From the beginning, something wasn’t right.
The cave was deeper and darker than it looked, a single bat returned to steal a hair clip and took it back inside, how quickly Emma disappeared after running in…
Clearly, it wasn’t normal.
But they were all too scared to think about it too deeply - especially Ren.
They made three torches as quickly as they could following Julius’ instructions. Ren was doing his best to stay level-headed, but his hands were trembling all through the process.
He kept stealing glances into the cave, hoping to see those familiar locks of red hair bouncing back into view, but nothing like that happened.
He could hear his own shaky breath louder than any other noise until Airi placed a gentle hand on his back.
“Don’t worry, Dahl. We’ll find her.”
“Yeah,” Rika chimed in, “she probably just got distracted and is trying to befriend the bat or something.”
“...Sorry,” Ren avoided their gazes, understanding why the two girls were comforting him. “Thanks.”
Yusei had finished his torch first, so to test it, he walked inside the cave a few steps, returning a few seconds later.
“That cave is bad news, guys. There’s a fork in the middle. We might need to split up.”
“U-Um…” Agatha raised her hands; her entire body trembling. “I think I’ll stay out here, in case she comes back. My eyesight is very poor as it is, so I wouldn’t be much help in the d-dark, anyway.”
She was terrified, and they could all see it.
But she had a point.
Ren finished lighting up his torch, and looked over at Adam.
“Stoker, would you mind staying with her?”
“...Sure,” Adam agreed calmly.
“Then, I’ll take the princess,” Rika said, pointing at Julius with her thumb. “No one else can stand him, anyway.”
“That was unnecessary,” Julius scoffed.
“I want to help, too,” Airi said, looking at Yusei. “Are you also coming?”
Yusei looked surprised.
“You sure you don’t wanna stay? It’s dark and dirty in there. The torch gets really hot, too.”
“Then,” she tilted her head, “you could come and hold it for me?”
Yusei felt his face heat up, immediately looking away from her.
“Bah. It’s not like I have a choice. I don’t want no preppy girl’s blood on my hands.”
“Sorry, guys,” Ren interrupted, heading over to the entrance. “I’m going in first.”
Without even waiting for their reply, he sprinted inside the cave in the direction he last saw Emma run to - or at least, what he thinks he saw.
“Ren, wait—” Rika tried to stop him, reaching her hand in his direction, but he was gone in a second.
She sighed, lowering her arm and shaking her head.
“...That guy always looks so calm and composed. This is the first time I see him so riled up like this.”
She turned to look at Julius with a wry smile, understanding the situation they were in, yet still trying to keep everyone’s spirits up.
“The power of love, amirite?”
“Careful with that torch,” Julius lifted his palm to put some distance between them.
They headed into the cave.
Yusei started walking in behind them with Airi staying close to his back.
After a few steps in, she turned around to look at Agatha, who was rubbing her hands together to calm her nerves.
“I’ll come back for you and massage your shoulders when we’re done.”
Agatha’s face flared up.
She cupped her cheeks with her palms, squirming quietly and wiggling in place, nervous but excited as usual.
Airi smiled at her reaction and caught up to Yusei again, who looked more annoyed than usual.
“...Is something wrong, Wilde?”
“You look upset.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“Are you jealous?”
He whipped his head to look at her, his loud voice echoing through the walls.
“Why would I be jealous!?”
“Well… perhaps because I’m close to Agatha Fitzgerald?”
Yusei scoffed, dismissing her with his hand.
“You’re not close to her. You simply fluster her every chance you get - which anyone could do, by the way!”
“Hmm. I suppose it’s true,” She agreed quietly, looking at the ground as they got near where Rika and Julius were.
“...It’s just as challenging to decipher how much someone cares for you when they enjoy anything anyone does for them, than it is deciphering what someone who doesn’t react at all thinks of you.”
Yusei glanced at her gloomy face.
Somehow, despite Airi being the scariest of the girls for him, Yusei never felt too afraid when he was with her.
…Well, that wasn’t true.
He felt something akin to fear: his heart raced, his breath shortened, his thoughts were addled…
His palms were sweating, and he knew it wasn’t because of the torch he was holding in his hand— rather, it might have been because of another torch he was inadvertently carrying.
He cleared his throat loudly.
“You still don’t get it, do you?”
“Hm?” Airi looked up.
Yusei continued without looking at her.
“You can’t force your feelings on someone and expect to be loved back just ‘cuz you put in the effort. That’s not how it works.”
The torch crackled through his pause.
Yusei thought of what Cupid said about Airi back in the Grand Hall of Heaven.
He didn’t know all the details of her life, but he didn’t have to.
The way she was described was eerily familiar to someone from his own past - the ‘girlfriend’ who forced him into a relationship and traumatized him.
He took a shallow breath before continuing; his voice tinted in frustration.
“...Loving someone with all your heart… it ain’t enough.”
Airi blinked at him a couple of times.
Then she smiled.
“My, that was quite deep, Wilde.”
“Fufu. Does that mean you know, then?”
“You said loving someone with all your heart isn’t enough, so then… what is?”
Yusei stopped in his tracks for a second.
“How the hell should I know? I’m going through the same shit you are for a reason.”
Airi snickered behind her palm.
“Hey, you guys,” Rika’s voice called to them from a few deeper steps inside, right outside where the cave split up in three different sections.
Yusei and Airi joined them a second later.
Rika pointed towards the tunnel in the middle.
“Ren went that way, so we should split up between the other two tunnels. Julius and I are taking the left if that’s cool with you.”
Yusei and Airi nodded.
“Yeah, fine,” Yusei looked at Rika, adjusting the torch in his hand. “We’ll take the right. Let’s meet out here in ten minutes, hopefully with the redhead on a leash.”
Rika and Airi looked at each other and giggled, amused at how they both teased Yusei at the exact same time.
Yusei could feel a vein pop on his forehead.
“Shut up! You’re both unbearable!”
Julius crossed his arms and shook his head.
“I agree. It doesn’t surprise me from Rika, but Miss Carroll… I must say, sometimes you say and do things unbecoming of someone as proper as you.”
“Fufu. Don’t expect all pretty girls to fit into a single mold you’ve created for them in your head, Verne.”
“...Dude,” Rika scoffed. “Imagine calling yourself ‘pretty’ so easily.”
“All right, enough messin’ around,” Yusei growled. “Let’s hurry up and find the girl.”
They all nodded, then went on their separate ways inside the cave.
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