness crept onto his face as the embarrassment began to settle in.
“ i was trying to gain your attention! you were staring off for the longest time, i was worried that you had fallen asleep with your eyes open.”
“ so you decided to whack your only guest with a game board piece ?”
jinyoung snorted at jaebum’s whine - his attention fell back to the board for a moment. “ you’re an adventurer, basically immortal why would a stone cause you so much pain ?”
“ that’s not an apology, jinyoung-ssi.”
“ you didn’t ask for one. now, have you played baduk before ? “
“ not since childhood, i’ve never caught on to its appeal.”
jinyoung let out a scandalized gasp - his fingers clutched at his chest . “ what do you do for fun then ? you can’t just spend all your free time vanquishing monsters. that hardly sounds like a life.”
now that’s a bit of a loaded question - jaebum knew the world of soul and kings was unlike his own. that jinyoung was unaware of phones or televisions or movies or any sort of technology, and it was rather mad to think that jinyoung had no experience with the things that jaebum’s life consisted of.
he was hesitant, but continued.
“ i enjoy reading in my free time.” which was true, his love for soul and kings stemmed from a long standing obsession with fantasy novels. his bookshelf back home was overstuffed with the books he had read throughout the years.
“ do you now ? i would have never thought someone like you would enjoy reading.”
“ excuse me ? what do you mean someone like me ?”
a soft hum left jinyoung’s lips, his fingers tucking a strand of hair behind his pointed ear. the impish smile from earlier returned. “ you warrior types don’t seem like the most scholarly fellows. so brash with your actions - it’s rather surprising that your hobby isn’t taking any maiden’s virtues in every village you happen across.”
jaebum to almost jumped at the accusation.
“ maiden’s virtues ? do you think me some sort of thief.” he argued, his voice gathering an uneasy pitch as he spoke. “ i’m not interested in the virtues of maidens, jinyoung-ssi. i can stand by that.”
the banter flit between them easily. jinyoung’s words pushed jaebum with each prodding phrase and it made jaebum forget that jinyoung was a programed character. his words were so witty and free that jaebum could feel the line of reality start to blur again.
jaebum’s party arrived later in the afternoon.
jinyoung had returned to his duties, which left jaebum alone to entertain himself with a book from his private collection. jaebum had just settled in one of the corners of the lobby when the front doors swung open.
the group entered the inn with ashstricken faces. jackson’s usual carefree aura had dulled and yugyeom’s eyes were red with worry. mark was the only one who beared a resemblance to his usual self, but even he looked strained at a second glance.
the youngest of the group ran towards jaebum. he seemed helpless as he looked to the elder for answers.
“hyung! you’re here too i thought - i thought we were never going to see each other again.” yugyeom choked out while his fingers clutched jaebum’s sleeve. jaebum looked forlorn himself as he threw an arm around yugyeom and pulled him into a tight, tensed hug.
“ hey yug, listen you know whatever we’re going through right now, we’ll get through it. “
“ now come on, let’s uh let’s talk it out in my room upstairs okay ?” jaebum pulled away from him before he motioned for his friends to follow, feeling bashful that the scene had to unfold in front of jinyoung.
and, though he looked baffled at the scene in front of him, jinyoung took control of the situation. he smiled, the same smile that greeted adventurers each time they entered his inn, as he gestured for mark and jackson to come deeper into the lobby.
“ i’ll bring some tea up in jaebum-ssi’s room for you boys. maybe some food as well ? you must have traveled for some time to get here so quickly.”
once they were alone, jaebum felt the helplessness return to their group. yugyeom sat against the wall, away from the older members of the party. his eyes glazed over as he fiddled with his staff.
“ how’s everyone dealing with being locked in ? wait how many of us are stuck in here ?” jaebum asked.
“ we don’t know for sure hyung. we know sungjin’s party was on a quest when they found out and that brian’s pretty beaten up so they’re worried about that.” jackson said as he unpacked his bag. “ we found out we couldn’t log out after we traveled to the next town with nayeon’s party and they decided to stay back to meet up with hyojung’s party.”
“ the messaging system’s down for everyone huh.” jaebum muttered. the severity of the situation became more clear and something rotten grew at the pit of his stomach.
mark nodded from his corner, made jaebum wonder if he was as collected as he seemed. “ we know we can feel pain here now, we saw how brian had a hard time healing after their quest.”
the dreadful in jaebum’s stomach continued to expand. the only question in his mind was one he wasn’t sure he wanted answered.
“ are the revival checkpoints in order ?”
a grim silence draped itself over the room. a few moments later, jackson looked up from his bag at jaebum.
“no one’s willing to risk it.”
of course - who would risk dying when they’re stuck in some stupid game. jaebum wouldn’t jump at a chance to - but he knew someone had to.
“ i ca-”
mark’s eyes narrowed. ”don’t be some stupid martyr jaebum. why would you gamble that?”
“ i’m not trying to be a martyr, it’s just - i feel like i should take the chance, who else would huh ? i’m not going to let yugyeom do it, or you and jackson for sure.”
“ stop trying to be a hero - this isn’t just some game anymore, we don’t know what will happen if you die.”
jaebum went stiff. his jaw clenched as anger pressed against him. he knew mark was right, but their helpless situation made jaebum feel like some cornered animal.
“ so are we just supposed to wait here ? just laze around this inn until we run out of money ? quests are our main source of income - and all quest come with risks.”
jackson glanced at jaebum and mark. he looked mortified as he tried to calm the conversation down. “ guys come on, let’s not argue that’s not going to solve anything.”
yugyeom, who had remained silent for most of the conversation, nodded his head. an uneasy smile lay over his lips. “ yeah it’s stressful enough without us arguing. it’s been a long few days let’s just hang here and eat you know ? plus aren’t you curious to see how food really taste here ?”
almost on cue, someone knocked gently at jaebum’s door.
jaebum stood up from his spot and crossed the room, opening the door to find jinyoung with a tray of food in his hand and that welcoming smile on his lips.
“ hey, i know it’s not dinner time quite yet, but i happen to know the cook and he was kind enough to cook you something.”
something about jinyoung’s presence calmed jaebum. maybe it was the way he was programmed to ensure everyone’s happiness, jaebum thought, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“ here let me hold that. “ jaebum took the tray from jinyoung’s hold.
jackson seemed to recall jinyoung from the night before, gave him the same bright grin from when they first met. “ hey! jinyoung are you free right now ? how about you join us to eat.”
“ jackson i’m sure jinyoung has things to do in the inn, we shouldn’t both-”
jinyoung’s hand reached for jaebum’s arm, stopping his words. “ it’s fine, i have someone watching the front. i don’t mind.”
their exhaustion died down when their stomach were filled and the lull of conversation fluttered in the room. as their dinner comes to a close, the party’s attention turned to jinyoung.
“ so jinyoung how old are you ?” jackson asked, finishing the last of his meal.
jinyoung was caught off guard by the question, as though he wasn’t expecting to be asked about anything personal.
“ i turned twenty-three last fall.”
“ wow so that means only yugyeom is younger than you. i mean i wouldn’t make you call me hyung, but jaebum over here is real anal about that stuff. i’m like only three months younger yet he goes on and o-” jaebum pressed a swift kick to jackson’s thigh, and the latter whined at the sting.
“ shut up, stop making me seem like some old ass ahujssi or something.”
“ i think that it’s cute. that you care so much about those things. i wouldn’t mind calling you hyung.” jinyoung told them. that sweet smile was on his lips and jaebum felt his stomach twist again.
“ ew gross hyung, stop looking at jinyoung like that.”
“ shut up yugyeom i’m not staring at him.” jaebum snapped. the embarrassment at getting caught colored his cheeks.
“ jinyoung-ssi. how did you come into owning an inn at such a young age ?” mark asked.
“ oh i don’t own this inn.” jinyoung said and waved a hand, dismissing the idea. “ my parents own the inn but they’re currently traveling for some supplies.”
this caught jaebum’s attention - he hadn’t seen any paintings of a family this whole time, but then again maybe the old man forgot to code it in, or some stupid quest was about the parents or something.
“ how long have they been gone ?” jaebum asked. it was a shame to leave their child alone to run the inn by himself. he frowned at the idea of jinyoung running the inn alone for prolonged periods of time.
“ oh uh..” jinyoung trailed off, seemingly confused as he tried to recall the time. “ um well i think it’s been some time.”
“ how far did they travel to ?”
“ well a few towns next over. we needed some new plates and such and my father knows a craftsman who does beautiful work. “
the group fell quiet at the answer. the story was a bit off. the towns were rather close to one another, at least in this part of soul and kings. it would only take a few days by foot to travel from town to town.
jaebum, though, understood why jinyoung’s parents were gone for so long: he was only an npc, and even if he was lucky enough for a backstory, perhaps the old man hadn’t seen a reason to make actual parents for jinyoung.
but still..did jinyoung know that ?
no, probably not. he was just a string of coding - he wouldn’t be able to comprehend.
“ enough about me, i should be getting these plates back to the kitchen, you boys rest up now.” jinyoung’s voice was gentle and welcoming like usual, as if he was unable to read the odd mood of the room.
jaebum, though, felt awkward. he pushed himself off the ground as he took the tray from jinyoung’s hands again. “ here let me help. i’ll carry this for you while we go down stairs.”
“ you don’t need to. you’re a guest here, you shouldn’t help out.”
“ it’s fine jinyoung-ssi, it’s the least i can do.”
they left the tray of dirty dishes in the kitchen and jinyoung offered to take a walk with jaebum around the garden since his friends were setting up their rooms upstairs and it seemed like no one else would visit the inn at this time.
so they made it back to where they were earlier in the day. the gardens were even more alluring in the night. the moon’s reflection lay over the surface of the pool, interrupted only by the koi fish swimming beneath it.
jinyoung calling him so casually made jaebum’s stomach turn, as if it was his high school crush calling his name from across the hall.
“ can you tell me about yourself ? the rest of your friends spent all of dinner talking about themselves but i hardly heard anything about you. “
“ oh. well my full name’s im jaebum and i don’t know, i grew up pretty normal you know ? went to school and played with my friends outside. i had a cat named nora but my apar-” he paused, wondering how to phrase it in a way jinyoung would understand.” my job as a warrior is so busy i had to let her stay with my parents.”
“ do you remember a lot from your childhood ?” jinyoung asked. his eyes brimming with curiosity as he began to pick at the blades of grass beside him.
“ yeah i mean the usual stuff. i remembered helping my mom with cooking a lot. playing games with my dad. hanging out with my friends.”
jinyoung seemed distant. his face full of an emotion that jaebum couldn’t quite decypher. it was one he’d never seen before on an npc. something more human - like jinyoung was part of the outside world, of the true reality.
they remained quiet for a few minutes, jinyoung lost in his own thoughts, jaebum gazing out at the scenery. the soft breeze from the afternoon had cooled in the night air, left jaebum feeling chilly in his robes.
“ jinyoung, are you alright ? you’ve been quiet for some time.”
“ it’s just strange.” jinyoung whispered as he turned towards jaebum, his expression unreadable.
“ what’s weird ?”
“ it’s just that i can’t seem to recall what my parents look like.” the words came out watery, as if jinyoung was holding back a sob.
“ i don’t remember my mother or father. i just can’t seem to remember anything beside knowing that they’re out of town.”
jaebum isn’t sure how to comfort jinyoung. he had only met jinyoung a few days ago and even when jaebum knew someone longer than that he wasn’t the best at emotional support. but he couldn’t stand seeing jinyoung on the verge of tears.
“ jinyoung, i don’t know what i can do to help but i promise you i’ll try anything okay ? the guys too.” jaebum muttered, honestly wanting to help the other even if it was all for nothing.
“ if you want to help me..” jinyoung paused, looking aside before reaching for the sleeve of jaebum’s robes. “ take me on the next quest you go on. i want to go look for my parents.”
Chapter 3: spinning moon
hi guys! i'm back here again with another chapter of pearl.this one took a little longer to write but i have to thank my friends pepjir and adri for reading over this before i posted it! also, i have a twitter (@defspeach ) that has a curiouscat linked to it so if you have any questions! again! thank you for reading so leave a comment if you have any question or want to say anything!
“jinyoung... i can’t let you come with us.”
jaebum swallowed, the words difficult to let out. he couldn’t, with good conscious, let someone as inexperienced as jinyoung travel through the dangerous roads that were between the towns especially when jaebum didn’t even know if he had the ability to protect jinyoung. there was too much uncertainty for jaebum to confidently ensure jinyoung’s safety.
jaebum’s rejection hits jinyoung like a slap to the face, the innkeeper immediately tearing his hand away from the man’s robes and turning away in disappointment.
“why not? is it because you think you’re above me? i just want to find my parents, hyung.”
“jinyoung...” jaebum trailed off, his hand reaching for the other’s. “jinyoung, that’s not what i meant.”
jinyoung recoiled, pulling away from jaebum’s hold. “you’re just like the other warriors, aren’t you? you all think you’re above the townspeople because of your abilities and freedom -- ...i just don’t understand why you can’t let me come with you to the next town.”
the sharp words stung jaebum’s heart, his frustration rising through as he was unable to cope with the sudden distrust and hurt jinyoung was expressing. feeling flustered and panicked by the situation, the older male attempted to explain himself with a clenched jaw.
“i don’t think i’m above you. it’s just... there’s no way for me to prepare you for the journey. we can’t ensure your safety…i can’t ensure your safety.”
“what do you mean? i’ve overheard you and your party talk about the quests you’ve been on. my safety from here to the next town shouldn’t be an issue.” jinyoung retorted with his arms crossed, obviously stubborn about getting his way much to jaebum’s exasperation.
“it’s not that simple anymore, jinyoung! everything’s different now. i can’t put you in harm’s way. i refuse to.”
jinyoung’s quiet for a moment, his eyebrows furrowed together as he took in the information
“different in what way? “
jaebum suddenly stiffens -- his mind conflicted with telling jinyoung the truth. there was no way that jinyoung would be able to understand what exactly jaebum and his friends were going through. even he himself still wasn’t fully able to understand their predicament.
“it’s, well, …it’s a long story.”
“i have time.“
jaebum sat cross-legged picking at the random blades of grass in front of him, the two men finding a place to sit at the pondside nearby with the moon illuminating against its glossy surface. jinyoung’s lips are pressed into a firm line, his arms still crossed in silent annoyance as he waited for the warrior to explain himself.
jaebum is hesitant, of course. he made multiple attempts to open his mouth but every time he tried, nothing intelligible would come out of it. his words didn’t make sense. this situation he was currently in certainly didn’t make sense either. how was he here? stuck in a video game and explaining to some npc that he was stuck there with the possibility of being forever unless he and his party found some way to get out? it was dangerous grounds for sure and jaebum was never one good with his words.
as jaebum had his internal struggle, jinyoung was quickly growing impatient, his plump lips turning into a prominent frown as he watched jaebum fumble over his own thoughts. “hyung, can you please hurry it up? i know i said i had time, but i’m not going to sit out here all night waiting for you to speak up.”
“okay, okay. just… just listen, alright?” jaebum let out a heavy sigh, his fingers releasing the twisted blade of grass he was subconsciously holding onto before finally beginning to speak his thought. “as you know, adventurers like me... we’ve always been able to heal, practically immortal when it came to quests and assignments.”
jinyoung nodded slowly. “of course, your kind has been gifted by the gods. that’s why i don’t understand why you can’t ensure my safety when you have such an ability.“
“well...” jaebum paused, taking a moment to try and find the proper words to explain their situation. “it seems now as though our immortality has weakened. no one’s exactly positive yet, but others have been experiencing pain for the first time since being uh... ‘gifted.’ and with this new revelation, there’s now a strong possibility of death for us. but again, nothing is set in stone just yet...”
the warrior waited with bated breath for the npc’s response, jinyoung remaining heavily silent as his expression remained unreadable in jaebum’s eyes.
“that sounds a bit cowardly, doesn’t it?” jinyoung finally remarked after a long moment, every word taking a stab at jaebum’s pride. “but i suppose death makes everyone fearful, even the supposed immortals.“
“it’s not about just the chance of death, jinyoung.” jaebum sighed, running a hand through the fringe of his hair. “I’m still not sure of the extent of my capabilities right now. and because of that, i’m also unsure if my party could protect you if things turn out bad. what would be the point of me taking you to your parents if there’s a chance you might end up dead halfway there?”
it was odd -- the fact that he can be so truthful and unguarded with jinyoung so easily somewhat unnerved him. jaebum always had a hard time opening himself up to new people; but somehow, this npc had him more vulnerable than any of the longest relationships he had.
but with vulnerability caused guilt to fester inside of jaebum. he knew the risks and every reason why a task like this would be dangerous for not only him and his team, but for jinyoung as well. he knew it was foolish to act on his emotions against his better judgment, especially when there was little chance for everyone’s survival. but the urge to see jinyoung happy was worth more to him and it was then that jaebum knew that he should at least try.
“maybe my party can go ahead and search for them… this way, we don’t need to risk you getting hurt.” the warrior finally relented, his voice sounding abnormally calm despite the worries that raced through the back of his mind. because of how easily he faltered for the young man in front of him, jaebum definitely knew how much of a fool he was for jinyoung. “we’ll be able to reach your parents faster as well.”
and for the first time in this conversation, jinyoung’s eyes lit up as brightly as the moon reflecting against the rippling water in front of them. with a smile peeking from his lips, the innkeeper spoke with a hint of a newfound hope. “would you really send your party to do that for me?”
the warrior nodded in reassurance finding himself returning the small smile with his own after witnessing how positively jinyoung’s mood had changed. “we have some things we need to figure out anyways. i don’t think it’d be a problem to add in a small quest into the mix as well.”
jinyoung blinked in response. “oh, then i can pay you in that case! money’s not an issue.”
jaebum quickly shook his head, dismissing the offer. “no, i can’t take money from you. not for this, so don’t worry about it.”
“...how about the others? are you sure they share the same mindset as you?”
the halls of the inn were quiet as the two made their way upstairs, the only sound being their footsteps and the occasional creaking from the weight against the hardwood floors. for a moment, it reminded jaebum of his grandmother’s home back in the countryside where he and his cousins would sneak out past their bedtimes just to cause mischief in the garden. there was a similar charm from the inn, one that he would only feel from the traditional homes that littered his grandmother’s neighborhood. and jinyoung himself seemed to radiate that sort of nostalgia of first loves and a more simpler time.
“this inn, it reminds me of my grandmother’s home,” jaebum’s voice dropped to a whisper. “it reminds me of when i was a kid.”
jinyoung halts in his step for a moment, caught off guard by the comment. “is that so? i don’t think of it as something special, there are so many buildings such as this in town.”
“oh, .i guess i never bothered to look.”
“ you don’t pay much attention to the towns you visit. a lot of you heroes are too preoccupied with your quest to take note of the architecture.”
their steps came to a stop as they reached the door of jaebum’s room. and while jaebum was glad to be able to sleep after a long day - he found himself disappointed that his time with jinyoung was coming to a close.
jinyoung must've noticed his reluctance to enter his room - as a coy smile began to grow on the innkeeper’s face as he lingered around the room.
“ i’ve already sent some of the other staff to lead your party to their own rooms. “jinyoung remarked, his voice lowering into a hush. “ if that’s what you’re worried about. they won’t be in there to bother you before you sleep.”
“ ah oh thanks, uh..,” jaebum found himself turning away from the door, facing jinyoung with a strained smile. “ you were a big help today, i don’t know how i’d survive if you weren’t here.” jaebum was caught off guard by the honesty spilling from his lips but with jinyoung it was as though there was no shame in admitting his thoughts to the innkeeper.
“ that’s my job hyung, i’m here to help.” jinyoung’s lips turned into the same polite smile that he appeared with every traveler.
he wants to ask jinyoung for tea again. he wants the innkeeper to be the first person he sees in the morning. the thoughts zip past - there isn’t much time before jinyoung takes his leave.
jaebum leaned against the doorframe, there’s a slight stumble as his movements are somewhat clumsy as he struggled to remain collected in jinyoung’s eyes. that’s far from the truth, as his hands began to sweat.
“ it would really help me if you’d bring me tea in the morning.” jaebum’s voice is hoarse and he hoped jinyoung thinks it’s due to fatigue. “ i mean not just the tea though, like bring yourself as well ?”
jinyoung’s eyes crinkle again - as laughter spilled from his lips. jaebum found a sense of pride fill up his chest at the sight, that he was able to bring forth that expression after a tiring night. and, he was willing to act like a fool in front of jinyoung if it were to bring that smile again.
“ are you asking me to tea ?”
“ uh..yes. “
jinyoung is silent - causing jaebum’s heart to drop in worry if that meant rejection. but jinyoung calms his restless beating with that polite smile once again. “ yes, i’ll have tea with you tomorrow. meet me at the gardens after breakfast then? “
jaebum’s grin is large and even though his fatigue the excitement he feels from jinyoung saying yes is evident. he feels as though he’s back in high school, basking in the afterglow of asking his crush out for the first time.
“ oh great. well, i’ll see you tomorrow then. goodnight jinyoung.”
“ goodnight hyung.”
jaebum laid flat on his back, his eyes glued to the ceiling as he struggled to fall asleep. the events of the day filling his mind, how he and the other players are stuck, the fact that jinyoung is becoming more self-aware and that he had accepted a quest without any input from his team.
the quest of finding jinyoung’s parents was a noble one. he knew that if this was just another day playing the game, his party would have no qualms with accepting it, but with their current situation he couldn’t help but wonder he had made the right choice or did his affection for jinyoung had taken over his critical thinking skills.
what were his affections for jinyoung?
it was becoming harder for jaebum to reject any thought that his feelings for the npc were on the romantic side. the idea itself was ridiculous, to find himself having less than platonic feelings for a string of code, to have any sort of affection for some video game character was insane. jaebum used to mock those who felt strongly about 2D characters, and now here he was becoming lovelorn over jinyoung.
the thoughts continue to swirl in his mind, but the exhaustion from the day settles in as his vision fades into black. jaebum could only hope more answers would come in the morning.
it’s cold. the crisp morning air invading jaebum’s room - a chill traveling up his spine as he began to wake up. did he leave the fan on last night? he really needed to stop passing out, this was the third time this week.
“hyung,” a familiar voice called out to him - breaking through the brisk wind of the morning. jackson? what the fuck was he doing in his apartment, jaebum was sure he changed the lock code a while ago.
“hyung,” jaebum groaned, ignoring jackson as he rolled over. his back turned away from the other.
“ go away, i don’t want to go to the gym with you again.” jaebum mumbled, his fingers reaching to pull up his blanket. “ how did you get in here anyway? go bother hyunwoo. “
rough fingers closed around his shoulder and shook.“ dude. jinyoung is calling us for breakfast, and he said we can’t eat until you’re down there too.” jackson whines, shaking jaebum’s shoulder once more.
“huh? wha “ the name jinyoung shook jaebum back to his current reality. that he was stuck in soul and kings, that this wasn’t his apartment in seoul, but an inn in the video game.
the realization causes jaebum to quickly stand up. his fingers clumsily grabbing his toss aside robes as jackson watched with amusement. “ dude, even mark woke up before you. “ the monk teased as he stood up and walked towards the door. “ i’m gonna go down now, i’m fucken starving. you better get down soon, the food will cool. and yugyeom might eat it all.”
“ i’ll be down in a sec. “ jaebum muttered - his fingers running through his shaggy locks as he struggled with finding his discarded shoes.a curse leaving his lips as he realized putting on his armor was much harder than it looked when it was just a game.
when jaebum entered the room - he’s met with his party settled around the table. yugyeom who was slurping back noodles waved to jaebum enthusiastically, his mood cheaper than it was the day before. “ hyung, good morning. you gotta try these noodles, they taste way better than the instant stuff.”
as jaebum settled beside the younger - his eyes dart towards the dish, memories of the number of empty ramen bowls in his apartment fills his mind, causing his face to sour. the idea of eating anything too heavy was becoming unappealing as the moments ticked by.
“ uh, maybe next time. I’ll just have some of the juk for now,” he muttered, as he began to serve himself.
“ you disappeared last night after dinner, where did you go ?” mark remarked - his gaze moving from his bowl to jaebum.
“ i was helping jinyoung with stuff and we just lost track of time.” jaebum replied, he knew that this would be a good time to speak to the team about the quest. that if he waited any longer it would blow up in his face.
“ but how would you guys want to take up a quest.” he shifts in his seat, usually a quest brings a sort of excitement but with their current situation jaebum can’t help but feel as if he’s putting his friends in danger.
jackson is the first to show a reaction, his eyes lighting up with curiosity as he placed down his chopsticks. “ a quest? what type one ?”
yugyeom nods beside jaebum, a similar expression growing on his face. jaebum notes how yugyeom begins to fidget in his seat, the excitement to explore his magic growing.
“ it’s simple. just a search team to two towns over.”
“ two towns over ? “ mark repeated, a deep line appearing between his brows. “ like where jinyoung’s parents disappeared ?”
“ yeah. jinyoung offered to pay us to help find his parents. i think we should take it. “ jaebum flushed, mark was always the one who could look through him. and the way the assassin was looking at him made jaebum feel as though mark could tell that his intentions were less than noble. “ it’s an easy quest. plus we can gather intel in other towns. two birds with one stone. “
“ i think it would a good idea. “ jackson added, nodding his head as if he just prepared a plan for them in mere seconds. “ it wouldn’t be difficult. namjoon’s guild has a headquarters there, they could easily help with finding jinyoung’s parents. “
yugyeom who was vibrating with excitement beside jaebum, perks up at the mention of namjoon’s guild. “ we’d get to see jungkook too, i don’t see how it’s a problem. plus i can have a rematch with him, i’m definitely gonna beat his ass.”
mark cleared his throat. “ we’re forgetting one single detail. “ his voice lowered. “ we don’t even know if jinyoung’s parents are a thing.”
“ does that matter? we can still try. we’re not doing anything else either. “ jaebum frowned at his friend, before rubbing the back his neck.
the assassin remained silent for a moment, his fingers tapping against the table as he mulled over the situation. “ alright, you’re the leader this party - if you think it’s a good idea, we’ll go for it.”
“ cool, cool.” jackson chanted from his side of the table. “ i can use that sick armor that i got from bambam a few days ago. plus i feel useless just sitting here, i wanna go out and test out my moves.”
“ we’re supposed to be gathering intel too jackson.” jaebum added, his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.
jaebum found jinyoung after breakfast, seated near the pond from the night before. the decorated tea set is placed beside him forgotten, as the innkeeper focuses on the loaf of bread in his hand. mindlessly tearing off small bits of the loaf and throwing them to the ducks on the pond.
“ you know bread is bad for the ducks right ?” jaebum teased as he sat beside jinyoung. enjoying how jinyoung quickly turned his head towards him, the information sinking in. “ what ? how could bread be bad for them ?”
“ it makes the ducks chubby. they can’t break it down in their stomach. “ jaebum’s tone is prideful, basking in the fact that he’s not completely clueless in this world.
jinyoung scoffed in disbelief, placing the loaf down beside him and turning his full attention towards jaebum. “ where did you hear that information from? i didn’t know warriors were also educated in the eating habits of ducks.”
“ i heard it from some ar-” jaebum paused, jinyoung would probably look at him like he was crazy if he tried to explain the internet. “ i heard from a friend. who happens to give me mostly correct answers, so i believe him.” he adds with a shrug.
“ ah. well, you should tell him to come by and teach me more about ducks.”
“ i’ll do you one better, when we leave for the quest i’ll bring you back a book on ducks. “
jinyoung looks unimpressed by the idea.“ while i appreciate the thought, i would rather get some other books. maybe something fun, like star-crossed lovers or fun legends. “
“ i’ll keep that in mind. but we’re going to leave soon. probably by the afternoon, we want to get to the first town before night. “
“ that soon ?” jinyoung questioned, his fingers began to pick on a loose strand of his robes. “ don’t you need some time to prepare ?”
“ no, we’ll be fine. we might need some horses though to make the trip easier. “ jaebum explained, his eyes squinting up as he watched the sun rise higher. “ we’ve down a lot quest before we’ll be fine. “
“ well you seem rather prepared for a man who can’t seem to properly shave. “ the quip leaves jinyoung’s mouth easily - hinting at that more mischievous side of the innkeeper once more.
jaebum flushes - feeling slightly embarrassed by the patchy job he managed to do before he went downstairs for breakfast. “ i’m just - i’m not used to using a blade to be very honest.”
jinyoung tilts his head, his lips pursed in a straight line as if he was hiding a smile. “ i don’t think anyone can take you seriously with that stubble, jaebum hyung.”
“yeah? you think you can teach me then ?”
“mhm. let’s go. forget having tea, we have to make sure you don’t look like some fool. “ jinyoung remarked, standing up and holding his hand out for jaebum. “ come on. let’s get to it.”
jaebum sat on the ground of the inn’s bathing room. his bare torso reflected on the smudged mirror as he watched jinyoung roll up his sleeves. “ i can’t believe you’re over twenty-three years old and you can’t shave properly.” jinyoung scolded with a click his tongue.
“ i do know how to shave, it’s just this method with only a dagger is a bit dangerous don’t you think ?” his cheeks reddening - as jinyoung began to lather his jaw with some citrus smelling foam. “ it’s rather off-putting to put sharp blade near your face. “
jinyoung remained quiet, his eyes focused as he grabs jaebum’s dagger placed on the floor. “ can you be quiet please ?” jaebum began quickly aware of how close jinyoung’s was to him, as the innkeeper’s fingers taking a hold of his chin. he could smell jinyoung’s soap, the sweet scent filling the air, was it peaches maybe?
jinyoung carefully began to run the dagger down jaebum’s skin, his movements slow and precise. “ stop fidgeting, jaebum-hyung.”
“ i’m trying not to.” that was a lie, jaebum was unable to focus once he started to noticed how pink jinyoung’s lips were. why did it remind him of peaches again ? he was so close too, the space between them almost nonexistent.
if jaebum were to move a centimeter a kiss would be very possible.
“ hyung! what did i say about talking ?” jinyoung scolded once more, his grip on jaebum’s chin tightening to keep him in place. “ we’re almost done.”
“ sorr- ouch. stop being so forceful, jinyoung.” jaebum whined, his eyes still glued to jinyoung’s thick lips as the innkeeper bit into them in concentration.
“ i wouldn’t need to if you kept still.” jinyoung’s frustration becoming more evident in his voice.
“ i hope you don’t help all your guest shave. i’m special right ?” jaebum teased, testing the limits once more.
the flush that grows on jinyoung’s ears is worth the sharp pinch that jaebum received at the comment. “ keep quiet or else.”
jinyoung had been kind enough to call in a favor with a nearby farmer to loan out some horses for jaebum’s party. all that was needed was to bring the horses from across town and pay the farmer.
jaebum had sent yugyeom and jackson ahead to bring the four horses to the inn, while he and mark took the time to finish packing up for the quest. jinyoung was stood behind the desk, his cheek propped up by his hand looking rather bored as he watched the two adventurers continue with the task.
“ jaebum hyung,” jinyoung called out, becking jaebum to follow him away from the front lobby. “ i have something for you. “
“yeah? what is it ?”
the innkeeper leads jaebum to another room filled with books and what seemed to be paperwork scattered on the desk. but the most curious item in the room was a cage with a hawk settled inside of it.
jinyoung seemed to be at ease with the animal, as he carefully opened the cage and the bird flew onto jinyoung’s arm. “ i saw how you don’t have a messenger bird in your party, so why not borrow mine? it’d be easier to get into contact with others.”
“really? are you sure? you won’t need it ?”
“ mhm, i’ll be fine in the inn. “ jinyoung said, an easy smile on his lips as he glanced at the hawk.” i’ll last without moe for a few days. as long as you send a message to me every once in a while.”
“ of course, we can’t leave our favorite innkeeper in the dark now can we ?” jaebum added, holding out his arm in hopes moe would fly onto his arm.
“ of course, if you forget to i’ll burn whatever you left behind here.”
yugyeom and jackson arrived sometime later with four horses in tow. yugyeom’s robes were dirtied with mud, and jackson seemed rather pleased as he made his way to the front of the inn. jaebum sighed, the two must of gotten into some sort of trouble - and seeing as they seemed fairy uninjured, he wasn’t going ask.
they had more important things to worry about.
yugyeom’s grin grew as he noticed the hawk on jaebum’s shoulder, his eyes growing wide as he points at the bird. “ where did you get a hawk? that’s so cool. can i hold him ?”
“ yeah, i guess. just be careful with his talons. “ jaebum muttered, watching as the hawk coasted towards the mage. his attention turned toward the horses, joining mark as they inspected the animals.
“ we should get going soon, we want to be in the first town before nightfall.” mark said, patting one of the horses. “ should we go ahead ?”
jaebum paused, unsure why the party would need to leave him, but his eyes panned over to where jinyoung was, as he leaned against the doorframe of the inn.
“ you should go thank jinyoung for all his help with this quest.”
while mark and jaebum had their differences, mark always seemed to notice things that jaebum himself could not. and being the only older member of the team - jaebum’s relationship with mark was one slightly different than the rest of the party.
“ go ahead with the rest of the party. i’ll catch up with you guys in a few.”
there was no plan forming in jaebum’s mind as he made his way towards jinyoung. his footsteps were quick and his mind blanks as he approached the entrance of the inn. it was as though the world was spinning as fast as jaebum was
“ jinyoung,” he called out to the younger, jinyoung’s face clouded with confusion once he noticed jaebum returning.
album's gaze was soft as he stepped closer to jinyoung. the distance between them disappearing as jaebum’s fingers grasped at the other’s hand.
“ i - “ he paused, unsure how to continue his sentence. his words were jumbled up in his mind much like his feelings were jinyoung were since he saw him the first night. the need to act on his feelings had taken over any other thought.
“ can i - can i try something ?” jaebum muttered - his palms reaching for jinyoung’s cheek as he leaned down. his movements unsure as presses his lips against jinyoung ’s.
jinyoung is caught off guard for a moment - taking a few seconds to return the kiss. it’s somewhat clumsy and shy but jinyoung’s lips are sweet.
jaebum tilts his mouth away from jinyoung’s, admiring the pink that decorated jinyoung’s ears. he can feel the heat on his own cheeks as he pulls away, but a grin is unable to contain itself.
“ i just wanted to know if you wanted me to bring you back anything. “ he trailed off, his fingers were soft against jinyoung’s cheek. “ i’ll bring it back for you. anything you want.”
Chapter 4: for eternity
hi guys! i'm back here again with another chapter of pearl.it's been like a month since i last updated but but thanks to my friends adri and parker for editing this! also, i have a twitter right here which has a curiouscat linked if you have any questions! don't forget to comment if you have any feedback or questions for me.
“anything?” jinyoung repeated with his gaze lowering, his hands smoothing out the wrinkles from jaebum’s robes.
jaebum knew that he should be leaving. if his party wanted to arrive at the next town by sunset, there wasn’t a moment to lose. but as he watches the innkeeper with rosy cheeks remain in his arms with no intention on moving away, jaebum also couldn’t find it in himself to leave.
perhaps he had found the wrong time to act upon his feelings. now that jinyoung had returned jaebum’s affections, he finds himself more hesitant to leave the inn now more than ever.
“i don’t need anything, hyung. you going on this quest is enough for me.” jinyoung’s voice is soft though there was an obvious hint of longing laced within his words. “anything you bring back would please me.”
“well prepare to have your mind blown when i come back,” jaebum mutters rather lamely, reluctant to leave. he sharply inhales as he finally released jinyoung from his embrace, his fingers lingering on the younger’s waist.
“you should go,” jinyoung murmured quietly, his eyes flickering towards the direction where jaebum’s party had left moments ago.
“i know.” jaebum remains still, his gaze continuously focusing on jinyoung. “the guys aren’t the most patient, and we have to be there by sunset.”
jinyoung seemed unfazed by jaebum’s gaze, his eyes stuck on the horizon in front of them instead as he silently listened to the quiet words that were uttered from the warrior’s lips. a musing hum escaped his own. “just be careful. if you get hurt, just know i’m going to sell all the belongings you left in the inn.”
“hyung!“ yugyeom’s whine was almost drowned out by the sound of the horses’ hooves pounding against the road beneath them. “how much further? i’ve been sitting on this horse for, like, hours! my ass is getting sore.” the younger male was clearly getting antsy as more time went by; and jaebum knew if he didn’t take control of the situation, yugyeom’s whines were only going to rile everyone else up.
jaebum’s grip on the reins of the horse tightened, clumsily directing the animal to slow down. “we’re halfway through the forest…” he spoke before trailing off, his eyes scanning the dense woods in hopes for any familiar landmarks he could take note of. for the first time, he’s flustered - unaccustomed to being unable to navigate through the world of souls and kings.
beside him, jackson perked up - his eyes shifting as if he suddenly sensed something in the air. “something feels off...” the monk was uncharastically focused as he led his horse off to the side of the narrow path. “mark hyung, maybe you should scout ahead,” he suggested. “the map system is down right now so we don’t know if there may be anything spawning nearby.”
jaebum took in their surroundings once more only to find that the woods were unusually quiet with not a single animal in sight. “jackson’s right... i don’t even hear any birds,” he grunted in agreement, gazing up at the pinkish sky to see it empty aside from a few lone clouds. “yug, do you have enough power to scan the area?”
the youngest nodded his head, extracting his staff as he quickly whispered a spell. “ah, hyung! i think i feel a pres-” the mage’s face suddenly paled.
a blast was then heard, causing the horses to step back in surprise. the sounds of the distressed neighing and the explosion mixed together caused jaebum to look up ahead, only to see smoke leaking through the trees. “shit... i’m gonna go check it out! someone might be hurt!” his grip tightened on the reins once more, the warrior commanding his steed to forge ahead.
“god damn it - you’re not going alone, jaebum! stop with your hero complex, we’re coming too!” mark snapped before following jaebum’s lead, catching up to the warrior’s speed quickly. “what use are you going to be by yourself?”
it didn’t take long for jackson and yugyeom to soon follow behind, the sound of their horses filling the air with a new sense of urgency the party hadn’t felt in some time. jaebum’s heart jumped into his throat at the realization that a fight might be up ahead. this usually brought a sense of excitement to the warrior, but with their current situation, jaebum could only hope that it would result in them coming out unharmed.
when they arrived at the source of the explosion, jaebum spotted two men covered head to toe in soot with their weapons drawn for battle. the smell of smoke filled the air and something that jaebum couldn’t put his finger on brought a chill to his spine. “what’s going on here?” he yelled, glancing around the clearing searching for what the two men were fighting against.
his horse was anxious, the steed fighting against jaebum’s tight grip.
and that’s when he saw it, a looming figure appearing before his eyes. his mind went blank as jaebum stares in awe at the shadowy monstrosity before him and his team, two thick horns crowning its head menacingly. jaebum’s stomach turns at the realization of what the creature was.
a demon? in this low powered area? that’s impossible. but the way the creature’s eyes glowed a terrifying violet-red only further proved its identity to the warrior. the demon itself was bound with some sort of enchanted rope but with the seconds passing by quickly, the spell seemed to be losing its power allowing the demon to move freer as it struggled against its restraint. and if jaebum knew anything, physical attacks against a demon were useless without a priest or a mage in their midst.
“hey, you guys need to leave!” the taller of the duo called out to them while wiping away the soot from his face with the back of his glove. “it’s dangerous here! hurry before it notices you!“
“no, you guys obviously need help. we’re not leaving!” jackson’s words were rash, but firm; the monk was never one to leave someone when they were in need, everyone in the party knew that. jaebum nodded his head in agreement, his eyes zeroing in on the smaller male across the way whose cross was shining brightly against the demon. however, from the look of his mana bar, he didn’t have much power left to hold the demon off.
“we have a mage here, we can help,” jaebum explained, turning towards yugyeom with a curt nod. “come on! we just need a binding spell, yug.”
the two adventurers shared a glance between one another but it was the taller one who nods his head in hurried agreement, gesturing for yugyeom to continue. it was obvious how worried he was for his partner.
“em raeh! thgil fo edam sepor htiw lived siht part! “ yugyeom chanted, his staff glowing a blindingly bright gold, his spell taking effect as the demon’s struggling stops as its chain tightens.
“seunghoon, i’m going to start the purification now, stay on standby.” the priest’s stance relaxes - the weight of holding the demon back himself lightens as yugyeom’s spell assist his own. the taller one, or seunghoon nods his head. “okay jinwoo, let’s hurry this up, we need to go back to the church soon..”
jaebum couldn’t help but worry as he watched the youngest in his group struggle with keeping the spell intact - a bead of sweat ran down yugyeom's forehead. it wasn’t as though yugyeom wasn’t strong but this was the first time they’ve encountered a demon - and using his real body for such a powerful spell had to be taxing.
the priest from across the field held up his cross with a determined expression - the necklace shining as he chanted a spell. “glory to your name ! i offer this poor soul to you - please save this creature!”
a blinding flash of light engulfed jaebum’s vision - and when his sight returned he found yugyeom kneeling down clutching his staff for support. “yug!” jaebum called out, panic setting in as he reached out to help get yugyeom back on his feet.
the younger weakly stood up - looking pale as he clutched onto jaebum’s arm. “did the demon get away?” jaebum quickly looked towards to where the demon was, only to find a pile of ash residing there. the smell of burning flesh was apparent - and jaebum had to struggle in order to keep his stomach from turning.
“no, no you were able to help.” jaebum explained, his eyes glancing towards the other adventurers who seemed to be drained of any energy.
mark and jackson are soon by their side, worry appearing on both of their faces as they take a closer look at the youngest member of their party.
“ you did good, dude,” jackson said with a faint grin, lightly punching the younger’s shoulder. mark nodded his head, and began to sift through his pouch to see if he had any potions to help regain yugyeom’s health.
the party continued to fuss over their mage - only to be interrupted by the sounds of footsteps approaching them.
“excuse me.” the priest reached his hand out towards jaebum, his eyes are tired but the smile on his lips seems genuine. jaebum couldn’t help but note that now that most of the soot had been wiped off, the priest was quite pretty. ( not as pretty as a certain innkeeper, but that was beside the point. ) “hello, i’m jinwoo! i’m a priest from the nearby church and i just wanted thank you for helping my partner and i with that demon. usually we’re quite good with taking them down bu - ” he pauses - taking a brief peek at the setting sun. “to show our thanks - would you like to have dinner with us? it’s not safe in the forest at night.”
and before jaebum could think it over - jackson’s loud voice was heard. “yes please! we don’t have to pay for lodging then which is sweet.” beside him, mark cringed and instead turns his focus to ensuring yugyeom drank the potion he had found.
“an actual bed for our mage here would be helpful.” mark muttered.
jaebum could feel the tension in his forehead only grow. “alright, we’ll go. here, jinwoo, you must be tired - feel free to ride on one of our horses.”
the church sat on the edge of the forest - hidden in the trees it was a simple building. there were no painted glass windows, nor were there statues of their deity erected on the ground. jaebum was surprised by this - the churches of soul and kings were usually the most gaudy buildings in this world.
“you’re so far from the villages, do you get any parishioners out here ? ” mark questioned - his eyes scanning the grounds.
“well no, i’m not really a priest who does services. this church acts like a home base for my party,” jinwoo explained as he gestured the group to follow him into the building. “there’s four of us, and before...the incident we were mostly on quests.”
“the only thing that makes this place a church is the holy water spring near the altar,” seunghoon pointed out - speaking for the first time since the battle. “we just sprinkle that stuff onto demons and bam they’re gone. well sort of, jinwoo has to say that prayer too.”
suddenly, jackson let out a loud gasp - a smile breaking out on his lips as a man in heavy armor entered the room. “mino hyung!” he shouted - his hands waving in the air to gain the other’s attention.
“dude, it’s been so long. i was gonna pm you but the messaging system is all down.”
it wasn’t surprising that jackson seemed to know someone whenever the party traveled, the monk emitted charisma and was someone who always tried his best to be welcoming to any player he encountered.
the two met in the middle and bump fist with mirrored grins. their conversation became more and more jumbled as the excitement grew at the opportunity of catching up.
jaebum sighed, and aimed his attention to jinwoo and seunghoon once more. “do you have a spare bed for yug? this is the first time he’s done such a draining spell since..” he trailed off, unsure how to describe them being stuck in the game. “…this whole incident. it’d be great if he could rest.”
“of course. i’ll show yugyeom-ssi the way,” seunghoon began, before walking over to yugyeom and gesturing for the mage to follow him. “it’s sort of shitty, mattresses here suck.”
“dinner should be in an hour or so. our leader should be returning soon with the catch of the day, so we’ll eat when he gets back,” jinwoo explained, “so be free to look around. It’s not much but it’s home.”
“jaebum,” mark stressed as he pulled the warrior aside with a tight grip. “i need to talk to you.”
jaebum’s brows furrowed with confusion as he was lead to an empty hallway, “what? what’s up?”
“do you think it’s weird that they were so helpful? giving us a place to stay and even offering to heal yugyeom?” the assassin’s voice lowered into a harsh whisper. “what if they’re actually bandits and want to steal our items while we sleep?”
“you’re being paranoid, mark. i don’t think any players have the balls to fight unless it’s necessary.” jaebum turned his head, scanning their surroundings to see if anyone was nearby. “plus, one’s a priest - i doubt they’d pretend to be attacked by a demon for some stupid items.”
mark’s posture remained rigid - his arms crossed as a look of hesitation washed over his face. “i know, i just don’t want any of us getting hurt. this whole situation is crazy.”
“yeah of course, being stuck here is insane.”
“no, that’s not the craziest part of this. it’s the fact that the more time we spend here the less i think about home, you know?” thin shoulders slumped down as mark sighed. “i haven’t even thought about my family since the first night.”
jaebum’s stomach came to an abrupt spot with mark’s confession - when was the last time he thought of his other life? of his apartment, of his family? the first night? his mind had been filled with the offerings this world held, the magic, the adventure and most of all jinyoung.
“..yeah. i guess you’re right.”
it’s only later when jinwoo led the party to the dining room that they saw the final member of jinwoo’s group. and surprisingly it’s a familiar face. “oh it’s you?” jaebum questioned - his brows furrowed as he struggled to recall where he had seen the male before him.
seungyoon’s expression mirrored jaebum’s before he lets out a sound of recollection. “you’re jaebum, right? didn’t we do that tournament together a few months ago?”
“yeah, wow that’s crazy. uh guys this is seungyoon we were on the same team at that summer tournament,” jaebum explained before sitting down at the table.
“it’s a small world, huh? i mean to think i met mino here too,” jackson added as he scooped out some rice for himself. “that reminds me, mino was telling me about this sick quest nearby. i think we should it out.”
the sound of metal dropping on the ground echoed through the small dining room - a soft curse emitting from jinwoo’s lips followed. “sorry, i’m so clumsy - i’ll go grab another pair of chopsticks.” he turned to mino and, after a shared glance between the two, the pair walked off.
hushed whispers could be heard from the room next door and the rest of the party fidgeted in their seats.
“what’s the quest then?” yugyeom inquired - looking refreshed after his quick nap.
seungyoon who had been picking at his food for the past few minutes, perked his head up before jackson could open his mouth. “i think mino was probably telling jackson about the quest for the pearl of peisinoe, it’s located at a nearby fishing town, it’s a high level quest and we haven’t been able to beat it.”
“uh really? from what i saw earlier your team seems pretty capable,” jaebum questioned, curious to hear more about the adventure.
“well, it’s different now, you know? there’s been a lot of demons in these woods so our team has been pretty busy with ensuring the safety of the villagers,” seungyoon informed before continuing, “but we’ve been wanting to take on this quest for awhile since apparently it can grant a wish for a player.”
“a wish? like some genie?” yugyeom snickered, most likely imaging that blue character from that one disney movie.
“sort of, you see it’s supposedly guarded by this siren, i heard a lot of stories about her from the villagers. if you defeat her and steal the pearl from her, you are granted one wish.”
and with seungyoon’s explanation, a thought began to form in jaebum’s mind. it was a long shot but perhaps that pearl would be able to bring them home? or least the first step to returning?
“how powerful is this wish?” mark asked, his thoughts seemingly steering towards the same conclusion as jaebum’s.
“we don’t know. i can’t recall the exact story but she was a powerful witch - strong enough that the gods offered her immortality but sensing her greed banished her to that certain cove or something. moral of the story is she’s that powerful but if that’s true maybe...just maybe our wish could come true.”
jaebum could recall hearing about this quest once before. there were rumors circulating that a high level quest of some sort was going to be introduced once the game went fully public.
“it’s dangerous though,” jinwoo chided - as he and mino finally returned to the room. the priest’s arms were crossed and a sour expression settled on his face. “there’s no information on this quest beside vague stories from the npcs.”
“well. i think if we had the time my party and i could go talk to the npcs tomorrow. we’re heading there anyways, and i think this quest is worth it,” jackson boasted, his chest puffing at the thought of being the first to clear a quest. “we’re pretty good you know?”
“can we really handle another quest?” mark inquired, his eyes glued to his bowl of rice.
“of course we can. i’m on this party. this whole siren shit will be a peace of cake!”
usually jaebum would find himself agreeing with jackson. if a quest had no time limit then taking a few side quest on the way wouldn’t cause that much of a problem - especially for a group of players with their skill set. but with their current predicament, jaebum couldn’t help but be plagued with hesitation.
even with the chance of being granted a wish from the pearl, something was holding jaebum back. no, not something but someone. the thought of jinyoung being alone in his inn without knowing the fate of his parents made jaebum unable to stray from their path.
“but we owe it to jinyoung to find his parents,” jaebum muttered. “it’s not fair to him if we get caught up in this.”
“hyung!” jackson snapped, his lips twisting into a frown. “come on this could be our chance to get home or at least the first step. i know you’ve grown attached to jinyoung but don’t you miss your real life? it won’t take long, we’ve done quests like this before.”
that was true. the team had recently cleared a water based quest a few days prior to them becoming stuck in the game.
the warrior clenched his jaw as a million thoughts began to run through his mind, his eyes scanning the room and staring at the faces of his party - he couldn’t be selfish. no, not when most of his party were relying on any way to get home.
biting the inside of his cheek, jaebum could taste the rusty flavor of blood in his mouth. there was only one right answer and jaebum shouldn’t delay it further, no matter how much his heart seemed to tug towards putting jinyoung first. “i think we could try it tomorrow. we’ll spend the morning getting information and then try it. i’m sure our host has some information on it, too.”
“you can count on us. we’ll get the pearl.”
the sun was hanging low above the horizon when jaebum and his party prepare to leave - seungyoon and jinwoo were there at the entrance of the church, watching as the group began to pack up their things.
“you guys have a long way to the village,” jinwoo stated - bending down to pick up a discarded roll of bandages before passing them to mark. “with your horses it should take about an hour though.”
“ah yeah. we want to get to the cove before noon.” jaebum informed as he scanned over the map seungyoon had passed to him the night before. “ we need to go see the head fishermen right ? he has the information we need ?”
“yeah. fishermen choi lives on the docks, he isn’t heard to miss,” seungyoon instructed before pausing with a glance at jinwoo. “jinwoo has some charms for your weapons - we don’t know how sirens react to holy charms but it should bring some damage.”
“we can’t thank you enough, everything you’ve done for our party in the last twenty four hours has been a huge help.”
“hey, we’re all in this together, right?”
ahead of jaebum, yugyeom perked up upon spotting the harbor town, the salty scent of an ocean filling the air as the party trotted closer to the village. the coastal breeze brought a sense of relief from the harsh rays of sun that beaten down on the group along the way. “we’re close! i can smell the sea right now! let’s go beat that damn mermaid!” the mage raved as he patted his horse to pick up his speed.
“it’s a siren,” mark corrected.
“whatever, we’re gonna kick it’s ass and get some sashimi while we’re here.”
the town seemed ordinary enough - lanterns hung from various shops and the townspeople weaved through the streets, going through their morning. the sound of bargaining and children playing filled jaebum’s ears - it reminded jaebum of home. that with so much activity and noise this wasn’t just a simple video game but a society of people trying to live their lives.
it took a few wrong turns, but soon enough the party arrived at the docks. seagulls populated most of the dock but a small house was settled on the wooden bridge. a young man blocked the doorway as he focused on sweeping the entrance of the home, singing softly to himself.
“excuse me ..uh is this fishermen choi’s household?” jaebum questioned, his steps hesitant as he edged closer to the young man. “we’re here to um..” his fingers reached inside his robes - to take out a small piece of paper that seungyoon had passed to him earlier. “we want to see the uh mistress of the cove?” jaebum could never understand the odd phrases that came along with quests - and saying it outloud was twice as bad.
his so-called friends giggled behind him as they watched him struggle like a fish out of water.
the young man’s eyes widened - his gaze shaky. “ oh. uh.. my grandfather isn’t up for visitors, he’s been feeling ill since last night.”
“what do you mean? we just need the tools to complete the task. it’ll only take a moment.” jaebum explained, stepping forward and holding out the paper towards the other as if it would convince him to let them.
the fisherman's grandson tensed - taking a step back before holding up his hands in surrender. “okay - okay, you adventurers can’t take no for an answer. i’ll speak to my grandpa and i’ll take the supplies down here for you.”
jaebum let out a weary sigh - he couldn’t believe their luck. if this was the actual game, they could have probably skipped this cut scene.
“okay thanks, uh.. what’s your name kid?”
“oh so now you’re showing manners.” the young man turned towards jaebum with a smug smile - one that reminded jaebum of the mischievous smirk that played on jinyoung’s lips. “my name’s youngjae. “
youngjae returns a few minutes later - carrying a long spear in his arms. “i spoke with my grandfather and he said to give you this.”
jackson leaped down from his horse - obviously excited by the chance of getting a new weapon. he held out his hands - smiling as he waited for youngjae to place the weapon down. “that’s a harpoon, right? give it here. “
“did your grandfather say anything else?” mark questioned.
“oh yes. the thing you’re looking for it’s settled inside that cave right there.” his fingers pointed towards the edge of the coast where a small opening could be seen on the rocks. “there’s a small lagoon inside there. it’s off limits for the townspeople but for some reason it seems that she only shows herself when there’s an actual threat. “
“well i guess we can only hope she sees us as a threat,” jaebum muttered, before he stared off watching as birds fly past the opening of the cave. “thank you for helping us. and i hope your grandfather feels better. “
“don’t thank us. just try to defeat her. the longer she stays here the worst the storms get. i don’t want our village to be destroyed.”
the sun had risen to its peak by the time the party climbed up to the entrance of the cave. it had been a long journey and jaebum worried that their stamina was taking a significant hit before they even started the main quest. glancing back at his party, he couldn’t help but feel responsible, that they wouldn’t have been saddled with such an important quest if jaebum didn't drag them along to help him find jinyoung’s parents.
the responsibility to keep his friends safe laid on his shoulders and jaebum couldn’t stand the idea of any of them getting hurt.
“guys,” jaebum called out to his party, taking off his jeonrip as the four men surrounded the entrance of the cave. “i’m going to go in first. i’ll draw out the siren and i need you three to ensure you get the pearl and get out of here safely okay?”
“so you’re trying to become bait again? seriously hyung?” yugyeom snapped, pounding his staff against the ground.
“it’s not up for debate yugyeom,” jaebum barked - his eyes narrowed as he glared at the youngest. “i’m not going to fight her off alone. you three are coming in after, okay? i’ll just focus her attention towards me. i’ll be fine.”
“you’re going to get yourself killed,” mark interrupted - lips pushed into a straight line. “but we do need someone to get her attention, and if you want to be a jackass about it then sure. go for it.”
“thank you. let me have a headstart and after five minutes come in,” jaebum instructed. he pulled off his outer robes, knowing that the heavy clothes would only slow him down. “jackson you got the harpoon ready right? i trust you to know when to use it.”
and with that, jaebum took a deep breath before stepping into the darkness.
the sound of running water echoed through the cave - a soft glow illuminated the darkness as jaebum went deeper into the chamber.
his sword clanked against his thigh as he hesitantly approached the calm waters of the lagoon. jagged rocks guarded the pool as though to hint at the dangers that laid before anyone who dared venture closer.
jaebum’s own heartbeat filled his ears - he maneuvered himself around the rocks and nearly cut himself one as he slipped and used it to find his footing. the water itself seemed to beckon him with a relaxing tune that seemed out of place in the dreary surroundings.
with a hand placed on the top of his sword - jaebum warily approached the body of water. where would she be hiding? did she even see him as a threat? jaebum was almost lost in his thoughts until he heard a voice call out to him.
was that a voice? or was it just the sound of the lagoon? whatever it was - it wasn’t the voice of a woman.
cautiously jaebum inspected the body of water. his pained expression reflected back at him before it was destroyed as a drop of water fell from the roof of the cave. it’s then when he heard it again - clearer this time. jaebum could make out a single word.
“hyung. jaebum-hyung.” the voice was calling for him?
he glanced down at the water again only to be shocked by an image of jinyoung staring back at him.
“jaebum hyung.” jinyoung’s voice was clear as the image reflecting back at him.
jaebum knew better - this was a trick. jinyoung wasn’t here yet he found himself crouching down to get a better look at the image of jinyoung. it only had been a few days yet jaebum’s heart yearned to return to the innkeeper.
his hand slowly reached out to touch the water - curious to see if the image would be distorted when a slender hand reached from out of the water and gripped jaebum’s wrist.
a scream began to form in the back of jaebum’s throat as he jumped back, struggling to break out of the hold. but it was too strong - and jaebum was immersed in the freezing water.
jaebum opened his eyes seconds later to see jinyoung staring back at him with an impish smile. “hyung. you’re finally here.”
Chapter 5: lifeboat
so it's been like a hot minute since im update but here it is. thanks to alka and eric for forcing me keep up with pearl. and thanks to the lovely parker for editing this! also, i have a twitter right here which has a curiouscat linked if you have any questions! don't forget to comment if you have any feedback or questions for me.
the grip on jaebum’s wrist doesn’t loosen as he’s pulled further into the water. the icy water shocks his system as he struggles to keep his eyes open —his feet keep as he tries to keep himself afloat.
he needs to get out of the water, this wasn’t the plan, he couldn’t let the image of jinyoung get to him, he pulls hard but the grip remains as strong as ever.
his movement remains unbothered by the creature that had pulled him into the water. jinyoung — no this isn’t jinyoung, it can’t be, his inner monologue is filled with conflict, it wouldn’t make sense for jinyoung to be here, this had to be a trick.
jaebum couldn’t afford to stay in the water any longer — but before he can pull free, jinyoung began to hum. it’s not a song he knows, not one he’s ever heard in the game or in real life, yet it’s calming.
the panic that settled in the back of his throat disappears. the humming became louder, it fills his mind beckoning him to follow jinyoung. the innkeeper turns to him, an inviting glint in his eyes as he continues pull him further.
“you kept me waiting too long,” jinyoung said. for a second the innkeeper looks different. an image of his first love appears, a young girl with pale skin and dark hair takes his place. but before jaebum can comprehend the image, it’s gone.
“you need to come down with me. i need your help,” jinyoung stopped — the chain around his neck glinting as the single pearl bounces softly as he moved
“you’ll help me right?” his free hand reached for the side of jaebum’s cheek, but the touch is cold, colder than the water around them, a chill ran down his spine, “ you’re the only one who can.”
jaebum instantly nodded, there’s a sense of helplessness in jinyoung’s eyes. he needs to fix it, jinyoung can’t feel any heartbreak — not when he’s around. but before jaebum could speak, jinyoung smiled, obviously pleased with his answer.
“thank you my brave warrior, i promise you a great rew-”
“jaebum! you dumbass! you need to get out of there!” a booming voice interrupts jinyoung, causing the innkeeper’s face to contour into something awful, something much more dangerous.
the moment is lost as the voice brought jaebum out of his trance, alarm filled his mind as he realized water was beginning to occupy his lungs. the grip on his wrist tightens, sharp nails digging into his skin as jinyoung transform into a woman, one different from before.
the image before him wasn’t one of his past loves, but a creature covered in scales — her teeth bare as she glares at jaebum, “young hero you won’t be able to escape, it’s too late.” her voice echoes through the water — a serpent-like tail emerging.
of course it was the damn siren.
jaebum had to think fast, he couldn’t die in some dark cave because the little mermaid wanted his ass for dinner. there had to be a way he could live and get the pearl. where would the damn pearl be?
he needed to get out of the water.
his free hand hastily reached for his sword — the warrior’s movement clumsy underwater as pulls the blade out before pointing towards the scaly creature. with his last breath jaebum blindly pulled himself out of the siren’s grip and swam towards the surface.
he emerged out of the water — his vision blurred as hurriedly scanned the cave for his party members. he heard mark before he spots him — the assassin holding his hand out and yelling out jaebum’s name in a panic. “she’s right behind you jaebum, come on! hurry up!” one of his party members screamed — was it yugyeom?
the soft lull of the siren’s song echos through the cave and jaebum begins to panic — the thought of his friends falling for the spell causing the sense of dread to run up his spine. so he screams and turns towards his friends, “yugyeom! block me out, create a forcefield or something, her voice is —”
the rest of his warning is cut off as the siren surfaced — she’s much more fish than human, blank eyes scanning the area as she races towards him with sharp teeth bared, a keen dagger in the palm of her hand. the pearl necklace around her neck caught jaebum’s eye as it glowed dimly in the dark cave.
that was it. he couldn’t escape, he needed to get that damn pearl, it was the only way to help jinyoung — no wait, it was the only way he and his friends were getting out of this damn game.
he had to find something to distract her — hastily jaebum began to swim, the direction didn’t matter, he needed to get her closer to his party.
as he crossed the murky water, the sounds of the siren closely trailing him filled his mind — a panic began to settle in the warrior’s chest as he swam faster towards his party. mark stood on the edge of the rocks, his hand still outreached for jaebum to grab onto, jackson beside him frantically fiddling with their bags before pulling out the harpoon.
god, jackson was a terrible shot.
jaebum had to distract her.
the warrior turned, ready to face the siren as she approached him. god, he could feel the acid building up in his throat from the fear.
nevertheless, he lunged forward — striking the siren blindly. she let out a hiss when the sword made contact and dived towards jaebum, the blade in her grip piercing the warrior’s shoulder. a gasp of pain left his lips. his shoulder began to burn as he struggled to block anymore hits from the creature.
a gush of wind flew past him, and the siren howled in pain as the harpoon impaled her arm— she faltered backwards as she pulled the blade out of her arm.
this was his chance.
blindly, jaebum thrust his sword to the siren’s torso, trying to hold the vomit that began to build up as the blood began to seep through.
jaebum frantically reached for the necklace, pulling hard to rip it free from the siren’s neck before she fell into the bottom of the lake.
the only thought in jaebum’s mind as he flopped onto the rocky surface was that the pearl was warm — as if the cold water had no effect on the object.
the blurry image of his party hovering being the last thing he saw before his vision went black.
jaebum dreamed of the murky waves enveloping him once more.
but instead of the frightening image of the siren pulling him deeper into the abyss — it was jinyoung’s lifeless body below him, his hand out reached towards jaebum as if his last moments were wasted calling jaebum for help.
a scream built up in jaebum’s throat as jinyoung continued to fall further away from him.
jaebum frantically sat up as he awakes, his eyes scanning the unfamiliar room as his heartbeat began to calm in his chest.
the warrior letting out a sharp gasp of pain as his shoulder begin to throb — the wound from the siren still stung and jaebum had to let the panic that rose from being unable to heal himself in the game sink. he knew what he was getting into when he took this quest, he couldn’t let the fear settle him now.
jaebum bit his lip as he rolled up his shoulder — trying to move it without letting out a whine. The door opened and mark walked into the room with a grim expression.
“ you shouldn’t be messing with your shoulder,” mark scolded as he placed a tray onto a nearby table. “jinwoo spent a lot of time patching up your sorry ass.”
“we’re back at the church?” jaebum questioned, his eyebrows furrowed as he glanced around the room once more.
“yeah. we were able to drag you back here. yug had stabilized you but jinwoo really made sure the venom didn’t spread further,”
jaebum squinted at the party’s assassin — having known the older male for so many years, he could tell mark’s anger was barely staying below the surface.
“ you were out for almost two days, jaebum.” sighing, mark glared at jaebum,“ you shouldn’t have gone into the cave by yourself. that was a rookie mistake.”
“ i know that. i just…” jaebum trailed off, his eyes shifting down onto his own lap, “i felt like i needed to do this alone.”
“well you’re not alone. we’re supposed to be a team, jaebum.” it was mark’s turn to look away, it seems something important had transpired while jaebum was unconscious. “you’ve been distracted since we left the inn.”
“no i ha-”
mark holds out a hand, interrupting the warrior before jaebum could deny it. “your mind is stuck with that innkeeper, we can’t go on a quest with your mind there.”
jaebum raised an eyebrow, sensing where the conversation was going, but unwilling to believe that his party would go there.
“we think it would be best if you were to travel back to the inn with the pearl in order to keep it safe while the rest of us goes to see if we could find jinyoung’s parents,” mark explained, his face blank from any emotion.
“so you want to get rid of me?” jaebum accused, his jawline clenching as his frustration begin to rear. “you just scolded me about going alone.”
“jaebum, this is different, think about this clearly, you’re injured and distracted. which is understandable, this is a whole new ball game, but we need to ensure everyone’s safety.”
“but i’m the leader of this party, i can’t leave you guys on your own.”
“we’ll be fine. the safety of the pearl is more important than anything else, and i know you want to see that innkeeper.”
at the mention of the pearl, jaebum begin to panic. the pearl, fuck he had worked so hard to obtain it and he now had no clue where to put it.
as if sensing his panic, mark rolled his eyes and pulled something from his pocket before placing a small cloth bag into the palm of jaebum’s hand.
“we kept it safe while you were passed out, don’t freak. anyways, the hogwash inn is only half a day away from the church, so you’ll take the pearl to the inn where it could be protected,” mark explained, before shaking his head. “ask your little innkeeper if he knows anything about the pearl.”
“how can you be so sure?” jaebum questioned, still not fully convinced by mark’s words, “and wait, my little innkeeper? he has a name and he’s certainly not mine.”
“you kept muttering his name in your sleep, jaebum. you’re not exactly subtle,” mark said with an eye roll.
jaebum wanted to continue arguing but he knew that mark was right. he had let his emotions run course throughout the quest — it was a rookie mistake that could have gotten his party hurt, or worse, killed.
“are you sure you guys will be okay without me?”
“jaebum, we’ll be fine. we probably won’t be needing a tank for this quest. after all, it’s basically recon. plus, if it makes you feel better we can go over the plan with you, so you know what’s up.”
frustration began to build up — since starting the party there wasn’t a quest that the jaebum hasn’t been a part of. why was it changing now?
“this isn’t just a game anymore jaebum, there’s real consequences.”
jaebum sighed, his fingers running through his hair — it was true, he was no use to the party with a fucked up shoulder anyways. “why are you always right?”
mark gave no response and instead gestured to the tray of food. “seunghoon made you some food, we’ll be out in kitchen if you feel up for going over the battle plan.”
his party was in the kitchen, playing a game of cards with seunghoon, jinwoo and mino. as jaebum limped towards them he could hear the passing conversation as they continued to throw cards onto the table.
“ i had a final in a few days, do you think i’m gonna fail if they find me passed out or something in my dorm room?” yugyeom muttered, the grip he had on his cards showing had little focus on the game, he had shown his cards to the whole group without shame, “my mom’s gonna be pissed and worried, oh god, do you think she’ll make me move back to the countryside?”
“i’m just worried about my mom, she was supposed to visit me in a week..” jackson explained, his sunny demeanor turning into something more subudded as he placed a card down, “i don’t know how time passes here compared to the real world, but i don’t want her worrying too much.”
“ it’s stressful to think about the real world,” mino remarked, shrugging as he looked around the room. “i try not to, and just focus on gaining intel about this world.”
jaebum quitely made his way to an empty seat, rubbing his neck sheepishly as he bowed his head towards the group. “it’s been a lot harder to spread information around with the messaging system down, that’s for sure.”
“yeah, we have seungyoon traveling towards the next party’s headquarters to see if they have any other leads about the pearl.” mino added as he rearranged the cards in his hands. “but we have to be careful who we tell, i heard from zico that some players haven’t been as peaceful as most of us have been?”
mark who had distanced himself from the card game perked up at that moment, walking over to the group he looked pointly at mino, “what do you mean by that?“
“ some players have taken advantage the fact that most npcs are defenseless.” mino explained, placing down his cards with a frown. “we don’t know who yet, but we’re gathering as much information as we can.”
jaebum sighed, rubbing his temple as a headache began to form,there’s already monsters in this world, now they had to deal with rogue players? “you think they’d be after the pearl?”
“ i don’t think they even know of its existence — it’s a new quest only given to some players of high enough levels,” jinwoo replied before standing up. “they might know our party has information on higher quest since we won that tournament a few weeks ago, but that’s why we’re sending the pearl off with you, jaebum.”
“can you really trust me with something so important?” jaebum questioned, watching the light from the lanterns flicker.
“we don’t have much of a choice, do we?”
jaebum was to leave first thing in the morning. after the party’s run-in with the demon a few days ago, they could not risk the pearl being lost due to an attack.
he began to fidget — the anxiety of making his way through the forest was gnawing at him. jaebum had not yet recovered from his injury from the previous quest and feared it would make him more vulnerable.
“hyung!” yugyeom’s voice called out to him as the mage and the rest of the party began to walk towards him. “you look scared. come on, are you the same guy who charged a siren alone just days ago?” the youngest teased, a cheeky grin filling up his face.
jaebum’s grip on his horse’s rein tighten as he glared at the mage, “you literally just called me to kill a spider in your room an hour ago. quit talkin’ shit.”
“he’s right jaebum, you’re looking a little pale,” jackson almost sang — his arm slung around mino, his teasing concern doing nothing to lesson jaebum’s anxiety, “are you missin’ that pretty innkeeper? oh how distance makes love grow more.”
the warrior groaned and instead squinted at the rising sun — he should get to jinyoung’s village before noon if he didn’t make any stops, the distance wasn’t worrying but the pain in his shoulder caused much concern.
“i better get going, is there anything you guys want brought back to the inn?” jaebum questioned, as he began to adjust his saddle. “like maybe you don’t need a harpoon on a simple recon mission,” he added pointly.
the monk scrunched his nose, displeased by parting from his new weapon. “do i really need to? i think it might come in handy,” jackson said with a shrug.
from beside himmark let out a sigh before waving his hand in dismay, “we’ll be fine jaebum, just send a letter or something to us once you’ve arrived.”
“i’ll be sure to. I’ll see you guys in due time,” jaebum muttered, as he began to mount the horse. “be careful and safe, all of you guys.”
it was almost noon when his horse began to slow, the sun beating down through the branches of the trees, the forest providing little sheatler from the humanity and jaebum began to miss the air conditioned rooms of his life outside of soul and kings.
and jaebum couldn’t help but laugh quietly to himself at how much had changed in just a few days, the rhythmic sounds of the creatures in the game used to calm him and now his heart stuttered at the smallest of sound. even with the tale tell sign of the hawk jinyoung had given him flying above him, jaebum felt alone as he made his way through the forest.
a soft sign left his lips as his horse whined in annoyance, “come on old thing, we only have a little left to go. i promise once we get to the inn i’ll find you a sugar cube or something,” jaebum muttered, as he patted the horse offhandedly. “do horses eat sugar cubes?”
there was no response from the horse. as jaebum continued further into the forest, he tried to ignore how his body felt sticky from the heat and his head began to ache for rest.
but the urge to see jinyoung seemed to push any of those annoyance aside, at least for the time being.
the sun had settled low in the sky when the hogwash inn came into view, and jaebum couldn’t help but feel a burst of energy as he spotted the building. patting the horse once more, jaebum began to pick up speed before smiling brightly as the small figure in front of the inn began to become more detailed.
“jinyoung!” jaebum called out as soon as he was in earshot, coming to a clumsy stop before jumping down to run towards the innkeeper.
“jaebum? what are you doing back so soon?” jinyoung questioned as he gained a hold of the watering can that had fumbled out of his hand when jaebum had called his name, “where’s the rest of your party?”
the warrior shook his head, words of his travels far from his mind, just glad to see the innkeeper in person once again, not some vision, or his own dreams but jinyoung in the flesh.
“ you didn't miss me?” jaebum replied, as he leans against the beams of the entrance of the inn, his words short as he struggled to catch his breath.
“of course i did,” jinyoung said with an eye roll. he walked closer to the warrior, concern engraved onto his face. “you seem pale, though. come on, let me see your forehead,” he commanded before rough fingers gripped at jaebum’s cheeks. “you’re burning up, did you take any breaks on your way here?”
“i’m fine,” jaebum muttered, trying to hide his grin at being babied by the innkeeper, “my horse needs water though prob-”
jinyoung’s unimpressed look cut jaebum’s words, “we’re taking you to a room, no more talking.”
jaebum feels the exchausthing settling in, and while a nap seemed tempting, something more urgent came to his mind, his eyes zoning in on jinyoung’s plump lips. “fine, fine, no more talking but —” he trailed off, before leaning closer and pressing a chaste kiss on the innkeeper’s lips. “i missed you jinyoung.”