(Chapter Five of the Reign on Me series.)
Chapter Five: Dark Jealousy
The next morning was bright and sunny; a perfect morning to practice magic. When Sungmin descended the main staircase into the castle’s front foyer, he was slightly surprised to see the Dark Mage already there. Dressed in his newly-washed robes, Sungmin was ready for a morning of training.
The previous evening after he had escorted Taeyeon to her room, he had entered his bedroom, surprised to find a set of plain pyjamas on his bed. When he woke up this morning, he found his robes, which he carelessly tossed over the back of a chair, had been cleaned and folded for him. The wonders of castle hospitality.
“Where are we training?” Sungmin inquired,
“Beyond the gardens. It’s far enough from the castle that no one can really see what magic you’re welding,” Kangin explained, “We just have to wait for Prince Kyuhyun and then we can go.”
“Prince Kyuhyun?” Sungmin blinked, “Ah, my prisoner-status.”
Kangin raised a brow, “Actually, no. He practices magic every day and I train him several times a week.”
Sungmin blinked again, but remained silent. The prince training? At first, he was startled, couldn’t believe it. Then, however, he recalled the night he had entered the Dark Castle’s grounds. It had been the second prince who had been wrapped in magic, exuded Dark Magic. Of course, to control such blatant, wild magic, he would need to train for it.
“Speaking of the devil,” Kangin murmured as he looked up the staircase.
Sungmin followed his gaze and felt his heart literally skip a beat.
Kyuhyun was slowly descending the staircase dressed in mage robes. His jungchimak was of the darkest indigo with short sleeves and silk that formed to his chest, his abdomen before the slits at the sides and at the back caused the tails to flair out as he walked. His paji were of black silk, but instead of being tied at his ankles, they were secured just below his knees, soft leather encasing his calves and feet. His dark locks brushed back from his face, he looked formidable indeed.
Kyuhyun walked right over to Sungmin and tapped beneath the lesser mage’s chin with his forefinger, “You’ll catch flies with that open mouth,” he lightly teased as he turned to greet the Dark Mage, “Let’s go.”
Sungmin followed the pair through the castle and out of a back entrance. They were heading to the side of the maze rather than navigating through it, he realized. As the two conversed, his eyes slowly took in every detail of the second prince. Why did he have to look so good in those damn robes?
“How is your father this morning?” Kangin asked as they traipsed across the grounds,
“Same as always,” Kyuhyun said quietly before he added in a lighter tone, “He threatened to take me off his will.”
Kangin laughed, “And that’s something to be happy about?”
“Oh, he hasn’t threatened that in months. If he’s in a mood to joke about my inheritance, then that means it’s a good morning for him,” Kyuhyun agreed,
“What did you do to warrant his threat?” Kangin inquired,
“Well, I walked in dressed like this,” Kyuhyun explained, “And you know how he feels about me training.”
“At least he was in a good mood to joke,” Kangin offered,
“I think he was because Siwon visited him,” Kyuhyun stated, “There were some new flowers in his room, so I think Siwon visited him earlier this morning.”
“The prodigal son visits the father,” Kangin nodded his head in understanding,
“I think he doesn’t visit father a lot because of his demeanour. He wants Father to be around happy people,” Kyuhyun shrugged,
“Siwon is happy,” Kangin insisted,
“Oh, I know he is, but he doesn’t express it,” Kyuhyun explained, “He wants Father to be surrounded by smiles.”
They lightly bantered for the rest of the journey until they reached a large piece of land hidden behind the large walls of the garden maze. They walked into the middle of it and Kangin turned to the younger men.
“Okay, Sungmin, is it? Where are you in control of your magic?” Kangin inquired,
“Fire I have more or less completely in control. Air I have little manipulation over,” Sungmin answered,
“Those are you elementals, can you do anything else with your magic?” Kangin asked,
“I can heal a little bit, but not to the degree where I can heal without pain,” Sungmin answered and then added, “I was healing the princess’ ribs but I couldn’t take away the pain as I was setting the ribs together.”
“Okay. We’ll test your fire control and then work on air. Elementals are easy, healing is the difficult stuff,” Kangin stated. He turned his silver eyes on Kyuhyun, “How’s your control coming along?”
“I’m about the same level with controlling my elementals as last time. I thought I was getting better control on my magic altogether, but two nights ago it got the best of me,” Kyuhyun reminded, throwing Sungmin the smallest of apologetic looks before turning his gaze back to the Dark Mage.
“Control of loose magic will come with control of your emotions,” Kangin said dryly. “How’s your control over flora?”
“I can do simple things like cut wood and Siwon’s helped me with helping plants, but I’m far from erecting a garden like this,” Kyuhyun answered, gesturing to the garden maze behind them.
“Flora? I didn’t realize that Dark Magic has power over plants,” Sungmin confessed,
Kangin nodded, “Plants are considered a continuation of water elementals because of their flowing nature. Plants grow around what they cannot move. Water forms to its environment in much the same way. Dark Magic, which can manipulate water, can also manipulate how plants grow and move.”
“That seems like an unfair advantage over Light Magic,” Sungmin muttered,
Kangin raised a brow, “I think you forget that air magic has other continuations as well. You can manipulate the air to create lightning, to affect and use sound. All elementals have their manifestations; it’s up to the user to know how to use them.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t tried to choke the air from me yet,” Kyuhyun added dryly,
Sungmin grinned at the prince’s words before he could stop himself. Immediately, he looked back at the Dark Mage.
“I want to test your fire control,” Kangin stated then, “You said ‘more or less’, I want to know which it is in terms of completeness of control.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what you want to start with first, especially so close to my brother’s gardens,” Kyuhyun rolled his eyes,
“While I test his fire control, you practice your water,” Kangin commanded, “And protect Siwon’s garden.”
“So if something happens it’s no one’s fault but my own?” Kyuhyun questioned incredulously,
Kangin nodded, “Exactly. Come on, Sungmin, let’s see what you’ve got.”
Kyuhyun huffed, but walked closer to the maze’s wall anyway. He sat down on the ground, his dark eyes watching them, specifically the lesser mage.
Sungmin, stepping a few feet away from Kangin, held up his hand palm-up. Suddenly, red flames flicked in the air until he held flames the size of an apple in his hand. Kangin was watching the flames,
“Can you manipulate them into a shape?”
With barely a thought, the flames curved themselves to form a sphere. With slightly more will, the fire flattened and then stretched out forming a long, spear-like shape. Then, the fire condensed smaller and smaller, twisting and tugging until it formed a small, humanoid shape on his palm.
Kangin blinked and leaned in closer to find his face in the flames. The lesser mage had formed a statue of fire in his image; “Oh, now you’re just showing off,” Kangin stated, the hint of amusement in his tone, “Indeed, it seems you have good control over fire. How is your strength with it?”
“I’ve never had to use it for strength,” Sungmin replied,
Kangin raised his hand palm-down and held it over the fire figurine, “Concentrate on keeping the fire burning and try to make it keep its shape,” he said.
That was all the warning Sungmin got before water began to pour from the Dark Mage’s palm. It did not trickle or rain, indeed, it seemed like his hand was a bucket, an endless amount of water spilling down over his fire manipulation. His eyes narrowed as he concentrated hard on keeping the flames alive. However, it was only a few seconds before his fire was consumed by the water.
Kangin swept his hand over Sungmin’s, taking away the water residue and leaving the lesser mage’s skin dry, “Control is very good. Channeling strength is… not that great.”
“I failed horribly,” Sungmin said bluntly,
“Your magic is strong, Sungmin, you just never had to channel it before into use. Every day I want you to practice using fire against water,” Kangin instructed, “Start with wetting your entire hand. While your hand is completely wet, start forming fire. Gain complete control of fire while your hand is wet. Then, form fire and try to keep its shape in water. Once you have that level of strength, then you can begin practicing forming fire in a complete water environment like a bucket of water.”
Sungmin’s eyes widened considerably. He had never expected to be able to do such things with fire. Indeed, he believed his elemental always had a great disadvantage to water. What the Dark Mage was insinuating, however, was that one day, perhaps, he’d be able to overcome water with his fire magic. The idea was incredible and exciting.
“Gain complete control and strength with fire and then we’ll begin working with air,” Kangin stated, “One elemental at a time so your concentration isn’t split between two tasks.”
Kangin swept his hand in the air and a chunk of earth flew to his hand. When he held it towards Sungmin, the earth had formed the perfect shape of a large cup, its surfaces smooth as glass. Sungmin took it and found water inside it already,
“Use the water to wet your hand while you practice,” He turned to the maze, “Kyuhyun, your turn.”
As Sungmin headed to Kyuhyun’s spot and Kyuhyun headed to Kangin’s side, the two passed each other,
“Lucky,” Kyuhyun muttered, “The moment you’re able to channel strength with your elementals, he’ll start training that strength to become stronger.”
“Sounds fun,” Sungmin replied,
“Hmm…” Was all the prince said as they past each other.
Sungmin sat down on the grass but before he began doing what he was instructed, he watched the other two men. They stood several feet apart. Kyuhyun turned sideways, moving his feet apart, his back foot facing to the side while his front foot pointed forward and he squatted down slightly, lowering his centre of gravity to strengthen his stance. His arms stretched out before him, palms facing the Dark Mage.
Without warning, chunks of earth flew up from the ground and then whipped towards the second prince. Sungmin was about to call out a warning when the earth seemed to pass a thin barrier before falling to the ground as soil. Sungmin narrowed his eyes, squinting to see what it was he was missing. One, two, three, four more chunks of earth flew through the air before Sungmin realized that a thin barrier of water encased the second prince like a dome. So thin, in fact, that light wasn’t being fragmented by the water.
One chunk of earth ricocheted off the dome and flew towards Sungmin. It came inches within his face before it stopped and dropped to the ground in its solid form,
“My apologies,” Kangin continued.
The Dark Mage had turned his gaze to Sungmin. He was standing completely straight, his arms crossed over his chest. He seemed so relaxed compared to the second prince whose eyes were narrowed from exertion. Kangin then turned back to look at Kyuhyun.
Sungmin reached out and picked up the chunk of earth and was startled to find that it was as hard as rock. The Dark Mage to form perfect spheres and compress the earth into its hardest state all the while looking so calm was amazing. The fact that he could do so without even using his limbs to guide the element was down right astonishing. Not to mention frightening.
“I don’t see you practicing,” Kangin called out, all the while more hard chunks of earth flew towards the second prince.
Sungmin immediately poured half the water over his right hand and began trying to form fire. He did not want the Dark Mage to turn his magic on him.
It was close to lunchtime when the three men returned to the castle. Kangin was silent, thinking over the plans for training the two younger men in future sessions. Kyuhyun, who had done other defensive exercises with Kangin, was sore, his skin covered in a thin layer or perspiration. Sungmin was forming fire in his hand the entire way back, trying to make the spell automatic so it would come easier when his hand was wet.
“I had to learn to protect myself from fire in the beginning,” Kyuhyun commented as he noticed Sungmin’s efforts,
Sungmin’s eyes widened, “He didn’t…”
“He practiced with a candle at first,” Kangin interjected, “I can hardly throw a prince into a bonfire.”
“When I could pass my hand through a candle’s flame without feeling the heat, then I moved on to making pieces of paper inflammable,” Kyuhyun explained, throwing a grin at the Dark Mage, “But once that was controlled, I had to be able to pass my hand through a larger flame.”
“Anything I’ve put you through, I’ve done myself,” Kangin rolled his eyes, “I wouldn’t risk your neck if I knew I wouldn’t be able to save it.”
“Which is always comforting,” Kyuhyun teased,
“I wondered about your paji, but now I understand,” Sungmin said, “It makes it easier to move during your training.”
“Part of it,” Kyuhyun conceded, “But I learned early on I needed to be able to run.”
“Because of your training?” Sungmin inquired, remembering how Kyuhyun had remained in one spot the entire time, simply using his magic to defend himself,
“No, so I can run away from Kangin,” Kyuhyun laughed, “I used to give up on training so easily that I had to be able to run away from him.”
“Brat,” Kangin murmured as they reached the terrace, “I need to visit with Siwon before I leave. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
He left before either could respond.
Kyuhyun watched the Dark Mage disappear into the castle. Then, he turned to Sungmin.
The lesser mage glanced at the prince, suddenly realizing they were alone. Then, Kyuhyun’s words from the previous morning came flying through his mind. He took a conscious step back.
Kyuhyun chuckled, “I’m hardly going to jump you in plain sight of everything.”
“You’re not?” Sungmin eyed him warily,
“No, indeed. What I plan for you needs to be done in privacy,” Kyuhyun stated casually, his words and gaze suggestive.
Sungmin’s face felt hot and he didn’t know if it was from being in the sun all morning or if it was from the prince’s words. He feared greatly it was from the latter of the two.
“I have –”
“A fiancée? Oh, I know,” Kyuhyun replied, taking a step closer to the mage, “I know very well. However, she’s not here, is she? Quite convenient for me.” He took another step closer.
Sungmin took another step backward, stumbling over the ground. The prince’s hand grabbed his arm to stop his fall, to stabilize him. He found himself suddenly very close to the prince, that hand on his arm warm, no, hot – hotter than any flame he had ever played with. That heat spread to the rest of his body and he felt drawn to the heat, wanting more of it.
“Did you manipulate the ground?” Sungmin asked, startled to hear his voice so quiet, so breathy,
“Indeed,” Kyuhyun confessed easily, his dark eyes bearing down on the mage, “Of course, the maze is right there and it can be quite private.”
Sungmin stared at the prince as he swallowed hard. Half of him was screaming at him to run away. The other half was silently begging for the prince to take him into the maze and do whatever it was that required privacy.
“How was your training?”
Sungmin took a step back as Kyuhyun slowly straightened and turned towards the terrace doors. Siwon was walking out, his face expressionless while his dark eyes were unreadable. Dressed as always in all black, the first prince approached the two as if they hadn’t been standing almost body-to-body.
“Informative,” Sungmin answered as Kyuhyun cried, “Hell!”
Siwon’s gaze drifted to his brother’s, amusement in their dark depths, “A little dramatic, Kyuhyun.”
“I could have died at least thirteen times this morning,” Kyuhyun insisted, “No, no, fifteen!”
Siwon rolled his eyes as he stated, “Well, I just wanted to inform you that we’ll be having a few guests arrive for lunchtime. So, you might want to dress appropriately and, you know, actually show up.”
“Who’s coming?” Kyuhyun’s brows rose,
“Some consorts,” Siwon stated casually,
“Isn’t that a little dangerous?” Kyuhyun questioned, gesturing towards Sungmin,
“Not if we don’t mention their association to the Light Kingdom,” Siwon replied,
“Who are these consorts, if you don’t mind me asking,” Sungmin inquired,
“Ladies who wish to… erm… marry me,” Siwon muttered and, while his face was still free of expression, it was obvious he was not pleased about the idea,
“And when they can’t grab my brother’s attentions, they turn on me,” Kyuhyun shook his head, “I call them the concubines.”
Sungmin poorly stifled a laugh as Siwon shot his brother a glare, “Be nice, Kyuhyun, their presence is a request of Father’s.” He turned to Sungmin, “My father sent out invitations to several ladies to visit the castle when they pleased during the day to spend time with Kyuhyun and myself.”
“That’s a little…”
“Blatant? Most definitely,” Kyuhyun interjected, “I should go up and give Father a piece of my mind.”
“You should go up and shower and change,” Siwon corrected, “They’ll be here within the hour.”
“Fine, but I shall sit and be silent and scowl at all of them,” Kyuhyun declared. He shot the mage a meaningful look before stomping into the castle.
This left Sungmin alone with the first prince. Something he was painfully aware of as being a first for the both of them. He wasn’t quite sure how to talk with the first prince. With severe reverence as fitting a future monarch? With Eeteuk, they had become friends and, so, it was easier to talk to him. Taeyeon was almost too casual in her dealings with all people, so his experience with talking to her didn’t count for this situation. Kyuhyun was… well, whatever he was, it was certainly the other end of the spectrum compared to his brother who was silent and unreadable. Sungmin had no idea how Taeyeon could speak so easily with the first prince as he witnessed a few times the previous day.
“I would suggest you not wear your mage robes, however your hair gives away your status,” Siwon began. Apparently he had no problems talking with anyone. Then again, he wasn’t the one suddenly found alone with a statue of a prince. “Kangin had robes brought to your room, however, some a little more formal than your current robes.” Siwon held up a hand to stop whatever retort Sungmin was contemplating, “Those were his words not mine. Frankly, I don’t care what you wear and, in all honesty, I wish they weren’t visiting. However, we all have our roles to play and this is part of ours.”
“The princess!” Sungmin quietly gasped, “All she has are her robes.”
“I’ve had appropriate attire sent up to her rooms as well,” Siwon replied, “It would not do well for a princess to be looked down upon by non-royals.”
“Are they… ill-mannered?” Sungmin inquired,
“I haven’t the slightest clue,” Siwon answered honestly, “They’re not going to show their bad sides to myself or Kyuhyun, are they?”
“Then, if they show that side to Taeyeon, I… I ask for your help, Your Highness,” Sungmin asked,
Siwon raised a thick brow. He never thought the princess as being easily susceptible to a few mean words.
“Taeyeon, and I mean this with the most affection possible, has a horrible temper,” Sungmin explained, “What’s worse is when she’s emotional she cannot control her magic.”
“I’d very much like to see that magic used against the consorts,” Siwon muttered,
“Your Highness, her magic would bring down your entire garden with the smallest thought,” Sungmin insisted, “Her emotions – and, thus, her magic – are volatile. If pushed to it… her magic could become very dangerous very easily.”
“She’s your fiancée,” Siwon reminded – for Sungmin or himself, he wasn’t quite sure.
“I know, but sometimes even I cannot calm her,” Sungmin admitted, “It’s only gotten truly bad a few times in all the years I’ve known her. When I couldn’t calm her down, her brother would.”
“Why do I have a feeling she is the type who only gets angrier when one tries to calm her down?” Siwon inquired,
“Because she is,” Sungmin replied, “If it seems like she can’t control her anger I need to get her away as fast as possible.”
“And, let me guess, if you cannot calm her you want me to intervene?” Siwon asked, raising his brow again at the mage,
“I… yes,” Sungmin stared directly into the prince’s eyes, “I know I’m asking a lot from you, Your Highness. Indeed, I know I don’t have the right to do so. However, I ask it in order to not just protect her, but everyone else as well.”
Siwon sighed heavily as he looked away from the mage’s determined gaze, “I will help you, Mage. Truly, you had my compliance the moment you eluded to uncontrollable fires… My garden would never withstand such a reckoning.”
“Thank you,” Sungmin bowed,
Siwon said nothing, merely headed into the garden maze for some peace before the consorts arrived.
Sungmin was glad he had asked the prince for assistance. They were only fifteen minutes into lunch and already he could feel Taeyeon boiling beside him. Siwon sat at the head of the table, Taeyeon at his left and Kyuhyun at his right. He sat on Taeyeon’s left. To his left and Kyuhyun’s right sat two consorts each and, ever since they spotted Taeyeon at Siwon’s side, were hiding cutting remarks beneath seemingly innocent statements.
Somehow, the conversation had gone from a cheese race in one of the kingdoms larger towns to Taeyeon’s gown. How it had progressed in such a way, Sungmin didn’t know, but it did and he found himself on high alert to douse any flames.
“It is a beautiful dress, dear,” One of the consorts stated in a sweetly, condescending voice, “But don’t you find it a little plain while we are in the company of royalty? Oh, but perhaps this is your first time? Don’t worry, we were all like that in the beginning.”
Taeyeon’s fingers curved around her knife so surreptitiously that only Siwon noticed it. He gently nudged her foot with his own. Her fingers relaxed and slid away from the knife, seemingly understanding his silent message. He regretted having to warn her, but truly did feel wary about her magic. His gaze furtively swept over her gown, he couldn’t see anything wrong with it. Indeed, he felt enchanted when he saw her for the first time in it.
The gown was an emerald silk with short, capped sleeves and square neck. The material bunched just beneath her bust before flowing freely down to her knees. A gold chain around her neck signalled she was wearing her ring, the chain disappearing into her neckline, hiding the secret to her identity. Ballet-like slippers of the same shade of green covered her dainty feet and he was glad he had sent the shoes with the dress.
“And your hair has a beautiful wave to it. It’s a shame you do it no justice by just pulling it back at the nape of your neck,” another consort added, “You wouldn’t mind some advice, would you? I think twisting it into an up-do would do just the thing.”
Siwon again glanced at her profile. It was true that her hair was always so plainly done. In the time he had known her, her hair had either been flowing freely around her or gathered at the nape of her neck. This time, it was the latter, a green ribbon securing it in place. Truly, he couldn’t understand the criticisms and he wondered how far he could be pushed until he said something. However, he knew if he showed partiality to Taeyeon, the consorts would act even worse towards her. Then again, he was the first prince and they could go to hell for all he cared at this point.
“That dress is plain,” Siwon agreed as he picked up his cup of tea. He could feel her gaze swing towards his as he purposefully avoided all gazes, knowing that the consorts were probably smirking with delight. He took a long sip of his tea before putting the cup down and continuing, “But it looks just as beautiful on you as it did on my mother.” Siwon finally swept his dark gaze amongst the four consorts, “Don’t you agree?”
There was a rush of ‘oh, indeed’ and ‘the queen was very beautiful’ and ‘that’s why the dress looks familiar’ and ‘she always had amazing taste in clothing’.
Siwon fell into silence as Kyuhyun picked up the conversation. He felt a tap on his foot and he glanced towards his left. Taeyeon stared at him suspiciously before offering a small smile. He gave a curt nod and looked away, continuing his meal.
“Why is someone from the Light Kingdom here?” A consort asked suddenly. She sat the farthest from Siwon on his right and had spoken the least amount than the other three. She stared steadily at Taeyeon.
Siwon felt his heart drop and found himself at a loss of words. Taeyeon, who had been directing her gaze towards Kyuhyun or Siwon as a means of hiding her eyes, said nothing. She stared straight ahead, but past Kyuhyun.
It was the second prince who replied, “Who are you referring to?”
“The lady. She has light-coloured eyes like those of the Light,” the consort answered. None of the consorts were given Taeyeon’s name upon introductions. They had merely referred to her as the lady.
Taeyeon laughed then, her laugh light and lyrical as she turned her gaze towards said consort, locking gazes purposefully, “I hadn’t realized my eyes were light. Perhaps I should have looked in the mirror this morning, but I never thought I would have had to in order to ascertain my own eye colour!”
Sungmin swung his attention to Taeyeon’s, staring even as she had her attention focused on the other woman. Suddenly realizing what she was about, he shot out his hand beneath the table to grab her wrist tightly.
Siwon stood from the table, “Shall we go to the terrace? There are some new blooms there and I’m sure would be much appreciated by you ladies.”
Immediately, the consorts stood from the table and rushed to Siwon’s side. They chattered about him like birds as he led them out of the dining room. Once the doors closed after him, Kyuhyun stood up,
“How did you do it?” He hissed, more as a scold than out of anger, “How did you change your eye colour so fast?”
“She allowed her magic to consume her for a moment,” Sungmin answered as Taeyeon dropped her head forward, seemingly suddenly out of strength.
Kyuhyun gaped, “What?”
Sungmin stood up and slipped his arms beneath Taeyeon, picking her up easily, “She allowed her magic to go free long enough that she lost what little control she has over it.”
Taeyeon looked at the prince just as her eyes slowly changed from a silver back to its normal amber, “I apologize if I worried you, but it was the only way.”
“Your hand –”
“Will be okay,” Taeyeon insisted, “I will heal and then face them again. I cannot let them win against me… never been around royalty, indeed, such an absurd statement.”
“Will you order to have them beheaded?” Kyuhyun offered lightly,
Taeyeon laughed again even as pain laced through her face which was now very pale, “Oh, if only I could!”
“I must attend to her,” Sungmin stated. He attempted a bow with her in his arms before leaving the dinning room immediately.
Kyuhyun slowly sat back down, picking up his cup of tea. As he sipped, he contemplated what he had just witnessed. He had watched as she stared past him and her amber gaze had suddenly turned to mercury. Allow her magic to consume her? To the point that she was hurt by her own magic? He remembered seeing her hand on her stomach when Sungmin had picked her up. It had looked raw and painfully red. He wasn’t sure, but depending how long her fire had burned, the burns could have gone down to the bone.
And she had done it all to protect her identity. She had done it because they all said it would be important that no one know her identity. She had done it for the good of both their kingdoms – in order to prevent war. Others might have balked at such a duty, but she had done it swiftly, seemingly without any doubt. She felt, Kyuhyun mused, it all a part of her duty as a princess.
Perhaps stealing the mage would be more difficult than he previously presumed.
Princess Taeyeon was formidable indeed!
He swiftly stood up and left the dinning room.
The moment they entered her room, Taeyeon let out a scream. It shook her entire body, it dried out her throat in seconds, it squeezed every last molecule of air from her lungs and, still, she screamed. After she was done, it seemed to echo around them as she gasped heavily, her head against Sungmin’s shoulder as he carried her to the bed. He sat her down and sat on the edge beside her.
Taeyeon dug her good hand into the sheets, clawing desperately as she turned towards Sungmin, pressing her face against his arm as she gasped for air, forcing another yell down. Her throat burned, her body shook and it felt like glass was tearing at her hand, cutting every inch of skin, the pain burrowing deeply until it seemed to nestle in her bones.
She had never been burned by fire before. She had been safeguarded as a child. When it was realized her magic was plentiful, she was taught basic control so that she could protect herself against fire, one of the most immediately painful of all the elementals if mishandled.
When they had all been caught off-guard by that question, she hadn’t anticipated what she was getting herself into. All she knew was that she had to hide her identity and do it fast. The only time she had ever heard of magic changing one’s eye colour was from prolonged exposure to magic use. It was said that those who practiced and used their magic gained silver irises because they had become one with their magic and, their eyes, which were doorways to the soul, became that pure and mystical colour because of that unity. Indeed, one of the tell-tale signs of a mage was the colour of their eyes. The Dark Mage’s eyes were mercurial and Sungmin’s, while still retaining some of his original blue eyes, were already reflecting like steel.
She had to let out her magic and allow it to consume her. So, she released her magic in the form of flames in her hand and then dropped the defences that had been instilled in her as a young girl. The feeling of her magic enveloping her mind had been swift. She had seen the second prince’s eyes widened and she took that as a sign it had worked. She had turned to look at the consort who had asked the question just as pain suddenly stabbed through her hand, causing a jolt to travel down her spin. She had ruthlessly stopped herself from screaming and had laughed instead. It was a godsend when Siwon had taken the consorts out of the dining room. She had managed to stop herself from screaming the entire journey to her bedroom only because the thought of war overrode her blinding pain.
Her mind was numb to anything else but the pain. Her body trembled, her muscles seizing from the pain coursing through her. Her left hand felt as if it had been consumed by a cutting, shredding pain. She was unable to scream anymore simply because all of her focus was on that horrible, dreadful pain. The pain felt as if all her nerves were being sliced through all at once, again and again, a feeling akin to her hand being trampled by horses. She sobbed against Sungmin’s shoulder in silence, seemingly unable to draw enough air into her lungs to actually vocalize her cries, but her tears coursed down her cheeks like hot waterfalls.
Suddenly, she felt as if her skin were being pulled and stretched beyond its limit over the burning pain.
“I’m so sorry, Minx… I’m so, so sorry,” Sungmin murmured over and over again as he put all his focus into healing her. However, he knew there was no chance he could take away her pain and he’d only be able to partially heal the tendons and muscles of her left hand.
The door to her bedroom opened suddenly.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner, but Kyuhyun had to take my place with the consorts,” Siwon stated as he rushed to her, falling before her on his knees. “Kyuhyun would have come, but I have an excuse to leave them while he does not. They think I’ve gone to do some business for my father,” he absentmindedly explained as he held his hands out and looked at Sungmin, “Please, allow me to heal her hand.”
Sungmin nodded as he carefully handed her wrist to the prince. Unable to hold her hand, he had held her wrist as he began healing her hand. Siwon replaced the mage’s fingers around Taeyeon’s wrist. Sungmin, his hands now free, came and held Taeyeon’s head against his shoulder. He turned his head, his lips by her forehead as he murmured,
“You have no idea how angry I am at you right now,” Sungmin murmured in a soft, soothing voice, “You stupid, brilliant girl. All this to change your eye colour.”
Siwon closed his eyes as he concentrated his magic to weave healing magic with cool water to stop the burning. He was able to form water and keep it encased in a globe around her hand. It had been so long since he had used his magic so intricately, that he had to picture the healing in his mind. He imagined the tendons slowly growing, meeting together where they had been burned apart. He imagined the muscles cells multiplying and growing, replacing the mass that had been lost. He imagined the skin growing instead of stretching, slowly, slowly, covering the large burn. He had to heal tissue down to the bone, all over her hand. He had to heal carefully to ensure she’d regain function of her hand again. He had to heal while taking away her pain.
“I had to,” Taeyeon managed, shaking from exhaustion of dealing with the pain rather than the pain itself. She suddenly felt completely drained of strength, her body completely depleted of everything because of the pain that had swept through her up until moments ago. “If they… found out… war.”
“You should have allowed one of us to handle it,” Sungmin replied, a soft reprimand in his tone, “To do this…”
Taeyeon merely shook her head. She was too tired even to speak. She turned her head against Sungmin’s shoulder so she could watch the prince. His head was bowed, eyes closed as he concentrated on healing her hand. It was belatedly that she realized he was using his magic,
“Please… stop…” Taeyeon managed,
“Taeyeon,” Sungmin began,
“No… Siwon… please,” Taeyeon croaked, “Don’t… lose more… because of… please.”
Sungmin, for a moment, said nothing. Taeyeon used the prince’s name with such familiarity and he treated her with that familiarity as well. How had he could have missed it? What had happened in the time between her arrival and his to the Dark Castle? What had happened during the times he was resting in his room and she was roaming the castle? He realized then that he and Taeyeon hadn’t spoken a lot in great detail since he arrived. Perhaps it was time they spoke again as they used to.
Sungmin reached out and placed his hand tentatively on the prince’s shoulder, “She’s right. If you have not dedicated your life to magic, you shouldn’t risk it now. I was selfish to allow you to heal her hand.”
“My soul is of no consequence to the princess’ pain,” Siwon said finally as he raised his hand and the water immediately disappeared; “I have done the best I can. It’s not perfect, but Kyuhyun already sent for Kangin prior to taking my place with the consorts.” He locked gazes with Taeyeon’s, “Next time, please do not go to such measures.”
“I am the first prince of the Dark Kingdom,” Siwon stated as he slowly stood to his full height, “Trust me to protect you.” He paused and glanced at the mage, “The both of you… especially while you are here.”
He turned and headed back to the door, pausing with his hand on the knob, “It was my fault. I didn’t see any danger in the consorts visiting so long as the Light Kingdom was never mentioned. I foolishly forgot about your eyes. Sungmin’s is silver enough that he could claim to be a mage of our kingdom. Even if we disguised you as a mage, your eyes aren’t silver at all… I… I hope you can forgive me.”
He had barely finished speaking before he slipped out the door and closed it firmly behind him.
He stood in the hallway a moment, his back pressed against the door. How could he have forgotten her tell-tale eyes? How could he have forgotten their warm, honey-coloured depths were not the norm in the Dark Kingdom? How could he have forgotten their jewel tones would surely give her identity away? He closed his eyes a moment and imagined them looking at him. He imagined how they seemed to glow when she smiled or laughed. He imagined to have seen swirls of gold as he stood close to her in the gardens.
He thought of her eyes often when she wasn’t around. He had dreamt of them the previous night. They had become such a part of his life already that he had forgotten everything else. He had forgotten what danger they could bring to Taeyeon and to his kingdom. His mistake had led to Taeyeon’s self-destructive act.
He pushed away from the door and headed down the corridor.
Even if she came to forgive him, he might never be able to forgive himself.
“How are you feeling?” Sungmin asked, brushed back stray hairs from Taeyeon’s forehead.
The prince had just left and they had sat there in silence for a few moments.
“Better… I… I can’t believe,” Taeyeon shook her head as she sat up straight, “I’ve never felt such pain.”
“You’re a damn fool,” Sungmin shook his head, running a hand through his hair, “If I had known you would do that… but, no, I think you’ve had your consequences already, so I won’t scold you.” He sighed heavily, “And really, we never would have been in this mess if I hadn’t asked you to meet me that night.”
“Stop blaming yourself,” Taeyeon replied, “If it hadn’t happened I would still be so ignorant about the Dark Kingdom and its people. Now, I know a little bit more.”
Sungmin stared at her a moment before stating bluntly, “He likes you.”
“I suspect he does,” Taeyeon conceded.
It warmed her heart to acknowledge it and to see proof of it. He had risked more of his soul simply to heal her. He had looked at her with such concern, such worry. She would have given anything to take away the sorrow on his face. She almost regretted doing what she did simply because it had upset Siwon. But, no, she had to protect their kingdoms.
Sungmin raised a brow, “You like him.”
“I honestly don’t know,” Taeyeon admitted, “I like him as a person and I admit I’m physically attracted to him. And, sure, I do worry after him and care about his soul, but…” She sighed, “Oh, alright, I guess I do like him.”
“We don’t have to be engaged,” Sungmin said softly,
“Don’t we?” Taeyeon pulled her legs onto the bed, crossing them beneath her skirt. She stared down at her left hand lying in her lap. It felt sore and stiff when she moved the joints and she still couldn’t quite completely feel when she touched things. The Dark Mage would help later.
“We’ll return to our own kingdom. We’ll return to my castle and are supposed to act as if we never crossed over into Dark Lands. We are to act as if we never dined with Dark Royalty and were guests, for the most part, at Dark Castle,” Taeyeon said, “Even if I wanted to break the engagement for the time we are here, when we return to our home, we have to pretend none of this happened and we will be engaged again.” She shook her head, “No, there’s no point in breaking the engagement for just a time.”
“What if it didn’t have to end?” Sungmin prompted, “What if we broke the engagement and you found something far better here with this man? Who am I or the perceptions of the entire kingdom to stop you?”
Taeyeon laughed gently, “This is all on the assumption that he would have me, Min. Who would want someone who is so fickle that she breaks her engagement to one man after meeting another?”
“He wouldn’t think you fickle if he knew you,” Sungmin stressed, “You were right before about needing freedom, Taeyeon. We set up this engagement so you could have more freedom. However, now you found someone you actually like. Shouldn’t you be free to fall in love with them?”
Her eyes grew wide, “Fall in love? I never mentioned love!”
“No, but it’s a possibility and you should be given the chance to do so,” Sungmin shrugged, “You deserve such a chance.”
“I don’t know…” Taeyeon chewed on her bottom lip,
“It had to happen eventually,” Sungmin said, “We couldn’t stay engaged forever just so you could avoid suitors, Taeyeon. What did you expect? That we would get engaged and you’d never have to choose someone to marry?”
Taeyeon sighed, “Something like that. In truth, when we began this I didn’t think beyond my suitors all leaving me alone.” She locked gazes with Sungmin, “I was very selfish, Sungmin. I never even thought about your future.”
“What future?” Sungmin laughed, “When I chose to be a mage, I chose to be alone. People are too afraid to be near mages. So, no, you weren’t selfish, you provided me a reason to have company when all others would have left me alone.”
Taeyeon leaned her head on his shoulder, “What a pair we are, Sungmin. We set up a fake engagement and now I’m reluctant to leave it because... well, I don’t know why because.”
“Because it’s comfortable. It’s safe,” Sungmin offered, “It’s less risky than attempting to win the heart of a certain prince.”
For a moment, Taeyeon said nothing. In fact, she didn’t speak for so long that Sungmin suspected either she wouldn’t speak anymore or she had fallen asleep. Finally, however, she said softly, “Can you help me go outside? Perhaps sunlight will restore some of my strength.”
“Anything for you, Minx,” Sungmin helped her up and then, slowly, headed outside.
They went to the back terrace and Sungmin led Taeyeon to one of the stone benches there. They sat back-to-back so she could lean back against him and tip her face up to the sky. He hoped she could regain more strength. Indeed, he hoped to gain more magical strength. The prince was able to help her in a way he couldn’t yet and, while appreciative, he hated it. He hated he could do nothing for his dearest friend. He hated how useless he had felt. All he could do was hold her and, while that may have been enough for her, he wish he could have done far more. Indeed, in a perfect world he would be able to use and control his magic without a second thought. Then again, in a perfect world they would love each other romantically and actually want to get married.
“I’m so tired, Min,” Taeyeon said softly, “But I would far prefer to sleep out in the field and beneath the sunshine than in my room.”
Sungmin chuckled softly, “Shall we steal away to the field then?”
“No. I don’t even have the strength to stand up right now,” She replied, the sun warm on her face.
“I leave for an hour and already you get into trouble.”
Taeyeon opened her eyes just enough to see the Dark Mage striding towards them from the terrace doors. Kangin gave a curt nod to Sungmin before come before Taeyeon and kneeling before her. Immediately, he reached out for her left hand, instinctively feeling the source of her weakness. He took her small hand into his large one and closed his eyes,
“The prince did a good job on your hand,” Kangin stated, “Joints are healed, tendons, ligaments and muscles are healed. Skin has obviously healed. Ah, the nerves. Not completely healed and it’s too late to undo the damage. Traditionally, people will take away pain without care for the nerves, so the prince isn’t to blame for this slight. I am healing them so that you are not in constant pain, but you will not regain complete sensation, movement and control in this hand. I apologize, Princess.”
“It’s okay,” Taeyeon insisted, her head leaning against Sungmin’s back as she sleepily regarded the mage, “I know Siwon did as much as he could. It would be ungrateful if I found fault with his care, indeed, even after what you’ve told me, I see no reason to blame him for anything. I was a fool and this is a consequence of it.”
Kangin opened his eyes and locked gazes with her, silver meeting amber, “But you would do it again if put in that situation again.”
“Of course,” Taeyeon smiled simply, “It is my duty as a princess.”
“And you are your brother’s sister,” Kangin replied as he released her hand and slowly stood up, “Your duty to your kingdom comes second to none.”
“That’s a little sad, though,” Taeyeon mused as she closed her eyes again and faced the sun, “While I do not hate my duty, I see what it does for my brother. He has sacrificed a lot for his duty to the kingdom. One day, I hope to find something or someone who goes before my duty.”
Kangin stood there a moment, silent. Surely the lesser mage would fall under the category of coming before her duty. Or did she not esteem him enough to place Sungmin before her duty? Theirs was a curious relationship. Even now he observed nothing but deep friendship between the two. He never saw attraction or desire in their eyes as he caught in Prince Siwon’s as he looked at Taeyeon or vice versa. He wondered…
“Are you two really engaged?” Kangin questioned simply,
Taeyeon sat up straight and opened her eyes, “Why do you ask that?” as Sungmin turned in his seat to look directly at the older man,
“Call it instincts,” Kangin shrugged, “And the fact that you don’t wear a ring.”
Taeyeon blinked before turned to look at Sungmin, “He’s good.”
“Or everyone else is stupid,” Sungmin rolled his eyes, “It’s been three years and no one’s questioned it nor have they commented on your lack of a ring.”
“Well they’re hardly going to call me a liar. They’d be too afraid of getting arrested or some silly declaration,” Taeyeon replied. Then, she looked at the Dark Mage who seemed to know her brother as much as she did. Who seemed to know her brother enough that Eeteuk had secured their safety with the Dark Mage’s help. If her brother trusted him, then so could she; “It is all pretend.”
“Avoiding suitors?” Kangin raised a brow,
Taeyeon blinked again, “Am I really that predictable?”
Kangin shook his head, “It’s easily to conclude. You’ve been engaged for three years. Three years ago was when you turned eighteen. Besides, I suspect your engagement and the constant presence of Sungmin helps keep other men away.”
“Oh, Sungmin, what would happen if people found out you’re just my friend?” Taeyeon sighed in mock-drama. When he raised a brow, she quickly added, “My very best friend, of course.”
Sungmin chuckled, “I’m your only friend, Minx, but you’re my only friend as well.”
“Are you going to inform the princes of your actual marital states?” Kangin inquired casually,
Sungmin looked at Taeyeon meaningfully, but she merely shook her head, “Nothing warrants we give up the façade. After all, Sungmin cannot remain prisoner for very long and when we return to our kingdom, things will continue on as they always have been. There’s no point in breaking the illusion for just a time.”
Kangin locked gazes with the princess for a few seconds. His gaze was unreadable but it felt to her as if he were looking straight into her soul. She wondered, briefly, what he saw there and if he could see that she was lying, that she wanted to break the engagement, that she wanted to be able to seek someone else. She looked away then, tipping her face up to the sun again.
A chance for love? She mused over Sungmin’s previous words, If only…
Later that day, Taeyeon headed to the prince’s study to see if he would show her more of the garden maze. She was descending the main staircase when she heard the princes talking. She paused in her progressing, feeling the need to not be seen by them just yet. Perhaps it was the fact that she had heard her name being said quietly between the brothers.
“Don’t be foolish, she’s engaged,” Siwon said as he and Kyuhyun walked from the direction of his study to the main foyer,
“Engaged, yes, but not married,” Kyuhyun stated,
“Kyuhyun…” Siwon sighed heavily,
“I saw your expression before you left the dining room with the consorts,” Kyuhyun said, “I saw fear in your eyes, Siwon.”
“And then,” he spoke over his brother, “When I came to take your place with them, you were grateful, relieved, you couldn’t have left them sooner to join Taeyeon’s side. When I saw you again after, you were in your darkest mood, yet, Siwon. You have never acted like this before. You have never been so emotionally expressive towards someone before. For the first time in so long, Siwon, I’m seeing glimpses of warm emotions from you. What are you going to do? Just let this chance go?”
“What am I supposed to do? She’s engaged to someone else, Kyuhyun,” Siwon stated, “Besides…”
“Why would I want to be with her anyway?” Siwon asked ruthlessly, “She’s not from our kingdom, her magic is uncontrollable and if she’s so easily taken from her fiancé what does that say of her loyalty? No, I have no reason to pursue her.”
Kyuhyun looked at his brother for a moment before stating, “Aren’t you just jumping to conclusions?”
“She’s just like any of my other consorts,” Siwon shrugged, “She’s of no consequence to me.”
Taeyeon, who had been standing still at the top of the stairs, suddenly felt queasy. She felt her insides go cold at the prince’s words. How could he say all those things about her? After the time they had spent together, albeit brief, she thought they had made some kind of connection. Indeed, hadn’t he offered her friendship? If so, why was it now that she wasn’t around, he was saying these horrible things about her? Granted, nothing he said was a lie, but surely, he knew a bit about her personality to know if she was as dangerous and flighty as he described her to be.
With as much strength she could muster – which wasn’t very much – she took the stairs one at a time, slowly descending. She didn’t try to mask her descent or her presence. Indeed, she continued down the stairs as if she hadn’t spotted the brothers who had suddenly paused at the bottom, watching her progress. When she reached the bottom, she gazed at them with slight surprise and dropped into a deep curtsy, regardless they were of the same station,
“Your Highnesses,” she said solemnly, softly. She slowly rose and walked around them to go to the back terrace.
“Where are you going?” Siwon asked casually,
She paused and looked over her shoulder at them, “To the gardens.”
“May I accompany you?” Siwon offered, “Perhaps show you more of the maze?”
“I really would prefer my solitude, Prince Siwon,” she turned and slowly continued on her way as she called back, “Please, do not feel the need to pretend to hold me in consequence.”
They watched as she disappeared into the back of the gardens.
“Damn it,” Siwon swore once she was gone, “She heard us.”
“Really? I never would have known,” Kyuhyun replied, his words dripping with sarcasm, “You’re an idiot, Siwon. I knew you were talking a lot of nonsense but that’s because I know you. She doesn’t know you so well and probably took you to heart.”
“You knew I was lying?” Siwon glanced at his brother,
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes, “Of course I did. You said all of that to get me to leave the matter alone, but the moment she appeared it was like you were falling in love with her all over again.”
“I do not love her,” Siwon stated firmly, his thick brows narrowed,
Kyuhyun raised a brow, “Don’t you?”
Taeyeon stepped into the sunshine and, for the first time, did not feel happy from its bright light. Rather, she despised it, would rather crawl back into bed and hide in the darkness beneath her covers. She despised it for what it represented, for what it supposedly blessed her with. If her powers were seen as a blessing from the Light, then why were people afraid of those who wielded their magic? Why were people afraid of their own magic? If her powers were a blessing, then why wasn’t she allowed to learn to use them?
She made her way into the maze, familiar with only one route; she stepped onto the path that smelled of light lavender. She bypassed the stops she had made previously and only stopped once she reached her destination. She stood in the entranceway to the small garden that was strictly roses. Walking to the stone bench, she sat down on it sideways, pulling her feet up before her and hugging her legs to her chest. Turning her head, she laid her cheek upon her raised knees and closed her eyes.
She could easily set aflame to the roses. She only had to think of the prince’s words and allow her anger to flow freely. It was only too easily to unleash her magic, to allow it free reign in the sanctum of roses. It would be borne of her anger, of her spite. It would thrive on her hurt, on her sorrow. However, despite how much the prince’s words hurt her, she couldn’t bring herself to destroy even a part of his gardens. She couldn’t destroy something that was borne of something that was wholly good. It represented a peace and respite the prince sought outside his regular life. It represented his sacrifice, the price of his soul just to erect the maze from nothing. Regardless of how much her heart hurt, she knew destroying even a single petal would make her hurt even more simply because it would hurt him.
When she felt the green silk become wet over her knees, Taeyeon realized she was crying. How foolish she was to be crying over someone who obviously didn’t esteem her as much as she esteemed them! And, yet, she couldn’t stop the tears. They weren’t dramatic, burning tears. Rather, they were a slow but steady trickle of tears that caressed her cheeks in a constant reminder that she hurt inside. Burning her hand had been far more painful, but this pain, this twisting of her heart, was as big of a shock to her system as the burn had been. She had never been heartbroken before and suddenly found herself contemplating which had hurt worse, her hand or her heart.
(Chapter 6: Light's Protection)
A/N: Explaination about Dark and Light Magic... When I was planning out what elementals each magic-type could manipulate, I decided to do some research on elements. I decided to go with the traditional elements in Chinese mythology: Fire, Air/Sky, Earth/Soil, Water. Part of the water element is plants because of the reason explained in this chapter - water is seen as something that flows and the way plants grow is the same way. In regards to air magic and manipulating it to create lightning, this is just from the scientific concept of molecules in the air creating a charge.