Chapter 1: Obsidian
Ｔｈｅ Ｄｒａｇｏｎ Ｈｅｉｒ
The summer night breeze was cool as it flowed through the open window of Baekhyun’s dorm. He furrowed his eyebrows in his sleep, beads of sweat evident on his face before he jolted awake and grasped at his blankets as he sat up. It happened again; the dream that never ends.
The brunet heaved a sigh of relief before he reached for the glass of water set at his nightstand. Baekhyun took a large gulp before pushing himself off the mattress, creaking at his weight. He looked over to his left where his roommate remained peacefully sleeping before muttering incoherent words, and turning over on his side to pull up his sheets.
Heading for the open window, Baekhyun leaned against the sill, peering up at the full moon as it shined down, illuminating a section of the dorm.
“When will it end…?” Baekhyun sighed, rubbing at his eyes. All he ever saw in those dreams were images of constant war, always finding himself caught in the middle with feelings that felt too real... Baekhyun made his way towards his desk and pulled out a notebook. He began owning several dream journals since his visions began shortly after his sixteenth birthday. It had been years since the recurring dream began playing in his sleep. Since then, he had began the habit of jotting down every detail of the same thing every night from the moment he awakens from the nightmare.
The brunet turned his lamplight on and began writing what he could remember from the visions, but then stopped when he noticed something written from the night before.
Baekhyun drew his eyebrows together, reading the words aloud. “He yells for me. He’s surrounded by them and he’s calling out to me until...”
For a few seconds, his eyes remained focused on where his pencil had stopped writing. Again, it was the same detail like history repeating itself…
The same, faceless man continues to call his name. Does he need help?
Baekhyun flipped through the previous pages of his worn journal. The adrenaline from his dream had yet to wear off.
This man… was always looking for him, always calling for him. But Baekhyun always woke before he could make out his face.
“Two years in and I still can’t stand writing papers.”
Baekhyun scoffed as he lifted his macchiato up to his lips. He scrunched his nose after having a sip. The drink is unusually bitter today. “As someone who has to write papers every other week, I don’t share the same sentiment.”
“That’s because you’ve become numb to this type of thing already.” Jongdae sighed, shutting his laptop. It was relatively calm in the coffee shop thirty minutes ago but the rush hour has begun and all his focus is lost in the chaos of it all.
Baekhyun looked down at his bitter coffee, wishing he had gone up earlier to have another one made but settled for continuing to drink what he paid for anyways. He looked out the window of the cafe and spotted an elderly man with a dark brown hat sitting by himself on a lonely bench as students passed him by without a second thought about his existence. He seemed peaceful and relaxed, but there was something curious about him that pulled at Baekhyun’s attention more than it should’ve. The more his eyes stayed on the gentleman, the less he was beginning to be aware of his environment. It was the touch of Jongdae’s hand against his forearm that brought Baekhyun back to their conversation.
“Earth to Baekhyun. Did you hear me?”
Snapping his eyes back in Jongdae’s direction, Baekhyun gave him a sheepish smile before grimacing. “Sorry. I got a bit distracted.”
“By some old guy sitting on that bench,” Baekhyun replied dismissively.
Curiously, Jongdae looked out before a puzzled look stretched across his face. “What old man?”
“The one who’s…” The bench was empty with no sign of the man anywhere. It was extremely odd considering the cane that had been in between both hands. His appearance had also shown him to be quite aged, and Baekhyun didn’t think that a man in his state would have disappeared so fast. “I guess he left…”
Jongdae shrugged. “I guess so.”
The rest of Baekhyun’s day was uneventful. Working at the student bookstore had been helpful for him financially. Half the time it was mundane work if he didn’t include the busy days at the beginning of every semester. Otherwise, it was just a slow shift the rest of the year. There was really no time wasted for him while he’s working.
He helped students with what they might’ve needed from the student bookstore and the interactions were relatively friendly but exhausting enough for him socially since he used most of his mental fortitude on passing his classes.
It was around eight-thirty when he began closing the store. There was a chill in the air when Baekhyun finally locked the doors and tugged on the handle to assure that it was completely secured. Afterwards, he nodded to himself and turned around to begin walking to the nearest subway station entrance only to walk straight into a man’s chest.
“Good evening, little one!” the old man greeted him. Baekhyun found himself stunned into place, not sure of what to make of the current predicament he was in. He just continued to stare wide-eyed at the man before him. Baekhyun felt a vague familiarity towards the stranger upon seeing his hat. And at that, he panicked.
“I’m sorry, sir. I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.” Baekhyun turned, ready to run.
“Oh, but I’m quite sure I’m talking to the right person, Baekhyun.” The man let out a laugh.
Baekhyun stopped in his tracks, completely petrified. He was sure it was the same man staring at him outside the cafe. Had he been stalking him this whole time? He wracked his brain through all the terrible scenarios that could happen before deciding he should’ve been running that whole time. Baekhyun bolted while the man was still going on about his mindless chatter, none of which he listened to. And he wasn’t quite sure how it happened but he ran into the man's chest again.
He was at a loss for words, looking back at where he was before in front of the bookstore. How in hell did the old man run so fast!? Tears began to well in Baekhyun’s eyes when he said, “It was an entertaining talk with you sir. But I have to go now.” He smiled in fear. “Have a good evening.” Baekhyun tried to make his way around the man again but he was stopped by the words spoken.
“The answers to your questions are not here. You cannot run from what has been foretold. Your destiny awaits.” The older man’s tone was grave. “I know you did not listen to any of my words before, Baekhyun.” He spoke, walking towards the brunet, until Baekhyun tripped back onto the ground, hitting his head. It was cold and dark, before he felt himself lifted off the ground.
Baekhyun tried to fight with what little strength he had, all the while feeling a burning sensation around his right wrist. He saw a blinding bright ring of light, a sign that he interpreted as death calling on to him. “This isn’t really how I intended for this exchange to go down,” were the last words Baekhyun heard before everything faded to darkness.
Baekhyun furrowed his brows together in his sleep. It seemed to be a habit in the recent days. He woke up screaming, “No!” at the top of his lungs, startling the raven at the foot of the bed. The brunet patted himself all over, lifting the covers before bolting out into the hallway of the strange home. He ran straight out of what looked like the entrance doorway only to scream when he reached an open balcony. He whipped himself around, finding the home on the side of a massive tree, seeing stairs leading upwards from the cottage but no way down. Baekhyun slowly made his way to the edge, peering at the tremendous fall he could take if he decided to climb down. He was in immediate panic. Maybe he was still dreaming; there was no way a tree that massive existed, yet the fog before him wasn’t helping.
He made his mind up that he was definitely still asleep, sitting on the balcony floor. And as soon as he did, the man from before appeared out of nowhere. Desperate to escape the dream, Baekhyun jumped away, only to fall off the edge. How many times must he die in this dream?!
“Baekhyun!” The man yelled for him, reaching for his wrist. He’s floating, Baekhyun thought to himself. But it was just a dream; so anything was possible.
“You’re not dreaming, Baekhyun. And I must apologize for the way I conducted myself in our previous meeting.” The man sighed as they floated upward back onto the balcony. He set Baekhyun down, warning him not to fall again before introducing himself. “My name is Howl. I am a wizard in this land of Elindor, realm of Zalynthi.”
Baekhyun continued to gape at the man before him. The face looked familiar. Though the facial hair is definitely much longer than what it was before. The robe he wore is definitely odd. Did he say wizard? “I’m sorry I just don’t believe you.” The brunet began scooting backwards.
“You’re going to fall again.” Howl warned, walking towards him.
“Please don’t hurt me,” Baekhyun pleaded. “I’ll do anything for you to take me back home!”
The wizard stopped in his tracks, becoming silent for a moment as he continued to gaze down at the poor college student. “I’m sorry. I can’t do that. You must stay here until the prophecy is realized as spoken by the Oracle.”
Baekhyun managed to shuffle back to the edge, looking down. “I need to wake up from this awful nightmare--”
But before Baekhyun could force himself to jump off the edge, Howl shouted something that was drowned out by the sudden storm of winds, hammering at the fog before them. Baekhyun shut his eyes, unable to keep them open due to the powerful gusts.
When all things settled in silence, save for the chirping of birds, the sunlight seeped through his eyelids. Baekhyun didn’t know what to make of himself when he opened his eyes and took in the view before them. “This isn’t a dream is it?”
The cottage was located on the side of a massive tree, perched on the edge of a mountain. It overlooked a land full of greenery and various foliage. In the distance, Baekhyun could make out a castle located atop a cliffside where a number of waterfalls reside along with what he could only describe as ancient ruins. Below the castle cliff lies what seems to be waters of the ocean that runs for miles as far as the eyes can see and the vast sky was hues of blue, lavender and peach. There were three planets visible in the sky and floating land masses everywhere.The gorge below them ran all the way to the forefront of the castle. The view was enchanting, straight out of Baekhyun’s wildest fantasy.
But he felt no joy. Only fear of the unknown.
“Past the castle, lies a myriad of towns. I know this is too much to take in all at once so I must advise that you rest for the time being.” Howl gave Baekhyun a quick glance, before continuing to speak, “I must introduce you to the Prince as my apprentice if you want to stay alive here.”
Baekhyun could do nothing but agree with Howl. He needed to rest for his mentality’s sake.
The smell of fire coarsed through the air and the distant sound of men and iron could reach his ears. As they entered what seemed like the grounds fit for an army, he could see knights, lancers, footmen, and many various types of soldiers he only knew existed in video games and books. Baekhyun found his eyes taking in the many blacksmiths forging weapons in makeshift huts. Despite the conditions, he was amazed by the heaps of armor they had made.
As he was being escorted through, Baekhyun met the gazes of many strangers who ceased their work for a moment to eye him before resuming their tasks. The men whispered the same curious questions, bewildered by his existence as if the sentiments weren’t the same on Baekhyun’s end.
He drew his eyes down as he continued to stick close to the wizard. The dark mark on his right wrist is so obvious, he wouldn’t have been able to hide it. The ink is so black that staring at it makes Baekhyun feel as though he’s about to be swallowed whole into a dark abyss. Biting his lip, he said nothing and entered the foreboding castle, grey and worn out from numerous battles, to meet their so-called Prince.
With his attention focused on the details of the castle, Baekhyun nearly walked into the wizard when he stopped so suddenly. Raising his head, he saw the old man move to the side before being gently pushed forward by his hand. In the midst of all the activity, Baekhyun found himself in a simple room, completely at the center of four men’s attention as they sat in elevated throne-like chairs, all looking at him with suspicious glares and distrust.
“What have you dragged into our camp, Howl?” one of the men asked, gruffly. He had a scar over his right eye, which is white and glazed over, leading Baekhyun to believe he might have been blind. He, however, didn’t seem like the Prince. “A wanderer?”
“No,” Howl answered, shaking his head. “I have brought in a special boy.”
“And who is this boy of yours?” another one asked. This time, it was a man with distinctive red hair. He was younger than the last man who spoke, but definitely older than Baekhyun… “He looks strange.”
Baekhyun remained silent, though he took note of his appearance and the appearance of those around him. The contrast was too stark and unforgiving.
“Why, he does look strange.” Howl glanced at Baekhyun from head to toe as he agreed, nodding. “But it is normal in his land to dress as such.”
“And why have you brought him here?”
“I have brought him here because the prophecy says it must be so.”
All of the men gave Howl their attention, but Baekhyun saw that their reactions were the same as his own from when he was first told of the ridiculous story. For a split moment, he didn’t feel so crazy.
It was laughter that broke the silence in the enclosed space, but it came from a man who seemed to have a higher status than all of the four men combined. Rising from their seats, they all stood to bow their heads to the man standing behind Baekhyun and Howl as he entered the room.
Even the wizard bowed his head despite the smile on his face remaining in place. The only person who dared to look up and watch as he entered was Baekhyun, defiantly trailing him with his eyes.
It didn’t go unnoticed. As the man passed, they locked eyes and, for a moment, Baekhyun felt a strange sense of nostalgia as if they had known each other before despite the coldness of his stare.
“Prince Chanyeol,” Howl greeted, addressing the man formally. His tone wasn’t as heavy handed as Baekhyun expected for a man speaking to royalty--if he even was royalty. The castle and the grounds he had trudged through and wandered hardly seemed like a kingdom worth ruling. “How was the hunt?”
“Decent. We managed to get a few deers. They should last us a while.” Unlike the other men, Chanyeol didn’t sit down on a high throne and to peer down at Baekhyun to make him feel like he’s small. Instead, he took his time analyzing him. It was hard to read his expression and Baekhyun couldn’t accurately tell what was on the man’s mind, but his breath hitched in surprise when Chanyeol gracefully pulled out a pocket knife and pointed it at his face.
“And what of you, Howl? Who’s this little thing that you’ve hunted down?” Chanyeol didn’t wait for an answer before he edged the knife closer to Baekhyun’s face until the edge was barely touching the tip of his nose. “Are you really the one the prophecy speaks of?”
“I--” Baekhyun stopped. If he said no, the deranged man in front of him wouldn’t hesitate to have him killed. But if he said yes, then would it appease him? He didn’t mean to, but he stuttered his response. “I-I don’t know.”
Displeased, Chanyeol turned his eyes towards Howl. The frown on his face deepened. “Explain yourself.”
“There is nothing to explain. He is the bearer of all hope.”
Drawing his brows together, Baekhyun opened his mouth to protest. There was no such thing as destiny and this world--this realm--is beyond existence. He was not the so-called “bearer of all hope” and there was nothing to indicate his purpose for being there except for Howl’s insistence and the mark on his wrist.
Chanyeol saw the desire to contest the statement in Baekhyun’s eyes and drew back his blade. “I will not risk this rebellion on the shoulders of a boy and a prophecy.”
“You will need him, Prince,” Howl implored him. “When the time comes, he will be of use.”
“I doubt that it’ll be as such,” Chanyeol muttered as he shoved the blade back into its pocket holding. “But if you’re absolute on the prophecy and him, then fine. But he’s not my responsibility and if he causes trouble amongst the camp, I won’t hesitate to put one of the commanders to oversee a fit punishment.”
Baekhyun knew that speaking out of turn (and uninvited) to the conversation wasn’t smart, but feeling like an object and being treated like one wasn’t sitting well with him anymore. He snapped his eyes at the four commanders and then back at the prince until their eyes locked for good. “I have a name.”
Raising his brows, Chanyeol cocked his head as he bent over, putting his face right in front of Baekhyun’s own. “And so he speaks,” he said, mildly amused. “So, tell me. What is your name?”
“Byun Baekhyun.” He said it with such confidence and daring defiance that Chanyeol smiled.
“Baekhyun…” Chanyeol repeated before pulling back and running his hand through his dark, obsidian hair. “Well, Baekhyun, welcome to our home. Unfortunately, you’ll have to sleep outside the castle walls along with the rest of the men. Howl will see to your comforts and have you as an apprentice for now, but until I see some use out of you, I doubt we’ll see each other again soon. Howl, take him back to your--”
“You’re the Prince, right?” Baekhyun burst out, interrupting the order. A second passed and the look of offense didn’t leave Chanyeol’s face. “If you don’t think I’ll be useful, why not order the wizard to send me back?”
The man in red chuckled as he shook his head. “This one’s quite amusing. Maybe we should keep him for our entertainment.”
Chanyeol quickly raised a hand, silencing the commander. His eyes never left Baekhyun’s. “As much as it would please me to rid of all distractions, I will not order the wizard to send you back. If he says that you’re the one the prophecy speaks of, then it’s beyond my power as a Prince and rightful heir of this land--”
“But the wizard--”
“The wizard,” Chanyeol cut, “has finished his role in bringing you here. If what he says is true, the only way you’ll be free of your duty is to fulfill your purpose.”
As the Prince was turning away, Baekhyun didn’t spare a second to think as he reached out and grabbed the man by his wrist. The action startled the rest of the commanders, prompting each one to stand up with their swords drawn.
Chanyeol didn’t so much as flinch as he turned back and looked him straight in the eye before looking down at his wrist.
“So, I’m just supposed to stay here?” Baekhyun asked, beginning to feel annoyance. He was aware of the threat they’re posing to him, but he’s learned that showing fear in this reality is a weakness he needs to learn how to suppress. “I don’t even know what my purpose is and it seems like no one here does, either. How am I supposed to know something that not even the wizard will say?”
Chanyeol lifted up his arm until Baekhyun’s hand and wrist were in clear view. The bar of ink became visible and it caught his attention immediately. Upon seeing it, he scoffed, before grabbing Baekhyun’s wrist with his other hand, forcing them apart.
“That thing on your wrist binds you to this world. Not I, nor any King or wizard, can remove it. If you wish to ask any more questions, redirect them all to Howl.” He paused. “And in the future, I heavily advise that you never grab me again. It would be in your best interest, Baekhyun.”
Chapter 2: Valerian
“I don’t think he likes me.” Baekhyun blurted out as Howl walked him to his sleeping quarters; a small cottage in the midst of all the tents surrounding them, occupied by the soldiers.
The wizard raised a brow at him as he pushed the wooden door open. As it swung open, it creaked. “Who?”
Baekhyun glanced up at the wizard. “The Prince.”
“Chanyeol?” Howl waved a hand, chuckling. “He will warm up to your presence. The Prince needs you.”
Frowning, Baekhyun tightened his jaw. “He doesn’t even know what to do with me. You heard him. If he could send me back, he would. There’s not a single part of him that thinks I have the right to be here.”
“That’s not true,” Howl denied, shaking his head. “We’ll talk more about the Prince tomorrow, Baekhyun. You will sleep here for now, although it truly isn’t much. However, it will do. Be up early and I’ll have Hin fetch and guide you to the training grounds. We will begin to cultivate your magic at dawn.” Before Baekhyun can protest, Howl turned and left him in the room with nothing but two meager candles and an oil lantern near the bed to keep him company in the quiet, dark space.
He muttered to himself as he turned around and analyzed the room he was meant to spend the night in.
The place is barely decent, constructed out of wood and straws. The floor itself is made out of compacted dirt with a single window on the side. It far from being considered as luxury. Hell, it wasn’t even up to modern standards, but judging by the looks of everything else he had seen that day, it seemed to be on par.
Sighing, he sat down at the edge of the bed. Baekhyun usually liked the night breeze on a warm evening, but that night, he left the window shut, feeling nervous and uneasy.
He finds himself in the midst of a battlefield in confusion, but fear begins to sink in the moment a soldier carrying the rebellion banner is slain beside him by a giant man in steel armor wielding a bloodied axe. A thought crosses his mind: he needs to find cover.
But surprisingly, the man doesn’t see him and turns around to battle another soldier, marked in the colors of Chanyeol’s army. Seconds go by before he realizes that he’s invisible to the world around him, so he turns his head and watches as the carnage continues.
Man after man, they all succumb to the enemy’s blade and Baekhyun can see at least one of the commanders with his veins protruding from his neck, screaming for survivors to fall back…
Breakfast left a lot to be desired. Resembling more like slop, Baekhyun only ate the bread served on the side before leaving his plate on the long dining table with the rest of the men. Other had watched him leave, muttering things under their breath about his wastefulness, but all of their words fell on deaf ears since Baekhyun didn’t care much.
Howl seemed sympathetic and ordered bread to be delivered to Baekhyun’s quarters soon after.
A pretty lady with hair the color of starlight greeted Baekhyun who was startled about how they manifested from nowhere. Howl gave the nice woman a kiss on the forehead as a form of greeting.
“Baekhyun, this is Sophie. Sophie, Baekhyun,” Howl said, introducing them. “We’ll be taking care of this one for a little bit. I’ve taken him under my apprenticeship as I had sense a bit of magic in him since he stepped foot in the realm.”
Baekhyun blinked a few times in disbelief at Howl’s statement. He was already part of a prophecy unknown to him, but to have magic as well was beginning to sound more unbelievable. Then again, nothing about the last twenty-hours felt remotely real.
Shaking his head furiously, Baekhyun denied the possibility. “You’re mistaken. I’m not special.”
Howl put a finger to his chin and Sophie gave him a doubtful look before continuing to sew. “I do make mistakes but detecting power is not one of them considering it’s fairly easy to see that you do radiate some form of magic. We'll have to see how strong you are but you definitely possess potential.”
“There’s no such thing as magic.” Baekhyun looked around him as if he was trying to convince himself that it wasn’t all real, but the loud laughter from the men outside, socializing during breakfast, made it difficult to ignore. “It's all just a bunch of fairy tales.”
“The seal on your wrist is proof that magic beyond your world exists.” Pursing his lips, Howl met his wife’s eyes before smiling softly in Baekhyun’s direction. “Now, shall we begin with a few simple exercises? I will teach you what I know, and my wife will show you how to use herbal medicine.”
“But--” Baekhyun stopped himself. There was no point in arguing. It would just end with the same result. Heaving a sigh, he ran a hand through his hair and nodded. “Fine. I guess I’ll try, though I doubt anything will come out of it.”
“You shouldn’t doubt. It’ll hinder your powers.”
“Hn.” Raising an unconvinced brow, Baekhyun gave Howl a pursed smile. There was nothing but doubt in his head and he didn’t know how to feel otherwise.
It was the third day since his arrival and Baekhyun didn’t have his--supposed--powers yet. He wasn't sure if he had any at all or if Howl was just wrong, but after arguing with him for the fourth time the night before, he began to realize that arguing with anyone in that realm was essentially useless because, somehow, he was already the one wrong.
The area where Howl had taken him to practice his magic was secluded from the rest of the camp. It was also quite some distance from the castle (for precautionary purposes), and yet, Chanyeol made his presence known an hour into the early morning to watch Baekhyun repeat spells to himself. Despite telling him on the first day that they would rarely see each other, Baekhyun had already caught him looking his way a few times around the castle grounds, but nothing more than that until then.
Trying to ignore him, Baekhyun focused on his target twenty feet away: a medium sized rock, the size of an average man’s head. He’d been trying to move it with magic for the last three days. At that point, it had become a mind-numbing task that always left him flustered, but Howl kept pushing him to try harder.
“What kind of apprentice are you?” Chanyeol yelled, suddenly breaking the silence. “Where’re your powers? Shouldn’t you have gotten them by now?”
Irked, Baekhyun stopped what he was doing and turned up to face the Prince who was sitting on his black stallion. He glared, but more so to avoid the sun’s glare than anything else.
“Listen, if it’s so easy getting powers, why don’t you do this yourself?”
“Because I don't have the ability to.”
“And you think I do?” Baekhyun could feel the frustration and anger surfacing from him. “All I wanted was for someone to send me back home, but you,” he raised a hand in the general direction of the Prince, “you sit there all day glowering at me. How do you think all of this helps me?”
“I’m not here to help you,” Chanyeol snorted. “I’m here to make sure that you’re capable of helping me.”
“With all due respect, Prince, you don’t even think I’m useful, and, to be honest, I don’t know anything about war.” At least, not pre-industrial war. Anything beyond the modern age of warfare, Baekhyun knew nothing about. Everything he knew about war was from video games, which wasn't helpful at that point.
Chanyeol looked at the apprentice and saw the frustration from his tense shoulders and reddening face. It took a millisecond for him to notice the outlines on Baekhyun’s body, like a silhouette of light. Chanyeol remembered Howl mentioning the explosion of Baekhyun’s powers, but made no comment of it.
“Then it was a waste of time making you the wizard’s apprentice.”
“I didn’t want to be his apprentice.”
“That wizard should've listened to me when I told him that you don’t have an ounce of magic in you.” Chanyeol looked at him in contempt. “You’re just some child Howl mistook as the one in the prophecy. I don’t know what he saw in you for him to take you in. I should’ve just exiled you the second I knew you’d be nothing--”
“Exiled?” Baekhyun started getting angry.
“You can’t do magic, meaning you can’t help me--”
Baekhyun curled his hands into fists. “You’re so full of yourself!”
Confused, Chanyeol jumped off his horse. He puts a hand on his sword as he began to walk towards the latter, but it didn't intimidate Baekhyun at all. “What do you mean by that, apprentice? How can I be full of myself if I’m whole?”
“Perhaps it’s because you’re a foreigner, but in this land, insulting your Prince is a crime that will not go unpunished--”
“You’re no prince,” Baekhyun argued. “Maybe the rightful heir to the throne, but as I’ve heard from Howl, you don’t have power over any land.”
Rising to the challenge, Chanyeol drew his sword. “Don’t test me.”
“You’re bluffing.” The sword looks sharp and that was a small detail that Baekhyun didn’t miss. One hit and he’d probably lose some blood. “You wouldn’t dare hurt me.”
“Suddenly, you have a lot of confidence for a magicless runt.”
“You’re not what? A runt or a boy without magic?” Chanyeol said, sneering at him. It made Baekhyun’s blood boil. “You’re so weak, you wouldn’t even be able to protect yourself from me if I wanted to swing this sword at you. Admit it. You’re a fraud.”
“If you can’t find yourself to be of use, I suggest you leave these grounds and give your loyalty to another king. You’d be of more use at the wheat mill than staying here, pretending to be a wizard’s apprentice--”
“Silencium!” Baekhyun shouted, pointing his finger directly at Chanyeol. Within a second, the bantering stopped, replaced by the sound of a muffled voice. It took a moment for both of them to realize what just happened.
Chanyeol’s lips were stuck together.
Baekhyun had just cast his first successful spell.
He had the dream again. The one of war and defeat, only this time, it was so graphic and real that Baekhyun woke up in sweat, clutching his chest as if he had been the one slain in battle. Quickly, he shoved the covers off of him and left his bed, slipping on the tunic Howl had left for him before walking out of the cottage.
It was a dark night with the moon only appearing as a slim crescent in the sky. Had it not been for the torches around the grounds, Baekhyun would’ve been at a loss. Looking in both directions, he decided to take a walk in the direction of the training grounds where he often frequented with Howl.
A lot of things crossed his mind. His family, friends, school, work… It had almost been a week since he saw them all. Surely they had reported him missing and they were frantically searching for him. The thought of his parents in despair darkened his mood, and Baekhyun suddenly shot his eyes down and glared at the mark on his arm.
Although he had been told by both Howl and the Prince that there was nothing they could do to remove the seal, Baekhyun was desperate. Though it was futile, he began to scratch at the mark, digging his nails into his skin until his wrist felt raw, aching from the pain.
Baekhyun stopped, crouching on the ground with his face buried between his knees. After taking in a deep breath, he exhaled, closing his eyes in a attempt to stop himself from crying. He didn’t want to seem weak, even to himself despite wishing that it was all just a very bad dream.
“What’re you doing?”
Startled, Baekhyun looked back to see the prince approaching, looming over him by his sheer height alone.
“Nothing,” he mumbled, rising up from the ground. Bringing his hands up to his face, he was quick to wipe away the few tears that had fallen down his cheeks. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“I’m on watch duty.”
“A prince like you...on watch duty.” Baekhyun looked at him, skeptical. “I would’ve expected you to have others to do that task for you.”
Chanyeol’s frown deepened. “I like to pull my weight,” he said, quick to respond. “Now answer my question.”
“I already did.”
“It didn’t look like nothing.”
“Either way, it’s not a matter that concerns you.”
“It has everything to do with me when you’re putting yourself in danger by being out here.” A moment passed before Chanyeol took another step forward. His eyes fell on the latter’s wrist. “You should go back to the cottage. The castle and these grounds are isolated, but I can’t risk having you roam around in the dark.”
“I just needed some air.” Baekhyun sighed, turning his body to the side so he was no longer facing him. “To be honest with you, I’ve been having nightmares lately and I don’t really want to go back to sleep just yet.”
Chanyeol reached out and gently grabbed him by the arm. His grip was light. “You can’t stay out here.”
“Then where are we going?” Baekhyun demanded to know.
“If you can’t sleep in your quarters, then I’ll have one of the maids ready a chamber for you in the castle.”
Grimacing, Baekhyun began to pull his arm away. “I’d rather not stay in the castle.”
“And why not?” Chanyeol asked, looking down at him as he continued to stride in the direction of the main grounds. “I don’t need you being mistaken as an intruder by one of the men. They have orders to shoot if necessary.”
“But I’m fine with sleeping in the cottage.” Baekhyun managed to rip himself from Chanyeol’s grip, but started walking on his own in the direction they were previously headed towards. It didn’t take long for the latter to fall in step with him. “You know what would be helpful? If you could get me something that’ll help me go back to sleep.”
“Maybe it’s hunger that’s keeping you awake,” the prince muttered, eyeing him. “I hear from the others that you don’t eat.”
“It’s not that I don’t,” Baekhyun defended. “I just… I don’t like the food. I’m not used to it.”
“You're a very picky eater, apprentice.” Silence fell between them, lasting for a few seconds before Chanyeol heaved his shoulder as he exhaled. “Let's head to the kitchen. I’ll see if we have loaves left over, but if not, I’ll ask a servant to give you Valerian.”
Pursing his lips, Baekhyun asked, “What’s Valerian?”
“It’s a flower.” The answer was short and brisk. “It’ll help with your dreams.”
“Oh…” It dawned on him that Chanyeol was trying to be nice, despite the lack of eloquence and grace of his stiff formality, but he couldn’t really blame him. The world around them just as rigid and unforgiving. Quietly, just loud enough for the other to hear, he said, “Thank you…”
As Baekhyun found out, Chanyeol was the lead commander of the army of men and the castle itself had been abandoned for centuries, which explained its appearance. The last surviving prince of his family line, Chanyeol had been left recuperating what was left of the kingdom’s army and people since the invasion and forced abdication of the Park’s rule. Granted he was just a boy then, but as soon as he was considered old enough to competantly lead, Chanyeol had taken back the role of commander. Once Baekhyun learned of the immense burden on the former prince’s shoulder, he began to feel more sympathetic, watching him more closely, though, sometimes, it resulted in accidentally meeting his gaze all the way from the end of the dining hall.
It was obvious to the observing eye that the men were preparing for battle from the way most were organizing to the whispers carried throughout the camp. Even Chanyeol looked distant half the time Baekhyun saw him when it was time to eat, as if the pressure and magnitude of all that was at risk was too much for one person.
“So… Why are we in the cellar again?” Baekhyun squinted his eyes. Despite the torches set against the walls along the pathway, it was still difficult to see. His eyes hadn’t fully adjusted just yet. Oddly enough, however, he wasn’t scared. “I thought we were going to scavenge for plants today.”
“There’s been a change of plans,” Howl replied, his voice more serious than Baekhyun initially anticipated. “I underestimated how much time we had left before the attack.”
“The attack?” Keeping up with the wizard, Baekhyun quickened his pace. “What’re you talking about?”
“I’m sure you’ve noticed the air around this place these past days.”
“I have…” Pursing his lips, Baekhyun curiously asked, “Is something going to happen?”
“Yes, but… I cannot tell you in detail,” Howl apologetically said. “There’s far too much at risk, especially for the Prince.”
“But you said that you underestimated the time we had left before the attack. Is the castle in danger?”
“We all fear that it might be, but…” The wizard trails off as they approach a thick, wooden door. Lifting the torch in his hand, Howl ignited the unlit staffs surrounding the area until everything was visible and clear to the eye. “I suppose we shouldn’t dwell on the terrible things that could be.”
Ignoring him, Howl unlatched the lock on the door and gave the barrier a shove before it creaked open. Dust particles in the air was evident and Baekhyun was forced to cover his mouth. The smell inside the dark space was suffocating. “What the hell is this place?”
“When the kingdom was invaded nearly eighteen years ago and the whole city was evacuated, I saved ancient records and history texts that would’ve been lost had they been discovered by King Ji and his forces.” As the dust settled, Baekhyun looked around, taking note of the scrolls neatly placed on a stone shelf. Unlike the other texts surrounding them, the edges of the items seemed to glisten in the light of his burning torch. “But it’s important he doesn’t alter history to his bias… Even more so that you be aware of the conflicts of this world. It’s for the best interest of your survival.”
Any other person wouldn’t have been too thrilled to be tasked with reading scripts that were so old, he was terrified of touching them, but Baekhyun was different. Being a general history buff, the task was beginning to sound like a pleasant, leisurely activity. Though it was still difficult to navigate that new world with his head desperately clinging onto the logic he knew to be true from his world, Baekhyun was adapting.
“So, this King... What’s he like?” Baekhyun quietly asked as his fingertips briskly made contact the edge of the center scroll’s golden edges. “I mean, I’m sure he’s terrible. Chanyeol is dethroned, afterall…”
“There are no words that could describe him. Thousands of lives who dared stand up to his destruction were lost during his destruction...” Howl watched as Baekhyun pulled the golden scroll from its place. Then, he looked off, keeping a hand on the doorway. “But the scripts will teach you more on the matter than I can in words. We shall prepare the healing pastes another day. Take a few with you back to the cottage and spend a bit of time reading them, though I do apologize if you find it all a bit boring--”
“No,” Baekhyun said, interrupting him. “I...actually like this type of stuff. Reading something for once might help take my mind off a few things.”
“That’s good to hear. Now, come on. We shouldn’t waste all of our day in this cellar! It’s not good for the eyes.”
“It was ordered by the king to rid of the creatures and their riders until all traces of their lineage was left in the ashes of the aftermath…” Baekhyun took a moment to stop and reread the line. “The blood of the last dragons was spilled amongst the dead. Rumors citing the appearance of Volucris the Great flying in the northern direction were reported to the capital, but investigations concluded no substance to such reports…”
Frowning, he looked up from reading and stared out in the open. Dragons existed before, but from the sound of it all, they were all exterminated by men nearly two decades ago. A part of him doubted that the dragons ever existed, but he stopped himself, remembering how magic--of all things--was possible there. It wasn’t like his world… This was a new and foreign land that he wasn’t accustomed to just yet. At least, not entirely.
Baekhyun could hear men in the distance. The familiar sound and smell of metal being forged lingered in the atmosphere, reminding him of what Howl had said about the planned rebellion. The thought didn’t sit well with him. It didn't feel...right.
By the time the sun was beginning to set, Baekhyun already knew that he’d be called for dinner soon in the hall, though he didn’t have much to look forward to. The knock on his door, however, was a surprise he didn’t expect. Pushing the small, wooden lock off to the side, he drew the door inwards and opened it just enough to see who was standing outside his doorsteps.
Chanyeol gave him an amused grin, leaning against the frame. His height almost challenged that of the meagle doorway, leaving Baekhyun to wonder how he hadn’t knocked his head against the top yet. “The excitement in your voice is truly lacking.”
“Sorry. Did I offend you, Prince?”
“No, but the mockery in that question might do the trick.” Despite the warning, Chanyeol didn’t look all too upset about it as much as he made it out to be. “I didn’t come here to entertain you.”
“Then how may I be of service to you?”
“I want you to follow me,” Chanyeol said as he stepped away from the doorway. “The maids are preparing our meals, but I’ve arranged for my brother to accompany you ahead of the others. You’ll receive a special meal that’s more fit for your weak stomach.”
Baekhyun stepped outside of the cottage, shutting the door behind him. “Brother? I thought you were the last of your family line.”
“We don’t share the same parents.” As soon as Baekhyun reached him, Chanyeol began walking in the direction of the tents and shacks housing all the men. “But he’s just as good of a brother as he would be if our veins shared the same blood.”
“Right…” Baekhyun fell silent for a minute as they continued on, but then raised his head to question a topic that had left him curious. “So… Howl gave me some old records.”
“I was wondering… The King that ended the era of dragons, is he the one you’re fighting?” Baekhyun watched the latter carefully. “Howl says you’re going to battle soon. That’s why there’s an army of men here, right?”
“Yes… He is.” Chanyeol kept walking, only glancing down at Baekhyun momentarily. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason. I was just…” Baekhyun stopped, wondering if he should share the details and contents of his dream so openly and casually. Predicting Chanyeol’s reaction was a wild card. Then again, they were just harmless dreams. None of them mattered. “I’ve been having terrible dreams.”
“So you’ve said--”
Baekhyun shook his head. “No--I know I told you before, but these dreams started before I came here. And they’ve only been getting worse.”
Chanyeol came to a momentary halt, turning his body towards Baekhyun. “I instructed you to take the Valerian flower with every evening meal.”
“I know, but it doesn’t help with what I see when I close my eyes,” the smaller male said, sighing.
“When you close your eyes?” Furrowing his brows, the frown on Chanyeol’s face deepend as they met eyes. “Even children are not frightened by dreams. Yet, you wander the grounds at night to avoid them. What do you see that bothers you every night?”
There was a quick thought that ran through his head, and Baekhyun wondered if it was alright to push on. He could already see that Chanyeol was invested in knowing what he had to say, but there was a slight fear that speaking about his dreams might offset something sensitive.
Carefully, he tried to articulate the right words with the right approach.
“I see…” Baekhyun’s jaw locked with the words caught in his throat. “Men. Thousands of them, dead or dying. Every night, it’s the same dream. I’m always standing in the middle of a green field with the blood of innocent people getting slaughtered.”
Chanyeol didn't utter a word. He looked as though he was searching for answers in Baekhyun’s eyes. There was concern and fear hidden behind the dark veils of his own, but Chanyeol pulled back, shaking his head as he turned his back towards the latter. “A dream is a dream. It’s harmless. There’s no reason for you to fear what can’t hurt you--”
“But I saw your family crest on a flag,” Baekhyun blurted out. He saw the way Chanyeol’s shoulders stiffened. “The flag is always beside the body of your bannermen…”
The aura around Chanyeol’s presence took a turn. As soon as he turned his attention back in Baekhyun’s direction, Baekhyun could do nothing but stay frozen in place. He had never seen Chanyeol look so...serious. “What exactly is this game you’re playing?” he asked in a low, harsh voice.
“If you think it’s wise to speak such statements to me days before I lead my men into battle, then you’re mistaken--”
Baekhyun gaped at him. “I’m not trying to do anything! Why’re you so…miffed about it? Is it considered a bad omen to talk about these things?”
“Yes.” Chanyeol gave him a hard look before turning back, making larger strides towards the tents. Baekhyun had to jog in order to keep up. “Whatever your dreams are, do not dare mention them to anyone else. I don’t want these plans to spiral into chaos because of your imagination.”
“It’s not my--” Baekhyun almost walked into the back of the taller male when the latter abruptly came to a halt. “If they’re just dreams, then what’s the point of being so upset about it?”
“Because, believe it or not, apprentice, I don’t have the desire to think of failure when thousands of lives rest in my hands,” Chanyeol answered curtly, silencing Baekhyun. “I’ll leave you with Sehun. He’ll escort you to the hall.”
Chanyeol grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him closer to the tent’s opening before letting go. He stepped back, ready to leave him be, but not before giving an order. “I’ll speak to Howl about giving you another herb to take alongside the Valerian and I want you to take both before going to sleep… I don’t want to hear any more of these dreams of yours.”
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Hours before the sun had risen, Chanyeol's soldiers were wide awake and had begun packing their tents. No one talked to another, commanders have stopped shouting orders, it was all coordinated movement and silence and it bugged Baekhyun to no end. His surroundings differed too much from his state of mind. Abiding by Chanyeol's orders, Baekhyun hadn't spoken a word of his dreams to anyone. But doing so made the dreams clearer, almost too real for him. Chanyeol had kept his distance from him as well, only seeing his face, towering from his soldiers when it was time for everyone to gather and eat. But those moments had been very sparse due to the frequent meetings and discussions the Prince held with his commanders in the privacy of his own tent.
Anxiety filled Baekhyun's mind but the soldiers surrounding him exuded confidence in their willingness to lay their lives, all under Chanyeol's command. Would he dare spark doubt in Chanyeol's men? No, of course not. He couldn’t betray Chanyeol like that. But he was there for a reason.
What if this was his purpose? But he was a wizard, not an oracle. An apprentice at that. Surely his dreams were nothing but mere reflections of the stress and daunting feelings for the war soon approaching… Yet his thoughts continued to linger until a hand fell on his shoulder.
"What troubles you, my dear apprentice?"
Baekhyun turned and came eye to eye with Howl. Sometimes the old wizard gave off the feeling that he was able to read minds but Howl always laughed at the idea. 'Baekhyun, I would spontaneously combust if I was able to read minds. All of us are troubled by our own thoughts, I wouldn't step into others' even if I was able to do so," he said once before.
"Why must there be a war, Howl?"
Howl smiled at him, adding wrinkles to the sides of his eyes, but it was the wise kind of smile.
"Oracles do come in handy, don’t they?" He answered with a sigh. "But they're a tricky folk, too, those oracles. Ask them one question and you'll end up having ten more when they answer. It’s still a great loss when King Ji massacred them along with the dragon riders and the dragons."
Baekhyun wasn't able to answer. He had never met neither dragon nor oracle. They simply didn't exist in his world.
"But you see, Baekhyun," Howl continued as he steered him to their shared horse. Baekhyun was still unaccustomed to riding one and while Howl was an expert on it, the old man needed company in this long journey. "I am here and these soldiers are here. It might look like blind faith to you, but we've seen what Chanyeol is capable of. These men wouldn't have come so far if they don't believe in Chanyeol."
“I suppose you're right...”
The camp had begun to mobilize as soldiers rode heir horses while others fell in line within their ranks. The two wizards rode their horse and blended in from behind. Baekhyun could see Chanyeol’s back, straight and regal, from where he was but rows of soldiers separated them. Beside him, Baekhyun saw Sehun riding his own horse. He can’t help but wonder how it felt to ride side by side Chanyeol, especially as an equal when all he felt when he was around the giant was the feeling of subordination.
It took the four days and three nights for them to reach their destination with King's castle within sight where the earth met the horizon lines of the sky. The soldiers mobilized again, dismantling their goods from their horses and began setting up their temporary camps. Coordinated and systematic, each tending to their own tasks without much hassle or need of instruction.
Baekhyun prepared alongside Howl but he proved to be unhelpful. He would've learned the skill of tying a sturdy knot and putting up a rigid tent if he hadn’t spent his time mastering his magic. But that too proved to be obstructive in this situation.
Howl shooed him away and he walked in another direction with the goal to find a spot where he can practice shielding spells. The walk through their camp was quiet with very few glances from the soldiers. Most of them had avoided him or at least didn’t have any business with him so they left him unbothered.
But Baekhyun was sure that this feeling of apprehension did not come from the glances, or lack of interaction with the other soldiers. Every step he took, it felt like his ribs were closing in on themselves, his lungs shrinking, and his heart fighting to pump. He inhaled and dry, hot air with the smell of iron filled his nostrils.
Fire and blood.
His sight unfocused and ringing filled his ears.
Baekhyun felt himself falling, almost embracing the inevitable sensation of dropping to the dry dust on his feet but the impact never happened. Someone had caught him before he met the ground.
Someone called him through the incessant ringing in his ears.
And Baekhyun tried to breathe through his mouth, afraid to be filled with that putrid smell again. His lungs expanded as it began to fill with air, and his heart didn’t feel like it was ready to stop beating within a notice. It must have been seconds or minutes until Baekhyun’s sight slowly went back into focus.
He saw red at first. Fear instantly rushed over him and he blinked rapidly as his breaths became more shallow.
“Baekhyun!” Someone called him again and shook his shoulders.
He blinked and blinked, until his sight revealed the face of the young commander with bright red hair. Baekhyun relaxed and deeply exhaled.
“You okay there, soldier?” The young commander guided him to sit on a nearby log. “Sorry, wizard. I forget you're not like the rest of the boys around here.”
The awkwardness in Sehun’s voice laced with concern made Baekhyun smile a bit. He recovered for a few more seconds and took his time to answer. “I think it’s just the heat, commander. And the long travel.”
Sehun grimaced at the word. “You don’t have to call me that.”
“Then don’t call me wizard too. You had no problem shouting my name earlier.”
“You heard that, huh?”
Baekhyun nodded and their smiles widened.
“Why aren’t you by your area, Baekhyun? I don’t think it’s safe for a wizard to wander around.”
“Howl disposed me when I deflated our tent the third time.”
Sehun laughed beside him. It was uplifting to hear a laugh so genuine as Sehun’s despite knowing what tomorrow would bring.
“And why is a commander wandering around without his shields?” Unlike the other soldiers, Baekhyun noted that Sehun had forgone his battle suit and wore only his tunic and loose pants.
“I wouldn’t want to collapse because of the heat, too.” Sehun winked at him, youthful and beautiful. “Come on, I’ll escort you to your tent.”
“Come on, Sehun! I don't need that.” Baekhyun stood up so quick his head began to spin. Sehun sensed it and stood up quickly as well. He reached out his hand but Baekhyun recovered fast enough without needing Sehun’s support. “See.”
Sehun continued to doubt him and Baekhyun clearly saw this with the way the young commander was looking at him.
“Where’s your tent anyways?”
“I stay by the Prince's side at all times so I am residing in his quarters.”
Oh. Baekhyun didn’t know how to respond.
“Chanyeol doesn’t let me go the night before any battles and I’m predicting that there’ll be no sleep for tonight.” Sehun said it with a straight face which made Baekhyun feel more awkward. They’re both young, and the two had history that Baekhyun had no knowledge of. Besides it was only natural for men to -
“Chanyeol will probably go over tomorrow's strategies before I have the chance to get some sleep.” Sehun continued.
Baekhyun puffed out, baffled at his ridiculous thoughts. “Battle strategies, of course.”
Baekhyun woke to the sound of armoured men moving outside his tent. He was accustomed to the sound before, but this time, it was different. Pushing the blanket off of him, he scrambled to get on his feet and pushed through the tent’s opening. Immediately, he stopped in his tracks. Had he not, he would’ve been trampled by the horse that darted past him with its rider firmly mounted.
Rubbing his eyes, Baekhyun looked around, noticing how busy everyone was, but it made no sense to him. It was the middle of night, and Howl said Chanyeol didn’t plan to send a messenger to the king until the first light of day broke through the morning sky.
He ran across the pathway, heading toward Howl’s tent. There were voices inside, discussing amongst one another. For a split moment, Baekhyun contemplated whether he should enter, but the sound of Chanyeol’s voice coming from the inside forced him to push through.
“...I need him to stay put--” Stopping midway, Chanyeol turned his head back. He looked at Baekhyun with surprise, before the look in his eyes turned to anger. “What’re you doing here?”
Ignoring his question, Baekhyun turned his attention to all the men inside the tent. Howl looked at him sympathetically. Sehun stood tall next to Chanyeol, both of whom were wearing their full armours. “What’s going on outside?”
Howl stepped forward. “I will explain soon--”
“Sehun, take him back to his tent,” Chanyeol ordered, cutting off the wizard. “He has no business here.”
Nodding, Sehun moved to try to get a hold of Baekhyun’s arm, but the latter pulled away, escaping him. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not standing here,” he said, throwing a glare in Chanyeol’s direction. He was met with an icy stare in return. “Are you planning an attack?”
“We’re well beyond planning,” Sehun said from behind him. He put his hand on Baekhyun’s shoulder and tried again to gently tug him closer to the tent’s exit. “Now, come on--”
“But what about my dreams?” Baekhyun burst. His eyes never left Chanyeol’s. “What about all the things I told you? What if--”
“I told you before,” Chanyeol said, icily. His voice was hard and sharp, leaving no room for argument. “I don’t want to hear you speak another word of it. Now, leave.”
Sehun grabbed Baekhyun by his elbow and pulled him back before the latter run up to the Prince. “Let’s go,” he whispered. “I promise you, he’ll be a lot angrier if we don’t go now.”
Without tearing his eyes off Chanyeol, Baekhyun scoffed. “Fine… I’m sorry for bringing it up again. I won’t talk to you about my dreams anymore.”
Chanyeol said nothing, only turning his head in the other direction. His dismissiveness was hurtful, but Baekhyun was quick to brush it off. Maybe he was overthinking everything and his dreams were just...dreams.
Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn't that simple.
Howl entered his tent after some time, and as eager as Baekhyun was to speak to him, he could also feel a sense of dread in the air the moment the older wizard sat next to his bedding. It was dark with only oil-burning lamps keeping everything visible, but Baekhyun could still see the look on his face as clear as day.
“Chanyeol will be riding out...tonight.”
Baekhyun frowned, but kept his mouth shut. Nodding, he kept following the older man with his eyes.
“He’ll be taking his army with him just as the commanders.”
“So, he’s not scared that--”
Shaking his head, Howl stopped him. “He changed part of the strategy, but… he’ll carry out what’s been planned.” Seeing the worried lines across Baekhyun’s expression, the wizard walked over next to him, gently putting a hand against the boy’s back. “We need to stay behind and prepare the war rituals. He needs our protection spells.”
“I assumed a messenger would be sent in the morning to give the king a chance to surrender," Baekhyun muttered, drawing his eyes to the ground. "It'd avoid blood shed."
"Chanyeol doesn't feel that the king deserves any mercy, which you can understand."
"No... They're all going to die, Howl. I know it."
"A little faith can--"
When the wizard attempted to reach out for him, Baekhyun shook his head and moved away from the man's touch. "I've tried to ignore it, but it's not that easy."
"I don't know what to make of yours dreams, Baekhyun, but..." Howl trailed off as he looked sympathetically at the young man. "But we shall keep them in mind when doing the rituals. It might help strengthen the protection spells if the caster's intent is as strong as yours. It's the best we can do for now. There's no changing the Prince's mind."
The sound of a horn blowing woke Baekhyun in the middle of the night. When he awoke, an orange glow emanated outside and the smell of smoke was overwhelming. Panicking, he started calling out for Howl, but his voice began choked when Sehun staggered through his tent with his hand gripping his left arm tightly.
Words failed him. Scrambling up from the ground, Baekhyun's eyes saw the gore that stood in front of him. The amour that had shined earlier was smeared with fresh blood with marks from swords and axes that had been powerful enough to tear parts of the metal away.
Without sparing another second, Sehun moved forward and grabbed Baekhyun with the only hand he had the ability to use. Then, he dragged him out of the tent and thrusted . the man towards a horse stationed nearby.
Using his last remaining bits of strength, Sehun hoisted Baekhyun up the horse. Instinct took over as Baekhyun felt the animal beneath him and leaned forward to grab the reins. "Sehun--"
“Head east and stop for no one!" Sehun directed, yelling through the chaos that had become of the once tranquil camp. "Follow the red star--"
"I won't go until you tell me what happened!"
Time stood still in a time when things around them were rapidly changing. But seconds turned into moments before Sehun cursed under his breath, shaking his head to remove himself of memories that were bound to haunt him. "They were waiting for us."
Baekhyun stared at commander, and the details of his condition began to sink in. Not only was Sehun’s left arm limp and useless, but the moon had given light to the slashed flesh on the left side of his face. The once handsome soldier had become unrecognizable.
“Chanyeol… Where’s Chanyeol? And what about Howl-- ”
“I’ve sent the wizard in his direction, but I need to send you off somewhere safer. It’s the Prince’s orders.”
Feeling his heart drop, Baekhyun had to remind himself to keep breathing. The situation was tense, but he had to breathe. Turning his head in the east direction, Baekhyun questioned the commander’s definition of safe. With thick forestry ahead, he had doubts it offered any type of safety to be there by himself. “He’s still there? Why—”
However, he was given no chance to ask any further. Hitting the back end of his horse, Sehun startled the animal enough for it to jolt, running in the direction of the forest.
His magic is almost palpable to him now and it doesn’t come in outbursts as it used to. Still, it was too unreliable to use in combat, making him vulnerable on his own. His unfamiliarity with the world did nothing but add to his confusion of his whereabouts as time went on and he continued to ride, following the red star up in the sky. The distant shouting of men became fainter and quieter as he rode on, but it was hard to tell with the sound of his own pounding blood ringing through his ears.
Baekhyun had been riding for what felt like hours, but wasn't sure. The night was as dark as it was when he had left the rebellion camp, but it was hard to tell. The sky resembled that of his world, yet there were enough differences to throw him off and his perception of time.
After Sehun's horse began to slow down, Baekhyun halted the animal before stepping off and stroking its face. For a horse that he hadn't met before, this one was quite friendly. Keeping his hold of the reins, Baekhyun looked around, but could barely see the trees as the thick leaves above shielded the bottom floor from most of the moonlight.
For a moment, he felt hopeless in the dark before he remembered the basic, survival spells that Howl had initially taught him.
"Ignis," he whispered with his palm out and open. There was a grain of doubt within him, but the moment he concentrated and rid himself of such thoughts, a burst of fire ignited from his palm, controlled and contained, but bright enough to allow the wizard to see his surroundings. "Come on..."
With one hand lighting the way in front of him, Baekhyun led the horse to a tree that was neither too far from them nor was the trunk too fat for him to station the horse next to it. He had no experience with horses, but he had seen many of them during his short time with Chanyeol's army. Most of them were simply tied to poles, trees or stakes in the ground using rope. Luckily for him, Sehun's horse had a nice temperament so it didn't run away as soon as Baekhyun let go of the reins to fetch rope from one of the pockets in near the saddle.
Knowing that he had to keep the fire spell continuously burning for the moment, Baekhyun threw the ball of flames up in the air where it remained floating, following him just above his shoulders. He could still feel himself exerting magic and focus just to keep it alive, so he worked fast.
After he had successfully tied the horse to the tree with another rope length to allow the animal to walk around or simply want to lie down to sleep. Baekhyun really wasn't sure if horses could sleep standing up, so he made sure the horse had that option if it wanted to.
Once the horse was settled, Baekhyun gathered every stone he could find nearby. Afterwards, he picked a spot and moved all of the debris aside before he began to dig a small pit which he later outlined with the stones until it created a circle. When it was all finished, he picked up all the debris he had set aside before and dropped it all in the pit before adding more sticks and parts of branches that he found lying around. Finally, he raised his hand, catching the fire ball in his grasp for the last time before gently transferring the energy over to his makeshift fire pit.
Within seconds, the branches and leaves caught on fire and Baekhyun no longer needed his magic to keep it alive. Breathing a sigh of relief, he stood up and wiped his hands on his pants as he walked towards the horse.
With the fire burning, he focused on the horse once again. Cupping his hands together, Baekhyun replicated what Howl had taught him for times when he needed water and there was none to be found around. Whispering the simple water spell, he watched as water filled his cupped hands before offering it to the horse. When the horse only took a sniff of his hands before shaking its head and moving off, Baekhyun frowned, wondering why the animal didn't want to have a drink at all. Maybe he'd try looking for a river or pond tomorrow... He doesn't know how so it was a silly idea, but it was worth a try in the very least.
After a while, he clasped his hands and rubbed them together, using the water to wash away the dirt before he got on the ground with his back against the tree. Staring up at the bungle of leaves of above him, Baekhyun wondered how Chanyeol or Howl would find him... or how anyone would find him. There were still things he didn't know about how this world worked, leaving a part of him to hope that somehow, there'd be something to reunite them. After all, neither Howl nor Chanyeol would send him in a direction with no other aid if there wasn't a way to get back to either of them.
Baekhyun is awoken to the sound of metal armour approaching him. His eyes take moments to fully open until he remembers the events that had taken place that very night. Gasping for air, he eyes widen at the sight of a tall, bloodied figure closing the distance between them. Scrambling to his feet, Baekhyun turned his back to untie the horse from the tree only to be pulled back by the nape of neck and thrown to the side.
He stumbles with his footing, but manages to keep upright. Holding his hands up in front of him, his mind tries to desperately think of any of the spells Howl had taught him in the past, but they had all been basic, survival spells. Nothing combative came to mind, making him realize how helpless he was on his own.
For a short moment, he wondered if that was how he'd meet his own demise until the man in armour reached under his helmet and pulled the protective metal off his gear, revealing himself to be Prince.
"Never turn your back when faced with an enemy, you fool!"
Baekhyun instinctively wanted to spite him back, but felt too relieved to see him to bother. Putting his hands down, he began to walk forward in a spontaneous need to hug the man, but then stopped himself short when he realized what he was doing. "You're here... This must be a dream."
"It is not," Chanyeol said stiffly as he looked at the fire that Baekhyun had built hours ago. Surprisingly, it was still burning. "You rode farther than I expected."
"Sehun didn't tell me where or how long I should've kept going. I--" Baekhyun's voice trailed off as he noticed Chanyeol avoiding his gaze. The blood on him wasn't his, but it was a reminder of failure and loss, bringing Baekhyun back to a question he wanted answers for. "How were you able to find me?"
Chanyeol didn't say anything at first, but then turned his eyes on the apprentice. "Howl felt your presence in this direction and did something to me. I can't explain it. The closer I got to you, the stronger this feeling around me felt. It only stopped when I found you sleeping against that tree."
"And what about Howl? Where is he?"
"With Sehun and the rest of the commanders, retreating my people." Chanyeol sounded bitter and angry; almost hurt. "I should be with them. Not here."
Baekhyun pursed his lips together. "Then why did you choose to come after me?"
"Because of Howl's insistence... as well as Sehun's and the remaining commanders. They'll be safe and I made sure of it before I left, but as their prince, I should be there to lead them--"
"Then shouldn't your people be more important than some apprentice in the woods?" Baekhyun's energy began to sour, and the horse beside him could sense it, becoming more agitated as well. "Why send me here then? Sehun said it was your orders."
"Because without you, I can't fulfill the prophecy!" Chanyeol said, his voice wavering. "I can't save my people, my kingdom, or my throne without you-- you, who's nothing more than just a low-level apprentice... What kind of prince would I be remembered as if I allow them all to die because I ignored a prophecy."
Grimacing, Baekhyun walked towards the towering prince and reached out, touching him by the arm. The cold armour underneath his fingers gave him the chills. "Chanyeol..."
But he was ignored.
Chanyeol moved away, turning his attention to Sehun's horse, walking past Baekhyun. "You and I will journey together alone and learn more about the prophecy. The King knew of our plans and came prepared with dark magic. He's much more powerful than what he presented to us, but he did just enough to send a clear message..."
"So what does that mean for us?" Baekhyun meekly asked.
"It means we need more than just men and magic." Chanyeol untied the horse and turned around to hand the rope and reins over in Baekhyun's hands. "And that is why you're here."