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Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo

Chapter Text

Seongnam

Jeon Heejin remembered it was pouring hard that day as she scoured the wall of the dilapidated building at the edge of town, rain beating hard on her waterproof gear suit. She was not fond of height, and she was sure that the height she had climbed so far would ensure certain death had her hand slipped. The downpour did not help much but made it worse, as her visibility was impaired, despite the rune enhancements traced by her parabatai earlier. Speaking of parabatai, Kim Hyunjin was crouching on top of the roof, smirking as Heejin’s short legs struggled to mount the last brick.

“You’re slow, Jeon.”

Heejin glared as Hyunjin rose up gracefully, the rain seemingly had done no effect on her physically and mentally. The taller girl twirled her seraph blade carelessly between her fingers, and part of Heejin’s humorless side hoped that the blade cut her in more than one convenient place. Hyunjin seemed to notice Heejin’s menacing thoughts as she looked back and twirled harder in front of Heejin’s face, earning a rightful smack on the shoulder.

“Ouch that hurts,” Hyunjin feigned the pain as Heejin rolled her eyes for the nth time that day. “Considering that you probably had inappropriate thoughts of hurting me, I, Kim Hyunjin, was in no way guilty and deserving of such uncompassionate gestures from my beloved parabatai.”

Hyunjin had come so close that Heejin could smell the faint perfume Hyunjin had worn. It smelled of lavender; very Hyunjin-esque. Heejin felt her face heating up as Hyunjin moved away, grateful that the cloak of darkness masked away her very obvious feelings towards her parabatai. And it was forbidden, Heejin knew. Nobody was supposed to fall in love with one’s own parabatai, as the consequences transcended even death itself. She had read stories of how Shadowhunters who were bound together as life-long parabatai fell into the trap called ‘love’, and only destruction followed their paths afterwards. No happy endings, just desperations and regrets that plagued the rest of their lives as they were stripped away from the happy endings that they desired and deserved.

Heejin shuddered at the sudden memories that resurfaced. She turned her face upwards and let the water droplets wet her face, in hopes to clear her thoughts. She reminded herself that she was on a mission, and that she needed to focus. Although it was a relatively low-risk mission, she still needed to be on high-alert, as she wanted to prove to the older Shadowhunters at the institute that she and Hyunjin alone could take care of the small fries – and maybe some medium fries as well.

Her inner thoughts were broken by a loud clang. She gripped her naginata strapped to her back and spun immediately, fingers closing in on the cool handle just to find Hyunjin grimacing at the rusty lock she had just broken.

“Stupid lock. This is why you’re stationed here under your very enemy,” Hyunjin muttered as she kicked the poor lock aside.

“Hyunjin, focus.”

“Yes ma’am.”

The institute had received an anonymous tip that a warlock was performing an illegal ritual at the basement, so the institute head had tasked both Heejin and Hyunjin to investigate. If it was not dangerous, meddle in. If it was, call for back-up.

Hyunjin pushed the grating door open and they both winced at the loud sound it made while the darkness within seemed to plunge into the abyss. Heejin gulped and could not help being nervous. After all, it was hers and Hyunjin’s first solo mission, and as if the rain was not depressing enough, the darkness seemed to mock them.

“Let’s go. The faster we check and clean up, the faster we can go back,” Hyunjin appeared beside Heejin, patting her back softly. “And the faster we go back, the faster I can eat.”

The sappiness Heejin was feeling from the rare assurance given by the younger girl vanished at the mention of food. “Of course food is all you can think about.”

Hyunjin shrugged. “Honestly it’s the only thing that keeps me going. This job is so overrated.”

“We’re Shadowhunters. We’re supposed to do this.”

“And that’s why I say this job is not worth my time.”

With that Hyunjin went inside and leapt through the railing, not bothering to use the stairs at all. Heejin shook her head at her partner’s nonchalance and wished she had an ounce of Hyunjin’s food-driven confidence. From her back pocket, she withdrew her witchlight and gripped it tighter. In response, light shone from the enchanted stone and brightened her surroundings, although there was not much to see.

The stairwell ran about 20 storeys down and Heejin treaded carefully. The building had been abandoned for quite some time; the thick dust layer evident of the lack of human presence. Dust coated every available surface, but through her enhanced vision Heejin could see that the volume decreased as she went down. Finally, she found what she was looking for. A double door seemed to rise out of the darkness in front of her, and the dust markings on the floor indicated that the doors have been move fairly often recently.

Hyunjin sat cross-legged on the floor, having arrived some time ago as she basically free-fell to the basement, paying no attention to the dust cushion underneath. Upon closer inspection, she was doodling very unflattering portraits of what looked like a bunch of Heejins with the sharp tip of her seraph blade (blessed be the Angels). Heejin scrunched her nose in half-pity and half-embarrassment at the lack of art skills Hyunjin possessed.

Hyunjin looked up and beckoned Heejin to come closer. “Look at my masterpieces! Especially the last one, it looks like you right? As they say, practice makes perfect!”

Heejin raised her eyebrow at the crooked drawings that looked more subhuman the more she stared. “That’s a 3…”

“Out of 5?” Hyunjin’s eyes twinkled in anticipation.

“…out of 10.”

She could see the younger girl’s shoulders dropped as she pouted, which was honestly super cute in other occasion, but not today. Dragging the whining girl up with one hand (which was honestly a chore because Hyunjin was physically bigger than Heejin), Heejin pulled at the door handle. It did not budge, as expected. Hyunjin then mouthed an ‘I’ll do it’ and retrieved her stele before drawing an intricate rune to unlock the door. Despite her obvious subpar doodling skills, Heejin could not help but be amazed at her rune-drawing skills. The expertise and ease Hyunjin exhibited when using the stele was in contrast to the lump of dust-chicken she drew on the floor, and Heejin was grateful for that. At least her skin was adorned with beautiful runes and not chicken-human hybrids whenever Hyunjin runed her.

Hyunjin’s gaze flickered at her as both of them held each of the door handle. “Ready?”

Heejin nodded and they pushed the door open at the same time. And the sight that greeted them was exactly what Heejin had expected.

A warlock with three tails was standing over a completed pentagram and conversing his thick book while 4 other Downworlders stood watch around the circle. The ensemble looked up at the interruption to find 2 young Shadowhunters looking back at them. Heejin bit the inside of the mouth as she signaled to Hyunjin, who just nodded in silence.

“I’ll take the warlock and you—”

Before Heejin could finish giving instructions, chaos erupted. The warlock had chanted louder and faster while the other Downworlders lunged at them. 3 vampires and 1 werewolf, Heejin noted.

“Hyunjin!”

“Got it!” Hyunjin screamed back as she jumped towards the werewolf with her broadsword brandished out. The clang of the sword and the werewolf’s claws was deafening in the enclosed space, but Heejin had other things to worry about. The three vampires were now encircling her, their bleach-white teeth gnashing at the air as they sized her up.

Heejin smirked as she withdrew her naginata from the strap behind her back. Spinning the gleaming long spear around, she gave the vampires a deviant look before wiggling her middle finger towards the closest one. Taking advantage of the vampires’ enhanced hearing, she mouthed come and get me before jumping upwards.

The vampires, definitely more enraged compared to earlier, chased after her, teeth and claws bared. While she was not physically strong like Hyunjin, who seemed to convert all her calories to brute strength, Heejin prided herself in her speed and agility. She landed on the second-floor railing within seconds, and after making sure her center of gravity was secure, she held her naginata in front of her, awaiting confrontation.

Everything was a blur afterwards. Taking advantage of the naginata’s length, she managed to keep the vampires at bay while attacking them at the same time. She decapitated one of them using the sharp end and kicked his body down, while the other two howled at her for killing their brethren. Enraged vampires had always been the easiest to fight for Heejin, as their thoughts and emotions meddled with the rational part of their minds. Within a minute, the last of the vampires evaporated into dust as she thrusted her spear into her head.

Looking down, she immediately found Hyunjin standing beside what looked like a knocked-out werewolf and warlock. Nice, Heejin thought. As she walked close, she found an ugly gash at Hyunjin’s right cheek and grimaced. Sensing her inquiring gaze, Hyunjin just shrugged.

“Normal day in the business.”

“But we still need to get it patched up,” Heejin started to get her stele out, but was stopped by Hyunjin’s tight grip on her wrist. And so her hand was dangling awkwardly in front of Hyunjin’s face.

“Hold your horses Heekie, we have a bigger problem at hand,” Hyunjin stated, raising her head upwards.

Heejin followed Hyunjin’s trail of gaze and was greeted by a gigantic demon looming behind them. Shax demon. Heejin jumped into battle stance, Hyunjin following suit.

Hyunjin whistled. “Lil Shax grew bigger since the last time I saw it.”

“HYUNJIN FOCUS!”

“Alrighty.”

And with that Hyunjin vanished from view, leaping towards the demon with a not-so-appropriate grin on her face and a shriek that sounded like ‘hasta la vista baby!’. Heejin was not going to question her parabatai’s thought process.

Heejin decided to opt for seraph blades instead, her naginata not ideal in this situation as 1) the Shax demon was huge huge and 2) she did not want to accidentally stab Hyunjin again like last time (it was purely occupational accident, she defended). Plucking two seraph blades from her belt, she proceeded to name them.

“Raphael. Jophiel.”

The seraph blade lit to life after Heejin named it and so she charged towards the roaring demon. She could see ichor oozing from the open wounds that were no doubt Hyunjin’s doings and proceeded to do more damages with her dual blades. Heejin ducked as a stray pincer nearly caught her before severing the leg from the main body. The demon howled in what sound like gurgled pain, and before long she and Hyunjin had cut the demon into two. The demon exploded into a mess of ichor and demon pieces, drenching the Shadowhunters head to toe with its bodily fluid.

“I hate this job,” Hyunjin muttered as she peeled her gooey outer jacket off.

Heejin had brought a handkerchief and proceeded to clean her face and hands, before walking towards the bound warlock, now conscious and wide-eyed as the Shadowhunter loomed over him.

“Jackson Wang, High Warlock of Hong Kong. You’re in charge of illegal activities that have breached the Accords and the Clave’s international and national laws. Illegal activities include unauthorized gathering, smuggling of poisonous and illegal plants from Hong Kong and the summoning of a Shax demon. Care to explain why you’re in the middle of Seongnam doing all this shit?”

The warlock – Jackson – seemed to weigh his chances, which was slim as he was in the mercy of a Shadowhunter that barely reached 160cm in height glaring daggers at him while ichor dripped down all over the place. Heejin could see his shoulders began to relax, although the eyes that were staring back at hers were nothing but steely.

“I was asked by someone to summon a tracker demon to track certain persons in the country.”

“And who contracted you to do it?”

“I cannot say much. After all, I’m bound by contract.”

“You—”

Heejin felt a hand on her shoulder and saw Hyunjin. “Let me take over.”

Heejin nodded and excused herself while Hyunjin stood in front of Jackson. Silence ensued for 3 seconds and before Heejin could react Hyunjin had punched the high warlock in the face. Without letting the warlock gained his bearings, Hyunjin dragged him up by the collar and pinned him to the wall with one hand, her other hand reaching for the throwing knife on her belt. Twirling the knife, she pressed the sharp tip to the base of Jackson’s throat.

“Talk.”

Jackson, although beaten and bloody, let out a shrill laugh that was deafening in the silence. Heejin winced at the sudden loud sound, and even Hyunjin was stoned for a moment.

Hyunjin regained composure and threw Jackson to the wall again, this time harder. “What’s so funny, warlock?”

Jackson seemed to not mind the threat as his laughter turned into an elongated chuckle. He flickered his gaze from Hyunjin to Heejin and smiled. A ruthless smile that did not quite reach the eye. Heejin subconsciously gulped.

“Whether or not I make it alive here won’t matter. Because it’s too late for you Shadowhunters to intervene. This country will be reset, and all hell will break loose! South Korea will be Ground Zero, and no living things shall thrive here!”

Heejin began to walk towards the crazed warlock to demand more explanations when the pain suddenly hit her. She could not muffle the scream coming out of her mouth as she grabbed at her wrist, which was dangerously hot. Pain flared from the back of her hand; a pain so great she had never experienced before. She could faintly make out Hyunjin’s silhouette through her tear-filled eyes, and Hyunjin too was groaning in pain.

The pain lasted for a full minute and by the time it subsided Heejin was sweating all over and was very tired. She did not dare to look at her hand, afraid of what she would find. But she could not run away from her own hand, so she looked at the source of the pain and could not believe her eyes.

001

Three digits. Heejin was confused. Her skin was still raw and red at the edges, as if the numbers were iron-pressed onto her hand. Her thought process was cut short upon hearing Hyunjin’s grunt, and she immediately rushed towards her.

Hyunjin looked paler compared to just now, her bloody gash a stark contrast to her beautiful white face. Heejin fumbled at her belt to grab her stele and drew an iratze above the wound. The healing rune faded into Hyunjin’s skin with a hiss, and slowly her skin reattached itself back to normal. Hyunjin whispered a ‘thank you’ before examining her hand as well. Etched onto it was also three digits, but the numbers are slightly different.

002

“What the fuck is this?” Hyunjin furrowed her eyebrows and shook her hand as if to shoo the numbers away.

“No idea,” Heejin shrugged and raised her own hand, showing Hyunjin her digit as well.

Hyunjin groaned and flopped onto the floor, clearly tired. “I say I wanted a tattoo, not ugly numbers on my hand.”

“That is not the worst thing you know.”

“Then what is?”

“Our precious warlock is gone.”

Hyunjin sat upright immediately and turned to look at the tangle of rope with no occupant at the corner. Heejin just sighed as she joined Hyunjin on the floor, fatigue wearing them both.

“I hate this job,” Hyunjin sighed.

“At this point, I agree with you,” Heejin sighed also. “We’re so fucking doomed.”

x x

Somewhere in Faerieland

Green exploded around Park Chaewon as she opened her eyes, her surroundings familiar yet unfriendly. Trees and bushes that seemingly ended in nowhere and everywhere greedily covered everything as far as her eyes could see, the outcroppings barely visible in the distance. The sun shone overhead, the rays trespassing through the canopy layer of intertwining branches far above her, but Chaewon still shivered beneath the warmth. It was unfriendly and cool to her bare skin, and she regretted leaving her jacket in the institute before going.

She could feel her legs giving up from underneath her as she stepped forward. She sighed and crouched down, closing her eyes and willing her legs to gain strength. No matter how many times Chaewon had done this, she was sure she would never get used to the accompanying queasiness and fatigue as she landed somewhere in the faerie domain, lost and weak. She often thought it was somehow hilarious how she managed to go in and out of Faerie unnoticed, considering she was still alive until now, despite being so vulnerable after every jump.

Her hypothesis was immediately disproved when she heard the rustling of leaves in front of her. She quickly hid behind the boulder nearby, holding her breath as the sound grew louder. Removing her bow from its holster, she picked an arrow from the quiver attached to her back – specifically the iron-tipped one – and drew her bow. It was common knowledge that faeries’ weakness was cold iron, and so here Chaewon was, hiding behind a boulder with her bow drawn, waiting.

She need not wait long as a faerie emerged from behind a tree, his skin as dark as the bark he seemingly popped out from. A dryad, Chaewon noted. He scaled the surroundings before dropping down to investigate the leaf-filled ground and smiled to himself, a smile that made Chaewon uneasy. She was still hidden behind the boulder, silent like a cat, and yet she could feel like he already knew of her presence there, somehow.

The faerie straightened himself soon after, a motion so trained and poised, and Chaewon caught a glimpse a crude sword-like weapon made out of thorns. Chaewon gritted her teeth. This was not the common folk that was easy to disarm, as the fey she was currently sizing up at is at least a gentry, albeit a lower ranking one. Said gentry looked up and surveyed his surroundings, before speaking to no one in particular.

“I know you’re somewhere nearby, little child. Let us stop playing this game, as dusk is settling in soon.”

His voice was soft like a murmur in the forest, but it was clear to her ears, as if the wind decided to pick it up and amplify it as it travelled on. Chaewon stayed frozen in place, weighing the situation she was stuck in. Although faeries could not lie, they could twist lies into believable truths. The faerie might be bluffing, but the unspoken confidence that trailed behind his words were unmistakable.

For the first time in forever, Chaewon felt fear creeping in her periphery. She could not get caught here. Not only did she trespass into Faerie illegally every time she had the chance to, she was still a Shadowhunter by kind. A Shadowhunter lurking around freely in a domain they were not supposed to be able to enter on their own – she would not be able to answer to the Clave and the rules binding her. Gripping her bow tighter, she decided that it was best to try to silence the faerie gentry, although her chance of succeeding was low.

She jumped out from behind the boulder and trained her arrow tip towards the shocked faerie before releasing it, although the faerie regained enough composure and cut the arrow in half before it reached his heart. Chaewon vaulted over the tall boulder and landed silently on the ground before breaking into a run, withdrawing her iron dagger in the process as close combat was inevitable and her arrows were useless in this case, much to her dismay. Chaewon lunged at the faerie with all the forces that her legs could muster, the initial clash sending an aftershock through her body like electricity. She thanked the Angels silently for the agility rune she had drawn on herself earlier as she could react fast when the faerie swung his sword towards where her head was a second earlier. Twisting her body as she cartwheeled away, she launched herself up and kicked the faerie square at his sides, sending him tumbling into the bushes nearby.

Chaewon’s celebration was short-lived as vines erupted from the bush like earthy tentacles hungry for her flesh. She quickly reacted and cut the oncoming thorny vines, but she knew it was too much for her to handle alone. As the last of the vines had been struck down, saying that Chaewon could barely make it out alive was an understatement, as her body was screaming in agony from the myriad of scratches that adorned her skin as the thorns viciously graced at her. She gritted her teeth as she fell forward, unable to bear the pain, her breath labored.

Her target just stood between the bushes, a ghost of a smile evident on his dark face. He sheathed his sword as he strode towards her. Chaewon willed her body to move, but the wounds and lasting fatigue prevented her from doing so. She could taste the metallic tinge of blood dripping from her forehead as the faerie dragged her upwards harshly, examining her sorry state. She kicked helplessly at her captor, but the arm pulling her was steady and rough. She was brought face to face against the faerie, and Chaewon could see realization behind his turquoise inquisitive eyes.

Before she knew it she was dropped to the ground hard, her breath knocked out from her. She winced and coughed up blood – her wounds were definitely worse than she thought earlier. The faerie seemingly paid no attention to the Shadowhunter as he decided to pace around, deep in thought. Chaewon quickly grabbed her stele and hastily scribbled an iratze on her inner arm. Relief poured over her as the bleeding stopped and her wounds closed over, leaving dull aches that were bearable.

The faerie still had not realised that Chaewon was healed, and by the time he turned around it was too late. Chaewon had sniped his shoulder with an arrow, causing the faerie to tumble backwards and bellow in pain. She leapt through the clearing and stationed her iron dagger at the base of the wounded faerie’s throat.

“Move and you’ll die,” Chaewon stated as she jammed her knee towards the faerie’s torso. Using her free hand, she removed his sword and held it level to his side. Chaewon had no confidence in her left hand’s capability of striking down a foe with a heavy sword like this, but better be safe than sorry.

The faerie just raised his eyebrows, clearly amused, and Chaewon was not having it. She pressed her dagger deeper, drawing blood from the faerie’s throat as his skin sizzled upon contact with cold iron.

“What’s so funny?”

The faerie chuckled softly before replying, “Elegant as ever Park Chaewon, or should I call you Go—”

Before he could finish his sentence Chaewon kneed him on his stomach, causing the poor fey to double-take and grasp for air. She jammed her boots onto the faerie’s head. Enough of nice Park Chaewon already.

“How the fuck did you know?” Chaewon hissed as she grabbed the faerie by the hair so that they were now level.

The faerie spitted out blood to the ground, but his face remained calm as ever, as if everything that Chaewon had done towards him was merely child’s play. “The common folk may not know, but us gentries have heard… stuff. Perhaps even more so than you know about yourself. After all, the winds carry news faster than the mundane’s little talks.”

One of the things Chaewon hated the most about the Fair Folk was the riddled way they talked, and knowing that many of them knew about her heritage unnerved her. Nobody was supposed to know much about her, especially after that, and she had made sure everyone that knew had sworn silence.

Her thoughts were broken by the faerie’s soft voice, as if he could read her mind.

“Don’t worry. They still kept their promises.”

“Who told you about me? How much do you know about me? How many of you know about me?”

“Slow down princess. Rushing will only lead to immediate peril and seeking is not always the way to an answer. Just wait, and everything will make sense to you. Something is brewing in the horizon, and you will get caught in it. But everything will be okay. After all, the world has corrected herself so many times unnoticed, and she sure will do it again this time.”

“What the fuck are you rambling about?” Chaewon had grown impatient with the faerie and she knew she did not have much time left. The faerie seemed to notice her agitation, because the amusement in his eyes had finally disappeared, the turquoise color taking on a deeper hue.

“You may have left this place with more questions than answers. But always remember: never run away from your heritage, because it will come to seek you back. Embrace your faerie heritage and name, Park Chaewon.”

Chaewon clenched her fist harder. Not this again.

Their talk was interrupted by numerous footsteps that grew louder by the second. Chaewon’s grip on the faerie faltered and panic rose within her. She needed to get out of here as soon as possible. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate, picturing the Incheon Institute towers that rose underneath the clear moonlight, but her focus was disrupted as the faerie in front of her grabbed her hands.

“What are you—”

Chaewon could feel the gravitational pull that caused her to lose balance, her head spinning. She could only make out the blurry image of the wounded faerie, his voice distant yet close.

“My name is Drakhar. And I am on your side, Gowon.”

***

When Chaewon opened her eyes, she was back in her room at the institute, her crumpled bedsheet still crumpled just as how she left it. She sighed and stood up to examine herself at the body mirror near her wardrobe. Her reflection looked tired and dirty, her skin pale under the dim lighting. She shrugged herself from her dirty gear and went for a hot and long shower, losing herself to the water trickling down her body as she recounted her unusual encounter just now.

Drakhar was the dryad’s name. And he was on her side. Chaewon would totally believe him if he told her the opposite, as the straightforward statement bothered her a lot. Why would a faerie be on her side she did not know. Even though one of her parents was a Faerie, she was still a Shadowhunter, and Shadowhunters and the Fair Folk never had a warm relationship in the first place. In fact, out of all the Downworlders the Fair Folk seemed to be the most sinister towards the nephilim and vice versa. To have a faerie – a high-ranking one at that – on her side? Chaewon shuddered at the thought and exited her bathroom.

Drying her hair as she went out of the bathroom, she adjusted the witchlight to maximum brightness and examined her healing wounds. Everything seemed to heal perfectly fine, before she noticed weird markings on her left hand.

011

Chaewon frowned and drew an iratze below the marking, but the healing rune did not have any effects on it. The surrounding skin was hot, and she wondered whether Drakhar was the one who chanted it there. She gave up and plopped onto her messy bed, her thoughts still too jumbled up to make coherent plans for the future.

All Chaewon knew for now was that she had a lot of asking to do.

x x

Busan

Ha Sooyoung had always liked patrolling, especially during full moons. The city landscape below her was illuminated beautifully by the moonlight, making it looked like something out of a page from a children’s fairy tale; light reflecting of the skyscrapers that towered everywhere. The air was crisp and smelled of big cities, if big cities had their own distinct tastes, and it was a smell that Sooyoung was very familiar with. After all, she had never been anywhere but here, and here was her home. But not today.

“What the heck are the frontliners doing?” Sooyoung kicked at the incoming demon before impaling it with her seraph blade. Ichor sputtered out from the demon as it disintegrated into fine dust. She turned to look at her parabatai, who had just made a demon skewer with her guisarme, ichor dripping everywhere around her.

Jung Jinsol turned around and Sooyoung was impressed by how the disgusting demon fluid did not touch Jinsol at all, despite the mess she just caused with her exotic weapon. One of the reasons why Sooyoung declined the symbolic guisarme from the institute head because it was a messy weapon. Throwing knives were more efficient and killed cleaner. Grab the handle, flick the wrist, swish, thunk. Easy as Hell.

Said girl with the shining guisarme just shrugged. “No idea.”

Sooyoung grunted as another wave of demons came tumbling from one of the small alleys. Unlatching the knives from her weapons belt, she immediately incapacitated multiple demons as the runed knives flew like a barrage of raindrops. Jinsol was a few steps in front of her and was now stabbing the demons surrounding her, creating an arc of light as she moved about in the dim and dingy alley. Together they cut through the hoard like Moses parting the Red Sea (Sooyoung had read the Bible for fun and thought that she and the Christian god had the same sense of dark humor and donelessness towards the helpless yet ungrateful humans): Sooyoung with her throwing knives like starlights and Jinsol’s guisarme shining like the crescent moon, beautiful yet cold. They killed the last demon at the same time – Sooyoung’s throwing knife clinking with Jinsol’s sharp tip as the demon shrieked into oblivion.

“And that last one would be mine.” Sooyoung’s singsong voice was carried through the alley at the same time as Jinsol’s “That’s mine.”

Sooyoung stopped picking her scattered knives and raised her eyebrow, meeting Jinsol’s harmless glare. “My baby hit that demon first.”

“Your ‘baby’ may hit it first, but my blade is the one that end it,” Jinsol returned, purposefully drawling at the word baby, knowing perfectly well that it irked Sooyoung to no end.

“What makes you so sure that your weak scratch killed that thick skin of a thing?”

“I just know. A Jung never miss, you know.”

Sooyoung snorted at the bold proclamation. “Says the one who missed a platform during training cause my cousin calls you cute. And it’s not even about your face, but your stupid lemon pants.”

Jinsol’s face flared in embarrassment. “It was 2 years ago and mind you, that pants were cute! Even Sunmi said so!”

“She just doesn’t wanna hurt your wittle feewings, cause lil Jwung Jinsow ish a cwybaby,” Sooyoung cooed mockingly and was nearly decapitated as Jinsol swung her guisarme low.

Sooyoung raised her hands to surrender, earning a slap on her shoulder that would have knocked a grown man down. But she was used to Jinsol’s strength and that was why they were parabatais. Only Jung Jinsol could tolerate Ha Sooyoung, and a Ha Sooyoung tolerating a Jung Jinsol. Simple math.

Their playful banter was cut short by a scream piercing through the night sky. The two Shadowhunters looked at each other and nodded, remembering their real mission. Originally it was supposed to be a recon job for the frontliners, which consisted of around 5 Shadowhunters, to spy on a suspected illegal activity happening downtown and come back to report. But a young Shadowhunter had come back after only one hour, clear desperation on his face as he mumbled out words separately, too shocked to form his thoughts properly.

It was a trap. We were ambushed.

The institute’s head – Sooyoung’s uncle – had called for reinforcements to help the frontliners, including both Sooyoung and Jinsol. When the both of them had boarded the institute’s truck (yes, Shadowhunter owned vehicles, because jumping on building rooftops were tiring), the rest of their companion knew that the situation was more serious that what was let on. After all, she and Jinsol were the institute’s best Shadowhunters, despite their young age. To dispatch the institute’s best two to a supposedly spying job? The night would not end without any bloodshed.

And Sooyoung was correct. She and Jinsol had run immediately towards the source, which was an abandoned warehouse, and was met with blood. Everywhere.

Crumpled bodies of what Sooyoung assumed was the frontliners were stacked at one corner, and the way the limbs were twisted out of shape gave a clear indication that they were already lifeless. Her other comrades who came with the two of them were nowhere to be found, and Sooyoung hoped that they were not within the bloody pile she just saw. Moonlight poured in from the many windows of the warehouse, but she could not see beyond the corpse corner, because demons were pooling in front of her like a portal from Hell.

Correction – a demon.

“What the hell,” Jinsol gasped. “A chimaera? I thought they were already extinct–”

As if called, the demon roared, its echo reverberating throughout the enclosed space. Sooyoung dropped low and covered her ears in vain as the demon leapt forward in their direction.

“Watch out!” Sooyoung jumped to the right as Jinsol scrambled to the left, with the chimaera in between the two Shadowhunters now.

Jinsol unclasped her guisarme from her back as Sooyoung readied her knives, weighing the situation. The chimaera’s lion head was facing Sooyoung, its eyes shining bright in the darkness and full of dark intent. The serpent tail hissed upon seeing Jinsol’s shiny guisarme, threatening to extend and whip at it if it could. The goat head protruding from the back eyed the surrounding carelessly, the rectangular slits of the pupils scanning back and forth between Sooyoung and Jinsol. Sooyoung had a bad feeling about the goat head’s eeriness, but was not given time to think when the chimaera dashed towards her, unbelievably fast for its overgrown body.

Sooyoung crossed her knives in front of her as they clashed with the creature’s fangs. She gritted her teeth as she was pushed back by the immense power, feeling her grip on the knives loosened. Shit. “Jinsol, hurry up!”

Black clouds of fire emerged from the lion’s throat, and the impact was immense. Had it not been for her fireproof gear Sooyoung would have been toasted as she jumped out of the way, her eyebrows nearly singed in the process. Sooyoung turned to look for her parabatai, who should have come to her aid sooner. But she only found Jinsol crouching down on the floor, panting hard. The chimaera, sensing the change in the tide, turned towards Jinsol, who was preoccupied over… her hand? Sooyoung could not see through the sprawling black mass around the demon as it moved closer to Jinsol.

“You owe me for this one, idiot!” Sooyoung shouted as she leapt forward to chase after the demon. Unlatching a seraph blade from her belt, she whispered Gabriel and the blade came to light. In one swift motion, she decapitated the tail, the leftover stump pulsing and oozing disgusting ichor. The creature howled in pain as it turned its trajectory towards its assailant and before Sooyoung could process what had happened, she was kicked hard on the chest by the chimaera’s muscular hind legs. She flew and hit the wall hard, coughing out blood as she struggled to breath. She yelped in pain as she tried to get up and knew that more than one of her ribs were definitely broken. Sooyoung crumpled down as the demon trod closer, seemingly taking its own sweet time against two puny and helpless Shadowhunters.

Sooyoung wanted to laugh, if only it did not hurt this much. Her life would end here, in a dirty warehouse somewhere in Busan with busted ribs. Gone were the days where she thought she would die in glory, Shadowhunter-style, not in some random distress patrol call. The chimaera had closed its distance, its glinting fangs very close to Sooyoung’s face. She could feel the heat building up from its throat and closed her eyes to accept the inevitable.

But she was soon released from her torture as Jinsol leapt through the clearing and slashed the lion’s head, its howl a dying message as the demon slumped down, its goat head still eerily upright.

“Sooyoung,” Jinsol started, her face still pale-stricken and beaded with sweat. What had happened to her, Sooyoung thought in her haze of pain. “I’ll explain later but we have to kill it quick. Something weird is happening and I have a very bad feeling about this.”

As Jinsol said this, she waved her hand around and Sooyoung caught a glimpse of black mark on top of her hand and took a mental note to ask her later.

Jinsol finally came close enough to assess Sooyoung’s condition and Sooyoung saw her bit her lip to stifle her tears. With quivering lips, she immediately crouched down and took out her stele. Her fingers grazed Sooyoung’s cheek gently before resting on her jaw as Jinsol drew an iratze on top of a deep gash on her forehead. The healing rune hissed before working, and Sooyoung heaved a relieved sigh. She pointed down at her ribs and Jinsol understood immediately as she lifted up Sooyoung’s shirt and drew another healing rune right below the diaphragm. It took 4 iratzes continually being drawn to the skin to completely heal Sooyoung’s broken ribs, and even then Sooyoung still felt groggy. Jinsol helped her stand up, her face still full of remorse and guilt.

“It’s okay,” Sooyoung patted the younger girl’s head. “Thanks for saving me.”

“But I…,” Jinsol stammered as she was close to tears.

“Don’t mind it. I’m still alive, see?” Sooyoung beamed, pulling Jinsol into a brief hug. “You don’t need to explain if you can’t, I understand. But we still have business to do here.”

Both Shadowhunters turned around to see the goat head on top of what was left of the chimaera carcass still standing upright, its eyes looking directly at the both of them. Sooyoung revolted at the sight and quickly threw a knife towards the head. The goat showed no resistance as the knife sunk right on its forehead, ichor bursting from the open wound. It bleated on last time before disintegrating, the sound very clear and loud that it chilled their bones. Silence fell in the warehouse afterwards, the only sound coming from Sooyoung and Jinsol’s ragged breathings.

After making sure the demon was dead for sure, Sooyoung finally relaxed. “That was surprisingly anticlimactic.”

Jinsol did not return her sentiment. She still looked pale and rigid, her eyes darting warily as she scanned the warehouse one more time using the demon detector. As the detector’s steady beeping showed no sign of impending danger, Jinsol relaxed a bit, although she still looked taut like a drawn bowstring.

They found no survivors within the frontliners, who succumbed to the merciless mutilation done by the supposedly extinct demon. Both Sooyoung and Jinsol recited the Shadowhunter farewell to the slain warriors before contacting the Silent Brothers to help with the cremations.

“Ave atque vale.” Hail and farewell.

The rest of the Shadowhunters who came with them arrived late to the scene as they were preoccupied by the waves of demons, their horrors compounded when seeing the remaining carcass of the chimaera and the slain Shadowhunters. Sooyoung’s mind wandered as the older Shadowhunters discussed about the abnormal scenes and number of demons present, having found no evidence of the summoners or the portals to transport the demon hordes into this area. Sooyoung heard something along the line of notifying the Seoul Institute and answering the Clave, but her mind was preoccupied by her jittery parabatai in front of her.

Jinsol was strong, the strongest and most skilled Shadowhunter of the new generation perhaps, with some exceptions being some Shadowhunters from the capital. She was always relaxed during missions, never fazed, no matter how much the odds were stacked against her. It was always her who was consoling Sooyoung, who was fiery and impatient in nature, not the other way around. Sooyoung could not console someone easily – she was bad with direct affection, especially so towards her parabatai. The ride towards the institute was grim and silent, but Sooyoung resolved to cheer Jinsol from whatever was haunting her back then.

As the vehicle entered the institute’s gate, Jinsol got off first and disappeared behind the double doors. Sooyoung stumbled out and ran to follow, but as she entered the institute, all trace of Jung Jinsol had disappeared.

***

It was easy to find where Jinsol was inside the institute, since Sooyoung knew her favorite places to hang around like the back of her mind. It was even easier now that Jinsol was her parabatai. Parabatais were bound together forever, physically and mentally, and Jinsol’s heartache echoed at Sooyoung’s heart. Sooyoung followed the tug because she knew that it would lead her to Jinsol.

As Sooyoung rounded the corner, pain blazed from her left arm and she screamed in pain. Her first thought was demon poison, especially since the chimaera demon was barely researched and reported now. Who knows what that thing has in store?

But the pain was constant and felt as if a hot iron plate was pressed onto the skin directly. By the time it subsided, Sooyoung steadied herself as she gathered her thoughts. The pain seared and went as if it was never there in the first place, the only evidence of it ever happening was the black numerals on top of her hand, brand new and hot to the touch.

009

Now Sooyoung knew what had happened to Jinsol back then.

As if on cue, Jinsol came rushing towards her, blabbering incoherently until Sooyoung asked her to calm down.

“I feel you,” Jinsol touched the parabatai rune above her heart. “You’re hurting badly just now.”

Before Jinsol could inspect Sooyoung, the older girl had grabbed her left hand and exposed the same black letterings on the top of her hand, albeit of a different number.

007

Jinsol’s eyes widen and she began to try explaining herself. But she stopped after Sooyoung showed her hand.

“What the fuck is going on here?”


Profile

#001
- Name: Jeon Heejin
- Born: 19 October 2000
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Seongnam Institute
- Weapon: Naginata
- Parabatai: Kim Hyunjin

#002
- Name: Kim Hyunjin
- Born: 15 November 2000
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Seoul Institute (former), Seongnam Institute
- Weapon: Broadsword
- Parabatai: Jeon Heejin

Chapter Text

Daegu

Son Hyejoo would have opted to sleep through her Saturday uninterrupted had Choi Yerim not decided to barge in and plop on top of her, causing her to almost die of accidental strangulation.

“Get off me!” Hyejoo squeaked as Yerim laughed, jumping off her bed. Hyejoo scrambled after the giggling Shadowhunter, throwing her pillows at a scary accuracy, causing Yerim to tumble over, still laughing.

“You’re the cutest when you’re pouting,” Yerim remarked.

Hyejoo groaned and flopped back to her comfortable bed. “I can’t believe you can be this annoying so early in the morning.”

Yerim laughed heartily and Hyejoo’s stomach fluttered. Scratch. She was probably just hungry. It was almost 10am anyway. She got out of bed groggily, squinting at the overly bright sunlight streaming through her window and another ray of sunshine standing by her door. An annoying, smirking one.

“What.”

“Nothing,” Yerim shook her head. “See you at the kitchen in 15!”

With that, the door to Hyejoo’s room clicked shut, leaving the still half-asleep girl to waddle out of bed. Hyejoo very much wanted to sleep longer, but she figured that getting on Yerim’s bad side was worse. She shuddered at the memory of Yerim strangling her with one hand while eating pizza with her other hand, laughing loudly while watching YouTube as Hyejoo struggled in vain. And Hyejoo was choked because she forgot Yerim’s birthday once. Now she had 04062001 etched into the back of her mind, living rent-free.

***

Yerim was happily eating her sandwich when Hyejoo got into the kitchen. She pushed a plate towards Hyejoo, muttering it’s your fav before turning her attention back towards her phone. Hyejoo mumbled a thanks and they ate in silence, the occasional sound coming from Yerim trying to stifle her laughter as she watched something on her phone.

Probably some stupid videos on YouTube again, Hyejoo mused. For some reason Yerim really loved mundane entertainment, although Hyejoo could not understand what was funny about the mundanes’ lack of humor and personality.

“Where’s Uncle and Aunt?” Hyejoo asked absentmindedly as she grabbed her chocolate milk from the fridge, irritated that someone had drank the last bit from the carton.

“Still got work,” Yerim replied without looking up from her screen.

“I see…,” Hyejoo pondered as she stole Yerim’s cherry juice instead. “They seem to be very busy lately.”

If Yerim realized that Hyejoo had taken her drink, she did not say anything. “All I’ve heard is something about abnormal readings of demonic activities and something happening in the Daegu Shadow Market. I tried to ask more but they just shushed me out.”

With a gesture, Yerim mimicked her father’s voice. “‘You’re still too young to understand, Yerimmie.’ As if I did not turn 18 already last year.”

Hyejoo hummed thoughtfully as a response. A Shadowhunter was considered an adult when they reached the age of eighteen, where they could participate in council meetings and able to vote, or lead a mission when required. Something tells Hyejoo that what Yerim’s parents were dealing was very serious, with all the secretiveness surrounding it.

“Oh well, at least I have you here Hyejoo. Imagine if I hadn’t met you back then, life would be veeryyy boring here.”

For the first time during the day, Hyejoo smiled. “Same here. I still owe you one.”

***

Hyejoo met Yerim when she was 12. Or so she was told.

Truthfully, she had no memory prior to appearing at the Daegu institute doorway, bloodied and half-dead. She remembered the heavy downpour splattering on her as she dragged her body through the winding alleys, shivering in cold and pain as the scars on her back were exposed to the dirty water. She did not know who she was, the only recollection she had were her own name and that she was supposed to find help here. She let her instincts took over, limping blindly with a broken leg and shoulder to find somewhere safe. And far away from something, although she did not know what was this something. All she knew was that she had to get away, even if it meant dying someplace foreign.

She finally dropped down in front of an abandoned building around the corner of some main street, her leg too broken to bear her body weight. It was a big Catholic church that looked like a 17th century European cathedral, falling into ruins, although Hyejoo never really pondered why a massive structure like this was brought to near-demolishing state. She hurriedly slipped past the gate, the gap being big enough for a 10-year-old to squeeze through. Hyejoo knew she was losing consciousness fast, the blood trail behind her evident of the torture that she had experienced and forgotten, and she hurriedly ambled to the doorsteps. With the last bit of energy left she could muster, she shouldered the tall double doors, feeling the wooden doors giving way before losing herself to the darkness, her last vision being a curly-haired girl with big eyes staring at her in horror.

***

Hyejoo was surprised that she was not dead. She could not feel her body, but she was sure that death did not feel this warm. And soft. And bright. And the buttery liquid being dripped into her mouth was sweet and savory. Wait.

She shot upright from the bed abruptly, headbutting the person who had spoonfed her food. Both groaned in pain, Hyejoo groaning more as her shoulder and head flared in pain. Through her tear-filled eyes, she glared at the person beside the bed, who was still clutching her head.

“Damn your head is hard!” The girl cried aloud, her voice too loud to Hyejoo’s liking.

Hyejoo winced. “And you’re damn loud!”

“What?!” The girl’s eyes widened like a saucer, staring at Hyejoo incredulously. If she was trying to intimidate Hyejoo, she had failed miserably, because those eyes were too gentle to be creased in anger.

Silence ensued between the two girls, allowing Hyejoo to examine this new threat in a form of a girl more. She was around Hyejoo’s age, with twintails for a head and twinkling eyes that were too bright. She wore a red t-shirt with a sunny face on it, her fingers busily fiddling with the bowl of soup on her lap. She was pouting hard after Hyejoo had lashed on her, as if this was the first time she was scolded at. It was probably the case, as she looked like a nice and prim sheltered princess in this mansion-like place.

Speaking of the place, Hyejoo eyed her surroundings warily. She was lying on a gigantic bed that could fit about 8 Hyejoos if she slept in a curled position. The sun was rising behind the curtain across the room, the first rays elongating the curtain shadows as time passed by. The walls were covered in elaborate wooden wallpapers that made the room looked darker, which Hyejoo preferred. Even through her hazy memories, she knew she had had enough of bright stuff for a while. Everything around her looked antique yet new, and Hyejoo was fairly certain she was inside the abandoned church. Apparently it was not as abandoned as she thought. The room and her brand-new clothes were proof of that.

“Who are you? Where am I?” Hyejoo asked, her voice raspy from her dry throat. She wished she could drink some water. Surely this nice-looking house had some drinkable stuff. But she could not put her guard down. The whole thing felt too good to be true.

The girl looked up and raised an eyebrow in a cute way, before pouting again. “I’m Yerim. Choi Yerim. And this is the Daegu Institute. You’re safe here, as long as you don’t step outside with these injuries.”

“Safe?” Hyejoo scoffed, crossing her arms. She immediately regretted her choice as her shoulder screamed in pain. Still, she pulled out the scariest face she could possibly muster. “There is no safe place in this world, Choi. Ye. Rim.”

Hyejoo purposefully spelled out every syllable of the other girl’s name to rile her up, but the girl just looked confused.

“Here is safe,” Yerim retorted. “No demons or Downworlders can get inside the institute!”

“That’s what you think princess.”

“I’m not a princess!”

“You act like one!”

“Who are you anyway!”

“Why do I need to tell you?”

“I help you! I deserve to know!”

Hyejoo pursed her lips before she could retort back. True enough, Yerim had rescued her and nursed her to full health, and she did her job marvelously. Hyejoo’s loose mouth was evident of that. Her broken shoulder and leg were healed, leaving only a dull throb behind. Her scars mostly faded into thin white lines that snaked through her entire arms and back (although she could not see, she could feel them). Her headache cleared and she felt her appetite surged, more so because the bowl of soup looked delicious despite the bland visual.

“I’m Hyejoo.”

Yerim widened her eyes in surprise upon seeing Hyejoo relenting. Then she beamed very brightly, and for the first time Hyejoo did not think it was annoying. It suited Yerim very well, her whole being like sunshine personified.

Yerim extended her hand. “Hi Hyejoo, nice to meet you.”

Hyejoo reluctantly extended her healthy arm, which Yerim shook vigorously.

“Now it’s my turn to ask!”

Hyejoo groaned.

“Where are you from? Why are you injured that badly? How do you arrive here?”

“Ugh. Are you always this annoying?”

Yerim began to pout again and Hyejoo sighed in exasperation. “To answer your question, I don’t know anything. I don’t have any memory except of my name and that I’m in danger. There, happy?”

“That’s not possible,” Yerim retorted. “Every young Shadowhunter should have at least a family member or a guardian to take care of them until they turn eighteen.”

“Well too bad for me, I guess. And I’m not that shadow-thingy you’re saying. I’m normal.”

Yerim raised her eyebrows, staring at Hyejoo as if she had said something stupid. What’s so stupid in not being able to pronounce that long ass word? Hyejoo was not the most eloquent speaker in town.

“That can’t be. You’re definitely a Shadowhunter, like me. I’m certain of that.”

“Like you? As if.”

Yerim flinched at the venomous tone Hyejoo used, but she did not care. When surviving was the only thing she had known to do as long as her memory allowed her to remember, social interaction was never a necessary skill to hone. But Hyejoo underestimated Yerim’s stubbornness, something that she learned the hard way in years to come.

Yerim grabbed Hyejoo’s injured arm, causing her to yelp in pain. From her pocket, she took out something long and silver. Upon closer inspection, it was elongated like a wand, with words etched on its surface. Despite its blunt end, its dull light was enough to activate Hyejoo’s fight or flight response.

She squirmed on the bed, but Yerim’s grip was strong like iron. Hyejoo had a hunch that she knew how being bound to iron literally felt like, but at the moment she only screamed as Yerim brought to tip to her inner forearm. She squinted her eyes shut as Yerim traced something on her arm, anticipating pain. But the opposite happened as relief washed over her, and she could feel that her shoulder was getting better. When she opened her eyes, she could see the faint outline of a drawing on her inner arm, hissing lightly as it faded.

Yerim seemed proud with her masterpiece. “See. You’re definitely a Shadowhunter. Only Shadowhunters can bear runes and Marks from the stele.”

She wiggled her stele to prove her point, before continue talking. “I was afraid to rune you last night you know. But you’re not breathing by the time I drag you inside–”

“You drag me???”

“You’re heavy.” Yerim waved her hand in annoyance. “Anyway, by the time I put you on the sofa I was panicking. My parents were still patrolling, and I was afraid the others were going to scold me for bringing a stranger in. You don’t have any Marks at all, so I don’t know what you are. At least I’m sure you’re not a Downworlder because they cannot enter the institute. I was afraid you’re a mundane but you’re halfway dead so I decided to give you an iratze–”

“A what?”

“Iratze. A healing rune, like the one I drew just now. So I just took the risk and drew it on you.”

“Let me guess, it worked.”

“Yep, and here you are!” Yerim stretched out her arms as if presenting Hyejoo like a zoo exhibit. “Although I’m still grounded for bringing you in. It’s totally unfair! You’re harmless, and I have a crossbow to protect myself.”

“You have a what?!”

“A crossbow. A gift from my parents for my 12th birthday, along with this Voyance rune.”

Yerim retrieved her crossbow that she put beside her chair and showed off the rune on the back of her right hand, which looked like a simple eye tattoo. But Hyejoo’s eyes drifted to the dangerous weapon that Yerim carelessly balanced with her three fingers and unconsciously gulped.

Hyejoo was too busy to wrap around the idea of Shadowhunters gifting their children dangerous weapons as birthday presents that she did not notice that Yerim had stood up. She looked up and saw Yerim’s outstretch hand, but this time the twinkle in her eyes had disappeared.

“You said you have nowhere to go right? You can stay here with us. We’ll protect you. No. I will protect you, Hyejoo.”

Normally Hyejoo would have dismissed Yerim’s bold claim, but the girl sounded very genuine and capable of doing so. Besides, staying for a while would not hurt right?

Hyejoo reached out and shook Yerim’s hand gently. “I guess I could stay for a while…”

Yerim’s happiness was contagious. She clasped Hyejoo’s hand with her other hand, shaking it harder.

“You’re my friend now!”

Staying was the best decision Hyejoo had ever made.

***

“Oi. Earth to Hyejoo.”

Yerim flicked her forehead before Hyejoo could react, breaking her reverie. Hyejoo glared at the girl. Now that they were both adults Hyejoo had towered over Yerim, her late growth spurt mending her ego as she had to look up to Yerim for the first five years of living with her. Now she looked down on Yerim, scowling as the girl twirled annoyingly around her.

“Stop staring at the fridge. Your chocolate milk won’t be refilled.”

“Shut up. I was not– wait. You’re the one who finished my choco milk?!”

Yerim only laughed in response before dragging Hyejoo out of the kitchen. “I’ve booked the training room for the morning. So it’ll be only the both of us inside!”

“I thought you can’t do that?”

“Perks of being the institute head’s daughter,” Yerim winked as she laced her arm around Hyejoo’s.

Hyejoo scoffed, ignoring the heat that rose to her ears. People would think that Yerim was a goody two-shoes who listened to adults well. In reality, Yerim was mischievous, and anyone who knew her long enough would know that her smiling eyes had a dark glint behind them as she churned up plans to bend as much rules as possible. The people in the institute always pinpointed the blame to Hyejoo somehow, just because she looked ready to murder them every day (she was in fact, ready to murder the people here. They were ridiculously annoying). But Yerim always sweet-talked Hyejoo and herself out of trouble, although Hyejoo personally did not care about what people think of her here. The only reason she had stayed was because of Yerim.

Yerim pushed open the double doors and inhaled happily. “Yes. Fresh wood. Polished weapon. Dangling ropes. Slippery walls. Let’s get to work Hyejoo!”

“Yay.”

They spent the next hour warming up and training their muscles and core. Hyejoo practiced with a weighted sword, slashing and stabbing at the training dummies as the dummies fell apart one by one. Over at the other corner, the constant thunk, thunk, thunk of throwing knives indicated Yerim’s impressive bull’s eyes.

Feeling satisfied and warmed up, Hyejoo unclasped her weapon’s chain from her belt that connected the two scythes fastened on her back. The chain elongated to become three meters long with scythes for its ends. Hyejoo twirled the modified kusarigama freely, feeling the chain rolling off her fingers loosely. Together, the five kilograms of pure silver heavy weapon glinted under the morning sunlight filtering through the high windows, and Hyejoo rushed forward with her day’s share of dummies extermination.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Yerim loading her crossbow, nocking an arrow from the holder on her thigh. Together they wreaked havoc in the training room, sending bits of straws flying everywhere as dummies were mutilated and blasted from their poles with arrows planted on the X marks on the targets. Before long the room was littered with straws, broken ropes and empty poles.

As Hyejoo turned around to find Yerim, she found a blade pointed to her face. She fought the urge to break into a smile.

“Focus, Son Hyejoo. You usually hack more,” Yerim smirked.

“You’re a distracting view,” Hyejoo replied.

“Oh,” Yerim raised her eyebrows in amusement. “I’m not surprised. I have that effect on everyone.” She flicked her hair over her shoulder to accentuate her point.

“Yeah I know.” Hyejoo bit her inner cheek to stop staring.

Yerim dropped her blade and draped her arm around Hyejoo. “We totally kill it as a team. Parabatai?”

“No.”

“Whyyy–”

“No means no Yerim,” Hyejoo sighed at the frequently asked question. “You know I don’t like being responsible for other people’s life, even if it’s you.”

Yerim pouted and started poking Hyejoo. “You’re like a lone wolf, Hye, and it’s not good. Rely on people more will you.”

“I am relying on people,” Hyejoo replied. “I trust my back to you, Choi Yerim.”

Yerim smiled, which made Hyejoo’s heart flutter. Idiot, Hyejoo chastised herself. This was the real reason why she did not want to become parabatais with Yerim, because she had stupidly fallen head over heels for her best friend. Parabatais could not fall in love. It was basically a lifetime of brotherhood (or sisterhood, perhaps), an oath to keep that could only be broken by death. And Hyejoo wanted to love freely, even if the feelings left her in weird limbo about her actual relationship with a certain Choi Yerim, but she was content with the present as of now. She did not want to ruin what they had because of her fleeting, stupid feelings.

“Clean up your mess, Ms. Choi,” Hyejoo said as she nudged the shorter girl away. “This mess won’t rearrange on their own.”

“You’re no fun.”

They began cleaning in silence, which was the downside of training. Hyejoo could care less about the next users and the dummies shortage they would encounter, but rules were rules. Retrieving a burlap sack from the small maintenance room beside the training room, Hyejoo began picking up stray straws and busted ropes from the floor and shoved them into the sack. Later that afternoon, freshly strewn straw people would be found as the institute helpers retied them back anew. Meanwhile, Yerim was dangling from the monkey bars suspended five meters above ground, cleaning the ring handles with a wet cloth.

Hyejoo was almost done when she spotted a crumpled piece of paper stuffed into an acorn near the window ledge and tensed. Acorns were faerie properties, in which the Fair Folk used to deliver messages, sort of like fire messages for Shadowhunters. Hyejoo swore the acorn was not there when she cleaned the windows just now, so she approached the piece of nut warily. After making sure it did not explode upon contact, she unraveled the piece of paper attached to it, and felt her blood being drained from her body seeing the familiar scrawl on the piece of parchment.

I will await you at the throne of fire,
and you will be the key
that brings a full circle to the Nephilim’s downfall.

Just then Yerim screamed. Hyejoo turned to see in horror as Yerim freefell from the bars, clutching her left hand. Hyejoo dropped her sack and dived towards her, barely making it in time as Yerim fell on top of her. In normal circumstances Hyejoo would just lay on the floor and lament about her bruised shoulder, but Yerim’s hitched sobs cleared her head. She immediately got up and examined the girl.

Yerim looked dazed with pain, her face pale and beaded with sweat. She tried to say something, but her voice died down in her throat, so Hyejoo followed her gaze towards her clasped hand. Mouthing a may I?, Hyejoo gently unclasped Yerim’s bound hand just in time to see a number finished forming on top of her hand.

008

“What the–”

Pain flared from Hyejoo’s left arm. She thought that her old shoulder injury acted up again, but as she squinted down her left side she could not believe her eyes as numbers magically etched itself onto the back of her palm, slowly and excruciatingly. Even with her high pain tolerance she could barely handle the process, but when it was done the room was silent, buzzing occasionally with imaginary residual magic release.

“Hye… what is this?” Yerim released a shaky breath as Hyejoo examined her still-hot hand with the orderly number etched on it:

012

“I don’t know yet, but this is bad. We have to contact Seoul Institute immediately,” Hyejoo replied, her voice sounding foreign even to her own ears.

The only thing that was certain was that Hyejoo finally remembered what had happened to her before she met Choi Yerim one stormy night in front of the Daegu Institute.

x x

Cheongju

“This is a bad idea,” Kim Jungeun stated.

“Everything is a bad idea to you,” Kim Jiwoo replied.

Jungeun groaned as Jiwoo led her out into the clearing, the sun mercilessly spraying its rays on the both of them. Jungeun swore she could hear her scalp sizzle.

“What are we doing in a mundane tourist site anyway?” Jungeun grumbled while peeling a strand of wet hair that had gotten stuck on her forehead, which was not a good sign for an outing considering they had only walked for about 5 minutes under the sun.

“It’s Cheongnamdae and it’s cool, you’re just a hater,” Jiwoo frowned, brushing off a fallen leaf from her shoulder. “Besides, we’re here to have some fun!”

Jungeun could not decide whether Jiwoo was being sarcastic or not, because it was ironic to call Cheongnamdae cool when they were minutes away from experiencing heat injuries. Still, she followed her nature-crazed cousin through the park, passing over the trails that was set up by mundanes for mundanes use.

They walked in silence under the occasional tree covers along the hiking trail, walking past tourists who paid them no attention at all. The crowds parted around them like river currents split by stones jutting out from the riverbed, courtesy of the glamour that came in package with their angelic heritage. Jiwoo also paid them no attention, carelessly flicking her balisong as she hummed along to the cicadas’ summer death anthems. Despite them being somehow ‘invisible’, Jungeun still felt uncomfortable with the crowds, afraid that maybe one pair of eyes would find them out of the ignorant hundred ones. Her and Jiwoo’s all-black Shadowhunter gears and deadly weapons hung around their waists did not help alleviate their impressions of being non-threatening Shadow World patrols.

“Where are we going anyway?”

Jiwoo grinned mischievously while wiggling her eyebrows. “You’ll see, Jungie.”

She immediately leapt over the wooden railings and trailed into the woods, away from the mundane throngs, hiking up the unscaled canopy forest. Jungeun had no choice but to follow, because she knew she could not make her way back to the comfort of her Hyundai at the carpark alone. Jiwoo was her cousin-slash-parabatai doubled as a walking Google Maps, while Jungeun was blind with directions.

“I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to trespass here,” Jungeun sighed, crunching the fallen twigs under her combat boots. The tourist crowds were only speckled dots now that they had climbed higher, their voices only carried occasionally by the wind. Still, she could not figure out Jiwoo’s intentions, nor could she identify what was in the black drawstring back hoisted on her cousin’s back.

“It’s illegal trespassing only if you break into someone’s private property,” Jiwoo replied. “Technically you can’t own a forest.”

“I hate it when you’re not wrong.”

“I know right!”

“I never say you’re righ— you know what, just lead the way.”

Both Jungeun and Jiwoo continued hiking up. Jiwoo seemed to know where she was going perfectly, turning at the right corners and jumping over roots that would otherwise trip and embarrass Jungeun. As far as Jungeun knew Jiwoo, she was always a wild child, seemingly full of repressed energies that exploded once she was outdoors. Even as Jiwoo grew out of her childhood and teenage phases, the same eagerness and positivity had not died down when many people would have had grown out of theirs. Jungeun was glad Jiwoo stayed that way, although she would not say it out loud. Jiwoo’s head was already big enough without the compliments.

Jungeun was so deep in thought that she did not realize Jiwoo had stopped in front of her. She rammed onto Jiwoo’s hard back, but her cousin barely flinched. Jungeun’s nose throbbed.

Curse Jiwoo and her strong core.

“We’re here!” Jiwoo announced, spreading her arms wide and inhaling the fresh air. “Home sweet home.”

At first Jungeun saw nothing but green. They were standing at the top of a hill, overlooking a flat terrain of low-cropped grasses that spread as far as her eyes could see. She had not realized the sun was setting behind the horizon, giving the whole view an orange tinge. Still, the view was breathtaking, and there was no mundanes loitering around, as if this place was in a different dimension altogether.

“Wow.” Jungeun replied, her brain too mushy from the heat to form coherent thoughts.

“I know right!” Jiwoo beamed as she ran to the grassy field and plopped down. “I feel like I’ve come home.”

Jungeun snorted. The idea that Jiwoo had lived in a village inside the mountainside when she was young had become a running gag for the both of them every time Jiwoo found a new mountain or hill to scale. Jungeun walked towards Jiwoo and lied down next to her cousin, feeling the cool grass tickling her neck.

“This is nice.” Jungeun admitted.

They stayed underneath the darkening sky for a while, watching as the sky dimmed into a purple hue. Finally, Jiwoo stood up and dragged her bag closer.

“This,” Jiwoo pointed the drawstring bag, “is the real reason why we’re here.”

Jiwoo loosened the strings and took out a picnic mat, which she set up in 2 seconds. Trust Jiwoo and her outdoor skills, and Jungeun did not have to do anything. From inside the bag, she took out two green glass bottles and handed one to Jungeun.

Jungeun raised her eyebrows. “We came all the way from the institute to drink soju under illegal public land?”

“You summarise it so well, Poet Kim. Bottoms up!”

Jiwoo unscrewed the cap of her bottle and gave hers to Jungeun as Jungeun withdrew her old one. They clanked the bottles together and took a swig, the alcohol aftertaste burning Jungeun’s throat on the way down.

Jiwoo let out a satisfied sigh that could rival some mundane artists’ advertisements. “Finally… the taste of adulthood! Cheers for being adults Jungie!”

“It’s our third year as an adult, Chuu,” Jungeun reminded her cousin with the affectionate nickname. “Nothing special about this.”

“But for the mundanes we only come of age last year, when we’re 20.” Jiwoo blew at her wet bangs. “So technically we’re still newbie adults. And we didn’t drink last year!”

“Newbie, irresponsible adults.”

“Shut up Kim Jungeun.”

As the sky got darker Jungeun fished her witchlight from her pants’ pocket. Gripping it tighter, the stone flickered to life and illuminated her surroundings in faint whitish glow. She set it down between her and Jiwoo. Together, they continued enjoying their drinks while the air grew chilly. It was a great outing, even by Jungeun’s standard. Lately her alone-time together with Jiwoo had only consisted of daytime trainings and nighttime patrols. No fun, just Shadowhunting business. The fresh mountain air was as close to a holiday for a Shadowhunter when the world seemed to not be tired of churning out demons and bad stuff all year round.

“Jungie…” Jiwoo mumbled.

“Mhm?” Jungeun turned around to find Jiwoo’s flushed face with a stupid grin plastered on it.

“…you have two heads.”

Jungeun took it as a cue to grab the half-finished bottle from Jiwoo’s hands. She knew her cousin was a lightweight, but she had not expected her to get high after only a few small sips.

“Let’s get you back home, big head,” Jungeun chuckled as she packed up, draping Jiwoo’s arm around her shoulder.

“You’re the one with a big head, Jungie.”

Jungeun decided to not jump on Jiwoo since the other girl was pretty much incapacitated. She was not sure about the morning after though. Bless you, Kim Jiwoo.

Half-dragging her cousin around, Jungeun walked back into the forest, trying to remember the way they had come from. At night, the forest seemed gloomier and creepier, causing the hair on the back of Jungeun’s neck to rise up. The trees seemed to swallow them in total darkness, and Jungeun had to fumble for her witchlight for sufficient lighting. Jiwoo just muttered incoherently as a form of moral support.

Jungeun did not know how long they had been walking, but when they burst out into the clearing, she knew they were hopelessly lost. They had found a wide stream, its current so fast foams gurgled as the water hit the rocks as it sped through. Not far in front of them, she could make out the water’s steep descent into the abyss below. A waterfall, Jungeun thought. The thunderous boom of water hitting the base of the waterfall from the height echoed throughout the forest, and Jungeun wondered how come they had not heard of the noise when walking just now.

The area was silent except for the roaring water. No animals roamed around, despite the lush foliage around them, as if the whole forest seemed to be holding its breath after the arrival of two unexpected guests reeked with alcohol stench. Feeling weirded out, Jungeun quickly readjusted Jiwoo’s arm and prepared to leave when Jiwoo resisted. Jungeun turned to look at her cousin, slightly annoyed. Jiwoo’s eyes were wide, her mouth hanging open, but Jungeun suspected this was not because of her low alcohol tolerance.

“I- I know this place,” Jiwoo stammered, trying to stand on her own. The alcohol in her system made her wobble slightly, and Jungeun was afraid she would fall into the fast current.

She dragged Jiwoo further away from the river. “Of course you know this place. Every nature spot in Cheongju is your second home after all, right?”

But Jiwoo only shook her head, her hand resisting against Jungeun’s grip. “No, you don’t understand Jungie, but I really do know this place. I think–”

Jiwoo gulped, making Jungeun unconsciously gulped too. Being parabatais, Jungeun could feel Jiwoo’s agitation rubbing on her. She saw her cousin tried to steady her breathing, a quick inhale-exhale habit that Jiwoo had whenever she was nervous. Whatever Jiwoo was thinking, Jungeun decided she did not like it. Finally, Jiwoo steadied herself, although she still looked like she saw a ghost. Jungeun was afraid Jiwoo really did saw one and she did not want to stay to really find out about the extra presence in the forest with them.

“I don’t know how to explain but…” Jiwoo whispered, her voice failing her. “…I think I really lived here before.”

Jungeun must have looked dumb because Jiwoo groaned in frustration.

“I’m not joking, Jungie, and I’m not drunk– okay, maybe the last part is questionable but I’m serious! I remembered this area, and I never went to this place before.”

“Uh-huh.”

Jiwoo’s glare at Jungeun could have withered some sunflowers. “If you don’t believe me I will prove it to you! I know my way around here, although I’m not sure why.”

With that Jiwoo walked towards the stream and Jungeun jogged after her in alarm.

“Jiwoo wait! I’m not doubting you but could you wait until morning to find out? There might be demons around here!”

“This might be the only chance to find out. I’m not sure this place will exist the next day,” Jiwoo replied, her tone resolute.

Jungeun could not argue with that logic. She too knew that there was something abnormal about this place, like a mist covering the nastier part of an otherwise beautiful scenic and serene place. Meanwhile, Jiwoo marched alongside the river, following its current downstream. The waterfall came into view, churning out gallons of water down to the plunge pool below, which was about 100 meters from the top. Jungeun did not like the waterfall’s massive size and velocity, but Jiwoo seemed undeterred by the roaring water. She continued until she stood at the edge of the crest, looking at the horizon. Jungeun carefully joined her after making sure she was standing on solid ground, wedging herself between the water body and Kim Jiwoo, in case Jiwoo did something stupid like somersaulting into the base or swimming against the current.

Jiwoo’s voice was misty when she spoke: “Jungeun, do you see that?”

Jungeun squinted in the dark. At first she saw nothing but trees as far as she could see, but slowly something shimmered in the distance. It was as if a blindfold was lifted from her eyes and Jungeun could not believe what she was seeing: a two-storey wooden cabin by the base of the waterfall, where the river continued to stream to nowhere. Light poured out from the window, illuminating the house’s desolate surroundings with a warm glow. Somebody lived in there, and Jungeun was liking Jiwoo’s theory less and less.

At that same instance Jungeun knew what Jiwoo had intended to do. “Chuu, wait. Don’t be reckless–”

Intense pain suddenly erupted on Jungeun’s hand. She cried out and lost her footing, and before she knew it she had fallen off the edge of the crest. She could not move her left arm – whatever was the thing that was hurting her, it had rendered her hand useless. She tried to grab the electrum whip clipped to her left hip, but her right hand could not reach it. Tears clouded her vision as the wind howled in her ears. Falling from this height into the water (assuming it was deep enough) would mean instant death, where Jungeun would just be a splattered mess down there.

Jungeun was saved from becoming a flattened Shadowhunter drowning in a magical waterfall by none other her parabatai cousin Kim Jiwoo. Jiwoo had followed her by jumping down herself, the kick accelerating her descent so that she caught up with Jungeun immediately. Twisting her body so that she faced upwards, Jiwoo threw her balisong to a thick tree branch that jutted out into the water from on top. Long coils of strong adamas string unwound as the balisong shot towards the tree and wrapped themselves on the strong branch. If the string was normal it would have snapped with the weight of two adult Shadowhunters, but the heavenly metal was the strongest material ever harvested and used by Shadowhunters past and present. With a tuck, Jiwoo stopped the string from unraveling further, thus saving the both of them from splattering demise, Jungeun safe in her cousin’s strong arm.

“Right on time,” Jiwoo gritted her teeth as she held both the line and Jungeun.

After making sure the end of the line would hold, Jiwoo slowly wound the coils back into her weapons belt. The ascent was frustratingly slow, but Jungeun had not stamina left to complain. The pain had subsided from her left hand, but the aftereffects were jarring. Jungeun was not sure whether she could regain the use of her left hand after this.

From beside her, Jiwoo bit back a scream. She lost her hold on the string and they would have plummeted down if only Jungeun was not quick enough to steady the line with her supposedly incapacitated left arm. On one side Jungeun was more than happy that her hand still functioned, but the agonized look on Jiwoo’s face was not good. Jungeun quickly brought the two of them back to the top, and once they were out of danger, the shock from what had transpired finally weighed Jungeun down.

She immediately checked on Jiwoo, whose ragged breathing finally calmed down. Her misty look from before was gone, replaced with silent cries of pain.

“I’m okay,” Jiwoo croaked.

From her pocket, Jiwoo retrieved her witchlight and shone it towards her hand. On Jiwoo’s pale skin was a series of number that gleamed black under the pale light of the stone:

010

“Huh?”

Jiwoo’s confused expression somehow calmed Jungeun down. Checking her own hand, she also saw the exact same black ink pressed onto her skin:

006

Jiwoo followed Jungeun’s gaze towards her hand and squinted. “I got a 010 and you got 900?”

“It’s 006, idiot.”

“Oh.”

Jiwoo still looked shaken up, and Jungeun was pretty sure she was not any better either. Their supposedly normal alcohol getaway night had turned into waterfall-diving, creepy cabin in the woods and no-consent magical painful tattoos adventure Jungeun was sure neither of them wanted to relive.

“Let’s go back before it gets darker,” Jungeun suggested.

“Yeah we should.”

Jungeun helped Jiwoo got up. Whatever was that non-erasable tattoo was, it seemed to cure Jiwoo from her hangover. With one last look down the roaring waterfall, Jiwoo seemed reluctant to go. Jungeun herself peered over, even more careful of her footing now, but the cabin had vanished out of thin air.

The woods were really messing with her brain and Jungeun did not like it all.

“Come on,” she gestured towards Jiwoo. “We’ll come back again. I promise.”

Jiwoo looked up to Jungeun before nodding silently. They finally found the correct path (thanks to Jiwoo’s nature radar) and got into Jungeun’s Hyundai safely, but neither of them knew that they would not come back to find this place in a while.


Profile

#003
- Name: Jo Haseul
- Born: 18 August 1997
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Seoul Institute (head)
- Weapon: Hwando
- Parabatai: -
- Relatives: Im Yeojin (distant cousin)

#004
- Name: Im Yeojin
- Born: 11 November 2002
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Seoul Institute
- Weapon: Chakrams
- Parabatai: -
- Relatives: Jo Haseul (distant cousin)

Chapter Text

Seoul

Im Yeojin wondered why she enrolled herself into a mundane public school as she stared outside the window, clearly distracted. Then her thoughts drifted back to the institute and the one who led it, and she found her answer.

Jo Haseul, her stupid bob-headed cousin. Just thinking about Haseul irritated Yeojin to no end.

Yeojin sighed loudly, twirling her pen as she turned her attention back to her teacher yapping in front of the whiteboard. Her notes were entirely blank except for a title scrawled in her unintelligible handwriting: ‘Organic Chemistry’, although it looked more like ‘oatmeal cereal’ to her. She was definitely going to fail this class big time.

She weighed the options she had now: continue studying this boring mundane stuff or quit school and be imprisoned behind the wrought iron gates of the institute. She decided her basic Shadowhunter rights of having free speech and freedom were better than a certain Jo Haseul grounding her for breaking curfews. She was turning 18 this year, and Haseul had no right to ground her when she herself was only a tad bit older than her (five years was not much). Who cares if she had an institute to run? Nobody’s forcing her to take the job anyway, but she was proud of the offer for being under something that resembled more of a modern corporate slavery. Nerd.

The bell rang, pulling Yeojin back to reality. Finally. She immediately stuffed her belongings into her bag roughly and shouldered her way to the door. Upon exiting the main entrance into the crisp air of afternoon Seoul, Yeojin welcomed the taste of freedom wholeheartedly.

It was the last day of her schoolyear, and she finally could detach herself from the tight school uniform and the plaster gauzes that covered her Marks. She still remembered the principal’s face when the bald guy saw all her Marks and was steps away from cardiac arrythmia. The icing on top of the cake was Haseul barreling through the door sporting even more Marks than her. They needed the help of a warlock to alter the poor man’s mind from going insane. It was fun while it lasted, because Haseul took her chakrams and put her on house arrest afterwards, which only lasted for 3 days because she broke the library’s window to run away after Haseul barred her bedroom windows.

Call her a troublemaker, but nobody took Im Yeojin’s freedom away right from under her nose. She was, after all, raised in the shadows.

Speaking of shadows, Yeojin fished her pocket watch and uncovered the cartouche. It was intricately made of molten silver, specifically designed by her godmother to tell Yeojin where to find her if she wanted to. The chain was smooth yet cool to the touch, seemingly alive as her fingers brushed against it. The cartouche depicted a warlock extending her arm over a smiling little girl and bore the initial ‘YJ’ in cursive emblazoned on it. The word ‘carpe noctem’ was inscribed underneath her initials – ‘seize the night’. Sounds about right.

Both the long and short hands pointed to the north, while a much smaller third hand looped around the number 10. It had taken Yeojin two weeks to decipher how the hands worked when she was first given the pocket watch without explanation: the long hand signified the location of the nearest Shadow Market while the short hand told her of her godmother’s location. Meanwhile, the third hand was a timer to the Shadow Market opening hour. The loop around the tenth-hour mark meant that the Shadow Market would be open for business in ten minutes.

Just nice, Yeojin thought. She pocketed her watch and walked to the nearest subway station. Shadowhunters rarely used public transportations, but it served Yeojin well in blending with the mundane throngs. This meant lesser chances for the Shadowhunters from the institute on finding her roaming at places they wanted everyone to avoid. The train lurched away from the station, the announcement overhead informing the next station in monotone voice.

Yeojin nestled herself at the corner of the carriage, occasionally checking her pocket watch to make sure her godmother was still in Seoul Shadow Market. It had been a long time since Yeojin saw her, ever since Haseul found her four years ago and whisked her to the institute without her permission. Her godmother did not intervene and only looked at Yeojin sadly as she gave her the pocket watch and told her to take care of herself. Yeojin had learned afterwards that she was a Shadowhunter, an angel-powered superhuman clan that was supposedly protecting the Shadow World from the looming darkness. And Shadowhunters were forbidden by their sacred laws – aka the Covenant – from going to Shadow Markets. Yeojin had been shocked when Haseul had explained the laws to her the first time, because it did not make sense. She had lived in Shadow Markets around South Korea all her life, and suddenly she was brought to the institute and bound by its laws. So naturally she rebelled.

Which brought her to where she was today. She was coming home. Seoul Shadow Market had been her home since she was 7. She had lived under the hustle and bustle of the Market for seven whole years, roaming the aisles and makeshift tents to disturb her godmother and her patrons, playing with the werewolf children her age, bothering the vampire adults to carry her on their flying demon energy-powered motorcycles and helping the faerie ladies made their love potions. She felt more at home there compared to the coldness of the institute and her cousin’s always prying eyes.

The announcement overhead signaled that she had arrived at Gyeongbokgung station. Yeojin got off and made her way to Exit 6, following the signs towards the famed Gwanghwamun Gate. When she finally emerged from the underground station the sun was already setting, causing the sky to turn purplish red. She made her way across the road, walking in the opposite direction of the crowds of people towards the deserted gates of Gwanghwamun. Visitation hours was up, and there were no guards-on-duty around. Yeojin scoffed. Mundanes and their woes on the theatrics. Those guards probably could not handle a five-foot-one seventeen-year-old girl in high school uniform.

She finally arrived at the front of the three gates. The front lawn was deserted while the traffic blared behind her. Three-meter tall red wooden doors barred her from entering, but Yeojin trudged towards the middle door. Even during the day, the middle gate was blocked from being used by the mundanes, while the right and left gates were used for entrance and exit to the palace square respectively.

The glamour is thick here, Yeojin thought. That’s why the mundanes stay clear from the middle entrance.

But she knew better. She came close and rapped the door. One knock, then three knocks, followed lastly by another two knocks. After waiting for what seemed like forever, the doors swung open silently and a royal guard came out. He wore the traditional royal guard uniform, which Yeojin had a suspicion she learned about during History class but never thought was important to know and remember. The hwando or military sword on his hand was similar to the one Haseul owned, although it looked dull and unimpressive compared to her cousin’s gleaming one. Thanks to the Voyance rune on her hand, Yeojin was blessed with enhanced Sight and could see past the glamour easily, knowing that the man in front of her were no normal guard like the one showcased every day for tourist attractions.

His eyes were milky white and devoid of pupils – his warlock Mark. His gait was strange as he approached and analyzed her, as if he was not used to moving with two legs. Yeojin involuntarily shuddered. She had passed through this gate a thousand times, but even then she would never get used to the Gatekeeper.

The Gatekeeper opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Instead, an echo formed inside Yeojin’s head: Im Yeojin of Seoul Institute. What business do you have in the Market?

Yeojin gulped before steeling herself. “I am looking for Ryu Sera, High Warlock of Seoul.”

The Gatekeeper stayed silent for a moment before retracting himself from Yeojin’s view. Password please?

“The moon will always shine until the blood of the Covenant dries off.”

Permission granted.

With that, the Gatekeeper vanished, leaving her with the open doors overlooking the empty palace terrace. Yeojin looked back at the mundane rush hour behind her before stepping inside, the glamour curtain tickling her as she plunged into the kaleidoscope of light known as the Seoul Shadow Market.

***

The first thing that hit her was the color. Stepping inside the gate, Yeojin felt like she was transported to another dimension (which was not an understatement, since it was all magic). The supposedly empty courtyard was transformed into a festival of light, with multicolored booths and tents set in haphazard collections offering things that one would not find in normal mundane bazaars. It seemed like all shade in the world had coalesced and swirled around the place, something that any eyes would not ever forget. Shopfronts were decorated with paints that sparked in their magical hues, giving every shop its distinctive feature, while the display tables and cases were lined with potion racks and other-worldly ingredients that were for sale.

Then the sound and smell dominated. Loud chatters and clanging of potion glasses and beads echoed throughout the Market, seemingly amplified through the night. Sounds echoed even from the small alleys in-between the shops, sellers raising their voices on top of one another to attract unsuspecting buyers into buying their stuff. Smell of spices and magical concoctions wafted through the air and followed Yeojin as she walked down the crowded aisles, the mix and match seemingly clinging to her uniform and encasing her in a calm storm that made her feel relaxed. Seoul Shadow Market had not changed at all after all these years, causing Yeojin’s eyes to water slightly. This was her home. Always be.

She made her way deeper into the Market. The original palace courtyard was not this large, but then again, magic always distorted proportions. Yeojin had learned to not question how things in the Shadow World worked. It never did any good to know everything after all.

She was suddenly aware of the stares she had gotten and became conscious of her Marks. She had unknowingly removed her blazer on the way, her Marks in full view as her short-sleeved shirt and knee-length skirts could not hide the runes that decorated her limbs. She could feel every pair of eyes looking at her as she made her way deeper into the Market, the crowd subconsciously dispersed to either side of the aisle as if she were a plague.

It was an understatement to say that Yeojin was hurt by the cold treatment. She might be a Shadowhunter, but she was one of them for most of her lives. Apparently, blood feud was stronger in the case of Downworlders. She quickened her steps as she moved into a smaller alley and found a familiar shop covered in furs and rugs. Yeojin smiled as she ducked underneath the flap of the tent. The textile shop was owned by Mrs Kang, a kind werewolf who had let Yeojin lie down on the soft materials and played with her daughter all the time, back before she had found out she was of the same kind as the very people the Shadow Market residences despised greatly.

Speaking of her daughter, she was manning the shop, looking the same after all this time. Except now she was a head taller than Yeojin.

“Lena!” Yeojin exclaimed from the shop entrance.

Lena stopped brushing the fur in her hands and gasped, running towards Yeojin in uncanny speed. Soon, Yeojin was locked in a tight embrace by the young werewolf, choking for air. It took several soft punches and a while before Lena realized that Yeojin was really strangled, and finally she let go with a chuckle.

“You’re still the same after all this time, Jin-ah,” Lena laughed as she patted Yeojin at the head.

“Since when are you this tall?” Yeojin pouted as she sized her childhood friend. They were the same height four years ago, but now Lena towered over her. Still, it was nice seeing a familiar face again. “Where’s Mrs Kang? Say hello for her from me.”

Lena’s smile faltered. She removed the beam that held the tent’s flap open and dragged Yeojin inside the shop, shrouding them both in darkness. When Lena looked at Yeojin, she could see the glint of amber in her irises.

“Jin-ah… I’m very happy to see you again, but it’s best if you don’t come here ever again.”

Lena’s tone was serious as she led Yeojin through the back room, but Yeojin could only muster a “huh?”

“I don’t have anything against you personally… in fact I want you to stay as long as you want. But a Shadowhunter roaming freely in a Shadow Market will not be taken lightly, even if it’s you,” Lena replied as she fitted Yeojin with a robe, its fabric soft and cool to the touch. “Everyone congregates to Shadow Markets for many reasons, but mostly it’s because of Shadowhunters. Here, nobody’s bound by the Accords, so they can do anything. Shadowhunters are banned from coming to the Markets because it’s too dangerous for them.”

Yeojin remembered vaguely about the Accords – the peace treaty between the Downworlders and Shadowhunters. “So, you’re telling me they hate me? Even though I practically lived here my whole life?”

Lena nodded sadly as she looped a string around the hood of Yeojin’s robe. “And those who hate your kind includes my mother.”

Yeojin was speechless. Mrs Kang was the nicest person that Yeojin knew, aside from her guardian Sera. To think that she harbored a hate so deep that she hated Yeojin just because she was revealed to be a Shadowhunter…

Lena wiped Yeojin’s cheek sympathetically. Yeojin had not realized she had cried, and she rarely cried.

“I’m really sorry I can’t do much, Jin-ah…” Lena’s voice cracked. Yeojin realized the other girl had teared up as well. “This is as much as I can do for you to make sure you’re safe.”

“T-this?” Yeojin croaked as Lena patted the robe, smoothing the hems.

Lena nodded. “The fabric is enchanted. It will mask your Shadowhunter smell, but I don’t think it’s effective against powerful Downworlders, especially the werewolves. Come, I’ll bring you to Madam Ryu’s tent. I’m sure she can help you get back safely.”

With that, the taller girl slipped through the back end of the tent, dragging Yeojin with her. Yeojin just followed listlessly, the shock too much for her to process at the moment. She did not know how far she had walked, but Lena finally stopped in front of a very familiar tent with the rainbow dreamcatcher hung on the porch. The word ‘lucid dream’ swirled around the entrance, and when a Downworlder exited the tent, the smell brought Yeojin home.

“This is as far as I can bring you,” Lena stated, looking at Yeojin worriedly.

Yeojin nodded, although her tears had not stopped falling. “Thanks a lot, Lena… I owe you–”

Lena kissed Yeojin’s cheek and hugged the younger girl tightly. “Send me something later okay? When you’re out of here. I love you, Jin-ah. Please be safe.”

With a reassuring gentle squeeze of her hand, Lena disappeared into the crowd, leaving a trail of pine wood smell in her wake. Yeojin would definitely miss her best friend greatly, but she had no time to lose. She ducked underneath the tent and was face to face with her godmother, the High Warlock of Seoul. Ryu Sera.

Sera was exactly the same as Yeojin remembered: long, dark hair with a youthful face that seemed to have frozen at the age of 25. She wore a yellow floral dress that suited her, like any of her other dresses, but Yeojin decided she liked this one the best so far. Her godmother’s face was cold in stern concentration, but when her eyes met Yeojin’s it turned into crescent moons, beckoning her to come closer.

Yeojin dragged herself into the tent, her initial happiness on seeing her godmother dissipating because of the cruel revelation that Lena bore. Sera seemed to notice Yeojin’s hesitation, her swirling multicolored eyes wandering her face to search what was wrong. Yeojin remembered when Sera told her about her warlock Mark and wondered why other warlocks had nastier Marks compared to her.

“We can’t choose how we’re born, Jin-ah,” her godmother had replied back then, and young Yeojin could only nod even though she did not fully understand. “But we can choose how to live our lives, and that’s more important.”

But now Yeojin understood. She was not wanted here. Even her godmother, whom she thought loved her dearly like she was her own flesh and blood, had let go of her years ago without any explanations.

The gap between them was closed by Sera, who enveloped Yeojin in a gentle embrace. Yeojin broke at the physical contact, her sobs particularly loud in the empty tent. Sera patted her head reassuringly, muttering calming words as Yeojin poured out everything she had stored up until now.

“Haven’t changed at all huh?” Sera pinched her cheek after Yeojin had cooled off. “Still Im Yeojin the small bean and the giant crybaby.”

“Stop ittt.” Yeojin swatted Sera’s hand away, laughing. After a heartbeat, she replied in a smaller voice, “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I miss you too,” Sera replied, smoothing Yeojin’s hair. “All these years.”

“But you let me go.”

Sera did not talk for quite some time, causing Yeojin to panic, thinking she had crossed the line. But her godmother just sighed and asked her to sit at the plush sofa in the middle of the tent, an invitation that Yeojin declined. Sera just nodded sadly.

“If I could, I wouldn’t have let young master Jo took you to the institute.”

“But you can!” Yeojin retorted. “You’ve taken care of me all this time!”

“Jin-ah... you are still a Shadowhunter. A warlock taking care of a Shadowhunter child… the Clave will not like it. I could shield you from them when you’re younger, but you have grown to be very powerful as time goes by. It was luck that Jo Haseul was the one who had found you, because if not…”

I would have been dead, Yeojin thought of the unspoken words. She remembered Haseul assuring her four years ago in the car ride back to the institute, saying that everything was going to be okay, and that Ryu Sera would be out of harm’s way.

“But still…”

Sera sweeped Yeojin’s bangs to the side, tracing her fingers across her tear-stained face. “You’re a very strong child. I’m very proud of you. But believe me when I say that this is not the right place for you. You belong at a bigger world out there.”

Yeojin was about to retort back that all the freedom she had at Seoul Institute only consisted of her bedroom and the kitchen when suddenly her hand felt like it was set ablaze. She dropped to her knees, tears stinging her eyes as the pain became more unbearable.

Sera crouched next to her in alarm. “Give me your hand.”

Yeojin complied, although it was very hard to raise her left hand. Through the haze, she could see her godmother muttering incantations and putting on some herbal salve on her burning hand. The pain subsided a little, but it was still stinging badly. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, it stopped. Yeojin exhaled in relief, her whole body collapsing onto the floor as the energy was taken out from her, hollowing her inside out. Her godmother was there to catch her, guiding her towards the sofa.

Sera’s face was stricken as she poured a mixture onto a cup and gestured at Yeojin to drink it. Yeojin took the earthen cup gingerly and finished the potion. Immediately she could feel her energy surged again, and her eyes could see clearer now. On top of her hand were some black numbers imprinted in 3D, the unlucky number for death.

004

“What is this?” Yeojin choked.

Sera was pacing through her tent, muttering something to herself, having apparently not heard of what Yeojin had said. Yeojin cleared her throat and repeated the question, and finally her godmother seemed to notice that she was in fact still present in the room.

“This is bad, Jin-ah. If I have known you’re involved I should have protected you more,” Sera muttered as she grabbed a piece of parchment and began writing on it with the quill on top of her desk.

“What is bad? What is this? Can’t you remove it?”

The warlock did not reply until she finished writing her message. After magically gluing the envelope she handed the letter to Yeojin. “It’s a Faerie Mark and it’s basically a time bomb. Give this to Haseul and tell her to find others with the same… circumstances. Now it’s time for you to leave.”

“W-wait,” Yeojin stammered as Sera began packing her stuff for her. “Why the hurry?”

Sera’s kaleidoscope eyes were churning grey, a sign that she was very troubled. “Because the longer you stay branded, the faster you will die. Promise me on this Yeojin, whatever happens, please trust Jo Haseul. Okay?”

“W-why Haseul?”

“Because I’m not the only one who owed my life to her,” Ryu Sera replied matter-of-factly. “Now it’s time for you to go. Until we meet again, Jin-ah.”

Sera gripped Yeojin’s hand, and instantly she was yanked sideways into the portal. When she opened her eyes, she was standing in front of the gate of Seoul Institute, a letter safely tucked inside her blazer pocket.

Standing on the institute’s front steps was a very angry Jo Haseul.

“Im Yeojin,” the young institute head called. “You are so in trouble, young woman.”

Usually Yeojin would have replied some snarky remarks to silence her cousin, but she was very tired and out of it today. She merely nodded and trudged up the institute’s step, pushing past her cousin through the double doors.

Haseul grabbed Yeojin’s wrist, effectively preventing the younger girl from going anywhere. “We’re not done talking here.”

“What do you want Haseul?”

Haseul examined her with narrowed eyes, and an idea seemed to pop inside her head, because she was now scowling. “You went to the Shadow Market again, did you? How many times have I told you that it’s not safe to go there!”

“It’s none of your business!” Yeojin tried to yank her left hand free, but Haseul’s grip was like steel. Besides, she did not have any energy left to argue. “You also sneak out to the Shadow Market back then! That’s why you found me, you hypocrite!”

Her cousin’s eyes widened in shock. Yeojin had never probed this subject before so loudly, and she herself began to regret it. Haseul was about to reply back when she noticed the number in Yeojin’s hand.

“What–”

This time, Yeojin succeeded in pulling her hand free. “It was nothing,” she lied.

Haseul just raised her eyebrows before folding her shirtsleeve up. Written in black was numbers like the ones on Yeojin’s, contrasting against her cousin’s very pale skin.

003

“Tell me again it’s nothing, Im Yeojin.”

“Um, actually–”

A knock on the institute’s door interrupted Yeojin’s speech, a distraction she was grateful of. Standing beside the open double doors was a female Shadowhunter with tied up dark brown hair, clad in black travelling gear and a gleaming sword strapped to her belt.

The stranger raised her left arm and Yeojin saw the same numbers imprinted on the stranger’s hand as well:

005

When the stranger spoke, her Korean was accented with a nice lilt to it.

“I don’t suppose branding numbers on a visiting Shadowhunter is a South Korean custom right?”

Yeojin was speechless, and so did Haseul. But recognition flashed on the institute head’s face almost immediately.

“W-wong Kahei?”

Said Shadowhunter – Wong Kahei – raised an eyebrow and smirked, her eyes twinkling underneath the dark sky outside the institute.

“That’s me.”

x x

Hong Kong

When the Hong Kong Institute’s head dispatched Wong Kahei on a solo mission to South Korea, she had not expected things to turn out this way. Her day was shitty enough by itself, but seeing two sisters nearly strangling each other by the door of Seoul Institute? That was the icing to the cake.

Kahei wondered what went wrong.

Her mission had been simple enough: track the High Warlock of Hong Kong, Jackson Wang, and observe what he’s doing in South Korea. The three-tailed warlock had away with illegal plants and poison bits, and since he was outside the jurisdiction of Hong Kong institute, they could do nothing about it. The South Korean Shadowhunters could not arrest him unless ample evidence was provided, but luckily the correspondent from Seoul Institute suggested that a Shadowhunter should be dispatched to South Korea to aid with the on-going investigation.

Naturally Kahei, being the strongest Shadowhunter currently residing in Hong Kong, was chosen. And she was the only one there who was a polyglot, so Korean came naturally to her after her native Cantonese.

She had planned everything thoroughly. Her enchanted rucksack was filled with enough necessities and weapons that could last her a whole week in the wilderness. Strapped to her belt was her favorite weapon: the jian, its double edges gleaming sharp. The scabbard was decorated in swirling pattern of Chinese good luck charms, and the locket was decorated with the character ‘黄’ – her surname. The Wong family had ruled the Hong Kong Institute for the past seven generations, even when Hong Kong was still under the British administration. Being the eldest daughter of the prestigious Wong clan, she naturally inherited the family blade.

The day before she left for South Korea, Kahei decided that she needed extra help on pinpointing the annoying warlock’s location in that vast eastern country. The last time she looked, Jackson Wang was chilling on an island called Jeju when 5 minutes ago he was roaming the streets of Seoul eating hot rice cakes.

She climbed to the institute’s rooftop, the strong wind rippling her clothes. She shivered and put on her leather jacket, which matched well with her motorcycle. Said motorcycle gleamed wickedly as she removed the tarp covering it. She had stolen it from the vampires the last time the Shadowhunters raided their bloody party (it was literally bloody because human subjugates littered the whole place with punctures on their necks), and here she was riding it towards the vampire hideout again. Her father would have disapproved her poor decision, but she had no time to lose. Riding a demon-powered motorcycle through the night sky was the fastest way to reach where she was going, assuming the place had not shifted again after the previous raid.

Kahei touched her stele to the ignition hole. Instantly the bike rumbled to life, and she hopped onto the comfortable leather seat. She revved the engine and the motorcycle lurched forward. Before she could fall of the edges of the institute with the bike, the wheels lost contact from the ground and Kahei was soaring through the Hong Kong sky in no time.

“Woohoo!” Kahei’s shout was swallowed by the wind roaring through her ears. Steering her bike southward, she made her way to the vampire hideout, hiding behind the low cloud cover as thunder rumbled in the distance.

She slowed down as she neared her designated spot. Below her, the Kowloon district sprawled under her, glimmering with lights. Streets and alleys wound around the place like capillaries, and tonight the traffic was busy.

She turned towards Kowloon Walled City Park, the dense foliage underneath covering the darker history it possessed. Until the late 1980s it was a densely populated settlement, but after several eviction and demolition processes the whole area had been beautified into the park it was now. To any untrained mundane eyes there was nothing left of the old walled city, but there was always a section that had stayed the same throughout time, just like how the Wong clan had persevered as the head Shadowhunter family all this time.

Kahei could feel the ripple in the thick glamour as she passed above what was the city’s south gate before, and immediately her eyes adjusted. Jarring in contrast with the surrounding modernity was a sprawling section of the old city left untouched, its crumbling buildings still standing straight against time. From the height, Kahei could see movements in the largest building, so she directed her motorcycle to that particular rooftop.

Up close, she realized that her coming was anticipated. Standing on top of the building was the first and last person she had wanted to see. Also the person she stole the bike from.

Elkie Chong, leader of the Hong Kong vampire clan, was smirking at her with blood dripping from her mouth.

“Well, well, well. Look who we have here,” Elkie mused as Kahei parked the bike rather roughly after hitting the raised curb of the apartment. “Please don’t destroy my bike, Viian.”

“It’s Kahei.”

“Whatever. I don’t suppose you’re here to return my bike?” Elkie said as she wiped the blood off with her manicured thumb, coming closer to Kahei.

Kahei willed herself to not stumble backwards. Showing weakness would only necessitate problem. “That can be negotiated. But I need your help.”

Elkie raised her eyebrow and laughed aloud, her voice echoing over the desolate landscape. “Help. From a vampire. Have the Shadowhunters lost their dignity and mind?”

“At this rate I would say yes. Unfortunately, the Shadowhunter in question is only me.”

“I can see that, Kahei. The Shadowhunters are lucky they send you. If it was one of those dim-witted steroid-filled men…” Elkie visibly shuddered at the possible scenario. “Even we don’t want to drink their blood, as much as we always flaunt about draining the Shadowhunters dry off their angelic liquid.”

Kahei winced inwardly. “I appreciate the kind gesture Elkie, but I don’t have much time.”

The vampire just shrugged. “We vampires have all the time we need, and all the time we also don’t need.”

“Yes.” Kahei was getting impatient. Elkie Chong might be the strongest vampire out there, but she was a hopeless chatterbox. “It’s about Jackson Wang.”

Elkie scrunched up her nose, but even then she still looked mesmerizing in the dark. “You ruined my dinner and almost destroyed my motorcycle, only to come and talk about that warlock?”

“I don’t have much choice,” Kahei pleaded, sounding more desperate as time went by. “You’re the one who was close enough to Jackson to know what he was after.”

“You mean, the only one you know who knows what Jackson Wang is doing on some god-knows-what rural areas in South Korea?”

In other times, Kahei would have been impressed that Elkie could utter the word ‘god’ so nonchalantly like that. Vampires were vulnerable to holy stuff, which included holy names, and here Elkie was, throwing the name to add more dictions to her sentences. But now Kahei did not have much time and even less of a lead. It was hard to admit defeat and let others knew that you were under their mercy, but sometimes it had to be done. “Yes. Can you help me, please?”

She put more emphasis on the last word, and to nobody’s surprise, Elkie’s smile widened. She loved having people begging for her mercy, especially more so from Shadowhunters. She twirled around and motioned for Kahei to follow her downstairs.

“Let’s talk about this over some tea, shall we?”

***

The tea in question was blood. Elkie ordered her henchman to bring her one of her special brews and to give Kahei ordinary tea, although Kahei doubted the tea would still be drinkable as she saw the vampire in question rummaging through the dusty cupboard in the kitchen. The tea would have probably expired 30 years ago.

Once the teacups were set in front of them, Elkie spent the first minute admiring her drink.

“Fermented blood. It accentuates the smell and matures the taste. Wanna try some?”

It was normal for Kahei to shake her head. “Anyway–”

“Jackson Wang. Right?”

“Yes.” Kahei wondered how many times she had said yes that night alone and she did not like the amount. “Do you have any information on where and what he’s going specifically?”

“Mhm,” Elkie mumbled as she stirred her cup. “Even if I do have some info, why should I tell you?”

“I’ll return your bike.”

“Which is rightfully mine. You’re lucky I haven’t sent a horde to that institute of yours.”

“You can’t get in anyway.”

“Fair enough.”

“I helped you before. Remember Ocean Park?”

Elkie scowled, revealing her sharp fangs. “Don’t remind me of that stupid amusement park again. I still have nightmares about it, and vampires are immortal. Do you know how much of a torture that is?”

Kahei’s lips curled in amusement. Five years ago, she had to track down a freshly-turned rogue vampire, which was seventeen-year-old Elkie, and kill her before she killed more humans. The chase spanned throughout southern Hong Kong, finally ending at the amusement park on Hong Kong Island. What Kahei did not expect was that vampirism did not include the ability to swim, because by the time she caught up with Elkie, the vampire girl was drowning on a 1.5-meter pool. Kahei would have left her behind, but she felt sorry for the poor girl, so she yanked her up to dry land. The experience seemed to calm Elkie down, which was just fine for Kahei. She immediately phoned Jackson Wang – the warlock being less annoying and more legal back then – and handed Elkie to him to be trained and raised in a vampire clan.

Fast forward to 2020, Elkie Chong had risen up the ranks and took the mantel of the vampire clan’s leader, although she still had water phobia.

“Wipe that grin off your face, you Nephilim,” Elkie snarled in irritation. “Fine. I’ll tell you what he’s on about.”

Kahei inched forward on her seat. Finally, some good information.

Elkie sighed as she drained her cup. “I don’t know what that old fart is after exactly, but being alive for over 200 years must have made him senile. He spent the last month trying to buy off illegal ingredients from the Hong Kong Shadow Market, something about Ground Zero and whatnot. What I’m sure is that he’s in coalition with Faeries.”

Kahei bit her lip. Faeries were not good news. At all. “Do you know what he’s after?”

“You think he would tell me?” Elkie scoffed. “He still saw me as the rogue vampire I was back then. Not intellectual enough to be part of the plan.”

Elkie sounded a bit hurt that Kahei could not help but apologize.

“Oh, I don’t need your apology, Shadowhunter,” Elkie brushed her hand away as if swatting some invisible fly. “What I’m sure of is that he’s up to no good and that you better hurry before it’s too late.”

“I see…” Kahei tried to digest the new piece of information she had received. Not much, but it was a start.

She drank her tea, which was surprisingly good and did not taste expired at all. After draining the last drop, she got up from her seat. “Thanks, Elkie. I owe you on this one.”

Her vampire friend was still seated on the sofa, examining her acrylic nails. “You better come back alive cause I want to claim the favor.”

“On it.”

Kahei was about to climb the stairs when Elkie’s voice drifted to her, soft but concerned. “I wouldn’t suggest using a portal to get there. To South Korea, I mean. Ever since Jackson left, the magic has been very unstable.”

“Oh. Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Kahei could hear Elkie sneered at her reply. “Your stubborn ass would probably try the portal immediately.”

“It’s the fastest way to get there, and I hate going through airport customs,” Kahei replied. “And, Elkie?”

Elkie craned her head to look at Kahei. “What?”

Kahei grinned. “I’ll be borrowing your motorcycle again.”

The vampire only rolled her eyes. “Ugh… Shadowhunters and their inability to honor their promises. Well, take care, Viian Wong. Don’t die.”

With that, Kahei rode the bike over the night sky one more time, the star blazing brightly above her.

Parking the motorcycle the second time was easier, and in no time Kahei had climbed down and went through her traveling pack again. After making sure everything was accounted for, she slept on her bed for one last night, drifting into a dreamless sleep.

***

By morning, Kahei slung her rucksack over her shoulder and strode to the living room.

The living room was a large space decorated like a grand ballroom with a crystal chandelier swaying slightly from the ceiling. Kahei always thought that the place was unnecessarily large, but considering the institute was built inside a building from the 1800s, it was impressive that the grandiose structure was still standing over time. She pushed the double doors open to reveal the dark space inside, the occasional light coming from the glinting chandelier as the morning sunlight reflected off the crystal surface.

Standing on the other end of the room was the portal, its surface swirling and rippling like waves. Kahei touched the edge, envisioning the Seoul Institute guest room where the portal was found. The Seoul Institute’s head, Jo Haseul, had sent her a photo of the guest room to aid with her portal journey since it was a tricky business – a clear visualization was needed to achieve the desired destination. One wrong move and you would be transported to a completely different place, or worse still: be stuck in a limbo forever.

After a while, she could feel the portal hummed with magic. The surface rippled, and when it cleared, the guest room of Seoul Institute was visible on the other side. Looking back at the dark expanse of Hong Kong Institute for one last time, Kahei breathed deeply before stepping into the portal. She could not see the future, but she had a feeling it would be a while before she could go back to the very institute that she grew up in.

Everything went wrong almost immediately. Kahei could feel herself get swept sideways, something that should not have happened. She tried to concentrate on the image of Seoul Institute, but the current was too strong to fight against. She could feel herself drowning as she was brought further away from her destination. Images swirled around her – destinations that she had never seen before – and she was losing consciousness. Before she succumbed to the tide, she focused herself on the brightest recurring image: a looming mountain in the distance surrounded by green flatlands. Instantly she was yanked towards it.

Kahei hurtled forward into lush greenery, coughing hard. The portal behind her shimmered and disappeared, and she was in unfamiliar territory, but at that time Kahei was grateful enough that she had survived the experience.

She lied down on the grass for a while, trying to collect her thoughts. Elkie was right. There was something wrong with the portal, but Kahei suspected it was more than a simple magical interference from the wanted warlock. The magic that almost drowned her seemed more ancient.

Like the Fair Folk.

The thought of Faeries cleared her jumbled thoughts. She had no time to lose, yet here she was, stuck near a mountain in the middle of nowhere. It was late morning, almost 11am Korean time, assuming she was still in South Korea. She had arrived near the foot of the mountain, a wooden trail winding up towards the mountain beside her. She could spot the mundanes hiking up, many of them conversing in Korean. Kahei sighed in relief; at least she was not thrown to another continent from her nightmarish journey minutes earlier.

She jumped over the railing and trailed downwards. Using her stele, she drew the mendelin rune on her inner arm, which granted her temporary invisibility from the masses. Kahei did not know how far she had walked, but by the time she reached the base of the hiking trail, the sun was already over her head. An announcement board bearing a map showed her that she was in Hallasan National Park in Jeju Island. She was blown off course quite far, considering that Seoul was about 450km away from where she stood. She sighed as she sat down under the shade.

What now?

The crowd had thickened as time went by, so Kahei had to keep moving before she drew attention to herself. She considered another portal travel, although she was sure that her next one would be more treacherous compared to the previous one. Furthermore, no stupid being would install a portal in the middle of nowhere like this.

She wondered why she was brought here. Sure, she had focused on the mountain before she drifted away, but the rest was not her doing. The tugging and pulling towards the mountain, away from the dark and towards the light – there was something else protecting her. She looked back at the looming mountain in the distance, looking regal yet ordinary under the sunlight.

“Thanks, I guess?”

As soon as Kahei said it out loud, she shook her head at how stupid she sounded. But she was sure that the gratitude was welcomed. She slung her rucksack over her shoulder and lumbered her way to the main road. The taxi driver did not question anything as she instructed him to drive her to the airport, although he stared at her Marks for a second too long, making Kahei lowkey conscious of them. The drive was peaceful enough, which made her anxious for some reason. Whatever was going on in South Korea, Kahei decided she did not like it one bit.

Her flight did not leave until around 5pm due to tourist influx. By the time she stepped foot at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul, the sun was already setting on the horizon. Kahei was tired just from this particular travel halfway up the country, which was saying a lot as she usually liked to explore. She hailed another taxi, wasted more money and immediately fell asleep at the back seat.

Which was a mistake, because the nightmare long forgotten resurfaced again. Recognition dawned on her: the familiar ghastly voices enveloping her, blaming her for what she did in the past and the faces that she had tried hard to forget, crudely misshapen like half-melted clay asking her to take responsibility. The hands that grabbed at her felt real, especially the one that wound around her throat. The last thing she remembered was a voice that sounded like her father’s, asking her to die and take responsibility, before she woke up harshly.

The taxi driver jumped up as Kahei bolted upright, sweating profusely. Her hands shook as she raked her fingers across her loose ponytail. Not again, Kahei thought. Not now.

When she removed her hand from her hair, the first thing she noticed was a glistening Mark on her left hand. Kahei frowned. She did not remember ever Marking her left hand, but as she looked closer it was a set of numbers that made no sense to her.

005

Her thoughts were interrupted when the driver announced that she had arrived at her destination. Handing him a wad of cash, she got out of the cab, her only belonging being the rucksack on her back and the sword strapped to her belt. In front of her loomed Seoul Institute, which was glamoured as a run-down abandoned cult-looking church. Pushing the rusty iron gate inwards, Kahei walked up the steps towards the double doors. What she did not expect was two Shadowhunters almost fighting a few steps from the doors. The spectacle confused her, so she did the most logical thing possible: knock the door.

It worked, because now both Shadowhunters were staring at her. They looked very similar, the one with the short hair a few centimeters taller than the little one, who looked about 12. Kahei was about to muster the most official voice she could summon considering her trip so far had been nothing but exhausting, before she saw that both girls had the same marking on their left hand as hers.

She quirked an eyebrow. Interesting.

Since nobody was talking and she was now the subject of a gaping contest, she decided to break the ice.

“I don’t suppose branding numbers on a visiting Shadowhunter is a South Korean custom right?”

The little one looked surprised, but the other girl’s face flashed with recognition. “Wong Kahei?”

“That’s me,” Kahei smirked. “And you must be Jo Haseul?”

“Y-yes. I am the current head of Seoul Institute. Nice to meet you. Sorry for causing a ruckus.” Haseul stammered.

“It’s okay. Can’t say I’m quite surprised that Seoul Institute’s head is this young and pretty.”

Haseul blushed and the little one snorted. Haseul smacked her on the shoulder. “Yeojin, behave!”

“Gay.” The little one – Yeojin – chuckled, before pointing at Kahei’s hand. “Your hand. You also have the Faerie Mark.”

“The what? This?” Kahei looked at her mark again. “I don’t know how I got this.”

“Same here,” Yeojin sighed.

“Me neither,” Haseul chimed in, her face still red from the comment.

Yeojin’s face lightened up and she quickly fumbled into her blazer pocket. She produced a sealed envelope, which she gave to Haseul. “A message from Ryu Sera.”

Haseul grabbed the letter from Yeojin and frowned. She tore open the envelope and read the content, the creases on her eyebrows getting deeper as she went on. Finally, she folded the paper again and sighed.

“This is bad.” Haseul announced.

“Well, duh, dear cousin. You’re a bit slow,” Yeojin mocked.

Haseul was about to smack the Hell out of Yeojin again, but the younger girl continued talking. “Sera said to gather others with the same circumstances. Or curse, whatever. That means there’s more people like us out there.”

Kahei stared at her own hands. Since she was the fifth one, there must be people branded before her, and maybe some people after her as well. She could not decide whether the thought of more people bearing the same Mark was comforting or not. More people to die with or more friends with the same predicament?

“What do we do now?” Kahei asked, and the cousins jumped. It seemed like they had forgotten that their guest was still standing idly by the doors.

“I guess we don’t have much choice,” Haseul sighed. “We’ll send fire messages to all the institutes in South Korea and gather those with marks here at Seoul Insitute.”

Yeojin whistled. “Sounds like a bad plan, considering the institutes don’t get along, but oh well.”

Kahei wondered what Yeojin had meant, and her gut feeling told her that the meeting would not go as smoothly as she initially thought it would be.


Profile

#005
- Name: Wong Kahei
- Born: 9 December 1996
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Hong Kong Institute -> Seoul Institute
- Weapon: Jian
- Parabatai: -

#006
- Name: Kim Jungeun
- Born: 10 February 1999
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Cheongju Institute
- Weapon: Electrum whip
- Parabatai: Kim Jiwoo
- Relatives: Kim Jiwoo (cousin)

Chapter Text

To say that Haseul was nervous was an understatement. She was downright anxious.

She had been pacing back and forth the living room since morning, waiting for the first hint of arrival from their guests from the windows overlooking the institute’s gates. Yeojin had been there with her for the first hour, eating her breakfast (which she did not share with her, that demonic child) and making fun of her for being so agitated. Her cousin had left afterwards because she was bored, quoting “you look like a sim gone haywire.”

Haseul did not know what a sim was, although it sounded like a pixie’s name. She had to update herself with the mundane and Shadow World commonalities soon or else Yeojin would be having a field day against her.

After looking down from the second-floor windows for the nth time that morning, Haseul sighed loudly and flopped herself onto the nearest armchair. Her head throbbed from the lack of sleep the previous night, and the coffee did not give her the boost as it previously did. Haseul decided she should up the dose soon enough.

“You look so stressed. Chill, they won’t be coming for another 6 hours.”

Haseul jumped at her seat. Her agitation had caused her to forget that her guest from Hong Kong, Wong Kahei, was still in the room with her. Said Shadowhunter was looking at her amusedly as she drank her English breakfast, flipping through the morning mundane newspaper.

“Oh. Right. That’s true.”

Haseul winced at the lack of coherent sentences she uttered whenever she conversed with Kahei. She did not know why words were always stuck inside her throat every time they talked, and this had never happened before. At first, she thought it was because she was talking to someone older than her, but the institute had a fair share of older Shadowhunters that she could interact with rather freely, so that might not be the case.

Yeojin had teased her for that, saying she definitely had a crush on Kahei, but Haseul did not think so. Although she had to admit that talking to pretty girls had always been her weakness…

Haseul shook her head. This could not continue longer. She was the head of Seoul Institute, and a pretty lady with a pretty sword should not make her tongue-tied like this.

Kahei did not seem to notice Haseul’s internal turmoil, because she was still thumbing the newspaper and reading the sections intently. When she spoke up, her eyes were still burning holes on the scrap paper. “Talking about those who are coming, how do you even invite them without raising suspicions?”

“I masked it as a tea party,” Haseul replied.

Kahei’s eyes finally left the newspaper and bore into Haseul’s, causing her to suddenly feel conscious. The older girl raised an eyebrow and smirked (which was quite attractive), repeating Haseul’s words. “A tea party.”

“Y-yeah,” Haseul stammered. “I can’t say explicitly that they’re somehow cursed by some Faeries. So I just told them to RSVP if they have numbers on their hands like us. Sort of like a pre-RSVP kinda thing.”

Haseul waved her marked hand towards Kahei. The number ‘003’ was stark against her skin, and from time to time she could feel it getting hotter for no apparent reason. That afternoon when Yeojin went to the Shadow Market, Haseul had fallen asleep in her office, only to be woken harshly by the painful sensation on her arm. The numbers had etched themselves on her hand, and no amount of runes could make it disappear, until Yeojin told her and Kahei that evening that it was a time bomb. Talk about convenient. Her arm still stung quite badly from the rune overdose scribbled on its expanse.

“How are you sure that they will all come? I heard from Yeojin that all the Korean institutes don’t really get along.”

Haseul flinched. It was not the sort of information a foreigner should know first thing after stepping into South Korea. To outsiders, South Korea was picture perfect: orderly organization, few demonic activities, civil Downworlders, talented new generation of Shadowhunters and all the other good stuff that should have made the Koreans feel privileged. But on the inside, it was a civil war. Every ruling clan and houses had their own private administrations, causing divisions to run rampant as they would not yield under one another. The Kims had been ruling Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan areas for centuries until the Parks and Jeons rose up in power in the 1800s to overtake Incheon and Gyeonggi respectively. This caused the Kims to be scattered and seek refuge into areas further south of the country. The Jungs did not stay silent as they kept exerting their dominance via internal strife within Seoul itself, until the attack several years ago decimated most of the clan members and displaced the rest to the neighboring areas. Meanwhile, the Has was content with having southeastern South Korea to run, with Busan as their headquarter. Their power had increased tremendously ever since the former Busan Institute’s head, Ha Something (truthfully Haseul could care less about that old man), became the inquisitor for the Clave. The only thing stopping the Ha family from exerting control over other surrounding areas was the Chois, who had jurisdiction over Daegu. The Lees had been smart enough to avoid the clashes by lying low in Gwangju while the Shins were busy manning the always troubled Ulsan. Jeju-do had been a no man’s land for the Shadowhunter conquer politics as of late, due to the strong magic the place imbued from time to time.

The importance of family name was also one of the reasons why some rejected Haseul’s leadership over the Seoul Institute. She was only a Jo, inferior to the Kims, Jungs and even Yeojin’s family, the Ims, in terms of the Shadowhunter family ranking. The stupid tradition-driven Shadowhunters thought this right was reserved to the Kims’ only living heir, Kim Hyunjin. Sadly, Kim Hyunjin decided to leave Seoul to stay in Seongnam, which irked her father to no end, but the girl was stubborn enough that her parents finally relented after 2 whole years.

Haseul knew Hyunjin since they were young, back when Hyunjin was just a cute kid who seemed to be possessed by the spirit of a cat most of the times. Hyunjin had looked up to her as an older sister she never had, since she grew up with unruly brothers who were more than a decade older than her. She knew Hyunjin hated high positions, but the real reason why she ran away was unknown even to Haseul. She wondered whether Hyunjin would be one of the delegations from Seongnam that would come later.

“About that… I kind of let it on that they would die if they decided not to come.”

Kahei stared at Haseul in amazement, although she did not know whether the reaction was positive or not. “So you basically blackmailed them to come?”

“Writing fire messages was not my forte,” Haseul admitted. “And I think the friendly tea invitation should mask the deadly intention quite well…?”

Kahei chuckled. “You’re very interesting, Jo Haseul.”

“T-thanks.”

Both Shadowhunters fell back to their silent routine: Haseul pacing by the window while Kahei focused back on her newspaper. It was a comfortable silence, until Yeojin came barging in with her iPad in hand, blasting her songs loudly. Kahei took it as a cue to excuse herself from the room before Haseul rose Hell on her cousin, or was she leaving the stage to her? Either way, Haseul was grateful with the distraction from the clenching awkwardness before.

Before Haseul could snatch the mundane device away from Yeojin, the doorbell rang. The chime echoed throughout the institute, especially loud in the mostly deserted late morning. Yeojin stopped blaring her song and scrambled downstairs to greet their visitors, while Haseul frowned as she checked her watch.

That’s early, Haseul thought as she climbed down the stairs.

Standing by the institute’s doors were two young Shadowhunters currently harassed by Yeojin. Haseul had the urge to lock Yeojin in the enchanted cabinet in the attic like before, but she fought down the desire after seeing the familiar face among the newcomers.

Kim Hyunjin looked up as Haseul walked closer and met her eyes. Her normally round eyes crinkled into a crescent, and before Haseul knew it, Hyunjin pounced at her (literally).

“HASEUL-UNNIE!”

Haseul nearly toppled over from the attack, but she regained her balance and patted the younger girl on the back. “I missed you so much, Hyunjin-ah!”

Hyunjin detached herself from the hug and beamed back. Haseul marveled at how much the other girl had grown. Hyunjin left Seoul Institute when she was 13 years old, and even back then she was already a beauty. Coming back to the very institute she was born in after 7 years, Kim Hyunjin had grown into her features and had become more confident. She was taller than Haseul now, her gleaming black hair flowing through her back smoothly. Her canine smile was still the same, and Haseul nearly cried from the shred of familiarity left behind, alongside the warmth of her hug.

“Haven’t changed much are you?” Haseul sniffled and pinched her cute cheeks.

Now that she was over the tearful reunion, Haseul finally noticed Hyunjin’s companion and stifled a gasp. Standing awkwardly by the door was Jeon family’s youngest daughter, Jeon Heejin. Heejin was cute, to say the least, with petite features that did not look fully Korean. Moles speckled her face and accentuated her beauty, a different kind compared to Hyunjin’s. Strapped to her back was the Jeon family’s heirloom, the naginata, its blade glinting off the sunlight streaming through the open doors.

Haseul had seen Heejin multiple times in the past before, when her parents visited Seoul Institute for some businesses, but she never had the chance to interact with the girl. Heejin was the same age as Hyunjin and had two older sisters, but she was easily one of the most powerful Shadowhunters to be born in this new era. Haseul was mildly curious about Heejin’s capabilities hidden underneath that calm exterior, but right now her priority was to save her. The poor girl was still pestered by Yeojin, and Haseul could see from her face that the girl was trying hard to politely get away.

Haseul dragged Yeojin away before she could annoy people to death. Heejin smiled stiffly, grateful to be relieved from the little demon. The brunette inhaled before regaining her posture, and Haseul could see a different twinkle in her eyes that were not present before.

Heejin grabbed Hyunjin’s hand and made her bow together. Her voice was deep when she introduced herself formally. “My name is Jeon Heejin, delegation from Seongnam Institute. This is my parabatai, Kim Hyunjin. Nice to meet you, Jo Haseul-ssi.”

Haseul awkwardly bowed back; she was not used to the extreme formalities employed by Seongnam Shadowhunters. Meanwhile, Hyunjin just snickered throughout the whole exchange and smacked Heejin on the back, causing the girl to trip.

“Heekie relax, it’s just Haseul,” Hyunjin laughed as she wrapped an arm around Heejin’s shoulder, adding, “and a mini Haseul.”

The last statement was targeted to Yeojin, who was busying herself near one of the pillars. She looked up when all eyes were on her, and her brows creased. “Excuse me? A mini Haseul?”

Hyunjin ignored Yeojin, turning to Haseul. “Unnie, since when do you have a little version of yourself roaming around the institute?”

Yeojin began to protest against being labeled as a Haseul Junior, but Haseul shushed her. She had enough headache for one day, and breaking down in front of delegations from another area did not seem appropriate.

“Hyun, this is Im Yeojin, my cousin.”

Hyunjin’s mouth formed the letter ‘o’. “You look alike.”

“Not something I’m proud of,” Yeojin sighed.

Hyunjin arced her eyebrow. “Tell me about it. Is Haseul still as lame as she was back then?”

“100%.”

Since Hyunjin had taken interest in Yeojin on the subject of Humiliating Haseul, the institute head decided to talk to the only sensible person left in the hallway. Kahei was nowhere to be found.

“So, Heejin. Is it only the two of you from Seongnam?”

Heejin nodded, showing her number: 001. “Hyunjin’s 002.”

Haseul rolled her sleeve to show her ‘003’. “Yeojin is 004 while Kahei is 005.”

“Kahei?”

“A Hong Kong Shadowhunter. She arrived yesterday.”

Heejin nodded, pondering over the new information. After a while, she finally spoke up, and Haseul still could not get over the deep voice coming from the younger girl’s soft feature.

“We’re not the only one, right?”

Haseul shook her head sadly. It was bad enough that there were 5 being branded with a deathly mark, but she had received information that 7 Shadowhunters were still on the way to Seoul. She relayed the information to Heejin, whose eyebrows creased deeper.

“This is bad,” Heejin replied in a hushed tone.

Haseul nodded sympathetically. “Come inside. Everyone won’t be arriving until much later. There’s food in the kitchen.”

Heejin’s eyes lit up at the mention of food, and Haseul smiled. It reminded her that the other girl was still young at heart, despite the pressure she had to bear. Her parabatai, Hyunjin, strode over with Yeojin in tow, her face full of glee.

“I like this lentil bean.” Hyunjin proclaimed as she swung a hand over Yeojin’s shoulders. “She’s cool.”

Heejin rolled her eyes and dragged Hyunjin with her. Hyunjin stopped squirming after the word ‘food’ was mentioned, and she practically dragged Heejin to the kitchen with her.

“Hyunjin-unnie is cool.” Yeojin said as she walked towards the kitchen.

“Unnie? You never called me unnie before, you lentil bean.”

“Respect is earned, not given,” Yeojin replied in a singsong voice. “Haseul-unnie.”

Yeojin would have ended up in the cabinet if only Haseul did not love her so much.

***

The 5 Shadowhunters were enjoying their lunch – Kahei joined in halfway after having a lengthy conversation with her institute head – when the institute gates rattled.

Heejin shot to her feet and looked around in alarm. Hyunjin and Yeojin were still wolfing down their food, having no care to what was happening. Kahei did not stand up, but she narrowed her eyes at the window overlooking the gates.

The gates rattled again, followed by an unmistakable groan and a loud boom. Haseul ran towards the window and opened it just in time to see that the mighty iron gates had fallen off their hinges, lying uselessly against the institute front lawn.

The Seoul Institute was now officially gate-less.

Standing behind the once-standing gates were two very flustered Shadowhunters. The one with ponytail was screeching at the other one, who was waving her hands frantically. Their argument was loud enough that Haseul could hear everything from the open window.

“I told you not to kick at the gates!” Ponytail shouted.

“How should I know it would fall after one kick, Jungie?” Busy Hands replied back with the same intensity. “I kick our gates from time to time and it’s still fine!”

Ponytail – or Jungie – sighed exasperatedly. “This is Seoul Institute, Jiwoo. This place is old as fuck.”

Jiwoo’s eyes widen as if she had just gotten a revelation. “No wonder.”

Haseul could not let the two strangers insult her institute further, so she hurried over to the doors and threw them wide open.

The two Shadowhunters jumped backwards; Jiwoo jumping too far that she tripped over Jungie. They both sprawled over the pavement, fumbling against each other. The sight was so bizarre that Haseul was momentarily at a loss for words, but her mind sorted itself faster than one could say ‘Shadowhunter’. The name Jiwoo had sounded familiar, and it rang a bell inside Haseul’s mind as one of the correspondents of her fire messages.

She cleared her throat. “You guys must be the representatives from Cheongju.”

The Cheongju representatives’ eyes widen. They began whispering to each other, which was unfortunately loud enough that Haseul could hear it from across the lawn.

“How did she know?” Jiwoo whispered loudly.

“No idea!”

“Is she a psychic?”

“There’s no such thing as psychic Shadowhunters!”

“But how could she–”

“I said I don’t know!”

“Maybe if you guys weren’t so loud,” Haseul interjected. The two Shadowhunters finally stopped talking.

Jungie regained her senses first. She dragged Jiwoo across the grassy expanse, coming towards the steps.

“We’re so sorry about your gates!” Jungie bowed while Jiwoo put her hands together as if praying to Haseul. “Jiwoo didn’t mean to break it.”

“The gates wouldn’t budge when we pushed it! It was a friendly kick, I swear!” Jiwoo added.

Haseul could not believe her luck. “But the gates are supposed to be pulled…”

Both Shadowhunters fell silent. “Oh.”

The commotion had drawn the other Shadowhunters out from the kitchen. Haseul wondered how many more door meetings she needed to go through before she could catch a break.

Haseul could hear Hyunjin’s voice before the girl appeared beside her, munching on a corndog. “Unnie, you still alive?”

Hyunjin’s arrival made Jungie and Jiwoo even more frantic. Jiwoo gasped loudly while Jungie’s nostrils flared in surprise, and both Shadowhunter groveled in front of Hyunjin.

Hyunjin’s starstruck expression would have been funny had Haseul known what this was all about. Her corndog had fallen onto the ground as she whispered, “What the fuck?”

It was Jungie who turned up to speak, looking up with one knee still touching the floor. “Forgive our initial rudeness, Kim Hyunjin-nim. I am Kim Jungeun, and this is my cousin and parabatai, Kim Jiwoo. We’re from Cheongju Institute and we’re at your service.”

Hyunjin still looked confused, but Haseul understood. Hyunjin, Jungeun and Jiwoo were from the same family, but Hyunjin was a direct descendant from the Gwangsan Kim clan, which traced its history back to the Joseon Dynasty. Being a Kim from the Gwangsan line, Hyunjin was basically a monarch. Seeing how Jungeun and Jiwoo bowed down, it was clear they were from the branch families.

“At ease.”

Haseul turned in surprise upon hearing Hyunjin’s steely voice. Said girl was staring hard at the two newcomers, her jaws set. Haseul had never seen Hyunjin this angry before, and she suddenly pitied Jungeun and Jiwoo.

“My first order,” Hyunjin continued, “is to treat me as an equal. No more of this class bullshit. Just call me Hyunjin, and none of those formal titles. If I catch you treating me higher again, I’m gonna knock the shit out of you.”

Jungeun and Jiwoo gaped at the threat, but they both nodded as they got to their feet.

“W-we understand, H-Hyunjin…?” Jiwoo began.

Hyunjin grinned, her anger earlier dissipating as fast as it had started. “Nice to meet you both. I assume you’re older than me?”

Both girls nodded in unison.

“Then,” Hyunjin extended her hand. “Nice to meet you Jungeun-unnie, Jiwoo-unnie.”

All the time, Haseul just watched the scene in amazement. They escorted Jungeun and Jiwoo to the kitchen. Hyunjin trailed back to walk alongside Haseul.

“I’m proud of you,” Haseul began.

Hyunjin just shrugged. “It’s the right thing to do. Besides, I hate pre-determined discrimination like this. The strong deserves to be at the top, regardless of who they are and where they come from.”

Haseul ruffled the younger girl’s hair, which was quite a chore since she needed to tiptoe to do so. When they arrived at the kitchen, the space seemed smaller from the newer human additions, but overall, it was a nice addition.

After making sure Jungeun and Jiwoo’s stomachs were filled after the journey, Haseul began questioning them about the mark. Jungeun’s was 006, directly after Kahei’s, while Jiwoo’s was 010.

“A jump? I thought it will be in order,” Heejin questioned.

“Jiwoo even got hers first,” Jungeun replied, which was confirmed by Jiwoo.

“It’s as if everybody has a part to play,” Kahei muttered.

All eyes stared at Kahei, who did not seem to realize she had said it aloud. Kahei was still fiddling with her fork over the remains of her lunch, not realizing the gravity of six pairs of eyes staring at her. When she was aware, she only looked mildly surprised.

“Just a hunch.”

Soon, the conversation on the table reverted back to normal. Questions about daily lives were thrown around, and this sparked a hope inside Haseul that maybe there was a chance that the institutes would work together as one in the near future. After all, it would be let by the same youths cramped around the kitchen table in front of her, all very normal except for death marked on their hands.

“Ew, Haseul is in her mellow mode again,” Yeojin gagged.

Haseul decided that locking Yeojin for one hour inside the cabinet would not hurt at all.

***

It was about 3pm in the afternoon when the rest of the delegations arrived. After the table was cleared, Haseul had directed Heejin, Jungeun and Jiwoo into the guest rooms, while Hyunjin returned to her old bedroom.

Haseul then holed herself in the library, scouring through dusty books for clues about the Faerie Mark and its origins. The early afternoon was pleasant enough as the warmer season began to seep in, the sunlight giving natural lighting through the high windows of the tall circular room. She was too deep in thought that she did not hear the repeated knocking on the door. Only when the institute’s servant came in and notified that more guests had arrived that Haseul finally tore her eyes from the minuscule writings on the thick book she was poring. She was joined at the doorway (again) by the rest, who was undoubtedly also curious on who else might be coming.

Standing by the doors were two tall Shadowhunters, one brown-haired and the other blonde (another foreigner?). Their weapons belt glistened with arrays of weapons, especially more so on the brunette’s, who was scowling. Meanwhile, a gruesome-looking weapon – a guisarme – peeked from the blonde’s back, no doubt having been used for gruesome-looking activities as well.

Haseul recognized the scowling one, and it seemed like everybody did as well. “Ha Sooyoung.”

Ha Sooyoung squinted at Haseul before nodding, not saying anything. Haseul gulped.

Ha Sooyoung was Busan’s ace, a throwing knives expert as well as a very good swordswoman. She had gotten popular among the younger Shadowhunters due to her fighting style that combined viciousness and gracefulness, as if the battlefield was her private recital. If Ha Sooyoung was here, that meant the other Shadowhunter was…

“Jinsol-unnie?” Hyunjin gasped.

The blonde smiled, and finally Haseul recognized her. Jinsol’s hair was black when she left Seoul, but her current hair suited her very well. Her chubby cheeks were gone, replaced by sharp jawlines and a face that radiated beauty. Haseul wondered whether the Fair Folk only targeted beautiful women (herself included of course).

Jinsol jumped towards Hyunjin just as the other girl did the same thing, her childish glee very apparent. Hyunjin buried her face into the crook of Jinsol’s neck while the older girl just laughed at the physical affection. Heejin looked mildly affronted, probably dying from secondhand embarrassment, although Haseul could see that there was more to it than what was shown on her face.

“My baby,” Jinsol cooed as she tickled Hyunjin’s chin. “You’re grown up now.”

Hyunjin just smiled shyly. Haseul knew Hyunjin had always admired Jinsol when she was younger, going so far as to say that her role model was to be like Jung Jinsol when she grew up. Sadly, Jinsol had to move when little Hyunjin was only 9 years old, depriving her of the figure she admired. Hyunjin then followed Jinsol’s footsteps in leaving Seoul four years later.

Ha Sooyoung sighed and dragged Jinsol back. “Stop being an embarrassment.”

Jinsol whined, but she relented.

Silence ensued despite the presence of nine Shadowhunters at the doorway. Haseul decided to break the ice like the good host she was.

“Welcome to Seoul Institute. I’m Jo Haseul, head of this institute. You two must be tired, let me show you to your rooms.”

Sooyoung eyed her up and down. “Of course we are. Not only were we banned from portal travel and got stalked halfway up the country, we’re also welcomed with gates on our feet. Great service, Seoul Institute.”

Behind Haseul, Jiwoo yelped slightly before being silenced with a slap. Probably Jungeun’s.

Jinsol decided to defuse the heating situation by choking Sooyoung. “There, there Soo. Relax.” Turning to Haseul, she continued, “Sorry, she’s being cranky cause our car broke down on the way and we need to run to catch the bus.”

“Oh… it’s fine,” Haseul replied, confused herself. “What do you mean you’re stalked?”

Sooyoung managed to speak despite being held in a chokehold. “We won’t be stalked if we can portal here. Maybe you need to explain that first, you–”

Jinsol cut Sooyoung’s complaint short by tightening her hold. Haseul began to pity Ha Sooyoung, somehow.

From behind Haseul, Kahei finally spoke up. “The portal has been weird lately. I got swept up to Jeju when I was supposed to come here.”

Sooyoung managed to wriggle free from Jinsol’s hold and regain her posture, although her face was still red. “How are you sure it’s not just you fucking up?”

“I’m not an idiot, Ha Sooyoung.” Kahei replied, sarcasm evident on the way she pronounced the Shadowhunter’s name.

It was Yeojin’s turn to save the day. “The stalkers. Who would want to stalk y’all? I probably would have stayed clear.”

Sooyoung narrowed her eyes at Yeojin, who was casually swinging the chain of her pocket watch. “You–”

“We don’t know who they are, but there are two girls who were following us ever since we passed over Daegu,” Jinsol interrupted. “We tried to shake them off, but I kinda lost control of the steering wheel and broke our car…”

“And by breaking a car, she means toppling it over the bridge. The car is in the bottom of the river by the way,” Sooyoung continued. “Good job, Jung.”

Jinsol winced. “At least we lost them. That’s great right?”

“Given your subpar driving skills, they’re probably dead by now.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble, your highness, but your ‘stalkers’ are alive and well.”

All eyes turned towards the doors. Standing by them was a pair of Shadowhunters, who Haseul assumed were Sooyoung and Jinsol’s stalkers. The one who had spoken up just now scowled even worse than Sooyoung, her arms crossed over her chest while her stare showed distaste at everything around her. She was tall and her hair was tied in a low ponytail, her sleeveless gear showcasing the Marks on her arms. On her belt was scythed chains, which looked wickedly sharp and heavy.

The only thing (or person) holding her back from jumping onto Sooyoung was her partner, who was holding her wrist in place. She was shorter than the scowling girl, her eyes wide and her breath was hitched as if she had been running all the way through Seoul. Haseul thought it was probably the case, since the scowling girl was also drenched in sweat.

Sooyoung walked towards the angry girl until they were eye-level. “Well, hello there. I thought you’ll be decorating the riverbed by now. Congrats.”

The girl saluted towards Sooyoung mockingly. “Glad to still be alive, your highness. Considering the way you drive, I’m surprised you’re still alive as well.”

“For a stalker, you sure are shameless.”

“Maybe if you get yourself out of that thick head of yours, you would have realized that nobody wanted to stalk your sorry ass in the first place.”

“Told you,” Yeojin whispered.

Sooyoung inched closer, her voice getting louder as their distance got shorter. “You? Not stalking? You both clearly followed our car for over one hour!”

“It’s because we’re going the same way, you idiot!”

The girl who had been holding the angry girl’s wrist suddenly intervened. She stood in front of the taller girl and cupped the girl’s frowning face with her two hands.

“Hyejoo, stop it! Remember what we come here for! No fighting, okay?”

Hyejoo tried to struggle weakly, but Haseul saw how her expression softened immediately upon seeing her friend. When she glared at Sooyoung, her features looked much younger than it had been seconds earlier.

“Fine,” Hyejoo scoffed. “I’m only doing this because of Yerim.”

“Aww,” Sooyoung drawled. “You got a nanny to take care of you.”

Before Haseul could fully grasp what had happened, Hyejoo had unclipped one part of her chain and hurtled the end towards Sooyoung. Sooyoung had retaliated the same way, detaching two knives from her belt and threw them at blinding speed.

Both Shadowhunters would probably have impaled each other if only their parabatais did not jump in. Yerim threw a grappling hook to intercept the roiling chain’s movement, diverting its pathway so it missed Sooyoung by a foot to hit the pillar behind her. Meanwhile, Jinsol had unclasped her guisarme and shielded Yerim and Hyejoo from the knives Sooyoung had thrown. The blades clanged harmlessly against the gleaming surface of the guisarme, clattering to the floor.

The silence dragged on as chunks of plaster rained from the damaged pillar. Haseul did not realize that she was holding her breath throughout the whole encounter. Even the four Shadowhunters involved also seemingly froze, not knowing what to do after the worst-case scenario was averted.

Yerim was holding Hyejoo back, hands gripping tightly on the taller girl’s shoulders that her knuckles turned white. Jinsol had lowered down her guisarme, but her expression was darker than her blade when she glared at Sooyoung. Hyejoo and Sooyoung had grown mute, as if their intensities dissipated the same time their weapons left their hands earlier.

It was Jinsol who spoke up first, her voice scarily calm. “Ha Sooyoung, that was too much.”

Sooyoung flinched as if she were slapped. Haseul guessed that Jinsol never called her by her full name unless it was necessary.

“Apologize to Hyejoo and Yerim right now.”

Sooyoung wanted to complain, but she was interrupted by Yerim bowing in front of her and Jinsol.

“We’re so sorry!” Yerim bowed, dragging Hyejoo with her, who reluctantly bent down as well. “We didn’t mean to stalk you in the first place! We never went to Seoul before, so we got lost. Then we saw your car at the rest area, and we decided to put a tracker rune–”

Sooyoung sounded hysterical at Yerim’s statement. “You put a WHAT?”

“No wonder the back tires blew up,” Jinsol supplied calmly.

Yerim looked aghast. “I-I didn’t mean to… I didn’t know–”

“That a tracker rune on a heavily-shielded anti-rune patrol car would not cause it to internally combust???” Sooyoung stared at the shriveling girl incredulously.

Yerim seemed to bow lower in guilt. “I didn’t know that kind of car existed in this country.”

“Because it’s the only one to ever exist in South Korea, and now it’s gone!”

“Soo, be nice.” Jinsol interrupted. She tried to move closer to Yerim, who was close to tears now, but Hyejoo blocked her.

“Stop blaming Yerim, you hag,” Hyejoo growled as she stood in front of Yerim, shielding her. “I was the one who suggested to Mark your car.”

“Who are you calling a hag–”

A cough pierced through the doorway. Sooyoung stopped mid-sentence while Hyejoo frowned. Haseul turned to find her last guest standing with an eyebrow magnificently raised high.

Soft blonde locks cascaded down her head, the color natural compared to Jinsol’s artificial dye. She was petite-sized, with big inquiring eyes and plump lips. A leather quiver was strapped to her back, the fletching a multicolored hue jutting out from it. She had not introduced herself, but Haseul knew who she was.

Park Chaewon, the Incheon Fairy.

Recognition flashed through the faces of the Shadowhunter delegations littering the doorway at Chaewon’s arrival.

When Chaewon spoke, her voice was soft with a mischievous cadence to it. “Am I late to the party?”

Nobody spoke for a while. The Hyejoo-Sooyoung disaster was still fresh in the air (and the falling plaster). Furthermore, everybody was too surprised at Chaewon’s appearance to verbally voice coherent thoughts. Not only was it surprising that she was branded with the death Mark considering her Faerie heritage, Park Chaewon also looked like she had walked into a hurricane and fought an army of tree branches on her way here.

Her face was cut in multiple places, and blood gushed out from the deep gash on her forehead. Her fingers were caked with dirt and dried blood that Haseul suspected was not hers. Twigs and leaves stuck to her gear and blonde hair, making her look almost like her other Kind, the Fair Folk, who were people of Nature. Upon closer inspection, her quiver was almost devoid of arrows, the remainder easily counted using fingers.

Chaewon made no effort to wipe the flowing blood from her face. The wounds seemed to accentuate her expression more, and the lazy ferocity of her stare as she examined everyone present looked less humane as time passed. More Faerie-like. Haseul swore Chaewon’s eyes glinted green for a second before returning to their usual dark brown.

Haseul suddenly remembered a report submitted by Incheon Institute a few years back when she was still working directly under the previous Head. It was an encrypted report on a private investigation on an individual residing in Incheon. The title was written in cursive on the case file: Park Chaewon’s Allegiance: Nephilim or Fair Folk?

The institute’s head, Hyunjin’s father, had let her read the details. Park Chaewon was the same age as Hyunjin, only 12 at that time. The fact that she was under intense scrutiny by the adults for the ancestry she did not ask to be born of had struck Haseul rather uncomfortably. Young Chaewon was chained to an iron chair for hours of grueling interrogation, and although she was only part-Faerie, the amount of iron in the place was enough to burn her skin continually.

The basis for the investigation was because Chaewon had developed a ‘Faerie ability’. No other mention about how this ‘ability’ worked was ever written, so the investigation concluded it was a fluke at that time. Or an anomaly, like Park Chaewon herself. Looking back at the current Chaewon, Haseul could not see that much of the Faerie-ness from the other girl. Previous instances of Shadowhunter-Faerie hybrid had yielded children with pointed Faerie ears and inhumane beauty, but Park Chaewon looked very much human now, a wounded one at that.

Haseul walked towards the injured Shadowhunter, offering her stele.

Chaewon shook her head. “It’s nothing.”

“Nothing? Those look infected,” Yeojin commented.

Chaewon frowned at the other girl. “What’s a kid doing here?”

Hyunjin snorted while Yeojin was fuming. Looking around, Haseul could see that the atmosphere had relaxed, albeit only a little bit.

“Since we’re all here,” Haseul began, regaining control of the crowd. “Rest up and clean yourselves. We’ll meet again in the meeting room at 5.”

***

Haseul did not return to her room after dispersing everyone into their individual rooms. Instead, she took a detour towards her office. Unlocking the wooden door, the rustic design of the room was a familiar scene after all the strangeness of today. Paperwork littered her desk; some she had gone through while others she had let piling over on one corner of her desk.

Haseul plopped herself onto the chair, shaking the snow globe on the table. The soft leather cushion of her office chair relaxed her taut muscles. She was nervous for the meeting later, so she busied herself with her work. Distraction was the best thing to do at the moment.

She began sorting through the files and patrol reports from other Seoul Shadowhunters by date. Im Yeojin’s was missing a few dates – Haseul made sure to threaten the girl with the cabinet later on. Then she examined the letters she had received for the past three days. Nothing much out of the ordinary, just some invoices and bills, but one caught her eyes.

Emblazoned on the wax seal was the Choi family’s crest. Haseul cursed at herself for not noticing such an important letter before. Tearing the envelope, the handwriting on the letter was neat, with scrawny corrections everywhere:

Haseul flipped the paper to make sure there was no extra texts behind it. After mulling over the content of the letter, Haseul stood up and paced around her office. Choi Yerim and Son Hyejoo knew something about the Mark, especially Son Hyejoo.

Son Hyejoo, Haseul thought. Son?

The Son clan’s bloodline ended 20 years ago when the last name bearer, Son Naeun, disappeared one stormy night off the coast of Jeju. Naeun was a war hero, having brought peace to the country after diffusing clashes and rising tension between the houses. The Sons were the High Priests of Jeju, overseeing the island for centuries before the disappearance of their only remaining heir. Hyejoo could not be a child of Son, unless…

Haseul shook her head to clear her thoughts. Thinking about the possibilities drowned her in a myriad of unwanted ideas, which she did not need more at this time.

After pacing around her office until her legs became sore, she decided to head down to the meeting room for a change of air. The room was only a short walk from her office, and when she pushed open the double doors, she found Jung Jinsol inside.

“Heyya,” Jinsol waved as she looked up from her phone.

“You’re early,” Haseul observed as she took the seat across the blonde Shadowhunter.

“Sooyoung’s still mad. I’ve been persuading her to at least stay until everything’s concluded, but she wants to leave first thing in the morning tomorrow.”

“Is she always like this?”

Jinsol pondered over the question for a while. “Not really. But she gets sensitive when it comes to…”

Jinsol stopped and waved her finger around her face. Haseul mouthed an “ah” and nodded.

Ha Sooyoung was defensive about everything Jung Jinsol.

“I’m so sorry in advance for Sooyoung, in case she causes trouble later,” Jinsol began. “She still hasn’t forgiven the Seoul Institute for not aiding my family back then.”

Haseul stared at the wood marking on the table, unable to respond. The Jung family’s mansion was run over by demons and rogue Downworlders more than a decade ago, for Angel’s knew what reason. Haseul was only 12 when it happened, and all she remembered were fragments of memories of the Jung’s daughter that was the same age as her and the mansion lighting up on fire for three days and three nights straight.

Jinsol seemed to sense Haseul’s uneasiness and tracked back. “Please don’t blame yourself for the incident. It’s not your fault.”

“I don’t mind the accusation,” Haseul replied. “After all, burying past mistakes won’t make the future any better.”

Jinsol smiled and reached out to Haseul’s clasped hands across the table. “I’m glad you’re the institute’s head now. You’re already so much better compared to your predecessors.”

Haseul looked up to see Jinsol’s warm smile, something she did not think she deserved. “I don’t think I’m cut out for this.”

Jinsol did not say anything, so Haseul continued. “I feel helpless. Everything’s happening around me so fast that I’m barely keeping track. Now that this whole thing happens, with all the strongest Shadowhunters across Korea gathering at one place… what if I cannot lead them well?”

Jinsol squeezed her clasped hands gently, eyebrows furrowing to form the Chinese letter 8. “I’m sure you can. Just take your time, and if you feel overwhelmed, don’t be sorry for taking a step back and rest. Your health is the most important thing, so don’t worry about us okay?”

Haseul nodded, but she must have still looked unsure, because Jinsol continued. “Do you know, back when the first Korean Shadowhunters were made, the Jos were supposed to be the one to lead the other clans? When they gathered the First Nine, aka the strongest warrior from each clan, to drink from the Mortal Cup, a unanimous vote determined that Jo was to be made their leader. But the decision was overruled due to the instability of the mundane politics, so they decided to keep the Kim in power in hopes that the Shadowhunters would be more united.”

“I never heard of that story before,” Haseul admitted.

“It was an old story. The Jungs always retold the stories down the line, to remind ourselves that the Kim was not the real leader. Quite a petty move I think.”

Both of them laughed. It seemed normal, this meeting, and Haseul was surprised she could click this quick with Jinsol. Sure, she met the other girl a few times when they were younger, but their interactions were only a simple his and byes. Nothing personal, just formalities.

“You know what.” Jinsol started.

“Mhm?”

“If my parents were still alive, they would have probably supported you throughout by now.”

Haseul could not reply. “I–”

“It’s okay, no need to reply. I understand.”

Silence fell between the two of them, but it was a comfortable one. Jinsol returned her attention to her phone while scribbling something on the piece of parchment she brought with her. Haseul closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, steadying her heart rate and relaxing herself.

Everything was fine until Jinsol suddenly scrunched up her face and sat upright.

“What happened?” Haseul asked, noticing the change in the air.

Jinsol was deep in thought when she replied: “Speaking of the First Nine. Do you know who the nine clans were?”

“Hmm…,” Haseul’s mind churned as she jogged the memory from her Shadowhunter History classes. “If I remembered correctly, it was Kim, Jung, Jo, Park, Choi, Ha, Jeon, Im and Son. That’s before they added Lee, Kang and Shin to form the first Twelve Heavenly Diviners.”

“You’re right,” Jinsol confirmed. “And look at us. The one with the mark. Ring a bell?”

Haseul gasped when realization dawned on her. Everyone gathered here, except Wong Kahei, was the descendants of the First Nine clans.

Jinsol nodded. “Yep, even that kid Son Hyejoo, although I don’t know how there’s a surviving Son that we've never heard of until now. I said this before to Sooyoung, but something weird is at play here. This is not the usual Faerie pranks or whatsoever. Something bigger is happening here, and I don’t like it.”

Just as Jinsol finished her sentence, the big grandfather’s clock in the room chimed five times. Time for the meeting to start.

“I’ll go get Sooyoung and drag her here if necessary.” Jinsol said as she got up from her seat. The blonde Shadowhunter then turned to Haseul.

“I hope my intuition is wrong.”

***

Everyone arrived within the span of five minutes, although the Cheongju Kims nearly got lost in the corridor. Jiwoo cited that they were able to arrive safe and sound here after hearing Sooyoung’s loud protests echoing down the hallway. Good for them.

All the 12 Shadowhunters gathered around the wooden table occupying most of the meeting room’s space. Haseul sat at the head, although she did not really want the seat. But when she closed the doors, it was the only chair left unoccupied.

From her end of the table, she could see everyone around clearly. Sitting at the opposite end was Park Chaewon, who arrived the latest and was bestowed with the second-best seat at the table. Her wounds were gone and she looked cleaned up, making her looked more regal and alive.

Another bit of history surfaced its way through Haseul’s mind, reminding her that the first batch of Shadowhunters, the First Nine, had signed their treaty here on this very table. They held onto the promise of a better future for the Shadow World under a united front and all the good things that were to happen (which Haseul had forgotten. She was bad with History). Haseul hoped this coincidence was a good sign of what was to come.

Everyone else was awaiting order to start, their tense postures betraying their eased expressions. Haseul stood up from her chair, and all 11 pairs of eyes followed her movement. She cleared her throat and spoke in the most authoritative voice she could muster.

“Let the meeting start. May the Angels be with us.”


Profile

#007
- Name: Jung Jinsol
- Born: 13 June 1997
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Seoul (former), Busan Institute
- Weapon: Guisarme
- Parabatai: Ha Sooyoung

#008
- Name: Choi Yerim
- Born: 4 June 2001
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Daegu Institute
- Weapon: Crossbow
- Parabatai: -
- Relatives: Son Hyejoo (adoptive sister)

Chapter Text

Haseul was a fool to think that the worst part was over, because before she knew it, the mahogany table was split into two. Literally.

Hyunjin had swung down her broadsword towards the poor table, enraged. Hyejoo had joined the fray, unclasping her chain and let it roll between her fingers. Sooyoung was still perched on her cushiony armchair, sipping on her tea and welcoming the aggression. Chaewon’s strong grip on her cup finally broke the poor china into pieces, and her bow materialized out of thin air. Jinsol looked up and casually reached for the guisarme she laid behind her chair, although her allegiance was currently unknown. Yeojin whistled as she pushed her chair away from the wooden remnants using her feet, while across from her, Yerim was wide-eyed at the sudden development. Jungeun and Jiwoo looked unsure about what to do, although the former was only a few steps away from joining in. Kahei remained seated, her eyes flickering around in repressed alarm and her hand gripping tightly on her sword hilt.

There was a moment of silence after the table broke into splintery pieces, although Haseul thought it was probably just her imagination, as the room descended into chaos the next second she blinked.

Hyunjin had leapt onto the broken remains of the table, shouting profanities towards Sooyoung, who returned the calls with the same intensity. Heejin jumped in front of Hyunjin and held her back, although her parabatai did not yield. Every word seemed to stream right through Hyunjin’s ears due to her rage.

A glint of silver at the corner caught her eyes, and Haseul saw that Chaewon had drawn her bow, the silver arrowhead trained towards Sooyoung’s forehead. Meanwhile, the Busan Shadowhunter just took in her surroundings with a lack of interest, her fingers busy with the lone knife nestled in between them.

The shouting had reached a new high, and before Haseul could call for order, the situation escalated. Sooyoung rose and shouted something over the noise. Haseul could not hear what was being said, but Jungeun did. Enraged, she finally climbed onto the table in one quick motion and lashed her whip towards Sooyoung. Jinsol jumped into action and tangled the crackling rope with her guisarme, but Jungeun had let go of the hilt, causing Jinsol to tumble backwards from the force of the release. The blonde Shadowhunter was too distracted to notice Jungeun barreling towards her parabatai with a seraph blade in hand.

The rest of the party was too stunned to see the development and was not able to react fast. Jungeun jumped from the edge of the broken table towards Sooyoung, who was now standing up. Tragedy was imminent; however, the sounds of metal clashing and bone cracking were audible in the closed meeting room, followed by a piercing scream from Jungeun.

Haseul did not realize she was already running towards the source of the sound. She rounded the edge of the table and found Jungeun sprawled on the ground, clutching her knee. Sooyoung was towering over the whimpering girl below her, swinging her weapon casually between her fingers. Haseul’s blood drained as she realized what had happened to Jungeun.

“YOU BROKE HER KNEECAP?!” she shouted towards the taller girl in front of her.

“Chill, it’s healable. Youngsters these days are so weak, physically and mentally. And to think that she’s Cheongju’s most promising Shadowhunter. I have to laugh,” Sooyoung said matter-of-factly.

She then started for the door, but before the Busan representative could touch the door handle, a gleaming blade was pointed towards her neck by none other than Kim Jiwoo. Her smile that was very bright at the start of the meeting had vanished completely and was now replaced by a controlled rage. The two words that came from her mouth was clear yet chilly, causing Haseul to shudder.

“Sit. Down.”

Sooyoung regarded her fellow Shadowhunter with a raised eyebrow before putting her hands up to surrender, making her way back towards her seat. Jiwoo’s balisong still hovered behind her, in case the other girl decided to overturn her own decision.

Once she made sure Sooyoung would not run again, Jiwoo crouched down and cradled her injured parabatai. Using one hand, she cut down the trouser area near the knee and drew an iratze right above the shattered bone. Jungeun’s repressed cries receded until her breathing evened out, and finally Jiwoo exhaled. She helped the injured Shadowhunter back to her seat, and although Jungeun’s face was a shade away from the color of fallen snow, she held her ground.

Haseul went back to her seat, and everyone fell silent once again. Hyunjin had sheathed her broadsword some time after the accident, sitting still. Chaewon lowered her bow, although the arrow was still nocked on the string. Hyejoo was held back by Yerim, while Jinsol regained her footing and was now glowering at Sooyoung. The subject of Jinsol’s attention rested her feet on the broken table, looking bored.

Finally, Jiwoo sat back down and regarded the rest of the Shadowhunters present.

“Let’s continue this discussion. Where were we?”

***

10 Minutes Earlier

“Let the meeting start. May the Angels be with us.”

From Haseul’s position on the table, everyone was as clear as day, although the sun streaming from the tinted windows behind her was gradually setting. The table was a dark mahogany, sourced centuries ago from where, Haseul did not know. Plush armchairs adorned the perimeter of the table, coincidentally also twelve in number like the amount of Shadowhunters crowding the room right now, evenly spaced with five on each side and one on each end.

Directly to Haseul’s left and right were Jungeun and Jiwoo respectively, who looked subdued after their gate fiasco earlier. Heejin occupied the seat to Jungeun’s left, followed by Hyunjin, who somehow planted her face on the table. Hyejoo and Yerim sat after her, the former looking bored and the latter looking expectant – polar opposites of each other. Haseul noted that Hyunjin, Hyejoo and Yerim somehow looked similar to one another, although she did not point it out loud. To Jiwoo’s side was Jinsol, who was still scribbling the parchment she had brought with her earlier and her parabatai, Sooyoung, who still looked menacing. The last two seats on the right were occupied by more familiar faces, Kahei and Yeojin. Haseul wished Kahei would sit closer to her – the older Shadowhunter’s voice and opinions always gave Haseul reassurance somehow. Chaewon bridged both sides at the other end of the table, and Haseul could see the girl’s piercing gaze resting on her, which was quite unnerving.

Haseul was met with silence after her statement, while eleven pairs of eyes continued staring at her. She sighed, forgetting that these Shadowhunters were barely functioning adults by themselves. She sipped on the coffee prepared in front of her before steeling herself.

“I guess you all know why we’re gathered here.”

All Haseul got was a chorus of incoherent mumbles, but she had a sense they understood, somehow.

“I mean… you’re not very subtle with the whole ‘come or perish’ agenda, unnie,” Hyunjin chuckled, peeling herself from the table surface.

Haseul grimaced. “Wasn’t supposed to be that direct but at least it works I guess?”

“It works,” Hyejoo replied from across the table, unsmiling. “Too well.”

Haseul’s confusion was answered by Yerim, who hastily added, “We thought we’re in trouble for the letter we sent behind the institute’s back before.”

“Woah-ho, a naughty bunch are you, Daegu-ers?” Yeojin rapped in quick succession across from the two girls. “Reminds me of the time I ran away from the institute because my cousin here,” she pointed to Haseul rather rudely, “was being a bore.”

“Im Yeojin, you have exactly one last chance before I really locked you in the attic overnight.”

Yeojin shrugged disinterestedly, although Haseul could see her pupils shook for a fragment of a second. Take away Im Yeojin’s freedom and you will get a small Shadowhunter with confinement issues.

“Tsk, here we are, getting distracted again. I thought we’re dying or something,” Sooyoung grumbled. She was lounged comfortably on her armchair, one leg raised to straddle the armrest. On her hand was a throwing knife that she twirled evenly between her fingers, looking relaxed and vigilant at the same time. The irritation behind her eyes were still present, if not burning brighter with every moment’s pass.

“Right…” Haseul trailed. “Why not we introduce ourselves first, since not everyone here is familiar with each other. Should we do it based on the number order?”

“I’ll start,” Heejin said to her left, standing up as she did so. “I’m Jeon Heejin of Seongnam Institute. My mark is 001, so I assume I’m the first one in the order. Please to make your acquaintances.”

Several Shadowhunters in the room perked up at the mention of her full name, but the room was still quiet when Jeon Heejin awkwardly sat back from the absence of response.

It was Jungeun who voiced out everyone’s thoughts. “Jeon? The Jeon Heejin who got a direct scholarship to the Scholomance for being the best Shadowhunter of the new era?”

Heejin’s face reddened at the compliment. Haseul stared at the younger girl in amazement. Scholomance was the Shadowhunter school for the gifted, training only a handful of Nephilims who possessed extraordinary flair and aptitude beyond what their peers had. If what Jungeun said was true, a direct scholarship meant easy passage to the academy without having to go through its brutal tests. Heejin could easily graduate with the Centurion rank, but here the girl was, under the scrutiny of her fellow Shadowhunters.

“I- I rejected the scholarship,” Heejin spoke quietly, her low voice a rumble. “I’m not ready to leave home yet at that time, and I already have a parabatai. Having a parabatai is not allowed if one were to go to the Scholomance.”

At the mention of parabatai, Hyunjin beamed and gently squeezed Heejin’s shaking hand.

“So you basically wanted to play house, eh? Never thought you’re this much of a homebody.”

Heejin flinched visibly from Sooyoung’s accusation, growing seemingly smaller.

“Knock it off, Ha! You’re just jealous because you’re not offered a placement!” Hyunjin shouted suddenly, getting riled up.

“If I were you, Kim, I’ll make sure I won’t burden my parabatai. I pity Jeon Heejin for being paired up with your weak ass forever,” Sooyoung scoffed in return.

Hyunjin began to rose from her chair, but Heejin held her down. Jinsol had stopped writing, her hand hovering a few inches from the seraph blade tucked on her belt. The blonde Shadowhunter had made her movement deliberate so that Sooyoung caught on. Sooyoung just rolled her eyes.

Haseul could only say, “Hyunjin, your turn.”

Hyunjin was calmer now, but her voice was gruff as she spoke in clipped sentences. “Kim Hyunjin. Also Seongnam. 002.”

“Jo Haseul, head of Seoul Institute. 003. Nice to meet you all,” Haseul stated as her turn came up.

The rest introduced themselves in quick succession:

“Im Yeojin here. Seoul Insitute. 004. What are y’all staring at? I’m not 12 years old for Hell’s sake!”

“Wong Kahei. Hong Kong Institute, although I don’t think I’m going back in the near future. 005.”

“Kim Jungeun from Cheongju Institute. 006. Good afternoon…?”

“Jung Jinsol. 007. Busan Institute. Hope everything goes well without more problems, especially from you, Ms. Ha.”

“Hello, I’m Choi Yerim, of Daegu Institute. My number is 008, and I hope we can get closer!”

“This is stup– ow! Stop elbowing me, Jinsol! Ugh… Ha Sooyoung. 009. Same as Jinsol.”

“I’m Kim Jiwoo, from Cheongju as well. Mine is 010. Let’s be nice to each other okay?”

“Park Chaewon. Incheon. 011.”

“Son Hyejoo. 012. This is a waste of time.”

By the time Hyejoo finished introducing herself, everyone was staring at her, all except Yerim, Jinsol and Haseul.

“What?” Hyejoo raised her eyebrow, irritated.

“Son?” Jiwoo replied incredulously. “I thought the Son line went extinct decades ago.”

“Ah, it was an adopted name,” Yerim replied casually as if the question was posed many times before. “Hyejoo didn’t know what her surname was when she–”

“No,” Hyejoo interrupted, looking squarely at every pair of eyes examining her. “I’m 100% sure I’m a Son.”

The conviction on her voice rendered the subject closed.

Chaewon’s singsong voice carried over. “Is it only us or are there more?”

“All 12 of us here are numbered in order, so this should be all of us I think,” Haseul replied after realizing that Chaewon was directing the question towards her.

“What if there are more? Shadowhunters with the numbers 013, 014 and so on?”

The answer to Chaewon’s question came closer in the form of Son Hyejoo. “Not possible. I’m certain there’s only the twelve of us branded with this ugly thing.”

Chaewon shifted her attention to Hyejoo, who was nearly a head taller than her. “How are you so sure?”

“Cause the Faeries said so.”

The sharp intakes of breath were loud in the deafening silence that soon followed. Chaewon and Hyejoo were still staring at each other intently: Chaewon’s stare inquisitive while Hyejoo’s was a sharp glare.

“I’m not gonna question how you’re able to get into contact with the fey,” Chaewon said as her mouth curved in amusement. “But surely you’re taught not to trust the Fair Folk, as they speak in riddles that are often more aggravating than not?”

“And you speak like one,” Hyejoo stated immediately.

Everyone in the room tensed. Haseul could feel her hand instinctively reaching for the sword strapped to her side. Chaewon did not seem to mind as she continued, although her voice had an edge that would have gone unnoticed if only Haseul did not learn about speech inflexion before.

“I see you’re witty yourself, Son Hyejoo. I don’t feel like fighting you, or anyone else, on trivial things like this. Back to the question, the Faeries couldn’t possibly send a clear message that said we’re doomed, yes?”

Hyejoo did not reply. Instead, she rummaged through one of the pockets of her gear jacket, producing a crumpled piece of paper. She balled the paper and tossed it towards Haseul, whose Shadowhunter reflexes saved her from being hit on the head by the makeshift paper ball.

“Shine it,” Hyejoo responded curtly.

On other occasions, Haseul would have taken a little offense from the crude command the young Shadowhunter made, but now all she could think of was clues to relieve everyone in this room from their predicaments before it was too late. She flattened the piece of paper, which exuded a combination of smell like wet grass and burnt leaves at the same time. She placed it on top of the clear glass and switched the projector on.

The overhead projector was an old piece Haseul had salvaged from the attic, and since it worked effectively well in relaying information during meetings, she had the thing polished and ready to be used. The runed antique could project an image at a very detailing resolution, complete with a 360 view that made it possible for one to see the flashed contents from anywhere in the room.

As the projector whirred to life, Haseul adjusted the knobs at the side to focus the image. At last the grainy picture gave way to a high definition image. Written in red in scrawling letters were ominous sentences, and as Hyejoo had described, a very clear message to the Shadowhunters:

I will await you at the throne of fire,
and you will be the key
that brings a full circle to the Nephilim’s downfall.

“So much for the Faerie subtlety,” Jinsol said as she leaned forward, suddenly more alert and interested now.

“This was addressed to you?” Haseul heard Kahei inquired Hyejoo from across the table while the latter nodded. “A full circle… That means you’re the last one?”

“I think so,” Hyejoo replied, unconsciously fiddling her fingers. “Although I don’t know what the rest is all about.”

“A key to the downfall of the Nephilim? Sounds dangerous, I think,” Sooyoung started.

Hyejoo’s eyes twitched. “And what are you implying, you hag?”

Sooyoung was not miffed by the insult and shrugged. “I don’t know… maybe a prison cell? So that you won’t cause an apocalypse by accident.”

“Agreed,” Chaewon chimed in. “From the message, it seems like they needed Hyejoo for their plan. Better be safe than sorry.”

“WHO ARE YOU TO DECIDE WHAT I CAN OR CANNOT DO!” Hyejoo shouted as she slammed her hands on the table, now very furious.

Both Chaewon and Sooyoung did not look fazed. Chaewon continued as she sipped her now cold coffee. “I only agree with Ha Sooyoung on you being a threat. I never say to lock you somewhere.”

“And here I though we’re finally on the same boat, Faerie-spawn,” Sooyoung remarked.

Chaewon went stock-still, her cup hovering a few inches from the table. Haseul was afraid the younger girl would drop the china, but she held on. When she regarded Sooyoung, her eyes were steely. Haseul involuntarily shivered.

“I’ll take that back if I were you, Ha Sooyoung. I came on goodwill, and I want to make sure I leave the same way. Don’t tempt my kindness,” Chaewon articulated slowly, her voice becoming chilly.

Don’t tempt my kindness,” Sooyoung mocked. “I think you should be grateful that everyone here accepted you as you are. As you said just now: how can we trust you when you still have connection to the Faeries? What if you’re a spy?”

Haseul knew Sooyoung had hit a sore spot because Chaewon’s expressionless face faltered, showing a wounded young girl behind the strong outer shell.

When Chaewon spoke, it sounded more like a reassurance whisper towards herself than a convincing reply to everyone on the table. “I’m a Shadowhunter first and foremost, and always am. My heritage had nothing to do with it. I’m loyal to the Clave and the Park clan, as well as the Incheon Institute.”

“Speaking of the Parks,” Sooyoung spoke again remorselessly, “isn’t there a rumor that they did inbreeding with one another to preserve the so-called ‘strong’ bloodline? Maybe you’re not really sane yourself. Tell me Park Chaewon, how can I believe you when–”

Sooyoung would have continued if not for the blade puncturing the wood between her thumb and index fingers (Haseul pitied the table for some reason). The girl turned pale and looked sideways towards her parabatai, Jung Jinsol, who had planted her seraph blade at the space there. Jinsol’s face was an unreadable façade.

She only uttered a word, but it was enough to silence everyone in the room. “Enough.”

Sooyoung held Jinsol’s stare for a moment before an understanding passed between the two of them. Sooyoung yanked the blade and handed it to Jinsol by the sharp edge first, to which the blonde girl accepted after a beat’s delay. Haseul knew the symbolism: Sooyoung did not trust Jinsol’s judgment, for now. So much for being parabatais.

The room was silent afterwards. Haseul knew she should take over, but the tension in the air was too thick to ignore. She was sure there were more than one Shadowhunter who were keen on murdering Ha Sooyoung at the moment, including her own parabatai. Even the seemingly cheerful Choi Yerim looked grim after the insensitive discussion on Hyejoo’s fate.

“Raziel, you all are no fun,” Yeojin huffed. “That’s why others always said Shadowhunters are hotblooded, because we are! Can we not fight every second? My ears are still ringing from your screechings.”

“Had to agree with Yeojin,” Kahei stated. “I don’t know what you Korean Shadowhunters have against each other, but we’re wasting time here.”

“Well, tell that to that ghoul over there,” Hyejoo said as she glared daggers at Sooyoung. “I suggest kicking Ha Sooyoung out of the meeting because she’s a disruption.”

“Agreed,” Hyunjin replied. “We can let Jinsol-unnie explain to her later.”

“Vetoed.”

It was Jinsol who voiced out the rejection, much to the surprise of everyone in the room. Even Sooyoung looked surprised.

“Make up your mind Jung.” Sooyoung sounded half-amused. “Are you on my side or not?”

“I’m on the side of justice,” was all Jinsol said before she went back to her work.

“So… am I kicked or not?” Sooyoung inquired, still relaxed on her armchair.

Haseul finally regained her voice. “Nobody gets kicked out, for now.”

“Too bad, Son Hyejoo,” Sooyoung drawled as she turned towards the fuming Shadowhunter. “Your little puppy rebellion didn’t work.”

Hyejoo tried to stand up, but Hyunjin surprisingly beat her to it. “That’s enough, Ha Sooyoung! You sure talk a lot for someone who doesn’t know anything.”

Sooyoung smirked. “Are you sure you want to test my knowledge, Kim Hyunjin? Let me see, what if I told you I do know some stuff? Especially about you, young noble.”

Jungeun’s voice cut through Hyunjin’s reply. “Ha Sooyoung, if you don’t have anything good to say I suggest you shut up. You can do that much, right?”

“Ah, Kim Jungeun, slave of the main branch,” Sooyoung began, turning her head to look squarely at Jungeun. “Perfect daughter and Shadowhunter, revered by many. But how will your parents react about your… ‘nightly escapades’?”

Jungeun’s expression remained the same, but from Haseul’s seat she could see the younger girl’s jaw tightened upon the accusation.

Sooyoung was on a roll. “You all think you’re some kind of saints trying to save the world here. Be a good and loyal Shadowhunter. But everyone here is a piece of trash, and you should know your place.”

“Pot calling the kettle black,” Hyunjin growled. “I should have known not to trust any Ha. Everyone’s the same. The Clave was an idiot for making your father the new inquisitor!”

“Do a self-evaluation on yourself, Kim Hyunjin!” Sooyoung’s voice finally rose. “You’re nothing but a burden. A shame to the mighty Kims. You’re just a. fucking. coward!”

The last thing Haseul saw was Hyunjin grabbing her sword and swinging it down towards the table. And all Hell broke loose.

***

Present Time

Jiwoo’s cold statement was answered by none.

“Everyone here is useless,” Jiwoo scoffed, shedding off any note of familiarity now that Jungeun was harmed. But she went silent herself.

Haseul took on. “I know everyone is not on good terms with each other here, but let’s work together to solve this, okay? At least, until everything’s over, because we’re definitely not making any progress here.”

She took the silence as a cue to continue. “Anyone have something that can help us know better about this Faerie Mark? A clue or investigation that may be related to this whole thing?”

“Faerie Mark?” Jinsol perked up. “This is what the numbers are called?”

Haseul nodded and prompted Yeojin to take over. Her cousin looked shocked upon being given the limelight, but she took over nonetheless. “Y-yeah. Ryu Sera, my gua– the High Warlock of Seoul told me about the mark herself. And that the longer we are branded, the faster we will die.”

Haseul could see that until now, death had seemed like a faraway prospect in some of the faces present. But the confirmation had finally settled the case for them. She herself was not particularly happy with the grim proclamation.

“How long has it been since your marks appear in your hand?” Haseul inquired. “Any rough estimate? I got mine yesterday, which is Tuesday afternoon, in my office.”

“Same here,” Kahei surprisingly replied. “Got it a few minutes before arriving at Seoul Institute.”

“Me three,” Yeojin echoed. “Mine appeared at Sera’s place.”

Haseul shot a warning look at Yeojin, beckoning her to not reveal more of her godmother and her former nomadic lifestyle. Yeojin belatedly realized and pursed her lips. The other Shadowhunters did not seem to think of that particular fact as striking enough as their minds wandered through more important stuff, which Haseul was grateful of.

Jungeun, although still pale from pain, managed to articulate her words clearly. “Me and Jiwoo got ours in Cheongnamdae on Monday. It was around 7pm, I think. Jiwoo got her mark first, so I don’t think there’s any order to it.”

“I also don’t think so,” Jinsol chimed in. “Me and this bitch over here also got marked on Monday during our patrol, although I think it was past midnight by the time Sooyoung got hers.”

“It was Saturday morning for us,” Yerim continued. “Me and Hyejoo, I mean, in the institute training room.”

“Saturday evening for me,” Chaewon replied concisely.

“Me and Hyunjin got ours on Sunday,” Heejin started. “I thought it was Warlock magic at first, because we’re marked right after we captured Jackson Wang–”

Kahei abruptly stood up, effectively cutting Heejin’s explanation. “Where’s Jackson Wang now?”

Heejin winced. “He got away while we’re distracted from the pain. We tried searching the perimeter, but the warlock disappeared.”

“What was he doing there?”

“A summoning ritual,” Hyunjin continued for Heejin. “He was contracted by somebody to summon a tracker demon. Along with 4 rogue Downworlders with him, 3 vampires and 1 werewolf. Don’t worry, all were dead already, yours truly. He successfully called on a Shax demon, and that thing was huge as fuck.”

“Hyunjin, focus.”

“Rite. Anyway, that old man sounded crazed as Hell, spewing things about Korea becoming Ground Zero and so on– wait. Does that have something to do with this?”

Hyunjin raised her hand for emphasis.

It was Kahei who spoke up. “Nothing’s set in stone yet. He may or may not have been a lunatic.”

“You know him?” Heejin asked.

“The reason why I’m here was to track that taily man and investigate what he’s doing here in South Korea. He also possesses illegal stuff, so I was tasked to capture and take him in for questioning, with the help of Seoul Institute. But apparently I sought the wrong institute,” Kahei replied as she looked squarely at Haseul.

Haseul felt defensive. “I wasn’t informed that Jackson Wang was in Seongnam. The Seongnam Institute head should have sent information on the warlock’s whereabouts as soon as he crossed the institute’s territory. That was what he was instructed to do.”

“So much for being the institute’s head,” Sooyoung muttered, although Haseul could hear from the other girl’s tone that she had subdued a bit after Jiwoo nearly stabbed her earlier. She did not sound as brave as before, which surprised Haseul.

“I’m so sorry on behalf of my father,” Heejin replied, flustered. “He told us it was just a scouting mission, not much of an importance, and that we would only interfere if the situation was deemed dangerous.”

“And I don’t even remember his name even though Heejin told me several times already,” Hyunjin supplied.

“I see…,” Haseul pondered. She could feel her headache coming back again in full force, and she downed the rest of her coffee in one go. She hoped that the meeting did not drag much longer, as she was not sure she would still be able to think clearly by the end of the day. “Anything else about Jackson Wang?”

“We decided to investigate further on Jackson Wang and his possible connections to anyone that might be the master behind all of this. So far nothing significant we could find, only a few friends or acquaintances he met during his stay in South Korea. But a few names kept persistently popping up when we asked around.”

“And they are?” Haseul inquired.

“The first one that kept coming up is Kim Doyeon.”

Jungeun and Jiwoo became rigid suddenly, a motion that did not go undetected by the rest present.

Heejin turned questioningly to look at Jungeun, whose breathing became more labored again. Said Shadowhunter looked like her kneecap had re-shattered again. “You know her?”

Jungeun nodded imperceptibly, but it was Jiwoo who answered for her. “Leader of the Cheongju vampire clan. She’s a bit… eccentric.”

“And also one of the strongest vampires in the country. I’ve met her a few times,” Jungeun shuddered. “Wish I could just forget.”

“According to some Shadow Market whispers, Kim Doyeon would be in Seoul from tomorrow onwards. Something about ‘hosting an extravagant party that would blow away the Shadow World’,” Heejin continued.

“Sounds just like her,” Jungeun muttered.

“Sounds like a plan,” Jinsol replied.

All eyes turned towards Jinsol, who was twirling her quill. “It’s easy. We’ll just crash her party.”

Jungeun stared at Jinsol from across the table incredulously. “You’re crazy.”

“It’s called thinking through, honey. Select a few of us, infiltrate the party, find this Kim Doyeon person, extract information from her, and get out of there safely. Heejin, do you have more info about the party?”

“Uh, not sure if these sources can be fully trusted, but it’s happening somewhere in Itaewon. Apparently, it’s a masquerade party.”

“Even better! Now we can stroll in without being found out, unless they see our Marks, which of course can be hidden. And you, Kim Jungeun,” Jinsol pointed with the end of her feather quill, “is our main character.”

Jungeun turned towards Haseul, and Haseul saw the pleading look behind the other girl’s eyes. “Tell me you won’t approve of this.”

“To be fair, it was a good plan,” Haseul admitted.

Jungeun’s shoulder sagged in defeat.

Jiwoo stood up abruptly. “Stop forcing Jungie into things she doesn’t wanna do!”

Jungeun seemed resigned to her fate as she waved Jiwoo down. “It’s okay Woo… the faster we get this over, the better it will be. I don’t really mind as long as we can get useful things out of it.”

Jiwoo wanted to protest more, but Jungeun shot her a look that effectively quietened the girl.

Jungeun returned her gaze towards Haseul. “Fine, I’ll do this. But mind you that there’s a high chance nothing valuable will come out of this… endeavor.”

“I’ll go with you,” Jinsol quickly said. “I know Itaewon like the back of my hand. I can be your Seoul guide and backup.”

“Then I’m going as well,” Sooyoung said.

“No.”

Sooyoung turned sharply towards her parabatai, who voiced out the word. “What?”

“No,” Jinsol repeated. “I’m very disappointed with you Ha Sooyoung. On everything lately, but today finally seals the deal. I sentence you to a probationary period under the supervision of Seoul Institute until everyone sees through to the completion of this mission. I just got an authorization seal from Busan Institute as an acting rune-marker. Haseul?”

After an excruciating delay, Haseul nodded. “Approved.”

Sooyoung had turned very red in anger. She rose from her seat, but Jinsol pulled her down again. On her hand was a stele, and it finally dawned on Haseul what Jinsol was planning to do.

“Soo, don’t make it harder please. Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way,” Jinsol stated, her voice level.

Haseul could see clearly that Sooyoung was dangerously close to killing everyone in the room, but she did not pull her hand away when Jinsol reached for it. The latter carefully traced the tip of the stele on Sooyoung’s wrist, eyebrows bunched together in concentration. After a while, Jinsol finally removed the stele, and the rune was stark against Sooyoung’s skin.

The rune blazed and light tendrils emanated from the edges of the blank ink. It wound up Sooyoung’s arm before disappearing behind her back, and when it was finally over, the crackling energy could still be felt in the air.

Sooyoung stood up and turned towards Jinsol. “So that’s how it is, huh? Good to be your slave from now on, Jung.”

Sooyoung toppled the armchair and strode to the doors, encompassing the space with her wide strides. Within seconds, she burst through the double doors, never looking back.

“It’s okay, she cannot leave the institute even if she wants to. Only I can undo the binding,” Jinsol replied, her voice subdued. “I’m really sorry for all the trouble caused.”

Emotion took control of Jinsol’s feature for a moment, and Haseul could see the vulnerability behind her tear-stained eyes after Sooyoung had accused her severely. But the look disappeared with a swipe of her hand across her face, and when Jinsol looked up, she looked like a marble statue: chiseled and severe with gravity.

“So, it’s decided then? Me and Jungeun will scout the Itaewon party tomorrow.”

Jungeun’s nostrils flared. “Tomorrow? Isn’t that too early?”

“Nothing’s too early when we’re dying,” Jinsol laughed mirthlessly.

“I’ll go as well,” Jiwoo decided. “Two is risky, three is just nice.”

Jungeun grimaced. “Jiwoo, you know how Doyeon was towards you. No offense but I think it’s better if you stay back. Besides, I need someone to rescue me in case things went south.”

“Fine,” Jiwoo huffed. “It’s about time for me to be the prince instead of you anyway.”

Jungeun’s tense shoulders visibly relaxed and colors started seeping back into her cheeks again. “Anyone else willing to dress up and have some fun?”

A hand reluctantly shot up from across the broken table. Haseul needed to crane her neck to make sure she identified the girl correctly, because Choi Yerim seemed to be stooping lower with the more attention she got.

“I- I can help,” she stuttered.

Hyejoo sat straight and put her arm over Yerim in a protective hold. “No!”

“It’s okay, Hye,” Yerim replied as she pushed Hyejoo’s hand down. “Besides, one does not go on an infiltration mission without a Choi.”

“That’s true,” Jinsol stated. “All the best Shadowhunter strategists are Chois.”

“So it’s settled then,” Haseul said. “Jungeun, Jinsol and Yerim will scout the party and see whether there’s any clues about all of this and about Jackson Wang’s objectives as well, assuming he’s still actively seeking something.”

The aforementioned Shadowhunters nodded their heads in confirmation.

“Well, that’s one problem sorted,” Haseul announced. She turned towards Heejin again, who was silent throughout the discussion earlier. “Heejin, you said Kim Doyeon was only one of the names associated with Jackson Wang in this country. Who are the others?”

Heejin looked up from her empty cup. “There are 3 more names: Lee Siyeon, leader of Seoul werewolf pack, Park Jihyo, High Warlock of Gyeonggi, and lastly a Faerie gentry under the alias ‘Eunseo’. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jackson Wang tried to hire help from all the members of Downworld present.”

The others took the news in silently. Haseul fiddled with her cup, which lied slanted on the smashed table. She must admit that she had no clue how to proceed with the whole thing, and she could feel that every decision that was going to be made later would sound rushed. She wondered whether she should call off the meeting for now – she was sure everybody would be glad to be released. She even missed Sooyoung’s insults and harsh truths a little bit.

But there was no turning back for now. Once the flame is ignited, one needs to keep it burning bright, or else the wick will be wasted and all else is lost.

“Me and Hyunjin have started an investigation on Park Jihyo’s involvement with Jackson Wang before, since she was under our jurisdiction,” Heejin continued. “If you want, we can go back and continue to search for more info.”

“High Warlock of Gyeonggi? She controlled the whole province?” Haseul asked.

Heejin nodded. “She’s a very powerful warlock. After Ryu Sera, she’s actually the most influential warlock in the whole country.”

“Do you know where she is right now?”

“That’s the problem.” Heejin bit her lip as she raked her hair backwards. “We thought that she would be somewhere within Gyeonggi, but by the time we caught up to her she already left the area.”

Hyunjin answered on Heejin’s behalf. “She’s in Ulsan. More specifically, Ulsan Shadow Market.”

Jinsol broke the already stretching silence. “That’s literally the worst place in South Korea to be.”

Haseul agreed. Ulsan as a city was already a hotbed of trouble by itself, serving as a safe haven for rogue Downworlders and demons alike. Illegal activities swarmed the place like locusts, and Ulsan Shadow Market was the epicenter of all the bad things combined. The Shins, who led the Ulsan Institute, was losing ground as the days went by, despite having promising youngsters to aid with the containment effort. Sending both Heejin and Hyunjin to the warzone was the last thing Haseul wanted to do.

“I know it’s dangerous,” Heejin began. “But I’ve contacted the Shins and they’re willing to help us navigate around the city, although the Shadow Market is off limits.”

“If Park Jihyo is inside the Shadow Market, how will you get to her? At worst, they let you enter the Shadow Market and you’ll be lost inside and die slowly. At best, they kill you right on the spot to save you from your sufferings.” Yerim voiced out.

“I can get us in,” Yeojin replied.

Yeojin looked up and assessed every pair of eyes staring at her. “I can get Ryu Sera to grant us safe passage within Ulsan Shadow Market.”

“And why would she help you?” Hyejoo responded, her tone skeptical.

Yeojin inhaled a deep breath before revealing her lifelong guarded secret. “Because Ryu Sera was my godmother.”

The room descended into a subdued chaos, with Jiwoo’s sharp “WHAT?” rising above all the voices.

Yeojin chanced a look at Haseul, who nodded encouragingly. Her cousin nodded in return, and Haseul could see that the little girl she had taken care of for the last five years were growing up to be a fine Shadowhunter.

“She’ll help. I’ll make sure of it. I lived in Shadow Markets around South Korea almost all my life, so I know what to expect.” Turning to Haseul, the conviction in Yeojin’s eyes were absolute. “I’m going to Ulsan as well.”

Heejin and Hyunjin could only nod minutely, eyes still locked on Yeojin. Since they did not complain, Haseul took it as a positive reaction.

“I guess it won’t hurt having more help,” Hyunjin finally said as she tried to balance her cup saucer on the two halves of the table. She failed terribly as the saucer broke into pieces. “Oops.”

“We’ll be going tomorrow,” Heejin said. “We’ll let you know whether we need anything more later.”

Haseul nodded. “Thanks a lot, Heejin.”

The other girl smiled, which lighted up her whole feature. Haseul hoped Heejin could smile more from now on, because it was a very pleasant expression on her doll-like face.

“Two down, two more to go. What are we gonna do about Lee Siyeon and this Eunseo Faerie?” Jungeun inquired.

“I’ll handle the Faerie,” Chaewon interrupted.

“Of course you do,” Hyejoo replied.

Chaewon ignored Hyejoo. “I have an informant in Faerieland. He’s a gentry, so I think he can help.”

“Can he be trusted?” Haseul asked from across the table.

Chaewon’s gaze fixed on her, and Haseul saw the green hue in her irises again. “His motive is currently unknown, but I’ll be careful.” Haseul saw the blonde girl smirked imperceptibly. “After all, it’s not gonna be my first time going in and out the Faerie domain by myself.”

“Do you need help? I can come with you if you want,” Jiwoo supplied.

Chaewon shook her head. “It’s too dangerous. I have better chance due to the Faerie blood coursing in my veins, and even that doesn’t guarantee me getting out unharmed.”

“Try to find a way to contact Seoul Institute once you’re out of Faerieland,” Haseul suggested. “In case the worst-case scenario happens.”

“I’ll try,” Chaewon replied. “Before I get killed.”

Her tone had been flat enough, but Haseul could not shake the bad feelings on letting Park Chaewon roamed freely in unknown territory. She could only hope the blonde Shadowhunter changed her mind and decided to at least bring a companion to watch her back.

“I’ll take charge on Lee Siyeon then,” Jiwoo said. “Hyejoo will help me, right?”

Hyejoo was visibly uncomfortable with the assignment, but she nodded nonetheless. “If you drag me down, Kim Jiwoo, I won’t hesitate to eliminate you.”

“Hyejoo!” Yerim gasped.

Jiwoo grinned. “The feeling’s mutual here. Don’t get ahead of yourself, Son.”

This time Hyejoo returned the grin, her smirk wolfish under the modest lighting of the room.

“Then everything’s settled then?” Jungeun continued.

“Don’t forget about Jackson Wang himself,” Kahei spoke up suddenly. The last time Haseul saw her, Kahei had been busy writing fire messages at the corner. “He’s still in South Korea, plotting whoever knows what. I’ll follow his trail for now, in case something new comes up. Haseul will assist me in the meantime.”

The last sentence was more of a command than a choice. Haseul mumbled an “okay” as a reply.

Someone talked, but Haseul could not connect the voice with face. “What about Ha Sooyoung? Surely we can’t let her stay rent-free here without doing anything?”

“I’ll ask her to help with the investigations as much as possible,” Jinsol replied grimly. “I’ll force her if the need arises.”

“Then everything is settled for now,” Haseul stated. “Stay at Seoul Institute for the night before you all continue with your missions tomorrow. If you need any help, feel free to notify me. Lastly, please be safe. We don’t know what we’re currently facing, but it’s definitely not a small threat. Proceed with caution and know that you can trust everyone here in the room, including Sooyoung. If we want to get over this quickly, the last thing we need is internal strife. Let’s not be like our predecessors. Everyone here is the generation of Shadowhunters that are set to take over in the near future, so let’s make a change.”

Haseul had not meant to make the ending speech that long, but the oncoming applause from her peers elevated her confidence. It almost got her into a false sense of security in the middle of the brewing storm.

“And with that the meeting is adjourned, until we can regroup and report our findings. Until then, may the Angels bless us.”

***

As the rest of the Shadowhunters trickled out the doors to eat and rest, Haseul stayed behind to repair the table. She successfully made the legs sturdy enough to hold the weight of the top, but the jagged line in the middle served as a permanent scar on the wood surface.

Haseul examined her stelemanship, which was not bad considering the extent of the damage earlier. As she walked towards the doors, Haseul wondered whether splitting up was a good idea, or whether all the clues were really important or not.

What if everything is for naught? And that there’s nothing we can do about it, as our fate is already set in stone?

Haseul slumped against the wall by the doors. Everything seemed to drain her these days, but she needed to stay strong. For herself and for others, who might rely on her. Giving up was the last option on her checklist, and she had to make sure she would never reach the end of the list. Not in the near future.

She propped herself up after some time, the sky outside pitch black. The glow of the witchlight by the scones on the pillars casted an eerie glow on the historical room, drowning the room in a muted light.

As she went out of the room, she held one thing in conviction:

Everyone will not go down without a fight.


Profile

#009
- Name: Ha Sooyoung
- Born: 24 May 1997
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Busan Institute
- Weapon: Throwing knives
- Parabatai: Jung Jinsol

#010
- Name: Kim Jiwoo
- Born: 20 October 1999
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Cheongju Institute
- Weapon: Balisong (butterfly knife)
- Parabatai: Kim Jungeun
- Relatives: Kim Jungeun (cousin)

Chapter Text

As Hyunjin took to the winding corridors of the institute, her mind wandered around. She had lived here most of her lives, and part of her lived here still. Her legs moved automatically around the corners and hallways; the mansion’s blueprint etched permanently in her mind. Without looking, she knew that the door on the far left would lead her to another vast hallway that contained the training rooms, while the door directly on her right would open up to the kitchen and dining room. If she walked straight, she would reach the main hall in no time, the archway looming high above her, inscribed with centuries-old drawing of cherubs and demons alike.

Kim Hyunjin was distracted. And angry.

The meeting had left a sour note on her, something that was not gone even with Ha Sooyoung’s fuming departure. When the meeting was over, Hyunjin had quickly gotten up from her seat and stalked out the door, sparing a few seconds to tell Heejin that she was alright and to ask the other girl not to follow her as she needed some time alone.

But she was not alright. Rather than being irritated with Ha Sooyoung she was angrier at herself for being weak. Her outburst of emotion earlier was a clear indication of that.

She sighed and ruffled her already messy hair. When she said she wanted some actions back then, she did not mean this much, because at this rate she was going to be overwhelmed. Working together with strangers was one whole problem by itself, since she was not even that coordinated with Heejin in the first place. Working together with strangers who insulted her, and to some extent Heejin as well? That was the cherry on top.

Her pace slowed as she reached a familiar set of double doors. Hyunjin looked up and saw the intricate scribe of the Clave logo on the left door: an intertwining four Cs that represented the Clave, Covenant, Consul and Council. On the right, the Kim clan logo was engraved on the wooden door, coated with gold flecks that shone under the gentle glow of the witchlight.

Hyunjin scrutinized the family emblem as she pushed the library’s double doors open. She had always hated the logo and all its golden grandeur, which she thought the family did not deserve at all. A hyperbolic statement of power, but none of it real. An empty golden scarab, but no depth to its personality. Like her.

The institute’s library was deserted, and the smell of paper dominated her senses. She breathed in a few lungsful of familiar air, and as her eyes adjusted to the darkness within, she was greeted home. The domed library was circular in nature, its perimeter hugged by rows of shelves that rose three storeys high into the gloom. Balconies on the second and third floors served as platform landings to chill onto, while the hollowed-out middle hosted the reading area with comfortable couches strewn everywhere.

Directly underneath the center of the dome lie a giant celestial globe, which towered over Hyunjin as she approached closer, its surface glinting silver in the moonlight that shone through the glass ceiling above. When she was near the humongous device, she realized it was not a smooth globe, but rather an armillary sphere made up of concentric rings that connected with each other at specific angles. The rings spread out from the inner center into tiered circles, and the shimmering magic veil surrounding the outermost circle was what made Hyunjin mistook it as a common celestial globe.

She was surprised that she had not noticed the device’s detailed work when she still lived here. She only knew that it was originally a gift to King Sejong by a famous Shadowhunter inventor called Jang Yeongsil, which was then brought to the institute after the fall of the dynasty. But then again, she never really sat in the library to read books. It was usually Haseul who liked to comb through the old pages while she just spread out on the plush sofa like a cat. Looking at the invention again, Hyunjin wondered whether she really knew Seoul Institute as much as she originally thought she was.

She rounded the sphere and set for the stairs at the far corner. Swinging her legs over the railing, she landed on the second floor on a crouch and walked down the platform. Tracing her way deeper, Hyunjin turned towards aisle nine. The shelves loomed on her left and right, very much taller than her, but she could make out a familiar niche jutting out from the dark. Her hiding spot, untouched after all this time as dust and cobwebs covered the expanse of her stashed belongings there.

Hyunjin cleaned her stuff as much as she could before reaching for the biggest of them all. It was propped against the wall, dusty but otherwise untouched. Unzipping the case, her guitar looked brand-new under the dim light and she smiled. At least everything here remained constant after all the changes she was forced to ride through as she unwillingly grew up.

She strapped her guitar case on her back and wound her way up to the glass trapdoor high above her. After making sure that the platform railing could hold, she hoisted herself upwards and clung to the handle on each side of the small door. Using her stele, the trapdoor opened soundlessly to let in the cool evening breeze, and Hyunjin went through to the other side.

The view high above was still breathtaking. From her position, Hyunjin could see the entire panoramic view of Seoul skyline: the traffic blaring down below, the skyscrapers jutting out into the night sky, the Namsan tower glimmering in the distance on top of the mountain, and everything in between. The air was crisp yet cool to the touch, and Hyunjin was momentarily dazed. She let herself rest on the slanting roof, one boot jammed onto the drainage pipe at the edge of the slope. It had been a long time since she had been in the exact spot admiring the same exact view, and she felt longing seeping in.

But she knew she could not turn back. After everything that she had done.

The thought of that night dampened her mood again. She got up abruptly, brushing the dirt from her back and her guitar case, before making her way to her next favorite spot, which was much safer that the slippery roof she was currently standing on.

The greenhouse was housed atop the institute’s attic, and it was a private property owned originally by the Kims, although in recent years she knew Haseul had gained access to it and kept it proper. It housed a variety of plants that Hyunjin never really cared about, but she liked the place because it was serene and private.

Access from the roofs should not have been possible, but years of dangerous exploration and hiding from her family members had rendered the lithe Shadowhunter agile in nature. Hyunjin found the ventilation grate at the side of the glassy building and yanked it open. The only light source from within came from the witchlights that lighted up the pathway between the plants in perfect intervals; otherwise everything else was shrouded by the darkness of the dense foliage. Hyunjin’s boots crunched the pebbled path as she shook her witchlight on and peered around her surroundings.

On the far corner of the building a single light blazed on, steady and bright. Hyunjin’s instinct perked up as she removed a dagger from her belt and held it on one hand, while her other hand kept the witchlight steady. Nobody should have been able to access the rooftop garden aside from her and Haseul – and maybe Yeojin to some extent – although Hyunjin could not picture that human manifestation of a lentil bean roaming around among colorful flowers. The servants had left the institute before the meeting earlier, and so that left one possibility crowding inside Hyunjin’s head: intruder. As Hyunjin rounded the corner, the trespasser’s side profile came into view, and Hyunjin sucked in a breath.

Sitting on the ledge on the second floor was none other than her best friend and parabatai, Jeon Heejin.

Heejin seemed to have not noticed Hyunjin’s presence down below, so Hyunjin took the time to analyze her parabatai’s features.

Jeon Heejin’s face was contorted in focus as she shaded something on her sketchpad, her eyes not leaving the white paper as her sharpened pencil glided across its expanse. She stopped occasionally to look up, probably pondering about her test subject, before plunging back to her drawing. The witchlight that she balanced on the ledge beside her caused shadows to dance across her face, and when her eyes found Hyunjin’s, it crinkled into the crescent moons that Hyunjin had always liked.

“Hello there, Kim. Ready to serenade me?”

Hyunjin must have been frozen, because Heejin frowned and flipped her sketchpad close. She jumped down silently and stalked towards Hyunjin, who was still rooted in place. Despite being shorter, Heejin’s inquisitive stare was piercing and dominant. “Earth to Hyunjin? Stop gaping and get started.”

Hyunjin blinked and regained her composure. “As if, Jeon.”

Heejin smirked and climbed back up the ledge, scooting over to provide space for Hyunjin. “You always said that. Then you’ll relent. I know I’m very hard to resist.”

“I’m only stuck with you because we’re parabatais. Don’t get carried away,” Hyunjin scoffed, but she sat down next to Heejin. Her statement was only half true, since she could not imagine life without Jeon Heejin around. Hyunjin would not say it out loud, of course, since Heejin’s love for sappy stuff like this was already too much in the first place, and additional sappiness should not be given freely.

Heejin broke her train of thought. “You’ve got that look on your face again.”

“Huh?”

“I call that the Hyunjin furrow. When you think too much, it appears.”

“Oh. It’s nothing.”

Heejin’s brows furrowed and her expression softened. “Hyun… you know that you’re a bad liar, right? Can’t believe you’re still trying to lie to me, out of all people, after all this time.”

Hyunjin chuckled softly as she unzipped her guitar case. “And you, Heekie, are way too perceptive for your own good.”

“I’m worried about you,” Heejin pouted cutely. “Can’t I be worried with my own best friend now?”

“There’s really nothing wrong with me. I’m just tired, that’s all.”

“I know you’re still troubled after what happened in the meeting just now.”

Hyunjin stayed silent, which was a wrong move, since Heejin became increasingly more concerned.

“I’m sorry.”

It took Hyunjin a few delayed seconds before she processed the apology that came out of Heejin’s mouth. She rose dangerously on the ledge, nearly toppling her guitar over. Heejin mirrored her movements and began to wave her hands around, just like she always did whenever she was flustered. Hyunjin grabbed the flailing hands and held it firm in front of her, staring at Heejin’s panicked face.

“Don’t ever apologize to me. Please.” Hyunjin ignored the crack on her voice as she mouthed the last syllable. The last thing she wanted in the world was for Heejin to feel guilty over something she did nothing wrong of. Hyunjin hated herself even more for making her parabatai sad. “You never did anything wrong. It’s all me.”

“Hyun–”

Hyunjin shook her head, her hands still holding Heejin’s firmly. She could feel Heejin twisting her wrists around so that her smaller hands were now enveloping Hyunjin’s larger ones, gripping it firmly yet gently. Her eyes stung with unshed tears, but she blinked back the tears. She did not want to make Heejin more worried after everything that happened today.

But before she knew it, Heejin pulled Hyunjin’s hands towards her, enveloping the younger girl in a protective embrace. Hyunjin’s dam broke as soon as Heejin hugged her tightly, and her cries came in halting sobs as Heejin rubbed the small of her back, comforting as ever. The sound echoed in the empty glasshouse, amplifying Hyunjin’s already exposed vulnerabilities.

Heejin did not let go, nor did she stop muttering comforting words to Hyunjin’s ears. When her parabatai held her at arm’s length, Hyunjin could see the unshed tears on Heejin’s eyes, although she was smiling faintly. From her hoodie’s pocket, Heejin produced a handkerchief and dabbed it at Hyunjin’s tear-stained cheeks, earning a weak protest from the younger girl. She topped it off with a poke on Hyunjin’s puffed cheek, laughing gently.

“C’mere big baby,” Heejin nudged her to scoot closer as she shoved her art supplies rather roughly into her canvas bag. “It’s time like this that I show you who’s the older one around here.”

“You’re not even one month older than me,” Hyunjin protested. But she moved closer and rested her forehead on Heejin’s welcoming shoulder.

Heejin shifted to make sure Hyunjin was comfortable. “Still counts.”

After a stretching silence, Hyunjin finally whispered out the thing that had been burdening her lately. “Am I a burden? After all, I’m always the one running to you.”

Heejin turned around sharply and Hyunjin whined weakly as she was deprived of the shoulder rest. “That’s what you’re worried about?”

Hyunjin bit her lip as she nodded, not wanting to see Heejin’s reaction. But two hands shot out and gripped the sides of her face, causing her to look straight at Heejin’s shining eyes.

Heejin’s deep voice betrayed no emotion as her stare levelled on Hyunjin’s. “Kim Hyunjin.”

“Y-yes?”

“Just now you told me not to apologize to you. Now it’s my turn to ban you from feeling that you’re burdening me. You will never be a burden to me. Never.”

“We’re parabatais, and parabatais are supposed to work well together,” Hyunjin began. “We don’t.”

“Doesn’t matter!” Heejin shouted rather hotly. “I don’t care what people think about us! We may be the worst parabatai pair ever in Shadowhunter history – be damned all of them – but I don’t care! As long as I have you alongside me, nothing else matters.”

“You think too highly of me,” Hyunjin muttered, feeling slightly touched by Heejin’s overflowing trust on her.

“And you think too little of yourself,” Heejin replied. “Kim Hyunjin! You’re the best partner I could ever ask for. The best friend. The best Shadowhunter. The best person to spend my whole life with. I would never trade you for somebody else. That day when we became parabatais, I was the happiest person in the world. Kim Hyunjin, you’re special, and you will always have a place in my heart.”

Heejin was crying now, and Hyunjin gingerly wrapped her hands around her. When she calmed down, Heejin decided to punch Hyunjin’s shoulder.

“Ow! What was that for?” Hyunjin asked, incredulous.

“For being an idiot who thinks she’s a dead weight to others,” Heejin sniffled. “Now cheer me up. Play me something.”

Hyunjin raised an eyebrow. “You really are something else, Jeon.”

“Shut up, Kim. You owe me this one.”

“Everything for you, princess,” Hyunjin answered, positioning her guitar on her lap. She strummed the strings, producing a sweet melody that she thought she had long forgotten. A melody she had created a long time ago, when she was just barely able to play the guitar, and all that she could think of was Jeon Heejin.

“Hey you… do you know my heart?”

Little did Hyunjin knew that Heejin was blushing furiously after her accidental confession. But that was a story for another day.

***

“That’s not correct, Hyunjin-ah.”

Twelve-year-old Kim Hyunjin looked up to find her older brother’s crinkling smile as he repositioned her little fingers on the correct frets.

“There. Try it,” he continued.

Hyunjin shifted the huge guitar across her lap, feeling uncomfortable by the bulge. She dragged the pick down, and the note that it produced was better than the dissonant tone she made just now. She beamed wide and looked up to her brother, expecting a praise from him.

As usual, her brother pretended to be oblivious. She pouted, knowing that it was always effective against him, and just as she predicted, her brother relented. He ruffled her hair and took the guitar from her.

“Okay, that’s enough. I don’t want you to surpass me on this as well. What else would I have left if you’re this good already after three lessons?”

Hyunjin shrieked as her brother began tickling her. Being 10 years older than her, he towered over her as he stood up and carried her over his shoulder. He went down the stairs and threw young Hyunjin down on the plush sofa.

“Do it again!” Hyunjin shouted as she rolled over.

Her brother stored the guitar back into the case and placed it gently at his secret corner upstairs. He looked down at the expectant face and shook his head slowly. “You know how father will be if he knows that I have been throwing you around behind his back many times.”

Hyunjin’s smile melted. “I’m not weak.”

Her brother strode over and pinched her cheek. “You’re the strongest girl I know, Hyunjin-ah. But father is right. It’s better not to do silly stuff like this. You can get injured.”

Hyunjin knew the underlying meaning behind her brother’s words. She had been born sickly and weak – that was a known fact. The fact that she had not gotten her first Mark even though her thirteenth birthday was coming was a testament to that. But she just silently nodded. She knew her brother meant well.

Before she could reply, the institute’s doorbell rang. The sound echoed even through the supposedly soundproofed library, ricocheting off the towering shelves. She looked up inquisitively at her brother, who had moved towards the windows and drew the curtains wide.

“The Jeons are here,” he said. “Let’s go down and welcome them.”

“You go,” Hyunjin pouted. “They don’t need me around anyway. I’m always ignored.”

Her brother’s brows furrowed, like it always did whenever he was angry or thinking something. Then his face lightened up, and Hyunjin could see the lightbulb inside his head shining bright as he hit his eureka moment.

“From what I hear, the Jeons brought their daughters over as well,” he supplied.

“Still got nothing to do with me.”

“One of them is your age!”

Hyunjin perked up at the new information while her brother beamed satisfactorily, having caught her attention. All her life she had never left the institute, and the closest thing she had to a friend was Jo Haseul, who was three years older than her. Hardly a friend and more of a sister, and this mysterious daughter of Jeon caused her to get up and followed her brother downstairs.

By the time Hyunjin jumped down from the stairs, the entire Shadowhunter convoy had already stepped out from their carriage, which was a gleaming black chariot with the Jeon family emblem gilded in silver. The Jeon family’s head was regal as he walked across the lawn, his greying short-cropped hair fluttering in the evening air. Hyunjin’s father stood still by the doors, stockier than his visiting counterpart, but they stood at eye level.

Her father stretched out his scarred hand first, his mouth a thin line. “Jeon. Good to see that you have arrived safely.”

“Kim. Thank you for the invitation. I hope it extends to my family as well.”

“Of course. The Jeons will always be welcome to Seoul Institute.”

Hyunjin had been hiding behind a pillar, despite her brother’s urge to come out and greet the visitors openly. Speaking of her brother, she could see him going around and greeting everyone following their father, although the smile plastered to his face did not really reach his eyes.

“This way, please. I’ll show to your rooms,” her brother said as he led the way.

Hyunjin hid deeper behind the pillar as the Jeons passed by. When she was sure everybody had moved to the stairs, she came out from her hiding place, and was met with eyes boring at her.

She stifled a scream as a girl stared daggers at her, her gaze searching. Hyunjin’s instinct told her that this was the youngest Jeon daughter her brother was talking about, but she looked nothing like her parents. Her features looked cold and seemed to be carved out of ice, like the angel sculptures strewn around the institute. Her moles were stark against her pale face, which served as an indication that the girl standing in front of her was indeed a visiting Shadowhunter and not a fallen angel from heaven.

Hyunjin backed towards the wall, and the still-staring girl stepped closer.

“Don’t come closer!” Hyunjin shouted, hands outstretched, although her shout sounded more like a plea.

The girl stopped mid-step. “Why?”

The voice that escaped from her mouth startled Hyunjin further. She did not expect such a deep voice to come from the cute face staring at her. Said girl looked even more confused at Hyunjin’s silence.

“Sorry,” Hyunjin replied. “Your voice is… low.”

The girl’s eyes widened before she casted her gaze downwards. “You’re not the first one to say that. I’m not very proud of it myself.”

The words left Hyunjin’s mouth before she could think through it. “Why not? It’s nice.”

The girl looked up and started staring at Hyunjin again. Hyunjin felt stupid for thinking that the girl was scary just now, because all she could see now was a pair of soft eyes that pretended to be tough on the outside. She knew those looks, because her brother was like this himself.

“T-thank you.”

Hyunjin smiled as she extended her hand. “I’m Kim Hyunjin. I’m 12. I was told we’re the same age, although I may be wrong.”

“Jeon Heejin, also 12. You’re correct,” Heejin smiled back as she took Hyunjin’s hand into hers. Her hand was cold from the journey, while Hyunjin’s was warm after holing up in the library all afternoon.

“Nice. We’re friends now!” Hyunjin exclaimed, before adding hastily. “Only if you don’t mind.”

Heejin’s smile was dazzling as she replied, “Of course we are.”

***

When Hyunjin blinked, she was no longer staring at Jeon Heejin’s dagger, but rather the ceiling. She continued to lie down, dazed, before a shadow loomed over her. Heejin’s concerned face dominated her vision in the next second.

“Are you okay? I’m sorry if I flip you too hard!”

Hyunjin groaned as she sat up, her back sore. Heejin offered her hand, which she took, and immediately she was hauled back to standing position. Her dagger laid a few feet in front of her, having been tore loose from her hand when Heejin suddenly disarmed and tripped her down.

“I’m fine,” Hyunjin replied as she smoothened her shirt. It was her second training session with Heejin – on the other girl’s insistence – and the only takeaways she got were the bruises forming on every part of her body. Hyunjin picked up her dagger and eased her fingers on the hilt. “Again.”

“Hyun, we can rest first if you want. You look tired–”

“I’m fine,” Hyunjin repeated with finality.

Heejin scowled, which was a very honest expression considering Hyunjin grew up surrounded by superficial people. “You’re a very bad liar, Kim Hyunjin.”

“You don’t know anything about me.”

“But I saw enough to know. You need rest. You’re breathing harsher than a horse right now.”

Hyunjin’s face reddened in anger and embarrassment. “Maybe you should get off your high horse, Jeon Heejin. You think you can go around ordering people and expecting them to listen?”

Heejin’s mouth gaped open at the accusation as Hyunjin planted her dagger down on the wooden floor and stalked towards the door. Hyunjin knew Heejin was right, but her pride and insecurity got the best of her. She stopped herself from looking back and checking on the other girl as she shouldered the door open. An apology hovered at the tip of her tongue, although no sound came out as she stepped out into the dim hallway.

The last thing she heard was Heejin’s apology, particularly loud in the deserted institute.

***

That night, Hyunjin found her dagger back, gift-wrapped in white linen and placed at the foot of her bed. She unwrapped the overly decorated gift, finding her dagger thoroughly cleaned and sharpened. A folded piece of note was tied to the hilt, which Hyunjin discarded without reading the content.

She got out of her bedroom and walked towards the end of the resident wing, finding the room at the farthest corner. Not wasting any seconds, she knocked hard on the brass wood, hearing the clatter of stuff as soft footsteps came barreling towards the door. Jeon Heejin emerged from behind the door, wide-eyed in surprise.

Said girl was already dressed for sleep – pink bunny pajamas that looked very bright in the dim corridor, hair cascading out in thick curls over her shoulder. Her words slurred as it escaped her mouth. “H-hyunjin…?”

Hyunjin felt suddenly guilty for waking Heejin up. But she steadied her breath and straightened up. “Come with me.”

Heejin’s sleepy daze was replaced with a frown that Hyunjin grew familiar with. “I know you’re still angry with me Hyunjin, but at least let me sleep and settle this in the morning.”

“I’m not angry with you.”

“Oh?”

Hyunjin turned and walked away, somehow sure that Heejin would follow despite of the doubtful reply. Sure enough, Hyunjin could hear the soft footsteps following her as she rounded the corner to another hallway and towards the attic.

“Are you sure this is allowed?” Heejin asked as Hyunjin lowered the ladder and climbed up. “I don’t want to cause trouble for my family.”

“We’re safe if you get your ass up here before anyone notices,” Hyunjin replied back, stretching her arm for Heejin to take.

Heejin huffed, but she took the offered hand and was hauled up. “Feels like I will get into more trouble the more I hang around you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Heejin stared at her, incredulous. “That’s not a compliment.”

“That’s called a joke, Jeon Heejin. This is why Downworlders think we Shadowhunters are boring creatures.”

“But we’re not… are we?”

Hyunjin looked back at Heejin’s pouty face, visibly upset, and could not help but crack a smile. “It’s okay, you still have time to be… funny.”

“Really?”

“Actually, being funny is not teachable, it’s a talent. Either you’re born funny or you grow up funny. The rest? They grow up to be the boring Shadowhunters around you.”

“Are you saying my family is boring?”

“From my observation this past three days, my first impression doesn’t exactly improve much.”

Hyunjin unlocked the grate and a spiral staircase glided smoothly down into the space in front of the two Shadowhunters. Heejin stopped mid-frown as the staircase dropped down with a soft click, latching down to the mechanism on the floor, its silvery stairs glinted under the moonlight streaming from the open air above.

“Woah. I didn’t know Seoul Institute has a secret stairway to Heaven.”

“Trust me, it’s better than heaven,” Hyunjin smiled proudly at her secret garden. “Not that I wanna try going to heaven. Seems like a boring place.”

“Everything is boring to you,” Heejin replied as she climbed the first step. She shivered as the cold surface came into contact with her bare feet.

“You’re not wrong about that,” Hyunjin said, climbing two steps at once and leaving Heejin trailing behind. “Life as a Shadowhunter is very boring.”

Judging from the lack of footsteps following her up, Hyunjin knew that Heejin was currently staring at her scandalously from down below. Not that she cared. Shadowhunting had never really given Hyunjin any satisfaction, and her ‘fragile’ body was making it worse. She would probably be more useful in the generic mundane lifestyles – a baker probably, since bread was her staple food.

When she arrived at the top of the landing, Hyunjin turned back and saw Heejin sulkily following behind. Despite the frown on her face, Heejin did not say anything, which Hyunjin was silently grateful of. At least she was not judging loudly, unlike some people. Like her father, for example.

The thought of her father enveloped Hyunjin in distaste. She strode down the empty greenhouse, shoulders hunched, and would have continued at that pace had Heejin not shouted at her to stop.

“Raziel, you walk fast for someone with short legs,” Heejin panted, clutching at her knees as she finally caught up.

“Excuse me? I have short legs? You’re just slow, Jeon.”

Heejin scowled. “You’re upset. And when you’re upset you kept everything to yourself, but it still shows.”

“I didn’t know you’re a certified psychologist.”

“A psy-what?”

“It’s a– you know what, never mind. I forgot the Jeons only interact with stiff-brained Shadowhunters.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re excused.”

Heejin was about to retort back when the bell tower chimed loudly. Hyunjin knew the bell signified that it was midnight already, so she grabbed Heejin’s hand and dragged her deeper into the garden. Heejin yelped in response but let herself get tugged to wherever Hyunjin was bringing her to.

Despite being barefooted, Hyunjin scaled the pebbled pathway skillfully, carefully avoiding fallen twigs and sharp rocks that would have scarred both of their feet. She pushed the low leaves of a tree away, emerging onto a clearing that she was familiar with. She finally let Heejin’s hands go as she neared a flowerbed with wilted flowers interspersed between the bushes.

Heejin came near and scrutinized the plants in front of her. “You drag me all the way here to show me some dead flowers.”

“Just look.”

The stem of the flower nearest to the edge of the flowerbed suddenly straightened up, and from beneath the dying petals, new petals burst forth. The flower was a beauty to behold, its petals the color of red so deep it seemed to be soaked in blood. The rest of the flowers slowly showcased their midnight gowns, one at a time, until the whole bed seemed to ripple in bloody waves as they moved under the night breeze.

“Wow,” Heejin finally said. “That was… eerie.”

“But it’s beautiful.”

“It is,” Heejin agreed. “Eerily beautiful.”

Hyunjin had settled herself on the stone bench opposite the flowerbed, beaming satisfactorily after successfully showing Heejin one of her magical secrets, oblivious to the other girl’s stricken expression.

Heejin walked over soon after, but her eyes trailed behind Hyunjin. “What’s that?”

Hyunjin turned as Heejin reached out and plucked the object from behind Hyunjin. It was an ukulele – her ukulele – that she had long forgotten.

“Angels! No wonder I couldn’t find it all this time!” Hyunjin half-shouted, grabbing the ukulele out of Heejin’s hand.

“I didn’t know there’s a cat-shaped ukulele,” Heejin muttered as she sat beside Hyunjin, burying her face between her knees.

“They have everything in the mundane world,” Hyunjin replied, inspecting her prized possession to see if there’s any visible scratches after months of abandonment here in the greenery. “My brother bought it four years ago for my 9th birthday.”

“The one who welcomed us back then?”

Hyunjin stopped inspecting the instruments and stroke it gently. “No… my other brother. He’s dead.”

“I’m sorry.”

Hyunjin suddenly laughed, which horrified Heejin.

“What’s so funny, Kim?”

Hyunjin looked up to see Heejin’s frowning face. “You know you’re cuter when you smile, Jeon. Stop frowning.”

Heejin’s face reddened at the unexpected compliment. “Just answer me.”

“You should stop apologizing for things you did nothing wrong of,” Hyunjin began, fiddling with the ukulele strings. “And for someone who grew up secluded in Seongnam Institute, you really think like the mundanes.” She looked up, inspecting Heejin up and down. “Very interesting.”

“Don’t treat me like an art piece to be scrutinized at,” Heejin replied quietly, burying her face deeper into her knees.

“But you are one,” Hyunjin replied matter-of-factly.

Heejin scoffed weakly. “You really are something else, Kim.”

An idea came into Hyunjin’s mind. She repositioned herself and started to tune her ukulele (at least she thought she was tuning it correctly). “Come closer. I’ll play you something.”

“You can play?” Heejin asked as she scooted closer.

“My brother’s been teaching me how to play guitar. Ukulele shouldn’t be that hard.”

Hyunjin began positioning her fingers on the fretboard. When she strummed, the tune that came out sounded more like a strangled cat’s dying message.

“Um, what are you even trying to do?” Heejin inquired slowly, seeing the frown deepening on Hyunjin’s feature.

“I thought this is A#?”

“It’s actually F#.”

“How do you know?” Hyunjin said as she eyed Heejin from across the stone bench.

Heejin raised an eyebrow at her. “I can play guitar and ukulele, Kim. Maybe you should stop underestimating me once in a while.”

Hyunjin scowled indignantly. “Actually I wanted to play F# since the start. I’m gonna use this chord to start my song.”

“You make songs?”

“Starting one now. Be grateful you’re the first soul ever to listen to this, Jeon.”

“I’m very honored right now.”

“Okay,” Hyunjin tapped the ukulele’s body lightly. “What should the lyrics be?”

“What kind of song are you even making, when you can barely play?” Heejin said skeptically.

“Shut up Jeon. Here goes nothing.” Hyunjin strummed the dissonant F# chord again. “Hey you.”

“Are you trying to pick a fight?”

Hyunjin groaned and ruffled her messy hair. She could not possibly admit to Heejin that was the only chord she remembered from her mere three lessons on guitaring with her brother. Her pride was at stake, but the look of mild disappointment on Heejin’s face trumped out everything.

“You know what? Forget it. I suck, I know,” Hyunjin sulked as she lowered her ukulele down. For all its cute designs, it could not help her much.

“It’s okay, Hyun,” Heejin replied, reverting to that soothing tone she always used whenever Hyunjin was upset. “It’s the thought that counts.”

“But I want to be able to play,” Hyunjin said quietly.

“Then you practice. I don’t mind teaching you in place of your brother if he’s busy. I’m sure you can master it in no time.”

“You think too highly of me.”

“And you think too little of yourself.”

***

Hyunjin’s daily routine changed slightly with the arrival of a certain Jeon Heejin. Times where she usually spent bothering her brother or Haseul were replaced with bothering Heejin, who offered her better reactions compared to the previous two. Heejin was also her age, meaning they got along fairly well, if one did not include the countless times they fought each other for baseless things like bread and ownership of the institute’s blue bettas.

“Wrong.”

Hyunjin groaned and flumped onto her bed. Heejin was sitting on her bedroom’s windowsill, peeling an apple with a paring knife, oblivious to the younger girl’s silent protest.

Hyunjin’s voice was muffled by her pillow as she asked out, “Can I take a break?”

“You just took a toilet break five minutes ago.”

“I need a… kitchen break! I’m starving right now.”

Heejin raised an eyebrow, which was quite attractive, if only her glare was not directed to the one and only Kim Hyunjin. She threw an apple at her, and the only thing that kept Hyunjin alive was her Shadowhunter reflexes. Thank the Angels.

“Again. Recite every prose in Latin. One wrong word and you need to start over.”

Hyunjin stared at her incredulously. “I thought you said you’ll teach me how to play guitar?”

“Apparently your Latin is lacking as well. If you don’t start now you’ll miss dinner, by the way.”

“You’re joking,” Hyunjin hissed.

“I’m not, Kim. What do you say I am again? A boring Shadowhunter, right?” Heejin countered, setting her peeled apple on the windowsill. “Now.”

“This is torture.”

“Never say it wasn’t.”

Hyunjin narrowed her eyes. “You’re quite funny lately.”

Heejin smirked. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Stop quoting me word by word. It’s impolite.”

“And it’s impolite to keep a guest waiting. Where are your manners, Kim Hyunjin?”

Hyunjin fought down the urge to walk over to the window and punch Jeon Heejin in the face. Theoretically it was feasible, but knowing that Heejin was the best Shadowhunter her age made Hyunjin to not like her chances much. Their training sessions together so far were a one-sided massacre.

Hyunjin started chanting the stupid verses that she tried hard to commit to memory, occasionally poking the apple Heejin had thrown at her. Unlatching a tube from her belt, Hyunjin named it and a seraph blade sprang to life, glinting in the afternoon sunlight. With the edge still shining, Hyunjin began peeling the apple with it. An audible gasp sounded from across the room, no doubt from Heejin, who probably thought it was sacrilegious to peel apples with enchanted blades.

Surprisingly she finished the angelic scripture without any hitch. Looking up, she wiggled her eyebrows at Heejin, who just scoffed.

“Congratulations Kim Hyunjin,” Heejin said mirthlessly. “You finally passed a 10-year-old Latin test.”

“Haters gonna hate,” Hyunjin replied mockingly.

“I’m not even going to question you what that means,” Heejin said as she jumped down from the windowsill. “I’m hungry, let’s find food.”

They walked side by side to the door, but before Hyunjin could pass through, Heejin blocked the way.

“Hello? I’m under room arrest now as well?” Hyunjin asked. “Is it because of my perfect Latin?”

“You wish,” Heejin replied. From her pocket she took out her foldable paring knife, handing it to Hyunjin. “Next time, when apples are involved.”

Hyunjin took the folded knife and balanced it on her palm. It was gleaming black, which was the official color of the Jeon clan, and surprisingly light despite its decorated handle. A mini Jeon emblem snaked around the handle like snakes in the dark.

“Woah. Does everyone in the Jeon clan this extra? Who decorated their fruit knives?”

“Consider this as a parting gift,” Heejin replied, ignoring Hyunjin’s comments. Now that Hyunjin really looked at the other girl, she looked somehow… sad.

“When do you go back?” Hyunjin asked quietly, surprised that she herself was feeling sad at the thought of not meeting Heejin again.

“Tomorrow morning.”

Heejin did not wait for Hyunjin’s reply as she turned and walked away, leaving her alone at the doorway with Heejin’s receding footsteps echoing loudly in the empty corridor.

***

It took Hyunjin three days to realize that her brother had been acting distant. Sure, she had been hanging out with Heejin lately, but it was not like her brother to ignore her like this. Now that she knew Heejin would not be coming back after quite a while, she missed her brother’s doting affection even more.

She found Haseul in the library, poring over some old scripts that were piled high at the central table. The older girl looked up at Hyunjin’s approaching figure and adjusted her reading glasses.

“Kim Hyunjin? I didn’t know you’re a reader,” Haseul greeted.

“It’s news to me as well,” Hyunjin replied, settling on one of the beanbags. “Do you know where my brother is?”

“Your brother? He’s been going out a lot recently, but I don’t know what he’s up to. Sorry.”

“Ah… it’s okay,” Hyunjin replied. “I’ll ask my brother later.”

“Do you want some coffee?” Haseul supplied.

Hyunjin craned her neck to see whether Haseul was joking. Or not. “Did you just offer a twelve-year-old coffee? And you’re only sixteen yourself.”

Haseul shrugged unapologetically. “Trust me, you’ll need all that caffeine in a few years’ time.”

“It’s okay, I have my milk,” Hyunjin chuckled. “Maybe next time.”

Haseul smiled warmly before returning to her scripts. Judging by the scrawling letters inscribed on the decaying papers, Hyunjin guessed it was one of the common demonic languages. Probably Purgatic or Chthonian. She was impressed by Haseul’s scholarly abilities, and coupled with her great swords(wo)manship, it was not a far-fetched idea that one day the older girl would inherit Seoul Institute from Hyunjin’s father.

Hyunjin hoped that was the case.

***

She did not realize she had fallen asleep on the beanbag until she woke up nuzzled on her brother’s heavily Marked arms. She hastily wiped her drool on her shirtsleeve and looked up to find her brother’s warm smile on her.

“I was hoping I didn’t wake you up until we reach your bedroom,” he grinned. “It seems like I have failed my mission.”

“Let me down,” Hyunjin whined, embarrassed because she was carried princess-style at the big age of twelve.

Her brother’s grin faded. “I thought you always liked being carried like this.”

“Not anymore,” Hyunjin complained. “I’m turning thirteen next week! I’m an adult now!”

Her brother laughed out loud at her proclamation, clutching his stomach as he wheezed. “Whether you’re thirteen or thirty, Hyunjin-ah, you’re still a baby to me.”

“That’s because you’re an old man,” Hyunjin pouted.

“Can’t deny that,” he replied as he raked his hand through his hair. Hyunjin noticed that her brother’s hair had grown long enough to cover his eyes, and there was a light stubble of a forgotten morning shave on his face.

“What have you been up to?” Hyunjin asked.

“Mhm? Nothing much, just doing patrols and errands for father.”

“Haseul-unnie said you’re going out a lot more lately.”

“Oh really? She might have been mistaken. Holing up in the library can mess up one’s sense of time.”

They had reached Hyunjin’s bedroom in no time. Hyunjin turned to look at her brother and noticed more of him than what she had known before. His shoulders were tense, while his eyes were bloodshot beneath the fringes. His cheeks and arms were cut at numerous parts, the skin still looking raw after a few iratzes fastened the healing process, but not fast enough. His weapons belt was half-empty, as if he had been sailing into battle alone. He probably did.

She wondered whether she had become this perceptive due to hanging around Jeon Heejin too much, and whether being this perceptive was good.

Her brother caught her staring and raised an eyebrow. Hyunjin decided to say it before she lost the nerve to do so.

“Promise me that you will not hide anything from me.”

Her brother stared at her before breaking into a smile, the same smile that he always put up in uncomfortable situations. “Of course I’ll tell you everything, Hyunjin-ah. After all, you’re the only family I have now.”

Before Hyunjin could reply back, her brother kissed her forehead and ushered her into her bedroom. “Good night. Don’t let the demon under your bed get your leg!”

With that he closed the door with a soft click, leaving Hyunjin standing rigidly in the middle of her own room, her thoughts swimming rapidly inside her head.

Her brother had promised her, but he never promised by the Angels. Which meant he could break it.

***

It was Thursday evening, the day before her birthday, when Hyunjin finally knew what her brother had been up to. She was climbing the stairs towards the greenhouse when she heard muffled voices streaming from above. She crouched down on the landing and moved quietly, peering over a bush to see who were arguing so loudly. Despite craning her neck, her vision was still blocked by the dense foliage in front of her.

“…don’t understand. You know it’s dark magic, right? You can’t possibly be serious.”

“I am. And I’m willing to take the risk.”

With a start, Hyunjin realized that the second voice was her brother’s. It took her a while to notice the familiar timbre, which sounded very strained at the moment. She shifted so that she could see who he was talking with, and was surprised to see the talking bird.

It was a kite, the bird of prey, perching on one of the low branches so that it was eye level with her brother, who was slouching on the ledge across from the tree. He looked exhausted, his gaze unfocused and his speech more of an automatic response than a logical one.

The bird scoffed (or cawed?) in dismay. “I’m willing to overlook you on this one, Shadowhunter. You don’t know the risk, at all. Every one of you Nephilims always thought you have this at hand. But remember that you only have two hands, which will see better uses on weaponry rather than dealing with magic.”

Her brother stood up, face contorted in rage. “You don’t tell me what to do, warlock! Either you help me, or you be gone instead.”

The bird went silent, its eyes scanning the Shadowhunter in front of it. Hyunjin swore she could see the pity towards her brother coming from its far too intelligent eyes. “I’m telling you this as a family friend, Kim. Please rethink your decision.”

Her brother shook his head gently, his hair falling into his eyes. “No. I have made my decision. I’ll meet you at the Sanctuary on midnight, sharp.” He began to stand up, towering over the kite. “You know that if you don’t come I’ll just hire another warlock to do it in your stead, right?”

The bird ruffled its feathers. “Of course you would do that. I had hoped I could convince you otherwise tonight, but I realized it was a vain effort to do so. You’ve already made up your mind long ago.”

“I wouldn’t have come to you if nothing was definite,” he smiled. “See you later, Ryu.”

Hyunjin saw him toss something into the air, which the kite fetched as it flew over the open hatch of the greenhouse. She immediately hid deeper behind the shrubbery as her brother passed by, too preoccupied with his own thoughts that he did not spot Hyunjin in her poor hiding spot.

Hyunjin finally came out from hiding when the staircase retracted back upstairs, her brother’s taut back muscles the last thing she saw as he descended the stairs into darkness.

***

After the weird espionage job on her brother and the talking bird, Hyunjin roamed around the institute. It was nearly midnight, but she did not want to sleep just yet. Her brother was up to something, and she was determined to know what exactly he was planning, and maybe help out if she could. Every time she passed by another inhabitant of the institute who questioned her on why she was not in the bed yet, she waved the question off by saying she was looking forward to her first day as a thirteen-year-old. Which was not a lie, of course.

Slipping her feet into her boots, she trudged down the deserted hallway, her eyelids quite heavy as her body screamed for rest. She shook her head and slapped herself awake. Grabbing the witchlight from her pocket, she made her way to the main foyer of the institute, but instead of opening the main doors, she turned towards a locked door at the side.

Freeing her stele from her jacket pocket, she drew the rune for Open and the door clicked open without much problem as the rune blazed in effect. She beamed proudly at her rune-drawing skills. Heejin would have been proud of her.

Hyunjin turned to her side to boast to Heejin, only to realize that the girl was not here. In fact, it had been two weeks since Heejin left with the rest of the Shadowhunters from the Jeon family, but Hyunjin still felt the gaping hole searing her inside as if it was new. She had not realized she missed the frowning princess this much before.

She closed the door and trailed towards the second-floor balcony, scouting her hiding spot. After finding the most comfortable of the dozen dusty niches, she finally settled down. Now all she could do was wait.

Hyunjin did not need to wait long, because there was a knock on the wooden door of the Sanctuary not long after she settled down. She peered downwards and saw no sign of her brother yet. Weighing the possibilities, she shrugged and jumped down, deciding to grant some hospitality towards the guest first.

The man behind the door was shrouded in darkness and stood high above her. He was big, probably even taller than her brother, that she needed to look up to see the tip of his hat. His light brown suit was immaculate, and despite the drizzling rain outside he was not drenched at all. When he removed his fedora, Hyunjin saw that his skin was scaly, with slit pupils like a snake’s.

She must have been frozen for quite some time, because the scary face in front of her gave her a warm smile as he crouched down. “Hello there, Nephilim. May I come in before the rain catches up?”

Hyunjin curtly nodded and opened the door wider, letting the warlock in. He looked around at the Sanctuary, twirling his jeweled walking stick as he absorbed his surroundings.

“You’re early,” Hyunjin said.

“The clouds were getting heavy, so I left early to prepare,” the warlock said as he turned around, still offering the same smile. He added after a second thought. “Forgive me for being rude, as I have yet to introduce myself. My name is Ryu Junyeol. I was contracted by Kim Taehyung to do something for his stead. Do you know where he is?”

“He’s my brother,” Hyunjin replied. “He should be here soon–”

As if on cue, the side door connecting to the institute creaked open, and Kim Taehyung walked into the Sanctuary. He did not seem to notice the two individuals standing at the center of the barren courtyard, and when he did, something flashed in his arms. Hyunjin realized it was the Kim’s family broadsword.

“Hyunjin,” her brother’s voice was icy cold. “What is this?”

“I-I…,” Hyunjin stammered, unable to form coherent sentences under the cold glare of her brother. “I’m sorry I overheard your conversation at the greenhouse just now. So I let Mr. Ryu here come in early. He says you’re the one contracting him.”

Taehyung’s eyes narrowed before they went wide in realization. He shifted his stance, a stance Hyunjin was very familiar with. It was the Kim family’s fighting stance, and the broadsword was trained at her head.

Correction, above her head. Her brother was pointing the sword at the warlock’s heart.

“Hyunjin-ah,” he whispered, his voice a low rumble that Hyunjin barely caught. “When I jump, run.”

With that, Taehyung leaped forward, the broadsword raised above his head. Hyunjin ducked out of the way as the sword made a shining arc towards the warlock. The sheer strength of the swing should have cut any flesh into two, but all her brother got was broken stones that crunched underneath the weight of the sword.

Before Hyunjin could run towards her brother, she felt cold metal grazing her neck. Taehyung stiffened up as he saw the blade resting at Hyunjin’s throat.

“Let her go,” he growled.

The warlock – Ryu Junyeol – just laughed, his voice shrill. “Once a fool, always a fool. You Nephilims are very interesting creatures. Supposedly blessed by the Angels, yet you are all very brittle like paper under the sun. I wonder what will happen if I decapitate your sister? Will she die instantly, or will her life gutter out like a candle flame?”

A blade whizzed past Hyunjin’s face, grazing her cheek. She heard the warlock roar in pain as the edge sunk deep into his armed hand, and she could feel his hold on her weakening. However, the hold tightened back before she could escape, this time crushing her throat. She gasped for breath, her fists bouncing harmlessly on the warlock’s broad arm. Tears stung her eyes as her vision darkened, and she could hear her brother’s faraway scream as if she was underwater.

She frantically tried to grab for something – anything – to prevent the warlock from killing her. Her fingers closed over a familiar hilt, and her breath returned to her almost immediately as she sunk Heejin’s knife onto her captor’s palm.

This time she managed to escape completely. Her body spasmed as the racking cough seized her, and she retched out her dinner. Her ears were still buzzing from the lack of air circulation, and when she finally came through, she saw her brother engaged in a deadly fight with the warlock.

At some point, Ryu Junyeol had successfully disarmed Taehyung of his broadsword, and the sword laid a few feet away from her brother’s reach. He had opted for the double daggers instead, parrying and jabbing at the warlock, who looked mildly amused.

With a flick of a finger from the warlock, the daggers flew away from Taehyung’s arm towards the far corner. A kick to the stomach was all it needed for her brother to go down on his knees coughing. Training the walking stick on her brother’s heart, Hyunjin realized that it was pointed at the end. Horrified, she dashed towards the fallen sword as the warlock pulled his arm back.

Hyunjin grabbed the sword mid-jump, and after shifting her weight she sliced upwards with all the strength she could muster. The last thing she heard was a thud of something heavy as the warlock went down, headless, and she ran towards her brother.

But it was already too late.

Blood blossomed on his white shirt as the edge of the walking stick pierced his heart and went through his back. Hyunjin caught him before he went down to the ground, the shock paralyzing her from screaming out loud.

“Please hang on,” Hyunjin panicked, the blood drenching her arms as she held her brother steady. “I’ll call somebody, maybe Haseul, to call the Silent Brothers. Please.”

She began shouting to no avail. The Sanctuary was made soundproof for a reason, but she could not leave, because that meant leaving her brother alone. Part of her knew that even if help came, he would not survive, but that did not stop her from applying the iratze repeatedly on her brother’s skin.

Runes upon runes were drawn in continuous motion on his skin – healing rune, blood replacement rune, vitality rune – you name it. Taehyung was becoming Hyunjin’s living canvas, covered again and again with layers of hope and life from the tip of her stele. Still, only little progress was made. Every time she finished drawing the healing rune, the ink would dissolve and disappear into his skin without repairing much inside.

She began to cry, the tears wetting her brother’s pallid face. He was still breathing, but she could feel the heartbeat getting fainter by the seconds. She wiped the sweat that plastered his hair to his forehead and smoothened his hair, willing him to wake up.

Taehyung did wake up, gasping for air as if he just went for a deep dive. His eyes were unfocused, but his fingers found Hyunjin’s. They were slick with blood, but Hyunjin gripped them tight.

“Hyun…,” he began, but blood gurgled out from his lips.

“Stop talking,” Hyunjin cried out. “You’re gonna be okay.”

“Hyunjin.” This time, her brother’s gaze was more focused. He pointed weakly on the stele on her hand. “No more… please.”

She was surprised at her brother’s declaration, thinking that she might have heard wrongly. But his expression showed otherwise, which prompted her to ask why.

“I’m beyond… help already... stop wasting your time,” Taehyung stuttered before vomiting blood. Still he continued to talk, much to Hyunjin’s horror. “See?”

“No no no. I’m not stopping until I make sure you’re okay. I promise I won’t stop until the blood stops. I will stop only if you can wrestle this stele out of my hand!” Hyunjin knew she sounded hysterical as she proclaimed those words, but she did not care. As long as he understood, that was all she needed.

But Taehyung reached out and wrestled the stele out of her hand, which prompted another bloody cough. He reached up his hand to stop Hyunjin from coming closer.

“Don’t come… blood,” he managed. Then he looked at Hyunjin, his eyes conveying all the emotions he had kept shut to himself after all these years.

Hyunjin’s heart broke at the bloody sight of her brother. “I-I’m sorry. It’s… it’s all my fault…”

Her brother’s voice had become so quiet that she had to lean closer to glean the words. “It’s never your fault. Don’t ever blame yourself.”

“B-but–”

“Hyunjin, listen to me. Seoul is not safe. Go find Ryu Sera and ask her to bring you to–”

Taehyung never had the chance to finish, because he keeled over and became unnervingly still. Hyunjin rushed towards his side in an instant to see the life fading from his eyes, his mouth a bloody mess.

“Seems like… I overstayed my visit… on earth.”

Even in his dying moment he can still joke, Hyunjin thought sorrowfully. She did not say anything as her brother continued.

“That sword… yours now,” he continued. “You’re always… rightful heir… Kim family.”

“N-no, it’s yours. I can’t have it,” Hyunjin said, shaking her head vigorously. She tried to put the handle on Taehyung’s palm, but his hand slacked.

“Seokjin-hyung would be proud,” Taehyung said finally. “Our Hyunjin has grown up.”

And Kim Taehyung was no longer breathing, his gaze unfocused as he died in his sister’s arms.

***

Hyunjin did not remember how she ended up under the rain. She could feel her legs bringing her outside, pushing the institute’s rusty gates and walking into the rain-drenched mundane streets. It was just after midnight, so the traffic was not that heavy, but Hyunjin kept to the shadows, dragging Taehyung’s sword behind her.

She felt empty. Her tears had dried at the same time realization hit her that her brother was no longer alive, taken away from her on her thirteenth birthday. She had hoped it was just a nightmare she could wake up from, and wake up to her brother’s eye smile as he prepared her breakfast. And maybe some cake and presents, because Kim Taehyung was the most loving and sweetest brother that she ever had.

She didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye, or to tell him that she loved him as well. Now he’s dead, and it was all her fault.

“Aren’t you one of the Seoul Institute’s Shadowhunters?

Hyunjin looked up to see a tall woman blocking her way, holding an umbrella over her head, effectively cutting the steady stream of water flowing down from her head. The stranger’s eyes were a swirling mass of color, seemingly unable to settle for one solid color. Her face was youthful, but her expression held the severity that told Hyunjin she had lived for far longer than her own father had been.

“You must be Hyunjin. You look like Kim Taehyung. It’s the severe look you both have when you sense danger,” she said levelly.

Hyunjin shrunk further at the mention of her brother. When the stranger bent down, her kaleidoscopic eyes widened as she took in Hyunjin’s bloody clothes and the broadsword she half-carried all the way from the institute. She tried to reach out, but Hyunjin flinched away.

“You’re hurt,” she observed. “What happened? You have Taehyung’s sword. Is he okay?”

As the stranger finished her sentence, her expression changed in realization, connecting Hyunjin’s bloodied clothes and the now-ownerless broadsword. When she reached out this time, Hyunjin let her caress her cut cheek.

“Poor child,” she said gravelly. “All this burden at a young age.”

“H-how do you know my… brother,” Hyunjin stammered, her throat raw.

“I’m Ryu Sera. Kim Taehyung had employed me for my help.”

“What help?”

Sera bit her lip in hesitation. “It was to be between us only. I am bound by contract, so I cannot say much. I sincerely apologize.”

“I killed him,” Hyunjin began, tears threatening to fall again. “I fucking killed my own brother!”

Ryu Sera suddenly hugged her, murmuring consoling words that did not really reached Hyunjin. When she finally calmed down, she let Sera heal her cuts and bruises. The warlock smoothened the hem of her shirt, still looking very concerned at her. Hyunjin tried to give her a weak smile, which was returned by the warlock.

“It’s okay to not be okay,” Sera began. “You’re very similar to my child.”

“Your child?” Hyunjin asked, rubbing her runny nose. “I thought warlock can’t have children.”

Sera chuckled lightly. “I found her back in Daegu. She was a quiet, reserved child back then, but now she’s a nasty little devil. Always acting like she runs the place.”

“She sounds fun,” Hyunjin said. “I would like to meet her someday.”

Sera patted her head. “I don’t know why, but I feel like you’ll both meet each other in the future. Somehow.”

Hyunjin nodded absently. She played with the hem of her shirt, which had turned crusty from the dried blood.

“Open your hands.”

Hyunjin did as she was told to and Ryu Sera dropped something onto her palms. It was the Kim family’s ring, no doubt Taehyung’s.

“Your brother gave it to me when I met him back then. It was a token of goodwill.”

Hyunjin remembered the bird of prey that had infiltrated the institute’s greenhouse. “You’re the kite.”

“And you’re the eavesdropper.”

“You knew?”

Sera shrugged. “Taehyung only failed to notice because he was too busy fighting the war inside his head. Your entrance was not exactly the stealthiest I’ve seen from a Shadowhunter.”

“I see…”

A silence stretched between the both of them as Hyunjin did not reply. Sera stood up, but her umbrella never left Hyunjin head.

“I hope you’re well, child,” she said. “Since there’s nothing I can do, I’ll be going now. You can have the umbrella.”

“There was a warlock,” Hyunjin replied, hazily remembering the details from earlier. “Ryu Junyeol. Do you know him?”

Sera turned the name inside her head before shaking her head. “Doesn’t ring a bell. Then again, I have only lived in Seoul for a few years. I’ll help you look for more information in the market.”

“Thank you so much,” Hyunjin bowed.

Sera smiled as she pinched Hyunjin’s cheek affectionately, which reminded her achingly of her own brother. Funny how everything reminded you of a certain person once that person had passed on.

“I’ll find you at Seoul Institute then?”

“NO,” Hyunjin shouted, surprising Sera. She hastily explained. “My brother said Seoul is not safe. He said you can bring me to… I don’t know where. Anywhere besides Seoul.”

Sera was quiet for a moment and Hyunjin was afraid she was going to reject the request. Finally the warlock sighed, beckoning Hyunjin to follow her.

“Your brother was many things,” she began. “But he could not be honest with his own sister.”

“He has… had his reasons,” Hyunjin replied. “And I respect his decisions.”

“You two are more alike than I thought,” Sera said. “I hope you will lead a happy life, Kim Hyunjin.”

Hyunjin laughed mirthlessly. “Hope is a big word, for someone as lost as me.”

“Then find something to anchor yourself to. Or someone.”

Hyunjin nodded thoughtfully, a certain someone forming inside her head. “I think I know where I’ll go now.”

Sera looked down at Hyunjin’s swollen, determined eyes. “Where?”

“Seongnam.”

x x

Jeon Heejin was chilling at the living room, looking out onto the streets of Seongnam. It was a particularly busy night tonight, with cars still honking on the main streets, the sounds a distant echo as it travelled through the institute’s high windows. The fire crackled at the hearth, the heat too far away to warm Heejin’s cool hands. A book was open on her lap, but she was not paying attention to the printed words on it.

Heejin was distracted, and she did not know why.

She huffed, closing the unread book. There was no point in reading when her mind was not there. Just then, the grandfather’s clock at the corner chimed one time. She looked up to see the shorthand pointing to one.

That was late, she thought. She never stayed up this late before.

As she left the living room, she realized that today was Hyunjin’s birthday. She contemplated going back to write a fire message to Hyunjin, but she discouraged the idea after mulling it over. Hyunjin was probably sleeping right now, too deep into dreamland to even notice it was already her birthday.

Her bedroom door creaked noisily as she pushed it open. After leaving in Seoul for a week, Heejin missed Seoul Institute’s grandness; everything inside was seemingly enlarged yet immaculate. Her room in Seongnam Institute was half the size of the guest bedroom she occupied in Seoul Institute, and Hyunjin had told her that the guest rooms were the smallest living quarters there.

Heejin planted herself on the mattress, too awake to sleep. She ended up staring at the ceiling absently, painting imaginary lines on the washed patterns on top of her head. She wished her parents had let her decorate her room. Her room was barren and standard, just like the many other rooms in the institute. There was nothing Heejin-ish about the room, and she was determined to change that. Maybe when she was older, when her parents could no longer decide things for her.

Her thoughts drifted to Kim Hyunjin. She felt bad for only telling the other girl that she was leaving one day before her actual departure. Heejin groaned and buried her head underneath the pillow. She had let her pride took control, and the last thing she saw was the sad smile etched on Hyunjin’s face.

She reminded herself to apologize to Hyunjin in her letter, be damned whether Hyunjin liked it or not.

The rattling of the institute’s gates jolted her up. She scrambled towards the window, just in time to see a shadow slipped through the gates. She craned her neck to see what it was, but the window’s steep angle prevented her to see more.

Grabbing her dagger from the bedside table, she hurried down the grand staircase towards the main lobby. It was pitch black near the entrance, so she shook her witchlight on, willing it to go to its maximum intensity. Only after she stood a few meters from the door that she realized what a stupid thing it was to confront the visitor alone. She contemplated calling somebody to assist her, but she realized that nobody could enter the institute unless they’re also a Shadowhunter.

Worst case scenario, a rogue Shadowhunter decided to come and murder her whole family.

Heejin tensed up when the double doors swung inwards. The person standing behind the doors was around her height, hand outstretched. The lights from the outside world casted a shadow across the visitor’s feature, so Heejin walked closer and raised her witchlight.

The eyes that were staring back at her were much too familiar, the smile plastered on her face very superficial.

“Guess all your Latin homework works,” Kim Hyunjin croaked, lowering her hand. “I memorize the chant to open the institute’s doors.”

Before Heejin knew it, her feet had brought her close to Hyunjin while her arms enveloped the other girl in a tight embrace. Hyunjin stumbled backwards a little before regaining balance, but she did not return the gesture. Instead, she pushed Heejin away, keeping her at arm’s length.

“It’s not that I don’t like it,” Hyunjin replied quickly. “I don’t want to dirty your nightgown.”

Only then that Heejin realized how badly Hyunjin looked. She was bloodied from head to toe – although Heejin suspected it was not her blood – and the blood still had not even dried in some parts. There was a healing cut on her cheek, as well as a nasty bruise on her neck. Her eyes were nearly swollen shut, no doubt from shedding so much tears at what had happened.

Heejin could not resist the urge to tuck a stray hair behind Hyunjin’s ear. “Hyun… what happened?”

Hyunjin shook her head. “Not now, please.”

Heejin nodded. There was no point in forcing Hyunjin to relive the horror. “Come. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Heejin pulled Hyunjin along, making their way towards the infirmary. Halfway along the walk, Heejin noticed the broadsword on the other girl’s belt, which – if she remembered correctly – was owned by Hyunjin’s brother. Heejin need not be a genius to put the pieces together.

She seated Hyunjin on one of the empty beds and ran off to her room to fetch clean clothes. They were about the same size, so Hyunjin fitted into her clothes very well. Heejin set up a basin full of warm water, and with a soft cloth, she began cleaning the blood off Hyunjin’s skin. Hyunjin did not say anything as Heejin diligently scrubbed all the dirt and blood away, and by the time she was done, Hyunjin was immaculately clean, even to the fingertips.

“Heejin, I–” Hyunjin began before stopping, unable to formulate the necessary words.

“It’s okay,” Heejin replied. “I don’t mind.”

They sat together in comfortable silence – at least that was what Heejin thought. Although Kim Hyunjin was cleaned up and looked uninjured physically, Heejin knew that her heart was in pieces.

“I killed my brother.”

Heejin looked up to find Hyunjin’s eyes on her, bright and feral in desperation. She could only reply, “W-what?”

“I killed my own brother,” Hyunjin repeated. “Due to my own stupidity.”

“Don’t say that,” Heejin replied. “I’m not there, but I know you don’t kill your brother.”

“I might as well be,” Hyunjin scoffed. “I let the murderer in, and he killed my brother. I let it all happen!”

The last statement had come as a shrill. Heejin was at a loss for words, so all she did was wrap her arms once more around Hyunjin. Hyunjin shrank away from her touch, but she did not reject it.

“Tell me more, Hyun,” Heejin began. “If that makes you feel better. Don’t hold back. I’m here for you.”

Hyunjin’s brave front shattered immediately, replaced by a heart-wrenching sob that she had been building up. Heejin held the other girl throughout, never letting go, even after Hyunjin had finally calmed down.

Heejin used her sleeve to wipe the tears from Hyunjin’s face. “You’re the bravest person I’ve ever known.”

“Please don’t flatter me, Jeon.”

“I am not,” Heejin admitted. “Bravery is not about the lack of fear, but more on the ability to move forward despite the fear.”

“Now I’m wondering whether you’re really a psychologist or not.”

“And it seems like you’ve gotten your sense of humor back.”

“This is my personality trait.”

Their hearty conversation was interrupted when the infirmary door banged open, revealing a cluster of Shadowhunters by the doorway. Her father, mother, and even her older sisters were there, along with other permanent residents of the institute.

“Heejin, what is this?” Her father inquired, walking into the room. “Who is that?”

Hyunjin stood up, staring at Heejin’s father. “I’m Kim Hyunjin. Sorry for the intrusion, but I’m asking permission to seek shelter in Seongnam Institute for a while.”

“Kim Hyunjin?” Her father’s eyes narrowed. “From Seoul Institute? Does your father know you’re here?”

Heejin saw Hyunjin tensed up. “I-I will notify him first thing in the morning.”

“Good. I don’t want to have to answer to Kim’s incessant questioning on his daughter’s whereabouts. Tell me, when do you plan to leave?”

Hyunjin’s mouth gaped open, but no words came out. From her face Heejin could see that Hyunjin had nothing planned out, only that she had to get out of Seoul as fast as she could.

“Actually father,” Heejin interrupted, feeling all pairs of eyes suddenly shifting towards her. “Hyunjin is staying with us.”

Her father frowned, clearly taken by surprise. “What do you mean?”

“Because Kim Hyunjin will be my parabatai.”

***

“I want you to reconsider.”

Heejin glared at her father as he churned out the statement, his eyes not leaving the paperwork on his desk. “What?”

“I said I want you to reconsider making Kim Hyunjin your parabatai,” her father patiently repeated. “There are better candidates out there.”

“So what? Doesn’t mean we’ll work well together.”

“And you think this Hyunjin kid is better?” Her father looked up to search Heejin’s face.

Heejin willed herself to remain expressionless. “Yes. Hyunjin may not be as strong as the other Shadowhunters in this country, but she has her own qualities.”

“Kim Hyunjin is weak, and that’s a fact.”

“You don’t understand,” Heejin gritted her teeth. She should not have answered her father’s call, cutting her supper time with Hyunjin short for this kind of slander. “Kim Hyunjin is not like what everybody thinks.”

This time her father dropped all his pretense, hands folded as he looked at his youngest daughter squarely in the eyes. “Then tell Hyunjin to prove herself, before I force her to pack her bags and send her back to Seoul Institute. Not that she has much to carry in the first place.”

Heejin turned on her heels, anger getting the best out of her. She yanked the door open roughly, barely hearing her father’s last words before the door banged shut.

“And she will only weight you down.”

***

Heejin was in fact the correct one.

In the span of six months since her initial stay at Seongnam Institute, Kim Hyunjin had become a beast. Long gone were the days where Heejin would be the one to flip Hyunjin on her back. The other girl was now unstoppable. Her growth spurt was tremendous, and nobody had bested her in terms of swordplay, which was starkly different compared to the Jeons’ fighting style. Where Heejin’s was elegant and smooth, Hyunjin’s was direct and precise.

For the fifth time that day Heejin’s eyes met the ceiling. She laid on the floor for a heartbeat, letting her breath caught up. Hyunjin loomed over her, her eyes crinkling in amusement. She held her hand out for Heejin, her canine teeth making her whole feature more cat-like. When they stood up, Heejin realized that Hyunjin had grown much taller than her, as she needed to slightly look up to match Hyunjin’s gaze.

“Is there something on my face?” Hyunjin tilted her head, twirling her dagger expertly with one hand.

“Since when are you this tall?” Heejin frowned.

“Oh. I didn’t. You’re just short.”

Hyunjin laughed heartily after seeing Heejin’s incredulous expression, the sound weirdly comforting to Heejin’s ears.

“Again,” Heejin huffed, unlocking her naginata from her back. “Use your sword.”

Hyunjin raised an eyebrow – since when can she do that? Heejin thought. Hyunjin unsheathed her broadsword, which gleamed wickedly as she held it up. “Riled up, Jeon? Don’t cry if you lose later.”

“As if.”

They both jumped forward at the same time. Heejin’s naginata clashed directly with Hyunjin’s broadsword, which was then parried away easily by the younger girl. They went on and on, switching strategically from offensive to defensive and vice versa, trying to disarm one another. Heejin could see from her peripheral vision that everybody else in the training room had stopped their work and was watching curiously at the both of them.

Using the end of her staff, Heejin swung downwards to trip Hyunjin down. Hyunjin was caught off-guard and stumbled back, and before she could regain her bearings, Heejin had rained down on her with a swinging arc. The tip of her naginata was now resting on the base of Hyunjin’s throat.

Hyunjin raised both hands up in surrender, and Heejin smiled as she pulled her weapon back.

“Nobody has ever beaten me in a fair fight with my naginata before,” Heejin said as she helped Hyunjin up. “But you’ve put up a good fight, Kim.”

“To be grazed by such a wonderful swordswoman, I’m honored,” Hyunjin bowed mockingly. But she smiled back as she gave a thumbs-up to Heejin.

Heejin noticed that Hyunjin’s throat was bleeding, no doubt from the tip of her blade just now. She grabbed Hyunjin’s wrist, whirling her around. “You’re hurt.”

“I’m always hurt,” Hyunjin replied.

“Idiot, sit down.” Heejin yanked Hyunjin down rather roughly, which earned a complaint from the other girl. She produced a stele from her inner pocket, which she trained near Hyunjin’s collarbone. “Don’t move.”

“I can’t anyway.” Hyunjin supplied.

Heejin glared at her as she moved closer. Putting one hand on Hyunjin’s shoulder to steady herself, she traced the healing rune slowly across the expanse of the skin under the throat. Hyunjin’s breath tickled her forehead as she concentrated on the swirls of the rune, and Heejin could feel the younger girl’s rapid heartbeat as she edged closer. When she was done, Heejin examined her creation proudly.

“Um, Heekie. You’re too close.”

Heejin looked up to see Hyunjin’s surprised eyes, their lips only mere centimeters from each other. She had not realized how close they were just now, and the realization hit like a slap of cold water on her face. She felt her face redden as she scrambled backwards, leaving an awkward gap between the two Shadowhunters.

Hyunjin just looked mildly amused. “Thanks for the artwork. I’ll treasure it, if only it doesn’t disappear by dinner.”

Heejin mumbled something between “thanks” and “no problem”. Her heartbeat was pounding unusually loud, even after she tried to calm herself down. This was so unlike her.

“Heekie, you okay?” Hyunjin said as she closed the gap between the two of them. Heejin felt Hyunjin’s big hand touching her forehead. “You’re very hot. Are you okay?”

Heejin’s mind was teetering towards dangerous territories. She could not possibly say that the girl in front of her was the one to cause all of this. She gently removed Hyunjin’s hand away. “I’m fine. Just tired.”

Hyunjin mouthed an “o” and nodded thoughtfully. “Of course. We’ve been training for three hours straight.” Hyunjin wiggled her eyebrows at her. “Must not be easy fighting me, right?”

Heejin rolled her eyes and turned to stand up. “Whatever floats your boat, Kim.”

Hyunjin jumped up and stalked close. “Just admit I’m strong now. Maybe even stronger than you.”

Heejin turned to look at the Hyunjin’s expectant face. Her wavy hair had grown long since her initial arrival at Seongnam Institute. She also had put on weight and seemed to be more comfortable with her own skin than before. Now her gait was confident and strong, and she looked ethereal through the sweltering heat and sweat.

Since when was Hyunjin this pretty? Heejin thought to herself.

Hyunjin suddenly moved in front of her, blocking Heejin’s way to the doors.

“Get out of my way, Kim.”

“Say it first.”

“Say what?”

Hyunjin bent down a little to look Heejin right in the eyes. “That I’m stronger than you. Only sore losers won’t admit that their opponents are better at times.”

“You’re still onto that?” Heejin shook her head. “Fine. Kim Hyunjin, you’re brave and strong. I concede to you.”

Hyunjin pouted adorably. “You don’t mean it.”

“Respect is earned, not given,” Heejin replied. “Technically you still lose to me.”

Hyunjin groaned and stalked out the doors. “You’re no fun, Heekie. I’m not sharing my baguette with you!”

Heejin smiled faintly as she saw her would-be parabatai stomped towards the kitchen. She wondered when had Hyunjin first called her Heekie. But the sweet thought quickly dissipated as another realization gnawed at her heavily.

She was in love with her parabatai. And it was forbidden.

***

“Scared, Jeon?”

Heejin looked across to find Hyunjin’s eyes, which reflected the rings of fire surrounding her. She nodded her head slowly. “Aren’t you?”

Hyunjin shrugged, but Heejin could see that her shoulders were rigid. They were standing separately inside a ring of fire, which was connected in the middle by another fiery ring. The air was hazy with smoke, although there was no smell. Her oldest sister stood outside the rings as Heejin’s witness, while her other sister stood as Hyunjin’s witness.

“I didn’t know parabatai ritual is this spooky,” Hyunjin admitted finally. “I thought we just need to sign some contract and seal it in blood.”

“We’re Shadowhunters. Parabatais are bound by flesh and blood. Paper promises won’t be effective.”

“The Clave found the Accords effective.”

“You know what, Hyun? Just be quiet.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Heejin did not know what they were waiting for: somebody to come and assist them? Her sisters to direct them? The right timing? The shifts of the constellations? The right kind of fire?

Hyunjin shouted over the crackling fire, breaking her reverie. “Can we start now? Before I forget the oath and mess up our connections?”

Heejin nodded, and together they stepped into the middle ring. They were standing very close together, Hyunjin only a stretch of hand away. Heejin offered her right hand towards Hyunjin, where her Voyance rune with its all-seeing eye was etched permanently on her skin. Hyunjin did the same, extending out her own Voyance rune that Heejin had drawn on her on the other girl’s insistence during her coming-of-age ceremony.

They pressed the back of their palms against each other, and together they recited the parabatai oath:

Entreat me not to leave thee,
Or return from following after thee—
For whither thou goest, I will go,
And where thou lodgest, I will lodge.
Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.
The Angel do so to me, and more also,
If aught but death part thee and me.

Heejin took out her stele as Hyunjin unzipped her jacket. She moved her shirt so that her upper body was exposed. She pointed to the bare skin above her heart, where her parabatai rune would permanently lay. Heejin nodded and drew the rune against Hyunjin’s skin, days of practicing well spent as her stele glided smoothly to finish the tree-like rune perfectly.

Once Heejin finished the last stroke, the rune blazed to life, bluish in color. Hyunjin sucked in a relieved breath as she opened her eyes, which shone very bright.

“That wasn’t so bad,” she said as she zipped her jacket back. She jerked her chin up to Heejin. “Your turn.”

Heejin opted for the rune to be drawn on the same spot – above her heart. She shivered a little as the cool tip of the stele touched her bare skin, but everything finished quickly. She could feel the bluish spark of the rune from the corner of her eyes when Hyunjin finished.

Hyunjin’s smile was warm on her, and Heejin returned it with the same intensity.

“Guess we’re officially bound in flesh and blood now.”


Profile

#011
- Name: Park Chaewon
- Born: 19 November 2000
- Kind: Half-Shadowhunter, Half-Faerie
- Residence: Incheon Institute
- Weapon: Bow and arrow, iron dagger
- Parabatai: -

#012
- Name: Son Hyejoo
- Born: 13 November 2001
- Kind: Shadowhunter
- Residence: Daegu Institute
- Weapon: Kusarigama
- Parabatai: -
- Relatives: Choi Yerim (adoptive sister)

Chapter Text

Hi everyone!

So sorry this is not the update that you all wanted! Since I finally started my university semester again it's hard for me to juggle between my studies and writing (and I don't want to write some half-assed stories just for the sake of views). I'm not abandoning this fic as this is the first serial story that I have ever published, and it has a special place inside my heart haha. Don't worry, I have written the core ideas for the story, so that when I pick it up again I can still write it well.

Until then, thank you so much for your support on my story. I really, really appreciate it, and the comments really bolster my confidence when I'm thinking of stopping because I thought nobody shares the same liking towards the story as I did.

You can still talk to me via my twitter acc: @petrichor_kiss, although I'm quite inactive there. I don't have much orbit friends and I very much like to have a few :D

If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to tell me!

See you soon and have a nice day everyone~