(Chapter 17 of the Reign on Me series)
Chapter 17: Dark Protection
“I’m heading to the ballroom to help the children train.”
Eeteuk glanced up from his chair to the Dark Mage who stood just inside the doorway of the library.
“The children? They’re just a few years younger than either of us,” the king replied as he turned his attention away from the book laid open on his lap, one knee crossed over the other,
The younger man shrugged his broad, muscular shoulders, “I’ve been imparting my knowledge to them, ergo, they’re children.”
Eeteuk rolled his eyes before pausing and narrowing them, “You’ve been awake for most of the day. Shouldn’t you be sleeping instead of training throughout the night?”
“I had some hours of sleep,” Kangin shrugged again as he closed the door and strode across the room to stand behind the king’s chair. His fingers clasped the older man’s slender shoulder as he looked down at the sleeping and still form on a chaise before the king’s chair. “How’s she been?”
“Asleep,” Eeteuk slowly brought his gaze back to his sister; “Which is definitely an improvement from this morning.”
“I haven’t seen you since you took her away to the back fields,” Kangin muttered, “I would’ve thought she had killed you if I wasn’t so sure that the guards would have caught sight of a fire almost immediately from the battlements.”
“They do their jobs well when they’re up there. Taeyeon would get so upset because they always knew whenever she strayed too far from the castle,” Eeteuk mused, tilting his head ever so slightly; “But, no, once we were out in the back fields, she was fine.”
“How? She was hysterical when you took her away,” Kangin asked bluntly,
“My theory was that if she was becoming manic and the Light was overtaking her, then I had to shove her in the opposite direction,” Eeteuk explained, “Containing her magic was… impossible, so the only thing left was to rein in her emotions.”
Kangin squeezed his shoulder, “Don’t tell me you talked to her about your parents’ murders!?”
Eeteuk hesitated for but a moment before answering, “Well, it was the only thing that would have shocked her enough. I needed something to completely eradicate her mind off of her magic and what was happening to her. The abrupt mention of our parents did that.”
“You both mentioned something like this had happened before,” Kangin said, his hand sliding to the nape of the king’s neck, his fingers massaging soothingly,
“It was a few years after our parents were killed. Taeyeon was growing up and the changes made her really want our mother around even more. She was very emotional all the time and she became manic more and more each day,” Eeteuk recalled, “Each day I had to think of different ways to keep her calm or distract her or snap her out of her mania.”
Kangin felt immediately when the other’s muscles tensed beneath his massaging fingers; “Eeteuk?”
“The royal advisors wanted me to confine Taeyeon where she wouldn’t have to worry about her fire magic,” Eeteuk explained, his voice suddenly rough and bitter; “The only place secure enough and fire-proof would be…” His voice caught in his throat and he clenched his eyes tightly, fighting back against the rage that surged forth,
Kangin’s fingers stilled as he noted that the flames in the fireplace suddenly roared fiercely, embers beneath burning brightly, sparking angrily. “The dungeons,” his words came out like a hiss, suddenly realizing what the young king hesitated to say. He abruptly dropped his hand from Eeteuk’s neck, afraid he might accidently hurt him as his fists clenched involuntarily, “They wanted you to confine her in the dungeons!?”
Kangin was only able to rein in his anger when he saw the fire threatening to spill forth over the hearth and that cracks had begun to spread across the marble mantle. His hand returned to the king’s tense neck, his fingers firm and sure as he leaned over and brushed his lips against the king’s ear, “Come back to me, Eeteuk. One of us needs to remain sane and I’m already too far gone to claim sanity.”
He waited, still as a statue. Slowly, the muscles beneath his fingers relaxed and he heard the soft sigh leave the other man’s lips. Eeteuk leaned back into his hand, tilting his head back and closing his eyes,
“I denied their… suggestion and, had I not been young and inexperienced, I would have dismissed them all… banished them from my sight,” he sighed heavily, “I was not strong enough then to do that and, when I was strong enough… well, they had never mentioned the slight towards my sister again and they had proven why they had become advisors.”
“She doesn’t know this,” Kangin’s words were a statement rather than a question.
Eeteuk shook his head, “If she knew the extent to which the advisors feared her magic, she would have willingly gone and hidden the key herself.” Eeteuk sighed as he opened his eyes, locking gazes with the Dark Mage, “I thought you were going to train the children.”
Kangin brushed and upside-down kiss against the king’s forehead before straightening, “Indeed, I should get going. For all we know they could have set fire to the back fields or caused a flood.”
“They’re more controlled than that,” Eeteuk mused even though he knew the other was teasing; “They remind me of the mages of old before they… left.”
“And my intention is to ensure that neither of them ever have to leave like the old mages used to,” Kangin said as he turned to leave. He hesitated, his silver gaze flitting over the sleeping princess; “If the advisors had managed to get her locked in the dungeons, she would have lived, there’s no doubt in the fact that she’s a survivor… but, her spirit would have died… it would have died and she would have been lost faster than any other mage before. Their efforts to contain her magic would have had the opposite effect and she would have burned not just this castle, but the entire kingdom to the ground within a week.”
“I still cannot fathom how strong her magic is,” Eeteuk admitted,
“No one can fathom how strong her spirit is,” Kangin corrected and, then, amended once more, “But, she needs an anchor or all is lost.”
He left then, the library door closing firmly yet quietly behind him.
It was still an hour after the Dark Mage left before the princess began to rouse from her sleep. It began with the slight fluttering of her lashes and, then, the feline-like stretches along her slender limbs before she slowly sat up, her fingers rubbing at her eyes. Pushing the heavy mass of her loose locks from her face, she stared sleepily at her brother,
“How long have I been asleep?”
“Remember when I finally got you out to the back fields?” Eeteuk asked. When she nodded, he continued, “And, when I mentioned our beloved parents?” Again, she nodded, but, this time her eyes amber eyes seemed to glint with silver; “That’s around the time you fell asleep and, you’ve been sleeping since.”
Eeteuk was silent as the silver in his sister’s eyes became even more evident; “I remember that part… it was odd. One moment I felt as if fire had been consuming me, as if it filled my mind, put spark to chaotic thoughts.” She closed her eyes briefly and, when she opened them, they were pure amber once more; “The next moment, it was as if the heat was taken away and the fire completely disappeared. My thoughts, my feelings… everything was suddenly focused on remembering our parents. Then, it was as if all my strength had died with the fire and I felt so incredibly tired.”
Eeteuk nodded, “Once your emotions were freed from their trance, your magic, for that brief moment, lost its source for overcoming your control and the seals Kangin and I placed. It was enough for your body to catch up – you were physically and emotionally exhausted.”
Taeyeon drew her knees up to her chest, propping an elbow on a knee as she forked that hand’s fingers through her hair, staring ruefully at her brother, “I bet you never anticipated life would get this chaotic once I returned from the Dark Kingdom.”
“No,” he admitted, “But, perhaps we would have been better prepared had we learned of your magic years ago rather than shy away and contain it.”
She raised a brow, “Are you saying I can train with Kangin again?”
Eeteuk narrowed a look at her, “You would have trained regardless of what I had said as a king and, as your brother, your instinct is to be a contradiction to me. But, yes, I am giving you my official blessing.”
“I sense another ‘but’ in there somewhere.”
“But, before you can train, you need an anchor Taeyeon,” Eeteuk leaned forward, propping his forearms on his thighs, “I won’t allow you to risk your soul needlessly when there are steps to protect you.” When she remained silent, he asked simply, his gaze steady, “Tell me about the flowers you sent home while you were touring the kingdom. Tell me about the night flowers.”
Taeyeon removed her hand from her head, allowing for her hair to fall about her like a dark curtain. She leaned her cheek against her raised knees, effectively breaking eye contact; “I was in the Dark Kingdom a week. Seven days seems an impossible time frame in which one can fall in love.”
“And, yet, you did,” Eeteuk concluded,
“I fell in love in a few days shy of a week,” Taeyeon admitted, “And that sounds even more foolish, but, that’s what happened.”
Taeyeon closed her eyes against the burning threat of tears as she recalled the week she spent in the Dark Kingdom. They were some of the most emotionally-laden days of her life and she couldn’t recall a time when her heart had ever been so confused, when she had felt both great pain and great joy concurrently. A twisting pain shoved into the vicinity of her heart as the image of his face came to her mind, each line of his face impossibly clear in her memory.
“Perhaps it was because we were from similar backgrounds and he understood my perspective perfectly. Perhaps it was the thought that he understood me perfectly,” she sighed softly, almost inaudibly; “I was drawn to him almost from the moment I first laid eyes on him and the more time I spent with him, the more securely my heart moved into his possession.” Her laugh was almost bitter when Taeyeon finally looked at Eeteuk once more, “I must sound a perfect fool to you, Teuk, and this certainly can’t be something you’d want to hear of your sister.”
“Yes to the former and definitely to the latter,” Eeteuk straightened, shrugging his shoulders slightly; “But, then again, foolishness must be hereditary considering my own relationship.”
Taeyeon smiled, almost mockingly on both of their behalves, “What a pair of siblings we make, Teuk, but at least you weren’t wrong regarding the love of your life.”
“And, is this person the love of your life, Tae?” He asked seriously, “You say similar background and that makes me think royalty. So, either the love of your life is a particular guest in this castle, or it’s a different prince you left behind.”
“The identity is the latter of your guesses,” Taeyeon confirmed before sighing heavily and adding, “Yes, I do believe – no, I know he’s the love of my life.” She held up a hand as a command for silence, “And, yes, I am fully aware I am sounding more foolish by the minute considering I’ve never been in love before and the small time frame, but –”
“Why do you believe you were wrong about him?” Eeteuk interjected. Then, his gaze narrowed, fists clenching above his knees, “Prince Siwon didn’t lead you along, did he? Tell me he treated you right, Tae… that I shouldn’t go over there and wage war against him.”
Taeyeon managed a smile, brittle though it may have been, “No, he didn’t. If anything I was the one to lead him along… I was the one to lie, to betray his trust. Time and time again I made him feel as if he were acting against his own morals and beliefs. No, Teuk, when I say I was wrong about him, I mean that I should have trusted him sooner, I shouldn’t have acted while my lies were still active, believing he would be okay despite the insinuations that my lies created.”
“The lie?” Eeteuk prompted.
Taeyeon stared at her brother, realizing with clarity that while she hadn’t trusted Siwon that entire week she was with him, she hadn’t trusted her brother for years, “You did not question me about loving Siwon while being betrothed to Sungmin.”
Eeteuk tilted his head to the side in consideration, a gestured shared by his sister, indeed, emulated by her of him; “Taeyeon, I may be king, but I never forget that I am your brother, too. I may be king, but I work hard to ensure that I don’t treat you as another subject. Regardless of our back-and-forth over magic, I hardly question you on anything else you decide upon. If your feelings have moved beyond Sungmin and your heart has accepted Prince Siwon, regardless of my friendship with our beloved mage, I will accept whatever you choose to do.”
“Truly?” Taeyeon sat up straight, allowing her feet to slip off the chaise, the toes of her shoes not quite brushing the floor; “Despite being betrothed for the past few years? Despite the familiarity in which I act with Sungmin? Despite the fact that I have just returned from a six-week tour of the kingdom with him?”
Eeteuk’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly, “There are some boundaries to the conversations granted between brothers and sisters, Tae, and this is edging perilously close to one of those topics. What happens between closed doors is no business of mine, sister dearest.”
Taeyeon grinned even as she stood and crossed her arms, “I didn’t say anything, I merely suggested.”
“Moving past this… yes, despite everything, I do give you free reign,” Eeteuk glanced towards the fireplace, “Often I have been questioned if I give you too much free reign, but I stand behind my decisions and one of those decisions is to trust you unreservedly.”
Taeyeon sighed, “Well, I hope you don’t decide it wiser to take away a bit of my freedom.”
Eeteuk raised a brow, “Taeyeon?”
“Sungmin and I were never truly betrothed,” Taeyeon explained, forcing herself to not look away from her brother’s ever-hardening gaze,
“We will talk of this in the morning,” Eeteuk said, sitting back in his chair and returning his attention to his book.
Taeyeon knew she had been dismissed. She could count on one hand the number of times that her brother had actually treated her as less than a sister. She hated the feelings that never failed to rise up in response to such treatment.
Eeteuk’s light brown eyes flickered towards the fireplace, acknowledging the sudden ferocity of the fire within. Furtively, he glanced at his sister and saw the emotions cross her face as she shoved her emotions away, willing her magic to retreat. He willed himself to remain silent and still. His sister was in a fragile state of mind and was even more vulnerable with all the changes occurring around and within her. He knew he was taking a gamble, knew that if he was wrong that he could push her over the edges. However, he also wanted to help her become stronger, to rise above her former self. He prayed he wasn’t wrong in his decisions.
The soft sound of leather on carpet signaled the princess’ quiet retreat.
It was several days later when the Lesser Mage of Light found himself cornered by the young king. Having just finished an all-night training session with the Second Dark Prince and the Dark Mage, Sungmin was ready to crawl into his bed (and perhaps even crawl up the stairs). Upon passing the library, the door opened abruptly and Eeteuk stepped into the hall, his gaze immediately zeroing on the younger man,
“A word, Sungmin,” Eeteuk’s tone was all king and command.
Waving away the others and subtly shaking his head to the concern in the prince’s eyes, Sungmin turned to enter the library when Eeteuk shook his head, walking down the hall towards the study. Sungmin’s brows rose as he followed silently, closing the door behind him once they reached their destination. Warily, he approached the desk as the king sat behind it, his hands folded on the desktop.
“Sire?” Sungmin prompted tentatively; realizing that for whatever reason, Eeteuk was seeking him out as the King of Light rather than his friend. He stood tall and straight, hands clasped behind his back and feet shoulder-width apart.
Eeteuk tilted his head ever so slightly as he regarded the mage. Due to numerous commitments, the young king had only left his study over the past few days in order to sleep, even taking his meals at his desk. He had seen no one other than the Dark Mage. Even his sister, who in the past would check up on him at least once a day during periods when kingly duties kept him locked in his study, avoided him, although he could probably guess why.
“Sungmin, are we friends?” Eeteuk asked casually,
Sungmin blinked, suddenly at a loss of how this particular meeting would proceed; “Um… I like to think so… Eeteuk… Sire…” He suddenly broke formalities and rubbed the back of his neck wearily, “Okay, I need a little help here. Are we king-and-mage right now or Eeteuk-and-Sungmin?”
“I haven’t decided, yet,” Eeteuk admitted, “Answer me this: why did you and Taeyeon feel the need to hide from me the true nature of your betrothal?”
“We’re Eeteuk-and-Sungmin right now, because if we were king-and-mage I have a feeling the King of Light would behead me after this conversation ends,” Sungmin moved then, slumping into one of the chairs before the desk, “Honestly, I kept it a secret because Taeyeon asked me to. It didn’t feel right lying to you, but, at the same time, I felt that if I told you the truth, I’d be betraying her. Either way I would be betraying one of you.” He sighed, pushing his half-head of hair away from his forehead, “Eventually, it just became second nature and we weren’t acting promiscuous, so there wasn’t any deception in the way I acted towards your sister. At times I actually forgot that you believed we were betrothed and that we were in love. I do love Taeyeon.”
“I’m not upset that you kept a secret. You are entitled to your own secrets,” Eeteuk stated, “and I don’t feel betrayed at all, so consider your head safely attached to your body for the foreseeable future. I’m upset that I wasn’t trusted.” He shrugged then, leaning back in his big, leather chair, “I keep wondering to myself if I did or said anything that warranted the secrecy.” He glanced away, smiling sadly to himself, “But, then again, perhaps my status as king has put me at a disadvantage once again.”
“You have to ask Taeyeon why it had to remain a secret to even you, Eeteuk,” Sungmin said,
“I know,” he looked back at his friend, “I had a feeling your part of the secrecy was out of loyalty to her –”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not loyal to you, too,” Sungmin insisted, suddenly sitting up in his chair,
Eeteuk held up his hand to halt any more protests, “That’s not what I’m implying. I know you’re loyal to me, Sungmin, as a friend and as your king. I was just hoping you would have some insight before I go hunting down my sister.”
Sungmin raised a brow, “Hunting? Taeyeon hasn’t disappeared again has she?”
Eeteuk blinked before sitting up straighter in his chair, “No, I was merely speaking symbolically…” His voice trailed off as he recalled the past few days. It wasn’t just that Taeyeon had avoided him. He absolutely did not see her since she left the library the night of their conversation. His gaze locked with the mage’s, “Please tell me you’ve seen Taeyeon recently,
“Yesterday morning when I was going up to my room,” Sungmin answered, “But, not since then.” He stood up at the same time as Eeteuk, rushing to add, “But, keep in mind that I was asleep during the day and training at night, so, logically, there wouldn’t be a good time for us to run into one another unless we purposefully sought one another out.”
“True, but since when did Taeyeon not seek your company at least once whenever you two were in the same location?” Eeteuk questioned,
Sungmin swore fiercely, turning and vaulting over the chair on his way to the door, the quick patter of footsteps signaling that the king was right behind him. The door abruptly opened and two of the footmen appeared, crowding the doorway,
They cried simultaneously, “Something’s in the dungeon!”
Eeteuk stopped so abruptly that Sungmin had to reach out to steady him, preventing him from falling over. “What do you mean?” He questioned,
“The maids clean the public rooms once a day, the closed rooms once every few days. The dungeons they clean once a week to ensure no mold is growing and they remain clean,” A guard explained,
“But, this time, when they went down there, they said that the stones were tinged red and it was as hot as summer down there instead of being cool and damp,” the other finished,
Eeteuk’s eyes widened as he glanced at Sungmin, “We’re heading down there. One of you go get the Dark Mage and direct him to the dungeons. The other, I want you to do a quick sweep of the dungeons and ensure no one else is down there – avoid the walls and if it gets too hot, you get out.” He began striding towards the entrance to the stairs which descended to the dungeons, “You over there,” he beckoned other footmen nearby, “Once the Dark Mage comes to the dungeons, I want everyone in the castle evacuated to the forecourt.”
“Is that necessary?” Sungmin asked as they neared their destined doorway, “It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to… erm… defuse the situation.”
“I’m not taking chances,” Eeteuk stated firmly, slashing the footmen a glance, “Go!” He yanked the doorway open and quickly descended the stone steps, one of the footmen following to evacuate the dungeons of any strays.
Once they reached the bottom, they were surrounded by stifling heat, the corridors dimly lit by sconces. Sungmin pressed both palms to a wall just as the guard cried out for him to stop.
“No one touch the walls,” Sungmin said, slowly withdrawing his palms, gently brushing his palms together, a slight steam rising from his skin, “There’s magic pulsing through them, slowly spreading from a source. The walls feel like those of a hot spring, but if the stones are red, then it means they’ll be melting soon.” He looked at the guard, “Which direction are the stones red?”
He pointed towards a corridor which led to the depth of the dungeons.
The king nodded, “Alright, we go there, then. Go ensure no one else is down here and then join the others above stairs.”
“But, Sire,” the guard hesitated, clearly conflicted between the king’s command and his duty to the king.
“You heard the mage, it’s magic that’s down here,” the king replied, “If that’s the only problem, then I’ll be protected; it’s everyone else that is in danger.”
“But, that would mean…” the guard’s eyes widened in realization,
The king grinned briefly, “Your king commands you tell no one of this.”
The guard nodded determinedly, “I cannot even recall the context of our conversation. Be safe, Sire.”
Sungmin and Eeteuk watched as the guard turned in the opposite direction before heading towards their own destination.
The more steps they took, the closer they drew to the single cell which was even further in the ground than the rest of the dungeons, the more the heat grew in intensity. The hot air felt thick, heavy and both men felt as if they would surely suffocate had they not both been blessed by the Light. However, despite their own magic protection, they were dripping with sweat within minutes.
“Damn, remind me to never get your sister mad,” Sungmin said as he pushed his hair back, the strands clinging to the shaved half of his head, forehead and neck.
“This is ridiculous, we should be impervious to all this heat as long as we’re using proper safeguards,” Eeteuk said as he trailed his fingers against a stone, the first they had seen that was tinged with pale red. He retracted his fingers almost immediately and looked down at his already-blistered fingertips, “It can burn me already.”
“I can barely breathe,” Sungmin closed his eyes then, waving his hands in the air, tracing invisible patterns. He then moved his arms as if forming a large circle before him and, then, pushed his arms straight out to the sides, each palm facing one end of the corridor.
Eeteuk let out a sigh of relief as a soft breeze suddenly swirled past them as if there were large windows at either end of the tunnel, “Thank you.”
“I swear, I’m going to strangle Taeyeon once we reach her,” Sungmin scowled as he crossed his arms and they continued walking; “What the hell is this all about?”
“This can’t be all because I was… a tad affronted after she told me the truth,” Eeteuk insisted, “She’s not emotionally unstable. Heck, she’s perfected the art of controlling her emotions.”
“Have you forgotten how ridiculously strong her magic is?” Sungmin questioned. He waved to the walls which were now tinged red all around them, “Are you blind to what’s around us?”
“I know that, but her magic is sealed by both Kangin and I. Since our parents’ death, it was just sealed by me. So, it should be doubly controlled, not less,” Eeteuk reminded,
“But, she is emotionally unstable,” Sungmin admitted. He rubbed the back of his neck wearily, “Her soul is more important than her secrets, so I refuse to feel guilty over divulging this… when we were in the Dark Kingdom –”
“She told me,” Eeteuk admitted. Suddenly, he began running, Sungmin following him almost immediately, “Damn it, I should have thought of that.”
“Well, if you knew, I’m surprised you didn’t think of it sooner!” Sungmin retorted,
“Why didn’t you think of it sooner? You went away with her for over a month!” Eeteuk countered,
“Her control wavered at times, but she was learning to cope,” Sungmin defended, “And, once we were back, I was sure she would be fine… she seemed fine since we returned!”
“She got too good at controlling her emotions; hiding them,” Eeteuk spat, “After this, you and her are going to have a long, long cry-fest.”
“Me? You’re her brother!” Sungmin exclaimed,
“But, I’m the king. King’s don’t cry,” Eeteuk replied, “So –” He choked on the rest of his words as he stumbled, falling to his knees.
Sungmin caught his arm, helping the young king to his feet, “Are you okay?”
“The problem with not using my magic, means I’m very out of practice,” Eeteuk sighed as he raised his free hand to rub against his sternum, “Even with your air magic, the heat is becoming too much again.”
“Go back and I’ll get her,” Sungmin insisted,
Eeteuk shook his head, “No, that’s my sister down there… well, at least it feels like her magic… besides, if I didn’t try to stifle her magic all these years, it wouldn’t have blown up as it has been lately. Furthermore, she would have more control and… well, she never would have had to fear her emotions.”
The walls around them dimmed them, the red being washed out as trickles of water began to thread from the ceiling to the floor. Slowly, the water spread until the walls around them were covered in a thin coat of ever-flowing water.
“Water Magic?” They simultaneously murmured,
“You two use magic like infants compared to me,” a cool tone washed over them like the water gently cooling the walls around them. Kangin neared them, breathing slightly altered after having run from his supposed room to the dungeons. “All you had to do was wait a few minutes so I could cool the dungeons.”
“I couldn’t waste time,” Eeteuk snapped as he continued walking, shrugging off Sungmin’s helping hand; “Taeyeon’s upset and she needs to be saved as quickly as possible.”
“Her Light Magic wouldn’t make her go manic,” Kangin insisted as they all began to run again; “The last time she was going manic, it’s because her anger was engaged. If she’s upset, as in she’s sad, then she’ll have some protection against the mania, much like how you jolt her by talking of your parents.”
“But, this amount of magic,” Eeteuk prompted,
“It’ll push her soul to the edge,” Sungmin confirmed the king’s fears, “Her soul is still at risk and will still be slowly consumed by the Light… she just won’t be manic while it happens.”
As they neared the lowest dungeon, the walls slowly steamed, the water unable to even completely coat the walls, steam surrounding them like thick fog.
Kangin whistled with appreciation, “You see? Taeyeon is allowed to use magic without me. I know she’d be able to adequately protect herself without me.”
“I can protect myself just fine,” Sungmin scowled at the other mage,
“Oh? I haven’t felt your air magic for a few minutes now which means you cannot sustain it for long, and I have a feeling once we stop running, the adrenaline will decrease and you’ll collapse. Your stamina is almost completely drained because of the prolonged magic use,” Kangin analyzed, “Meanwhile, Taeyeon’s kept a steady flow of magic for how long now? No, no, children. Neither of you should go into such dangerous situations without me.”
Eeteuk abruptly turned, shoving his palm towards the Dark Mage, causing the younger man to stumble back a foot from an invisible force.
Kangin raised a brow, “Air magic, Eeteuk?”
“I have some of my own tricks,” Eeteuk snapped, “And, I’m not one of the children who you’ve been imparting your damn knowledge to.”
Sungmin raised a brow as they finally came in sight of the door to the deepest cell; “Children? What children?”
“That’s what he calls you and Kyuhyun,” Eeteuk explained, “And, I suppose Taeyeon falls under that category, too. It means he’s taught you something.”
A bright light shone from around the edges of the door.
Kangin jerked Eeteuk back when the older man attempted to open the door, “Your hand will be burned immediately!” He growled,
“Well, how do you intend we open the damn door?” Eeteuk sighed heavily; “Next time she gets upset, I hope she’s learned air magic by then.”
Sungmin raised his hand, suddenly engulfed with flames, “Why? So she can blow the castle over, reduce it to rubble instead of slowly burning it to the ground?” He slowly passed his flaming hand along the hinges of the door; “I don’t know, Eeteuk, I think a fire is easier to extinguish than stopping a tornado.”
He kicked the door to the side once the hinges had been melted through. Immediately, Eeteuk raised his hands, tracing patterns in the air as floor-to-ceiling flames threatened to spill out from the cell and engulf them.
“I don’t actually have a plan of how to help her,” Eeteuk grounded out as he kept his palms facing the flames as if pushing them back, “You two will have to get her. I’ll keep the seal on the fire.”
Kangin put a restraining hand on Sungmin’s shoulder before the lesser mage could run into the fire; “Now is not the time to make a mistake just because I like to annoy people with my arrogance, Sungmin. Kyuhyun was almost hurt by her magic when he went into the fire and this outburst is stronger than the one in the ballroom.”
Sungmin nodded, “We’ll do this together.”
Kangin raised his hands, palms up as if he were trying to lift air. Around the mages, walls of water curved around them, forming a spherical shield. Sungmin reached out, his fingers gracing along the surface of the water shield. Pale yellow and red lights slashed through the water before dispersing as if spreading through the water.
“I expected fire protection, but an air shield added to my water?” Kangin prompted, “It seems I can still learn from the children.”
“Yeah, I have tricks, too. So, keep that in mind the next time you call me a child,” Sungmin muttered.
They both hesitated for just a heartbeat before they walked into the fire.
When the three men left the dungeons, the Dark Mage was carrying the princess, his torso bare because he had wrapped his jungchimak around her. He moved towards the main staircase as the others turned to the forecourt to let the others know it was safe to return to the castle.
“Wait,” Kangin called out. He paused, then said, “Hurry out there!”
Sungmin immediately ran towards the main entrance, stumbling along the way because, as Kangin had predicted, the moment his adrenaline had calmed, his strength had abandoned him.
“What’s going on?” Eeteuk asked as he caught up the lesser mage,
“Kyuhyun’s magic is surrounding the castle,” Sungmin explained.
Once they reached the doors, he didn’t even wait; he forced the doors open with his air magic. They both halted suddenly, rain pouring down all around them. However, the water poured down the castle’s exterior; the forecourt and all the people crowded there were completely dry. The second prince’s eyes immediately locked with the lesser mage’s. When the latter nodded, the water immediately stopped, the water disappearing completely without even finishing its course to the ground.
“It’s safe to return to the castle. I sincerely apologize for the alarm,” Eeteuk addressed the crowd, his usually soft voice booming in the forecourt; “As my people, indeed, as those who live closest to me, I will not lie or hide the truth. There was a situation which could have potentiated into the destruction of the castle… our castle. However, with the help of the Lesser Mage of Light and our guest, the Dark Mage, the danger is gone and I promise that the three of us are working to ensure such a situation never occurs again. I will not be offended if any of you decide it best if you find employment elsewhere. This does not mean a termination of your positions. There are other royal estates in which we can transfer you to or, if you prefer to seek other employment, I will not withhold my support.”
He laid his hand over his heart, “If you wish to leave, please let me know and I will work with you to ensure your security in your future employment.” When no one stepped forward, indeed, when they all bowed instead, he lowered his head briefly, “Your king is deeply humbled. My offer stands indefinitely, regardless.” He stepped to the side of the main entrance and Sungmin followed suit, “I welcome you all back.”
The assortment of servants bowed as they passed the king as they reentered the castle. Once the forecourt was practically empty, Sungmin rushed to the second prince’s side, slipping the younger man’s arm around his shoulders to support Kyuhyun.
“Idiot, attempting to sustain such magic,” Sungmin scolded, “Not to mention you’re already tired from last night’s training and –”
“How’s Taeyeon?” Kyuhyun interjected, turned his attention to the king as he leaned heavily against Sungmin’s body.
Eeteuk’s eyes narrowed immediately in concern, “Bad… real bad. I should return to her.” The young king hesitated before looking at the younger men, “As her brother… furthermore, as the King of Light, I ask – no, beg you both to help me. I know you’re both exhausted, but I need help.”
Kyuhyun and Sungmin nodded immediately and all three retreated to the princess’ bedroom.
The Princess of Light looked impossibly pale and frail beneath her blanket in the middle of her large bed, her dark locks considerably shorter. Kangin stood at the side of the bed, staring down at her with his arms crossed over his bare chest. The other three men entered and Sungmin locked the door behind him immediately.
“What happened?” Kyuhyun asked as he managed to scramble to the opposite side of the bed than Kangin. He sat on the mattress and looked at the princess with evident concern, “Why are you half naked?”
“I didn’t feel right putting clothes on her,” Kangin explained, “My robes are still wrapped around her beneath that blanket. As for what happened…” He sighed heavily, “Once we got into the cell, we found Taeyeon meditating in the middle of the cell.”
“If she was meditating, why was her magic so out of control?” Kyuhyun questioned,
Kangin shook his head, “I don’t know, but she was in such a deep trance that neither of us could rouse her. We couldn’t stop her. Instead, she stopped all on her own… she collapsed; her body was unable to sustain her magic any longer. The moment she became unconscious, the fire magic died, too.”
“And, her clothes?” the prince prompted,
“Completely burned away; her usual protection gone with her consciousness. Her clothes had burned away and she even had some burns, the fire having not died immediately. That’s also why her hair is so short; burned away,” Kangin answered, “I healed the burns immediately, but she’s very weak. Usually, those blessed by Dark or Light have some kind of magic I can sense, but she’s so weak that I can barely sense hers and Sungmin’s magic traces are even overpowering hers.” He jolted forward then, just stopping himself from lunging at the princess, “I can’t sense her magic at all, now.”
“Kangin, you need to start healing her. Kyuhyun, we need to get that damn brother of yours here,” Sungmin said after he had fallen to his knees, propping his arms on the bed to hold himself up on his knees,
“Neither of you are in any state to even leave your beds,” Eeteuk stated, “Look at you, Sungmin, you can’t even stand.”
“I didn’t fall because I’m tired. I fell because my soul was literally shaken,” Sungmin explained,
Kyuhyun’s eyes widened with understanding, “Damn it, Sungmin, you can’t use any magic until Taeyeon is well again!”
Kangin looked between the two younger men confusedly, “What?”
“Taeyeon is Sungmin’s anchor,” Kyuhyun explained, his dark eyes staring worriedly at the lesser mage;
“He could use a temporary anchor,” Kangin lightly suggested,
“Being without an anchor after seven years with one… I’m going to need an adjustment period,” Sungmin said, laying his head on the mattress; “And, yes, I’ve already figured out that I’m going to need a temporary anchor in the meanwhile.”
“If Taeyeon is unable to adequately protect his soul, doesn’t that mean…” Kyuhyun trailed off, his gaze sliding towards the king who had remained silent since laying eyes upon his sister.
“Taeyeon is dying,” Eeteuk stated quietly. He moved to the head of the bed, sliding onto the mattress until he was beside her head. Lying a hand on her forehead, he looked up at the Dark Mage, “Kangin, do you have enough strength to begin healing her just enough to keep her alive while you sleep this day?”
Kangin nodded, “Are you sure you’re still able to heal? You haven’t had to do this in over fifteen years.”
Eeteuk nodded, “Oh, yes, I definitely can.” He closed his eyes.
Sungmin turned his head, his cheek still against the bed as he watched the king, “What is Eeteuk doing? Can he really still wield magic? It’s been so many years.”
As if on cue, white wisps of light curled around the hand Eeteuk had placed on Taeyeon’s forehead. The light absorbed into her skin as if he were pushing healing light into her. He opened his eyes, the light brown orbs seeking Kangin’s silver eyes immediately,
“It’s just as I feared,” he said, voice stricken. Closing his eyes once more, a crease formed between his brows as they narrowed in concentration.
“That’s my cue to join in,” Kangin said as he shifted his feet until they were shoulder-width apart. He stretched out his arms before him, palms angled towards the princess; “Now, children, this is what experienced magic users can do.”
More white light appeared, but these passed over the princess’ body, bathing her in the glow.
“I don’t understand,” Sungmin said, “What is Eeteuk doing?”
“He’s healing her brain,” Kyuhyun was the one to answer, his voice barely audible, his gaze pinned on the princess; “She must have been using her magic for an extremely extended period of time, allowing it to flow just before it went out of her control, but enough to slowly drain her. She was attempting to completely deplete her magic.”
“But our magic replenishes itself between uses. To deplete it to any great degree is to push one’s self close to death,” Sungmin stated, kneeling up straight,
“And such a decision coupled with the continuous flow and control of magic leaves the brain scarred,” Kyuhyun explained, “The decision to willingly tempt death makes one’s mind and soul vulnerable and weak. The flow of magic is a strain on the soul and the control of magic places stress on the brain.”
Eeteuk began to slump forward, Kangin immediately coming to his side to catch him. “I’m not out of practice, the damage is just extensive. She must have been hiding in the dungeon since yesterday morning.”
“The last time I saw her,” Sungmin murmured,
“I’ll have to heal her mind layer by layer,” Eeteuk replied, “But, it’ll be difficult. Once she rouses, she might try to do it again.”
“Why would she do something like this?” Kangin mused,
“Her magic is too unstable. She’s tired of being a slave to it, of having her life defined by it… she wants to protect others from herself,” Kyuhyun answered knowingly. He stood up from the bed, “When she wakes up, please let me know.”
“I’ll escort the prince to his room,” Sungmin said, straightening. His eyes lingered on Taeyeon, “We’ll get past this, Eeteuk, I promise you.”
Eeteuk looked up at his friend, smiling sadly, “If only I had your confidence, Sungmin.”
Once the two younger men had left, Eeteuk sighed deeply, leaning heavily on the Dark Mage, “She must have heard us talking about the dungeons the other night, Kangin… how else would she have known her magic would be contained there?”
“I agree, she had heard us talking, which meant she also heard about the advisors wanting to lock her up years ago,” Kangin replied, “But, it also means they would have been wrong. I’m estimating that by nightfall, the dungeons would have been completely consumed by her magic and the castle would have collapsed.”
“I didn’t realize how upset Taeyeon is with her magic,” Eeteuk said quietly,
“It’s not your fault. She knows she needs an anchor,” Kangin replied,
“I agree, regardless of the fact that Prince Siwon is her anchor, she should have concentrated on a temporary one,” Eeteuk said, waving away the other’s startled look, “She told me about Siwon and the truth of her betrothal.” He sighed heavily, “I can’t help but think that had I not put so many restrictions around her magic, things like this never would have happened.”
Kangin said nothing, giving his silent agreement.
Eeteuk sighed heavily, reaching over and brushing the bangs from his sister’s face, “There have been many moments when I have missed my parents more than other times… then, there are moments when I am still angry at what happened to them… angry that they’re not here… angry that I had to be both brother, parent and king to my sister. So many times I’ve felt as if I’ve had to choose between my sister and my kingdom.”
Kangin reached over, running his fingers through the older man’s hair; “You have me now, Eeteuk, and I’ll help you carry the burden. Taeyeon wants a brother, not a parent.”
Eeteuk leaned his head against the other’s firm, stroking fingers, “I fail her so often, Kangin… I can’t keep failing her like this; she might end up dying if I fail again.”
“You did the best you could with the circumstances and, Taeyeon, too, is just trying to live with her own circumstances as well,” Kangin insisted, stepping closer and allowing the other to lean against him; “She’s learning every day how to be her own person, but it’s hard to be a magic-user without an anchor. She’s been sheltered for so long that now she’s learning about life and herself, she’s getting lost along the way. Everyone does when they’re growing up; it just seems more for her since it’s happening all at once.”
“If she’s going so far to protect our people, then it gives me some hope, hmm? Her dedication,” Eeteuk sighed again; “She shouldn’t have to sacrifice so much; I’m the king.”
“And she wants to protect you, too, even just a little bit,” Kangin replied, “There’s always a price to pay for having power.” Kangin pulled him up, then, “Come, you need to sleep, especially after using your magic to heal.”
Eeteuk shook his head even as he allowed Kangin to tug him away from the bed, “I have several meetings today.”
“Then, sleep until you absolutely have to wake up,” Kangin suggested,
“And Taeyeon? I can’t leave her like this. If anyone suspects what she could have done…” Eeteuk shook his head violently; “If something happened to her…”
“Is there anyone in the castle you’d absolutely trust amongst the staff?” Kangin inquired,
Eeteuk hesitated, recalling the guard who swore to keep his secret. He hoped he wasn’t wrong about the guard as he nodded, “Yes, there’s a guard who was evacuating the dungeons and there’s the housekeeper. She’s been here all my life… she’s the only one left who knows about my magic.”
“Then, have them check on Taeyeon,” Kangin held the king’s chin between his thumb and forefinger, “I’m serious, Eeteuk. I don’t want you becoming ill because you’re not taking care of yourself.”
Eeteuk nodded, looking back once more at his sister before allowing the mage to lead him away.
“You know a lot about getting rid of one’s magic,” Sungmin said as he leaned back against the door of Kyuhyun’s room, locking it securely.
Kyuhyun didn’t even look up as he walked towards the closet, slowly taking off his mage robes as he went; “You didn’t know me before. Even just a few months ago compared to now, everything was very different,” Kyuhyun called out from the depths of the walk-in closet; “My emotions were very… present, close to the surface constantly. They were also very dark, very negative, feeding my Dark Magic whenever it was unleashed. Unfortunately, my magic was very unstable because of my emotions which meant my magic was being fed a buffet whenever it wanted it.”
When Kyuhyun appeared in the closet doorway, he leaned his shoulder against the wooden frame, clad in just a pair of pyjama pants. He folded his arms about his chest, “I can’t even count the number of times I’ve almost completely lost my soul to the darkness. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve flooded the castle or killed someone because my magic was unstable… because I was unstable.”
“Kangin struggled to help me since my instability wasn’t based on my magic, it was based on my emotions,” Kyuhyun continued; “Even though I wasn’t a magic-user, he saw the benefit of me having an anchor and practicing magic use in order to control my magic. You know I struggled for years to even get a semblance of control of my magic and, even then, I still had to be magically-induced to sleep at night because my magic would still spill forth while I slept. I did not practice complacently for all those years. There were many times when Kangin had to physically drag me from my bed or hunt me down. There were many times when I believed that giving up would be easier… faster.”
Kyuhyun ducked his head and reentered the closet, “Because Kangin was the only mage around, I didn’t want to ask questions and, so, I went to the old libraries and texts and read as much as I could.” His voice echoed from the depths of the closet, “I was determined to find a way to get rid of my magic. I would always be borne from the Dark, but if I could get rid of the magic in me, then maybe, just maybe, everything would be okay.” He reappeared again, a simple, cotton shirt in his hands as he stared at the ground, his shoulder leaning against the doorframe once more; “I finally found my answer in an old tome but the thought of getting so close to death… of tempting death… I wasn’t selfless enough to sacrifice myself to save everyone else.”
Kyuhyun looked up when Sungmin took the shirt from his hands. He obeyed the mage’s silent command and dipped his head so the older man could help him with his shirt. Once it was on properly, he found himself staring directly in Sungmin’s silver-and-blue eyes;
“It’s not selfish to want to live, Kyuhyun. There is always more than one way to solve a problem and, yes, it did take you several years to reach the control you have now, but at least you still have control,” Sungmin stated, his voice calm and sure; “And I, for one, am glad that you did not decide that your life was worth any less than everyone else’s.”
Kyuhyun raised his palm and laid it on Sungmin’s chest in the vicinity of his heart; “How are you feeling?”
Sungmin took the prince’s hand and raised it so he could press his lips to the palm; “I’m sorry that you’re not my anchor. It’s not that I don’t love you. Indeed, I feel as if I love you more with every day that passes.”
Kyuhyun shrugged, “She just loves you better, right?”
Sungmin hesitated for a moment, before conceding, “She trusts me implicitly.”
The Dark Prince’s eyes narrowed as he tugged his hand away, “I trust you!”
Sungmin sighed as he let the younger man push past him. He slowly turned to keep his eyes on the prince, “You’re still scared I’m going to leave you. Even when I said I love you just now I could see the skepticism in your eyes. I need an anchor who thinks in permanent terms. Yes, Taeyeon and I love each other. No, it is not nearly in the same way in which I love you, but never does she doubt that I will be there for her until I die.”
Kyuhyun’s eyes flashed angrily, “Sungmin –”
“Tayeon can use anyone or anything as her anchor, but the only one she believes in is your brother,” Sungmin interjected, “But he can’t commit to her and that’s partially her fault, but, still, there is distrust and unsteadiness between them. Look what happened to her! You can’t be my anchor because I love you wholly and you don’t want to believe me!”
Kyuhyun’s fists clenched at his sides, “Leave,” his voice was a soft growl,
“No,” Sungmin replied, his fox-like eyes narrowed back at the prince,
“I said leave!” Kyuhyun yelled angrily,
“And I said no!” Sungmin closed the distance between them, capturing the other’s upper arms before he could run away; “You want me to leave because I made you mad, but I’m not leaving just because things get difficult.”
Almost immediately, the mage’s words caused the anger in the prince’s eyes to be wiped out with a hint of despair and desperation; “Sungmin,” Kyuhyun said, his voice unbearably close to a plea, “I’m tired…”
“And so am I,” the mage countered, “So, we’re going to sleep in your bed as we have been for weeks.”
Kyuhyun landed on the mattress with a slight bounce after Sungmin practically shoved him onto the bed. Realizing he could never move fast enough to escape the watchful mage, Kyuhyun scowled at him even as he slipped between the sheets, “I’m still mad.”
“Then be mad,” Sungmin shrugged as he turned his back on the bed then, “I’m going to have a shower.” He hesitated at the door leading to the hallway. He glanced over his shoulder, “Don’t you dare run away, Kyuhyun. You know I’d find you and then you’d have to deal with an angry mage.”
Kyuhyun pulled the covers up to his chin, muttering, “Damn stalker,” as he turned his back to the mage.
A half hour later when Sungmin snuck back into the room, Kyuhyun was already fast asleep. For a moment, Sungmin stood at the side of the bed watching the shallow rise and fall of the younger man’s chest and the face that looked impossibly young in such a relaxed state. Carefully, Sungmin climbed onto the bed, rolling his eyes when he realized Kyuhyun how far to the one side he slept. One wrong move would cause the prince to topple to the ground, despite the bed being big enough for five adults to sleep comfortably side-by-side. However, once he was settled, almost instinctively, the younger man rolled closer, pillowing his head on the mage’s chest and throwing an arm around Sungmin’s waist.
Sungmin brushed his lips against the top of Kyuhyun’s head, “Stubborn prince.”
Using his wind magic, he closed the curtains of the tall windows, shielding them from the rising sun.
He screamed before he could even contemplate quieting himself. He sat up abruptly only to double over, his fingers pressing into his bare skin above his heart. Gasping for air, he still felt suffocated from the pain that burned like an arrow through his chest.
“Kangin! What’s wrong!?” The king was sitting up at his side immediately,
Momentarily, Kangin ducked his head, turning his body towards the shelter of the other man’s despite the other’s body being smaller. Immediately, slender yet strong arms wrapped around him;
“Kangin, speak to me, please, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?” Eeteuk questioned, trying to hold onto him tightly while being afraid of hurting him. He shifted his hand to cover Kangin’s, “Is it –”
Kangin’s hand suddenly grasped his tightly, stopping him, “Don’t… heal… me…”
“Go to… Taeyeon,” Kangin struggled to speak, the flames of pain still burning through his chest; “Now.”
“I… but you’re in pain,” Eeteuk argued,
“She’s… in… DANGER!” Kangin forced the words, practically shoving Eeteuk out of the bed, “GO!”
Scrambling to his feet, the young king stared at Kangin briefly in confusion and worry.
“GO!” The Dark Mage growled,
Eeteuk dashed out of the room, then. He ran as fast as his feet could carry him, almost knocking over a guard as he passed the main staircase.
“Sire! I was just on my way to check on the princess,” the guard said, reaching out immediately to steady the king; “Is something wrong?”
“Don’t talk, just run,” Eeteuk commanded as he ran off once more, the guard easily catching up to him.
Once he reached his sister’s door, Eeteuk didn’t even wait, he waved it open, sending it swinging with his wind magic. He came to a halt when he saw the silhouette of someone standing at her bedside. He held the guard back, then, since his eyesight was already used to the darkness and the stranger’s becoming slowly familiar.
“Who are you?” Eeteuk demanded,
The stranger turned to look at him, his tall, built frame stiffening immediately, “Why are you here?”
Eeteuk shook his head as if physically organizing his thoughts. Eyes narrowing, he suddenly made a pushing motion towards the stranger, shoving the younger man against the wall with his wind magic, “I should be asking you that!”
“ I –”
“What the hell did you do to the princess?” Eeteuk demanded, slowly closing the distance between them even as the guard rushed ahead to stand before him, shielding the king from the intruder. Once he was just a few feet away, the guard almost sandwiched between them, Eeteuk halted, eyes widening, “It can’t be…”
“Sire?” The guard asked, the blade of his sword already an inch away from the intruder’s neck,
Before he could censor himself in front of the guard, Eeteuk muttered in disbelief, “S-Siwon?”