Lee-yeon inquired about Kwon Chae-woo’s whereabouts and arrived at a 50-meter-long indoor swimming pool. Her stomach had been churning throughout the journey.
She could clearly read the self-assured demand in the man’s demeanor and wondered whose nerves he was trying to get under.
With a flushed face, she squared her shoulders defiantly, thinking, Let’s do this.
Walking in barefoot, Lee-yeon looked around the serene pool area and confidently strode forward. The shimmering waves cast a crystal-like reflection on the ceiling of this tranquil space.
However, instead of the familiar scent of chlorine, a strange hint of brine permeated the air, and the water seemed unusually murky, perhaps due to the black tiles.
She paused her steps, taking in the somewhat unfamiliar atmosphere, and peered into the water. Intrigued, she dipped her fingers into the water and playfully swirled it around. Suddenly, as if propelled by an unseen force beneath the surface, someone’s hand clamped onto her hand tightly.
Without any warning, she was pulled into the water by the surging figure below. Startled, Lee-yeon splashed down, her body submerged in the clinging water. Emerging from the water and discarding his swim cap, the man who had risen from the depths confronted her fiercely.
“Have you lost your mind? Do you know where you are right now?!”
His body glistened with water, and his breathing labored. As his gaze focused on the earplug and tape that covered one of his ears, something resembling a suction cup emerged from the water, its puckered opening expanding to reveal a creature shooting out above the surface.
Sharp, grotesque teeth filled the circular mouth of the creature.
Caught off guard, Lee-yeon’s hips suddenly jolted towards the pool’s edge. Seated on the pool’s floor, her ankle, which had descended beneath the water’s surface, was enveloped by a school of fish.
She frantically scraped the tiled floor, but it was futile. The creature clung to her with a powerful suction force, and she found herself sinking even to her knees.
The long, slender fish’s jaws clamped down with the force of a vice, its interior lined with densely packed sharp teeth. And there wasn’t just one of them.
In an instant, Kwon Chae-woo’s harsh exclamation of “Damn it!” echoed as he swiftly pulled Lee-yeon out. However, the incredible suction strength was evident as the leech-like creatures, still attached to her foot, were forcefully dislodged along with her.
Kwon Chae-woo grimaced fiercely as he aggressively grabbed and crushed the parasitic lampreys with his bare hands. Normally, their heads needed to be sliced open with a knife, but in this dire situation, he had no choice but to use his fists to crush them. They clung stubbornly, requiring a forceful grip to pry them off.
“What on earth is this? Why are creatures like these in a swimming pool?”
“It’s not a swimming pool, it’s an aquarium.”
He replied, chewing out his words as he forcefully tore the lampreys from her.
Tears welled up in her eyes as she faced an unprecedented situation. Looking back at the aquarium, she saw that the black tiles weren’t the only thing in the water. Eel-like creatures resembling lampreys wriggled within, filling the tank.
“Lampreys are especially drawn to wounded flesh.”
Suddenly, she recalled an encyclopedia entry she had read with Kwon Chae-woo. The image that remained vivid in her memory was that of lampreys—distinctive with their jawless, sucker-like mouths.
They were labeled as “nature’s undertakers” that attach themselves to dead fish, using their suction cups to extract blood and nutrients in their most primitive form.
“No, seriously, why do you keep something like this at home? And why swim in an aquarium? What purpose does raising those creatures serve?” All the curiosity about the tree issue that she wanted to question flew out of her mind as she got absorbed in the situation.
“As if I haven’t starved for days. And now if Lee-yeon comes out from there—”
After dealing with the last one, he wiped his wet hair back. Kwon Chae-woo, too, seemed quite surprised, sitting on the floor and resting his forehead against his half-raised knees. His eyelids were twitching intermittently.
“See? I was right. Whenever it’s related to Lee-yeon, I just want to kill them all.”
Lee-yeon pressed her lips tightly with a pale face. She hadn’t come here to be overwhelmed like this; she wanted to somehow convince him to change his mind. But now, her mind felt completely blank.
The dozens of mouth holes, like cross-sections of pomegranates, kept haunting her like scars. The moment she could barely endure her trembling body, Kwon Chae-woo spoke again.
“Since they’re used to feeding on dead flesh, they react to blood. There must have been some wound on your foot, Lee-yeon.”
Kwon Chae-woo slid his arm between her knee and armpit, swiftly lifting it up.
“Sorry for startling you.”
“…Then cancel it. Cancel the order to cut down all the trees in the garden.”
Lee-yeon, pushed beyond her limits, grabbed the man’s jaw as if she was about to burst into tears.
“Exactly, it wasn’t supposed to be like that from the start—”
Their gazes met at a similar eye level. Kwon Chae-woo placed Lee-yeon down on a sunbed and gently inspected her feet and calves.
“Damn, another one left scratch marks. It’s irritating. I should have bitten it instead.”
He massaged his jaw where there were bite marks while opening his eyes.
“I should have bitten that damn thing.”