I couldn’t sleep. Not when I tried to, anyways. Eventually, I passed out, but I didn’t dream. When I woke up, I didn’t feel rested. It was a perpetual existence of exhaustion and sleeplessness, of times where I’d collapse onto some couch at the office and wake up later not realizing I’d fallen asleep.
I argued and argued and argued until I didn’t have a voice anymore but it was all for nothing. They didn’t listen to me. They wouldn’t delay the funeral, they wouldn’t prevent his cremation. I was still arguing against it past the point when it was too late; he was already ash. I was sure I could bring him back if they just gave me time… but obviously they didn’t have time to give.
His funeral was much the same as Mira’s, much too soon after Mira’s. There were more people, people from all over the world. People who probably considered him more of a friend than he would have considered them. I stayed towards the back of the crowd, jaw clenched to keep me from saying anything I’d regret… fists clenched to hide their shaking. People looked at me and gave their condolences. He had no family. All he had was me…
I felt like a bomb, ready to go off at the slightest touch. Everyone else kept their distance to prevent triggering an explosion. Hands hovered, just short of a pat on the shoulder, a comforting touch to my cheek. They hesitated and thought better of it, seeming to realize the touch might turn dangerous.
The only one who managed to remain unaware of my volatile attitude was Solaris. She split apart from Angel and stormed towards me, carelessly shouting at me as she stomped. The ceremony hadn’t started quite yet and everyone turned towards the racket as she screamed at the top of her tiny brownie lungs.
“You did this!” she screeched. “This is your fault.”
“Back off,” I warned in a growl, giving her a chance.
“Yoonie would still be here if it weren’t for you! It’s your fault you-”
Angel cut her off before I could do anything, covering the gnome’s mouth with her hand and scolding her with a sharp call of her name. I could feel a hand around my elbow as well, cautiously holding me back as Solaris was dragged far, far away from me. I didn’t look to see who it was. The chaos subdued and the ceremony started. I didn’t turn until the owner of the hand spoke.
“Me too,” Galiena said quietly, voice even and calm despite the ire I could feel radiating from her. “I’m angry too.”
“I’m not… I’m not angry,” I lied through gritted teeth.
“Bullshit. You think I haven’t been right where you are before? You’re angry. You’re angry because it’s easier than being sad. Yelling is easier than crying. Clenching fists and lashing out is easier than admitting you’re hurt.”
“If you’re so wise, then why are you angry too?” I huffed.
“Being self-aware doesn’t stop me from being pissed off.”
I didn’t reply, waiting for her explanation. She stayed silent for a moment and I looked her over. Her hair was black now and long enough to flow past her shoulders. Her green eyes stared at the crowd rather than at me. She didn’t look angry, she didn’t sound angry either. Still, I could tell she was being honest. I could feel her fury, like a flame heating the air around her.
“I know it’s bullshit. I want to scream. I want to fight. I want to drag Asp into the street and beat him bloody, make him beg for life before feeding him to vultures,” she muttered, voice still deceptively emotionless. “I’m sure you do too.”
“I was there,” I croaked, looking at the grass beneath our feet. “I was right there, but I couldn’t do anything.”
“No one could have… She- Ah… No. Nevermind.”
“He made me a promise once,” she stated, shaking her head. “I think we both knew he wouldn’t be able to keep it but… I still hoped. I believed him for some reason.”
“What… was the promise?”
“He said that… He promised that he- That I would die before him. I knew it wouldn’t happen. Somehow, I’m still disappointed.”
“I could have brought him back,” I seethed.
“Not necromancy. I would have- I would have brought him backbut they… They wouldn’t listen to me.”
“Jungkook… I’ve been alive for centuries. I’ve attended hundreds- thousands maybe- of funerals. No one gets brought back… Not like that.”
“I would have found a way.”
“If you really think you could, then what’s stopping you?”
“I needed his body.”
“Like I said… What’s stopping you?”
“You’re telling me you think you can figure out resurrection- which no one on record has done before- but suddenly you can’t because there’s no body? If you’re going to do the impossible, you might as well go all the way with it.”
Once the ceremony ended, she left wordlessly. I turned to watch her leave. As she marched away, she ran a hand through her hair, pulling it into a ponytail. As she did so, the color changed back to its regular orange. She had become a fox again. I turned back to the crowd, to the monument, to Yoongi’s portrait. I didn’t feel angry anymore. I felt lifeless, numb. Even Galiena was saying it was impossible…
It didn’t come as a surprise when I was handed the urn and reminded to spread Yoongi’s ashes. Shimè was sobbing, unable to speak. Jimin wasn’t much better but managed to do the speaking for her. My eyes shifted over to Henna. She looked weary. Two losses in less than a month had aged her. I accepted the urn with tingling fingers. I promised that I’d do as required, knowing fully that I intended to do no such thing. I didn’t have the will to follow protocol.
I drove around with no destination. It was an odd feeling, looking at the urn and knowing what it contained. The man I loved, nothing left but grey ashes. Ashes and memories. It was sickening. It was suffocating. It was… too much.
I drove the car home. His car. His home. Everything was his. His apartment, his passcode, his furniture… My palms felt sweaty as I held his urn, clutched it carefully against my stomach so it wouldn’t slip. My fingers trembled as I typed in his passcode. The door creaked open and I shut it quietly behind me. I never before felt like such an intruder in this apartment. I hadn’t been here since Yoongi was killed.
As soon as I passed the threshold, I felt drained, all of my previous determination and rage sapped. My feet dragged across the floor, limbs heavy. My vision blurred as I realized I was alone for the first time since that night. Tears welled up that I could no longer stop. Galiena was right. Without the anger, there was nothing left to hold them back.
I carried myself to the living room limply. I stared at the fireplace, at the ashes there. They looked no different than what was in the urn I was holding. I knelt down on the floor, exhausted. Scatter the ashes. I heard it in his voice.
I couldn’t do it. Not if I wanted any hope of bringing him back. Even if I didn’t have his body, maybe I’d find a way with what I had left. It wasn’t right that he was gone. It wasn’t fair. I didn’t know how, but there had to be a way to bring him back, to fix things. There had to be some kind of spell, despite what everyone was saying. There had to be something. Years of magic and no one was greedy enough to find the cure for death? That seemed more impossible than the hope of bringing Yoongi back, and yet…
No. I’d find a way. I just had to keep telling myself that.
I felt something brush against my leg. Glancing down, I saw Nami peering up at me. I let out a sigh, trying to lightly push her away with the back of my hand, but she wouldn’t budge.
“Go away,” I murmured weakly. My voice crumbled around the words. “I’m not the one you liked anyways.”
She meowed at me, nudging her head against my hand. I groaned, glancing towards the kitchen. I could’ve sworn Taehyung had been coming over to feed her. I stood, leaving the urn by the fireplace and checking her bowls. Both were full, so she clearly wasn’t just bugging me because she was hungry. With a sigh, I shuffled towards the bedroom.
I hesitated at the door. Hisroom. This was never technically my place. Now more than ever, I didn’t belong here. I was only ever here because of him. Without him, where did I belong?
“Go away, Nami,” I grumbled again. She meowed again, rubbing against my legs. I tried to push her away with my foot this time, but she came right back. “What do you want?”
Meow. She was looking right at me.
“You have food so what the fuck do you want from me?” I snapped. “Yoongi’s gone. He’s gone and he’s not coming back and bothering me isn’t going to change that so just fuck off you stupid cat!”
She looked up at me almost knowingly. There was a sorrow there that I refused to believe a dumb feline could even be capable of. Again his voice echoed in my brain, reminding me that animals were often smarter than they seemed. I couldn’t listen. I hated this. I hated it. I couldn’t stand hearing his voice when he was…
I leaned against the door and my legs wobbled as I slid to the floor. I closed my eyes. My throat hurt. I had tried so hard. I had tried so, so hard to act strong, even when there was no reason to. I had told myself not to cry, to be angry instead. I sucked in a breath. Nami had crawled into my lap. She nudged my chest with her little nose, mewling once more.
“He’s dead, Nami,” I cracked. “He’s gone and I don’t know how I can bring him back.”
I sobbed. At some point, I passed out. Right there on the floor, against the door to the bedroom I fell asleep with blurry eyes and wet cheeks. Nami stayed there in my lap, curled up and purring, unbothered when my tears landed on her fur. She was still there when I woke up in the morning, stiff and sore. She perked up when I moved, trying to stretch my legs. I stood unsteadily, rubbing the thick crust from my eyes as I wobbled to the bathroom.
I looked like hell. My face was patchy and swollen and my eyes were red. Dried tears marked my cheeks. I looked like a ghoul. I washed my face, but it didn’t make much of a difference. I stared at my reflection for what felt like hours before turning away with a sigh.
My determination flared up again when I caught sight of the urn sitting by the fireplace. Everyone was telling me there was nothing I could do. Yoongi had told me already that death was permanent. Hoseok too, and Galiena… but Galiena…
“What’s stopping you?”
She would know better than anyone that what I was hoping for was impossible… and yet she didn’t exactly discourage it. Even if all I had was ashes, I had to try. I’d find a spell… or make one. There had to be some way. I’d bring him back, or cause hell if I couldn’t. Galiena would probably help me. We’d bring him back.
I’d bring him back, then I’d find Asp and slaughter him.
It wasn’t anger, it was determination. It wasn’t revenge, it was justice. It wasn’t obsession… it was focus.
Welcome back to this saga of magic and misery. Also, my birthday was a couple of days so you can consider this my birthday gift to all of you ;)
It's an awful gift, isn't it...
WorldAnvil is where I keep all my info on characters, spells, etc. I'm still adding to it so check it out if you want. You can also find me on Tumblr or Twitter. You can find links to kofi or curiouscat there if you wanted to ask me questions either about myself or the story :)
I knew I probably wouldn’t find anything in the library, but I decided it was worth looking anyways. I studied the few books they had on elemental manipulation and spells fruitlessly. There weren’t many in the first place, and most of it only had low level utility and defensive spells. I examined every single book on creatures, bookmarking any of them that had healing or resurrective properties. Even then, not many had much potential.
Phoenixes could resurrect themselves, but I wasn’t sure if there was any way for that magic to carry over to another person. Still, if there was a way to bring Yoongi back from ashes, it seemed like a phoenix was the right direction. Kasaceri were linked to death in a different way than other necromantic creatures, more like the guides for the dead than the result of them, but they also had a unique link to life. Their terrifying horns could be used in potent healing spells and potions and kasaceros blood cured burns. Still, nothing in what I could find about them said anything about resurrection.
There were a handful of creatures and fae that had restorative traits or abilities, but nothing as severe as what I was looking for. Nothing that would bring the dead back to life.
I tried to search historical records for any circumstances of resurrection in the past. Of course, with the secretive nature of magic and the overwhelming amount of conspiracy found on the internet, it was impossible to tell what might be true and what was nonsense. The doubtful part of my brain told me it was all nonsense, that resurrection was impossible. Still, I refused to listen.
Unsatisfied with what I could find at our office, I searched for other possibilities. I took jobs in other countries, giving myself excuses to peruse their libraries. I spent more time in other places than I did in Korea.
Mermaids off the coast of Brazil allowed me to search the library in the Salvador office and find four spell books, all devoid of what I was hoping for. A trip to Rome to help with a stray chimera was really a trip to their library to find even less than what I’d found at home. Journeying to Cairo to retrieve a stolen grimoire masked my intentions to study it for answers. It didn't have any of the kind of resurrections I was searching for.
I went a full month traveling from branch to branch, working jobs so I could inspect their libraries. I started to fear that I really wouldn't be able to find it. Galiena had told me once that Asp had managed to clean out and destroy the majority of the spell books that Bangtan Bohoja had, and I was starting to see that wasn't an exaggeration. It was draining. It was infuriating. As much as I read about ghouls and necromancy and this spell or that creature... I couldn't find what I was looking for. I couldn't find a way to bring him back.
I tried thinking of other, more creative ways to make things right. I looked at the possibility of time spells with the hope that I could go back and save him before Asp killed him. I studied the homunculus spell, wondering if I could bring him back that way, even temporarily until I found a more permanent solution. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work the way I wanted. It’d only be an empty shell, something that looked like him.
No matter how much I searched, no matter where I searched, no matter how much I read and studied... I found nothing. More time passed and I continued to find nothing. The urn next to the fireplace began to gather dust. I began to lose hope.
I didn't think of anything else. I had barely talked to anyone outside of what was necessary to complete the jobs I was working. When I was home, I didn't talk at all, except maybe to the cat. People had come by a few times, but I didn't answer the door. I was busy, studying. I didn't have time for anything else.
I learned a lot, even without necessarily meaning to. I mostly learned spells that I came across while looking for resurrection, ones that seemed worth learning. I figured I might need them once I found a way to bring Yoongi back. It was worth the time spent. I continued to practice requipping as well, usually late at night when I had given up on sleep.
I rarely slept. Not even when Nami jumped into the bed and curled up next to me, purring. It was the only thing she knew to try to soothe me. I started to hate the cat less.
October was coming to an end and I still hadn't found the solution I was looking for. Jimin knocked on the apartment door, begging me to come out and talk to him. I didn't want to. I didn't want to hear what he had to say. He'd tell me to move on, but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.
The apartment had become a mess in Yoongi's absence. He was better at cleaning than I was. I also had left mountains of books and papers strewn around from my studying. I often didn't return things after searching through them. I was gathering an armful of books to take back to the library when Namjoon surprised me.
"What the hell is all of this?" he asked. I hadn't even heard him enter.
"How did you get in?"
"Everyone else assumed you'd changed the passcode," he answered. "What are you doing?"
"I was about to return these," I mumbled, readjusting the stack of books I was holding. He took them from me and set them down on top of the messily piled files on the coffee table.
"That's not what I'm talking about. What are you doing?"
"I don't know what you mean," I sighed.
"You're refusing to talk to anyone. You're spending half of your time abroad... and what is all of this junk anyways?"
"I'm working. So what?"
"So what? So, maybe take some time off. Talk to your friends. You think we're not missing him? That we’re not missing you? Whatever you're doing, this is not going to help. Isolating yourself definitely isn't going to help."
"I don't need your help."
"Bull shit. Look at yourself."
"I look fine," I lied.
"You look half a corpse yourself," he scoffed. "We're all worried about you. You don't have to-"
"That's nice, but I'm fine. More importantly, I'm busy," I interrupted.
"You're busy? With what?"
"Doesn't matter. If you're going back to the office, do you mind taking those books for me? I keep forgetting."
"What are these for?" he asked, exasperated.
He picked up the book on top and looked at it. It was a book on yet unexplained phenomena I was hoping might have allusions to resurrection, to no avail. He grabbed the book under it as well, a book about phoenixes in folklore vs. reality. The next book was some mage's old dissertation on spells he believed had been prevalent in the past that were now lost to time.
Namjoon wasn't an idiot.
"Jungkook, what are you looking for with these?" he asked cautiously. He knew the answer.
"It doesn't matter. I didn't find it."
"You're... You're seriously looking to try and bring him back?"
"So what if I am? Is that so wrong?"
"Yes, it is," he remarked pointedly. "That's called necromancy. It's illegal, first of all, and that's exactly why he was cremated."
"It’s not necromancy. I'm not looking to raise a ghoul. I am trying to bring him back to life. It's different."
"Jungkook, he's dead. He's not coming back."
"No. I'll find something. I'm so close!" I protested. "I can feel it. There's something out there. I just need to find it."
"Is that why you've been going all over the place?"
"I know I'll find a way to-"
"This is crazy. He's gone! There's no bringing him back."
"You’re wrong. You’re wrong. Out of all the magic in the world, how could there possibly be nothing to-"
"Jungkook, stop. Are you kidding me? Magic or not, there are some things that are just impossible."
"Two years ago, I didn't even know magic existed. Two years ago, I didn’t know any of this shit existed. Just because we don't know about it now doesn't mean it can't happen. I- I can't bring Mira back. I know I can't undo that, but I can bring Yoongi back. I know it."
"Why would you be able to bring him but not- Is that-"
His eyes widened as he looked past me and saw the urn gathering dust. He tried to walk over to it, but I blocked him. He looked at me in astonishment. I knew it. No one else would approve.
"You were supposed to scatter them."
"I can't bring him back without them."
"That's the point," he gritted." How are you supposed to bring him back from ashes anyways?"
"Phoenix are reborn from their ashes. I'm sure there's a way that I can use that to-"
"Stop this! He's gone! Just accept it and move on!"
He shoved past me. He bent down to pick up the urn and I yanked him back. I tried to push him away. I’d hoped he'd catch the hint and just leave it be, but he decided to be persistent. He tried to move me out of the way, tried telling me again that I was acting insane, but I didn’t care.
I shoved him, grabbing the collar of his shirt and growling at him to leave it alone. He refused. I punched him as he tried again to get past me. He slipped on some strewn papers, landing on his ass. He looked up at me, shock and betrayal evident in his eyes as he clutched his jaw.
"Fine," he grunted. "I tried. If you don't want to listen, I won't waste my breath on you."
He stood, giving me one last look before leaving the apartment and slamming the door on his way out. I let out a breath of relief once he was gone. A few minutes later, I changed the door code, reminding myself I’d need to change it back once I figured out how to revive Yoongi. I didn't want him to barge in and dump the ashes while I wasn't home.
After a while, I ended up deciding just changing the code wasn't good enough. Namjoon was a hacker. I was sure that even if he didn't know the code, he'd be able to get in anyways. I couldn't risk it.
I waited until I was sure he'd be long gone before leaving and taking the urn with me. I drove around for a bit, both to give myself time to think of a good place to hide it and also to make sure I wouldn't be followed. I couldn't trust Namjoon anymore. I couldn’t trust anyone anymore.
I remembered the riverbank where Yoongi had taken Mira's ashes. It seemed appropriate. I went there and was relieved to find there was no one else around. I found a patch of grassless dirt far enough from the water that I wouldn't have to worry about it being washed away and knelt down in the soft soil.
I carved out a hole just big enough to fit the urn and deep enough that no one would stumble across it once it was covered. I used a bit of fire to bake the hole dry before lowering the urn into it gently. I covered it back up and made sure the dirt was even and indistinguishable from everything else. I found a medium sized stone, placing it over the filled hole to hide and mark it. Only I would know it was there.
Once all of that was done, it was time to search again. I was close. It wasn't a lie. I could feel it in my gut. It felt like a voice in the back of my head, telling me not to lose hope. I was close to finding what I needed. I couldn't give up yet.
When I fell asleep that night, I had the first dream I'd had in months. I was in a field with nothing around me but the tall grass springing up from the earth and the stars in the sky. I walked around but there was nothing to walk to. After some time, walking in circles, I came across a little girl. She looked like she was no older than seven years old. She had long black hair that reached her ankles and wore a plain white dress with a golden bow in her hair. She didn't say anything. She just looked up at me staring until I came nearer, then turning and running away.
I chased her. Even though she was small, I struggled to keep pace with her. I couldn’t catch up. It felt almost like she was leading me to something. After a while, it was clear that she was. She led me to the base of a mountain, where it opened up into a cave. She stopped at the entrance, looking back at me as I finally caught up. I tried to ask who she was, but my voice wouldn't work. She looked into the cave and I looked as well.
In the depths, I could faintly see something glimmering. I glanced back at the little girl and she nodded at me, pointing inside with a pale finger before fading away. I ventured into the cave cautiously. A short tunnel opened up into an expansive cavern, the center of which held a mountain of glittering jewels and shining gold and silver. Atop the pile of riches was the corpse of a dragon, recently slain. It's copper-colored blood coated the horde beneath it. I walked up to it, placing my hand on top of its head.
It disintegrated into ashes at my touch and the ashes were blown away by a nonexistent wind. At the center of the abscess left behind, where the dragon’s heart would have been, was a book. I recognized it instantly. It was old, and leather-bound. Engraved into the front cover was a series of glyphs I didn't know how to read. I opened the book...
... And I woke up.
The dream stuck with me even after I woke up. The girl, the cave and the dragon... but especially the book. I recognized it. I recognized the glyphs on its front cover. Yoongi had shown me that book before he left, the one that contained the requipping spell. I wasn't one for trying to decipher dreams, but the meaning of this one was clear.
I hadn't forgotten about the book. In all my searching, I considered that it might have something... but I avoided looking at it. Even now, sucking in a breath as I entered the restricted section of the library, it was painful. I had brushed off the possibility. Yoongi had known this book. He'd have known if what I was looking for was there, but he had told it to me once already.
"Even in a world of magic, death is final."
If this book had something to dispute that, he'd know. He wouldn't have said that. So, I didn't look at the book, didn't consider it... didn’t let it stir painful emotions. My fingers brushed over the cover now, into the divots of the decorative carving and engraved letters. I sat down and opened the book slowly, right to the middle.
My heart clenched. I was faced with a photograph. The top of my head was in the corner, my hair and one of my eyes. Yoongi was perfectly in frame. His eyes were sparkling with the joy his face was trying to hide. Nothing like the resignation his eyes held when I last saw them. I squeezed my eyes shut, refusing to cry again.
I turned the page. The next spell was in English, but I had already cast a comprehension spell. If I hadn't, I likely would have skipped over the page, not being able to read its title. Resurrection. Exactly what I was looking for, in the one place I had refused to look. I read the entire spell twice to ensure the title wasn't misleading me. It wasn't.
Still, I felt a bit disheartened. I finally found what I needed... but I couldn't cast it. Not alone, anyways. The spell required four casters and a handful of ingredients I didn't know where to find. More than that, it required the body and soul of the person being resurrected, and all I had were ashes.
Ashes were enough for the body. They had to be. That was the exact reason I had been keeping them. Soul however... but I refused to lose hope. I would find a way to do this. I closed the book again, holding it to my side as I left the library.
I needed four mages. I was one, and Galiena would probably agree to be another. I needed one specialized in life, death, and arcana. I was sure Galiena could take the place of arcana, and I knew exactly where to find life. I marched down to the infirmary, straight into Hoseok's office, and slammed the book down on his desk.
"I can bring him back."
"I can bring Yoongi back. I found a spell that-"
"What are you talking about?" he interrupted.
"Just look," I pleaded, opening the book to the correct page and turning it for him to read.
He looked up at me skeptically before his eyes turned downward with a sigh. He scanned over the page, eyes widening as he read it. He looked back up at me, shocked.
"Jungkook, you can't be serious."
"We can bring him back," I smiled. "We just need to-"
"No! Jungkook, this is insane. Have you even read this spell?"
"Yeah, I have. That's why I need you. I don't know where I'll find a mage specializing in death magic, but with you and Gally, we can do it."
"No, we can't. First of all, we have neither the body or soul of Yoongi and secondly this is crazy."
"I have his ashes. It will be enough. The spell says it can be completed with any amount of the body, so-"
"Namjoon was telling the truth, then. You didn't scatter them?"
"I knew I'd need them. It's a good thing!"
"No, it's not! Jungkook, you were supposed to-"
"I have to bring him back! Now I can, because I found this spell and I kept the ashes."
"You still don't have his soul, Jungkook."
"No... you were. Soul-links sever when one of the couple dies. That's how you were able to link with him in the first place."
"He's still there," I insisted.
"I can feel it." My hand rested over my heart. It was true. I could still feel him there, somewhere. "I had a dream that led me to this book. I found this spell for a reason, Hoseok."
"You sound like a lunatic," he gawked. "You really can't be serious. This spell- This spell is bad news."
"Why? It can bring Yoongi back. What's bad about that?"
"What's bad about it? You didn't read it! This spell can kill you!"
"Only if it doesn't work."
"And there's a good chance it won't! There's way too much left to chance with this spell and offering up your life as collateral? No. It's not worth it."
"It is worth it. Hoseok, please. I need you to-"
"I'm not doing this. I'm not letting you kill yourself for the empty hope of bringing Yoongi back."
I could feel my heart pounding. I didn't know what to say to make him understand. I had read the spell. I knew the consequences if it backfired. I didn't care. Bringing Yoongi back was worth any risk. I didn't know what to do without him.
I kept playing the moment over and over in my head. I couldn't stand the fact that I was right there, and I couldn't stop it. I froze. If I hadn't frozen... he'd still be alive. If I had just been able to move forward. Something had held me back, and I couldn't figure out what. That was killing me.
"Fine," I exhaled. "If you won't help, I'll find someone who will."
I gathered the book and ignored Hoseok's call of my name as I left. I knew where to find a necromancer after all, I realized. Maybe I'd find a life focused mage in the same place. I had what I needed. I had a ticket waiting to take me exactly where I needed to go.
Baem Gunin. The undercover job.
I found my way to Henna's office. I hadn't officially accepted the job yet. I had meant to, but then Yoongi and I had argued... and then he had died. She hadn't mentioned the job at all in the two months since he was killed. I assumed it was to give me time to grieve. She hadn't said the job offer had been rescinded either. I knew it hadn't been. Baem Gunin still had the artifact in question, but still hadn't used it to our knowledge.
Shimè was talking to Jimin when I reached the top floor. Both looked surprised to see me. It made sense, especially in Jimin's case. I hadn't really spoken to either of them or even visited the office much in the past two months. I certainly hadn't had a reason to come to Henna for a while.
"Jungkook! Are you okay? You've been-"
"I don't have time to talk right now, Jimin. Is Henna busy?"
"She always is," Shimè sighed, "but she can talk, I'm sure."
I entered Henna's office and found her, as usual, sorting through mountains of paperwork. I didn't envy her. I could only imagine the kinds of things she was currently coping with, especially after losing two high level members, and mages at that. The last time I had been in this office I was screaming and begging her not to let Yoongi be cremated. Now... it didn't matter.
"Jungkook?" She sat up as she noticed me. "Do you need something?"
"I-" I hesitated. I took a moment to gather my nerves so I could speak. "I know I took a long time to decide, but I'm accepting the undercover job. I'll go as soon as you'd like to send me."
"That- Oh... Right. Good, thank you... I'll... I'll find someone to train you and..." she stammered, seemingly flustered. "Are you sure you want to do this? Especially after August..."
"He's why I'm doing this," I answered.
"Oh. Okay. I'll start making arrangements for you. Thanks for letting me know."
I eyed the house suspiciously, glancing down at the scrap of paper in my hand. Henna had only given me vague instructions with the address. ‘Leave your phone, wallet, keys, etc. at home. Anything that could be used to identify you.’ From the order, I could guess this place was where I would be training. I double-checked the address hesitantly.
“What are you waiting for?” interrupted my thoughts. I looked up to see a bored-looking, black-haired Galiena leaning against the now open door. “You coming in or what?”
“Hurry up, idiot.”
I followed her in, glancing around me as I walked through the door. The house was plain, but not barren. It was tidy and barely decorated, but obviously occupied. I kept my mouth shut until the door was closed and locked behind us. It felt like the heavy air lifted.
“You’re the one training me?”
“There’s no one better. What did you bring with you?” she asked, nodding towards my satchel.
“Just a spell book. Nothing else.”
“Good. You can’t go to your apartment from this point on, so I’m glad you brought it with you. I want to see this spell that Hobi is so worried about.”
“Wait. You know?”
“You name-dropped me, kid. Of course I found out,” she scoffed. "He asked me to give you my ‘sage’ advice while training you... convince you to drop it.”
“You can try, but-“
“Fuck off. Hoseok can suck my dick. I'm old, not wise. I’m not telling you shit. Like I said before, Yoongi owes me. If you found a way, I’ll help.”
“Anyways, that we can get to later. First, we need to clear the air about this training,” she sighed. “You’ve been asked to do this and you’ve accepted, but I have final say here. If you don't satisfy me at any time during this training, you get sent back home and this job gets assigned to someone else. Probably me alone if I’m honest. I want to help, but I’m not putting either of us, or the company, at unnecessary risk. Understood?”
I nodded. She gestured towards the couch and I took a seat, taking off my satchel and leaving it on the coffee table. She sat on the table next to it, facing me. I swallowed, seeing the fire in her eyes while sitting this close.
“Fair warning; this is not going to be fun. It’s not going to be nice. I’m not your friend. I’m your boss, I’m your teacher, and I’m strict. This is going to be boring. It's going to be painful. You’re going to dislike me and I'm not going to care. I'm going to give you information and expect you to memorize it. I’m going to insult you and harm you and I’m not going to be sorry. If you don’t think you can handle that, save us both some time and walk away now. If you leave this house at any point during training, you’re out. You don’t get any second chances.”
“I can take it.”
“Secondly, when we’re undercover... Yoongi is their enemy, and a well-known one. They’re going to badmouth him and laugh at his death. I will too. You can’t react. That’s the most important part. It’s fresh and raw, and I get that, but if you’re going to let that get to you, leave now.”
“I know that already. I’ll be okay,” I huffed. “Getting caught and killed isn’t on my to-do list.”
“Good,” she hummed. “In that case, your training starts now.”
She stood up, stretching her arms over her head. Without a word, she walked out the front door. I waited, unsure if I was meant to follow her. After ten minutes, twenty, I looked around the house, confused. Once half an hour had passed, I stood up.
I peeked out the door, trying to see if she was there waiting for me, but she wasn’t anywhere I could see. I shut the door, staying inside. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I understood. Training started now, and I wasn’t to leave the house. So, I didn’t. I spent the hours exploring the house and getting familiar with the rooms, learning where everything was in the kitchen and what closets held what. When I was bored of that, I re-read the resurrection spell, familiarizing myself with its ingredients and the incantation I’d have to recite.
I tried to think of where I could find what I needed. The body, I had. The soul, I technically had, though I wasn’t sure how to contained it in the required vessel, a specific wooden jar. I had no idea where to get chalk made from a kasaceros horn or if I’d have to make it myself. A braided cord of phoenix feathers also seemed like something I might have to make myself. I didn’t even know what a bottle of hellfire was, let alone where to find it. The only thing I had some idea how to get was the gemstones. Those were more or less easy to find, if not a little expensive.
Night fell and Galiena still hadn't returned. I sat in what I assumed would be my room and practiced requipping. I studied the spell page, reading both the original documentation and the additions made by Christopher Wernecke. None of his notes actually helped, considering most of them were complaints about the original author and the spell’s limits. I used a sheet of notebook paper to make my own, considerably more useful notes.
I was in the middle of trying to figure out what I could cook with an unopened bottle of soy sauce, a single apple, and a handful of spaghetti noodles when Galiena returned with armfuls of plastic grocery bags. She dropped them on the kitchen floor with a huff, clenching and unclenching her red-lined fingers.
“Wanna help me with the rest? That’s most of it.”
“Uh, okay? You got groceries?”
“I got a lot of stuff. We’re gonna be living here for a while. Don’t worry. I won’t penalize you for leaving the house to help.”
“But you would have if I left earlier?”
“You didn’t, so don’t worry about it. C'mon, I got your cat and some clothes. He hates the carrier by the way.”
“She. You went to my apartment?”
“Yeah, for your clothes. Then I found out you had a pet... so... hope they get along,” she hummed, going back outside. This time, I followed.
“You hope who gets along?”
“Your cat and Gomi. You haven’t met him yet?”
“No? Is someone else supposed to be here?”
“He must be hiding then,” she shrugged, not really answering.
I took the carrier and the last couple of bags inside while she locked up the car. I let Nami explore while we put away groceries and supplies. I got to work putting away the clothes she’d brought over for me. I tried not to think too much about living with Galiena when I barely knew her. It wasn't that important.
We ate and went to bed with no mention of her day-long errands. Grocery shopping shouldn’t have taken ten hours, and we both knew it. I laid uncomfortably in the bed for a while, the weight of everything lingering and keeping me awake. Eventually, Nami joined me, curling up by my feet.
I discovered who Gomi was sometime after I finally fell asleep. I woke with a start as a heavy weight landed on my stomach and I felt damp air blowing on my face. A fox looked down at me, its paws digging into my chest. I didn’t move as it sniffed me curiously, tilting its head. A collar hung from its neck, the silver tag reading ’Gomitan’.
“H- Hi? Gomi?” I wheezed.
It sneezed in my face and shook it off before moving and lying down next to me. I refused to move, even when I heard it snoring. Nami, on the other hand, was completely unbothered and immediately fell back asleep. After a while, the shock wore off and I was able to join them.
I was treated to another rude awakening when an air horn sounded directly in my ear. Galiena stood over me, tossing a leather wallet and hitting me in the face with it. Both the cat and fox were nowhere to be seen.
“Study that. I expect you to be able to recite anything on your new ID by the end of the day. If you don’t respond by your new name, if you respond to your old name, if you mention being a part of Bangtan Bohoja or knowing anyone there you know, you'll be punished. If you call me by any name that is not Lynn Anderson, you'll be punished. Your cover starts now, and if you break cover, I'll be forced to correct you. Make yourself breakfast. I'll be back in an hour.”
Her version of ‘correcting’ me was to whack me with a broken mop handle whenever I got anything wrong. I was Lee Junhwan, from Busan, twenty-one years old and new to magic. It had been kept a secret from me growing up and I found out recently and searched for someone to teach me. The someone I found was Lynn. I moved to Seoul recently and didn’t have any friends or family here. It was a story close to the truth and easier to remember that way.
True to her word, Galiena didn’t go easy on me. If I answered a question in a way she didn’t like or reacted in a way she thought I shouldn’t, I was hit with the handle and forced to correct myself. The more it happened, the more it hurt as bruises started to mottle my skin. Eventually, I stopped making the same mistakes.
“Are you gay or bi?” she asked one night over dinner.
“Do you think you can act straight?”
“I live in Korea,” I scoffed. “I’ve been acting straight all my life.”
“You’ve been acting not-gay, sure. It’s not the same.”
“How is it not the same thing?”
“If you had to kiss a girl, or have sex with one, could you?”
I wrinkled my nose, not expecting the whack of hard wood against my knee. I hissed, rubbing the stinging skin and glared at her. I should have known. Dumb mistake. After a moment, I rolled my eyes, shoving a spoonful of rice in my mouth.
“I don’t know. Kissing, sure. I’ve never tried the other one.”
“I'll keep that in mind. Just so you know, it might happen. It’s a criminal organization after all. Prostitution isn’t unheard of in their circles.”
“Thanks, but I think I’ll be fine.”
“‘I think I’ll be fine’ isn’t good enough. Baem Gunin is far from an accepting group. I’ve seen people killed for less.”
“I- Alright. Fine. I’ll remember.”
Having our covers memorized wasn’t the end of training by far. She taught me better ways to fight, then taught me how to be bad at fighting. It seemed like most of the skills I had worked so hard to learn, I now had to pretend like I’d never known them. It made sense. Lee Junhwan was nobody, had no reason to have those skills. Natural talent was only so believable.
By far the most important thing Galiena taught me was a good poker face. Not reacting at all to things I shouldn't care about, reacting pleasantly to things that disgusted me. Controlling knee-jerk reactions that would get me killed.
After a month of learning that and more, I had more bruises than unmarked skin. She had never once indicated whether or not she felt I was doing well enough to continue, but I assumed she would have cut training short if she thought I wasn’t. Still, it came as a surprise when, just after the new year, she gave me a pitying smile and an uneasy ‘congrats’.
“Why don't you seem happy about that?”
“Because this was the easy part,” she sighed. “And because now I have to do something I’d rather not.”
In lieu of an answer, she lifted her shirt and tugged down the waistband of her jeans. Just above her left hip was a burn scar in the shape of a skull with a serpent wrapped around it. Baem Gunin’s insignia, branded on her skin.
“Mine is permanent, but I have a way to do this so yours won’t be. It won’t make it any less painful. It’s arguably more painful, actually. It will fade after a month, so if this takes longer, I’ll have to do it more than once.”
“Do all Baem Gunin members have that?”
“Pain is a great way to demand loyalty,” she muttered darkly. “I’ll let you choose where you want it.”
“You’ve been undercover with Baem Gunin before?”
“Yeah, in London. It’s been a few years, but nothing's changed.”
I stared at the brand. It was about the size of a hand with its fingers outstretched. It probably had to be for the insignia to be readable. I almost told her to do it on my shoulder so I wouldn’t have to see it. Instead, I offered up my arm.
“On the inside, below my elbow,” I decided.
“Are you sure?”
“It should be visible, right? Someone who doesn’t want to be part of the group wouldn’t mark themselves somewhere so easy to see. Someone proud of it would. I should pretend to be proud.”
She nodded and went to grab something out of a drawer in the kitchen. It was an oddly shaped metal rod with a coil around it and a blunt end. The other end was shaped like a teardrop except the tip wasn’t enclosed. Instead, both ends hooked inwards as if to hold something small at the top.
She handed me a rag. “Bite this. I don't want you to lose your tongue or alert the neighbors. I have to make the symbol by hand, so this might take a few minutes.”
I took the rag warily, breathing deeply as I put it in my mouth. She pulled a small red marble from a pouch and fitted it in the clawed end of the device. The empty center of the teardrop lit up with a swirling, fiery energy and the coil started to glow orange with heat.
The hand holding the rod radiated with flickering red energy while her other hand shimmered with the same pale yellow light I associated with life magic. No amount of anticipation could prepare me for the searing pain as the blunt end of the device made contact with my skin. She quickly caught my wrist as I instinctively wrenched my arm away.
She gave me a look of pity as she quickly cast a binding spell to keep me still before continuing. Her left hand healed the wound as her right hand marred my skin. I choked on the rag muffling my voice. I could only watch for few seconds before the tears pricking my eyes were impossible to see through.
“I’m sorry,” I heard her whisper as she finished, just before I passed out.
When I woke up, the first thing I checked was my arm. The burn mark was remarkably distinct and looked like it had been there for months rather than mere hours. I also noticed that my bruises were gone. On my arms, legs, and torso, they’d all been healed. Nami was sleeping on the bed next to me and stirred as I sat up. She purred as she pushed her head into my palm.
“Hey. Are you still going to like me once I bring Yoongi back?” I murmured. She meowed in response, seemingly in agreement. “Good to know.”
Galiena greeted me as I shuffled out of the room, trailing into the bathroom to take a shower. After washing and eating breakfast, she quizzed me one last time on who I was and why I was joining Baem Gunin. Then, together, we left.
We ended up at a factory. The name on the sign read Sujeon Textiles. We didn’t enter the production area, but rather the offices located in a separate building. Galiena gave a cocky grin to the bored security guard, who waved us in with barely a glance. It only just occurred to me that she’d been here already. She led me to exactly where we were supposed to go.
The man we met was a grimy, balding man with a strong Busan accent. His nameplate read Choi Beomsoo and he scratched at his ear with his pinky as Galiena introduced me. He seemed unimpressed as he looked me over, snorting and rolling his eyes before speaking. His voice sounded like a bird’s, scratchy and too high-pitched for his face.
“How old are you, kid?”
“Old enough,” I scoffed, matching his accent easily. He narrowed his eyes but I didn’t waver.
“Whatever. If Lynn vouches for ya’, I won’t argue. She said you’re a mage?”
“Great… You guys are hard to come by,” he grinned. I swallowed my reply. And who’s fault is that, exactly? “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of work for ya’. For now, why don’t ya’ introduce yerself to Lukas. He’s the Russian guy overseeing the looms. He’s the- eh… The highest-ranking magic-user in the district, 'side from the boss o’ course.”
“You really want to bother Luke with some newbie?” Galiena snorted.
“He’s in charge of all the mages ‘ere. You know that, sweet’art.”
He waved us off and Gally turned with a huff, leading me back outside. We shuffled over to the factory, through the foul-smelling production areas to what I assumed was the ‘looms’ he’d referred to. A hulking man, easily half a foot taller than I was and significantly broader, with very short, dusty blond hair and dull green eyes was there giving orders to one of the workers in stilted Korean. I hung back as she approached him, speaking in what was presumably his native tongue.
“You are Junhwan?” he asked me a few moments later, to which I nodded. “What element?”
“He wants to know your elemental alignment,” Gally explained, wearing an annoyed expression. “Apparently, that matters or something.”
He turned to Gally, asking her something in Russian. She gave a snappy reply, shrugging her shoulders. I curled my toes, trying my hardest not to look impatient. I wasn’t sure if it was the knowledge of who these people were or the putrid chemical smell of the factory, but my stomach churned uncomfortably the longer we stood there. After a while of going back and forth with Galiena, he spoke to me again.
“She will meet you to Luwang. He is earth. Better teacher than fire to water.”
“He’s also a man,” she muttered under her breath. I understood the connotation.
“Right. Great. Uh, thank you?”
“Luwang is probably in the warehouse. They have him working there when he’s… y’know… here,” she supplied, motioning for me to follow her.
When we were back out in the bitter cold, I risked asking her a question, far from anyone’s earshot. “How long have you been here?”
It was an innocent question, one that wouldn’t risk breaking cover. She knew the meaning I hid behind it. Her answer was similarly vague, but it told me what I wanted to know.
“I used to do some shit in America, in Texas. Moved here after talking to you so my work moved here too. Why?”
“I dunno. Just curious,” I sniffled. “Is Luwang a better teacher than you?”
“I guess you’ll have to decide that shit for yourself. No skin off my back. You’re a crappy student,” she warned. Be a crappy student. As if she hadn’t spent the last month reminding me to play dumb.
The warehouse was piled high with crates and boxes and it was clear as soon as we walked in that not all of it was fabric. I guessed that only the stores closest to the entrance contained anything related to the factory itself. The person we were searching for was farther in, where you could practically feel the magic prickling your skin, even without casting a detect magic spell.
Luwang was much younger than I expected, looking close to my age. He looked half asleep, lounging on top of a couple of crates and using what looked like a folded up hoodie as a pillow while he scrolled on his phone. He was wearing grey sweatpants that seemed at least a size too big for him and a white tank top revealing what was probably his most distinct feature. He had no left arm.
I tried not to stare as Galiena went up to him and yanked out his headphones, somehow surprising him as if he hadn’t seen her approach. “Aren’t you supposed to be working?” she complained.
“I’m on break,” he countered, sitting up. “What do you want?”
“I’m delivering your new job,” she griped, swinging an arm out to point at me. “He’s new, and he’s a mage. Lukas decided that you’re to teach him a few things, considering he doesn’t know shit about magic. Have fun.”
“Woah, woah, woah. Wait. What’s he doing here if he don’t know magic? He’s a mage?”
“How about you ask him? I got better shit to do.”
As soon as she turned away, she gave me a look, one that clearly said ‘this isn’t how I wanted this to go’. I gave her an awkward smile and she left me alone with him. I scratched my head, playing oblivious. I tried to remember back when I first discovered magic, how I acted.
“My parents kept magic secret from me,” I explained. “I found out when my mum died and uh… I guess my dad knew Lynn somehow and she’s taught me a little bit… just like… controlling my ‘aura’ and stuff. She said that this group… does some cool stuff with magic.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” he mumbled. He stared at me for a long time, not saying anything, Eventually, his eyes moved from my face to my arm, where the brand was clearly visible. “You take to that alright?”
“I’m not stupid,” I sighed. “I know what this group is. It hurt, but whatever.”
“Fine, fine. Just asking. No need to be a bitch about it. A lot of people aren’t into… permanent marks like that. Specially not this side of the globe.”
He swung his legs back up onto the crate he was sitting on and leaned back, readjusting his sweater-pillow. I forced myself to ignore his lack of a left arm as I came up and sat on a different box nearby, waiting for whatever it was he’d have me do. After he’d gotten comfortable, he put in one of his earbuds and continued scrolling on his phone, as if Gally had never disturbed him.
“So, she taught you how to contain energy. Anything else?”
“Uh… a little elemental stuff… like… moving water. That’s kinda it. We haven’t known each other that long. Only like a month. She had me reading a lot of books about… I dunno, creatures and shit.”
“You got a favorite?”
“Yeah… a favorite creature.”
“I… don’t know,” I answered cautiously. “Do you?”
“Yeah. I do. Unicorns are pretty cool,” he smirked, eyeing me. I didn’t waste time coming up with a good response.
“They are? They seem lame to me… kinda… girlish,” I hummed. Playing dumb. His grin widened.
“Yeah… Not the real ones though. You come across any kasaceros in your books?”
“Yeah, no surprise there. Fuck it anyways. I’m not gonna teach you anything here. There are civvies around. You wanna come back to my place?”
“Civilians. You know, people who don’t know about magic… about Baem Gunin either. Just regular-ass factory workers doing regular-ass shit. They might freak out if they saw us flinging magic around.”
“Oh… right. I kinda just assumed everyone here knew.”
“Nope. You drive here?”
“I got a ride from Lynn.”
“Cool. I can drive us to my place and drive you home later,” he suggested, standing up and stretching.
“Uh… can you-” I paused. I didn’t want to be alone with this guy, no matter how okay he seemed at the moment. He was a member of Baem Gunin. The first excuse I came up with was ‘can you even drive with one arm’ but I cut myself short, realizing how dumb that was.
“Can I… what?”
“I just- I mean- Nevermind. It was a dumb question.”
“So ask it anyways,” he dared.
“Um… I… Is it safe for you to drive with only… one hand?” I asked, wording my question carefully.
“It’s fine. I left my other arm in the car. If I lie and say I forgot it at home, they don’t make me do work… usually.”
“Please don’t dance around the missing arm thing. I hate it when people do that. It’s not like I’m unaware I lost it,” he huffed.
“Right. Sorry. Can I ask… what happened?”
“I was fifteen, hanging out with some friends. Being the little jerks that we were, we were roaming around looking to cause some trouble and stumbled into this place that had a bunch of weird statues. So, you know, we obviously decided to draw faces on the statues and shit, and this lizard came out, except it wasn’t a lizard, it was a basilisk. I got turned into stone. Luckily, they were able to de-petrify me, but while they were fighting it or running away or whatever they did, my arm broke off… so when I was no longer stone… it was still gone. They didn’t think to reattach it before restoring me.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty funny actually. I still have the arm. I use it as an umbrella stand. I’ll show it to you when we get to my place, yeah?”
“Oh… uh… I mean… they don’t have any place here that we could- Instead of going to your home, I mean? I just…”
“You don’t trust me? We’re friends, aren’t we? I told you about my arm and everything,” he grinned. Somehow, the statement made me trust him even less.
“I just met you.”
“So what? We’re both part of the same group, and they asked me to teach you. That’s what I’m gonna do.”
“Right… of course. I didn’t mean anything by it, just… y’know… can’t be too careful.”
“Right…” he hummed, seeming to have more to say.
He walked off and I followed him outside to his car. Lying on the passenger’s seat was an intricate looking metal prosthetic, which he grabbed and attached easily before gesturing for me to get in. It wasn’t until I sat down that my throat seized. He started the car and started driving, and I realized the reason he was so eager to get me alone.
I recognized that arm… from the last time he was swinging it at me.
Happy New Year!! What were your guys' resolutions, if you made any? I didn't... I never trust myself to follow up on them, so I just never make them. Anyways, I hope the year has gone well for y'all so far.
WorldAnvil is where I keep all my info on characters, spells, etc. I'm still adding to it so check it out if you want. You can also find me on Tumblr or Twitter. You can find links to kofi or curiouscat there if you wanted to ask me questions either about myself or the story :)
I spent the next ten tense, silent minutes trying to come up with any way to talk myself out of the predicament I’d found myself in. Luwang had obviously recognized me and I doubted wherever he was taking me was actually his home. I had thirty different lies running through my head and none of them seemed good enough. Even if I could explain my being there, fighting him, I couldn’t explain lying to him about knowing magic, about how long I’ve known magic.
“My name’s actually Quiang, by the way,” he piped up as we turned onto a dirt road. “When I came here, I told people it was Yanluowang and then they shortened it to Luwang.”
“Would you prefer to be called Yanluowang?”
“Nah. It was… kind of a joke, I guess. Luwang’s fine. Quiang’s fine too. For you though… I’ll call you Junhwan of course, but I am curious what your real name is. I know it’s not that.”
I swallowed. He wasn’t even pretending anymore, and there wasn’t much point in me lying when I was already caught. “Jungkook.”
“While we’re on the subject, how’d you really meet Lynn? That bullshit about your dad knowing her… is that what she thinks? She believed that shit?”
He pulled aside and turned off the car, turning in his seat to look at me skeptically. I didn’t make eye contact, opting to look out the window. There was nothing but trees around. I might have a chance, and I didn’t have to ruin Galiena’s cover because I blew my own. I took a deep breath. How had I forgotten about him?
“She didn’t believe it either, but I convinced her. Maybe she’s not as smart as you thought.”
“I don’t really know her well enough to think about how smart she is. She only came about a month before you… but I guess they talked her up quite a bit in America, so I assumed she was pretty good.”
He didn’t seem to have a gun, or at least not one immediately accessible. I watched him from the reflection in the window. He was sitting lazily, as if this were a casual conversation. My seatbelt wasn’t buckled. I could open the door and run for it. If I kept my footing, I could probably out run him. All I had to do, was-
“I can’t tell if you’re stupid or just unlucky. At first, I thought unlucky, but the more I think about it… I guess I was wearing a mask, but you had to realize it was a possibility, right?”
“So, I lied about not knowing magic. So what?” I bit, turning to face him. Maybe, maybe I could work with this.
“For your sake, I sincerely hope I’m the only one who recognizes you,” he sighed. “I admittedly don’t know a lot about Bangtan Bahoja, but shouldn’t they be more careful when sending someone undercover? You don’t send the cop who’s arrested half the gang to go pretend to be a gang member, that’s all I’m saying.”
“I… You… Hold on…” I paused, shaking my head. He was far too casual for what he was saying. “Why don’t you seem to care that I’m…”
“Ah, okay. Not unlucky then. Just stupid.”
“Look, I’m not exactly the most… willing member of Baem Gunin. I didn’t have a fucking choice, alright? I’m not gonna blow your cover or anything, but if there’s anyone else who’d recognize you that you forgot about-”
“Everyone else is either dead or arrested.”
“I’m not,” he pointed out.
“I… forgot… about you,” I admitted bitterly. “I tried to forget about that whole encounter… so…”
“What are you even doing here?” he asked, restarting the car. “As far as I’m aware, you guys don’t normally send people to pretend to be… y’know, people like me.”
“I’m looking for an artifact that was stolen. It killed a friend of mine.”
“You as in your company or you personally.”
“Does that matter?”
“Not particularly. Just wondering. Sorry about your friend.”
“I’ve killed one of yours. We’re even.”
“No… he wasn’t my friend. None of these bastards are.”
“Why are you a part of Baem Gunin if you don’t want to be?”
“Like I said. I didn’t have a choice. It was either this or… this,” he shrugged.
“Where are we going?” I asked after a few moments, now that we were back on a main road.
“I don’t know. I can take you home. I just wanted to get you away from the factory so I could ask about the whole… everything. You can trust me, by the way. I know you probably reasonably wouldn’t, but whatever. I try to be a good person… despite everything.”
“I… I believe you,” I murmured honestly.
Oddly enough, I did. Maybe it was the fact that I was still breathing that left me in a trusting mood. The fact was, he didn’t blow my cover the moment he recognized me, even when I didn’t recognize him. He seemed genuine. Still, I kept myself from explaining who Lynn was, just in case.
“Maybe you could answer something for me then,” I muttered, deciding not to waste the opportunity. “That area I found you in is where they would probably be keeping the sort of thing I’m looking for, isn’t it?”
“Possibly. There are artifacts there, but they often don’t stay very long. Anything with any worth gets moved around from warehouse to warehouse. That’s the main warehouse in Korea, and there’s a second one in Busan where they keep stuff that’s getting shipped out to other countries. Depending on what it is and how long we’ve had it… it could be on the other side of the globe by now.”
I let out a long sigh. I’d been afraid of that, honestly. Just because they stole it here didn’t mean they’d keep it here. I spent far too much time weighing the pros and cons and then… then it didn’t matter anymore. I had bigger things to think about. I had bigger things I was still thinking about, rather.
“You’re a mage, obviously,” I hummed. “You don’t happen to know any necromancers that are… well…”
“Not murderers?” he supplied. “Just one, actually. Necromancers tend to be a bit shifty. Comes with the territory. Why’re you asking?”
“I… No offense, but while I am starting to trust you, I don’t think I trust you that much yet.”
“Well… that’s fair. But if you need a necromancer’s help for something, you’re going to have to tell me what for eventually. I’m the only one I know that isn’t entirely on Baem Gunin’s side.”
“You’re the necromancer.”
“It’s a family trade. Also not my choice,” he shrugged.
“All things considered, I guess that makes me pretty lucky then after all,” I scoffed.
“If you want to look at it that way. I-”
He was cut off by the sound of church bells chiming, which I realized a moment later was his ringtone. He glanced at the caller-id and answered the phone with an annoyed huff, not waiting for a greeting before questioning the caller.
“What do you want?”
“No, I’m teaching this dickwad y’all dropped on me how to not be an idiot. He’s failing by the way,” he smirked towards me. “Well I can’t do both. Do you want me to travel with the shipment or teach the toddler how to walk?”
“Just bring him with you,” he repeated mockingly before hanging up and letting out a sigh. “Well… we’re going back to the factory.”
“The only reason I can get away with talking to him like that is because he has a crush on my sister.”
“I don’t have a sister, but don’t tell him that. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if the picture I showed him was even of a girl.”
“Anyways, he wants me to guard some artifact shipment, which should be right up your alley, right?”
“I guess… Are you actually being serious? About the sister thing?”
“You don’t believe me?”
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. I couldn’t seem to get a read on him at all.
“Yeah, I’m serious. He was scolding me one day about me being on the phone instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing, so I told him my sister just got broken up with and showed him a picture of some Chinese actress and he keeps asking me to hook him up. Whenever he complains, I remind him that I’m the only way he’ll ever get into her pants. It’s kind of sad, really.”
We got back to the factory just as they finished putting the second of two large, oblong boxes in the back of a shipping truck. Without much in the way of explanation, they directed us both to get in the back with them and while Luwang huffed out a complaint, I followed orders wordlessly. Two others joined us, a stout but muscular man with a buzzcut and a scar cutting into his lip and an older, wiry guy with an unsettling grin.
The second of the two introduced himself as ‘Lee, just Lee’ while the other only rolled his eyes and said nothing. Luwang introduced me before I could speak, with a mighty groan as he explained how he was ‘cursed with tutoring me’. Lee gave me a wide, unhinged smile, showing off missing teeth as his voice bubbled gleefully.
“A new mage, then. How intriguing. You seem quite young?”
“I’m… old enough.”
“A good answer,” he cackled. “And what has the liar taught you so far?”
“Uh… nothing. We just met like… an hour ago or something,” I mumbled, feeling more and more uncomfortable the longer he stared at me.
“Just ignore him. He’s certifiable.” Luwang sighed, resting his head against one of the crates.
“I may be certifiable, but you’re pathological,” he crooned.
The so-far silent other man grunted out a quick ‘shut the hell up’ towards the two of them, crossing his arms as he sat back. There were no seats of any kind in the back of the truck, so we all just sat wherever we pleased in whatever way comfortable. I kept near the now shut and probably sealed from the outside door, just in case. The truck started with a lurch and soon we were driving down the road towards what I could only assume was Busan, based on what Luwang had told me.
He stood after a few moments pacing around the truck bed and sighing repeatedly, dramatically swinging his arms around in obvious boredom. Eventually he sat back down, plopping down next to me with a huff. He leaned over and while I expected a whisper, what I received was nearly a shout.
“I’m starting to think I pissed off someone important. First, they stick me with training you, and not two hours later they’ve got me locked in here with the bat and the boulder,” he complained loudly.
“You piss everyone off, important or not,” the ‘boulder’ growled. “If you weren’t a fucking mage, you’d be paste on the pavement.”
“If that’s true, then why are you still here, I wonder?” Luwang sniped back.
“Why, indeed, are any of us here?” Lee chimed in philosophically.
“Here’s the thing,” Luwang started, now speaking directly to me, “Beomsoo is in charge, right? Like, obviously King Snake’s on top- you know who that is, right? But anyways, in the Korean district, Beomsoo is in charge of like… everybody. He assigns everybody to what they’re doing, except if they’re mages he sends them on to Lukas- at least to start. Lukas kinda… well, you know. Sizes you up and sends you to train if you’re… well, you, and then once you’re not so useless, Beomsoo takes over and tells you what to do. I’m thinking maybe he’s getting tired of my bullshit or otherwise he found out about my sister, so now he’s fucking me over, right? I mean… the boulder has no brains and the bat is bat-shit crazy. Not to mention I doubt whatever’s in those crates really needs this much guarding, you know?”
“I mean four people? That’s excessive, innit? Especially two mages. Well… One and a half. They never used to bother with all this shit before either. Then in August some job got interrupted by those Bohoja bitches and they doubled up on everything. Still I really feel like there’s no sense in us being here, you feel me?”
“What… What happened in August?” I asked, throat tight.
“Someone got sloppy, but he was oh-so-certain he’d taken care of the problem. Then, they go to the museum to take this artifact. They sent like, half a dozen people and only two of them come back. They got the artifact though, and I guess they took out a couple of the bastards that were there. He was so proud, saying he killed the two mages there. Never found out what happened to the other four guys of ours. Then, like a month and a half- maybe a little longer- he and the other idiot who did make it back get arrested. Talk about a hack job. Now the artifact they stole is practically unusable because they fucked up so bad that there’re too many eyes on it.”
“They managed to kill both of the Bo- Bohocha? guys, though?”
“Bangtan Bohoja. Yeah, no. There were more than two people there I think, but at least two mages, and both of them were killed. A girl and a guy who’d both caused their fair share of troubles for us. Good riddance, you ask me.”
“Is that what’s in those crates?”
“Nah. They got rid of that a while ago. I thought they were gonna use it ‘round here but with the catastrophe they sent that thing to Egypt or something. I dunno. I wasn’t involved in that mess.”
“Too bad. Maybe we would’ve been rid of you,” the boulder grunted from his corner.
Luwang smirked at me, but I wasn’t sure. Did he know what information he’d just given me? Did he know I was one of the supposedly ‘dead’ mages? Or did he just figure I knew them? Either way, he was already helping me. What I was looking for wasn’t in Korea. I had to find out where it was, and how to get there.
More importantly, I could trust Luwang. That itself was help.
It was an accident. I was helping Luwang ‘reorganize’ some of the artifact storage, his way of giving an excuse to help me look for what I was searching for, just to ensure it wasn’t still in Seoul after all. He played it off as some form of training and no one asked questions.
Most of the searching was boring, sorting through unlabeled crates and pretending I had any idea what I was doing when it was clear I wouldn’t find anything. I thought absentmindedly to myself that Angel would be having the time of her life, sorting through artifacts of varying ability. Some of them weren’t even magical, at least not anymore. Over time, their magic had faded into nothing.
Then, I cracked open a wooden crate expecting to find more dusty nonsense and instead found… a suitcase. A modern one, made of blue, waterproof fabric with a chipped wheel and an address tag with no name or address, just a phone number. I froze, because I recognized the suitcase. I remembered how the wheel chipped and I knew why it was there. It was Yoongi’s.
I could feel myself choking around the sorrow I’d been forcing down since he died. Finding his belongings was a bitter reminder of who killed him. Asp had taken him from the airport when I failed to show up. I knew that much already. I hadn’t wanted to think about it.
I didn’t hear him approach, so when Luwang’s hand landed on my shoulder, I jerked away by instinct, feeling like I was caught doing something I shouldn’t. He gave me a curious look, leaning in before whispering.
“If you react like that, someone will figure out you’re actually looking for something,” he scolded. “Did you find it?”
“No, I… found something else,” I sighed. The suitcase wasn’t zipped closed, and I could tell by the bits of fabric peeking out that it’d already been rummaged through. “I mean, I was just surprised, right? It doesn’t look like an artifact. What kind of artifact would a suitcase be, you know?”
I cleared my throat nervously, knowing even as I said it that the excuse sounded like bullshit. It was obvious that he didn’t believe me either, squatting next to me with his lips drawn in a tight line.
“It’s not an artifact. It’s a trophy,” he stated grimly. “Someone you knew?”
His question was a whisper but I looked around anyway. There was no one that could hear us. Still, I didn’t trust that it would remain that way.
“You think we could get lunch? I’m starving,” I asked loudly, maybe too loud to be natural. He knew the question’s intent.
“Sure. I know this good sandwich place. You paying?”
“I knew him,” I revealed, only after we’d sat down with our food. “The owner of the suitcase.”
“Figured. He was one of you guys. They called him a bunch of names. Demon Fox, Silver Arrow, shit like that. He’s killed so many of us, people actually celebrated when word got around… Were you close?”
I couldn’t answer. I stared down at my sandwich with soggy bread and too much lettuce, not enough meat. I wasn’t actually hungry. I took a bite. It tasted about what you’d expect for 5,000 won. He seemed to know without me saying anything. We were close. We were closer than he’d probably guess.
“I’d ask if he was the friend that got killed by the artifact you’re looking for… but everyone knows the boss did him in, so…”
“No. Her name was Mira… She wasn’t killed by the artifact per se. That guy, Namseok, he shot her with it… then he just shot her. I was the other mage he thought he killed.”
“Oh. That… I did not know. Shit. That’s… even worse. Damn, when I was telling that story, I didn’t think- Ah… damn.”
“You weren’t involved, so you don’t have to apologize. Demon Fox… Yoongi… was my soul-link,” I admitted, taking another bite of lackluster turkey and cheddar.
“Yoongi. So that’s his real name, huh? Everyone treated him like a myth… or a ghost story. Sometimes I forget he was a real person. You two were really close then… Soul-linked. Sorry.”
I glanced up at him. He seemed genuine. It was always hard to tell when Luwang was joking or being serious, but right now it was clear. His eyes said as much. They didn’t meet mine. His hand absently massaged where his prosthetic connected with his shoulder, something he seemed to do whenever he was thinking of something to say. I’d known him for a little over a month now and still hadn’t told him about Galiena, or Galiena about him. Yet…
“The whole reason I’m here… is because I want to bring him back,” I muttered, watching closely for his reaction.
His hand froze and his eyes flicked up, reading my face as if to judge if I was being serious. After a moment, his brows furrowed, mentally questioning if I genuinely thought such a thing was possible. Then, his expression cleared, morphing back to its usual, easy-going grin, though the concern in his eyes remained.
“So… the reason you need a necromancer…”
“Well… wasn’t expecting that,” he smirked, though it seemed more like a grimace. “You know, ghouls keep the person’s intelligence but the- the actual person- the soul, you know? It’s gone. So-”
“I know. I’m not trying to raise a ghoul. I could do that by myself, probably.”
“So, then, what?”
“I found a resurrection spell. Real resurrection. There are some ingredients I need to find, and I can’t cast it by myself. I need a necromancer, and a life mage. The one I know… he’s not exactly approving of this idea.”
“You’re… not joking,” he mumbled, surprised. “You’re not kidding? You actually know of a spell like that?”
“I do. I’m going to bring him back… and I’d appreciate your help. If you’re really against Baem Gunin, seems like bringing back one of their legendary enemies would be good for you too, right?”
“Hey, you ain’t gotta convince me,” he muttered, putting his hands up in surrender. “If I can help, I will, if for no other reason than to see if this spell you got is legit.”
When we returned to the warehouse, I didn’t go back to that crate with his suitcase inside. A trophy, Luwang called it. They were happy Yoongi was dead, celebrating. I knew as much already. Galiena had told me, and even if she hadn’t… I couldn’t look at that crate, knowing his stuff was there. I just couldn’t. I moved on to a crate of potions, pretending I’d never seen it.
I used one of the sheets of the notebook given to me for cataloging and jotted down the resurrection spell from memory; the ingredients, the incantation, all of it. I slipped the paper to Luwang before I left. In the back of my head, I knew it wasn’t the smartest move, trusting him so easily.
After a month, he’d never let it slip that he knew me as anything other than Lee Junhwan, new recruit and useless mage. We’d barely even talked about it aside from that first conversation. Maybe he was playing me, trying to get proof, and maybe the spell I was passing him would help him with just that, but… but I trusted him. Even I didn’t fully know why.
It was ten at night, and Galiena was out, when I heard a knock on our door. I hesitated to answer, trying to peek through the side window without being obvious. After a minute, I heard Luwang’s voice call my name, my false name through the door. I opened it just a crack and he let himself in, immediately plopping down on the couch as if he owned the place. I slowly shut the door behind him, peeking out cautiously.
“Sorry, I remembered you were stayin’ here from that one time I dropped you off. This place is pretty barren. How much is rent?”
“I don’t know. I’m not paying for it,” I muttered, still confused. He looked back over his shoulder before nodding his head.
“You stay here alone, I assume.”
“No, but we’re alone right now. Why are you here?”
“Ah… I looked through your friend’s suitcase. Didn’t want to make you do it, but…” He sat forward, pulling something out of his back pocket. They looked like landscape photographs at first, until he flipped them around and I saw writing. They were postcards. “They’re addressed to you. Whoever looked through his stuff the first time probably thought nothing of them, so… I thought maybe you’d want them.”
“Postcards…” I murmured. How long had it been since I’d suggested that to him? He’d travelled places since, but he’d never…
I let out a wry laugh as I gently took the cards from him. I didn’t read the words written on them, only glanced at the pictures on the back. He’d most recently gone to Angola, and there was a card from there, but most of them were from other places he’d gone to. There were ten of them in total, all but the last one had messages written on them, and dates. I’d suggested the postcards, but I never thought he’d actually get them.
“Yeah… no problem,” he hummed. I met his eyes but he looked away, rubbing the back of his neck. “Listen… I don’t know what you’re going through. I’ve never loved anyone, let alone had that person be murdered… but I just… Y’know, if you ever wanted to talk about it, I’m a good listener. Especially being that you’re working among people that are… Well, you know.”
“I’m okay. It’s temporary,” I muttered.
“About that… I read through that spell you gave me.” He scratched at the stubble on his chin, picking his words carefully. “I assume you’d be the ah- main caster.”
“You assume right.”
“So, if this spell of yours doesn’t work…”
“I’ll die.” I stated bluntly. I’d expected this to come up at some point.
“Huh… so I wasn’t mistaken then,” he mumbled. “You’re really willing to go that far?”
“So… that brings up another question I had. It’s pretty conceivable that you’d have his body on ice, but his soul? Normally that’s something you have to get while the person is still alive, and most people aren’t very willing to give that kind of thing up.”
“We’re soul linked. I haven’t figured out how to contain that bit of him in the jar needed but… I’ll figure it out.”
“Uh huh. Right. So, theoretically, you have a fragment of his soul still bound to yours?”
“Well, that’s… useful,” he sighed. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know anything about how soul links work. I know they exist but that’s about it. I guess it would make sense for that to be there, but…”
“Even if you’re right about this soul link stuff, there are still some issues with that, aren’t there? Like, first off… it’s primarily your soul, right? So even if there’s some remnants of his soul from the link, the spell might just take from the majority, which I’m sure will not work out so great.”
“I’ve already thought of that.
“Oh, sure, of course... okay. Then you’re totally planning on dying. Cool. Pretty elaborate for a suicide but I guess it works. Never mind then,” he scoffed with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“It’s not suicide,” I growled. “I know the risks, but it’ll work. I’ve come too far for it not to.”
“Oh. Shit, okay. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the universe doesn’t really give a damn how hard you work,” he snorted. “Well, look. If you aren’t so dead set, pun intended, on killing yourself, I do have a suggestion. It’s... honestly, it’s not a very good idea, but it’s something.”
“So... there is a spell I know that could maybe possibly extract your, and by extension Yoongi’s, soul. There is just a tiny little itsy-bitsy catch though. People aren’t really meant to... survive this spell. I, uh, did some reading up on it, cause it’s been a while, and it’s pretty clear on the whole death aspect of the... well, death spell. Here’s the thing, not to toot my own horn or whatever, but I’m pretty good at magic. I think – keyword here being think – I can cast this spell and manage to only pull out some of your-and-maybe-Yoongi’s soul which would then not kill you. I’d say there’s a decent... kind of decent chance it’ll work?” he offered unconvincingly. “At the very least, I could ensure that there is a remnant of his soul there and if not I could just shove the thing back in you and you’d be fine... probably. Maybe.”
“So why do you sound so skeptical?”
“Well as confident as I am in my abilities, it’s never been done before. It’s literally a spell meant to slowly and painfully kill someone and then use their soul for nefarious things. It’s not meant to take only a piece of the soul and it’s certainly not meant to be put back. So, it’s theoretically possible... but...” he trailed off, clearing his throat. “I don’t know what kind of side effects it might cause. Souls are pretty distinct so if Yoongi’s soul is there I’d be able to see it and maybe even separate them, but even if I can do that and give you back your soul, I have no clue what that may do to you. You can choose whether or not to believe me, but it may honestly be worse than death. I have no idea.”
“But there’s a possibility it’ll work?”
“Slim chance, let’s be real.”
“Could you store his soul afterwards?”
“Huh? Well, yeah. Storing souls is easy,” he shrugged. “Okay, I know I suggested it, but you aren’t seriously considering this, are you? Did you hear what I said? It’ll either kill you or fucking do I don’t know what to you.”
“If I can bring him back, I don’t care.”
“I really feel like you should care, dude. After all, if it does kill you, that’s it. You’re done, and no one is bringing your friend back.”
“I’m aware of that, but what other option do I have?” I snapped. I stood up ruffling my hair as I paced. He was right, of course. Still… “My last words to him were telling him to screw off.”
“This whole thing is my fault. If we hadn’t been fighting maybe he would have been able to tell me he was coming home early and I would have been there to pick him up at the airport. I could have apologized and he’d still be alive.” I sat back down with a sigh.
At the time of the fight, he’d said something to me in Araras and I hadn’t understood it. I assumed he was cursing at me or scolding me and just using a language he knew I didn’t understand to mask it. Then, after everything, I’d looked it up, just to know. I had hoped he was cursing at me. Hayilumo.
“The last thing he said to me was ‘I love you’ and the last thing I said to him was ‘screw off’. It’s not fair. I can’t just accept that.”
Luwang stretched with a grunt, standing up as his arms fell back to his sides. “If you’re certain… I’ll still help. Just give me a bit of time to see if there’s not another way, and to practice if it is the only way. I’d feel like shit if I killed the only good person in this godforsaken organization.”
“I’m not,” I hummed as he turned to leave. “I’m not technically actually part of Baem Gunin, and even if I was…”
“Save it. I’m not good, just not awful. See ya.”
He waved goodbye and let himself out. Despite what he said, I felt a little less wary about trusting him. I picked up the postcards. The first one was dated in March, from Berlin. I could tell just by looking that it was Yoongi’s handwriting on the other side. His small, neat characters, always slanted slightly towards the left.
“I have a fantastic idea but I could use your help. Just go along with it,” Luwang stated as he dragged me unsurreptitiously out of the warehouse.
He let go of my collar just outside of Beomsoo’s office and marched right inside, slamming the door in my face as I attempted to follow. I blinked at the scratched wood, unsure if I was meant to enter. I leant in, glancing around cautiously to make sure no one else was around to see as I eavesdropped. It was silent at first and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to hear anything, until I heard Luwang’s voice clearly the next moment.
“That’s ridiculous,” he griped loudly. “How are you going to assign me to guard duty when I’m supposed to be training that useless kid? I can’t do both.”
“Sure ya can. There’s even that mage girl there. Make her help you,” I heard faintly.
“You want me to have a prisoner train a recruit? Do you know how dumb that sounds?”
“Its comments like that that’re getting ya sent there in the first place. She can teach ‘im some life magic.”
I stepped back and leant against the opposite wall, no longer able to hear the conversation outside of a few particularly loud protests. It wasn’t until the door swung open that I understood what Luwang wanted me there for. He looped his arm around my neck and roughly tugged me down to his height and into the office. My confusion didn’t have to be faked.
“Look at this idiot? Do you really think he’d be able to learn life magic? Let alone from some dopey kid like Lila.”
“The more you argue, the longer you’ll be assigned there. Right now, you’re looking at a month underground. Wanna make it longer?” Beomsoo huffed, crossing his arms.
I glanced over at Luwang’s annoyed expression. Was I supposed to be helping him get out of this or was he intentionally getting in trouble? I opted not to speak, instead looking between the two genuinely stumped. After a moment of total silence, Luwang let go and I was able to stand up straight.
“Fine,” he muttered, turning on his heel and marching out of the room. I scurried after him and saw a proud smile curl his lips. The door shut behind us and he let out a small laugh. “It’s almost too easy.”
“Um… What is?”
“No one wants to guard cells. It’s the most boring thing to do, plus the place is out in Yangju hidden in some caves where no one wants to be. Plus, you have to deal with prisoners and that’s a whole thing. Basically, it’s the worst thing to get assigned to… usually.”
I waited for an answer as we continued to walk. I followed him all the way to the parking lot before I realized where we were going. Finally, once we were safely inside his car and driving away, he continued his explanation.
“But, for the past three-ish years we’ve been holding a life mage hostage, seeing as we don’t really have too many medics around. Last time I checked, you need one of those for your spell. What better way to introduce the two of you without raising suspicion?”
“It’s about an hour drive away. My punishment has us staying there 24/7 for the next thirty days so… I figure we swing by your place first so you can grab some clothes?”
“Right. Sure, but…” I chewed on my lip. I wasn’t sure if Galiena would be home and she probably wouldn’t be okay with Luwang seeing her there… but if she wasn’t home she’d probably freak out if I disappeared for a month without giving her a heads up. I needed to find a better time to explain the situation to both of them but the opportunity never came.
“Worried about a roommate?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, I won’t go inside then. Just hurry up.”
Once we got to the house I quietly slipped in through the door, trying to listen to see if she was home or not. I heard nothing aside from the small steps of Nami as she skittered towards me. I picked her up, scratching her head as I carried her towards my room. I let her down on my bed and quickly threw some clothes in a bag.
I sat down, hesitantly pulling up ‘Lynn’ in my phone to call her. I still wasn’t sure how to explain things to her, that Luwang was a good guy, that he’d help us with Yoongi. Even once she’d answered, I struggled to come up with what to say.
“Hey, so… I’m gonna be in Yangju for a while. A month.”
“Yeah… Luwang got assigned guard duty and so… I did too.”
“Right,” she paused. It seemed like she was alone, at least. “Be careful with him. Especially if you’re going to be alone with him.”
“It’s- It’s fine. I’ve been more or less alone with him for a while now, right?”
“Just don’t get complacent. That’s how you get caught.”
“Right. I’ll… I’ll be extra careful,” I sighed.
“Good. Call me when you get a moment alone to check in, understood?”
“Yeah… of course.”
The call ended and I stared at the screen for an extra second. I needed to tell her, but it was more of a conversation that needed to happen face to face… and I hadn’t seen her much at all. They’d had her working on something in Busan and I was here ‘training’ with Luwang. She came back sometimes, but not often long enough for us to talk.
I gave Nami an apologetic pat on the head before standing up and grabbing my bag to go outside. I felt bad, always leaving her alone, but I couldn’t exactly bring her with me all the time.
I spent most of the hour-long drive staring out the window and pretending I wasn’t nervous. Even if I trusted Luwang, a month alone with him in a cave wasn’t exactly the most appealing idea. Meeting a life mage who was currently imprisoned there didn’t seem great either. I had to remind myself that the things that would get them imprisoned by Baem Gunin weren’t the same as what would get them imprisoned by Bangtan Bohoja.
Luwang parked his car off of the road, mostly hidden by half-dead bushes. We had to walk around to the cave, which was unexpectedly small. I had to duck through the entrance and it only went back some ten or so meters. Before I had the chance to question it, Luwang ordered me to pay attention as he tapped a sequence of subtle grooves on the back wall.
The cave rumbled as the wall slid back and away like a door, revealing a much larger, much less cave-like interior. The stone walls were smooth and arched upward, five meters high at the tallest point. I let out an impressed whistle as we entered the hall and the stone wall slid closed behind us.
There was a small room immediately to our right with a single uncomfortable looking bed and a worn desk. Luwang tossed his duffel bag of clothes into the corner and waited for me to do the same before continuing down the hall. He quickly pointed out the small ‘office’ which really was just three file cabinets filled with poorly organized papers and an empty bookshelf. He showed me the small filthy kitchen and even smaller, filthier bathroom before waving me to follow him down a dimly lit staircase.
There was an overwhelmingly dank smell the farther down we got and a chill ran down my spine. At the base of the stairs there was another desk and chair, this time occupied by a half-asleep man smoking a cigarette as he leant back with his feet propped up on the desk. He had sunken eyes and a patchy beard and snorted as he noticed us. He quickly straightened, his feet slamming loudly against the floor as he sat up. A second later, he started to slump as he evidently recognized Luwang.
“What’d you do to get sent here?” he slurred, kicking his feet back up.
“I asked nicely,” Luwang whistled back. “I like the privacy when I’m fucking your mom. Get the fuck outta here.”
He scoffed as he stood, flicking his cigarette into the corner and flipping Luwang off as he meandered up the stairs. I didn’t bother to ask about his antagonistic attitude with literally anyone else we’d encountered. That I could remember, I was the only one he’d shown any sort of amiability with.
After hearing the clank of the top door closing, Luwang snatched the key hanging from a hook on the wall and unlocked the rusted metal door in front of us. It whined as it slowly swung open and revealed the barred walls of its interior. The cell closest to the door was smaller than the rest and held nothing but a skeleton hanging from shackles bolted to the wall. Even from a distance, you could tell it was a plastic prop, rather than genuine human bones. Luwang chuckled, noticing my staring.
“Someone thought it’d be funny. No one’s bothered to move it.”
“Weird sense of humor.”
“Weird place,” he countered.
Most of the cells were empty. There were only two occupants. The first of which was a frail looking elderly man. He muttered to himself quietly as he rocked in the corner like an asylum patient. I could only hear a couple words here and there. ‘Find… Jewel… Think… Never… Killed…’ I gave Luwang a curious look but he shook his head. I noticed he gave that cell a wide berth and followed suit.
The other occupant was in the farthest back cell. She looked young, though it was hard to see her face. She had a mane of tightly curled hair falling over her shoulders and covering her eyes. She sat against the wall, close enough to the bars that she could probably reach through them easily. She didn’t acknowledge us as we stepped nearer, at least not until Luwang spoke up.
“Hey peanut,” he greeted fondly.
She immediately perked up. She had a soft, clearly young face. She wasn’t a child, but certainly not an adult. Her almond shaped eyes gleamed and her chapped lips curled into a grin as she stood excitedly.
“Quiang! You’re back!”
“Sure thing. I told you I wouldn’t be long.” He unlocked her door, only glancing over his shoulder for a moment. “This is Jungkook. He’s good.”
She pushed her hair out of her face and it immediately fell back into her eyes. She came out of the cell and offered me her hand to shake. I took it hesitantly and mumbled out a ‘nice to meet you’.
“I’m Jalila,” she introduced. “Its an honor to meet you, Mr, Jungkook.”
“Uh, yeah. You too… Jalila?”
She had dark skin, though I imagined she currently looked paler than she normally would. She definitely wasn’t Korean, though she spoke it naturally. It made me wonder what she was doing here. She was a black teenager sitting in a Korean cell, captured by Baem Gunin.
“My mom is Korean,” she mentioned, answering a question I hadn’t asked. She probably caught my confused look. “My dad is South African, to answer the other side of that question.”
“I… wasn’t wondering.”
“Yes you were.”
“Jalila Jung-Nkosi,” Luwang spoke up, providing her full name. “She’s our life mage. A very proficient one too, considering her age.”
“You didn’t tell me she was a kid,” I mumbled.
“Does it matter?” he scoffed, starting to walk back towards the stairs.
“I guess not.”
The three of us went back upstairs, where it was a bit warmer and smelled… less like mold. The man we’d replaced had already left and we sat together in the kitchen while Luwang started cooking something with a lot of eggs. Without my prompting, Jalila explained to me how she’d ended up here of all places.
She lived in Johannesburg but had come to Ilsan with her mom to take care of her sick grandmother. She was grabbed at the airport when they were going back home and was brought here something like 3 and a half years ago. She was sixteen, so not a kid, thank you very much. Quiang was the only person who treated her nicely and actually fed her well, so she was glad I was a good person too.
I sat dumbly as I listened to the whole thing. She’d been underground for three years and yet she still seemed… cheerful. I couldn’t imagine it. She didn’t seem scared or worn down. There was an unquestionable vibrance about her that I couldn’t explain. Luwang set down an omelet in front of her and gave me a small smile.
“Jungkook is a member of Bangtan Bohoja. He’s undercover though.”
“So, I figure he could help you out of here… Not right away, but once he’s finished with what he’s doing…”
He trailed off. He was right, of course. It seemed like the main security of this place was the fact that no one knew about it. Luwang couldn’t let her free without getting in trouble, but once my job with Baem Gunin was done, I definitely could. Better yet-
“Though he might ask for your help with something first,” he hummed. “His boyfriend died, and apparently he knows a way to bring him back.”
I wanted to protest Luwang’s blabbermouth but didn’t get the chance as Jalila rapidly stood and grabbed both of my hands. Her eyes sparkled as she looked at me. I froze as she cooed quietly.
“That’s so sweet. But you know that’s impossible, right?”
“That’s what people keep telling me,” I coughed.
“He found a way though. I can’t be certain of course, but the spell seems legit. At least, its enough of a pain in the ass that I’m willing to believe it.”
“I don’t remember telling you he was my boyfriend, by the way,” I muttered, facing Luwang again. “I called him my soul-link.”
“I maybe read the postcards before giving them to you. Big deal. I don’t give a fuck about you being gay, if that’s the issue.”
“Anyways, he needs a life mage to help him cast it. A death mage too, which is why he told me about it. I figure he finishes his job with Baem, gets you out of here, we cast this spell in return, and you can get your happy ass back home.”
“I’ll help if I can, but I’ve never heard of any sort of resurrection spell that actually works.”
“No one has,” I sighed. Luwang had already told her everything I would have hoped to keep to myself for the time being, so there was no point in not telling her. “I found it in an old spell book. Most of the spells are centuries old and long forgotten. Barely anyone’s heard of requipping either, but that was Yoongi’s favorite spell. It came from the same book.”
“So it’s settled,” Luwang grinned, clapping his hands together. “Now if you’ll excuse us, peanut, I actually need to have a private chat with him about my part in said spell.”
He grabbed my arm and dragged me out of the room, leading me not-so-gently into the ‘bedroom’. He dug through his bag briefly before plopping down on the creaking bed with a small book in his hand. When he opened it up, I could tell it was a notebook of some sort.
“So, as I said… I’ve done some research,” he muttered, flipping through the pages. “I think- keyword think- I can modify a soul-rend spell into more of a… soul-borrow spell. Again, no guarantees… but, you know, I’ve been researching some other things too…”
“I looked up a bit about soul-links. Most of the documentation I’ve found says that-”
“A soul link is severed when one of them dies. I know.”
“Right… so your theory about his fragment or whatever being there…”
“I know,” I huffed. “I can’t explain it, but I just… We’re different.”
“We’re different,” I insisted. “I- Do you want to know how I even found this spell? I was about to give up hope and then… Then I had a dream. This little girl led me straight to it. I woke up and checked the book and it was right there, bookmarked. So, I know what the odds are and the risks and that any reasonable person would think this is doomed to fail… but we’re different.”
“A… little girl?”
“I mean, think about it. What are the odds that I’d find the one necromancer who’d be willing to help me with this? And you happen to know a life mage who could also help? What about the fact that Galiena-”
I stopped short before I said any more. He didn’t know about Galiena and now still wasn’t a good time to explain the situation. Luckily, he didn’t seem to notice. His brows were furrowed as he stared at the floor. He was thinking about something else, clearly. He’d tuned me out.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure. Fate. Of course…” he mumbled. “Say… the girl you dreamed about… what’d she look like?”
“Uh… just… no- never mind. It’s nothing.” He shook his head, getting rid of the thought. “Later, anyways.”
Over the next month, I got to know Jalila fairly well. She had an infectious cheerfulness that I learned to appreciate. Whenever she started to get depressed about her situation, she told me she’d remind herself that it was temporary. She had a lot of time virtually to herself and it gave her plenty of time to practice magic or dancing or whatever else she felt like doing at the moment. It was admirable.
I also learned about Luwang, whenever he was out of earshot and Jalila felt talkative. She told me how he’d started getting sent here on purpose once she’d arrived, letting her out of the cell and feeding her better food whenever he could. He’d promised to get her back to her parents as soon as he figured out how, and he apparently contacted them on a semi-regular basis to let them know she was still as well as she could be.
It told me a lot more than Jalila probably knew, almost like a secondary assurance that, even with him telling me otherwise, Luwang was a good person despite it all. When the month ended, I felt guilty locking Jalila back up, and it was clear Luwang felt the same.
Our replacement was a mousy-looking woman who didn’t speak to either of us, though she did spend some time staring pointedly at Luwang. He urged me to ignore her, refusing to make eye-contact with her. I didn’t question it.
The drive home was silent and somber. Luwang tapped his fingers against the steering wheel irritatedly and I opted not to acknowledge it. Forty minutes passed before either of us spoke at all.
“I don’t get it,” I mumbled, directing the thought more towards the slightly-fogged window. “What are you doing? Why are you a part of this group you so clearly hate?”
“I told you. I don’t have a choice,” he grumbled.
“Why not? You could just like, break Jalila out of there, take her home and fuck off to wherever. You’re not a hostage.”
He let out a bitter laugh. He pulled over, apparently deeming this to be a more serious conversation than he could hold while driving. The vehicle slowed to a stop as he took a moment. Minutes passed before he turned halfway to look at me. He leant against the wheel tiredly and I caught the sadness in his eyes.
“Worse. I’m family,” he sighed. “My dad is… he’s close with the king.”
“I told you, didn’t I? Necromancy is the family business. I never wanted any of this shit but if I try anything… Who knows… Maybe he’d take my other arm this time.”
He didn’t make eye contact as he said it. He let out a somber sigh and the silence held in the air as I connected the dots. It was fair enough if he’d lied. We’d only just met at the time. Still, it made me wonder.
“I thought you lost your arm to a basilisk.”
“Yeah, unless you ask Beomsoo, in which case I lost it trying to clone myself. I told the bat I lost it juggling chainsaws. Irene thinks a shark bit it off and I’m pretty sure I told Yonghwan the whole spiel of how Edward lost his arm in Full Metal Alchemist,” he scoffed. “I’ve told a hundred different people a hundred different stories, but the truth is… The truth is I was a pissed off twelve-year-old who missed my grandma and the village I grew up in. My dad came out of nowhere and dragged me out of my home to stay with him in Beijing and learn necromancy and I didn’t want any of it.”
He paused and I waited. He closed his eyes and turned his head, hiding his face in the crook of his propped-up arm. This was the first time I’d seen him without any of the cocky bravado he always seemed to wear. Even throughout the whole month where it was just us and Jalila, his act had never dropped.
“Disobedience left me stranded on a mountain in December to find my own way home. I lost my arm to hypothermia and a bad wound. That’s not quite as exciting as a basilisk or whatever else I tell people.”
“Have you… Have you considered joining Bangtan Bohoja? I’m sure they’d be willing to protect you from him. Hell, you could probably get him jailed,” I suggested quietly.
“I’d considered it, once. Didn’t work out. They probably thought I was, ironically, trying to do exactly what you’re doing, just for the opposite side.”
“Well… I can talk to someone. I’m sure- I could talk to Galiena and- Ah, she’s-” I stumbled over my words, struggling with how to frame my explanation. I stopped and took a breath, straightening out my thoughts. “Lynn. She’s with Bangtan Bohoja too. I’d meant to explain everything to the both of you but the opportunity never came up. She’s helping me with Yoongi too. The resurrection spell.”
“Oh. Well. That is actually a genuine surprise,” he hummed.
“I can tell her your situation. She’s got a hell of a lot more pull with my boss than I do, and… Well, right now she doesn’t trust you, but if I explain things to her…”
“I appreciate the thought but…”
“Just trust me. If anyone can convince Henna you’re a good guy, it's her. And if anyone can convince Gally… well… it’d be Yoongi, but I get at least third place.”
“Right, well… Thanks, anyways. I’ll hope you forgive me if I don’t hold my breath,” he mumbled, scratching his head.
The house was empty when we got back and I took the moment to figure out how the hell I was going to explain things to Gally. I knew I should have told her ages ago about Luwang, but even now that I had resolved to do so, I wasn’t sure how. I couldn’t exactly blame her for being cautious. Trusting anyone that was a part of Baem Gunin was a recipe for disaster, but Luwang was different, and I knew that. Getting someone else to understand it though…
I heard the click of the front door as Galiena came in. I hesitated to leave my room and confront her. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy conversation, and procrastinating wouldn’t help anything. I slipped out as quietly as I could manage, but still she noticed me. She greeted me with a calm ‘you’re back’ as she slipped off her jacket. I whistled out a breath, preparing to rip off the band-aid and tell her, but she beat me to it.
“It’s a good thing the timing worked out. Your mark should be starting to fade now, right?”
“I worried a bit when you said you’d be gone for a month. If your insignia faded halfway through and that guy noticed…”
I glanced at my arm. The burn mark was still there, but she was right in that it was fading. We’d had to redo it twice now already and I dreaded having to do it again, but I knew it was necessary. If I were with anyone other than Luwang for the past month, I might have thought to worry about it fading as well.
“About that…” I started, trying to pick my words carefully. “I need to tell you about Luwang.”
I paused, waiting for some kind of knee-jerk reaction… but Galiena didn’t really have one. She waited patiently for whatever it was I was going to say. I swallowed the lump in my throat. All I had to do was say it, so why was I struggling to speak?
“We can… He’s… I mean…” I bit my tongue for a moment before taking a deep breath and starting over. “We can trust him. And before you argue with me, I’m not an idiot okay? I know exactly what kind of people these are but he’s not one of them.”
“What exactly makes you think he’s not?”
“He knew who I was from day one and he hasn’t said anything. He recognized me, and he’s been trying to help me with… um…”
I trailed off as I noticed her expression. She’d narrowed her eyes at me and while she didn’t exactly look angry, it still gave me pause. She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. When she looked up again, she seemed calmer.
“I wouldn’t have allowed you to go undercover if I thought you were an idiot,” she stated simply. “That being said, what all does Luwang know about you? How did he recognize you, and how long have you known?”
“Well… we fought once. He was the only one on Baem Gunin’s side who made it out of that fight and… but shortly after you introduced me to him, he insisted on me going with him alone. When we were off the property, he told me he knew I was with Bangtan and that he wasn’t really… But, look, I didn’t trust him right away either. I didn’t tell him anything right away.”
“Anyways, the whole reason he’s a part of Baem Gunin is his father. He doesn’t want to be but he doesn’t think he has a choice. He said he even tried turning to Bangtan but… well, they didn’t believe he was genuine.”
“And you do?”
I took the time to explain everything. Everything Jalila had told me about him, everything he’d told me himself. In the end, I even told her that he agreed to help with reviving Yoongi, had introduced me to Jalila so she could possibly help as well. She stayed silent through the entire explanation, her face revealing absolutely nothing. By the time I’d finished talking, I was still just as worried as when I’d started.
“I should send you home,” she groaned, pressing her thumbs against her temples. “The fact that you were recognized alone…”
“If you’re right about Luwang, then you’re extremely lucky. If you’re wrong… then it’s already too late. Under any other circumstance, I’d send you straight home and tell Henna…”
She shook her head. There was clearly a lot more to what she was saying. I knew already that Galiena knew a lot more than I did, even just in the context of this specific job. While my job was to find the artifact, I suspected there was much more that she was doing besides training and keeping an eye on me. That became even clearer as she let out a sigh, looking away for a moment before speaking again.
“If it were anyone else… but luckily, you are right. We’re… aware of Luwang’s situation. Skeptical, of course, seeing as we didn’t have any evidence of his actions either way.”
“You said it yourself. He asked for Bangtan’s assistance and it was denied. It was shortly after Aspen’s betrayal and they couldn’t take the risk. When Lukas assigned you to training with him, I looked a bit deeper into it. Believe me when I say that’s the only reason I’m allowing this job to continue, though I’m still not exactly happy with it. I know you’re not an idiot but trusting him, no matter what he may have said to convince you, is ridiculously risky.”
“I… I know that. I was cautious about it, I promise.”
“I hope I don’t have to remind you how serious this is.”
“You’re not the only one at risk if someone finds out what we’re doing here, you know.”
“Have you made any progress on your actual job? Or are you just wasting time with -”
“I’ve narrowed down where it might be. They’ve been moving it around. It’s not like I want to keep doing this shit forever,” I scoffed.
“Fine. Good. The sooner this is over, the better.”
“I know that.”
I did know. Luwang had helped more than I wanted to admit. He had an aptness for skirting around regulations and disguising intentions. Thanks to him, I knew what I was looking for was somewhere in Eastern Europe. I hadn’t been able to find exactly where yet, nor how to get to it, but it was progress.
Still, I knew progress was too slow. I needed to work faster, and I didn’t need Galiena to tell me. It was already April…
I just want to thank those of you who still stick around even though it takes me so long to update. I'm not entirely satisfied with this chapter, but there have to be a couple of bridging chapters before I can get to some of the better stuff. Sorry and thanks again.
WorldAnvil is where I keep all my info on characters, spells, etc. I'm still adding to it so check it out if you want. You can also find me on Tumblr or Twitter. You can find links to kofi or curiouscat there if you wanted to ask me questions either about myself or the story :)