(Chapter 20 of the Reign on Me series)
Chapter 20: Light's Dark Past
“Because you betrayed your kingdom, too.”
Pain exploded through the right side of her chest. At first it felt like a stab and, then, fire blossomed in her breast. Taeyeon slipped her hand behind her, softening her impact against the door as she leaned back against it, trying her best to not catch Siwon’s attention on the other side of the door. The edges of her vision were darkening and, with all the will within her, she pushed the darkness away, forcing her consciousness to remain strong.
The man before her was middle-aged, his dark hair greying at his temples and face withered with wrinkles despite not being too old. He wore white robes which were decorated with the clouds and cranes of the Royal Advisors of Light. He watched the princess with narrowed, shrewd-looking eyes.
“How?” Taeyeon’s voice was barely above a whisper as she struggled to ignore the pain and stay awake,
“You choose Magic over your people. You speak to the people of peace while wearing mage robes. You consort with mages. I don’t know what your brother is thinking, allowing you to be engaged to that mage. It is even more puzzling that the new guests are obviously from the Dark Kingdom, too,” the advisor answered matter-of-factly as if he hadn’t just stabbed the Princess of Light.
“I don’t… understand,” Taeyeon shook her head softly, only to stop immediately, the motion causing her vision to tilt and spin. She briefly closed her eyes to dispel the dizziness.
“I was sure your brother had learned from their mistakes and, indeed, the war has been over for years, but, why is he consorting with those from the Dark Kingdom?” The advisor seemed to be talking more to himself now and Taeyeon was willing to let him talk because she wasn’t even sure she could talk, the pain taking up all of her concentration as she avoided the sight of a knife’s handle sticking out of her chest.
“One of the guests is a full mage, isn’t he?” The advisor directed the question at the princess this time, “Really, Princess, it’d be much worse if I pulled out the knife. Why, you would die in minutes and then I’d never get my answers.”
“Obvious… full mage,” Taeyeon grounded out, forcing her eyes open even as her vision was being rimmed with darkness once more, black dots beginning to blink before her,
“You have a lot of insolence for someone who’s about to die,” the advisor sneered, “However, I suppose that is the result of one nearing the end. You have no more fear do you?”
Taeyeon managed a bitter smile, slowly inhaling deeply, “What have I left to fear… when death is near?” She closed her eyes tightly as she tried to find the strength to go on. She refused to die with words left unsaid, “I promise you… this… you will not… get away.”
Gritting her teeth, Taeyeon grounded her feet into the floor, keeping her upright against the door even as the front of her dress was getting soaked with blood. Over and over again, she reminded herself that she had felt pain before, that she had felt worse pain when she had allowed the fire to burn her hand. She told herself that it couldn’t get worse because she was already stabbed and she was already bleeding to death. Even as it grew harder to breathe, blood filling her right lung, Taeyeon knew, without a doubt, that she would die with few regrets. Her one hope was that she could have said goodbye to the precious people in her life.
“Really, Princess, your naïveté knows no bounds sometimes. Even if you have locked the door, all I have to do is wait until you’re too weak to stand, then I can simply walk out of here. I could also wait until you die before I leave, but that’s a little crude, is it not?” He shrugged his broad shoulders, confident enough that he turned his back to her, knowing she was too weak to even dare to attack him.
“You do have that pesky guard, don’t you?” The advisor continued on, “I may have been waiting in here for hours, but I know that your brother would never lighten the guard on you, especially after the poison.” The advisor turned around swiftly then, “How did the mage come to be the one to drink it? Have you begun to have others try your food and drink first? I must admit, that was an error on my part.” His beady gaze looked her up and down, a satisfied smile curling his thin lips, “But, you won’t get away this time and, soon, neither will your brother.”
Taeyeon wasn’t sure what changed in her then. However, the moment her brother was confirmed as the next target, the pain burning in her chest could no longer compare to the fire burning in her heart.
‘Please… just this once…’ She closed her eyes tightly, bringing her left hand to cover her heart.
All her life, Taeyeon never thought she had a purpose, never even sought one. As she grew, as she forced herself to learn more and become a better person, she began to find her purpose at her brother’s side. She knew that if her first son were to inherit the crown, then she would teach her other children to stand by their brother as she would. Taeyeon knew there were many things she didn’t know in life, indeed, she was still learning more of her kingdom and its history. However, the one thing she did know was that she would sacrifice everything for her brother.
“You’ll never… get near the king,” Taeyeon promised, her pale eyes narrowed, “Ever again…”
The advisor barked a laugh then, “And what could you ever hope to accomplish? Who knows how long until you die? And, even if you could use your magic, there’s nothing left, is there?”
Taeyeon’s eyes widened ever so slightly.
“It’s no secret that you’ve needed to be carried around all week and, the timing is just after the castle had been urgently evacuated. It’s not that difficult to deduce what’s happened,” The advisor shrugged, “What’s amazing is that you managed to live even with your magic depleted. Again and again you have managed to survive. Even when I tried to stab you the first time, the knife went in but nothing happened.”
Taeyeon closed her eyes, pressing her hand firmly against her breast as if trying to physically touch her heart.
“Why is that Princess? Either you have all the luck in the world or you had powerful magic protecting you,” the advisor guessed; “Well, I suppose I don’t have to worry about that anymore, do I? After all, you’re already painting the floor with your blood.”
“I will…” Taeyeon dropped her hand from her chest, pressing her palm against the door as she pushed herself away from it, trying to stand on her own as best she could,
“You will what? Continue to use your blood as a new carpet? Very well, Princess, be my guest,” the advisor laughed, “We should have done this years ago when your brother refused to lock you away. We never should have listened to him and, yet we did… Him! A boy who had been crowned at 12 and we listened to him!” The advisor shook his head, his mouth twisted into a smile, “But, no matter… we won’t have to listen to him much longer.”
“I will protect… the king,” Taeyeon argued, opening her eyes as she felt heat at her back.
The advisor took a step back, startled suddenly, “Your eyes…” He muttered as he stared at the princess’ eyes, now glowing like mercury,
“Until… my last breath … I will… protect… my brother,” Taeyeon declared, her voice a soft growl as she turned slightly, dragging her left palm across the wooden door, a blaze of fire trailing after her fingers,
The advisor’s eyes widened, realizing then the danger he was in, “No, this can’t be… you can’t have any magic left! I’ve done the research, mages who used such an amount of magic would have no magic left!” He suddenly rushed at Taeyeon, grabbing her shoulders roughly, “Why didn’t you die last week!?” He demanded, “How are you still alive!?”
He threw her down, then, stepping back as the entire door was suddenly consumed in flames, “You’ll kill us both!”
“Anything… for… him,” Taeyeon breathed as she lay on the ground on her side.
She watched with increasingly hooded eyes as the advisor tried to open the door, but the entire panel was consumed in flames, spreading to the walls and quickly eating up her clothing for fuel. Taeyeon laid her cheek against the floor, unable to even close her mouth, needing to gasp in as much air as possible. However, it had become more and more difficult to breathe since she was attacked and, indeed, she knew she may have had more time had she not spoken so much.
Distantly, she could hear the Dark Prince yelling her name. She heard pounding and she could only assume that Siwon was trying to break down the door.
Taeyeon coughed, blood splattering against her cheek and the ground. She closed her eyes to her surroundings, knowing she wouldn’t last much longer. How much blood had she lost? Furthermore, her lungs burned with more than just the pain of being stabbed and blood filling her lungs. No, the closet was filled with black smoke now. Usually when she used her magic, there was no fuel for the fire, so smoke was never an issue. This time, however, with the burning of the clothes and the shelving, smoke filled the space, slowly coming to suffocate herself and the advisor. As if on cue, the advisor dropped to the ground, holding his sleeve to his mouth as if trying to filter the smoke every time he breathed.
She felt wetness trickle from her ears, nose and eyes. Without checking, she knew the first two were blood and the last were tears. Her entire body felt numb, all except for that constant burning from where the knife still protruded from her chest. Even as she tried to fill her lungs with air, it was never enough.
She knew she would die with few regrets. Saying goodbye to her friends was one of them. She had a feeling that, had she more time, she would have become good friends with Prince Kyuhyun. She knew, however, that he would protect her best friend and love him as he deserved.
For most of her life, the only other person she had was her brother. Just a few months before she had found another brother in the Dark Mage. Kangin always treated her as an equal, protected her like an older brother. She regretted that she couldn’t keep her promise to him and hoped that he and her brother would find a way to be together while preserving the royal lineage.
She never believed she would find someone to love in the way she loved Siwon. He connected with her heart and mind on an intimate level. For the short time they spent together in the Dark Kingdom and recently, he had made her day better just by being near. She regretted that they didn’t have more time together and that she never got to tell him she loved him at least one more time. Despite all the pain and heartache, she would never regret loving him. And, although he never said it, she knew that he loved her, too.
Sungmin would always be her first and best friend. She would never regret the pretense of their engagement and she relished her time with him both in the Dark Kingdom and when they toured the Light Kingdom together. She hoped he remembered that they were soul mates and that he would know their forever reached beyond death.
He had been brother, mother, father and king to her. He had been her constant companion through much of the war, even when he had council meetings and she didn’t understand what was going on around her. She loved him as her brother, respected him as her king and would be eternally grateful for all he had done for her throughout their lives. As she lay on her closet floor dying, flames now completely surrounding her, Taeyeon could only hope that, in the end, she had made her brother proud.
Then, all she knew was cold darkness.
The moment Taeyeon disappeared into her closet, the door softly closing behind her, Siwon didn’t know what to do. He felt awkward being in her bedroom. Should he remain standing by the door like a sentry? Lean against one of the bed posts? He shook his head almost immediately at that thought; it might be seen as presumptuous. The last thing he wanted to be was presumptuous, especially after what happened between them in the Dark Kingdom. So, Siwon made his way towards one of the windows, easily sitting on the sill as he gazed out into the night.
Prior to their eventful lunch, he and Taeyeon had been having a pleasant enough morning. They had spent the entire time in the library asking each other seemingly inconsequential questions and, yet, each answer one of them revealed slowly brought them together, bridging the gap that had formed between them.
“Perhaps it had always been there,” Siwon said quietly to himself.
With each answer said, he felt like a dozen more questions seemed to unfold about the princess. Despite this, he knew that what they had once had been real. That love had been real and he truly was in love with her. The difficult part was not getting to know all of her as soon as possible. No, they would have a lifetime together. The difficulty lay in getting her to love him once again.
Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a small glass bottle. He stared at it for a few moments, not needing to uncork it to know its contents. It was one of the many vials of lavender oil he had brought, but, he never gathered enough courage to give her more of the oil besides the first bottle he had given her. He had noticed earlier in the week that the oil she used regularly to massage her hand smelled of vanilla. He wondered if she had even remembered he had given her some lavender oil the morning after the assassination attempt.
He had learned from his morning with Taeyeon that she used vanilla-scented water when washing her hair. The only time she didn’t was when she was in the Dark Kingdom. He could only assume that vanilla was her favoured scent.
“I’ll make a new garden dedicate to vanilla beans,” He muttered as he stared at the lavender oil in his hand, “If she so wishes.” Sighing heavily, Siwon pocketed the glass vial and leaned back against the side of the window’s niche, crossing his arms.
“I’m acting like some love-sick fool,” Siwon muttered. He couldn’t help the smile suddenly tugging at his lips, “But, I guess that’s what I am.”
Shaking his head in contented disbelief, Siwon glanced at the closet door. Taeyeon had been in there for quite some time now, he hadn’t realized because he had been so deep in thought. Slipping from the window sill, he padded over to the closet door, startled. He couldn’t hear a call for help, but he heard a muffled voice.
“A man?” Siwon’s thick brows narrowed as he approached the door, reaching for the handle.
He stopped just before grabbing the door handle, however, already feeling heat permeate through the door. Sniffing, he smelt the distinct scent of burning wood. Almost immediately, steam began to seep from the wood and the heat became so unbearable that Siwon even took a step back.
“Help! Guards!” Siwon called out as he kicked out at the door several times, having to draw back and stamp his foot against the floor every time, his shoe’s sole beginning to melt with each kick.
The bedroom door burst open just as dark smoke began to billow from beneath the closet door.
“There’s a fire in the closet!” Siwon revealed to the two guards as he tried to kick the door again. “Damn it, the door, too.”
Siwon stopped kicking for a moment, staring at the door as the two guards ran to grab a chair each, planning to use it to break down the door. Closing his eyes, he calmed his mind and his racing heart, forcing his lungs to steady and breathe deeply. Looking down at his hands, Siwon felt his skin become wrapped in a layer of cold water. Using it as protection, he began to bang at the door,
Grabbing the door handle without any fear, he tried to jerk it open, but the lock held in place.
“Sir, please stand back!” One of the guards called out.
Siwon moved out of the way just before one of the chairs came flying at the door. The door shook fiercely from the contact, but still it held. The other guard charged at the door with his chair before suddenly whacking it, and, yet, the door held.
“Move!” Siwon said then, practically shoving the two guards aside as he faced the door. With feet shoulder-width apart, he raised his hands, palms facing the door. “Please, wait for me, Taeyeon,” he murmured.
Suddenly, he began to move his hands, fingers spread out into invisible patterns. The pattern glowed with a dark light once he was done before dissipating and he moved onto another pattern. Then, he shoved his hands at the door. The door was engulfed in a waterfall, the water sloshing onto the ground and around their feet. Holding the fore- and middle fingers of each hand extended. Using them like swords, he made two, parallel lines running vertical along the door. Just as if his fingers had been swords, two cuts were made easily into the door paneling.
Immediately, the middle section, which was not being held up by the door’s lock or hinges, fell into the closet. Smoke rushed out, the guards immediately covered their faces to stop themselves from breathing it in. Siwon, however, used his sleeve to cover the bottom half of his face as he rushed into the closet. Water was everywhere from the spell he had used, dousing the entire room to kill the fire completely. With light flooding in from the bedroom, he could see two dark forms on the ground. He knew, however, that it was the smaller one that was his concern. Without any thought, he slipped his arms beneath Taeyeon’s body and gingerly brought her out.
“There’s someone else in there, I suspect,” Siwon’s words were cut off however as he began to lay her down on the mattress, “I’ll kill the bastard!”
“Sir?” One of the guards looked over from where he was taking down the remaining pieces of door, the other already in the closet dragging the second person out,
“We need the king… Princess Taeyeon has been stabbed.”
“You’ll have… to heal her,” Kangin murmured. He laid on his stomach in his bed, draped over a pillow close to the edge of the bed.
Taeyeon was laid on the floor atop several blankets, Siwon having carried her when it was evident Kangin was still too weak to leave his bed to help. She lay limp atop the blankets, her skin completely void of any colour and her short locks in disarray around her. She smelled of smoke and burnt wood. Siwon knelt at her side with Eeteuk sitting at her other side, her limp hand held in both of his.
“I’ve already stunted the wound in her lung… it’s not perfect, but it’s enough to stop the blood from continuing to rush in,” Eeteuk said quietly, his head bowed; “But, who knows how much blood she’s lost, her clothes…” He paused, not even having to finish his sentence. The front of Taeyeon’s dress was completely soaked to scarlet. “There’s probably so much damage and… the moment we take out the… the knife, she’ll bleed out more and… faster.”
“I had one of the footmen fetch Kyuhyun and Sungmin,” Siwon said, “I… I hope that’s okay.”
“Anything,” Eeteuk replied, his tone flat as he reassured the prince of his presumptuousness. He squeezed his sister’s hand, “For her.”
“He knows… heal minds… small wounds… she needs more,” Kangin said,
The door opened and Kyuhyun helped Sungmin in, the latter’s arm slung over the prince’s. One of the guards who remained outside the door closed it after them.
“What’s going… what the hell happened!?” Kyuhyun exclaimed when they came into view of the princess,
Sungmin, suddenly pulling away from Kyuhyun, took a few steps before stumbling, his strength still not fully recovered. He crawled the rest of the way to Taeyeon’s side, Siwon silently moving to give the other space.
“I leave you for one damn night…” Sungmin muttered as he cupped the side of her face and brushed her hair back. He looked up, then, his steel-blue eyes blazing with anger, “Who did this!?”
“The guards have him in the dungeon right now. They said he’s one of the royal advisors,” Siwon revealed,
“I’ll kill him,” Sungmin swore as he turned his gaze back to Taeyeon’s face.
“I will do so and with my bare hands,” Eeteuk vowed, his voice quiet yet steel ran through it,
“Heal her first… then kill him,” Kangin reminded, his voice still raspy as if the poison had travelled down his throat the other day.
“What do I have to do?” Siwon asked,
“Like any healing… inside out,” Kangin replied,
“Only Siwon and Sungmin know healing spells,” Kyuhyun stated, “But Sungmin’s still too weak to heal.”
Sungmin didn’t even bother denying it. Even as much as he wanted to heal Taeyeon himself, he was still weak and tired from helping Kangin the other day with the poison. If he tried to heal in such a vulnerable state, he might end up doing more damage than healing. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he looked up at the Second Dark Prince,
“You will be my hands,” Sungmin declared, “I will guide you as much as I can and then Kangin can take over.”
“Awake… and listening,” Kangin assured the two princes as he closed his eyes.
Eventually, Sungmin moved to sit by Taeyeon’s head, giving space on her right side for Siwon and Kyuhyun to sit. Kangin had instructed them that the first part would be difficult. One of them would have to remove the knife while the other immediately healed the puncture. Then, once the blood was completely stunted, the real work would begin.
When they began, the housekeeper had been let into the room to assist in clean-up. Since Siwon was more practiced in healing spells, it was left up to Kyuhyun to pull out the knife. In order to do it in one fluid motion, he knelt by her shoulder, steadying his shaking hands before grabbing the hilt. For a moment before pulling it, Kyuhyun glanced at Sungmin.
As if feeling his stare, Sungmin raised his eyes from Taeyeon’s face to Kyuhyun’s. He saw the hesitance and doubt in the younger man’s face. It was the first time Kyuhyun was so openly emotional when it wasn’t just the two of them. Sungmin nodded his head decisively, confidently and, with that simple gesture alone, Kyuhyun’s hands stilled all on their own.
To help signal his brother, Kyuhyun counted down the three seconds before he pulled out the knife. At first, the knife was securely lodged in her chest. Careful not to jiggle the knife, Kyuhyun eventually pulled it free. Immediately, blood began to pour like a river from her breast. Kyuhyun took the knife away to the housekeeper who had a waiting towel as Siwon immediately held his hands over the wound, sending his magic as a healing force into her body.
“Kae,” Sungmin called Kyuhyun over, mindful that the housekeeper was present, “While your brother is healing the vessels, you have to clear her lungs of the blood… she’s breathing so shallowly.”
Kyuhyun returned to Taeyeon’s side, this time sitting next to Sungmin, careful not to disturb his brother’s body position or concentration, “How?”
“Like water,” Kangin’s muffled voice came from the bed,
“Draw the blood out like you would with water,” Sungmin confirmed, “Use it as a medium to bring out the different parts of the blood.”
“Okay… but where do I draw it to? Blood isn’t all water,” Kyuhyun said,
The housekeeper brought a basin from the bathroom, then, laying it on the ground between Kyuhyun and Sungmin. With Kangin’s monosyllabic instructions, Kyuhyun slowly began to draw the blood from Taeyeon’s lungs. Using his hands to guide the liquid to the basin, the blood floated in the air like a red ribbon. Kyuhyun was careful in his work. Despite it not being the most difficult of tasks, he knew that if his magic was too strong, he would begin pulling the water from her body and not just the localized blood that had filled her lungs making it hard for the princess to breathe.
It was several minutes after Kyuhyun was finished before Siwon sat back on his heels, using his forearm to wipe the sweat from his brow, “The blood is completely stunted now… there shouldn’t be any more blood leaking into her lungs.”
“Is the opening covered?” Kangin asked, struggling to raise his head to see for himself,
“What?” Siwon asked,
“It’s fine,” Eeteuk interjected, “I’m controlling the pressure in her lungs. If the lung is left punctured and the wound open, air will rush into the wrong places in her chest and cause the lung to collapse.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Siwon stammered, horror evident on his face at the thought that his ignorance could have killed Taeyeon,
Eeteuk glanced up for the first time since Taeyeon was brought to him, “It’s not something most people are aware of if they don’t do extensive research on healing… I had anticipated this and have been keeping the air in her lungs under my control.” He glanced at the Second Dark Prince, “Removing the blood helped. The moment it was cleared, the air movement was smoother.”
“Kangin, you’ll have to take over the instruction,” Sungmin said wearily, “My healing knowledge stops here.”
Eeteuk locked gazes with the First Dark Prince, “You healed her hand, did you not?” At Siwon’s nod, he continued, “It’s the same thing. Heal the tissue from the inside out. Be mindful of the nerves, tendons and ligaments you come across. Heal the tissue one layer at a time and rest when you need to. I will ensure she keeps breathing.” Seeing Sungmin look at him with wonder, he explained, “I know how to heal, but I don’t have the practice to do anything as extensive as this.”
After steeling himself, Siwon began to heal Taeyeon. Kyuhyun sat at his brother’s side, ready to support him when he got tired, sustaining him much as Sungmin had done for Kangin several times. After the housekeeper had placed several towels around Taeyeon and around where Siwon was healin, Sungmin asked for a wet compress. When she returned with a warm, damp facecloth, Sungmin accepted it. However, Eeteuk held out his hand expectantly,
“Let me do it, Sungmin,” Eeteuk said quietly.
The flatness and hollowness of the king’s tone stroke deeply in Sungmin. He handed over the cloth without a word. Taking the cloth, Eeteuk began to gently clean off the dried blood from Taeyeon’s face. Red remnants stained trails from her nostrils and along her ears. Sungmin watched as Eeteuk’s hands trembled as he wiped away the dried blood. Once her face was cleaned, with his free hand, Eeteuk began to reach for her forehead. Sungmin stopped him, grabbing the king’s wrist,
“Sungmin,” Eeteuk looked up at him with narrowed eyes,
“If you become weak, too, that won’t leave us with a lot of defence,” Sungmin stated,
“The attacker is in the dungeon,” Eeteuk countered,
“I can’t take any chances with your life. As my king, my friend, I can’t,” Sungmin shook his head, “I… just make sure her mind is okay, but no healing. Not yet.”
Eeteuk glared for a moment at the other. He needed to do everything he could to save Taeyeon, why couldn’t Sungmin see? However, it didn’t take Eeteuk long to see the shine of unshed tears in Sungmin’s eyes. He wasn’t the only one suffering and it was clear that Sungmin was struggling with his request. He knew then that Sungmin knew that if Taeyeon had been bleeding from both her nose and ears, then the damage to her mind would be even greater than before because she was using magic when there was almost nothing left. The fact that she was so close to death, perhaps even more so than the last time, shook Eeteuk like nothing else. Indeed, he knew that there was a very large chance that Taeyeon may still die despite their healing attempts.
“I understand,” Eeteuk assured and Sungmin released his hand.
Closing his eyes, Eeteuk gently laid his hand on his sister’s forehead. After a moment, his hand slipped away and Eeteuk bowed his head once more. He said nothing, but it was clear to both Kyuhyun and Sungmin who watched him that what he had found of her mind was not good. Several times, Sungmin saw Eeteuk begin to turn towards Kangin before stopping himself. After the twelfth time, Sungmin finally dismissed the housekeeper, insisting they would call her once they were done.
Shooting a grateful look at the Lesser Mage, Eeteuk softly said, “Kangin…”
Kangin, without any prompting and without saying a word, reached out easily, Eeteuk close enough that he could slouch back against the side of the bed. He laid his hand on the king’s shoulders, his thumb gently rubbing back and forth against his neck in silent comfort.
Together, the five men remained silent as they tried to save the Princess’ life.
“What do you think?”
“It’s a damn miracle is what I think.”
“She’ll make a full recovery?”
“Why hasn’t she awakened yet?”
“She’s awake right now.”
“Why… spoiling… rest,” Taeyeon’s voice was barely above a whisper and her eyes fluttered only enough for her to confirm the identities of those in the room with her.
She had slowly drifted into consciousness, the voices at first distant and, then, drawing nearer as she became more aware of her surroundings. She recognized them immediately, but she felt oh so tired and wanted to keep on sleeping, her body feeling as if made from cement and her strength completely gone. She closed her eyes almost as soon as she opened them, the effort seeming to wipe out what little strength she could muster.
“You… always know… I’m awake…” Taeyeon murmured, recalling how Kangin had known she had awoken that day he had brought her to Siwon in the Dark Castle.
“Your magic flow changes. It becomes more heavily suppressed once you’re awake as opposed to just being dormant when you sleep,” Kangin explained. He stood with his shoulder against a bedpost by the foot of the bed, his bare arms crossed over his chest.
“She still has magic?” Eeteuk gaped. He sat on the mattress by her head, his back against the headboard and his legs stretched out before him. “I don’t… How? Her mind was… You couldn’t even sense her magic.”
“Until the middle of last night,” Kangin revealed, “While you were asleep, I sensed the smallest brush of Light Magic.” He held up his hand to silence any protests from the king, “No one is more surprised than I, but, on the other hand, I’ve always said the depth and breadth of her magic was unlike any other I’ve witnessed. There are still only traces of it and it hasn’t begun to replenish itself, but at least it’s there.”
“How long… sleep?” Taeyeon asked weakly,
“Four days,” Kangin answered,
“Four very long days,” Eeteuk corrected, reaching out and brushing her hair back from her face, “After your body was healed I began to do sessions on your mind but, no matter what I did and no matter how much I healed… you wouldn’t wake up.”
“Teuk! Teuk!” Taeyeon tried to exclaim, her voice coming out strangled instead,
“Damn it, can you please not push yourself? For once, can you not try to challenge yourself and just let yourself heal?” Eeteuk admonished softly, then, asked, “What’s the matter?”
“Advisor… did it,” She explained,
“We know. They got him when they got you from the closet,” Eeteuk replied, “He’s been toiling in the dungeon this entire time. I thought it best I question him when you were able to be there.”
“Siwon… was in the room… where?”
“Probably having breakfast with Sungmin and Kyuhyun,” Eeteuk answered, “I should be upset that he was in your bedroom that night, but if he hadn’t, then who knows how long it would have taken for the guards to find you.”
Taeyeon opened her eyes again, ever so slowly rolling her head left and right on the pillow before closing her eyes, “Teuk’s room.”
“Did you truly believe I would keep you in your room where not one, but two assassination attempts occurred?” Eeteuk questioned, “The moment your body was healed, of course I moved you. And, once Kangin was recovered, it was easy enough to have at least one of us with you at all times.”
“How… save Kangin… pain?” Taeyeon asked,
It took a moment for Kangin to translate her meaning before he answered, “After the poisoning, I was too weak to sustain the usual protection spells I have over you two. I thought it would be safe, thinking the assassin wouldn’t strike twice in one day especially since we were on high alert. However, from what I can piece together, he was waiting in your closet for you to return and the guards remain outside your door.”
“And everyone knows you never use a maid to help you in your room,” Eeteuk added,
“If the protection spells had held up, he never would have been able to injure you in any way,” Kangin said,
“Should not… put one life… over another,” Taeyeon’s voice was slowly getting quieter, the call of sleep a heavy temptation.
“Rest, Tae, but, when I wake you to eat, you have to wake up this time,” Eeteuk insisted, gently stroking her hair.
They were silent a few minutes more before Kangin simply said, “She’s asleep.” He locked gazes with the king, “Go eat now, Eeteuk. I’ll stay with her.”
He shook his head, however, “I’ll get a tray sent up… now that she’s awake again, I don’t want… I can’t…” He managed a small smile at the Dark Mage even as his light brown eyes shone with unshed tears, “I just want to stay with her a little longer.”
Without prompting, Kangin went to the hall and asked one of the maids to bring a tray of food for the king. Upon returning to the room with a tray of food, Kangin laid it on a bedside table and then walked to Eeteuk’s side. Almost immediately, Eeteuk tugged Kangin closer until the mage almost had to have a knee on the mattress to keep his balance. The older man slipped his arm around the other’s waist, leaning his head just below the mage’s heart. Kangin speared his fingers through the king’s hair, his hand gently holding the other’s head against his body. Together they watched the sleeping princess.
“Min… too tired,” Taeyeon murmured, just a hint of irritation in her tone as Sungmin sat beside her on the bed, carefully helping her into a sitting position,
“How can this be tiring when I’m doing all the moving?” Sungmin asked lightly as he stuffed pillows behind her, holding her up against the headboard, “I think once you’ve regained your strength you should do everything for me.”
Sungmin glanced at the door, having sent Kyuhyun to request a tray of food. He was startled that, when he looked back at the princess, she was glaring at him, even as her head was completely lax against the pillows,
“You’re too happy… annoying,” Taeyeon answered,
“Why wouldn’t I be happy? Someone tried to kill my best friend and failed. In an effort to stop said killer, my best friend had to call upon magic that she did not have, practically helping the killer do his job. And, despite this all, she still lives. Naturally, I would be happy, Minx,” Sungmin replied in the same light tone as before, but, as Taeyeon watched him, she saw that his eyes were storming even as he appeared calm and casual.
“Eyes,” was all she said.
Sungmin’s eyes widened ever so slightly before he looked away. He knew exactly what she meant; “I can never hide anything from you, can I, Minx?” Sighing softly, he turned back towards her, “I am quite happy that you are alive. Indeed, I don’t think I have ever been more relieved and happy in my life. The entire experience, however, I could do without.”
Sungmin smiled sadly, “It was not a good feeling to hear that you could have died in a fire, too.” The smile quickly melted, though, before he said, “It’s taking all the control I have not to go down to the dungeons and kill him myself.”
“Murder… not for you,”
“Perhaps, but, in this instance, I don’t believe I’ll have a lot of regrets,” Sungmin admitted,
“He’s not kidding,” Kyuhyun entered then, kicking the door closed behind him as he held a tray of food in his hands. Bringing it over, he laid the tray on the bedside table, atop was a bowl of soup, cheeses, small slices of meat and bread. “Once he was well enough to walk on his own I had to physically restrain him from going to the dungeons.”
“Not all,” Taeyeon said, watching the prince put the tray down,
Kyuhyun chuckled, “No, I don’t think Sungmin’s so determined to have you eat that he’ll force this entire tray on you.” He paused, glancing at the mage, “Right?”
Sungmin rolled his eyes, “Of course not, so long as she eats something.”
“How are you feeling?” Kyuhyun asked, sitting in a cushioned chair beside the bed,
“Tired… he woke me,” Taeyeon muttered irritably,
“Your brother said that once you are strong enough to be up out of bed, then they’ll hold the interrogation of the advisor,” Kyuhyun revealed, “I believe that Kangin wants to interrogate the other advisors, too. Who’s to say he acted alone?”
Before Taeyeon could talk, Sungmin slipped his hand behind her head, gently lifting it as he brought a spoon to her lips. He fed her five spoon-fulls before allowing her to rest her head against the pillows.
“Sungmin!” Taeyeon’s exclamation was a soft growl, “Hot!”
Picking up a small roll of bread, Sungmin tore off a piece and popped it into his mouth, “What? Would you rather have cold soup?” When she just glared silently at him, he tore off another piece of bread and held it to her lips. When she shook her head slightly, he ate it himself. “So, tell us, should we let Siwon see you today now that you’re finally awake?”
“We were at breakfast together, but he’s probably gone back to his room to sleep,” Kyuhyun answered, “he’s very tired, so, we didn’t wake him up when we were on our way here.”
Kyuhyun fell silent as he watched Sungmin feed her more soup, this time muttering to each spoon before feeding her and allowing her more time between each spoonful. He realized then that the mage was using an extension of his fire elemental and pulling the heat from her soup. His eyes followed as Sungmin grabbed handkerchief and patted her lips and chin dry. Sungmin then held a cup of water, gently prompting her to take a few sips before he fed her more soup. It was several minutes before the mage allowed her to rest her head on the pillows again.
Having been silent for so long, it took Kyuhyun a moment before he recalled what they had been talking about. Pulling his gaze away from Sungmin who had continued to eat the rest of his bread roll, he replied, “No one’s told you?” Taeyeon stared at him in silent reply; “Siwon hasn’t left your side in days. He left once two days ago but only because Kangin threatened to bodily remove him if he didn’t get some sleep. This morning again Kangin kicked him out of the room.”
“I’m not saying you should make things easier on him, but he does deserve some points for the past four days,” Sungmin admitted as he began to feed her soup again; “Whenever he was here with you, he refused to sleep. At one point, I was even sure Eeteuk was going to ban him from the room. Something about feeling upstaged by Siwon since Eeteuk had to sleep.”
Sungmin cleaned her mouth and chin again after soup dribbled from her lips as she weakly laughed at Sungmin’s description. As he began to feed her once more, Kyuhyun silently observed them. There was something that drew him in, making him watch every time Sungmin fed Taeyeon. He watched as Sungmin tried to convince Taeyeon to eat a bit of bread, offering to soak it first in the soup so she wouldn’t have to chew so much. When she relented, Sungmin tore a small bread roll apart into pieces even smaller than he had been tearing for himself. Dropping the pieces into the soup, he fed her one piece at a time with a spoonful of soup. Despite how tired his hand may be from holding up her head, he contentedly waited each time she ate some bread, not wanting to rush her.
‘I love him…’ He realized then.
It wasn’t jealousy that filled him with the fascination of watching Sungmin feed the princess. He realized it was respect for someone so patient, admiration that the mage did so with stern concern and, finally, love for someone who was all these things and cared so much, even if he wasn’t showing such tender administrations for him. How could he have had reservations about Sungmin for so long?
And, then, just like that, he felt as if a missing puzzle piece in his life shifted and fell into place with the other pieces. Closing his eyes, Kyuhyun withdrew into himself to analyze what had just happened. It was an odd feeling that had suddenly wrapped itself around him, and, yet, it wasn’t a bad feeling. Rather, it was just unfamiliar. Something seemed to burst open within him, blossoming and spreading warmth around him, filling him completely.
The young prince opened his eyes, his gaze locking immediately on the Lesser Mage’s, aware that the princess was watching him, too.
Seeing the slight shock in the younger man’s eyes, Sungmin said tentatively, “Your soul… I… I can feel it, it’s different.”
Kyuhyun had never known what it felt to be someone’s anchor. He believed that, on some level, he had been his brother’s, but, he never felt the strong connection he felt to Sungmin as if his soul was literally in the other’s keeping. However, with Sungmin as his anchor, he never knew that the other would be able to sense his soul, too, feel the change as he did. And, because of the mage, Kyuhyun knew exactly what had changed.
“My emotions… all…” Kyuhyun stammered, covering his mouth to stop a sob from rising up, startled to feel the sudden burn of tears and the following trickle down both cheeks.
Carefully, Sungmin slipped from Taeyeon’s side and took the few steps to Kyuhyun. Craddling the younger man’s face in his hands, Sungmin tilted it up towards him, staring directly at him, “Your soul… it feels like it’s bursting.”
“I think… no, I know… it’s whole… I can feel it,” Kyuhyun said, clutching his own shirt above his heart,
“H-how?” Sungmin asked, his eyes searching the other’s,
Kyuhyun looked at him directly, “I love you, Sungmin.”
Sungmin was silent at first. He knew that Kyuhyun had lost a lot of his warmer emotions, always exaggerating his expression to hide the fact from his brother. He had told the younger man several times that he would wait for him to love him back. Indeed, there were dark moments when he wondered if he’d ever hear the words from the younger man even as they grew closer day after day. Then, as if he could no longer control himself, he swooped in, capturing the prince’s lips with his own.
When he finally pulled back, Sungmin said softly, firmly, “I love you, too.”
Kyuhyun abruptly pulled his face away from Sungmin’s hold, heat creeping up his neck as he muttered, “We forgot we have an audience.”
“You two… sweetest,” Taeyeon murmured, affection clear in her amber eyes even as her face remained mostly lax as if her facial muscles were still too weak.
Sungmin chuckled softly, returning to her side as Kyuhyun avoided looking at the princess, his face evidently red.
It was another three days after the Princess of Light finally woke up that she was strong enough, by her brother’s standards, to leave the bedroom. So, it was one week after the attack on her that they all gathered into the study to begin the royal advisor’s interrogation.
Sitting behind his large, dark wood desk was the King of Light, dressed in a hongryongpo symbolizing his royal status, the bright scarlet robes intricately decorated with golden dragons on his shoulders and torso. A chair had been pulled next to his own, a place of honour where he lovingly placed his sister. The Princess of Light, although still wane-looking, sat straight in her chair, her expression solemn giving her a quiet dignity as she wore a scarlet dangui, the trim beautifully decorated with patterns of flowers and phoenixes in gold, signifying her own place.
Standing against the wall behind the young king’s desk but to the left were the Dark Mage and the Lesser Mage of Light. The former was dressed in his black mage robes as usual, his bare, muscled arms crossed over his broad chest, his silver eyes sweeping over everyone before him, taking in every detail. The lesser mage was dressed, finally, in his formal jungchimak of white silk, gold embroidery along the high collar and trim. With his hands behind his back, his face was a mask of cold fury.
Standing parallel to the mages, but to the right of the king’s desk were the unknown guests. The First Dark Prince stood strong and silent, dressed in the best clothes he had brought with him, clad completely in black, his thick eyebrows narrowed at the one sitting before the king’s desk. To his left stood the Second Dark Prince dressed in his black mage robes, his expression controlled even as his dark eyes were slashed with silver.
Before the king’s desk sat the offending royal advisor, his usually pristine, white robes soiled and horribly wrinkled from a week living in the dungeons. His hands were tied behind his chair as he belligerently stared at those before him, remorse completely absent. To his sides stood one guard each and behind him stood another guard, the one who the king trusted the most with his sister’s life.
“Royal Advisor Lim, you are brought here today under the charge of attempted assassin on the Princess of Light, thrice over,” Eeteuk’s voice was soft yet strong in the large room, his light brown eyes narrowed darkly.
“And, there is suspicion you have also tried to murder the King of Light, as well,” Taeyeon spoke up, her voice quiet due to her slow recovery. Although he didn’t react, Taeyeon knew she had surprised her brother and perhaps all the others in the room. Because she had been ill, she didn’t have time to divulge what she believed from the encounter in her closet.
“Why?” Was all that the king questioned,
“She betrays the kingdom every time she uses her evil magic,” the advisor stated gruffly, “Time and time again the kingdom looks to its mages for protection and wisdom when they cannot be trusted. They are a danger and liability. Even they knew it and that’s why they left. The monarch should turn to its advisors. She had to die before she killed anyone.”
“You will speak with respect,” one of the guards warned,
“She’s not worth even the dirt beneath my feet! What has she ever done for this kingdom? She’s nothing more than a spoiled brat!” The advisor spat and, immediately, a cool, sharp edge was pressed beneath his chin and lightly against his neck,
“Speak with respect or I’ll cut your tongue out through your neck,” the guard at his back growled softly,
“And the king was never fit for the throne,” the advisor continued despite the short dagger pressed against his throat, “What is the fate of a kingdom being led by a boy!? When the late monarchs were gone, the advisors should have been the ones to run this kingdom instead, yet the people chose the boy king who was barely out of the nursery!”
Suddenly, the room began to shake as if the earth was trembling and a wind whipped around them like a building tornado.
“Stop,” both Eeteuk and Taeyeon instructed and, immediately the shaking and wind stopped.
The guards standing on either side of the advisor eyed the mages warily despite both men not moving an inch nor facially reacting to the advisor’s words.
“The people think they know what they need, but by choosing the two of you, they’ve proven themselves unworthy and, so, I took it upon myself to ensure they didn’t have a choice,” the advisor exclaimed, “The kingdom will go to ruin under your reign!”
“It has been eight years since the war, how can you be so certain?” Taeyeon challenged,
“That means nothing. A true king, a strong king would have ensured that we won the war instead of this pitiful excuse for peace,” the advisor replied bitterly, “And, yet, we’re left in a stand still until the Dark Kingdom decides to attack just like they did with your parents. Here you both sit, betraying not just your kingdom, but the memory of your parents!” His glare shifted to the unnamed guests, “Consorting with those of the Dark!”
“Calm yourself,” the First Dark Prince’s voice slashed through the room suddenly and attention was pulled from the advisor as Siwon had to physically restrain his brother, a strong hand on Kyuhyun’s wrist,
“Can you remain calm as he spits on our kingdom? As he talks of us like we’re worthless!?” Kyuhyun demanded, trying to free himself from his brother’s grasp, trying to lunge over the king’s desk at the advisor.
Taeyeon glanced over her shoulder to where the two mages stood. “Sungmin,” she whispered, “Can’t you say something?”
Sungmin surreptitiously met her eyes, “No. I’m barely stopping myself from doing the same thing.”
“But… his magic?” Taeyeon prompted in the same whispered voice as before,
“Nothing’s happened since he got upset,” Kangin replied quietly, “Surprisingly, he’s in complete control.”
With a short nod, Taeyeon faced in front of her again.
“Do this for Father,” Siwon said quietly so only his brother could hear, “He wouldn’t be pleased with us if he found out how we acted.”
Shooting one last dark glare at the advisor, Kyuhyun finally acknowledged his brother’s words, “Fine, but the next time you do something stupid, I’m using Father as my victory play.” With Siwon tentatively letting go of him, Kyuhyun paced away to reign in his emotions.
Eeteuk began interrogating the advisor on the remaining advisors. Although he never showed any reaction, he was paying close attention to the advisor, picking out any details which could convey lie from truth. Behind him, Kangin was doing the same thing.
Taeyeon listened in, but, then, her mind began to wander, trying to chase after an elusive memory. As the advisor spoke, something had niggled at her memory and she felt she was missing some vital piece. She recalled her time in the closet when the advisor seemed to be ranting more to himself than her. She realized then that he must have truly believed she would die that night considering all he had divulged.
“I was sure your brother had learned from their mistakes.”
Suddenly, her gaze snapped back to the advisor as, bit by bit, her memory of that dreadful, painful night returned. She had been in too much pain, was concentrated on remaining conscious that she hadn’t paid too much attention to everything the advisor had said. Now, however, as the advisor repeated his blatant disgust and hate, she was remembering the one-sided conversation and all it revealed.
Taeyeon placed her hand on her brother’s arm, a silent request for his attention. When Eeteuk stopped speaking, she took it as her cue and, so, asked, “How did my parents betray the kingdom?”
In her mind, she recalled that the advisor had justified stabbing her by saying that she, too, had betrayed the kingdom.
“What!?” Eeteuk questioned, no longer able to control himself. He felt his sister’s hand, which had at first gently touched his arm, then grip it ever so slightly and he forced a calm upon himself that he did not feel.
“Your foolish parents trusted those of the Dark Kingdom,” the royal advisor sneered, not caring that the knife pressed against his neck as he slandered the late monarchs; “There is a reason why their souls are of the Dark! They are evil!”
This time, both Siwon and Kyuhyun surged forward only to halt at Taeyeon’s words, “And, yet, you were the one to murder my parents.” All attention swung to the princess as she added in a deadly quiet voice, “Weren’t you?”
Eeteuk jumped to his feet, “Answer her!” He commanded angrily, his hands fisted at his side as the fireplace was suddenly filled with flames.
“Yes, I did it!” The advisor exclaimed, pulling against his restraints, a trickle of blood dripping from his neck as he pushed forward against the knife. The guard pulled the knife away so as not to allow the advisor to kill himself. “For years they consorted with the Dark Kingdom, visiting with the royal family and having them visit. It was only a matter of time before the Dark Kingdom tried to take over! I told the king time and time again that it wouldn’t be long before they sent an assassin after him but he ignored me!”
“So, you did the deed yourself, instead!?” Eeteuk questioned, Taeyeon gripping his arm a litter firmer now, trying to help calm him.
“If he couldn’t protect the kingdom from those of the Dark, then he didn’t deserve to be king!” The advisor defended, thrashing against his restraints, a guard immediately holding one shoulder each, “He was handing over the kingdom on a silver platter every time he invited those rats here! Something had to be done to finally put up the fight against them! It was easy enough blaming their murders on that boy from the Dark Kingdom who came to train with the mages. He made an easy enough scapegoat just like that entire kingdom with a few wisely placed words.”
Eeteuk held up his hand in a silent effort to stop Siwon and Kyuhyun from outright attacking the advisor, both having taken another step forward at the advisor’s words. “And the late queen?” Eeteuk prompted, only just restraining himself by not referring to her as ‘mother’; “Why did she have to die?”
“She just got in the way,” The advisor spat, “The queen had her own chambers but she was sleeping in the king’s chambers that night. If she had just remained where she belonged, then I wouldn’t have had to kill her, too.”
It took half a second for the king’s desk to suddenly slide to the side, crashing against the wall as the king stepped forward, fiercely shaking off the princess’ hold on his arm. Eeteuk lowered his hand after using his Air Magic as he closed in on the advisor, his fingers curling into the high-collar of the advisor’s robes.
“You who is so determined to judge those of the Dark are not worthy to be part of my kingdom let alone one of my royal advisors. Your soul is the blackest I have ever come across, indeed, I don’t even believe you have a soul to begin with,” Eeteuk’s voice was a low growl, his light brown eyes narrowed darkly; “You have murdered the late King and Queen of Light, you have made attempts on myself, the current King of Light and have tried to murder the Princess of Light. You will pay for your crimes with your life.” He pushed the advisor away, causing the chair to tilt precariously before a guard kicked it still, “Return him to the dungeons until it is time. I want the remaining royal advisors summoned here this afternoon.”
“You have damned this kingdom to the Dark!” The advisor yelled as he was roughly pulled from the chair, two guards having one of their arms linked with each of his,
“YOU ARE THE EVIL, NOT THOSE OF THE DARK!” Eeteuk roared.
Suddenly, there was a bright flash in the room and, when everyone opened their eyes, a small fire had started on the chair the advisor had just vacated.
“L-Lightning?” One of the guards stammered,
“You’re lucky I don’t kill you here and now myself,” Eeteuk stated, his voice low but deadly. His voice softened ever so slightly, “Take him away.”
Eeteuk stood still as the two guards dragged the advisor away. The third guard remained, “I will have a footman send out the summons, Sire.”
The king nodded and the guard bowed and, then, left, the study door closing firmly behind him.
“Eeteuk,” Taeyeon said softly, slowly rising to her feet. Her brother didn’t respond, didn’t even react as if he hadn’t heard her at all. Gingerly, she made her way to his side, finally getting his attention when she stumbled against him. “Eeteuk,” she repeated when he finally reached out to catch her, holding her upper arms to help steady her, “You cannot kill the advisor.”
“Taeyeon, you know what he did,” Eeteuk argued,
“But, then we would be like him, deciding who lives and who dies,” Taeyeon countered tentatively.
She knew she was asking a lot from her brother and, indeed, on some level she wanted to kill the advisor herself. However, in the fifteen years that her brother had been king, he had never had anyone put to death. She knew, without a doubt, that if he did so now, even as justified as he was, somehow, a piece of him would be lost. He would walk the remainder of his days remembering that he had caused death.
Ignoring their on-looking friends, Eeteuk stared at her directly, his eyes narrowed, “Do you realize what you’re asking of me?”
Standing up straight so she was no longer leaning on her brother, she grasped his hands with hers, holding as tightly as she was possible, looking at him seriously, “There is more than one way to lose one’s soul.”
“You know I trust you wholly,” Eeteuk stated and, when she nodded once, he said, “I will consider your suggestion.”
She nodded gratefully when, suddenly, her eyes filled with tears, “We finally caught their murderer.”
“Seven years of war for nothing… I let the advisors guide me without thinking,” Eeteuk shook his head as he slipped one of his hands from hers to brush her tears away,
“You didn’t know any better… what’s done is done,” Kangin spoke up,
Eeteuk looked up at the Dark Mage, a pained expression on the young king’s face, “Kangin…”
Kangin knew immediately what Eeteuk was trying to say to him. The king was trying to apologize again for the rift between them, for throwing him out of the castle all those years ago. Kangin shook his head as he repeated, “What’s done is done.”
Sighing heavily, Eeteuk looked back at his sister and, then, abruptly pulled her into his arms, his arms wrapping around her shoulders. Taeyeon slipped her arms around his waist, holding him fiercely.
Pressing a kiss to the top of her head, he stated, “I’m proud of you.”
Unable to stop crying, she hugged him even tighter, “You’re a great king.”