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“When I was young, there was an endless sea in my heart

That I was never able to hide

Now in the faintest places, only traces remain.” 

 


 

now.

 

The streetlights are an incandescent yellow, like the torches that light the hallowed halls of a long-forsaken temple, destined to flicker forever in the forgotten air, to burn and burn and burn until they turn themselves into ashes, lighting the empty streets outside Seoul with a lonely emptiness. 

 

Everything seems blurrier in the darkness—huge forms without edges, and the lamps flicker hesitantly, as if unsure to give in to the black around them or to go casting their yellow-orange light on the adjacent street. The sidewalk is worn and weathered, battered by foot traffic and the elements, out of place in the shine of the adjacent skyscrapers.

 

Seulgi knows what it’s like to be out of place, out of time, hopelessly distant from the rest of the world. 

 

That’s why she walks. In the night, the only breaks in the silence are the sounds of her footsteps against the pavement and the whispers of her tangled thoughts. 

 

She has enough of them to last lifetimes. 

 

Above, the streetlights glitter brightest gold. Seulgi’s heart aches, broken and yearning for a presence that isn’t there. 

 


 

before.

 

Seulgi’s oldest tangible memory is from a time when she had short, stubby legs and could sneak underneath the belly of a horse without ducking as she tried to escape from her older brother’s outstretched arms, a hand pressed over her mouth to stifle the unconscious giggles that bubbled up in her throat when the soft grass brushed against her exposed stomach. 

 

She remembers her mother kneeling down until their faces were level. In dreams, her fingers still trace over the gold patterns that swirl over the black silk of her mother’s hanbok as it trails against the floor. 

 

“Seulgi-ah,” Her mother says as she strokes Seulgi’s short hair. “I’m going to tell you something very important, and you have to promise never to forget it.” 

 

“Eomma,” Six-year-old Seulgi whines as she fidgets in her mother’s arms. Outside, she can hear the excited shouts of her friends, their footsteps echoing against the resonant wood of the nearby footbridge as they chase the fish dancing through the stream below. 

 

“Do you remember the story your appa told you about the stars? How the stars that we see in the sky are the same ones that our family saw, thousands and thousands of years ago?” 

 

Seulgi nods. It’s her favorite one. 

 

“And do you remember what your appa said about the people in that story?” 

 

“He said that there are people who can talk to the stars, and that those people live as long as the sun itself, and sometimes even longer.” 

 

“The Travelers. There are only a few in each generation, and they walk across the sky, born and reborn to guide us across time just as the North Star guides sailors across the sea.” 

 

Her mother’s gaze falls on the small, four-pointed stars beside Seulgi’s eyes, sparkling like golden freckles against her sun-tanned skin. 

 

“They’re your people, Seulgi-ah. Being a Traveler, it’s your destiny.” 

 

“What’s... destiny?” The word feels strangely heavy against her lips. Now, the older Seulgi isn’t sure if it’s what she really felt at the time or if it’s a distortion, a blur from the lifetimes she’s lived since this moment. 

 

“It’s an important job. Your father, his job is to make sure everything in the village is running smoothly, and your uncle’s job is to protect the village from danger. Those are their destinies, it’s what they are to keep doing from this life into the next. And your job, your destiny, is to guide us in the next life, just like the Travelers in the stories or the stars in the night sky.” 

 

When warm fingers brush reverently against the stars on her face, Seulgi sees pride shine in her mother’s liquid eyes. 

 

--

 

Her life changes when she’s sixteen. 

 

Just after her birthday, her parents take her to the home of the magistrate. From there, she’ll begin her journey as a Traveler, roaming the world to gather the wisdom needed in her next incarnations. Because, after all, how can she be a proper Traveler if she hasn’t, well, traveled? 

 

She walks slightly behind her parents through the unfamiliar streets, feeling the sea of foot traffic part ways to let them pass, admiring the regal patterns on their hanbok and the flecks of gold at the edges of her eyes. 

 

Sixteen-year-old Seulgi holds her head higher. 

 

“I am honored,” She says to the magistrate when he welcomes her as a Traveler, bowing deeply until she’s fully parallel with the floor. And, as she looks ahead to her future, to all of the people she is intended to guide, she means it. 

 

She exchanges a teary-eyed goodbye with her parents, wrapping her father in a hug and promising her mother to visit as soon as she can, and when she follows their retreating backs out to the front of the magistrate’s house, there’s a woman standing out by the tall, flower-adorned wooden entryway. 

 

The woman can’t be much older than she is and her small frame just barely matches Seulgi’s in height, but there’s a certain knowing that shines in her eyes when they land on the symbols on Seulgi’s face. 

 

“Yours are the prettiest I’ve seen.” The woman says when Seulgi approaches her. Her gaze searches Seulgi’s face, flitting between the stars until they settle for a pensive stare. Seulgi is drawn in by how dark and full the eyes are: inky brown, the color of dusk almost settling into midnight, and as round and liquid as a doe’s, reserved but still sparkling with spirited fire. 

 

“I’ve never met another Traveler,” Seulgi says. She doesn’t want to add that she thought she was the only one. 

 

It seems the woman reads her thoughts, because she shakes her head slightly. “I thought I was the only one too.” 

 

“My name is Kang Seulgi,” Seulgi offers. 

 

“Bae Joohyun.” 

 

“It’s nice to meet you, Joohyun-ssi.” 

 

“Just Joohyun, Seulgi-ah. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other.” 

 

“Joohyun.” The name rolls off of her tongue, as if she’s simply repeating something she’s known to exist even before she was born, even before time itself. 

 

And maybe she has, because when Joohyun smiles, Seulgi’s world tilts and realigns, every single cell in her body finds a new center and settles like it’s been there longer than forever. 

 

--

 

Seulgi stands at the head of the delta, watching the villagers build a canal meant to carry the cooling water from the river to the parched fields of their farms. 

 

One of the farmers, an old man with a hunched back, approaches Seulgi with a kind smile, hoarsely expressing his thanks as he pats her shoulder with a withered hand. In his arms, his granddaughter babbles incoherently, her eyes bright as her fingers reach out, brushing the stars on Seulgi’s face with wonder. 

 

“We’re helping them,” Seulgi murmurs. 

 

When she takes the child into her arms, Joohyun gives her a smile and shifts the loose fabric of her shirt slightly, so that the corner of a gold-pointed star is just visible at the edge of her collarbone. As she turns her eyes back to the river, the child engrossed in tracing patterns against the glitter of her skin, her eyes shine with liquid pride. 

 


 

The meadow overflows with the perfume of just-blooming flowers. As Joohyun makes her way through the sea of petals, Seulgi watches from a distance, a trained hand resting dutifully near the hilt of her sword. 

 

“Are you almost done, your majesty?” 

 

“How many times have I told you not to call me that?” Joohyun’s facade of faux-annoyance breaks in the balmy air, an infectious smile spreading across her face. 

 

“I can’t help it,” Seulgi says, though the laugh that bubbles past her lips suggests otherwise. 

 

“One would think you were teasing me.” 

 

“Am I?” 

 

“It would be most unfitting of a knight of the crown to be teasing the royal she is charged with protecting, would it not?” 

 

“Don’t pretend like you aren’t enjoying it, your majesty," Seulgi says with a smirk, emphasizing the title again. Joohyun laughs, high and pure as the silver tinkling of wind chimes. It’s a new sound, one that Seulgi doesn’t remember from their previous lives, and she takes a deep breath as the unfamiliar feeling settles into her memory. Into the outline of Joohyun, hazy at the edges like a shadow of refracted sunlight, slowly filling with the pinks and reds and golds that shine in Joohyun’s smile. 

 

Mischief dances in Joohyun’s eyes and she suddenly runs away, her satin dress flowing behind her as it gets caught in a breeze. 

 

Seulgi takes off after her with a laugh, her sword hilt clinking slightly by her side. Much more agile in this life, she easily catches up with Joohyun, and when she wraps her arms around the princess, Joohyun gives a playful start and they both tumble to the ground. 

 

With Joohyun safely secured against her chest, her laughter muffled and breathless as she snuggles into Seulgi’s neck, Seulgi hopes that one day, she’ll have enough memories for every one of the thousands of flecks of light that make up Joohyun’s being, enough to color her soulmate brighter than the sea of flowers waving lazily in the balm of the meadow. 

 


 

Once, a dying Seulgi asks how much Joohyun remembers of her previous lives. It’s meant to be something individual, something sacred, a silence that every Traveler is supposed to keep. 

 

“Not everything. It’s mostly just important memories, and the feelings attached to those memories. Sadness. Anger. Happiness. Friendship… ” Joohyun’s voice trails off, and she turns to meet Seulgi’s gaze. The white light of the stars dances in Joohyun’s dark, liquid eyes. “Love.” 

 

“And what about the people in those memories, do you remember them too?” 

 

“Most of them, yes. Some take a few moments to recall, but the ones who I spent more time with aren’t as quick to fade away.” 

 

They’re standing at the edge of a precipice, the great chasm of beyond-life stretching out in front of them like an endless sea. 

 

Seulgi’s body aches with a phantom pain and there’s a slight tug against her navel. 

 

“What about the ones you can’t live without?” 

 

“I’d like to think that for those people, I’ll meet them again in the next life, and in the one after that. Isn’t the feeling of deeply loving someone the same, no matter what life you’re living?” 

 

The voices in Seulgi’s ear softly whisper, urging her to let go.  

 

She tightens her grip around Joohyun’s hand. 

 

(“Does it hurt?” Seulgi asks the first time, desperately searching for an answer in Joohyun’s dark irises. 

 

Joohyun shakes her head. “It’s just like falling asleep.”)

 

The sky blurs at the corners of Seulgi’s vision, and she fights against the clutches of darkness that wrap around the fabric of her mind. She’s tired. Every breath is harder to take. But she doesn’t want to let go. 

 

“Close your eyes.” 

 

Joohyun’s voice sounds like it’s lulling her to sleep and, like a snake charmed into submission by a flute’s lilting tones, like the doll at the end of the village puppeteer’s long string, Seulgi can’t resist. 

 

A kiss ghosts fleetingly over the crown of her head, then down to her brow, before finally settling on her lips. 

 

“I’ll see you in the next life, Seulgi-ah.” 

 

The voices whisper again in her ears, their urges churning through her mind and falling over each other like the crests of crystal waves on the empty shore. 

 

Let go. Let go. Let go.

 


 

Explosions rock the earth around the bunker, the edge of the horizon blurred with flashes of white-orange light. 

 

“The western line is down! Fall back! Retreat! Retreat!” The radio wails faintly in the background, static making the unstable signal cut in and out of earshot.  

 

A fighter opens fire overhead, the markings of a Japanese aeroplane clear even in the smoky air, immediately followed by an Allied plane screaming in at its heels, and Seulgi feels her fingers twitch instinctively on the trigger of her rifle. She’s too scared for her hands to shake, terror settling deep inside her and wrapping its coils so tightly around her stomach until it forces her mind into a state of fear-laced calm. 

 

She follows just behind as they sneak through the active zone, every step cautious but hurried, the bottoms of their army pants caked with layers of dirt. 

 

A bomb explodes close to home, then one even closer, a flash of blinding white fire barely a few steps from Seulgi’s boots. The force of the explosion throws her backwards into Joohyun, who shoves them both into the mud-soaked street. Seulgi frantically covers her head, her ears ringing in the shell of her helmet as she holds herself impossibly still against the ground, barely daring to breathe. 

 

In the chaos they’re separated from their commander, and when the smoke clears, all that Seulgi can hear is the sudden silence of the city-turned-battlefield, the split second of stopped time before the pin is pulled from a grenade, the eye of calm in the center of a swirling hurricane. 

 

Blood and smoke hang thick in the air as Seulgi stands up, shaky on her feet, her ears still ringing from the blast and spots of black covering her field of vision. 

 

She misses the soldier that looks out from an adjacent building to aim right at her. Even with all of her training, she doesn’t see the sudden glint of silver that flashes from above, a stray beam of sunlight catching on the edge of the rifle as it slides out of a top-story window. 

 

But Joohyun does. 

 

As the bang of a gunshot echoes through the silent street, Joohyun throws herself in front of Seulgi, catching the bullet straight in the center of her back. 

 

Even half-blind and dazed, Seulgi clearly sees the gold that replaces the brown in Joohyun’s irises, expanding until her eyes are completely filled with light, yellow-white and divine, growing and growing as the golden four-pointed star at her collarbone gleams radiantly. 

 

Joohyun’s body explodes with yellow-white light, golden ashes fluttering like butterflies up to the sun as her being moves on to the next life.

 


 

They’ve been traveling through the rusted, forgotten drainpipe for hours with no end in sight, the novelty of the unfamiliar environment quickly disappearing in the constant damp and permeating odor of the city’s lowlife. 

 

She can barely make out the back of the person in front of her, even though her eyes have long adjusted to the light. Irene, twelve-year-old Seulgi reminds herself when her companion turns around. Maybe by happenstance, or maybe forced by the selective pressures of a world that is scarily different from the one she used to know, Joohyun became Irene. Seulgi laments the name. Even though Irene shares the same memories as Joohyun, it still feels like she’s lost a part of the older girl somewhere, trapped forever in the aether that separates each life from the next. 

 

“It’s dark down here,” Seulgi whines as quietly as she can. 

 

“It is,” Irene says, her fingers securely around Seulgi’s wrist as she drags her onward. “We just need to keep moving.” 

 

“But for how long?” Seulgi’s feet ache, and so does her heart. 

 

Irene sighs, her grip slackening on Seulgi’s hand. “I don’t know, Seul. Until we’re safe.” Unconsciously, her hand goes up to her scarf, securing the thin black fabric more securely around any flashes of exposed gold. Seulgi notices and pulls her hood and cap down so they cover more of her face. She catches her reflection in the thin standing water of the pipeline and curses. No matter what she does to hide them, the stars at the edge of her eyes are still stubbornly visible. 

 

Irene must sense the disheartened fall of Seulgi’s shoulders because she stops and turns on her heel, her arms coming up to brush Seulgi’s arms before settling on her face. Her thumb rubs gently against Seulgi’s cheeks. It’s only then that Seulgi realizes she’s crying. 

 

“I wish you couldn’t see them.” Even in the silence of the pipeline, Seulgi’s whisper is barely audible. 

 

“Seul, come on.” Irene searches her face thoroughly. “They’re perfect.” 

 

Seulgi can’t stand the admiration in her eyes. Not now, not when everything is about to shatter. “I wish they were like yours, hidden away so that no one could see them,” She says savagely. “Or better yet, I wish I didn’t have any at all.” 

 

“No, you don't.” 

 

“Yeah? How do you know that?” Rivers stream down her face now, the salt stinging coolly against her skin. She makes no attempt to hide them. 

 

“Seulgi,” Irene says with a sigh as she pulls the younger girl closer towards her center. “Do you remember what I told you when we first met, all of those lifetimes ago?” 

 

Seulgi whimpers, her tears soaking the fabric of Irene’s shirt. 

 

“What did I tell you?”

 

“That mine were the prettiest you’ve seen.” 

 

“They were. They still are, and I think they’ll always be. Why won’t you just believe me?” 

 

Then and there, Seulgi breaks. 

 

“Unnie, I’m tired. I’m so, so tired.” 

 

Irene’s arms shudder around hers, and a lone tear slides slowly down her cheek. “I know, Seulgi-ah. But, from everything I know as a Traveler, I know that eventually, things will get better. We just need to make it that far.” 

 

--

 

In Seulgi’s lives of old experiences, meeting Jihyo is a welcome change. 

 

When she and Irene stumble into the camp, twenty-something and exhausted, the guards eye their faces skeptically and immediately escort them to the barracks to face their leader, their grip a little too forceful around Seulgi’s arms to be a welcoming one. 

 

She wholly expects said leader to be old and grizzled with experience, a member of the few remaining generations that actually remember the good that came out of Travelers, so the young, fierce-eyed woman that they’re met with instead takes her entirely by surprise. 

 

“So, you’re the two Travelers?” 

 

The brim of Seulgi’s hood clearly isn’t enough to cover her stars, and Irene makes no attempt to secure her scarf around her neck, so Seulgi just nods, unsure of what the woman will do next. 

 

“The men thought you were fakes.” 

 

They flinch as the woman takes a step toward them, her arms undoing themselves from their casual cross over her chest. Seulgi closes her eyes, ready for what’s to come. 

 

“They clearly need to get their eyes checked,” The woman says instead, an effervescent sparkle of humor beneath the rich tones of her voice. She extends her hand out to them amicably, a smile on her face. Seulgi’s eyes are drawn down to her arms, where the exposed skin between the three-quarter’s sleeve of her shirt and the fingerless gloves on her wrists is tattooed with thick, winding, emerald vines. “Park Jihyo. I’m glad you’re here.” 

 

--

 

The end of Jihyo’s cigarette burns a bright red as she brings it to her lips, and when she exhales, wisps of grey-white smoke dance from her lips, twirling and twisting in the twilight air of the rooftop. The bustle of the compound—and, farther away, the muffled sound of unrest in the city streets—is but a buzzing in the background. 

 

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a Traveler in our ranks, let alone two.” 

 

The hazy end of the little stick balanced in Jihyo’s fingers draws Seulgi’s attention back to her arms. 

 

“You’re a Warder?” 

 

As she takes another breath from the cigarette, Jihyo makes a noise of affirmation. “Yeah, you’re never met one before?” 

 

“You’re the first.” 

 

“It’s weird that in all of your lives, you’ve never come across one of us until now.” 

 

Seulgi shrugs. “I guess I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Very few people in the world are known to possess abilities, and the chances of her being close enough in any of her lifetimes to meet someone with a different one are almost always zero. “Warders are rare.” 

 

“Not as rare as Travelers, even before they were hunting you down.” Seulgi stiffens at Jihyo’s words, her hands trembling at her sides before turning into tight fists. 

 

Jihyo notices. Between the smoke and the quickly dropping temperatures, her sudden exhale is visible against the inky blues and purples of the coming night. “I’m sorry.” 

 

“No, it’s okay,” Seulgi murmurs. 

 

“It’s not. I should’ve thought before I said that.”

 

“I’m used to it.” She’s been running for so long that sometimes she thinks it’s all she knows. 

 

“You shouldn’t have to be.” 

 

Seulgi takes a deep breath, and for the first time in months, years, even lives, her mind feels clear. 

 

“It’s been Irene-unnie and I for as long as I can remember, she’s been by my side since my first life, so much so that I can’t imagine what it would be like without her. I need her, desperately. And I used to be scared by that. I still am. Travelers shift lives so fast sometimes, and every night I’m terrified that one of us will, that I’m going to wake up and she won’t be there, and I won’t be able to find her.” 

 

“Can I give you a bit of advice?” Jihyo asks it like it isn’t a request. Even though she’s lived only a fraction of a lifetime, there’s something safe and grounded and warm about the Warder, so Seulgi merely gives her a curious look before nodding her head. “Don’t be scared.” 

 

“Why not?” 

 

One of Jihyo’s fingers taps unhurriedly at the end of her cigarette, dispelling soft flakes of ash into the air. “You’re soulmates. And someone very wise once told me that with soulmates, the universe just wants to keep them together.” It sounds like a constant of the world, the sentence that hangs in the air, just off of Jihyo’s sure, steady lips. 

 

Seulgi laughs. “The universe doesn’t want anything.” Even she knows that isn’t true. 

 

“Well, that wise person and I beg to differ.” Jihyo responds easily, the corners of her mouth pulled upwards in a smile that makes the liquid in her eyes sparkle. She breathes out a long trail of smoke and the air settles into a comfortable silence. 

 

“It’s nice,” Seulgi says after a few moments. “Being able to talk to someone new. Someone else who understands the burden that we carry.” 

 

Footsteps pad softly against the rooftop and Jihyo looks back, her eyes softening as they lock on a figure somewhere beyond Seulgi’s shoulder. “Well, I might have good news for you.” 

 

Seulgi turns, following Jihyo’s gaze. Approaching them is Irene, walking side by side with an unfamiliar woman, a few inches taller than her, her dark brown hair framing her face and falling down below her shoulders. 

 

When Seulgi smiles at them both, holding one hand out for Irene to take, the first thing that crosses her mind is that both women are beautiful in many of the same ways: self-assured and confident in their pure features. But where Irene’s face is more openly guarded, the other woman’s is a careful mask of composure. She untangles her arm from its comfortable position within Irene’s, her fingers separate from Irene’s palm and, for a moment, the mask breaks—the woman’s eyes flash a pure white and the muscles in her face contort ever so slightly in pain. 

 

The composure is back so quickly that Seulgi thinks she simply imagined it in the corner of her eye, just a trick played by the beams of color that reflect in the highest of windows surrounding them. 

 

But then the woman meets her gaze. The sun’s last vestiges of light catch in her hair and her silhouette glows divinely, surrounded by heavenly light. There’s something hopelessly familiar twinkling in the irises of the woman’s eyes, and it takes the Traveler back to her first encounter with Irene—or Joohyun, rather—all those years ago. Seulgi takes a halting breath in. She knows too.

 

“Seulgi, I’d like to introduce you to Mina,” Jihyo says, and the woman gives her a slight bow and a polite ‘Nice to meet you’, which Seulgi returns with a smile. Mina . Just like Jihyo’s, the name fits somehow, as if Seulgi’s always known it to exist and to belong to this steady, ethereal being, but she’s just never experienced it until now. 

 

“Jihyoling,” Mina murmurs, her voice lilting like a fairy’s. “Been a busy day, I’m glad to see you.” 

 

“You say that like we didn’t just fuck in the command room two hours ago,” Jihyo laughs as she wraps her arms around the brown-haired woman. Mina stiffens a bit and gives Jihyo’s shoulder an embarrassed slap, her cheeks burning a bright cherry red. She tries to pull away but it’s a half-hearted attempt at best, and Jihyo just holds her in her steady arms, both of them savoring the moment for just long enough for it to be heartfelt, not uncomfortable. 

 

“I’m a Healer,” Mina says softly when she sees the curiosity shining in Seulgi’s eyes. Seulgi nods, recalling her few memories of Healers and their wings, pure white, flawless things marked permanently like tattoos against their skin. She briefly wants to ask Mina where hers are, but seeing the slight shyness that Mina can’t quite keep from flitting across her face, she mentally reminds herself to bring it up later, when, if ever, she’s privileged enough to call Mina a friend. Mina seems to catch on to Seulgi’s awe and she fumbles a bit before adding, “Though I’m not very good at it.” 

 

Jihyo snorts. “Like hell you’re not.” And then, just for emphasis: “She’s the best damn Healer you’ve ever seen.” Mina’s cheeks flush red again and she hides her head behind Jihyo’s shoulder with an embarrassed laugh. 

 

Irene tucks herself gently against Seulgi’s side and murmurs into her ear about how good Jihyo and Mina look together. Seulgi agrees; there’s something intangible between the two women, a thread of connection that goes beyond friendship and seeps into each little detail of their interactions. 

 

She notes with a smile that Mina’s hand has wiggled its way down into Jihyo’s, their fingers unconsciously intertwined like the evergreen vines wrapping around Jihyo’s forearms. The guarded mask slips away and Jihyo waltzes through the walls Mina has put up to protect herself as easily as one might an open door. 

 

--

 

Jihyo and Mina couldn’t be more different. 

 

Jihyo is all sharp edges and bold lines, steel and smoke and muscle. Mina is soft and smooth and rounded, the living personification of complete poise and elegance. Jihyo’s voice booms through the halls, her deep, rich tone instantly commanding everyone’s attention. Mina’s lilting melodies are barely audible over even the faintest whispers of the wind. 

 

But in spite of her tough exterior, Jihyo’s heart is as warm as the honeyed chocolate in Mina’s eyes, and one of the many complexities lurking beneath Mina’s composed mask is the constant fervor that burns passionately, deeply within the fibers of her being. 

 

They couldn’t be more different, and yet they’re also incredibly similar—impossible shadows of each other’s souls, as complementary as day and night, as the radiant beams of the sun and the calming pulses of the moon. Jihyo’s fire swirls in the grass and paints the sky, bright and violent and wonderful as it burns everything it touches, but Mina’s rain soothes the parched ground in its wake, flashes of lightning dancing in the purple-blue clouds, as breathtaking as the promise of renewal. 

 

Because despite everything, there’s something unspoken between the two women: a gravity, a weight between their interactions that is both as effortless as the whirls of the wind and as deep and grounded as the bottom of the sea. 

 

Jihyo’s warmth intensifies when she’s in Mina’s arms, and when she looks at Jihyo, Mina’s eyes twinkle as wondrously as the stars in the night sky. 

 

Seulgi knows that she and Irene were meant to be, and with every cell in her body she believes that Jihyo and Mina must be too. 

 

--

 

It takes three weeks for Jihyo to invite them on their first strike. 

 

Her outward excuse is that everything at the camp has been too hectic to manage, which it has. Soldiers and refugees flood in and out of the gates, hungry and weary and beyond grateful that there is someone out there that is willing to help. The wounded come in droves, but Mina meets each and every one of them with incredible care, her smile untiringly kind and her hands ready to heal. On the worst days, she’s far busier than Jihyo. 

 

But Seulgi also realizes that there’s an underlying motivation for Jihyo’s caution—trust. Her and Irene are, to Jihyo and Mina and the stalwarts at the camp, practically strangers, and while Jihyo has been nothing if not warm and welcoming, she also needs to be responsible and protective of everything she’s built. Seulgi understands, and though the leader’s smile is slightly apologetic when she finally calls her and Irene to the command room, she shakes her off with a knowing smile. 

 

It isn’t really a strike, Seulgi learns in the command room briefing, at least not in the most literal sense of the word. For years, Jihyo’s been running small crews to scout government holdings, looking for valuable supply areas to hit in the middle of the night for weapons grabs. Most of the crews come up empty, but when they do find a hit, the resulting raid is quick and brutal, stealing what they need and obliterating what they don’t. 

 

“Violent, but efficiently effective,” Irene muses as she studies the marked-up city map on the wall. 

 

Jihyo’s eyes twinkle, amusedly bright. “I should make that my motto.” 

 

She takes Irene on the first strike. 

 

From the rooftops, Seulgi watches the crew leave the compound loaded with weapons, and a small knot settles in her stomach. It intensifies as their Jeep snakes through the battered streets, until it clenches in a tight coil and her view of its occupants finally fades, obscured by the dusty, darkening air. 

 

What if something goes wrong? 

 

What if they need backup? 

 

What if their weapons fail? 

 

What if it’s a trap?

 

She finds a steady hand against her shoulder. 

 

“Hey,” Mina’s voice washes over her like a balm, both quiet and loud in the still air. There’s the slightest frown of concern that furrows her brow. “You’re afraid.” 

 

Seulgi makes no attempt to deny it. Something about Mina makes her want to bare her soul to the younger girl, so instead Seulgi nods, feels the tension in her shoulders abate slightly with the acceptance, and the confession. 

 

“Let me see if I can fix that.” 

 

Mina’s hand moves gently from Seulgi’s shoulder, and Seulgi closes her eyes when Mina’s cool fingers make contact with the exposed skin of her forearm. The swirling tornado of her unbridled thoughts instantly dissipates into smoke, a wave of calm washing over her and soothing her anxious nerves.

 

Seulgi looks over, half surprised and half grateful. Mina faces out over the city beyond the railing, her chin up and eyes closed as the cooling breeze combs gently through her hair. When she turns to Seulgi, her eyes are orbs of pure white light. 

 

“Wow,” Seulgi breathes when the light dims and Mina’s eyes return to their warm chocolate-brown. “That was incredible. Thank you.” 

 

Mina simply inclines her head, a soft smile on her face. “That’s what I’m here for.” 

 

“Jihyo was right. I’ve never seen a Healer whose powers could heal both physical and emotional pain.”

 

“I’m the only one.” Mina’s voice wavers so slightly that if the air wasn’t completely silent, Seulgi wouldn’t have heard it. 

 

In the moment, she perceives the well of emotion shining in Mina’s eyes as worry. 

 

“It’s okay, they’ll come home safe.” 

 

There’s silence before Mina laughs, relieved yet abrupt, as if she had just woken from a trance. “I know they will. Jihyo never breaks her promises.” There’s something heavy in her words that—despite all of her experience—Seulgi can’t quite seem to place. 

 

“You love her.” 

 

Mina nods, lightly removes her hand from Seulgi’s and looks out past the railing. 

 

A curious smile settles at the corners of Mina’s turned-up lips. “What is love like, to you?” 

 

The question takes Seulgi aback. “Isn’t love the same for everyone?” 

 

“Love feels different to everybody. For one person, love might be the soft touches of hands, palms, fingers; for another, the steady weight of a body against their side. To some, love is the second of complete passion before the fall, and for others, it’s the small moments in between.” Mina chuckles again, this time gently amused. “You’ve lived on this planet for centuries, and you know less about love than I do.” 

 

“I guess… I’ve never really had to think about it. Irene-unnie has always been by my side, and whenever we found each other, even in past lives, it always felt like we were the last two pieces of a puzzle. It always felt right .” 

 

“The universe keeps soulmates together.” 

 

Seulgi smiles at the familiar words, and when she glances at Mina, the emerging constellations shine in the Healer’s liquid eyes in the same patterns as the moles dotting her fair skin, her face illuminated by the soft light of the rising moon. It seems only right that because Mina believes in soulmates, Jihyo does too. 

 

“What about you? How does love feel?” 

 

Mina thinks for a while. Seulgi waits, patient, as the stars twinkle in the dusky sky. 

 

“Love is a set of arms wrapped around your chest, and that first whisper that maybe, just maybe, everything’s going to be okay.”

 

--

 

From the first minute to the last, each strike is pure motion: silent predatory runs through the slumbering city streets, each hit carefully executed with economic incisions and calculated power. It’s their fifth time on a strike together, it’s a sight to behold, and it’s exhilarating. 

 

“We’re all clear on this side. Seulgi, you good?” Jihyo’s voice cuts through the comms system, clear and controlled in Seulgi’s ear. 

 

“Hang on—” Seulgi grits her teeth as a guard rushes her in an alleyway, getting in a glancing blow at her torso before she knocks him to the ground. Above her, more guards snake down from the fire escape she was planning on climbing up. “I’ve got a few more to deal with.” 

 

“Slower than usual. Maybe you really are getting old.”

 

“Very funny,” Seulgi says, rolling her eyes as she takes down two of them with her handgun and quickly ducks behind a trash bin to avoid the ensuing spray of bullets. 

 

“You know we’re on a time-sensitive schedule here, right?”

 

“Since when were strikes ever time sensitive?” 

 

“Since I said so. Which is now, because the compound cafeteria decided on making ramyeon for dinner tonight.”

 

“Abuse of power if I’ve ever seen one.” Seulgi mutters—Jihyo laughs on the other end—before sliding out of her cover and pulling the trigger one more time. The last guard rolls noisily down the fire escape, and Seulgi cringes when he hits the bottom with a sickening crunch. “There, I’m done, are you happy?” 

 

“Took you long enough.”

 

“I needed to reload. Not all of us have easily accessible magic flowing out of our hands.”

 

“Excuses, excuses.”

 

“I still don’t really understand how you do that, by the way.” 

 

“You only sail across the time flows, but I can take their energy and harness it into magic instead, which is much cooler. Of course, you Travelers couldn’t possibly understand something as complicated as a Warder’s powers.”

 

“Sure,” Seulgi snorts. “You got that from Mina.” 

 

“Maybe I did.” There’s audible shuffling on the opposite end of the line, and Seulgi hears Jihyo mutter a few orders to the others. “Seulgi, are you in position?”

 

Seulgi pulls herself up on top of the fire escape and makes her way over to the rooftop hatch, opening it silently. “I am now.” 

 

“Okay. As always, everyone goes dark unless there’s an emergency. This one’s simple: get in, scout, get out. Don’t do anything rash. We can’t afford to be attracting any extremely unwarranted attention.”

 

On Jihyo’s signal, Seulgi makes to lower herself through the hatch, but she’s distracted by a flash of movement in one of the nearby skylights. She approaches it, gun in hand and senses alert, and carefully peers in through one of its corners. 

 

What she sees makes her heart stop. 

 

“We have a problem.” 

 

--

 

“What do you mean, they’re experimenting on Travelers?” Seulgi’s head aches, there’s an incessant pulsing at the back of her neck that’s becoming more and more unbearable with each wave of anger that rolls through her.

 

The atmosphere in the command room is more than tense, it feels like a bomb might go off at any passing moment. 

 

“Well, we’ve heard a few reports—” 

 

“And no one thought to tell us? Jihyo, those are our people!” 

 

“Seul, calm down,” Irene says as she puts a restraining arm around Seulgi’s torso, though her face is contorted with anger and pain and sorrow. “Let them explain.”

 

Jihyo takes a deep, shuddering breath, and her voice shakes. “The last we heard of it was almost six years ago. I had no idea the experiments were still continuing,” She turns pleadingly to Seulgi, and the pure anguish in her eyes makes Seulgi stop. “If I did, I would have gotten them out and burned the building to the ground, Seulgi, I promise.” 

 

Jihyo never breaks her promises.

 

A lone tear rolls down Seulgi’s cheeks as she sags in Irene’s arms, the fight taken out of her. 

 

“What—” Irene stops suddenly as her voice breaks, and though her words are hoarse, she forces herself to continue. “What do they want with us?” 

 

“We-we don’t know.” Jihyo stutters, something shadowed suddenly closing off her face. 

 

Mina’s whisper pierces through the atmosphere like a knife. “Yes, we do.” 

 

The Healer shrugs off Jihyo’s hand and worried stare as she makes her way out from the far corner of the room. 

 

“They want people to forget. Travelers are the only link between worlds, the only way for lessons from previous generations to be carried down. And they can’t have that.” 

 

There’s a glaze over Mina’s empty, haunted eyes. 

 

“But they can’t kill a time traveler. So they do the next best thing.”

 

A shaky tear rolls down Mina’s cheek, sparkling like a diamond in the light. 

 

“They erase their memories.” 

 

--

 

[“You have to save them.” Mina is locked between Jihyo’s arms, her sobs frantic. The sentence stumbles out of her mouth repeatedly, as if she’s in a trance. “You have to.” 

 

“We will, Mi. I promise you.” 

 

“Save them,” Mina gasps into Jihyo’s chest, breathless. “Save them, Ji, like you saved me.”]

 

--

 

Seulgi gets into her spot at the back of the Jeep, her boots mere feet from the ground. 

 

Her hands tighten around the grip of her handgun, and she unconsciously slides the clip in and out of place as her mind wanders to its darkest corners. 

 

She watches as Jihyo puts her forehead to Mina’s, their lips inches apart, and softly whispers something into Mina’s skin. The Healer shakes in her arms and nods, whispers something back that has Jihyo smiling sadly. Mina’s hair hides much of her face, but as Jihyo’s arms brush down her sides and pull away, the anguish shines clearly in her eyes. 

 

Seulgi turns her gaze away. She can’t bear to see Mina’s tears break against her pale, mole-starred skin. 

 

Another hand slides into hers, interrupting the pool of swirling feelings that swim high in her throat, seated heavily above her lungs. Seulgi glances to the side. Against the dim lights of the compound and the dark fabric of her shirt, Irene’s milky skin seems to shine and, at the edge of her exposed collarbone, there’s the smallest flash of gold. Seulgi’s fingers go up to the hem of Irene’s shirt, gently pushing it back until the shimmering gold outline of a four-pointed star is fully visible. 

 

The engine hums to life and Seulgi reluctantly lets go of Irene’s hand as the older woman makes her way to the front of the Jeep. 

 

Jihyo gives her a nod as she steps into the passenger seat of the second Jeep. It’s supposed to be convincing, the stoic confidence that settles across her features in one almost-composed breath, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. Each worried twitch of the muscles in Jihyo’s face punches a hole in the mask until it’s nothing if not mangled, as riddled with doubts as Seulgi’s own heart. 

 

The streets are eerily silent as the Jeeps travel through the city. The low whir of the engine and the rolling of tires against the uneven pavement of the street are the only sounds that pierce the still, lifeless air. Seulgi can’t help but feel as if it’s the calm before an inevitable storm. 

 

They reach a fork in the road and, as planned, Irene and Seulgi’s Jeep continues down the right while Jihyo’s turns to the left. 

 

They’re less than a block away from the compound when a cylinder skitters down the road, the dull echo of solid metal clinking against the beaten pavement. 

 

Time seems to slow and the air grows heavy, an incessant thrum builds up in Seulgi’s ears until it reaches a crescendo. She knows what the metal object is even without the soft, steady, fear-inducing beeps that grow ever closer, until the cylinder is moments away from stopping beneath their feet. 

 

The voices in her head scream at her to run. Seulgi knows better than to ignore them. 

 

She’s one of a few who makes it in time, leaping off and hitting the ground as the bomb explodes mere inches from where she was sitting, engulfing the Jeep in violent flames. 

 

Seulgi’s ears ring uncontrollably, her senses dimmed and her knuckles tense and white around the butt of her handgun, but she shoulders the compound doors open and forces herself through them, Irene following just behind her. She fully expects to be met with strong resistance, and so when the pristine corridors, all spotless tile and flat blank walls, are empty, she forces herself to blink a few times, sure that it’s just her head playing tricks on her. 

 

“We’re in,” Irene murmurs after a few moments, exhaling slowly to ease the tension and shock from her nerves. 

 

Seulgi tries to do the same, but it’s hard when every signal in her body is warning her that she’s walking straight into a trap. 

 

Irene’s eyes darken and a muscle jumps incessantly in her jaw, and Seulgi knows that she feels it too. 

 

“Copy,” Jihyo’s voice cuts in and out of earshot. Either the earpiece was damaged in the explosion, which Seulgi doubts, or something within the building is interfering with the signal. There are screams and gunshots in the background, but the resolve in Jihyo’s voice is crystal clear. “Continue as planned.”

 

“Affirmative,” Irene says. Her jaw clenches into a hard-set line, but she reluctantly raises her handgun and continues slowly into the depths of the compound. Seulgi forces herself to follow. 

 

They snake through the building, clearing corridor after corridor, and the eerie silence only continues to grow. 

 

It’s only when they reach the heart of the building, mere steps away from what Jihyo and the rebels believe to be the last locked door between them and the Travelers they came to save, that the lights cut out, plunging the hallway in darkness. 

 

The only sounds are their breaths, heavy at first with shock, then panicked anticipation. 

 

Seulgi knows what’s going to happen next. 

 

After a few seconds the back-up generator cuts in, and instead of the white light of the fluorescent beams, the hallways are bathed in red. 

 

The first armor-covered man lunges out at them after the disorienting darkness. There are a few quick pops of gunfire, harsh and ear-splitting in such close corners, and his body crumples to the ground, wine-red blood staining the perfectly clean tile floors. 

 

The others swarm in right on his heels. 

 

Everything’s a haze of shadowed bodies and red light, the sterile scent of the hallways quickly stained by the sharp, pungent odor of death. 

 

Seulgi’s handgun quickly runs out of ammunition in its clip. A knife flashes out, its blade menacing in the dark light, and Seulgi barely manages to spin away, its deadly edge striking shallow against her side. She hisses at the sharp pain, but she immediately moves to wrestle the knife out of her opponent’s grip before it can come singing through the air again. 

 

She holds the soldier close, takes the sharp blade and runs it through the small opening between his helmet and kevlar vest, feeling it tear deep into flesh at his neck. He stumbles in her arms, blood gushing out of the wound and onto her clothes, staining her hands a deep crimson before he falls, lifeless to the ground. 

 

Many things have changed, but the feeling of life and blood spilling out onto her hands has not. There’s still the same rich salt that hangs heavy in the air, so permeating that it feels like it will never go away. 

 

Somehow they make it through the first wave, retracing their path blindly through the corridors as boots thunder after them. A stray bullet streaks past Seulgi’s torso, and another tears through the flesh of her shoulder. 

 

Suddenly, Irene stumbles at her side and falls, nearly taking Seulgi down with her. One of her hands goes to clutch at the back of her thigh, and Seulgi’s heart falls when she sees blood seeping out of a bullet wound. 

 

Around them, there’s a sudden hissing, and white tendrils begin to seep out from miniscule holes in the floor and ceiling. 

 

“Gas,” Irene says, her eyes wide and panicked. 

 

The smoke swirls and billows, thickening menacingly. There’s a sickly sweet tinge to the air that starts to prickle against Seulgi’s skin. “We need to move, now.” 

 

“I can’t run.” 

 

“Then I’ll carry you out.”

 

“There’s no time.” Irene shakes her head furiously. The thundering of boots is louder now, the soldiers can’t be more than a corridor away. “Go.”

 

“I can’t leave you.” The words cycle around Seulgi’s thoughts until they’re all she can focus on. I can’t leave you behind, she thinks, wants to say out loud if not for the desperate pounding of her heart and the tears that clog up at the back of her throat. Not when I’m terrified of not being able to find you again.

 

“You have to.” Irene’s voice wavers, and tears shine in her eyes. “I’ll find my way back, Seul. Go.”

 

“I can’t.” Seulgi’s voice hitches; the last syllable is no more than a broken whisper in the wind.

 

“Run.”

 

Irene’s voice is heavy and slurred, already affected by whatever potent toxins make up the gas, but her eyes shine with desperation and pain and love and Seulgi forces herself to tear her gaze away. 

 

As she runs, she looks back one last time to where black-clad arms drag Irene’s limp body down the corridor, disappearing into the white mist. 

 

Seulgi chokes back a sob, tears streaking down her cheeks, but doesn’t stop running. 

 

She runs and runs and runs: out of the building, past the wreckage of the Jeep, through the silent city streets. She runs without thought, unable to stop. She knows that if she stops, she’s going to turn back, to follow the blinding call of her heart and venture back into sure death for Irene. The wounds on her torso and shoulder ache, but it’s nothing compared to the shattered shards of her heart grating against her chest, each breath of air burning as it travels down her tear-choked throat to her lungs. 

 

By some miracle, she finds her way home. 

 

“Are you okay?” Jihyo asks when Seulgi staggers into the command room, covered in grime and blood that she isn’t even sure is hers. Mina’s already up and at Seulgi’s side, supporting her as she makes her way to the nearest chair, when Jihyo takes a look around and notices that there’s a person missing. “Where’s Irene?” 

 

Seulgi musters all of the strength she has left to slowly shake her head. “She’s gone.” 

 

When the shock and grief seep into Jihyo’s disbelieving eyes, Seulgi almost breaks all over again. 

 

Gone. Joohyun’s gone.

 

Her world tilts on its axis again, and Seulgi feels her body give way in Mina’s arms as everything fades to black.

 

--

 

For a while, Seulgi’s life force travels the aether between life and death. She feels weightless, sailing the shimmering, rippling time flows, disjointed and stripped of the sure feeling of her body tying her to the ground. And yet, there’s something strangely comforting about simply existing, allowing herself to be carried wherever space and time want her to be. 

 

Later, they tell her that she strays in and out of consciousness for almost three days. 

 

In. Shadows cross in front of the cool-blue light that blinds her eyes. Voices whisper frantically, calling for more water and bandages and needles. 

 

Out. The smell of gasoline and smoke hangs heavy in the air. Seulgi’s face is pressed as close to the broken street as it can be. Irene is no more than three feet from her, her eyes squeezed shut and every muscle in her body tense. She reaches over to brush Irene’s hand as the Jeep explodes in infernal flame. 

 

In. Hands press against the bullet wound on her shoulder. Mina’s face hangs over hers, her eyes turning from the brown of melted chocolate to pure white. The torn muscle in Seulgi’s shoulder slowly knits itself back together. Mina’s tears fall slowly, a cool, soft rain against Seulgi’s skin. 

 

Out. The stars shine divinely, fairies against the ink of the night sky. Joohyun’s laugh echoes, fills the silent air with song. Her eyes, usually big and dark and liquid, twinkle with amused, heavenly light.

 

In. Her bed is warm, the blankets tucked up against her waist, her head, neck, and shoulders propped up gently against a pillow. Sunlight streams in from a window, casting the room in a warm, lazy yellow-white. Two figures stand at the edge of her bed, one with vine-wrapped arms safely around the delicate, slender shoulders of the other. 

 

Out. The air is full of the fragrant perfumes of just-blooming flowers. Seulgi’s sword clinks rhythmically against her side as she strides carelessly through the grass, enclosing her arms around Joohyun’s shoulders. They laugh when they fall, limbs tangling together as they roll around in the meadow. When they come to a stop, breathless, a beam of pure sunlight catches on the colors of Irene’s dress and the faint outline of gold on her collarbone. White and pink and gold glimmer in the meadow, eye-catching and bright and alive.

 

--

 

Seulgi knows that Irene—or Joohyun, because one can’t really exist without thinking of the other—would have wanted her to care for Yerim. 

 

The young Traveler is the only one that they managed to rescue from the compound, and if Seulgi returned from the mission in bad shape, Yerim was much worse: too small for her age and barely breathing, scars and bruises marring every exposed part of her skin. Between healing sessions with Mina and command meetings with Jihyo, she finds herself by Yerim’s bedside, watching her chest rise and fall slowly but steadily. 

 

One of Yerim’s palms is tucked carefully in hers. Seulgi’s thumb runs across the gold four-pointed stars on the back of Yerim’s hand. 

 

When the young girl wakes with a pained moan, Mina takes over, resting her hands on Yerim as her eyes shine white again. The hem of her shirt runs low across her back, its collar so stretched that it slides down one of her shoulders. There are scars there, across the tops of her shoulder blades and even running out of sight underneath the fabric, but there are also wings, pure white and perfectly symmetrical. 

 

--

 

Most nights, Seulgi wakes up to screams. 

 

Half of the time they’re her own. She wakes in a daze, hoarse and breathless, her cries echoing in her ears as the remnants of her dreams flash across her eyes. Sometimes Irene’s dragged away by a set of arms, sometimes she’s in the clutches of a horrible beast. The only things that stay constant are the smell of blood and death in the air and the burning pain in her chest. 

 

The other half, she’s jolted awake by pained cries, screams for help, desperately thrashing arms and legs. Yerim’s nightmares are violent. She tosses and turns, muttering fiercely and whimpering in fear. And while Seulgi’s dreams don’t meet her every night, Yerim’s seem like they’ll never stop. Sometimes she reaches out, as if seeking someone’s comfort, but when Seulgi woke her desperately the first few times, Yerim’s eyes shot awake and she flew at Seulgi’s throat, hands locked around it for a few seconds before her eyes widened with the realization that Seulgi wasn’t the monster haunting her dreams. 

 

Instead, Yerim seems to do best with soft, calm touches, whispers that everything will be alright, and, once she’s awake enough for fear to be replaced with exhaustion, the comfort of a pair of arms wrapped securely around her shaking frame. 

 

--

 

Yerim’s dying, she has been for a while. 

 

“Does it hurt?” Her voice trembles as she looks up at Seulgi, her hands around Seulgi’s forearm as tight as a vice, like a ship desperately clinging to its anchor as the surrounding storm threatens to wash it away. 

 

Seulgi gasps, takes a shallow breath in. She remembers those words escaping her own lips, all those years ago. And she remembers seeing the pain, the love in Joohyun’s gaze as she waited for her answer. 

 

Tears flood her eyes as the memory washes over her, and as Seulgi looks down at Yerim, she shakes her head. “It’s just like falling asleep.” Her voice fades to a whisper by the last words, and she’s unable to hold back the sob that escapes her lips. 

 

Yerim nods, sighs as she lets go, gives in to the tug against her navel and the darkness pressing in at the corners of her vision. 

 

For a moment, the stars on her hands glitter the brightest gold. 

 

Yerim’s weight lightens in her arms, her body slowly breaking into shimmering bits of golden ash that swirl in the wind, fluttering up to the sun like butterflies. Seulgi lets her tears fall. 

 

“I’ll see you in another life, Yerim-ah.” 

 


 

now.

 

Seulgi wakes in a room that isn’t hers, cool air filtering through the open windows and the orange morning sun just peeking over the edge of the horizon. The sheets by her side are tangled, the opposite side of the bed empty save for the indent of a body that is no longer there. 

 

Sooyoung must have gotten up early. 

 

Sooyoung’s apartment smells of green, but not the earthy emerald of ivy or vine. It smells instead of the emerging buds of grass after winter’s end, of light herbal teas, and of the fresh spearmint that always seems to linger at the edges of Sooyoung’s lips. It smells nice. 

 

Seulgi pulls herself out of the bed and quickly tidies up, makes sure to pull the hood of her jacket low over her face before she turns the lock on the door and steps out onto the sidewalk. 

 

As always, there’s a car waiting for her, and, as always, the front two seats are already occupied. Seulgi opens the second set of doors and slides into the back seat. 

 

“So, are you two dating now?” Nayeon asks from the passenger’s side, glancing at Seulgi through the mirror above the dash. 

 

The question is brilliantly sharp, unapologetically brash, and completely Nayeon. Jeongyeon groans. 

 

Nayeon merely cocks an eyebrow. “Well, are you?” 

 

Seulgi considers the facts. Sooyoung is wonderfully abrasive on the surface—loud and confident and open, she easily stands out in any crowd. In private, she’s quieter, calmer, content with soft laughs and small touches. 

 

Sooyoung understands loss and heartbreak. A small pendant always catches the light around her neck, her initials carefully drawn in looping, inscribed lines over sterling silver. There’s another pendant carefully tucked into a small box in the nightstand, identical except for the letters inscribed on the front. “Her name was Sana, and she was beautiful.” Sooyoung doesn’t look at it anymore, but she also doesn’t let it collect dust, forgotten, wasting away within the nightstand. 

 

Sooyoung’s apartment smells like fresh spearmint, like newly budding grass and light herbal tea, and while Seulgi spends most of her nights there these days, tangled in Sooyoung’s arms, it still doesn’t feel like home. 

 

“No,” Seulgi decides. The truth doesn’t feel heavy, nor does it feel light. The truth doesn’t feel like anything. 

 

“Shame,” Nayeon hums. “You two together would have been one powerful couple.” She glances to her right and a devilish grin spreads across her face. “Right up there with me and Jeong.” 

 

Seulgi senses the impending groan from miles away, and she just laughs as one of Jeongyeon’s hands detaches itself from the steering wheel to give Nayeon’s shoulder a sound slap, the older girl dancing away in the seat before any more harm can come to her. 

 

If Jihyo could have met Nayeon and Jeongyeon, Seulgi thinks she would have liked them. 

 

In the end, Sooyoung falls for Seungwan. Kind, soft, beautiful Seungwan. Seungwan, who watches the stars every night and smells the blooming flowers on the side of the street and cares endlessly for everyone. Seungwan, who’s been this iteration of Seulgi’s friend since both of them were toddling around on their two little stubby legs. Seungwan, whose touches are so caring and gentle that in another life, she had to have been a Healer. 

 

Seulgi doesn’t mind, not when Seungwan makes Sooyoung happier than she ever could have. 

 

--

 

There’s a Joohyun at the university, Seungwan tells her. Her best friend passes the woman sometimes in the hallways but never catches her name, not until now, when it slips, carefree, from the edges of another student’s lips. 

 

In all of her years of searching, Seulgi’s never been this close. 

 

The university bell rings and students pour out into the street, talking hurriedly amongst themselves. Unconsciously, Seulgi hangs her head lower, pulls the hem of her hood over her searching eyes. 

 

As if it’s fate, the crowd parts and Seulgi finds herself eye-to-eye with a woman standing at the other end of the plaza. The woman, fair-skinned with long, dark, slightly wavy hair, can’t be much older than she is and her small frame just barely matches Seulgi’s in height. Her eyes are full and round and liquid dark and achingly familiar. 

 

Seulgi approaches the woman, daring to brush the hood off of her head until it falls down her back, revealing her hair and the gold stars at the edges of her eyes. 

 

“My name is Kang Seulgi. Do you remember me?” 

 

Joohyun frowns slightly before shaking her head. 

 

Still, there’s curiosity that shines in Joohyun’s eyes when the confusion wears away, but it stops short of turning into the certain knowing that Seulgi desperately wants to see. 

 

--

 

The streetlights are an incandescent yellow, like the torches that light the hallowed halls of a long-forsaken temple, destined to flicker forever in the forgotten air, to burn and burn and burn until they turn themselves into ashes, lighting the empty streets outside Seoul with a lonely emptiness. 

 

Everything seems blurrier in the darkness—huge forms without edges, and the lamps flicker hesitantly, as if unsure to give in to the black around them or to go casting their yellow-orange light on the adjacent street. The sidewalk is worn and weathered, battered by foot traffic and the elements, out of place in the shine of the adjacent skyscrapers.

 

Seulgi knows what it’s like to be out of place, out of time, hopelessly distant from the rest of the world. 

 

That’s why she walks. In the night, the only breaks in the silence are the sounds of her footsteps against the pavement and the whispers of her tangled thoughts. 

 

She has enough of them to last lifetimes, but she’s tired. 

 

All Seulgi wants is to feel a warm hand in hers, a steady presence against her side, an anchor to keep her from washing away. 

 

Joohyun walks carefully along the worn sidewalk, a little more than a yard to her left. She’s close enough to be seen, her footfalls in time with Seulgi’s and her profile hazy in Seulgi’s periphery, but the empty space between them stretches out like a chasm. 

 

“Your eyes are beautiful.” Joohyun murmurs into the still nighttime air, studying the stars that shine on Seulgi’s face. “I can’t help but feel like I know you.”

 

Seulgi smiles sadly, unable to meet Joohyun’s dark liquid gaze. 

 

Above, the streetlights glitter brightest gold. 



end.