Hyerin was dreaming again. She sighed, looking around the crowded Seoul street she stood in.
Ever since she was a kid, Hyerin had always had extremely vivid lucid dreams. She remembered these dreams in detail and was fully aware of everything that she did when dreaming. They were the only sort of dreams that she had ever had, but she knew from talking to others that they weren't exactly normal.
When she had told her mother about her dreams, she said that they were something that happened in their family. She told Hyerin not to worry about them.
But she left her with one simple instruction. "Hyerin, when you're in the dreams… try not to touch anything, ok? Or talk to anyone." She'd smiled, a somewhat worried look in her eyes. "It'll help you wake up faster." Something about her looked really serious, so Hyerin knew she meant what she was saying.
Since then Hyerin had obeyed her mother. She sometimes talked to people, but tried not to. Over time as she got older the dreams had become less and less frequent. They were replaced with simple sleepless nights.
But here she was again. She glanced at a newspaper as she passed by. It was 1994. Not unusual, as Hyerin's dream were almost exclusively set in the past.
Humming a tune to herself, she wandered down the street, keeping her head down. She had a theory that if she got more relaxed in the dream she would be more likely to wake up fast. But before she got relaxed enough to have any effect she heard someone screaming.
Hyerin was nearing where Seoul Palace had been. She often got to see the impressive structure in her dreams, so it was a common destination when she was in Seoul. To her shock she saw that it was surrounded with people, most screaming or crying. Hyerin shoved her way through the crowd. Seoul Palace had fire licking over its walls. It was primarily made of wood, and right now it was burning like a matchstick.
The Seoul Palace fire was a historical event that Hyerin realised only now had actually occurred in 1994. She remembered learning about it in school. It had killed the entire royal family, along with dozens of others, and ended monarchy in Korea. And now she was seeing it in a dream.
Since it was only a dream, Hyerin had no qualms about pushing closer. A sudden explosion rocked the palace, sending Hyerin stumbling into the person next to her. With her new view, Hyerin suddenly saw a small figure just inside the palace walls. The girl was no bigger then a toddler. Rather then running she had pressed herself into the wall and was crying with her hands over her eyes. Hyerin realised with horror that other people could see her, but they were all too scared to help.
Hyerin's mother's warning rang in her ears, but she didn't care anymore. She knew it was a dream, but she'd have to be some kind of monster to let a child die.
Nobody tried to stop her from running straight at the flames and entering the palace. She felt the searing heat burn her face and the smoke filled her lungs, making her cough, but she pushed forwards until she was standing over the child.
The little girl looking up, eyes screwed up with tears. Hyerin recognised her. This was the Princess Elly, the king's daughter who had been just three when she and her entire family died. She may be long dead in real life but Hyerin was determined to help her now.
She scooped Elly up in her arms and turned to leave. However, a wall of fire had risen up behind her, blocked her way out of the palace. Hyerin clutched Elly tightly to her.
"Keep your head down, ok?" she said to her.
Elly pressed her head under Hyerin's chin. Hyerin took a deep breath, probably not a good idea as it led to a lot of coughing, and jumped through the flames.
The pain was almost unbearable. She had planned to stop, drop and roll as soon as she reached the other side, but she was pretty much incapable of doing anything other then falling to the ground and writhing in agony. She heard Elly scream along with her and hoped the child hadn’t been burned too badly. She felt hands on her, heard people around her, and thought she was out of the palace. Before she could register anything else, though, she slipped into unconsciousness.
When she woke up she rolled over, happy to feel a mattress under her again. Without opening her eyes, she stretched her fingers open. She didn't feel any pain. Just a dream, of course. A weird, scary dream. Still without opening her eyes, she sat up, stretching.
Right next to her, someone screamed.
"Arrghh!" Hyerin screamed back, eyes flying open.
She was not, in fact, in her own comfortable bed in her room. She was on a bed in some kind of cave surrounded by candles, with a girl in a red robe right next to her.
"What the fuck?" she exclaimed.
The girl had jumped to her feet and was staring right back at her with equal astonishment. "I could ask you the same question!"
"What? Am I still dreaming? Where am I!? Who are you!?"
"Did you dream?" The girl asked eagerly. "It's something I've always wondered. What's the last thing you remember?"
"Me? I going to sleep- in my own bed, thank you very much- and then I had a stupid dream about the Seoul Palace fire and then I woke up here! Did you kidnap me?"
"No." The girl said blankly. "You've been in this cave for the last 24 years. Ever since the fire."
"I've been what? Since I was one?"
"No," the girl said again. "You don’t age. Weird, right? Are you really 25? What’s your name? Oh, wait! Sorry, I have to get the others. They're going to freak out that you’re awake!"
With that, she ran out of the room, shouting for someone. Hyerin was flabbergasted. What in the world was happening here?
The girl came back into the room followed by another girl. "Junghwa, stop it. There's no way that can just… happen like that."
"No, it's true!" the original girl, Junghwa, insisted.
When the new girl saw Hyerin sitting up she fell to her knees. "Oh my god," she whispered. "Bless you, chosen one! I'm Jihyo. What’s your name?"
"Hyerin," Hyerin said. Chosen one? It was weird, but honestly she could get used to being fawned over by pretty girls.
More people came in, all girls wearing the same clothes as Junghwa and Jihyo. One by one, they collapsed in astonishment upon seeing Hyerin, then stood up and gathered around her, looking at each other as if she wasn't there. It was all very cult-like.
"I'm so confused," Hyerin said.
"Well, what do you need to know?" Junghwa asked reverently.
"Everything! Can you tell me, from your perspective, what happened after the Seoul Palace fire?"
"Well, we were all born after the fire, so I don't really remember it. All we know is that we grew up under the brutal, totalitarian regime of Queen Hyojin. She's a monster who nobody can stop! Or so we thought.
"As we grew up we became friends and heard an old story. The story went that there was a girl, the chosen one, who shared a special connection with Queen Hyojin. She is the only one who Queen Hyojin will listen to, other then her evil consort, and the only person in the land capable of stopping her. If the girl and Queen Hyojin were to fight, Queen Hyojin would be defeated forever and the era of monarchy in Korea would be over.
"However, Queen Hyojin was frightened of the girl's power, so she cursed the girl to fall into an enchanted sleep, in which state she did not age nor need to eat, and imprisoned her in a cave. When we heard the story we decided to leave our village and look for the girl. It took a long time, but eventually we found you and I became your high priestess. We've been guarding you for years, but we could never get you to wake up until now.
"Hyerin, you are the chosen one. You must fulfil your destiny and defeat Queen Hyojin, freeing the realm from her evil!"
Hyerin nearly laughed at Junghwa's dramatic declaration. "Are you serious? I have no idea who any of you are or where I am. I certainly don't have a special connection with Queen Hyojin- I don't even know who she is. Fuck, I've never even been to Seoul, except in my weird dreams!"
And then suddenly it all made sense to Hyerin. It was almost too ridiculous to be true- but it was the only way that any of this was possible. Her weirdly vivid past-set dreams, her mother's warning, and Hyojin… what had Elly's real name been again?
"Was Hyojin ever called Elly?" she asked Junghwa.
Junghwa and Jihyo glanced at each other. "Uh, I think that's what her family used to call her. But she wouldn't let anyone call her that now. She'd probably kill you for trying."
"Oh my god," Hyerin whispered.
Holy shit. She had actually been time travelling for real. She'd saved Princess Elly for real during that fire, so of course she'd became the next queen and had grown up to be Queen Hyojin. If it had all been real, then she'd really changed the past and now the future was different.
"I need to go find my mother," she said.
"What? No way!" Jihyo protested. "You have more important things to do!"
"Anyway, would she still be alive?" Junghwa asked gently. "I mean, it's been 24 years."
"No, you don’t understand," Hyerin insisted. "I was born in 1993. I time travelled back to be at the Seoul Palace fire. This is the time I should be in- but it's all different now. I don’t understand why I stayed here asleep though, normally I would wake up in my own time."
"You did wake up in your own time, though," one of the other girls pointed out. "It's just that your body stayed here."
Hyerin put her head in her hands. "Is she really a monster?" She was thinking of the scared kid she had seen, from her perspective, hours earlier.
"Yeah," Junghwa said. "I'm sorry."
"Ok." Hyerin had absolutely no idea what to do about this, so she may as well do what they wanted. "Let's go and kill her again, then."
"Again?" Junghwa asked nervously.
"She's dead in my timeline. If she's really as awful as you guys think, let's kill her again. Come on."
She stood up, ignoring her muscles which screamed from disuse, and went to walk away, but nobody followed her. She looked back at the group.
"Well? Are any of you going to come with me? I'll need someone to show me the way to the palace."
"You're the high priestess," Jihyo whispered to Junghwa.
"Right! I'll come."
Hyerin walked quickly down the corridor, not seeing anything. She put one hand to her eyes, trying to ignore the lump rising in her throat. Junghwa hurried after her.
"Chosen one! I mean, Hyerin! Do you want to go to the bathroom or something before we leave?"
"Sure," Hyerin replied, keeping her head down to stop Junghwa from seeing her expression.
Junghwa showed her to a small bathroom. The mirror was cracked and just propped up against the wall. Hyerin looked into it.
She looked different. She was skinnier, and her skin was sallow. Her hair now came down nearly to her waist. Hyerin grabbed a piece of it and pulled, filled with sudden anger at herself for fucking up so badly. When it wouldn't come off she worked her fingers into the crack in the mirror and pulled free a sharp shard of glass. She used it to hack away at her hair, trying to get rid of the length, return it to normal.
But her hair wouldn't go back to the way it had been before and neither would anything else. Hyerin didn't understand what was happening fully, but knew that she had fucked up and that there was no going back from this. She might never see her mum again. She might never see her world again.
Junghwa found her in tears, crumpled on the floor surrounded by sawn-off hair with a bleeding hand. She hugged her for a long time, in silence. When Hyerin stopped crying, embarrassed, she helped her up and they walked off with Jeonghwa's arm around her.
Junghwa sat her on a bench outside the cave. It felt ridiculously good to feel fresh air on her face and Hyerin realised she hadn't actually been outside for 24 years, even if it felt shorter to her. There was a small house outside the cave where Junghwa and the others lived and a garden where they made food, but other then that the cave was surrounded by nothing but forest.
"What do you want to do, chosen one?" Junghwa asked slowly.
"Don't call me that," Hyerin spat back. "I can't save you. I caused this mess, get it? Elly was supposed to die but I saved her! If this world is fucked up it's all my fault."
Junghwa stared at her hands. Hyerin knew she must be feeling similar things to Hyerin. After all, she had spent years looking after Hyerin, only to be told that she couldn't help her. But Hyerin was feeling too shitty to really care.
"It's at least worth trying," Junghwa said eventually.
"What do you mean?"
"You're awake now! I don't have a purpose anymore and I'm guessing you don't either. Let's go to Seoul anyway. We may as well try to stop her."
Hyerin supposed it would take her mind off of her problems. "Sure, why not. Why exactly do you hate Elly so much, anyway?"
"I'll fill you in on Queen Hyojin on the way. It'll give us something to talk about, I guess."
They got changed at Junghwa's house, Hyerin wearing clothes from someone called Sana that didn't really fit her. The girls had three cars parked next to their house. Junghwa drove the least battered one.
"We usually use these to pick up supplies from nearby towns. We trade the food we grow for different types of food. It's not much, but we survive."
Hyerin watched the cave and house disappearing into the distance. "What are the others going to do now?"
Junghwa shrugged. "I didn't even say goodbye to them… I should have. I really don't know. I think some will leave and go to the towns, but others will stay. It was nice living outside of the influence of Queen Hyojin. Lots of people have been going off the grid because of her."
"What exactly does she do?" Hyerin asked.
Junghwa didn't look at her when she answered. "Queen Hyojin is directly responsible for the death of my parents and nearly killed me."
"Are you serious? Why?"
"I didn't even tell the others this." Junghwa laughed, but it was a short, bitter sound. "I can't believe I'm telling you. But you have to know.
"I grew up in a small village with my parents and older sister, Solji. She was- is- six years older then me. When I was thirteen and she was nineteen the royal parade came through my village. Back then Hyojin wasn't as scary or controlling, and my parents wanted my sister to get married to one of her officials so she could live in the palace and send us money.
"They set up an arranged marriage with one of Hyojin's lower-ranking officials. He said Solji was pretty and agreed. Before the marriage, we thought she was enamoured with him. She would constantly hang around the royal parade and even went there at night. A lot.
"We thought everything was going fine, but a few nights before the wedding Solji left the house at night again. The thing is, the official she was going to marry was at dinner at a friend's house, so he wasn't with the rest of the parade. My father grew suspicious and decided to follow her."
Junghwa had to stop there, taking several deep breaths. Hyerin was hanging onto her every word. "What happened?" she breathed.
"Solji wasn't with the official. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I assume my father walked in on her with Hyojin."
Hyerin put her hands to her mouth. "She was sleeping with Hyojin?!"
"Yes. My father freaked out, of course, and dragged Solji out of the tent and back to the house. When he got home she was screaming and crying and he ordered me to get out of the room. I've never seen him so angry.
"It didn't take long for Hyojin and her guards to show up. She had her guards storm through the house and some of them dragged me and my parents in front of Hyojin. She had them kill both my parents, but said she would spare my life because Solji asked her to. When they were dead the guards carried me outside and she burnt down my home.
"Solji did live in the palace, just like my parents wanted her to. They call her the Queen's consort these days and people who have met her say they're just as evil as each other."
Junghwa's hands were white-knuckled around the steering wheel after she'd finished.
"I'm really sorry, Junghwa. That's horrible." It was all Hyerin could think to say.
They drove in silence for a bit, before Hyerin needed to say something to get her mind off of things.
"What do you want out of this trip?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, obviously your vendetta against Hyojin is more then just political. I'm going to go there and kill her, because that's the only way I can think of to return this world to normal. But is that what you want? And what do you want to happen to Solji?"
Junghwa's voice was emotionless. "I don't care what you do. I just want both of them to be gone. You should kill Solji too, makes sense if they're just alike."
They didn't talk much for the rest of the car trip, but somewhere along the road Junghwa and Hyerin became allies, borderline friends. Junghwa had seen Hyerin at her most traumatised and had opened up with her own trauma in return. Now, the two mentally unstable women were on their way to kill the queen of Korea for the very simple reason that they had nothing better to do. It wouldn't really cure either of their issues, and Hyerin thought they both knew it. She almost wanted to laugh.
She was nearly asleep when Junghwa stopped the car. When she looked over and saw Hyerin slumped in her seat, she immediately shoved her, hard.
Hyerin startled awake. "What was that for?" she growled.
"You're seriously going back to sleep after doing nothing else for 24 years? Don't scare me like that. I thought you wouldn't wake up again."
Annoyed, Hyerin followed Junghwa out into the frosty air. They were parked in the bushes on the edge of a small town. The buildings were colourful but the streets were almost deserted. Hyerin looked up and saw that the sun was almost set.
Junghwa grabbed her hand and started dragging her through the streets. "C'mon. We have to be inside before the sun sets and curfew kicks in."
"There's a curfew?"
Junghwa rolled her eyes. "Just one of the many ways she gains control over every aspect of our lives."
Hyerin ignored Junghwa's political ramblings. There were posters plastered on the walls and she was focused on reading them.
A lot were advertisements for jobs, from becoming a 'queen's man' to working in a bakery. Others were political propaganda, mostly spouting off about how great Queen Hyojin was or making vague, ominous proclamations that they were all being watched. Hyerin saw a few wanted posters scattered throughout, too.
One of these wanted posters in particular caught her eye. The picture was of a girl with long brown hair framing a thin face. She wasn't smiling. The writing around her said she was wanted for escaping the capital and committing "grievous offences" against the queen. If caught, she would be sentenced to death. She looked really familiar to Hyerin, but she couldn't place where exactly she'd seen her before.
She couldn't puzzle over it for long before Junghwa pulled open the door to a nearby building and both of them were hit with a wave of warm air and music. Hyerin surveyed the small, crowded bar.
"What are we doing here?" she asked Junghwa.
"There are rooms above the bar," Junghwa explained.
Hyerin scanned the bar when she saw a very interesting sight in the form of a lone figure huddled miserably over an open bottle. While Junghwa was talking to the barkeep, Hyerin went over to her.
"Do you know there's a watched poster for you outside?" she asked.
The girl looked at her drunkenly. "Is there really? Is it too late to take it down now? I thought I got them all."
"Not quite." Hyerin took a seat on the stool next to her. "It's alright, I won't tell anyone."
"Thanks, I guess." The girl didn't really seem like she cared, so Hyerin decided not to care either.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"I'm Hani. You?"
"Hyerin. Where are you from?"
Hani frowned at her. "Hyerin, are you hitting on me? Because you're just my type."
Hyerin jumped up. "No way! Sorry."
"I'm just messing with you," Hani laughed. "I'm from Seoul, obviously. Did you read my wanted poster?"
"I didn't get time to do more then scan it." Even the way Hani laughed was familiar. Hyerin was now certain she'd met her before.
"Hyerin! What are you doing?" Junghwa shouted at her.
Hyerin rolled her eyes. "And that's why I didn’t read it." She shouted back at Junghwa. "Be less demanding! Aren't I your unnie?"
Hani laughed again. "Well, have a souvenir then." she reached into a bag at her feet and handed Hyerin a wrapped up wanted poster. "I took these down when I got here."
Junghwa walked up to the two girls. "Hyerin, are you going to come up?"
"Don't be so rude," Hyerin said, more to rile Junghwa up then to correct her behaviour. "This is Hani. Hani, this is Junghwa. We're talking."
"Hi Hani," Junghwa drawled, like a kid given instructions.
"Good to meet you," Hani responded.
"I'm just going to spend a bit more time here," Hyerin told Junghwa. "I'll come up in a bit, promise."
Junghwa shrugged. "Ok. See you soon."
Although Hyerin had nearly fallen asleep earlier, she wasn't tired anymore. Anyway, the mystery of Hani was too interesting not to try and solve.
She turned to the bar and raised her hand to attract attention.
"Are you just planning to drink without your friend?" Hani asked.
"Oh, Junghwa's just a kid," Hyerin said with dismissive confidence she didn't really feel. "She doesn't understand about getting drunk."
Hani laughed again. "Sure! Let's get drunk then."
Hyerin stared at her drink, trying really hard to remember that laugh. It hadn't been in real life, she worked out, but in one of her dreams. The dreams that she now figured must be time travel.
She had a flash of Hani but younger, a teenaged version of Hani, and just like that it came to her.
It was 2007 in the dream, and 2011 in real life. Hyerin was eighteen. She had decided to sit out her dream in a ramen shop. Even in dreams, Hyerin hated to miss a chance to eat. She'd ordered already and was idling staring into the street when she saw her.
That Hani was skinny then the older version. Her limbs were shaky and her hair was thin and patchy, dyed a sickly shade of green. Hyerin chalked her up as a junkie.
She was waiting in the alley beside the ramen shop, hands nervously pressed against her stomach. As Hyerin watched, a man came up to her.
"Heeyeon," he said, loud enough for Hyerin hear, "do you have the money?"
"I'm sorry, I don't," she said. "I'll get it soon, I promise!"
He shook his head slowly. "That's what you said last time."
She looked desperate. "Look, just give me the stuff, ok? I need it! I'll sleep with you again, or do anything else you want, I swear."
"Not good enough. Hey, that watch you're wearing might be worth something."
She moved her wrist away from him. "Not that. It's the last thing I have from my father. Anything else, though!"
He leaned in close, said something Hyerin couldn't decipher. Hani laughed, a loud, relieved sound. She started to move, but before she could do anything he pulled out a gun and shot her in the stomach. As she collapsed, he took off her watch.
As she saw the life leaving Hani's eyes, Hyerin woke up. It had contributed to her brief theory that seeing something shocking helped her wake up faster. Other then that, though, she had never thought about Hani much. After all, she was just a girl Hyerin had dreamt.
It was only now that she realised the implications. In her universe, Hani was dead.
"Are you alright?" Hani asked, her face the picture of concerned.
Hyerin plastered an enormous fake grin on her face and took a gulp of her drink. "I'm fine. Let's get drunk."
And so she got drunk with a dead girl. Hani was funny and easy to talk to, and they ended up on the dance floor, falling over and stumbling into each other. It had been ages since Hyerin had had a really good girl's night.
"We need to sit down," Hani giggled.
Hyerin stumbled with Hani into a plush love seat in the corner of the bar. The bartender was looking at them like he was going to cut them off, so Hyerin rushed to get them new drinks before he could make up his mind.
"What do you do with your life, anyway?" Hani asked her.
"I'm going to Seoul," Hyerin confessed easily, alcohol making her stupid. "We’re going to kill Queen Hyojin!"
Hani nodded sagely. "Good idea. I should do that too. Fucking bitch," she emphasised her point with a drink.
"Hey, you're a wanted person!" Hyerin remembered. "Is that 'cause of her?"
Hani tried to nod, but her head fell forwards and hit her knees. Hyerin helped her back up. "It sure is. I used to work for that cunt. I thought she was the best thing ever when she employed me- fuck, I was living on the streets before I met her. But god forbid I dare to look at her consort the wrong way and suddenly she wants my head on a platter."
Hyerin cackled. "You got with her fucking consort?"
"Of course not! Nobody gets with that bitch. Ok, so I did some flirting. Who gives a shit? I flirt with everyone. Actually, the people I'm more interested in are the ones I'm too shy to flirt with. But Hyojin is just too oversensitive! Like, imagine trying to kill someone because they looked at your girl wrong. The levels of entitlement!"
Hyerin leaned into her, now beyond buzzed. "Would you kill her?"
"Who, Hyojin? Of course I would! I'd do it right now."
"Come with us and kill her then. It's not like you've got other things to do with your life," Hyerin suggested.
Hyerin jumped up. "Yay! Let's get another round to celebrate."
She didn't really remember anything else about that night.
The next thing she knew she had a tremendous hangover and was standing on the footpath of Seoul. She rubbed her eyes, trying to process what was happening to her. She must have time travelled again in her sleep.
In was then that the answer to all her problems hit her like a freight train. Of course! She had caused this whole mess by time travelling, so she could easily solve it by time travelling. All she had to do was kill Hyojin as close to when she had originally saved her as possible and everything would be fine.
This time looked a lot more like Hyerin's timeline then the other one had. She checked a newspaper. It was 1997, meaning that Hyojin would be six years old. Easily old enough for Hyerin to find and murder her.
If she killed Hyojin now, would she wake up back in her own timeline, or one that was only slightly altered? If Hyojin died now, Junghwa's parents would have survived. Hyerin would know where her parents were. Hani would have died as a teenager.
She suddenly thought of Hani. She had only known her for a night, but she couldn't bare to kill her. The mathematics ran through her brain. Was Hyojin's and Hani's lives worth the lives of Junghwa's parents? Were they worth the trade for all the people Hyojin had probably killed? The obvious answer was of course. But Hyerin couldn't seem to get Hani out of her head. Couldn't bear to kill her.
Anyway, it's not like she had any proof that further altering the timeline would cause things to go back to normal. Maybe she would just fuck everything up even more. And if she got herself killed now trying to kill Hyojin she wouldn't be any help at all to Hani and Junghwa. She didn't even know what would happen. Probably some more weird shit.
She dithered on the 1997 street until she woke up, unable to make a decision.
When she awoke the first thing she noticed was a nearly naked Hani wrapped around her like a koala. Hyerin jumped about a foot, pushing the other girl away from her. Her head was absolutely pounding, though, and the movement caused pain to stab through it.
"Ugh," Hani groaned. "I hate my life."
Then she realised the position both of them were in and a slow smile spread across her face. "Hey, you look… did we… you know?"
"Jesus, did we? I can't remember. Junghwa?"
The younger girl was already up and dressed. At Hyerin's words she angrily slammed takeout on the table at the foot of the bed.
"Did you sleep together? No. The two of you barged in here at 4am, completely off your faces. Hani started stripping for no reason and then you collapsed in Hyerin's bed. Hani kept saying how sexy you were, but she didn't actually do anything."
Hyerin glanced at Hani, who shrugged. "Hi, Junghwa. My head hurts incredibly, but may I just say you are gorgeous. You have a really hot body."
Junghwa rolled her eyes. "Don't even try it. Hyerin, I look after you for years and this is thanks I get? And Hani, aren’t you older then us both? You should know better. Now shut up, eat your food and then Hyerin and I are leaving!"
With that she stormed out, leaving the older two embarrassed and hungover.
Hyerin and Hani ate burgers without talking.
"I'm going to kill myself," Hyerin groaned when they were done. "This headache is the worst thing I have ever experienced. I'll kill you too, if you want."
Hani was slumped over the sheets on Junghwa's bed. "Please. But we have to get Hyojin first."
"You remember that?"
"Of course. I meant what I said you know. I really am coming with you."
Hyerin looked at her. "Seriously?"
"Yeah. Like you said, it's not like I've got anything else to do with my life. I may as well be killed for something actually cool."
Junghwa was not happy at first about Hani coming along, but after hearing that she knew Queen Hyojin and could find her way around the rebuilt Seoul Palace she agreed to let her come. Hani sat in the back and danced weirdly to her own singing. She really was a strange person, but Hyerin was left somewhat entertained by her.
Junghwa and Hyerin explained the whole situation to Hani, but Hyerin didn't really think she believed them. She was just content to go along with whatever they wanted to do. Hyerin got the feeling that Hani was someone who had lost everything. She had nothing to live for anymore and she acted like it.
"We should come up with a team name," Hani said somewhere along the road.
"No." Junghwa responded flatly.
"Aw, you'd never guess you're the maknae of the group, Junghwa," Hyerin teased. "It would be cute! We should get t-shirts."
"Great. Let's call ourselves the queen murderers and rock up at the palace with that on our shirts," Junghwa suggested sarcastically.
"God, who hurt you," Hani asked.
Junghwa looked at her in the rear vision mirror. "Queen Hyojin."
"Figures." Hani muttered.
Even though it had quickly become an argument, the name queen murderers stuck oddly. It took them several days to get to Seoul, so they all became very used to each other's company. Junghwa and Hani slowly started to like each other a little bit more. Hyerin really did start calling them the queen murderers and they bonded over their mutual hatred of her doing that.
Actually, they developed a weird relationship. All of them got on best when they were ragging on one of the other members, usually Junghwa and Hyerin against Hani. Hani couldn't see a pretty girl and not hit on her, which was distracting and infuriating, especially to Hyerin for some reason. She bothered Junghwa a bit but never hit on Hyerin at all. Still, Hyerin couldn't possibly be jealous, because that didn't make any sense.
Junghwa was a really picky eater and a really bad driver, so she was also the victim of ridicule from the others. She drove anyway because it was her car and she didn’t like listening to criticism.
You would think that this type of rapport would lead to them hating each other, but in fact Hyerin came to anticipate the teasing. She gave as good as she got, anyway. They ended up feeling close, kind of what Hyerin had always imagined having sisters would feel like. It was enough to get them to Seoul without killing each other at least.
"We're nearly there," Junghwa announced. "I never thought this day would actually come."
Hani stuck her head between the front seats. "Do we have an actual plan for what we're doing here or how we're going to get away?"
"Nope," Hyerin said. She was still somewhat relying on the dreams, even though she hadn't had one since the night she met Hani.
"We should make one! I don't really want to die," Hani confessed.
They mulled it over for a while before Hani spoke again. "I can probably get one of the guards I used to work with to let us in and out if we kill her quietly. Then we can live in the wild like Junghwa used to."
"Does that mean I have to live with the two of you for the rest of my life?" Junghwa complained.
"That's good!" Hani argued. "You can stare at my beautiful face for the rest of your life."
"It sounds like a plan to me," Hyerin said. "We can work out what to do with our lives when we're free and alive. Which is still unlikely."
"Queen Murderers, fighting!" Hyerin put her hand in the middle of the car. Junghwa and Hani both groaned, but reluctantly did fighting with her.
"Wow," Hyerin whispered as she saw Seoul rise up before her.
It was nothing like she remembered. There was still a city in there somewhere, presumably. But it was completely covered by a gigantic, steel grey wall.
Junghwa pulled up at an imposing gate with armed guards standing to one side. One of them approached the car.
"ID?" he said, bored.
Hani rummaged in her pockets, quickly kicking her bag filled with wanted posters under her seat, and handed over a small card. Junghwa passed over two, one for her and one for Hyerin.
He squinted at them. "You're a guard?"
"Yeah, I am," Hani said casually.
"A guard, travelling with… a florist and a state-approved journalist?"
"It's cheaper to carpool." Hani explained calmly.
"Yeah, save the planet!" Hyerin interjected.
The guard gave her a strange look. "What are you talking about?"
"Sorry, just ignore her. She's a bit of a doomsday person," Junghwa said.
The guard clearly didn't really care and waved them on without further questions.
"What the fuck was that?" Junghwa asked Hyerin.
"You guys don't know about climate change?"
"No? What on earth… I swear you're the worst chosen one ever. Half of the stuff you say is just total nonsense."
"Thanks Junghwa. You're the best high priestess too."
Hani stifled a laugh. Junghwa parked the car near the palace and climbed out. Inside the walls the city looked more normal. Other then the armed guards slipping between the civilians, the posters plastered at various points down the street and the cameras watching from above every storefront. When Hyerin ignored those elements she could almost feel like she was home.
Hyerin wasn't a touchy person, but she flung her arms around Hani and Junghwa as they walked down the street.
"So before we get horribly murdered, anyone want to confess they have a crush on me?" she joked.
Junghwa gave her a weird look. "Hani, obviously. Is this your confession that you like her back?"
Hyerin jumped away from them. "What? Are you serious?"
"She's been giving you heart eyes for days," Junghwa said.
"No I haven't!" Hani protested.
Junghwa rolled her eyes. "Sure. You two are so oblivious. I really can't stand either of you." But as she walked away, Hyerin saw a smile creeping across her face.
"I really don't like you," Hani said to Hyerin.
"Thanks. Means a lot."
Hani laughed, grabbing Hyerin's hand. "Let's go!"
Hyerin couldn't stop staring at Hani as they walked to Seoul Palace. It was stupid to think that Hani had a crush on her. Junghwa was talking out of her arse again, clearly. Though Hani was pretty cool, to be honest, and it's not like Hyerin would say no…
The reconstructed palace was pretty similar to the one Hyerin had saved Elly from, though just a little bit smaller. Instead of taking them to the main entrance, Hani led them to a smaller door set in one of the side walls. She peered through the crack in the door.
"Thank god," she said, and knocked.
A second later, the door was opened and a short girl with shoulder- length brown hair peered out. She started when she saw Hani.
"Hani? What are you doing here?"
"Moonbyul it's so good to see you!" Hani tried to hug the other girl, but she pushed her away.
"Are you foolish? Hyojin is actively trying to kill you! What were you thinking?"
Hani shrugged. "What? You're a functioning lesbian- tell me Solji isn't hot. You'd hit that, right?"
"You're a moron," Moonbyul said. "I wouldn't, both because I'm loyal to Solar and because I do not have a fucking death wish."
"Hey, can you let us into the palace?" Hani pleaded. "I really need to talk to Hyojin."
"Absolutely not. I like you, Hani, and I don't particularly want to be responsible for your horrible death."
"Aw, come on."
Moonbyul frowned. "What the heck do you need to talk to Hyojin about anyway?"
Hani pulled the other two forwards. "Actually, they need to talk to Hyojin."
Junghwa leaned in a bit. "Hi. I'm Solji's sister. I need to talk to my family."
Moonbyul gasped, her eyes growing huge. "For real? Can't you just ask her to let you in, then?"
"We're not exactly on speaking terms," Junghwa explained.
Moonbyul reluctantly stepped out of the way to let them in. Before they could leave the garden and go into the palace proper she grabbed Hani's arm.
"Promise me you won't actually see Hyojin? I really don't want you to die."
"I promise," Hani said.
Hyerin noticed that Hani acted tough, but she could be really sweet when she cared about someone. It was one of her most endearing qualities.
Hani led them through another side door into the palace and into a small, crowded waiting room.
"She must be hearing complaints." Hani muttered to herself.
Just after they entered the room, a man came in holding a piece of paper.
"Number 23!" He called.
A sickly looking man stood up and filed out of the room. Next to Hyerin, Hani took a sharp breath. The guy with the paper looked up and looked straight at them.
He broke into an enormous smile and so did Hani. "Heechul!" she called, running towards him. He quickly wrapped her up in a hug.
"Hani! What are you doing here?"
"I brought some friends with complaints," she said. "Can you speed us through?"
"Of course. But you're not actually planning to go yourself, are you? Hyojin will kill you."
"I know! Only one of us can go."
He smiled, ruffling her hair. "You got it! Better decide who that is."
Hani squeezed him and slipped free. Hyerin fought down the feeling of jealousy at the way she looked at him. When Hani got back to the other two, she was frowning, deep in thought.
"Only one person can go," she told them.
"Hyerin, then," Junghwa said confidently. "After all, you are the chosen one."
"You should go! You're her girlfriend's sister."
"Actually I agree with Junghwa," Hani said. "If you really saved her life when she was a kid, you'll have the best chance at getting close to her."
"Wait. How do I kill her?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't have a gun," Hyerin pointed out.
Junghwa stared at her in shock. "Oh my god. We really are the biggest idiots alive."
"Don't worry. Here," Hani slipped a knife into her hand. "Good luck."
Swallowing nervously, Hyerin slipped it into her jacket pocket.
Heechul came back in. "Hani's friend? You're up."
"What do I do?" Hyerin hissed.
Hani shrugged expansively. "I don’t know! Just stab as soon as you can. Then run really fast."
"Didn't you say you have a genius level IQ? This is the worst plan anyone has ever come up with, ever." Hyerin complained.
Junghwa had wandered off somewhere, so Hyerin was left with just Hani.
"Don't get hurt, alright?" Hani told her.
"When did you become such a caring unnie?" Hyerin joked.
"Since I started to like you." Hani leaned forwards, catching Hyerin's wrist in her hand and kissing her quickly on the mouth. "Good luck."
Shocked, Hyerin couldn't do anything except stare.
"Hey! Hurry up!" Heechul called.
Hyerin staggered out after him. The room he lead her to was obviously a throne room. This was made clear by the presence of an enormous throne with a seriously scary woman sitting on it.
Hyerin kept her gaze on the floor, trying to focus on anything other then Hani's kiss. Her stomach was filled with butterflies.
"What’s your name?" Heechul asked.
"Seo Hyerin." It occurred to her after she'd said it that it might have been better to use a fake name.
"Introducing Seo Hyerin!" he announced to the room at large. He then left.
The woman on the throne rested her head on her hand, looking relaxed to the point of boredom. A red-headed woman was slumped at her feet, resting against the throne. She looked equally bored, playing casually with the hem of her sleeve. The three of them were the only people in the room.
The woman, Queen Hyojin, beckoned her forwards. "What do you want?"
"I…. I… you're Elly, right?" Hyerin looked directly at her for the first time.
To her surprise, Hyojin sat upwards as soon as she laid eyes on Hyerin. "It's you!" she exclaimed. "I thought you were dead!"
Hyerin was taken aback completely when Hyojin jumped off the throne and hugged her.
"What are you doing?" the girl next to throne said with faint amusement.
"This is the woman who saved me when I was a kid! I always told you I'd find her again."
"Looks like she found you," the girl noted, standing up and walking over to Hyerin. "Hi, I'm Solji. Good to meet you."
"Hi!" Hyerin squeaked. Solji laughed. She had a strange look on her face, something wary in her eyes.
Hyojin turned to her expectantly. "Where were you? I've been looking for you for years. There were rumours that you were with a cult in a cave or something, but we weren't able to find it."
"You weren't able to find it? I thought you put me there!"
"No! I was a kid! That was my advisors. They practically controlled the kingdom back in those days."
With her so close it would be the perfect time to stab her, but she was already walking away. Hyerin could feel her opportunity slipping between her fingers. She put one hand in her coat, fingers clutching the knife handle. It was now or never. This was to save Hani's life, she reminded herself, and lunged forwards.
Time seemed to slow down. Hyerin had just pushed herself towards Hyojin without the thought of walking and she could already feel herself falling but being propelled towards Hyojin. The queen had turned around, her mouth half-open in shock. The knife was just about to find a home in Hyojin's chest…
… when Hyerin was knocked sideways and slammed into the floor. She felt the knife leave her hands and heard it clatter on the floor. Before she knew what was happening her hands were pinned to the floor and Solji's knee was pressed into her neck.
"What's going on?" Hyojin asked. She sounded really upset and borderline scared. Hyerin almost felt sorry for her, but she felt far sorrier for herself. Solji was choking her.
"You're not usually this oblivious, babe," Solji responded calmly. "This a murder plot."
Hyojin picked up the knife, turning it over in her hands. "Who are you working with? Who told you to do this?"
Hyerin wheezed out a breath, not able to actually speak. Solji eased up the pressure on her throat.
"Nobody," Hyerin choked.
Solji immediately slammed her knee back harder then before, cutting off Hyerin's air flow.
"Fucking liar," Hyojin declared. "This is the knife of a queen's guard. Heechul!"
The boy came rushing back into the ground, stiffening when he saw Hyerin on the floor. Hyojin walked over to talk to him. Hyerin tried to listen, but she still couldn't breath and was feeling light-headed. Right before she passed out completely Solji got off her. Hyerin gasped, sucking in air. She didn't realise why she was free until she felt strong hands lift her off the ground. She was too weak to resist as she was dragged out of the room.
After being searched and stripped of her jacket and shoes, she was thrown into a cell somewhere in the lower parts of the palace. The room, if you could call it that, had one wall made of concrete and other three made floor to ceiling of iron bars. There was an uncomfortable bed and a toilet per cell, but because of the bars you could easily see everything happening in the other cells. There were eight of them, four per side plus a strip in the middle of the room, but they were all empty.
Hyerin collapsed on the bed, trying to breath properly and gently massaging her aching throat. Shortly after she was left alone the guards returned with Junghwa and Hani. Hani was being carried between two men, fighting them viciously. They flung her into the cage, causing her to hit the ground hard.
She stayed there for a while, then groaned and rolled over to face Hyerin. "So I take you failed?"
Hyerin didn't open her eyes. "Yeah. Junghwa, your sister fucked me up." It even hurt to talk.
"She took karate," Junghwa said gloomily.
"Well you could have filled me in on that, don’t you think? I got really close to getting Hyojin, too."
Hani sat up gingerly. "You failed and now we're all going to die."
"Don't say things like that to me." Hyerin said. "I don't like thinking about my own morality. This would never have happened if I was more of an arsehole and never saved her in the first place. Fuck my life."
"Yeah, Hyojin's about to," Hani responded.
Junghwa was sitting on her bed. "Are you guys a couple or something now? I saw that kiss."
"That is your priority? Seriously?" Hani asked, slowly moving herself to her bed with her arms wrapped around her ribs.
"Yeah, it is. You may as well go out for the next day before we all die. I know I'd hate to die single."
Hani looked at her strangely. "Aren't you single?"
"I am," Junghwa said.
"I'll go out with you, Junghwa!" Hani cried, laughing. "I don't want you to hate your death!"
Hyerin kicked the bed childishly. "No! I want to date Junghwa!"
Hani rounded on her. "Hey, shut up! We kissed early, you know! Please try and be a more considerate girlfriend."
"Guys, stop fighting over me!" Junghwa said, giggling. "We can all go out with each other. But I'm breaking up with you both the day after tomorrow."
Hani shrugged. "Fine with me. I doubt I'll care then."
Junghwa, who was in the middle cell, stood up and stretched her arms out to either side. By reaching through the bars, Hyerin and Hani were able to hold her hand. Hyerin found the pressure of Junghwa's hand on hers to be an enormous comfort. She was trying to avoid her feelings, but even doing something as simple as holding Junghwa's hand made her realise how scared she was. She wanted to live, wanted to see Junghwa and Hani again and really really wanted to kiss Hani properly. But she never would.
Hani was the first to pull away. "This is nice, but I'm pretty sure I have a broken rib and it's really hurting."
She turned her face away when she sat down, but Hyerin saw how it contorted as tears rose in her throat. She pulled away too.
She wasn't sure how much time passed before the door opened again. She was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking fixedly about a tv show she'd watched last week. She wanted to know what happened next episode, but that show probably didn't even exist in this timeline. She was making up possible endings when the door creaked open.
Solji slipped through. She was now wearing a simple blue dress that complimented her hair. She didn't spare Hyerin or Hani a glance as she grabbed a plastic chair from next to the door and dragged it in front of Junghwa's cell.
This should be more distracting then Hyerin's own thoughts, so she kept her eyes on what was happening.
"Hello, Junghwa." Solji said quietly.
Junghwa swung her legs off the bed and got up, leaning against the bars so she was towering over Solji. "You look nice. Are you late for a date night with the Queen of Death? You'd better hurry up, she might be angry if she's left without her chief whore for too long."
Solji made eye contact with her briefly, then looked away. "It's not like that. You don't know her at all."
"I don't need to have actually spoken to her to know her. She ruined my life. She killed your own parents!"
"Look, Junghwa, I was hoping we could make up before tomorrow. We're sisters, after all. It's been ten years."
"No fucking way. You can't be serious. You stood there and watched while our parents burned and I cried and you just left me! And now you want me to give you a clear conscious before you kill me too!" Junghwa was nearly screaming now.
"I tried to find you," Solji protested. "I sent men to our village to see if you wanted to come and live with me, but everyone said you were happy with Grandma."
"And why the fuck would I go with men that I'd never met in my life? Why didn't you come yourself?"
Solji looked away. "I didn’t think of that. I didn't go myself because I just couldn't bear to see that village again. I have too many bad memories associated with it. Anyway, Hyojin needs me here."
"You have too many bed memories associated with it, really? Like betraying us all so you can whore yourself out to that dictator?"
"You really don't understand anything, do you? Were you so blind back then that you couldn't see what was happening? Our parents were not good people! They were only nice to you because you were the youngest. They made me work to earn money and beat me when I didn't have enough for them. They sold me to that guy for profit! Hyojin was the first person I ever met who treated me like a human being and not a tool."
She stood up, knocking over the chair with a sweep of her hand. "You know, Junghwa, I resented you for a long time. You were old enough to know what was going on, but you couldn't be fucked to stand for me because you were getting what you wanted. Are you purposefully stupid? I was happy when my parents died because they were arseholes who deserved what they got and I'll celebrate your death for the same reason."
Just before she left she turned around again. "By the way, same goes for you, Hani."
When she was gone Junghwa collapsed on her bed. Hyerin rolled over to face her.
"Uh, do you want to talk about it?"
"No." Junghwa's voice was muffled. "How's your rib, Hani?"
"It'll be better tomorrow," Hani said. "I think I'll feel better just in time to feel nothing at all."
Hyerin returned to staring at the ceiling. After a while, she heard Junghwa start crying quietly. She didn’t acknowledge her.
Hyerin was nearly asleep when the door opened again. A man came in and unlocked her cell. He grabbed her wrist and dragged her out of the cell.
"Hey! Let her go!" Hani shouted, but the man didn't even look at her.
Hyerin tripped down the corridor after him. "Let go! You're hurting me!"
He didn't loosen his grip until they reached a door at the end of a corridor, which he opened and roughly shoved her inside.
Hyerin looked around, panicked. She was in some kind of plush living room. There was a shag carpet under her bare feet, soft after the gritty concrete of the cell. Hyojin lounged on a couch, one of a few tastefully scattered about the room. Hyerin nearly fell over, but managed to stay upright.
"Hi. Welcome," Hyojin said. "Take a seat."
Hyerin nervously perched on the edge of one of chairs.
Hyojin leaned forwards, resting her chin on her hands. "Why did you try to kill me? I want to know."
Hyerin couldn't meet her eyes. "You're a bad person. We thought you deserved to die."
"But you saved me before!"
"I didn't know what you would become when I did that." Hyerin almost couldn't believe she was saying these things. Even though she knew she was going to die tomorrow anyway and one day shouldn't make much of a difference, her heart was thumping in her chest.
"I just don't get it," Hyojin mused. "I mean, you saved me twice and I always thought you cared about me at least a little. What you said the second time we met really resonated with me. You can understand why it might be disappointing to find out that a person you admired thinks you're a arsehole."
The second time they'd met? Hyerin wondered whether this woman was delusional or had mistaken her for someone else. However, whatever she thought Hyerin had done was making her like her more, so she wasn't about to destroy her illusions.
"I didn't think you were an arsehole until I woke up in that cave."
Hyojin nodded. "With Junghwa. As I suspected. Solji's told me a lot about her, you know."
"She's a good person," Hyerin said defensively.
"I'm sure that's what you think. Was it her you who told you to kill me?"
"It was her plan, yes," Hyerin said cautiously.
"You shouldn't have listened to her. Junghwa's the one who kept you imprisoned in that cave. You were asleep, right? That's what the rumour was, anyway."
"It's true," Hyerin admitted.
"I'm not sure how my advisors managed to do that to you, but I wanted to reverse it. I had men combing the countryside looking for you to try and take you to the castle and wake you up. When they visited Junghwa's village she told them that she didn't know where you were. Junghwa deliberately kept you asleep, probably so she could wake you up when she wanted and manipulate you into trying to kill me.
"I wouldn't trust Hani either if I were you. You already know that she has a history of attempted murder, I don't understand why you would cooperate in yet another of her plots."
"Hani has a history of attempted murder?" Hyerin burst out. "She didn't tell me that."
Hyojin's eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about? Other then the attempt you saw, she tried to murder Solji recently. Why did you think I had a warrant out for her?"
"She tried to kill her? Why?"
"I don't know. You'll have to ask her. Solji said that it was random and unprovoked and I'm inclined to believe her."
Hyerin's toes twisted in the carpet. Either Hani had lied to her or Hyojin was lying now. She didn't know what to say so stayed silent.
"Hyerin, I'd like to make you an offer. I don't think you knew what you were doing and I'm willing to forgive you for what you did. Junghwa and Hani are the ones responsible and they'll be the ones that will be punished, but you don't deserve that. I'm offering you a job at the palace. You can do whatever you like, there's plenty of options. Just say that you'll side with me over them."
Hyerin had to admit that this was a tempting offer. She really, really didn't want to die. But she also wanted stand by her friends.
"Can I have some time to decide?"
Hyojin titled her head. "Sure, if you want. I'll see you tomorrow, then."
She gestured towards the door and watched as Hyerin left. Her leaving was awkward, as Hyerin was too nervous to look away from her and therefore kind of side-scuttled away. The man outside was gentler this time but still held her wrist firmly as he escorted her back to the dungeon.
Hani and Junghwa were sitting on the floor, leaning against the bars that separated them with their shoulders pressed together. When she saw Hyerin come in Junghwa leapt to her feet. Hani semi-rose but then collapsed, one hand pressed to her chest.
"Hyerin! Are you ok?"
Hyerin shook herself free of the thug and entered the cage on her own. "I'm fine. Hyojin said some very enlightening things."
Junghwa and Hani glanced at each other. "She's probably lying," Junghwa stated.
"Maybe. She said that she was looking for me and you kept me hidden on purpose."
"Of course I did. I thought that you were our secret weapon to defeat her. That was clearly bullshit, of course, but it's what I believed. If I just told her where you were how could you do that?"
She had a point. Hyerin stared at the floor. She couldn't bare to make eye contact with Hani, who peered at her through the bars.
"Hani, she said you didn't hit on Solji or whatever. You tried to kill her. Have you been lying to us?"
"Yeah," Hani admitted unhappily. "I have. I wanted you guys to like me and it's not something that I'm proud of. I'm really glad I failed and I'd like to just forget about it."
Junghwa's mouth fell open. "You're glad you failed? But you came here to do it again!"
"To stop Hyojin trying to kill me!"
Hyerin was getting a headache. These constant attempted murders were ridiculous. "Why did you do it, Hani?"
"What she said is misleading. I didn't actually want her dead. I wanted her to give me the key to these dungeons."
"Why?" Hyerin asked tiredly.
"At the time, there was this girl I liked. Her name was Arin. She was super sweet, full of laughter and fun. She and I never dated officially, but she used to sneak to the palace when I was on guard duty so we could meet up. I really think I loved her."
Hyerin felt something in the pit of her stomach, maybe dread or jealously.
"I didn’t know it, but she was also using me to steal things from the palace. Once I let her in I'd leave her along to make her own way out and she would go steal stuff. When she was caught, she was imprisoned in these dungeons. I knew she was guilty but I guess I was blinded by love. I was willing to throw everything away for this girl. She was poor, she needed the money. I understood.
"Solji has a key to the dungeons which she keeps on her at all times. Arin begged me to get the key off her and help free her. So one day, I tried to threaten Solji and make her hand over her key."
"What happened?" Junghwa asked.
Hani gestured, hands turned upwards in hopeless resignation. "I made the same mistake as Hyerin. I didn't know that Solji can kick arse. She fucked me up, I barely managed to get away. After I left I was so ashamed of how pathetic I was that when I met you guys I didn't tell you the truth. I'm sorry."
"And Arin?" Hyerin still couldn't bear to look at her.
"I don't know. She's obviously not here, so I'm guessing she's dead. I'm sorry," she said again, though Hyerin couldn't tell whether she was saying it to them or Arin.
Hani's words lingered in the stale air of the jail. Far from the flirty player she pretended to be, Hyerin fancied she knew the truth about Hani. When she really liked someone she was too afraid to talk to her, terrified of them seeing beyond the confident mask she hid behind. She didn't let many people see her real self and valued those who she trusted more then anything. Right now, she was scared and ashamed of herself. What she'd done wasn't good, obviously, but it wasn't enough for Hyerin to take Hyojin up on her offer.
She didn't tell the other girls about that part of what Hyojin had said and so there was nothing more to say. They all went to sleep that night knowing that they were going to die.
When Hyerin opened her eyes, she was standing in Seoul. She was just outside the palace, which was in the process of being built.
She spun around, looking in vain for a newspaper. Eventually, she went up to one of the workers at the palace.
"Hi!" she said, waving to catch his attention.
He was wearing a facemask that he pulled down to rest on his chin when he noticed her. To Hyerin's surprise he was a younger, tougher-looking Heechul.
"Do you want something?" he asked.
"Yeah! I've been asked to deliver a parcel to Hyojin, but I don't know where she is. Can you point me in the right direction?"
He raised an eyebrow. "You mean Queen Hyojin? You'd better not address her without honorifics when you meet her in person."
Hyerin studied the ground, looking suitable chastised. "Sorry."
He broke into a smile. "Don't worry about it, kid. She's staying in an apartment just down the street. Look for the building with a bunch of armed guards outside it, you can't miss it."
"Thanks!" she chirped with a bright smile.
Kid? I'm probably older then you now, she thought with annoyance as she walked away from him.
As she went she realised she didn’t actually have a package, so she seized a bundle of flowers from a florist as she walked past. She looked as confident as she could and nobody stopped her. She'd once heard confidence is key to crime.
Just as she'd been assured, it was easy to find Hyojin's apartment building. Hyerin offered the dripping flowers and got a suspicious look, but was allowed in. In the lobby, she walked through a metal detector and was pointed up the stairs.
There were more guards outside Hyojin's door.
"I'll just take those off your hands for you, honey," one of them grunted.
Gross. Hyerin clutched them tightly. "I've been told to take them in myself. They have a personal message attached to them."
"Where's the message?" the guy sneered.
Hyerin wished she had Solji's strength. She could probably take these guys out with one punch to the neck. She tapped the side of her head. "I've memorised it."
One of the guards begrudgingly let her in. As soon as she slipped inside the darkened room Hyerin flung the flowers to the floor, uncaring. She didn't care if she got caught after the deed was done. The point was that once Hyojin was dead then her friends would not be about to die. She planned to wake up in a very different future.
Determined, Hyerin looked up and surveyed the room, only to meet the very panicked eyes of teenaged Hani, who stood next to Hyojin's cupboard with a bag half-filled with jewels.
"Who the fuck are you?" Hani hissed.
"I'm here to kill her," Hyerin said, still stunned.
Hani's eyes went wide. "Are you serious?"
Without waiting for Hyerin to say anything she moved fast, running towards Hyerin. Hyerin had no idea what she wanted to do but grabbed the nearest object and hit her with it anyway. Unfortunately that turned out to be Hyojin's bedside light, which slammed into Hani's head with a satisfying crunch but knocked everything off the bedside table in the process.
"Oh shit!" Hyerin crouched over Hani's form, pressing one hand to her bloody hand and the other to her throat. She still had a pulse solidly thumping through her veins, thank god. Hyerin did not want a timeline where she accidentally killed her girlfriend before they had even met.
When she looked up, she saw that their fight had woken up Hyojin, who sat up in bed with a terrified look on her face. She looked really young and it was then that Hyerin noticed how young Hani too was. Younger then when she had died before, she couldn't have been older then thirteen.
"Don't scream!" Hyerin begged Hyojin.
"What are you doing here?" Hyojin whispered tensely.
"I came to help you. She was trying to hurt you."
Hyojin smiled- an innocent look. She must be a teenager but looked younger, babied. "I remember you! You're like my guardian angel. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone you're here."
"Thank you." Hyerin could now strangle her quietly, but she couldn't bring herself to start. Instead, she perched on the edge of Hyojin's bed. Maybe she could sort this out another way.
"Will you do me a favour, Hyojin?"
Hyojin looked at her with wide, trusting eyes. "Anything!"
"Ok. I'll ask it of you in the future. And you have to promise to do it, whatever it is."
Hyojin thought about it for a second, but agreed. "Fine. I owe you."
For a moment, Hyerin regarded Hani's crumpled form. "What are you going to do with her?"
Hyojin's eyes darkened a shade. "Oh, I'll probably have her executed. I'm a queen, you know, I can do that."
Hyerin grabbed her arm, harder then she'd meant to. "Don't do that! I mean… forgiveness is really important, Hyojin. She's just in a bad spot right now. Hey, maybe offer her a job?"
"A job? Is that your favour?"
"No! It's just an idea. But don't kill her. That's not the favour either, just a request."
Hyojin nodded again. "I won't. Promise."
Hyojin seemed to be blurring and it was getting harder for Hyerin to keep her eyes open. She fought it, tried to say something else, but she was waking up before she had a chance to.
To her horror, she was still exactly where she had been. She took in the cell, the iron bars, Junghwa passed out on her bed and Hani lying inexplicably on the floor, staring listlessly at the ceiling.
Hani turned her head when she sensed Hyerin's movement. "Good morning. Welcome to the last day of your life."
"How's your rib?"
Seemingly lured in by their talking, armed guards chose that moment to come storming in and drag them out of their prison. Hani went absolutely rabid again, loosing all of her dignity as she struggled fruitlessly again them. Hyerin just got pulled along, stunned and overtired from her night with Hyojin. Junghwa also seemed tired as she didn't resist the guards.
They were thrown into the back of a van without windows. Hani clawed the inside walls, looking pleased with herself when her fingernails gouged large strips of paint off the metal.
Junghwa was slumped, blinking bleary-eyed at her surrounding as she tried to adjust to her sudden waking.
Hyerin, close to tears, crawled up to Hani. Hani held her in her arms and let their maknae snuggled up to her other side. They rode like that, in a kind of pile on the floor, for a long time.
When they got out, Hyojin and Solji were waiting for them. Hyojin's arm was casually looped through Solji's, as though they were out for a lunch date instead of witnessing an execution.
They were in a sparse courtyard. The only things here were the guards, wielding horrifically large guns, a brick wall and the couple. Junghwa whimpered when she saw the wall, pressing her face into Hani's shoulder.
"Do you have any last words or questions?" Hyojin asked, eyes lingering on Hyerin. Hyerin thought about her plan.
"Do you care about me at all?" Junghwa asked Solji.
"How could I not?" Solji responded unexpectedly. "I'm sorry for the awful things I said before. I was angry at you and I was thoughtless. I love you a lot, Junghwa. You're my baby sister and it's breaking my heart to do this to you. Hyojin wants to, but we've fought about this. She's my queen. I'm sorry, I love you."
A fat tear slid down Junghwa's cheek. She didn't look at Solji again.
"What happened to Arin?" Hani asked.
Hyojin answered, Solji apparently being too choked up to talk. "She actually did escape, in the end. We're not sure how. Security cameras saw her being freed by around seven very cute girls. We never found her or them."
Hani was visibly relieved. Hyojin turned expectantly to Hyerin. All eyes were on her.
"Do you remember the favour you owe me?" Hyerin said.
Hyojin started. "The favour?"
"Yes. Years ago, you promised me you would do whatever I wanted when I asked for it."
"I do remember," Hyojin said uncomfortably. "Are you going to tell me not to kill you?"
"No. I'm going to tell you never to kill anyone ever again. In fact, I'm going to ask you to step down as queen and end monarchy in Korea."
"You can't ask that of me!"
"I am," Hyerin said calmly, with a confidence that was totally fake and difficult to maintain. "You can kill us right now and nobody will ever know. Or you can honour your agreement with me."
She didn’t look at the other girls but she could feel their stares burning holes in her. She was gambling with their lives right now.
Hyojin paused, making up her mind. You could have heard a pin drop as they waited for her verdict. Hyerin was totally still, frozen where she stood.
"I'll do it."
"What!?" All the other girls exclaimed the same thing at once.
"Are you serious?" Solji asked her lover. She didn't look at all upset by the new development.
"Yes. I'm a terrible leader anyway and you know it, babe. I'll stop."
Hani hugged Hyerin forcefully, crushing the air out of her and then stealing what little remained with a deep kiss. Junghwa was jumping up and down, then she rushed forwards and hugged Solji, kissing her on the cheek. When she drew back she was embarrassed, but Solji laughed in delight and gently touched her face, fingers ghosting over where Jugnhwa had kissed like she couldn't believe it was real. Hyerin looked at Hani's face and in that moment decided that it was all she wanted to see for the rest of her life.
Hyojin's announcement was met with surprising good grace. Across the country her posters were torn down and cameras were ripped from walls. Korea started its first ever election. Hani was constantly in and out of the palace campaigning, until she guided Heechul to a comfortable seat as the Prime Minister. She got a political job which she was surprisingly good at.
Hyerin stayed in Seoul. She didn't have any attachments to anyone outside of the city, so she got an apartment with Hani and Junghwa and stayed. She actually became a journalist, same thing as the fake id from Junghwa said she was.
Junghwa was the only one with people outside of Seoul, but she stayed anyway. She called Jihyo often, mostly for them to complain about their respective friends. Jihyo was doing well and had decided to stay off the grid even after Heechul's election.
"We've found this wonderful beach and started a kind of commune, it's just the best. You have to come down and visit some time! Just avoid Sana and Dahyun, they're so lovey these days it's cloying."
"You should see Hani and Hyerin," Junghwa said back, smiling.
She went to Jihyo's lesbian commune for holidays, but she said it wasn't really for her. She was a city girl, happier with Hani and Hyerin. Anyway, she hated growing her own food.
Hyojin and Solji moved into an apartment a few streets away from them, then the five of them relocated to the same building after a few years. Hyojin was a complete idiot when it came to living normal life and relied on Solji quite a lot. When Solji was busy she went to Hyerin and the others. Against all odds, the five girls actually became really close.
Hyojin blamed her disastrous rule on not really caring and taking bad advice when she was a kid. It wasn't precisely true- she had a controlling streak a mile wide. But, free of most responsibility, she found other ways to channel it. She played a lot of video games and took a bizarre liking to Legos. Her and Solji's apartment was always covered in her Legos and Solji's puzzles and board games.
Even after the end of Hyojin's rule, things never returned to the world Hyerin had known before. She had to spend a long time convincing Heechul to listen to what other countries were telling them about global warming. Hyojin had always ignored whatever she didn't want to listen to, a habit that was gradually wearing off.
The dreams never happened again. Hyerin didn't miss them.
It wasn't the world she used to live in, but she didn't care. She loved when they had a movie night and Solji screamed and buried her face in Hyojin's shoulder at every scary thing while Hyojin desperately tried to pretend she wasn't just as scared. She loved rushing to catch a story, developing an uneasy but friendly relationship with Chief Namjoon and the rest of the police crew, especially Hoseok who often gave her off-the-record interviews. She loved snuggling with Hani in the early morning until she would do something annoying and Hyerin would have to get up for the day. She even loved it when Junghwa broke up with one of her frequent boyfriends and recruited the other four to go and burn his stuff.
It wasn't the world she was used to, but she became certain it was a better one.