(Chapter Ten of the Reign on Me series.)
Chapter Ten: The Origins of Darkness
Sungmin sighed heavily as he walked down the corridor to his room. He paused briefly outside of Taeyeon's room, contemplating whether or not he should stay in there for a few hours. He shook his head after a moment. No, he wouldn't hide from who he was almost certain - no, definitely positive - was waiting for him in his room. He sighed heavily as he continued past Taeyeon's door to his own.
Standing outside of the door, he raised his hands to the wooden surface and stretched out his magic, searching. He stepped back, suddenly, as if burned by the door. Within, he could feel waves of Dark Magic. Indeed, it radiated through the door and he cursed at himself for not sensing it sooner. He stared at the door with worry. He remembered how the prince divulged the secrets of his magic and his emotional triggers. He remembered how the prince explained the problems with his magic and the nighttime. Hand on the doorknob, he hoped the emotions in the prince were not anger or he'd be facing a hurricane in his room.
The moment he stepped into his dark room, Sungmin found himself slammed against the door, effectively closing it. He suppressed the urge to sigh as he saw the shadow standing before him. With a slight flick of his wrist, his hand down at his side, a fire began to roar in the fireplace.
He stared ahead of him, the younger man who was now half in light and half in darkness. The second prince had his hands planted against the door on either side of Sungmin's head. His body was no more than an inch away from Sungmin's. The lesser mage could feel the density of Dark Magic wrapped around the prince as his eyes were more silver than black.
"Why have you been ignoring me!?" Kyuhyun growled, his dark eyes narrowed and his hands fisting against the door.
"Why have you been playing with me?" Sungmin countered, his tone cool, his face expressionless,
"What are you talking about?" Kyuhyun demanded,
"I went to your room last night, but I ran into another mage who was leaving your room," Sungmin explained,
"Goes to your room every night... Don't try to lie, I confirmed it with some of the servants," Sungmin retorted, his eyes slowly narrowing,
"That's what this is about? Because you saw Kangin leaving my room?" Kyuhyun questioned,
"What else am I supposed to think with this information?" Sungmin argued, "What else am I supposed to conclude when I find him leaving your room late at night and hear he goes there every night?"
"It's... It's not what you think," Kyuhyun grounded out past clenched teeth, "I... I swear to you it isn't like that between Kangin and I!"
"Then, what is it like?" Sungmin questioned, his gaze unwavering,
Kyuhyun grounded his teeth together until his jaw hurt. He had been on edge all day, his emotions volatile as he tried to fight the confusion and, yes, hurt that swirled within him like toxic. He didn't trust his magic to the point that he summoned Kangin and had been with him from after lunch to dinner. He had gone from the dining room straight to the lesser mage's room and remained inside. He knew Kangin would go to his room, but he had left a note telling the mage he would not need him that night. As he stood now with the other mage, he prayed he had been right.
He had been tempted the other day to confess all to the lesser mage. He had been tempted to say everything that had been in his mind, building within him like a lake reservoir suddenly hit by a tsunami; the dam ready to break. He had been tempted to say what he never said to Kangin, what only Siwon guessed but he had never confirmed for his brother.
He wanted the mage, almost painfully so. He was attracted to him, almost fiercely. He had never desired someone so powerfully before. He wanted to be physically close to the mage, but something had shifted the other day. He had needed emotional respite, comfort - something he hadn't sought or needed in years. And the first person who came to mind was the Mage of Light. What was it, he wondered, that drew him to this mage? What was it that pushed him to want the mage, to find a type of refuge in the mage that he never looked for in others?
Kyuhyun practically growled as he slammed his fist against the door and swung away from the mage. How could he even consider telling him? How could he let him into the deepest part of his soul? How could he let him know that which nearly destroyed him years ago? He couldn't risk it, could he? And, yet... the temptation was too great. Perhaps, even greater than his fear of the risk.
As he paced away, he gripped a bedpost tightly. He would risk it, or he'd forever wonder 'what if'. He survived the last gambit he took, he'd survive this one, too, if it proved he'd been wrong.
"I told you before about my magic... how dangerous it is at night," Kyuhyun said quietly as he gazed into the fire across the room; "What I suspect you don't realize is how dangerous." Kyuhyun inhaled and exhaled slowly, leaning his head until his temple touched the wooden post;
"I can feel your magic right now," Sungmin said quietly, his back still against the door and his arms crossed over his chest. "Control it before we're submerged in water or the castle goes down in an earthquake!"
"It's not that easy at night," Kyuhyun confessed, his voice a bare whisper; "In fact... it's near impossible."
"What does this have to do with Kangin? He helps you control it every night?" Sungmin questioned,
"Yes," Kyuhyun replied simply, "However, it would be selfish for him to constantly be controlling my magic. It would require a continuous spell from him which would put a drain on him, causing him to use more magic than necessary. It would also mean allowing my magic to constantly be in use, albeit, at a lower level than without control."
Kyuhyun stepped away from the bedpost then, staring at the wood, darkened by water. He tentatively touched its surface, only to confirm it was drenched throughout. He sighed heavily and strode towards the fire, hoping the heat of the flames would keep his water magic at bay.
"Every night, Kangin comes to my room and puts me into a deep, dreamless sleep. It is a single spell that, once I'm asleep, stops draining his magic, which is far better than him having to be constantly monitoring and controlling my magic," Kyuhyun admitted quietly, "In order for me to awaken, however, it requires a counter-spell. So, he comes to my room every morning to awaken me."
"So, that's why the servants say he's always coming and going from your room," Sungmin replied,
Kyuhyun clenched his fists at his sides as the fire suddenly went out in the fireplace, water spilling forth from the hearth. Emitting a low growl, he paced away towards the window seat on the other side of the room.
"If you keep this up, my entire room will be drenched in water," Sungmin noted casually, not once moving from the door,
"Must you talk like this is a joke!?" Kyuhyun demanded,
Sungmin raised a brow as he caused a fire to start in the fireplace once more, "Hmm... you're the one who's usually doing that; acting and talking like everything and everyone in the world amuses you."
"Well, maybe it's all a lie! Maybe it's all just a guise to keep my brother sane!" Kyuhyun exclaimed.
Sungmin watched as his eyes widened, as if suddenly realizing what he had just said. Kyuhyun turned away sharply then, leaning a shoulder against the window's niche, shoving his fists into his pockets.
"You're talking about the gardens now, aren't you?" Sungmin asked softly, "You fear for his soul because of the magic he used to create the gardens. So you create an illusion to make him believe that you're okay... so that your apparent happiness will, hopefully, keep what's left of his soul intact."
Kyuhyun said nothing, merely gazing out the window as it began to rain in heavy sheets. He tightly shut his eyes, trying to contain his emotions and, thus, his magic. He needed to stop the rain before he caused a flood.
The prince nearly jumped when he felt a hand on his chest, just over his heart. He hadn't heard the other move. He felt the warm, strong body behind him, the warm puffs of air against his neck.
"How much of your soul is still intact?" He asked quietly, the urge to take the younger man in his arms too strong to resist; "To constantly have your magic flowing from you... To train and use magic... Then, isn't your soul more at risk?"
"But, why, is your magic so dangerous at night? What is it about the night that affects your emotions so much?" Sungmin asked,
Kyuhyun shut his eyes even tighter, fighting against the sudden flood of emotions now flowing up inside him, threatening to spill over. He clenched his fists in his pockets, digging his nails into his palms, hoping the pain could distract him, make his thoughts turn away from what he was feeling. His mind immediately filled with memories engulfed in flames. Kyuhyun desperately tried to silence his voice, tried to squash the words that eagerly wanted to escape.
"Please..." Sungmin murmured, "If you give me a chance... then I will never hurt you. I will protect you from what you fear of both your magic and your emotions. I told you before that I can help you control your magic, but you have to give me a chance."
When Kyuhyun didn't reply, he whispered, "I'm sorry," bowing his head so his forehead was pressed to the prince's back just below his neck. "I know I have already broken that promise and it's selfish of me to ask for another chance, but if you put your trust in me, I will never be unworthy of it. If you rely on me, I will never fail you."
"Eight years ago... I failed to save my mother," Kyuhyun confessed quietly, his hand rising to cover Sungmin's, clasping it firmly as it laid over his heart; "In that fire, I also failed to save a mage... my childhood friend."
Kyuhyun forced the words past the lump growing in his throat. He bit down hard to stop the cry that wanted to slip past his lips, the memories bearing down on him like heavy weights on his shoulders. He tilted his head, leaning it against the side of the window's niche, clenching his eyes shut as he felt the hot sting of tears.
He remembered that night so clearly. He remembered reaching the back of the castle only to find both his mother and the mage already there. His mother was crumpled on the ground, the flames crawling over the grass towards her. The young, lesser mage, stood before the fires, his arms outstretched as he tried to fend the fires with unpracticed, weak water magic. He had hesitated for just a moment, startled to find both of them there ahead of him.
He had run headlong towards the flames, trying to summon all the magic within him, trying to force it all out as water magic. He was surprised when he was able to actually make his magic work and the way he wanted it. The flames retreated a few inches, half a foot, a foot... He grabbed his mother's arm, hooking it around his neck and dragged her away from the flames as far as he could. He heard a yell and he stopped, turning to look back at the mage who was suddenly closer, standing between himself and the flames. He had seen the flames rising up from the mage's clothing and he had hesitated.
Kyuhyun realized in half a heartbeat that he could help the young mage, panicking as his robes caught fire. Or, he could finish pulling his mother away. He had locked gazes with the mage then, his tall frame almost completely consumed by flames as he tried to wave away the flames. Kyuhyun had forced his gaze away and pulled his mother from the flames, hearing the mage scream once more. When he had laid his mother back down on the grass and turned back to the fire, the mage's robes were no longer alit with flames, but he was a heap on the ground and Kyuhyun couldn't tell if he was even breathing. The flames drew closer and he grabbed the mage by his robes, drawing him away from the fire.
He remembered feeling as if his world had tilted as he gazed down at the face of the young mage with his partially blackened skin and his singed hair.
"Mi..." he had whispered, reaching out for his friend's shoulder, shaking it gently, "Mi, wake up..." He shook him slightly harder, "Wake up!"
He recalled the sudden flare of heat that had torn his gaze away from his friend's dormant face. The flames that he had been fighting had now crept around them, surrounding them completely. Feeling as if he was abandoning his friend a second time, he jumped to his feet in an attempt to fight the flames again.
What happened afterwards was a blur. Siwon had joined him and together they created a rainstorm to bring down the fire once and for all. When the rain had stopped, the bodies of their mother and the mage washed up with them on the back terrace. Neither had survived.
"If I had been stronger... If... If I had gotten there sooner..." Kyuhyun stammered, feeling the hot trails of tears down his cheeks, "If... If..."
"Their deaths are not your fault," Sungmin stated fiercely, his other arm wrapping around Kyuhyun, embracing him tightly, protectively; "If you want to truly control your magic at night, then you need to accept that fact: it was not your fault, Kyuhyun."
The mage's words made him cry even more. He turned around in his embrace, his hand rising to clasp the base of his skull firmly. With his other hand, he wiped at his tears with his sleeve, "Please, say it again."
Sungmin stared at him through the dimness, "It was not your fault," he repeated firmly, steadily - slowly as to emphasize each word.
Kyuhyun shook his head, touching his forehead to the other's, "No... my name... say it again."
Sungmin's hands, which had settled between his shoulder blades, slowly slid down to the small of the prince's back, pulling him flush against him. He closed the distance between their mouths, brushing a kiss against the prince's lips, "Kyuhyun," he murmured as he pulled back. He kissed him again, "Kyuhyun," he whispered as he pulled back again.
Their gazes locked for a fraction of a heart beat. It was Kyuhyun, this time, to lean in and kiss Sungmin. Their lips moved against one another like a fusion of Dark and Light Magic. Their lips parted, their tongues met, tasted and teased.
Sungmin broke the kiss and simply stared at the prince for a moment. Then he leaned in and pressed a kiss to his eyes, brushing away the tears there. He pressed kisses along Kyuhyun's brow, down his nose, along his jaw and, finally, kissed his lips again.
"Kyuhyun," he breathed and kissed him.
A soft knock at the door pierced through the silence of the room. He glanced over at the door, the room still lit by the soft, orange blaze in the fireplace. He called quietly for the knocker to enter, startled when the Dark Mage entered instead of the princess, who he originally thought it had been. He saw the Dark Mage raise a brow at him as he approached the window seat.
"Well... you two look comfortable," Kangin murmured as he stood by his feet, leaning a shoulder against the window's niche,
"You might wake him up," Sungmin scolded even as he was grinning.
Sungmin sat on the window seat, back against the side. Sitting between his legs was the second prince, his body reclining against the lesser mage, his torso twisted slightly towards the window and his cheek nuzzled against the mage's shoulder. Sungmin had his arms around the prince, his hands loosely clasped on the younger man's waist.
"He'll sleep through anything," Kangin insisted, "And if he's resting peacefully, that means even his dreams aren't bothering him."
"They must be," Sungmin said, "It's pouring outside."
Kangin glanced to the windows, everything pitch black outside; "No, that's not Kyuhyun's magic. If it was, he wouldn't be able to sleep like that,"
"I thought perhaps the rain was just a manifestation since he was sleeping so peacefully, like another venue," Sungmin said,
Kangin shook his head, "No, that's definitely Prince Siwon's doing."
Sungmin glanced down at Kyuhyun, able to just see part of his profile. His arms tightened ever so slightly around the prince. He froze and then swung his gaze back to the Dark Mage, "Wait, where's Taeyeon?"
"Asleep," Kangin answered, "I came to talk to you. I knew Kyuhyun was you - I could sense his magic - but I didn't think he'd be asleep. Well, perhaps I should have known since his magic isn't as unrestrained as it usually is."
"What happened?" Sungmin asked,
"I don't know. I was leaving the castle, but I was going to the main stairs, and she ran into me there - literally," Kangin explained, "She was crying, Sungmin, and she had a whole trail of fire following her up the stairs."
Sungmin's eyes widened, "Should I go to her?"
Kangin shook his head, "No, she just cried herself to sleep and this is the first time I've seen Kyuhyun sleep so calmly all on his own. It would be a waste to wake either of them."
"She didn't say anything?" Sungmin inquired, "No, of course not. She's not the type to confess all while she cries."
"She cried for almost an hour," Kangin said quietly, his gaze out the window, brow slightly furrowed; "She said one thing, however, when she first ran into me."
Sungmin waited, hoping the Dark Mage would share. He knew Kangin came to him because he and Taeyeon meant a lot to one another. He knew Kangin came to him because Taeyeon would need someone when she woke up. However, he also knew the need for confidences. He knew what it was like to be in someone's confidences. He knew that, no matter how much he wanted to know what Taeyeon said, it wasn't right he learn it like this. He should learn it from her directly.
"There are two reasons I'm telling you any of this," Kangin said, his voice quiet, "The first is because, should either of us be unsuccessful, you will need to prepare to return to the Light Kingdom. The second is because... I cannot help her like you can... like anyone can. I don't have anything left of my soul to feel anything and if I cannot do that, then how can I help anyone?" He looked at the mage, then, "What the princess needs is someone who can comfort her; I cannot do that. She says she wants to go home."
Sungmin's eyes widened, "What the hell happened with her and the prince?"
Kangin said nothing, knowing the question was rhetorical. His gaze dropped to the second prince as Sungmin looked out the window. He was surprised to find Kyuhyun so calm and, he could tell it was a natural sleep. Kyuhyun had found peace without need for a spell. Kyuhyun had found strength without him. The time for him to leave was growing near and he didn't have enough soul to feel even a little sad about the thought.
Sungmin thought about what the mage had told him. He thought about what both he and Taeyeon had been through since coming to the Dark Kingdom. Indeed, he thought about the talks they had, what Taeyeon had struggled against and how she had pushed herself, forced herself to be more, grow more. Regardless of what had occurred between her and the first prince, he knew what happened next could make or break her. He knew that she could become stronger or weaker. He had to act accordingly and do what was best for her, despite how hard a decision that was for him.
He turned his gaze back to the Dark Mage who, seemingly to sense his eyes, looked back at him.
"I think that I am not the best person to help Taeyeon in this," Sungmin said slowly, hesitantly, as if feeling his way through the words, as if walking down a path he had never known to have existed before.
Kangin's eyebrows rose, "Surely you don't think Siwon -"
"No, not him. Certainly, not him... Taeyeon needs someone like you, indeed... she needs you," Sungmin stated,
"I thought Kyuhyun would choose better than someone who's insane," Kangin stated evenly,
Sungmin rolled his eyes, "My sanity is fully intact, just listen. Right now, Taeyeon is very emotional -"
Kangin raised a hand to stop the sudden exclamation he knew the mage would say, "After she fell asleep, I turned it into a dreamless one."
"Thank you," Sungmin nodded before continuing, "Because she's very emotional, she's very... impressionable. What I mean is... She has been working hard to challenge herself. In this state of mind, taking the easy way out is very tempting for her. If I go to her in the morning and talk to her, comfort her, it'll be like all the other times she's relied on me. I'm not saying she can never rely on me or that it's a bad thing that she always does. I'm saying that she needs a bit of tough love. She needs someone who will talk rationally to her without being emotionally supportive."
"That doesn't sound like a very good theory," Kangin stated,
"If I'm not there, she has to push herself to rely on herself emotionally," Sungmin explained, "I will always be there for her, but she'll never learn to be there for herself." When Kangin continued to stare at him, one brow raised, he sighed and insisted, "If it all goes wrong, then I will take full responsibility and do all I can to help Taeyeon. However, I know I'm not wrong about this and, even if I am, she'll be fine. Helping her to grow and become a stronger person will not kill her."
"That doesn't sound right either," Kangin replied. He pushed away from the wall and headed to the door, "If you're wrong, Mage, not even I will be able to protect you from Eeteuk."
Sungmin blinked and then tried to look over his shoulder but couldn't do so with the prince in his arms, "How do you two even know each other?"
His answer was the sound of the bedroom door opening and closing.
"How did they even meet?" Sungmin asked quietly,
"Before the war,"
Sungmin nearly jumped, managing to control his surprised reaction only because of the thought that his reaction would result in throwing the prince to the ground. "For the love of... I thought you were sleeping."
"I was," Kyuhyun murmured as he turned in the other's embrace so he was back to chest with the mage, fitting his head back against Sungmin's shoulder, "You two talk loud when you're trying to not awaken someone."
"When did you wake up?" Sungmin inquired, fitting his arms more snugly around the younger man,
"When Kangin questioned your sanity," Kyuhyun answered, folding his arms just above where Sungmin's rested on his abdomen; "I certainly question it."
"So, you disagree with my tactics concerning Taeyeon?" Sungmin asked quietly,
"It doesn't matter what I think," Kyuhyun replied, "I've only known her a week."
"But it matters to me what you think," Sungmin said,
"I think what you propose is risky. It relies completely on the princess' strength to adapt, grow and change. It relies on the belief that what is to make her strong won't, instead, make her weaker. It's true, it won't kill her, but it could very well break her," Kyuhyun said, "It's... not a bad idea, it's just..." He shrugged, "Sometimes, all I want is someone to rely on, especially when my emotions are..." He sighed, "Speaking from experience... there's a chance for everything to go right, but there's a very definite possibility for everything to go wrong, too."
"Thank you for being honest," Sungmin replied; "You should have spoken up when Kangin was still here."
"But, then, he wouldn't have decided to do as you instructed," Kyuhyun replied, sitting up and turning to look at the mage;
Sungmin shook his head, "No, because then I would have counter-argued that I know Taeyeon more than anyone else. Well, perhaps that isn't true anymore, who knows... but I know her and I know how strong she truly is; I know what she's capable of. For goodness' sake, she allowed her hand to be completely burned for the sake of keeping peace between the kingdoms." He raised a hand, holding the prince's chin between thumb and forefinger,
"I know... after that incident I couldn't stop thinking of how magnificent she is. After she was healed, I was thankful that she wasn't truly my competition," Kyuhyun said, the mage's silver-blue eyes drawing him in; "If you had loved her, we wouldn't be like this, now."
"That's true," Sungmin admitted and, when Kyuhyun tried to look away, Sungmin wouldn't let him; "Just how because you are here, I wouldn't be with anyone else." He stared directly into the prince's eyes; "I am very loyal, you'll find, Kyuhyun and I also know what I want."
"So, what happens when you no longer want me?" Kyuhyun asked quietly, "What happens if we sleep together and then you don't want me anymore?"
Sungmin raised a brow. He knew the prince was emotional during the night and had guessed that his flippant and happy exterior a façade. What he never thought was that the prince's confidence be false as well.
"For as long as I have lived, Kyuhyun, you are the first to affect me so," Sungmin stated quietly, steadily. "When - not if - When we sleep together, I will not give you up so easily. I want to be with you for as long as you will have me."
Kyuhyun blinked at him, eyes wide with wonder. He swallowed hard past the lump forming in his throat; "Sungmin..." he managed,
"Kyuhyun," he replied softly, offering a small, sweet smile,
Kyuhyun raised his hand, cupping the base of his skull as he leaned forward, his torso pressing against the other's. "Stay with me forever."
Sungmin closed his eyes, accepting the prince's kiss as he whispered, "Keep me forever."
The next morning, Taeyeon awoke so suddenly, it was as if a curtain had been parted to allow the sun into a pitch-black room. She lay on her back in bed, her eyes gazing sightlessly at the canopy. She lay there for a few minutes, just getting her bearings, collecting her thoughts and trying to remember why her eyes ached.
"It is an odd feeling when one is not used to waking up as such,"
Taeyeon yelped as she tried to scramble out of the bed, only to get tangled in the sheets and roll until she tipped over the edge in a heap of blankets and one pillow. When she got her wits about her, she knelt at the side of the bed and looked across the mattress. The Dark Mage stood at the other side of the four-poster bed, shoulder against a post by the foot of the bed, arms folded over his chest and a single brow raised.
"Don't scare me like that!" She exclaimed, her face flushing from her embarrassment,
"You would've been surprised whether I remained silent and you looked up to find me or, as I did, spoke to you first," Kangin shrugged,
"Why are you here?" She questioned, remaining where she was, kneeling at the bedside,
"I had to wake you up," Kangin replied. He decided not to divulge that he had sat in an armchair by the fire all night so as to monitor her magic levels and to ensure his spell did not break. He knew that, if anyone could break his spell, it would be the princess.
Taeyeon narrowed her eyes at him before realization lit her amber eyes, "You put a sleeping spell on me?"
Kangin blinked, "You know about those?" Then he nodded, "Of course... Your brother?"
Taeyeon nodded, her gaze wistful, "After our parents... and for a time during the beginning of the war."
Kangin raised a brow, "For how long during the war?"
"Until I was thirteen," Taeyeon admitted quietly,
Kangin gazed at her then, his mercurial eyes studying her and the princess distinctly felt, for not the first time, as if he were seeing directly into her soul. It should have been a troubling thought, but after spending more time with him and, indeed, after crying before him so horrendously the night before, she found she didn't mind so much. If anything, she felt it comforting that he could know her soul without her having to say the words herself. She knew she was being weak again.
"Up until the war ended, your brother used a sleeping spell on you?" Kangin asked,
Taeyeon nodded, "Every night."
"Taeyeon... has your brother ever talked to you about the circumstances of your parents' murders?" Kangin inquired, his tone even and expression unreadable.
Taeyeon shook her head, "He never talked about it even when I eventually asked. All I've ever known about ... that... is from other people - never from Eeteuk."
Kangin locked eyes with the princess again. She peered up at him, her amber eyes wide with wonder and curiosity. He knew he had roused her interest with his peculiar question, but he had to ask, he had to know what had been said, particularly if his name had come up. He knew she couldn't see anything in his eyes or expression - he had no soul left for that.
He had felt himself lose the last of his soul rapidly over the past few weeks, the last piece gone just days ago. Had it truly been just a few short days ago that he had felt a shred of emotion? Of amusement? Or even the urge to laugh softly? It was a lowering thought, one he had known would come eventually. He wondered briefly how much he wanted emotion at that moment, so that he could truly care about the princess instead of the protectiveness he displayed out of duty. Then, he pushed those thoughts away. It was his inability to have emotions that gave him the right to speak with the princess that morning.
He calmly contemplated then whether or not to tell her his story of what happened. Finally, he decided to keep his telling a secret, not wanting to bring the past up where it did not belong. Besides, he needed to talk about her, not his past.
"Taeyeon, did you really mean what you said last night?" Kangin asked softly,
Taeyeon blinked before her gaze dulled, suddenly recalling all that had transpired the night before. Waking up to find the mage in her room had shocked her that she had almost forgotten what had happened. She felt cold, then, pulling the blanket tighter around her small body as she propped her chin on the edge of the mattress. Her tears threatened to spill and she forcibly fought them back. She had cried quite enough the night before and in front of the Dark Mage of all people. There was still a very definite ache in the vicinity of her heart, but she ruthlessly shoved away thoughts of the pain and the cause.
"Yes," Taeyeon said as she reigned in her emotions, "There's nothing keeping me from going home. Indeed, I stayed because of Sungmin, but he doesn't need me for company anymore."
"What did Prince Siwon do?" Kangin inquired and added quickly, "If you don't mind me asking, of course."
Taeyeon sighed as she turned away and sat down, her back against the side of the bed and grabbing the pillow that had fallen to the floor, hugging it tightly. She wished Sungmin were there. He would take her into his arms and just hug her. She needed the warmth and strength he always brought into her life, he always provided. She wanted the comfort of someone being strong for her while she was so weak. She truly did want to become a stronger person, but at that particular moment, when she felt the lowest she had ever felt, being strong was the last thing she wanted to be.
"He said... horrible things to me," Taeyeon said quietly, "That I was just toying with him, leading him on... He questioned my... my love for him. He spoke to me with... with so much anger and hate. I've never seen so much... hostility... such intense hatred towards me."
"He doesn't know the truth about the engagement," Kangin stated rather than asking; "Can you truly blame him if he doesn't know the whole situation?"
"Then, he should talk to me! He's always jumping to conclusions, thinking the worse of me. I know - I KNOW - that it looks bad from his point of view, but he should know I'm not that kind of person," Taeyeon defended, grounding her teeth as she fought more tears; "I know we've only known each other a short amount of time, but he understands me so well, better than anyone else... At least, I thought he did."
"You're right, he's in the wrong for not believing in you just as you're in the wrong for continuing to lie to him," Kangin said simply, walking around the foot of the bed to tower over her,
"I tried to tell him, Kangin... I even tried several times last night, but he wouldn't let me talk and... and when he did, I was just so angry," She shook her head, her dark locks falling loose from yesterday's bun, "So, so, so angry."
"Maybe you should try talking to him instead of leaving," Kangin suggested as he squatted down beside her,
She grabbed his arm and pulled him so he fell onto his backside. He settled against the bed beside her, "I don't like being towered over."
"You're avoiding the topic," Kangin said lightly,
She sighed, "Would he even believe me if I told him that? Or would he somehow turn my confession into another reason to hate me? Even if I told him, could I ever trust what happened next between us? Would I constantly be on edge waiting and waiting to make a mistake, do something wrong and have him find fault with me again?"
Taeyeon slowly lowered her head to the Dark Mage's shoulder and closed her eyes. She suddenly felt so tired; so, so tired. She felt drained, physically and emotionally. It was as if she were in the field again, her body humming with heated magic as the cool rain fell upon her in thick sheets. She didn't lean on the mage to seek the refuge she usually did. She leaned on the mage because she was used to leaning on someone else while she was weak. And, so, she leaned on Kangin physically as she forced herself to rely on her own emotions and mind; to seek strength within herself.
"I'm not perfect, I know that. Indeed, introspectively the only thing I like about myself is my smile. It's the same as my brother's and his is the best smile in the world," Taeyeon said and, as Kangin looked down at her, he caught the hint of a smile on her lips; "My brother loves me despite my trying his patience and constantly pestering him about magic. He loves me because we're family; we're each other's only family. Sungmin loves me despite my shortcomings and my complete naive view of the world because I befriended him when no one else would... I also thought that when I fell in love, that that person would love me unconditionally. That they would accept my faults."
"Taeyeon..." Kangin said quietly, not knowing what else he wanted to say.
"I wanted to be perfect for him," Taeyeon admitted, her voice soft, "I wanted to be worthy of him so that he could possibly love me in return. I told myself to show him how much I love him, to encourage his feelings... things I thought he'd want me to do. I kissed him and was physically close with him because I thought he would want that. I'm not saying I didn't, it's just... I forced myself beyond my comfort zone, to be bold just to please him." She sighed, "But I couldn't even do that. Time and time again I screwed up one way or another and all these problems keep rising up between us... I'm tired of trying to be perfect."
He understood the princess more, suddenly. He understood that her sheltered life had led to more than just a naiveté and innocence that shouldn't have continued past her adolescence. He understood that despite how she carried herself as a confidence princess, beneath the exterior, she was truly unsure of herself, scared of trusting people who could hurt her. He understood that she relied so heavily on Sungmin because he was safe, comfortable. He understood that Siwon's anger and words, while being explainable, affected her greatly, to the point where even rational thought could not make her risk her heart again.
"Train with me one last time," Kangin suggested, "Just one more day and I'll take you home."
"Kangin..." She sighed, raising her head from his shoulder,
"Just one more day. I'll train you this morning and then take you home tonight," Kangin insisted,
Taeyeon turned to look at him as he gazed back at her steadily.
How had it happened? She distantly wondered.
So suddenly, she trusted the Dark Mage. So easily she told him what had hurt her the last evening, what had plagued her since she met the first prince. So comfortably she sat with him, both this morning and the previous night.
As she gazed at him, she was reminded again of her brother. The comfort she found from confiding in Kangin was as if she were talking with Eeteuk. She knew he knew her brother. He had admitted on two different occasions that he had been to the Light Kingdom and even the castle. She wondered if she ever met him, even when she was very young.
"One more day, then," She agreed finally, offering a small smile,
Kangin's eyes widened slightly before he tilted his head to the side, "How did I never see the resemblance?" He stood and reached down to help the princess to her feet, "You were right, indeed, Taeyeon."
She blinked at him, suddenly confused, "What?"
"Your smile," was all Kangin said as he turned away and headed for the door; “I’ll wait for you downstairs.”
Taeyeon watched as the Dark Mage opened the door, turned back to bow and left, the door closing quietly after him. She stared after the door for a moment, sure that she had seen the hint of a smile on Kangin's face.
When Sungmin woke up that morning, he woke up to a very dark room. As he rubbed his sleepy eyes with one hand, he waved the other towards the direction of the fireplace, a blaze lighting up the dark, cold hearth. As he slowly sat up, he glanced towards the windows, noticing it was still pouring outside, the sky as dark as obsidian.
“You’re finally awake,”
Sungmin looked back to the window seat, the second prince sitting there, his clothes fresh and finely pressed. It was clear that the prince had already gone to his own bedroom to change. Sungmin slipped from the bed to change into his robes, already hanging by the dresser as they were every morning.
“What time is it?” Sungmin yawned as he changed from pyjama pants to his paji.
“Just before breakfast is usually served,” Kyuhyun murmured, his gaze having been glued to the mage ever since the sheets had slipped to reveal his bare torso and arms. He wished he had seen more during the night, but they had both been content with just sleeping in each other’s arms. Now, as the mage was putting on his robes, his dark gaze raked the other’s lean but muscled body just before a white undershirt covered it.
“Stop staring,” Sungmin scolded lightly as he tucked the ends of his fitted shirt into the waistband of his paji, pulled on the drawstrings and tied them tightly. He walked to the bathroom and quickly washed his face, returning a few minutes later, taking his jungchimak from its hanger. He walked over to the window seat just as he slipped his arms into the jungchimak, “Are you coming down for breakfast?”
Kyuhyun nodded as he took the sides of the robes and began hooking the fastenings before the other man could, “I just want to stop the rain first.”
“What?” Sungmin asked,
“I want to stop the rain,” Kyuhyun repeated, pulling Sungmin to stand between his knees after he was done closing the fastenings; “It’s been raining all night and morning. Despite Siwon’s mood, I know the last thing he wants is to destroy his plants, his maze most of all. I want to stop the rain before damage can be done. It’s only been repaired recently from the last storm.”
When Sungmin opened his mouth to protest, Kyuhyun held up a hand to silence him,
“I don’t want to ask Kangin to do it because I’ve already asked so much of him for the past eight years,” Kyuhyun explained; “Besides, I have to be the one to stop this. He’s my brother and I’ve been trying to keep him steady since the maze was erected. I can only continue to do so.”
“But what about you?” Sungmin asked quietly, gazing down at the prince, tipping his chin up with his middle- and fore-fingers; “What will the cost be to you?”
Kyuhyun grinned, “I’ll be fine. I have tons of my soul left to waste on cleaning up after my brother.”
Sungmin’s eyes bore into him, a mix of silver and sapphire, “Don’t pretend, Kyuhyun. I don’t want you using that façade with me.”
Kyuhyun’s dark gaze searched the other’s, seeing the sincerity there. He sighed lightly. He should have known that, after last night, he could never again hide even a part of himself from the mage. He replied simply, “I want to help my brother.”
Sungmin saw the conviction in the younger man’s eyes, heard it in his voice. After a few minutes, which felt like an eternity, he slowly nodded and turned towards the door, “I’ll come with you, then.”
Kyuhyun grabbed his hand to stop him from leaving. He stared up at the mage, “Despite what transpired between us last night, I am still a Dark Prince. I do not need nor require your approval or permission for whatever I may or may not choose to do.”
Sungmin stared at him for a moment. He saw the defiance, the challenge in the younger man’s gaze, narrowed brow and stiffened jaw. He stepped closer and leaned down, his hands propped against the windows so he caged the prince in with his bare arms.
“Then, you have to understand that I am a mage and used to going my own way and doing as I please,” Sungmin stated quietly, his face just inches from the other’s; “Regardless what may have happened or will happen between us, I will continue as I always have, even if you are a spoilt prince. And,” he continued before the prince could argue, “I know that you don’t need or require my approval or permission for whatever goes on in that head of yours.”
Kyuhyun reached up, his hand firmly against the base of the mage’s skull. How had things changed so quickly over night? He couldn’t even pretend to be distant anymore. Indeed, didn’t want to be distant with him. “But I want those things from you. Only you, Sungmin.”
“I’m glad,” Sungmin murmured as he brushed his lips against the other’s, “If you’re going to do this, let’s go now. I want breakfast.”
Kyuhyun grinned at him then as he moved away and Kyuhyun was able to stand from the window seat. His hand brushed Sungmin’s as he walked past him and preceded him out of the bedroom.
The ballroom was on fire.
The long, expansive ballroom was filled with fire from ceiling to floor, wall to wall. The blaze was a vibrant red with bright oranges and yellows. The heat was deadly, the damage irreparable had Kangin not been using a protection spell over the entire ballroom and himself. He knew protecting the room and himself would be easier than containing the princess’ magic.
Taeyeon sat in the middle of it all, eyes closed as she calmly, easily, protected herself against her own fire magic. Kangin sat in front of her, their crossed legs almost touching. He couldn’t see her from the fire that burned all around them.
“Right now, your magic is completely unleashed,” Kangin said calmly, “If you were to open your eyes, you would see how great it is. However,” he added quickly, “I suggest you don’t open your eyes. It’ll be a shock to you and you may lose concentration. Seeing such a sight might overwhelm you and you could start to panic. Indeed, what we’re doing right now is something that lesser mages do not attempt until at least a year into their training.”
“Then, why do we do it when it is only my second time training with you?” Taeyeon replied, pushing away the temptation to go against his advice and open her eyes, “Especially since you said I apparently have more magic potential that most mages?”
“Not apparently, you do,” Kangin insisted, “Indeed, more than all the mages I have ever known, Taeyeon. I frequently wonder how you’d match against me should we ever duel.”
“Let’s not try to find the answer to that,” Taeyeon stated firmly,
Kangin felt a hint of… something. It was an odd feeling that stirred within him, something strange yet familiar. It felt warm, felt as if there was a trace of something when there was once nothing. Putting that aside to examine later, he continued,
“Despite your magic, you are a quick learner… impressively so,” Kangin confirmed, “Indeed, just like your magic potential, I’ve never met anyone who has learned as fast as you. Even your brother didn’t learn as fast, but, then again, he was only twelve.”
Taeyeon fought hard to keep her concentration after hearing that statement. Once she knew she had her focus in hand, she questioned, “That’s the second time you’ve mentioned my brother training.”
Kangin sighed. He learned before that Eeteuk had kept secret everything having to deal with magic, indeed, he could even understand why, and he hadn’t meant to talk about it again with the princess.
‘Well’, he thought, ‘Might as well go the full mile…’
“It wasn’t formal training,” Kangin said then, “Indeed, it was me practicing on my own and your brother tagging along… even if he was older than me. So, I would show him what I learned that day from the mages and he would copy me. It was clear almost immediately that he learned faster than me and, at that young age, I resented him for it. As I grew up and reflected on it, I realized then that his ability to learn so fast was remarkable and that I should have encouraged his learning. Indeed, had it not been for the war, I would have continued to train him myself.”
“What happened?” Taeyeon asked, “Did the war draw boundaries between you two? Our kingdoms are technically in a truce, yet you’ve never visited the castle since the end of the war.”
“I’m glad you said truce instead of peace,” Kangin replied, “Because, this interlude after the war is far from peace. Tensions and resentments are still too high between our populations. It is because of that very reason that I’ve never returned to visit the castle.”
He left it at that, not wanting to explain what had truly caused the rift between himself and the King of Light. Indeed, he thought it best her brother tell her that. Kangin refused to be defensive when he had no reason to be.
“Did I ever meet you?” Taeyeon inquired then, “Before the war, I mean… When I was a little girl, did I meet you?”
Kangin was startled by the question, indeed, so much so that he had almost lost hold of his own focus, quickly grasping for it just before it broke the protection spell on himself and the ballroom. He thought back then, trying to remember the time he spent in the Light Kingdom and the Castle of Light. His time with Eeteuk – still a prince then – came to him with ease and more frequently than he liked to acknowledge.
“Eeteuk mentioned you often,” Kangin said after several silent minutes, “I don’t recall ever meeting you.”
“Oh,” she replied quietly and, despite there being a wall of fire between them, Kangin had the distinct impression she was frowning.
He blinked, surprised then as a memory flashed in his mind; “No... wait… I didn’t meet you, but I did see you. Once. I was in the Light Kingdom for two years and there was only one time when I actually saw you because you were kept in the nursery.”
“Where did you see me if I was in the nursery all the time?” Taeyeon asked, distantly recalling how she had spent days on end in a room full of toys by herself. It wasn’t until after she learned about her parents’ deaths that she saw her brother every day – indeed, never left his side at his request.
“It was in the front courtyard,” Kangin answered, the memory slowly becoming clearer in his mind; “Your nanny was taking you for a walk around the castle grounds and your brother and I were heading out to train beyond the castle walls. You broke away from your nanny and ran up and hugged your brother. You pleaded with him to take you with him, but your nanny took your hand and started walking you away. Eeteuk had called after you, saying he’d visit the nursery after we returned… I remember it so clearly now, why had I forgotten?”
The answer came to him as swiftly as the memory did. The events of that day had been pushed from his memory, forced away in a locked box within his mind that he refused to open, or even go near. That day where he had first ever laid eyes on the Princess of Light had been the last day he and Eeteuk were friends. It was that evening that her parents had been murdered.
“Okay, I want you to now think of your magic like an extension of yourself. Think of it as a projected piece of you. If you accept your magic in this way, it’ll be easier to control and, had you been a mage, manipulate,” Kangin taught, “Think of the fire like a continuation of your body. Try to feel the ballroom containing the fire. Try feeling the surfaces push against the fire. Try to feel my presence in the flames, a disturbance in your flowing magic.”
Suddenly, the floor began to shake wildly. Kangin immediately put protection around the princess from her own magic, not knowing if she’d be able to sustain concentration at such a shock. He reached out blindly for her hands and quickly began to trace the runes to leash her magic back to its normal levels. The flames dissipated as if they never existed.
Kangin was already standing when Taeyeon opened her eyes. He helped her to her feet just as the entire room shook violently and she had to clasp his forearms just to remain standing. Kangin pulled her against the safety of his body as his eyes scanned for signs of falling debris,
“Is this an earthquake!?” Taeyeon exclaimed as she huddled against his larger, stronger frame,
“Yes, but this isn’t natural,” Kangin answered, “This is earth magic.” He led her towards the glass doors which opened towards the back of the castle; “You’re safer with me, so don’t stray from my side,” he instructed, “I know where the magic is coming from.”
Taeyeon nodded as he grabbed her hand and ran outside with her, surprised to find that, while the skies were still as black as night, the torrents of rain had stopped.
Standing on the back terrace, Sungmin had been soaked almost immediately when he had stepped outside with the prince. The black silk of both paji and jungchimak encased his entire body like a second skin. His hair was slicked back from his forehead, one half of his head colder without the protection of thick locks. He stood like a sentry behind the prince.
Kyuhyun stood a few feet before him, his black pants shaping his legs and his white shirt translucent from the rain. His thick, dark hair was plastered to his face and forehead, but he didn’t mind. His face was tilted towards the black, weeping clouds, rivulets of water pouring down his face and neck. He raised his hands before him and began to trace patterns in the air.
He wasn’t naïve; he knew he was no mage. He knew very few, very basic spells, and he wasn’t very good at any of them. He did know, however, how to control his magic. He perfected the art of controlling his magic so that it had become second nature to him, an unconscious ability. His theory was that, he could extrapolate what he knew about controlling his own magic and applying it to someone else’s.
Sungmin watched with a steady gaze, barely blinking despite the water sloshing against his eyes. Arms crossed over his chest, he watched and waited. Should the prince need him, he’d be right there. He knew what doing this meant for Kyuhyun, indeed, even understood his rationale. However, that didn’t mean he was comfortable with the scenario. From his bedroom to the terrace, he went over and over again how to do a containing spell. It would stop the rain by containing Siwon’s magic when it was clear the first prince’s magic was out of control. The time it took to get outside was far from enough time to master a spell. It helped that Kyuhyun understood the method of controlling his own magic, however, controlling one’s magic versus containing another’s were two different things. He was there should anything go wrong.
Sungmin felt the rain slowly lessen. The prince continued to trace the patterns for the spell over and over again, forcing it upon the rain, trying to reign in his brother’s free-flowing magic. Sungmin wasn’t sure how long it took, but slowly, slowly, the rain changed from pouring to trickling. Finally, the rain stopped even as the sky remained stormy.
Slowly, almost stiffly, Kyuhyun lowered his arms to his sides and carefully opened his eyes. He was cold and thoroughly soaked, but he had managed to stop the rain. He heard the quiet exhalation behind him, signalling the lesser mage’s relief, which mirrored his own. For so long he didn’t think he would be able to stop the rain and many times he had been tempted to quit and give up. But, he knew he had to save the gardens, knew he had to protect his brother’s only haven.
“I did it,” he said quietly, slowly lowering his face from the sky. He turned to face Sungmin who was staring at him with narrowed eyes, “What –”
“Control your magic!” Sungmin commanded then, trying to close the distance between them, only to feel himself being pushed away,
Kyuhyun’s eyes widened as he looked down at himself, saw swirls of smoked whirling around him, so black they looked solid. He looked up at Sungmin, a quiet desperation in his eyes.
“You know how to control your magic,” Sungmin reminded, trying to keep his tone even and calm, “Do it now, Kyuhyun,” he instructed, trying not to react as he watched the prince’s eyes slip from black to grey and back again, the cycle repeating,
Kyuhyun shut his eyes, clenched his fists at his sides and tried hard to regain control. He felt the magic pouring out of him, wrapping around him like infinite coldness. He felt the chill to his bones, felt it settle within his core, the very center of his being. It seemed to him to take forever to gain even a fraction of control. He began to wonder if he’d be able to do it, if he’d be able to reign in his own magic.
The second prince began to subtly shake from the effort he exerted in trying to regain control. He desperately grasped at ends of memories, finding it hard to remember what his anchor was; what it had been for the past eight years. When he did find it again, it felt slippery, weak, as if it was no longer a match for his magic and he felt himself descending into a darkness he had never known.
The ground began to violently shake and Kyuhyun fell to his knees, fell further until he had to prop his hands on the terrace to keep himself from lying flat against the cool, wet surface beneath him.
“Kyuhyun!” Sungmin exclaimed, “Your magic is manifesting as earth magic! Try to control your magic!” He said as he knelt as close to the prince as possible. He began to trace the containment spell as fast as he could, trying to control the magic being unleashed, trying to bring it all back to the prince and keep it leashed there.
The ground continued to shake with great force, fissures appearing on the terrace as the earth tried to push up against it. Sungmin didn’t close his eyes, he stared steadily at the prince trying to contain the sudden release of magic. After a few minutes, the ground stilled and Sungmin sensed that the magic was contained to Kyuhyun. The darkness that had begun to wrap around the prince disappeared and Sungmin was able to get closer. Kyuhyun began to collapse and Sungmin pulled him into his arms, cushioning the prince with his own body.
"Kyuhyun!" Kangin came running towards them from a far side of the castle, pulling Taeyeon with him.
"What was that?" Taeyeon asked as she gazed around the fissures breaking up the terrace's stone floor.
"Earth magic," Kangin said as he squatted down beside the two younger men,
"He wanted to stop the rain... he wanted to protect his brother's gardens," Sungmin said quietly as he held the prince tightly, protectively, gazing down at his peaceful face; "He stopped it, but then he was being consumed by Dark Magic."
Kangin nodded his understanding as he put his hand over Kyuhyun's forehead. He murmured quietly as he slowly slid his hand down the younger man's face. After a moment, he straightened to his full height, "His magic was contained, but didn't settle," he explained as Sungmin adjusted his arms beneath the second prince's body and slowly got to his feet; "It's just a simple sleeping spell... no dreams."
Sungmin nodded, "Thank you," Sungmin turned to leave, then paused, "Can... Can you come wake him up before lunch?"
Sungmin tried to hold all reaction and emotion from his face. He didn't hold anything against Kangin. Indeed, never resented the Dark Mage at all despite his supposed association with Kyuhyun. However, it did irk him that he was unable to do all to help the young prince. It annoyed him that he had to rely on others to take care of Kyuhyun. However, he knew Kyuhyun meant more than his pride, so he swallowed it and did what he must.
"Of course," Kangin replied, "Who's room?"
Sungmin cleared his throat, glancing over at Taeyeon who was examining a nearby crevice in the terrace floor; "Mine," he replied. Sungmin stepped towards the princess, catching her attention, "I'm going to lay Prince Kyuhyun down." He hesitated, and then asked, "Are you okay?"
Taeyeon blinked several times before understanding to what he was referring to. Her amber eyes seeming to dim. She offered a small attempt at a smile, "I will be... I've... I've decided to go home, Min."
"Taeyeon," Sungmin began,
She shook her head to silence him; "I return alone. Kangin offered to escort me back. So, please, stay here for however long you wish."
"Taeyeon," Sungmin tried again,
"Min," she put her hand on his shoulder and smiled genuinely then, "I have been selfish for far too long. You deserve all the happiness in the world and you and I both know, that can be achieved if you stay here. My time in the Dark Kingdom has ended, but yours doesn't have to. I'll be fine, truly, and our friendship doesn't end just because we're in different kingdoms." She leaned up on the tips of her toes and brushed a kiss to his cheek, "Be happy for the both of us, Sungmin."
Sungmin sighed, "We'll talk before you leave."
Taeyeon watched as Sungmin turned and headed into the castle. She turned back to the Dark Mage, the tails of her royal blue jungchimak billowing.
"Shall we continue training?" Kangin inquired, offering his arm,
She nodded, putting her hand on his arm, "Yes..."
They headed back towards the ballroom's doors, Kangin helping the princess step over mounds and crevices in the ground.
"You're okay to train?" Kangin asked as they neared the doors,
"I can train... I'll be okay when I get home," Taeyeon answered.
Kangin said nothing as he held the door open so the princess could precede him into the ballroom. He had told the princess he would take her home. He had a duty to fulfill and he would follow through.
(Next, Chapter 11 - End of the Light)