Once we descended the mountain, I took a quick bath and put on a fresh change of clothes before turning on my phone. I planned on sending Narae a text, but the moment my phone turned on, I was bombarded by a flurry of texts. In total, there were…thirteen of them. And the sender of all of them was my childhood friend and unrequited love, Narae. The messages started out as [Have you arrived?] [Well? Why aren’t you replying?] but changed to things like [You wanna die?] [Wait there. I’m going to get you right now!]
It hadn’t even been a day since summer vacation started, and I was already facing a disastrous problem. Rangii, oblivious of my plight, had this to say:
“Why do I have to wear such bothersome things?! The clothes Sunghoon gave me is enough!”
And in response:
“In order to live in the human world, this is inescapable, Master.”
Saehee withstood Rangii’s tantrum. And Baduk? She was curled up inside the house, sleeping while apparently unbothered by the argument taking place. While in human form. What a carefree brat. If only I could go back in time and play with my cousins without a care in the world… No, no. That’s not important right now. I decided to call Narae for the time being. Narae answered the phone before the first ring ended.
[The heck! Did something happen?! Why was your phone off?! If I call you, you’re supposed to answer, you idiot! Don’t you know what a cell phone’s for?!]
Narae’s voice fired into my eardrums like bullets. Ah, so scary. But still, in comparison to Rangii who was pitching a fit in refusal to wear any clothes besides my t-shirt and the expressionless Saehee who was preaching the importance of proper attire, I was so thankful for this slice of normalcy that I was close to tears.
“R-right. I ended up having to walk up a mountain, and I forgot my phone. Sorry.”
[Then why do you even have one?!]
I had no answer to that.
“I’m sorry for making you worry.”
[Who-who’re you saying was worried!? Why would I worry about you?]
“Because we’re friends?”
[Who the heck would go so far just for a friend?!]
Hello, Miss Narae? Why are you not saying a word?
[I didn’t hang up! That’s right, like you said I was worried because we’re friends. So what happened?]
Narae then inquired about my current situation. I wanted to tell her I was okay, but the truth was that I was about to die. Because I was in a phantom paradise. Come to think of it, Narae still thinks that I’m here to attend a funeral, right? Since that was also what I thought until I got here. I hadn’t even imagined that someone would lie about a person’s death just to lure me here.
“Nothing much, I just…”
It was then.
“Sunghoon! You say something to Saehee as well! Why must I put on such cumbersome fabrics as that?! I’m more comfortable being naked!”
That was Rangii yelling loudly inside of the house.
“Wait, I’m in the middle of a call.”
[…Who was that?]
A chill went down the back of my neck. Have I ever heard Narae’s voice be so cold before? …No. Never.
“No, you see…”
“Lolicon Young Master, please persuade the Master. After all, would you not be aroused upon seeing the Master perpetually naked?”
I’m more bothered by you right now.
[…Master? Naked? Aroused?!]
I got goosebumps. N-Narae. Since when were your ears so good?
“No, that’s not it. The situation here is more complex than the ocean is deep and the sky is wide, so there’s absolutely nothing weird going on…”
“In the first place, when a man and a woman mate, things like clothes aren’t…”
I covered Rangii’s mouth as fast as I could and yelled into the phone.
“You see? Things like this!!”
But all I could hear in my ear was the segmented beeps of my phone. A message arrived as I stood there, stunned. It said, [Go die. Just die there.] …How am I supposed to interpret this? And then:
Rangii licked my palm with her rough tongue.
That’s so gross. There’s saliva on me!
“Why are you blocking my mouth? I said nothing wrong!”
Rangii indignantly yelled at me, and my patience ran out.
“Nothing wrong, my ass!! Of course humans have to wear clothes! And what kind of girl talks about mating or being comfortable when naked! Learn to be embarrassed!!”
I clenched my fist and hit Rangii on the head.
She raised her hands, cradling her lowered ears along with her head. This caused her t-shirt to flutter, coming dangerously close to revealing a certain hidden part of herself.
“H- he hit me! Sunghoon hit me!”
Rangii was close to tears, shouting as if she were treated unfairly as she ran to Saehee. When I saw Rangii clinging to Saehee’s chest, I felt like a complete bastard. But, hey! You were in the wrong first!
Saehee, ignorant of the fact that children require education when they’re young, rubbed Rangii’s head and comforted her.
“It’s okay, Master. That is how the Young Master expresses his interest and love.”
Again with the nonsense.
“The Young Master is unable to act honestly, and thus, he communicates his love for you by such acts of bullying. In particular, violence like what happened now is a sign of affection.”
“Don’t put me on the level of an elementary schooler who can’t communicate his feelings! That just now was punishment!”
Her ears and even her tail pricked up and Rangii protested her innocence.
“Just what is it I did wrong?!”
“I was talking to someone on the phone, and you screamed weird things right next to me!”
Her tail lowered in a fluid motion. In its place, her hair formed a question mark. Geez. What a convenient body.
“…What’s a phone?”
Do I have to start explaining from there?
“A phone is used as a means of electrical communication, turning sound waves from spoken words into electrical currents, which are then carried far away, before turning into sound again so that spoken words may be exchanged. In this case, he is referring to a conversation between himself and the one on the other end.”
My jaw dropped at Saehee’s explanation. What are you, a living encyclopedia?
Rangii’s hair flew straight up.
“You mean humans have created such a device?!”
I think you’re far more impressive in a lot of ways than a phone.
“Then does that mean I was interrupting Sunghoon’s conversation with a person?”
This Tiger’s quick to catch on.
“Yes, indeed. That’s right, you brat.”
Huh? I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed when Rangii bowed her head to me. Her tail went straight down, too, so it seemed like she meant her apology. I never thought that she would apologize so honestly.
“Ah, no. It’s fine. Nothing terrible happened, anyway.”
Something terrible did happen. After hearing all that, Narae sent me a message telling me to die. Ah, while I have the chance let’s message her, telling her I’m sorry. When I sent the message, Rangii spoke.
“Then that’s a relief. Since I mustn’t cause the man to be my husband any trouble.
At those words, Saehee’s eyes suddenly flashed with light. No, that had to be my imagination. There’s no way a person’s eyes can shine like that.
“Master. If you do not wear human clothing, you will cause the Young Master much trouble.”
Actually, it probably wasn’t my imagination. Come to think of it, my thinking was flawed from the bottom-up. Because she’s not human.
“…Is that true?”
Rangii cautiously asked me. Although her gaze was almost begging me to say no, walking around like that with only a t-shirt on is a nuisance. Think about it. If she passed by my head when I was lying down in bed…
“Yeah. It’s a nuisance. It’s a huge nuisance.”
“…if that’s the case, then I have no choice.”
Rangii lowered her head while speaking in a low voice. Saehee wasted no time and, with the hands of a master craftsman, skillfully began to dress Rangii. The clothes Saehee had looked like a white hanbok for the shirt and a pair of blue shorts, but…
“Hey. You need to take off my shirt first.”
Why are you dressing her while she has on my clothes?
“Is that so?”
Rangii looked up at Saehee when she asked that.
What do you mean, no? Those questions should be directed to me, not her.
“That’s my shirt. Hurry up and take it off.”
“I know that a couple is to share even a grain of rice,” Rangii said.
These days, couples retain individual property rights.
“I will prepare matching clothes for you to wear, Young Master.”
That isn’t the problem, Saehee. Until now I told myself this situation couldn’t be helped, but the fact that a girl was wearing the shirt I wore for half a day didn’t make me happy. Moreover, the shirt in question was drenched in sweat from when I climbed up the mountain, and the one currently wearing it wasa phantom who—even if only in appearance—was a little girl. It was embarrassing to have her wear that shirt over her bare skin. I opened my mouth, intending to make clear my disagreement, when I immediately turned my head away.
“Hey, hey! Don’t dress her right in front of me! No, why is she changing here in the first place?!”
I just caught a glimpse of something when she raised one leg to put on a pair of panties! Do you lack understanding of the word shame?
“Is it embarrassing to wear clothes?”
“It is not.”
“Then shouldn’t he not care?”
“What do you mean, it’s not?!”
This cry came from deep within my soul, and Rangii responded by saying:
“But it seems to me that you feel embarrassed when I wear clothes. In that case, I won’t wear any.”
Rangii then moved to take off her panties. She had one hand gripping her panties, but before she could slide them off, I slammed my head against the ground, bowing to her as I spoke.
“I don’t feel embarrassed when you wear clothes, so please put on your clothes right now.”
I threw away my common sense. That’s right. Rangii is a kid, an absolutely clueless kid. She may be old in terms of years, but she’s just a little kid who lacks any notion of common sense. No, she’s a newborn baby. That’s how I’ll think of her. That’s all she is. But why are there tears coming out of my eyes? Off in the distance, Baduk yawned. …It must be a blessing to live as a dog.
After she took off my t-shirt—something that couldn’t have happened sooner in my book—and she put on the clothes Saehee prepared, I was unable to look at Rangii for a wholly different reason.
Her bangs, black and white like the rest of her hair, were left alone while the long hair flowing backwards was neatly braided with a black hairband fastened at the end. She had on what looked similar to traditional Korean wear for a shirt and a pair of blue, hot pants-length shorts that made it seem as though she wasn’t wearing anything at all when looked at from the side.
Ahh, how mighty the human imagination is. There’s obviously something there, but imagining such a vulgar lack of covering…why am I imagining something like that on a little kid?
“I’ve never worn clothes before, but it’s just as uncomfortable as I thought.”
Rangii complained to Saehee.
“You will get used to it. Above all, I am sure the perverted Young Master will be happy.”
“Is that so? Does Sunghoon like it when I wear such bothersome clothing?”
I was unable to answer back by saying, “I like big breasted older sister-types wearing clothing that shows off a lot of skin,” because I couldn’t ignore Saehee who was standing expressionlessly behind Rangii. And I didn’t want to disappoint Rangii because of my taste in women.
“That’s right. It really fits you. You definitely look prettier than before.”
Her ears were fluttering, and her tail was wagging. I’ve wanted to say this since before, but are you really a tiger? You’re a lot more like a dog or a cat.
“I’m happy! I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy!”
Rangii ran around the room in an open display of joy, and, while watching this display, I couldn’t help but see her as just a normal little kid. I could hardly believe that this innocent kid was also the Tiger and phantom who screamed that she would tear apart the earth and kill all the humans. And then…
“Sunghoon! I’m so glad that I met you!”
Rangii ran and jumped up towards my chest. C’mon, there’s no way any human can possibly jump high enough to…wait. Doesn’t that jump seem a little too high? I could see Rangii’s thin, spread-open thighs hurtling towards me. Thank goodness she has on pants. Because her shirt was doing nothing to cover her shorts. Wait, what? The heck’s going on?!
Rangii wrapped her legs around my neck and hugged my head. Rangii’s body gave off an almost imperceptible yet also undeniable fragrance—perhaps it was the smell unique to kids—and she pressed her chest to my head as if ensuring I caught her scent.
“Hey! What are you doing?!”
“It’s an expression of my happiness!”
So you express your happiness by wrapping your legs around people’s necks? Is that supposed to be a wrestling move too?
“I can’t see! Get off!”
“Then I’ll go like this.”
Rangii skillfully moved before I could react so that she was sitting atop my shoulders. Rangii’s long tail wrapped itself around my chest. You should start calling yourself a monkey rather than a cat. I bet the Monkey King from The Journey to the West would be happy to take you as his disciple.
She may be a little kid, but she was still somewhere in the range of 50 to 70 pounds, so it’d be weirder if having that kind of weight on my shoulders wasn’t heavy. But the one directly causing said weight denied that obvious fact.
“That can’t be! A person you love is on top of you so there’s no way it’s heavy.”
While saying that she hit my head multiple times. It hurt. Why are you hitting me? Did I say something weird? Is what you said not fundamentally incorrect, Miss Tiger? Although if the one riding on my shoulders were Narae I’d concur with your statement, but since this monkey-like, cousin-of-cats little brat is on me, how could it not be heavy?
“It seems like you’re thinking of something unpleasant.”
She’s quite perceptive. In order to shift Rangii’s attention, I grabbed the ankle of the girl hitting my head, and…
“What’re you doing?”
I began to spin with enthusiasm.
“Ack, just what are you doing now?”
Then a moment after she said that.
“Kyahahaha! This is fun!!”
She lay flat, beginning to scream exuberantly. I was starting to get dizzy, so I decided to stop. Since if I make a mistake it would be dangerous. I slowed down little by little before stopping. Wow, everything’s spinning. Rangii sat back up, hugging my head tight before securing her seat once again. What a strong core she has.
“Was it fun?”
“Yeah! So human bodies are so weak that this makes them dizzy? But that was actually what made it fun!”
“Young Master, you are shockingly good at caring for children.”
“What do you mean, shockingly? I looked after my cousins on my mom’s side, so I’m used to doing things like this.”
“I would never have guessed that you would possess such a personality.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”
I spoke while Rangii, who was apparently making a nest atop my head, tapped against my chest with her legs.
“Hey, it’s time to get down. Like you said, humans are weak and get tired easily.”
The Tiger released her legs from around my neck and tumbled backwards. …What?! I turned around, surprised, but Rangii had landed lightly on all fours. A question mark formed on her head as she looked at me.
Ah, that’s right. You’re a member of the cat family.
“The ignorant Young Master was worried about the Master.”
“So my being worried makes me an idiot?”
“I’d prefer it if you would love me rather than worry about me.”
“Ah, that’s not happening.”
It’s not like you can just tell someone to love you and it’ll happen. Falling in love at first sight is an exception, but I already fell in love with Narae, so my heart belongs to her.
“Where else could you find such a lovely young girl as myself?”
Puffing out her lacking chest, she spoke proudly while tilting her head back, and while she may be lovely, that wasn’t quite accurate. Rather than love for that girl, what I felt was…that’s right, fatherly affection. I suppose you could say that it was too easy to feel fatherly affection for her. And so, I put all that affection into what I said next:
“That’s right. Our little Rangii is very, very lovely.”
I patted Rangii’s head. Seeing Rangii smile so happily at this, it made her really look like an innocent little kid.
She really is a lovely little kid. Rangii clearly showed a happy expression at my words, but strangely, it disappeared after a moment,
“Then what should…I do…”
She started muttering something I couldn’t understand.
What’s wrong, you little brat? This is the first time I saw a kid look so down after getting complemented.
Ah, this is the Tiger from Korean mythology, the Dangun myth. Could something I said or did have brought up bad memories?
Ah, I don’t know. If she won’t tell me, then I don’t have a clue. For some reason, this annoyed me, and I lay down in my room. Then, at that auspicious moment, a stomach grumbled.
That was my stomach. Now that I think about it, I haven’t eaten anything since I got here.
“Oh dear, please excuse me. I shall prepare a meal for the pig-like Young Master.”
I filtered her words through my brain, and what resulted was easily my favorite thing Saehee said today.
Baduk woke up after hearing the word food.
“Will you greedily eat what is brought out?”
I kindly interpreted that as her asking if there were any foods I didn’t like.
“Sure, no problem.”
I came to regret what I said.
A moment later. Saehee came carrying a table filled to overflowing with dishes. Even at a glance, I could tell there were over ten side dishes on it. How bourgeois. I’m not jealous! There’s no way I’m jealous of how luxuriously you can prepare a meal! I’m just going to gracefully eat it!
But after that richly-laden table was laid in front of me, rather than pick up a spoon, I raised a finger to ask Saehee a question.
“…What is that?”
“It is grilled salamander. Marinated, barbecued salamander.”
“What about this?”
“It is steamed snake. Recently caught with its internal organs removed, and braised to keep taste and nutrition. Even the shape was perfectly preserved.”
“The gallbladder of a bear.”
“Centipede blanched in water wrapped with kimchi ripened for three years to create kimchi-centipede bossam. (tn: Korean style wrap dish. Wrap meat and kimchi with nappa cabbage.)
I wanted to flip the table.
“What kind of side dishes are these?! Are you telling me to only eat freaking rice?!!”
Even a frog’s side dishes would be better!
“It is not good to be picky.”
“That’s right, being picky is bad! And I’m not picky!”
I was raised by an ill-tempered dad and my mom whose days spent at home I can count with one hand; I wouldn’t have survived if I were picky about side dishes. But, seriously, who can eat this stuff?! Do you think I’m a TV show host? This is a right dangerous beast it is. Did it seem like I was going to say “this is vital protein” and eat it?! Are you going to record Man VS Phantom? How the hell am I supposed to eat this?!
“Who could eat this?!”
“Looks great,” Baduk said.
“What an extravagant meal,” Rangii said.
I’m sorry. This a household of phantoms. Seeing Baduk eyeing the barbecued salamander and Rangii focusing her gaze on the bear gallbladder, I felt like I was Alice in a strange fantasy land.
“Yes, Young Master?”
“Just so you know, I’m a human. A normal one until yesterday.”
And I saw some shocking things, so I thought I’d finally started to revolt. Why, you may ask? Because before my eyes, I saw Saehee’s eyes widen and her hand cover her open mouth as her brain comprehend this distorted information!
After all the crazy, soul-shocking things I’d seen today, I finally reached my limit. Why? Because, despite everything I’d seen today, I saw something that tied my brain into knots: Saehee’s eyes widened in surprise, and she covered her mouth with one hand as she gaped at me!
“A-are you really?”
She’s even stuttering?!
“I had always thought the Young Master was a thoughtless, moronic human.”
“……Even if you say I’m a thoughtless, moronic human, I can’t eat that.”
“I understand. Then I will prepare the food again.”
I spoke to Saehee as she got up.
“No, you don’t have to. I mean, I’ll just eat it this time.”
I may have difficulty eating such impactful side dishes, but if I look closely, I can see a few seasoned vegetables there. I had been holding a spoon, thinking I would eat like this without realizing that fact. There were only my eating utensils on the table.
“You’re not eating?”
Rangii answered my question.
“We’re going to eat in the kitchen, so don’t worry about us.”
“That is proper etiquette.”
Like I said, what era are you from?
“Who does that these days? Let’s just eat together.”
Rangii spoke, embarrassed.
“No, it’s etiquette. We cannot do that.”
…So she’s only now worrying about etiquette?
“Eating alone makes the food taste bad. Saehee.”
“Yes, Young Master?”
“Set the table so that Rangii and Baduk—oh, and you too—can eat here.”
“What? Me too?”
Baduk looked doubtfully at me. What’s the matter?
“Even though I’m happy with eating the mixed-up leftovers?”
Ah, that’s right. You’re a dog.
Mom. Your son is finally treating a house-sized phantom, a phantom transformed into a human, like a common dog.
If I saw Baduk eating my leftovers all mixed-up in a dog bowl, I would lose something important as a human, so I had to make her eat with us, even if I had to force her.
“It’s fine. Eat with us.”
“Yes, Young Master.”
She may have refused once, but a little later, her tail was wagging and her head was nodding. She’s not happy just because she gets to eat sooner, right? Saehee left the room for a moment. Saehee came carrying rice, utensils, and additional side dishes that I could actually eat. If you had those, you should’ve brought them out earlier. I let out a small sigh and picked up my spoon.
“Okay, let’s eat.”
“Yep,” Rangii said.
“Yes,” Saehee said.
“Thank you for the meal~” Baduk said.
I heard each of them reply, and with my spoon in hand…except I put it down immediately and hit the Tiger on the head.
“Ow?! Why’d you hit me? Don’t you know you’re supposed to let eating dogs lie?!”
You’re a tiger, not a dog.
“Who eats food with their hands?”
Are we in India? Look at the one next to you. Baduk’s eating while using her utensils like a civilized phantom! She’s eating a little too fast, but never mind that. How can a Tiger not do what a dog can?
“What’s weird about eating with my hands? I’m a Tiger!”
“Ah, yes. You’re a Tiger who changed into a human. If you’re going to eat like that, change back into a Tiger.”
“…Can I really?”
Rangii carefully studied my expression while forming a question mark with a lock of her hair, and I had only this to say.
“If you do, then go back to the cave.”
“Uwuu. How mean. Sunghoon, you’re so mean.”
Rangii looked dejected, and I felt like a complete bastard. Even though I didn’t do anything wrong.
“You truly are the son of my piece of trash older brother.”
I didn’t do anything wrong!
“If you don’t like it, then eat with your utensils.”
At my words Rangii’s shoulders drooped and her tail fell to the ground as she clumsily held her spoon, no wait. She held it in her fist like a kindergartener and started shoveling the rice to her face. When she wanted to eat the side dishes, she picked up her chopsticks, stuck them through the food, and brought it unsteadily to her mouth. But as grains of rice spilled and side dishes fell, tears formed in the corners of her eyes. She was, without a doubt, on the verge of crying.
…I can’t just watch this continue.
“Sniff, what is it? Sunghoon, the meanie who enjoys bullying me.”
My name isn’t that long.
“Bring your rice bowl and utensils and eat over here.”
“Come over here and eat.”
I patted the seat next to me, and Rangii moved cautiously towards me. It seems she remembers how I hit her before. When Rangii sat in the space I wanted, I scooted over quietly so that I was sitting behind her.
“Hm? What are you doing all of a sudden?”
I then crossed my legs and lifted her onto my legs. She’s heavy.
Her tail straightened like an arrow and tickled my chin. I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea, so I ended any chance of that beforehand.
“Don’t get the wrong idea.”
I picked up Rangii’s spoon in my right hand and put it in Rangii’s so that she was holding it properly.
“This is how you hold the spoon. Understand?”
“Y-yeah. I understand.”
“Try and eat.”
Rangii ate rice using the spoon. It was awkward, but she was able to eat her rice a lot better now that she was holding it correctly. She was adorable, going nyam, nyam while eating.
“And this is how you hold chopsticks. It’ll be tough at first, but this’ll be the most comfortable as you get used to it so make sure to hold them like this. Okay?”
I put the chopsticks in Rangii’s hand. Since holding chopsticks is complicated, I fiddled with her hand until I noticed something. I stopped when I noticed two things: Rangii’s hand was incredibly small and soft, and she was blushing.
…Could I be doing something that would be totally embarrassing in public? Even though all I’m doing is teaching a little kid how to hold her eating utensils. I-I mean, whenever my mom came home, she would sit me down on her lap and eat with me like this until I was in 5th grade! I’m not the weird one!
“You are nonchalantly doing something incredibly embarrassing, Young Master.”
My face became red-hot at Saehee’s words.
“N-no! I’m just teaching her proper etiquette!”
“I understand. If that is what the Young Master says, then it must be true.”
In times like this, her expressionless face makes me unable to tell if she’s making fun of me or being entirely serious.
“A-anyway! You get it now, right?”
“Y-yeah. I get it. Thank you, Sunghoon.”
I suddenly felt embarrassed so I set Rangii down and I began to eat. I moved my chopsticks to pick up a vegetable, but then I saw Rangii reach her arm out to get the wrapped centipede.
…Her arm was too short to reach. This sight brought a tear to my eye. I don’t know if she thought it was improper to get up during the meal, but her butt remained stuck to the ground.
As I watched her moan, I thought to myself, “So this is why stature is important.” I tried to get the attention of those two with a ‘you two should take care of your owner’ stare, but Baduk was too busy eating, her butt moving up and down and her tail wagging. Saehee was staring expressionlessly at thin air, and she refused to meet my gaze.
“Uu. I can’t reach it. I want to eat it… Unyaaa.”
Ah, she’s even beginning to cry. …There’s no helping it. I forced myself to use my chopsticks to touch that unidentifiable foodstuff also known as a centipede wrap.
I heard Rangii’s gasp. It would be the perfect prank if I put it on my own plate and ate it, but, ah, that was impossible. My stomach just isn’t strong enough to handle a centipede wrap. I put it lightly on top of Rangii’s rice bowl.
“If there’s a side dish you want to eat, then tell me. I’ll give it to you.”
“…My eyes truly did not deceive me!”
Rangii smiled delightfully at me, but I felt an inexplicable sense of guilt.
Sorry. I have no idea what I did wrong, but I’m sorry.
After eating dinner, the sky was beginning to darken.
Saehee’s cooking was so extraordinarily good that I wondered if maybe those strange side dishes she made actually tasted good. So good, in fact, that I accidentally overate a little. Though Rangii ate more than me. I have no idea where she could be putting all that food.
I stared off into the distancing, allowing my body to digest, when my phone rang. Is it Narae? It must be Narae, right? Could she want to forgive me? I immediately got up and checked my phone.
It was Dad.
My rage surged forth. I shouted into the phone the second after I opened it.
“Well look at that, you’re phone works! What kind of parent tricks his own son and sends him off to phantom deathtrap?!”
There was no response. Hm? Why’s he like that? At this point, he would normally go, “Hahaha, sucks for you, kiddo. If you hate that your dad acts like this, then why don’t you try being a dad? Hahahaha,” or something like that. Right then. I heard her voice.
[Oh ho. My son. So you’ve even learned how to yell at your mom? You’ve really grown up, haven’t you?]
I’m screwed. It’s Mom. My hands were shaking and a cold sweat formed on my back.
[Why’re you like that, my beloved son who stabbed a knife into his mother’s chest? You’re not about to give the excuse that you saw it was your dad calling you, and you had no idea it was me, are you?]
“…But that’s what happened.”
[Your mother is ever-so sad. My own son bared his fangs against me after I worked to the bone in order to raise him. I was worried for you, so I came immediately from my work in China to Korea, half-killed my husband, and called you with his phone just to have you raise your voice at me….]
Then Mom deliberately stopped talking and took a deep breath.
[I’m so sad.]
“Ah, ha, ha, ha.”
My mouth, which moved so easily in front of the Tiger, refused to move.
[I feel it’s far too early for you to show such defiance, my foolish little lamb of a son. Shall I take this opportunity to break your legs?]
“I’m sorry! I made a terrible mistake! Please spare me!”
[Oh my. But why would I ever kill my own son after the great pains I went endured in my belly to birth him?]
No, it seems like you’re going to kill me. My hand was shaking so much that I had to struggle to hold onto my cellphone, and then I heard my mom give a small sigh.
[More importantly, has everything gone well?]
That’s a relief. My affectionate and merciful mom seemed to have decided to skip over my blunder.
[Really. Do you have—kwajeek—any idea—uwaaagh!!—how worried I was, when you sent our son—bam!—there without giving him any kind of explanation?—gyaaaagh!]
I elected to ignore the sounds in the background.
[Really, when will you grow up?—I’ll die before that! You’re killing me!—Who knows, maybe dying will do you some good—I’m really dying!!—]
Ah, they really are a close couple. I’d better marry a gentle, completely non-violent woman.
[So, are you and Rangii getting along?]
“Huh? Mom, you know about Rangii?”
[Isn’t it obvious? Who do you think took you there before you were even weaned off your mother’s milk?]
Ah, of course. Mom took me to Rangii and then…married me off to her.
I forgot that the main culprit was my mother.
[Really, there was a girl who was so cute I wanted to make her my daughter, and I think I made a promise in that vein but it’s all a little fuzzy. Well, it can’t have been that important.]
Am I solely surrounded by people who totally lack common sense?
“…Is that all noticed about Rangii?”
[So what if she’s a tiger phantom? When that’s just her spiritual body?]
She’s open-minded. Way too open. To the point where I have nothing else to say.
[So come back tomorrow.]
I was thinking about bringing Rangii to Seoul with me, but tomorrow? Isn’t that too fast? I was thinking about teaching her about the human world at grandfather’s estate before going back to Seoul. But, Mom had a different idea…
[Why? Are you talking back to me right now?]
She changed my mind in an instant.
“I shall obey.”
[Then let’s eat dinner together tomorrow. Okay?]
She made it sound like I’d be dining in Hell if I didn’t agree, and then she hung up the phone. Please, dear God. Save me.
“Are you done with your call?”
Of course, it’s not the time to find God, but to deal with this. When Rangii slid open the paper-panel door and entered the room, I felt as if I had a long way to go before I finished my twelve labors. Wait, what did she just say?
“Yeah, were you waiting for me to finish?”
Rangii went cleared her throat and stood tall and proud.
“Of course I was. I know it is improper to interrupt your husband’s phone call.”
If she hadn’t added that husband part, then I would’ve honestly wanted to compliment her.
“Ah, yeah. Thanks.”
That’s why I thanked her so curtly.
“So why did you come here? It’s getting dark so shouldn’t a good girl be fast asleep soon?
“That’s why I came here.”
This gave me an ominous feeling, so I cut this problem off at the roots.
“So you came to say goodnight before going to bed? Yeah, goodnight to you too. Okay, now get out. Right now.”
“I came to sleep with you.”
Are you just going to ignore me?
“It’s okay. Even if you cannot hold back your youthful passion and ravage me, I shall accept you with my whole body.”
Does she even understand what she’s saying? And do you really think I’d ravage a little kid like you if I couldn’t hold back my youthful passion?
I tried to think of a way to convince her, when this happened:
“Please pardon me.”
Sliding open the door even more and carrying blankets, Saehee entered the room. …How did she just open the door? She didn’t use her foot, and both her hands were occupied with the blankets.
“I shall prepare your bedding, Young Master.”
“And who told you to do that?”
“You are flirting with disaster by underestimating the chill of mountain nights.”
“So you’re not going to answer my question?
Saehee apparently had no intention of giving me a straight answer.
“If I do not prepare your bedding, the room will be a scene of carnage.”
“And why is that?”
“I am speaking about myself.”
“So you’re going to butcher me?!”
I lost the will to stop her as I watched Saehee skillfully spread the blankets on the floor while ignoring me entirely. I guess this is the feeling of abject despair. But after she prepared the bedding, she had this to say.
“I shall take my leave. Please have a good night…”
I had no choice but to grab Saehee by the wrist before she could leave.
“Hey. There’s only one blanket, so why’re there two pillows?”
“Ah, were you going to have her sleep on your arm?”
“Obviously not. And why the hell is there a tissue box right next to the bed?!”
Where the hell did you learn that kind of thing?!
“I learned on the Internet that this is essential when a couple sleeps together.”
“…You have Internet here?”
“It is wireless.”
I was amazed at how our country’s technical prowess allowed access to wireless internet deep within the mountains—wait, that doesn’t matter.
“We’re not a couple yet, Saehee,” Rangii chided.
“You will be one starting tomorrow. Since the Young Master is a lolicon.”
“You’re saying that again?!”
“Then I shall take my leave now.”
Saehee disappeared from view as if she were fog, and the door closed shut.
Just staring blankly at the door won’t change anything. I wish someone would press the rewind button on my life. Even two minutes would be enough.
“Aren’t you going to sleep?”
“…When did you get in there?”
While I wasn’t looking, Rangii went under the covers with just her head poking out. Who said you could get in? “It’s more comfortable to sleep by myself, so get out!” is what I wanted to yell at her, but I shut my mouth after seeing her clothes folded neatly next to the blankets. I could see Rangii’s outer clothing and panties. This development, really?
“Did you take your underwear off too?”
“I was told that not wearing underwear when sleeping is good for your health.”
That kind of saying does exist, but who could’ve told you… It was Saehee. There’s no one else but Saehee. After sighing deeply, I grabbed the pair of shorts I was going to use as pajamas and stood up.
“You sleep here. I’ll sleep in another room.”
“Why are you going to do that?”
Rangii sat up. The blanket that was covering her up to her neck naturally fell down, revealing her milky-white skin…except it didn’t.
“My name is Ho Rangii.”
“No, just ignore the small stuff. How did you end up wearing that.”
The pronoun that, in this case, is being used to indicate my t-shirt. Rangii, with not even a pair of panties on her, had on the same t-shirt that I took from her and stuffed into my backpack.
“Saehee gave it to me.”
I considered what to do about Saehee when Rangii spoke up.
“When I wear this, I’m engulfed in your scent, and it puts my mind at ease.”
Rangii said this with a bright smile on her face. My face turned bright red. D-don’t make it sound like I don’t wash! It only smells because it was so hot and I climbed a mountain! This isn’t normal for me!
“Are you watching? When I go sniff, sniff, I can smell your scent.”
When I saw Rangii bury her nose into my shirt and take a whiff, I was so overwhelmed with shame that I immediately ran at her. Rangii fell onto her back while I kneeled above her, as if straddling her, and I forced her face up, away from my shirt.
Our eyes met with me on top of her. She looked at me with innocent eyes, as if asking me why I was doing this. I was unable to look away or even breathe normally. My hearted started racing as I…no, that’s not it! Just what am I doing?! To Rangii! The Tiger!
That Tiger lifted one hand to touch my cheek.
“Your face is red.”
“Th-the heck are you talking about?!”
I shouted in an attempt to hide my shock and moved so that I was at Rangii’s side. Haa, what did I just do? What was I thinking about a little kid? I was embarrassed because of that split second that my heart raced.
…I need to run away. If I stay here any longer, I feel like I’m going to awaken a hidden sexual predilection I never knew existed within me. I gave up on taking my shirt and decided to simply sleep.
“Yeah, do whatever you want. Wear it or don’t.”
I got up and pulled the sliding door to the side. It wouldn’t budge. …Huh? I pulled at it with all my strength, but the door made of paper and wood refused to move an inch.
“Why won’t this open?”
I said this to myself out of sheer confusion, but I received a surprise answer.
“For the Master and the Young Master’s time of intimacy, I applied magic. Until the first rooster gives its cry, even I cannot open the door, so please feel free to do any hardcore play you wish.”
Saehee answered. Hey, dammit. So you were there.
“Open the door right now!”
There was no response. It didn’t seem like there was anyone behind the door. She just up and vanished?! I tried to open the door again, but it really wouldn’t open.
“What are you doing?”
…Should I ask Rangii for help? No, Rangii wouldn’t accept such a request. I can already see her saying, “Why not just sleep here?” But still, I should at least try and ask her.
“Hey, open this door for me.”
“I don’t know how to use that kind of magic.”
“Saehee can use those trivial spells, so I didn’t learn them. I can break it with my strength, though. Should I do that?
Whatever, I give up. I’ll just sleep here for today. I can think of it like sleeping with a younger cousin. I-I just needed a breather after what happened earlier. It’s okay. Rangii’s still a child. If I were sleeping with Narae or some other big breasted older sister type, I might be able to escape my virgin status by doing this and that…no, I mean I would have been able to escape that status, but since it’s Rangii, there’s nothing to worry about.
“Let’s go to sleep.”
I wanted to get this over with before I changed my mind. I went under the covers next to Rangii. It was a large blanket, so there was plenty of space.
“Good, I see you are ready to share a night of passion with me…”
I’ve been ready to hit you on the head for a while now.
“Owie! What in the world do you think my head is?!”
“A cure to stop you from spouting nonsense.”
“Uuuu. You are the only to hit me on the head since I was born.”
“Think of it as a good experience.”
More importantly, the blanket was blessedly thin. The wind flowed through the blanket, leaving me feeling nice and cool. Did she put into consideration the fact that it was summer?
“Then I’m going to sleep. You go to sleep too.”
“But is a wedding night supposed to be like this?”
Don’t ask me.
“I heard that we’re supposed to do something that symbolizes our love for each other. How strange.”
“…Why are you so fixated on that?”
After hesitating for a moment, Rangii responded to my question by grabbing my hand.
“This will be a long story, but would you like to hear it?”
“I don’t want to hear an old woman tell a tall tale from ages ago, so no thanks.”
“In what way am I an old woman?”
Rangii pinched my side.
Rangii then took the blanket from me and rolled around, hugging the end of it to herself.
“Even if I don’t know other things, I know that you need a punishment for making fun of my age.”
I mean, I know that this is a belated comment, but you’re over 4000 years old and you talk all weird like that, so I don’t think I said anything wrong. But even if it is the middle of summer, I might catch a cold if I sleep without a blanket. I wouldn’t want to reduce my dignity as a human by catching a cold when even Baduk doesn’t catch summer colds. Looking at Rangii’s back as she sulked, I patted her clearly visible head.
“It’s a joke, you brat. Don’t be upset.”
“…I’m not upset.”
Rangii quietly pushed the edge of the blanket that was originally around her body towards me. I grabbed my side of the blanket and pulled. She spun quickly and snuggled right up to my chest. I was about to tell her that it was too hot with her sticking to me like that, but she had something to say first.
“It was a long time ago.”
Rangii started her story while snuggling against my chest.
“I watched over some children as they devoured humans. My fellow chiefs and I, as great phantoms, had no reason to eat humans, but the normal ones ate the spirits of humans to increase their strength. “
According to her, back then, this was a part of daily life. Because, by eating humans, the humans’ fear would allow the phantoms to sustain their existences.
“And so, one day, I found a strange sight.”
A mother and child. And a phantom. The phantom was going to eat the pair when…
“I was baffled. One’s own life is more important than any other’s life. This is the logic of all living things. But, even until the moment they were both eaten, the mother tried with all her might to save her child.”
At first, she thought it was an instinctual act meant to sustain their species.
“But that wasn’t the case. I thought that a couple was together solely for the sake of creating offspring, but a man and woman, not related by blood and shaking in deathly fear, were willing to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the other. This made me realize I was mistaken. I wondered what could cause them, in the face of death and shaking in fear, to sacrifice everything for their partner.”
And so, one day, she asked the wisest of men what caused humans to sacrifice themselves for another. He answered with this:
“Oh, Lord of the Mountain, that is called love.”
The Lord of the Mountain, Rangii, was shocked.
“Then if I were to receive this thing called love…how much joy would I feel? Unceasing boredom weighed upon me. I saw that love was the only thing that could give my life meaning after so long living without purpose. So how could I not be interested in it?”
And then she said this:
“I want to be loved.”
It suddenly felt as though Rangii, who was snuggling against my chest, were far away.
“I heard that all couples who love each other get married. So I want to get married with you and receive your love.”
Rangii’s thoughts on love are wrong. You can’t call that love. Love isn’t some plaything, a tool meant to make you happy. What she described would be closer to a kind of game.
But I couldn’t bear to tell Rangii that she was mistaken. Rangii stayed shackled by the seal for millennia all while holding onto the belief that that was love. A length of time that I couldn’t possibly fathom.
Could I even explain to her what was wrong if I told her that her thinking was incorrect? And could I explain to Rangii what love is?
I couldn’t. There’s no way I could explain this to her. So I said this:
“Is that so?”
I responded neutrally to what Rangii said.
“Yeah. It is.”
Rangii smiled brightly, so sure in her steadfast belief that she would be loved by me. All I could do was pat her head.
Rangii was pleased, her ears lying inertly atop her head and a sloppy smile spreading across her face. I wish someone who could teach this phantom with the knowledge of a newborn baby would get a move on and show up already.
Since there’s no way that person can be me.
Could it be because of what happened today? After patting Rangii’s head, I lost consciousness and I fell asleep.
“…Are you asleep?”
The last thing I heard was Rangii’s querying voice.
It’s cold. Even though I have the blanket over me, it’s cold. The cold woke me up. Ugh—. How is it this cold? I curled up, but it wasn’t like I could roll up like a bug to stay warm. I flailed my arm around me, groping across the floor for anything to give me further covering. My bag should be around here somewhere… Ah, I don’t know what it is, but I grabbed something warm. I clutched that warm thing to me, using it as a makeshift heater. It was big, fit perfectly on my chest, and was extremely warm. Add to that its pleasant fragrance, and it was the perfect object to hug as I slept.
“Uuung… What’s going on…? S-Sunghoon?”
Hm? The heater wriggled and even began to talk. Well, not like I care. If a dog and a Tiger can talk, why can’t a heater? But still, I cracked open one eye in case the thing I was hugging was actually something best left alone, and I saw Rangii looking up at me. Ah, the thing I thought was a heater was actually Rangii. Then it’s fine.
“It’s cold. Let’s sleep like this…”
Though I would’ve forced her to sleep like this if she had said no. But for some reason, it ddn’t feel as warm as before. Back then, I clearly… Ah, back then, what I felt squirming was actually Rangii turning around. That little minx. I turned Rangii back around and hugged her to me.
“This side…is warmer.”
With my face in Rangii’s hair and my arm under her neck to act as a pillow, I wrapped my arm around her waist, and the combination of her body heat and her smell lulled me back to sleep.
“A-aren’t you…unable to sleep like this?”
Hate to break it to you, but I can sleep just fine.
“…Does this pleasurable sensation not trouble you?”
I’m definitely troubled. The soft give of her body felt incredibly good. I moved my hand and touched her belly.
It was soft.
Feel, feel. A kid’s belly really is soft and round. This is addicting. Then how will other places feel? And so, I fell asleep while caressing Rangii’s soft body.
I was troubled. I woke up and was greeted with a development I had never had to go through before, and I was extremely troubled as I thought of what to do next. I-I need to calm down. I followed my advice and objectively examined the situation.
I was lying on my side in bed. And Rangii lay next to me with her back against my chest. My left arm was underneath her neck, acting as her pillow, and my right hand was on her stomach. No, not anymore it wasn’t. Since I moved my hand the moment I woke up.
It’s so weird that her belly is actually softer than her breasts…no, I mean right now I look like an absolute degenerate. A pervert. Like a lolicon. What should I do? I can’t even change my position because of my left arm. It’d be counterproductive to move my left arm and wake up Rangii. And while I was unable to do anything…
I heard an almost generic rooster signal the start of the morning. Ah, wasn’t that the first rooster’s cry? I must have woken up really early, if the sun is only now rising. Actually, it’s a good thing I got up as soon as I did. Since I woke up before Rangii.
But right then…
Someone opened the door.
“It is time to wake up.”
Wearing the same black modernized hanbok and maintaining her lack of any facial expressions, Saehee opened the door and entered. I know it would’ve sufficed just to say that Saehee entered, but I was trying to slow down time by stretching out my description of her. Unfortunately, this strategy had no such effect.
Our eyes met. A moment later the corners of Saehee’s mouth quirked up.
“Lolicon. Pervert. Human trash. Which do you prefer, Young Master?
“This isn’t what it looks like! What you think happened didn’t really happen!”
“It seems that you are still exhausted from last night. I shall visit you later.”
This damn woman has no intention of listening to a word I say.
“Like I said, it’s not like that!”
“Mmmm. Not like…what?”
Shoot. Rangii woke up.
Rangii rubbed her eyes and, in a sleep-logged voice, said:
“Yaaawn… Sunghoon kept me from sleeping…so I’m going to sleep more.”
After saying something bound to cause a misunderstanding, she turned to face me.
She fell asleep.
The door closed shut.
With Saehee acting as if she knew everything already, I gave up on explaining the situation to her. For whatever reason, there was only stamina food for breakfast, and after eating, I started packing up. Mom said for me to go back to Seoul, so I needed to be fully prepared. Rangii crouched beside me and started talking.
“Are you going somewhere?”
“I need to go home. I can’t stay here anymore.”
“…You’re going to Seoul?!”
She was lost in thought for a moment before jerking backward in surprise. What’s the matter?
“W-what about me? Are you just going to cast me aside and leave me here?”
What are you, a stray dog? Cast you aside? I was going to tell her that of course she was going to go with me, but Rangii had something catastrophic to say.
“Then what was all that last night? Was it a mid-summer night’s prank?!”
“Don’t say something that can be so easily misunderstood!!”
What do you mean, what I did last night?! All I did was hug you and go to sleep!
I’d better change the subject before she says anything else ridiculous.
“Also, of course you’re going with me. No one’s getting cast aside.”
A question mark appeared above Rangii’s head.
“Or, what, are you not coming with me? Are you going to stay here by yourself?”
Rangii looked like she was about to cry. That expression made me uneasy. A kid shouldn’t make that kind of face. So I spoke a little harshly.
“I told you in the cave. Let’s go together. Have you gone senile?”
Rangii’s tail straightened and puffed up.
“That’s a mean joke! Sunghoon, you’re a meanie!”
I ignored that.
“So? Is there a reason why you can’t go with me?”
After getting lost in thought about it for a moment, Rangii shook her head.
“…There’s no big problem.”
Does that mean there’s a small problem?
“But if I follow you I may be a nuisance.”
“What about it?”
“Can you not remain here?”
“My mom told me to come to Seoul immediately.”
Plus, it’d be best to fix the misunderstanding with Narae as soon as possible. But Rangii, this brat. After hearing about Mom, she lowered her head and her tail wagged slowly from side to side. Why does she look so down?
“If it’s a command from my mother-in-law, then there is no helping it…”
“And just who’s your mother-in-law?”
“Is it strange to call the mother of my husband mother-in-law?”
Your logic is fundamentally flawed.
“No, never mind that.”
I could now ignore what she said, like a dad being told by his baby girl that she would marry him when she grew up. I guess I’ve matured.
“Why’d you react like that when I mentioned my mom?”
Rangii fiddled with her tail as she spoke.
“Mother-in-law is a formidable personage. Even I cannot face her.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Mother-in-law believes that, if she puts her mind to it, she could do something even to a spirit like me.”
“…It definitely sounds difficult to face someone that delusional.”
Rangii’s true body is Jirisan and even her spiritual body is the size of a mountain, so if there’s someone who deludes herself into thinking she can take on Rangii, then of course it’d be difficult to face such a person.
“But because her belief is grounded in reality…”
Why’re you saying something that makes no sense? Mom’s definitely a little unusual, but she’s still a normal human. How can my mom possibly face a phantom like you?
“Listen well. We phantoms fear above all those humans that believe there is absolutely nothing they cannot do. Even great phantoms such as I cannot injure humans who have no substance.”
“So you’re saying my mom’s that kind of person?”
Rangii nodded her head. Wow, Mom. You were acknowledged by the Tiger from the Dangun myth.
“Huh, I see.”
I already knew that Mom was the one who married Dad with the intention of reforming him. If you look at it in a certain way, she’s more of a freak than Dad. She had the strange confidence that led to her motivation to fix Dad’s personality.
Maybe I inherited this trait from my mom, but I grew up to be someone who sticks to his beliefs no matter what anyone else says. I know it’s a bad habit, but it’s really hard to fix what’s called a personality.
But the problem I need to think about right now isn’t my personality. How I can go to Seoul with Rangii? Because Mom said to come back to Seoul together, if I don’t do that, then my life may be in danger. So I looked at Rangii again.
“Are you saying you won’t go with me?”
“But if I go to Seoul…”
Rangii shook her tail from side to side, lost in worry. I don’t know what you’re worrying about, but I might end up being beaten by my mom if you don’t go to Seoul.
That’s why I said this.
“I’ll protect you.”
“No matter what my mom does, no matter what happens, I’ll protect you. So let’s go together.”
Don’t go together and get killed, or go together and risk something happening. Between those two, obviously I’ll pick the latter.
Rangii was shaking.
“Do you really mean it?”
Because Mom would kill me otherwise.
Totally clueless of my circumstances, Rangii crouched down, then…
“Truly, I knew you were my fated love!”
Whoa! Rangii jumped on me, tackling me to the ground, and she rubbed her face against my cheek. Surprised as I was by the supple give and warmth of her face, I grabbed her waist to try and pry her off.
“I have heard that men in the midst of puberty are akin to dogs in heat, and it appears to be true.”
Saehee had at some point opened the door and was sitting respectfully outside the room. I hugged Rangii, set her down to the side, and got up.
“Humans shouldn’t bring up crap like that.”
“I am not a human.”
Now, I’m not even curious about what you are. I’m talking about what kind of phantom you are. “More importantly, Rangii’s going to Seoul with me. Is there a bus route that can take us there?”
Saehee, however, ignored me and looked at Rangii.
“Are you planning on going to Seoul, Master?”
Rangii nodded. Saehee’s usual emotionless expression broke for a moment but returned to normal in an instant, too fast for me to figure out what kind of face she made.
“I see. In that case, I will prepare the car.”
“But what are you going to do?”
“Obviously I shall stay by the Master’s side.”
Can’t you just stay here? For the sake of my sanity.
No, I should look on the bright side. If I went with Rangii alone, then I’d have to take care of her as well. Since Mom is busy with work and Dad is Dad. In that case it’d actually be best for Saehee to come with us. But there was still something I had to ask.
“What about the house?”
“Baduk will be here.”
Baduk became a guard dog.
“…Will that really be okay? Won’t Baduk be lonely if she’s all by herself?”
“There is no need to worry. The children who left because of the Young Master’s stench will return to keep Baduk company once they realize that you have left.”
If I respond, then I lose. I ignored Saehee’s deliberate choice of words and asked a question.
“Those children you talked about. They’re phantoms right?”
“That is correct.”
Then this place really will become a phantom’s mansion.
“I shall go prepare the luggage.”
Just like when she came here, she disappeared without a sounds. She really lacks any hint of physical presence. If I were walking on a road in the middle of the night and she spoke to me from behind, I might have a heart attack.
“I’m going to pack my things, so if you have anything to bring, then pack it.”
After I said that, Rangii grabbed me from behind and hugged me around my neck.
“…What’re you doing?”
“What I’m going to bring.”
Am I an object?
“None. All I need is Sunghoon.”
…Ah, that’s actually a little touching. This brat is so young that she’s still able to say such incredibly embarrassing things. That’s why she’s cute. How adorable, so adorable. So much so that I want to bite her.
Since I couldn’t bite her, I put my hand on top of hers.
When I packed my backpack and headed to the yard, Baduk was waiting for me.
“Young Master, isn’t there any way you could stay here longer?”
Although it was sad to see Baduk with her tail down straight down and looking at me so mournfully as if she was about to cry,
I truly wished I didn’t have to do this to Baduk, whose tail drooped lifelessly as she looked plaintively up at me as if on the verge of tears.
“Sorry. Something urgent came up.”
Because in this world, there’s nothing more precious than one’s own life.
Uwak?! She’s really crying! Baduk rubbed her eyes with her palms, twin waterfalls seeming to fall from her large eyes. When I saw this, I had the strange thought that perhaps this dog girl’s tears were the one thing in this world more precious than one’s own life.
No, stop it. If I falter here, then tonight I’m going to be eating dinner in Hell. Mom would have no trouble at all coming to Jirisan and punishing her disobedient son. I patted Baduk’s head as I spoke.
“I’ll be back after everything’s done. Don’t cry, you brat. If strangers saw this, they’d think I was leaving forever.”
“You’re going to come back?”
“When will you be back?”
Ummm… It should be okay to stay a week here during summer vacation, right?
“In about twenty days? So during that time you need to be sure to guard the house well, okay?”
Baduk nodded in response and, making it unbelievable that she was crying just a moment ago, her eyes filled with resolution as she looked up at me.
“Yes! I’ll protect it for sure!”
“Yeah, aren’t you a good girl.”
I was petting Baduk like that when suddenly…
“The Young Master is truly a lolicon.”
I was surprised to hear Saehee’s voice from behind me. (I gave up on caring that Saehee calls me a lolicon.) R-rather than being a phantom, wouldn’t it be more accurate to call you a ghost? It was truly hard to see her as a human when she was standing underneath the sun’s powerful rays and absorbing every single one. Ah, right, she isn’t human. Anyways, she was carrying a black travelling bag with two hands.
“…So it’s not a sack?”
“According to common sense, I believe it would be strange to carry a sack in this day and age.”
…Sorry. I honestly thought you would pack your things up in a huge blanket. But the thing is…
“Then does that mean you don’t think those clothes you’re wearing are weird?”
“This is my preference.”
“…And Rangii’s clothes?”
“That is my preference.”
Ah, yeah. I’ll respect your taste in clothes.
“So where did Miss Rangii go?”
At my words, Saehee turned around and looked at the roof. My eyes naturally followed hers.
I got goosebumps down my back.
Standing there was someone unrecognizable—no, wait. She looked the exact same as normal, except Rangii stood tall and proud. She still looked like a small, adorable child, but she seemed to be wider than the sky, heavier than a mountain, and deeper than the ocean, an appearance perfectly befitting a character from mythology.
…Just what am I thinking of while looking at Rangii?
More importantly, what is she doing there? What’ll she do if she falls and hurts herself? I opened my mouth to warn her, but…
“Please pardon me.”
Saehee blocked my ears, so I had no choice but to keep quiet. And then…
A tiger’s roar, indescribable with words, spread throughout the heavens and the earth. I could see it going through the earth and causing the earth to shake. I would have collapsed if Baduk hadn’t grabbed me from behind, and I would have blacked out if Saehee hadn’t blocked my ears.
W-what was that? What did Rangii do? Saehee took her hands off my ears. I forced open my inexplicably dry lips.
“For the Master, it is similar to a farewell. There is no need for you to know.”
Farewell? You’re saying that that was a farewell? But to me it sounded like she was threatening someone? Did I mishear it? Do all tiger’s roars feel like that? My head was filled with all these thoughts when, before I realized it, Rangii had come down from the roof and grabbed my hand.
“Did you wait long?”
Seeing her innocent expression, I felt that I somehow had misinterpreted her roar. I guess tiger’s roars are always like that. Rangii nodded at my words and spoke to Baduk, who until just this second was acting as my legs.
“Then, Shin-ah. Please take care of the house.”
Wasn’t her name Baduk? As I was thinking that, the kind Saehee graciously gave me an explanation.
“That is Baduk’s name that she was blessed with by heaven. Simply put, you can consider it to be her true name.”
“Is it something important?”
Saehee nodded her head.
“More important than one’s own life. Carelessly using such a name will result in the speaker getting murdered without excuse. Although we have only just met, I hope you go to a better place.”
“…Am I being murdered?”
Is Baduk going to transform into her original form and bite my head off?
“It’s okay, Young Master.”
Whether Baduk read my thoughts or not, she casually walked in front of me and spoke.
“Because the Young Master is the one who will become the Master’s husband, it is okay. If a normal human had said such a thing, I would have bitten him and rolled him around in my mouth.”
Never had the word husband sounded so beautiful to me.
“Yeah, okay. That’s a relief.”
Did you just click your tongue? No, don’t argue back. In the world, it’s sometimes the best strategy to pretend to not have heard anything. Just then, I heard a car pull up outside the front gate.
“Then I’m going.”
“Good bye, Master. Young Master, please return soon. And Saehee, please take care as well.”
As I received Baduk’s farewell, I went out the front gate. Saehee followed right behind me, and Rangii also…no, she was standing in front of the gate, lost in thought. This brat. Does she really not want to leave? Although there’s the seal, it’s probably because she’s leaving a place she’s lived for over 4,000 years.
…There’s no helping it. It’s not like me, but I guess I should give a small push.
For the sake of my survival.
Rangii was surprised, and she let out a youthful yelp as all the hair on her body bristled upwards. …Are you a cat? I gave Nyangii—no, wait. I reached my hand out to Rangii.
Although she was hesitant for a moment, she quickly smiled wide and grabbed my hand. I opened the door and Rangii entered first, then I went in.
But Saehee had no plans to enter the car. I was going to ask her if she was going to sit in the front, but she was looking off into the distance and both corners of her mouth rose into a frightening smile. My mouth refused to move when I saw her make that face.
W-what are you smiling like that for? I stuck my head out to see what Saehee was looking at, but all I could see was the trees’ shadows shaking in the wind.
“A cute few are talking amongst themselves as they watch us leaving.”
But Rangii’s in the car. …That was a bad joke.
“It was three bears.”
In my head, I automatically remembered a children’s song. (tn: Korean song many children learn. Called “Gom Se Mari” or the “3 Bears Song”)
“They may have come to avenge the papa bear.”
“The daddy bear died?!”
“It is okay. The mama bear is still alive.”
…I need to get them out of here to protect the ecosystem. Otherwise, the black bear family will end up in the phantoms’ stomachs.
“How rude, the lot of them. If you wish to eat them, I will prepare them very quickly.”
“It is likely they will follow us to Seoul, so serving them as a meal will be very simple.”
Saehee’s joke was scary because it didn’t sound like she was joking.