“I want you like this, the one person in the world,
I will love you as much as you waited”
Younha - Run
No one had expected a war to ever break in Seleniam.
It had been so unexpected, had started so quickly that it had taken everyone by surprise. The three main species living in the country had always cohabited together in peace and got along well enough that no one had ever thought it could be otherwise.
It shouldn't have happened, Yuji thought as she walked through the forest, her pure white dress contrasting greatly with the vibrant colors of the nature surrounding her. The war had come as a shock to her and she still couldn't completely wrap her mind around it, around him not being here in Nemeria.
Nemeria was far from Xysidra, the main town of the island she was living on and even farther away from the mainland. Yuji was grateful for that fact, as the four hundred kilometers separating the huge city to her natal village on the shore meant being away from combat, destruction and death.
Nothing was the same, though, even in such a remote place. The Nemeria she had grown up in was now nothing more than a deserted playground for fear and paranoia, its gloomy streets so different from the once colorful and lovely atmosphere they used to have.
It couldn't be avoided, she guessed, as a rift had been created between humans and the rest of them after the war had started.
A group of humans, calling themselves Humanis, had started protesting a few months ago in Galuo, the mainland’s capital. They had requested an independent state to be created, one free of other species that they considered as “abnormal”. What had been controlled manifestations at first had progressively transformed into chaotic riots, each one more violent than the last. The breaking point had been reached as two dozens of villages in the province of Leruvia – the closest one from Galuo – had been burned to the ground in plain daylight, along with their inhabitants.
The Humanis members who had done this hadn’t even bothered to hide their identity, instead happily screaming their organization’s name and their joy at all the fairies and elves burning alive in their straw-bale houses. Even the few humans who had also perished in the fire hadn’t dampened their satisfaction, easily deemed casualties for a greater cause by the rebellion group.
The news of this horrible act had spread across the country as wildfire and had enraged both the fairy and elf community. Neither had really acted on it at first, their hearts full of hope and beliefs that Humanis would be controlled and punished by exile or a painful death.
Instead, Humanis had continued to spread, both in ranks and territory, and their attacks had never ceased to multiply until fairies and elves had agreed it was time to stop them. At first, small groups of men from both species had hastily gathered and left their home to seek the Humanis members out before the word spread across the mainland and all three islands on the east coast about fighting. Men had been requisitioned to gather in all main cities of the country and they were gone, off to fight, before everyone had even had time to wrap their mind around the fact that a war had started.
Four months had passed since then, hot summer nights slowly replacing the sweetness of the spring temperatures. Life had continued in Nemeria – the male teenagers below fourteen working in the field instead of their fathers and older brothers, the women teaching the younger kids and working in the village – but no one could be heard singing or even laughing now.
Yuji was one of the oldest maidens left in the village, having turned twenty-two springs during the last equinox. Most of the girls with whom she had grown up with had left Nemeria upon getting married to men from the neighbouring villages, and they were now worried wives and mothers. She, too, was worried – about her future, about what would happen when the war ended (if it ever ended).
More than that, she wasn't able to stop thinking about him. Every minute of the day, he was on her mind, her thoughts always revolving about whether he was alive and still the same patient, shy but warm man she had always loved.
The horrors of the war could change the strongest of men, she had heard once, and this was scaring her. Not that she wouldn't love him any less – she couldn't even if she tried, wouldn't even if death separated them – but would the new man who would get back to her love her the way he did once? She couldn’t stop doubts from eating her alive during the nights when being alone without his arms around her made vulnerable.
He will, she reassured herself one more time, softly rubbing her slightly protruding stomach. The midwife in the village had predicted a birth in late November and Yuji hoped Taekwoon would be back home to meet his son or daughter.
Sometimes, late at night when she couldn't sleep, she imagined their child, either a pretty girl with her long chestnut hair and Taekwoon's cat eyes or a soft-smiled boy with his dad's jet black hair. Taekwoon hadn't even known she was pregnant when he left for Xysidra and then the mainland and the agony that there was a risk that he could never know left her breathless and crying in the middle of the night.
It was also the reason that had pushed her to take a stroll in the forest. She had wanted calm and a moment to herself and the forest was the perfect place for it as it was their place, full of memories that no one but them would ever share.
The head of the village – a white-haired elf that had been ruling over Nemeria for the past two centuries – had forbidden every villager from leaving the village grounds, too scared of Humanis partisans hiding in the forest.
Yuji was convinced it wouldn't happen, though.
The three species in the village had always gotten along so well, had even taken a joint decision to raise all children together despite the powers of some of them manifesting in classes and creating havoc. Indeed, every child brought to the world was born human and stayed that way for the first twelve years of their life before possibly getting powers and the physical attributes of a defined species.
Yuji still remembered with fondness the day she got her wings and how they had ripped open the skin of her back. It had been a painful process, and even the proud smile of her parents over the bloody pale blue, violet and light pink wings hadn't made her stop crying. Only Taekwoon had succeeded in forcing a smile out of her but then again, it hadn't been extremely difficult. The sight of the pointy ears that he had acquired overnight and the embarrassed face he had made as he tried to hide them with his hands had made her laugh.
The kids at school, especially the ones who hadn’t shown any signs of evolving, had fawned over her wings and how pretty they were. No one had ever expressed jealousy or been rude so the existence of Humanis had been a rude awakening. Yuji still even remembered little Eunji – Taekwoon's younger sister – caressing her wings in awe before running away as Hakyeon, one her of classmates and Taekwoon's best friend, had teased her about still being prettier.
Those were the old days, the better days that they would probably never go back to now that all the humans in the village had been forced to regroup together and couldn't leave their house without a supervisor. No contact with them had been allowed, which greatly affected and frustrated her as many of her friends – Dahye, Jieun or even Jaehwan – had been reduced to prisoners in their own homes when they were completely innocent.
A sigh escaped her lips at the unfairness of the situation before a small smile – the first one in weeks – broke on her face.
She had found it again – one of the memories that was only theirs.
”What are you even doing?” Yuji asked, hiding her smile behind her hands to not let Taekwoon see how amused she was. “Aren’t you a bit too old to play with soil?”
Taekwoon grunted, not even bothering to look back at her. “I’m building you a unicorn,” he answered simply, completely discarding the jab thrown at him.
Yuji waited for more, but Taekwoon had already redirected his focus to his task. She shook her head as her eyes roamed fondly over her boyfriend, who was kneeling on the ground and shaping soil with a determination she had seen so many times on his face.
Even to her, the woman who had known Jung Taekwoon for twenty-one years and loved him for ten, he was still sometimes a mystery.
“It doesn’t really look like a unicorn, though,” she pointed out, head tilted to look at it from a different angle. It was definitely not an unicorn.
“It is,” Taekwoon said, crossing his arms over his chest, lips twisted into a displeased pout.
“It’s not, Taekwoon. It just looks like doctor Choi's horse. What's his name already...?" Yuji asked, scratching the back of her neck before clasping her hands together. "Ah yes, Jellybean! It's Jellybean!"
"It's not," Taekwoon said again, frowning.
"No, it's not," He argued again, this time pointing to the head of its creation. "Look, it even has a horn."
Taekwoon didn't let her finish as he gently tugged on Yuji's hand, making her drop to her knees next to him. "Taekwoon, what―”
"Shhh," he whispered, leaning towards her and forcing her to lie down on the grass before caging her between his arms. “It’s a unicorn.”
“Okay,” Yuji agreed, wrapping both of her arms around his neck, a laugh escaping her lips as he started tickling her. They started rolling around the ground, laughing until they were breathless.
Yuji smiled again, looking up only to get lost in Taekwoon’s black eyes. “I guess it’s a unicorn,” she confessed, earning a nod and a small grin from the man on top of her. “Built it because I want you to think of me every time you come here,” he confessed back, smiling sheepishly before continuing, “it’s the first time I’m ever building you something. Someday, my love, I will be building you a house.” He leaned down, catching her lips with his and softly kissing her until all she could think about was him.
“I love you, Taekwoon.”
“I love you, too, my love.”
She had casted a spell – one of the perks of being a fairy – on it when Taekwoon hadn’t looked, distracted by a dozen of butterflies flying around them. It had been nothing more than a simple preservation spell, really, but one that would allow memories to take on another dimension.
What Taekwoon had built from soil months ago hadn’t crumbled down thanks to her spell. Only Mother Nature had reclaimed what was hers by allowing strands of grass to grow back on the mound of soil.
She had thought seeing this – what Taekwoon had made for her and only her – would make her feel better, but it didn’t. It was just a painful reminder of how she was missing everything about him – his smile, his soft voice, his kisses, his arms around her, the love she never failed to see in his eyes.
Yuji wanted him back, or even more, needed him back.
With that idea in mind, she left their memory behind her, walking down further into the forest.
The sorceress' house was exactly as the description that had been made to her – isolated, dark, almost whimsical. Yuji had never been there, had no reason to. She had briefly met the young sorceress a few times though, during the annual sacrifices in Nemeria but this time, it was different. She wasn’t here to socialize and didn’t believe she would be able to even if she had wanted to.
The front door opened before she could even raise her hand to knock and she shook her head before stepping in, convinced more than ever that she was making the right decision.
“It’s a boy,” the sorceress said as soon as the door clicked shut. Her back was facing Yuji, and the fairy gasped softly as she hadn’t expected the news to be broken out to her so suddenly.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise as the baby had been vigorous recently, kicking her a lot and this was, in the village, an indication on the baby’s sex. The midwife had seemed to think so, too, as she just smiled knowingly at her when the baby had moved a lot during the check-up. The middle-aged woman had only referred to the baby as lil’ boy afterwards, ignoring Yuji’s protestations to not do that.
“Oh,” she finally uttered, absently touching her swollen belly. There was nothing that she could do now. “That’s not why I’m here though, Kyungri.”
Kyungri finally turned around, her dark hair, equally dark dress and red lips giving her an ethereal look. The look she casted upon Yuji made the latter shiver. It was almost as if the sorceress could read through her, and maybe it was true.
"Let's talk," Kyungri said, gesturing a chair to Yuji. The fairy nodded, taking the seat and letting out a sigh of relief as weight was taken off her swollen feet. "I want to know where Taekwoon is. I want Taekwoon to come back, I want―”
The sorceress let out a sigh, dragging a hand over her face. The love Yuji and Taekwoon had for each other was known by everyone in Nemeria and the neighbouring villages. Even herself, though cut from the world except for trades and gatherings, was aware of that love story.
Kyungri wanted to help but sometimes, nothing could be done. Even magic couldn't go against destiny. "There's nothing I can do, Yuji." In a softer voice, she added, "We can't go against the Gods. Don't lose hope."
Yuji just nodded, too tired and too resigned to do anything else. It had been silly, hoping that Taekwoon could be brought back because she wanted him to. She wasn't the only woman who was waiting for someone to come back. They all had a father, a son, a brother or a husband who left to fight.
Jung Taekwoon was her everything, and she had to have faith in their love. For him, for her, for their son who was going to grow up with his father by his side. With that in mind, she whispered softly, "I'm sorry for disturbing you, Kyungri."
Kyungri waved the apology away, not bothered in the least. "Taekwoon is strong. He's living for you, exactly in the same way that you're living for him. Trust him and his love," the sorceress assured, grabbing an empty vial on her counter and standing up to move closer to the brewing area she had set up in a corner of her dusty house.
She picked two bottles from the hundreds that could be found on her shelves, bringing them close to her face and examining both for a few minutes before opening one and the filling the vial with a liquid so blue that it reminded Yuji of the ocean.
"Take that," Kyungri said, putting the small flacon on the table and sliding it towards the fairy. "It's going to make you feel Taekwoon up there," she precised, slightly tapping her temple. "As long as he's alive, you will feel a slight throb. That's the best that I can do."
Yuji nodded, grabbing the vial and holding it close to her chest. "Thank you so much."
The fairy got up to leave, flashing a last smile to the sorceress before heading towards the door.
"Yuji?" Kyungri called, not waiting for the other to reply, "Love conquers everything."
The months passed and the liquid in the vial diminished. Yuji sometimes wondered if she's addicted to that feeling, on that throbbing that made her heart beat faster and tattooed in her brain that Taekwoon isn't dead.
The throbbing in her head indeed never stopped, to her greatest relief.
Taekwoon was alive, surviving out there.
And so, Yuji survived. She owed him that.
Unfocused eyes stared in front of her as she opened her eyes, wondering what’s the cause of the ruckus outside. The day had only started a few minutes ago, she guessed as she blinked a few times and stared outside the window. The orange, pink and purple hues of the sky were so beautiful that she almost missed the screams that had woken her up in the first place. What could be happening?
She got out of her bed, pulling her white dress over her hand and letting it pool over her feet. Her flower crown followed next before she opened her door and stepped outside. People were gathering outside, most of them still half asleep while some were crying, running towards the main streets of the village.
“Yuji! Yuji!” The young Yeri screamed, stopping in front of her and smiling wide. Her acquired wings were beating furiously on her back, the vibrant yellow of them almost blinding her. “They’re back! The soldiers are back!”
He was the only one Yuji could think about, and she started running as fast as she could before she could even fully process the information. He had to be among them, he had to.
The grass felt humid under her bare feet and she bit on her lips to restrain herself from moaning in pain at the roughness of the ground. It was nothing compared to the wait, to the loneliness, to the nights of crying and misery she spent. She would have flown but it was too risky for the baby, even more than the slow place at which she was jogging. Her wings were flapping crazily, almost as excited as her.
The silhouette of the man she loved standing a few meters in front of her made her stop. He was standing there, his once white tunic and pants now brown with dirt. He looked tired and rugged, but he was still Taekwoon.
“Taekwoon,” she whispered softly, almost afraid he would disappear if she was louder.
He didn’t disappear, instead turning around. His sharp eyes looked at her up and down, staring at her stomach for what seemed an eternity. “Taekwoon,” she whispered again, this time a bit louder and she extended her arms towards him.
He swept her in his arms in an instant, cuddling her close to his chest and inhaling her scent. “Dahlias?” he asked, smiling as she nodded against his chest, his fingers flicking her flower crown slightly. “Eunji made it yesterday,” Taekwoon’s sister had visited her from her own village yesterday and Yuji wondered if she had known this was going to happen. The younger girl had always had intuition. “Your hair…” she said softly, slipping a hand through the now short strands of her lover.
“It will grow back again,” Taekwoon shrugged, the loss of his waist-lengthened hair the least of his concern. He squeezed her a bit harder before gasping. “Is it―?”
“It seems that your son is excited to finally meet his daddy.”
A choking sound escaped Taekwoon’s throat as he put both hands on her stomach before dropping down on his knees and wrapping his arms around her waist. “I’m so sorry, my love. I should have been here.”
“No,” Yuji shook her head, her hand softly caressing Taekwoon’s hair. “I― We,” she corrected as she put her free hand on top of his, and they both felt the baby kick, “wouldn’t have been there if you and all the others hadn’t fought for us. You saved us, Taekwoon.”
“I will love you as much as you waited, my love,” he finally said, standing to claim her lips.
“And so will I,” She smiled softly, eyes shining bright, “I love you.”