Yoongi was running, his feet barely grazing the ground; he was certain that was where it landed. He wanted to be the first to find it and bring it back. The trees were growing thicker with each step, as if they were huddling together to gossip and giggle in excitement at what was to come. The moon hid behind the branches, peeking in occasionally to see if Yoongi was still on his path, if the grin was still on his face.
Finally, he thought, after only reading and hearing about it from others he would be the one to experience it first hand. Finally he, Min Yoongi, would consume the heart of a fallen star.
The trees began to thin again, as if stepping back and away from his path towards his destiny. He stopped by the edge of the clearing. The single tree at its center was slowly shaking off the flames that had rained down upon it with the impact. A figure lay by its feet, the flames not quite done with it just yet. Yoongi's grin grew wider, exposing his gums and a barely-there dimples as he ran towards the blazing figure.
The gypsophile branches grabbed onto his figure as he walked through them, wanting him to take them with him to the center of the field.
Realization dawned upon him the closer he got to the tree and the grin began to thaw off his face, falling off completely once he got there; this was no fallen star.
In front of him lay a boy about his height with brilliant orange hair and his eyes closed, scratches and ash lightly dusted over his face. His white shirt was stained with dirt and his sleeve looked like it had caught fire at some point. To his right a broom rested with its tail on fire. The flames were rapidly climbing over it and reaching towards the gypsophile branches outstretched beside it.
Yoongi grabbed the smoldered top of the broom in a hurry and steered it away from the flowers, slapping the flaming parts to the tree bark beside him in efforts to put it out.
"What are you doing? Stop it, you'll ruin it!" A deep voice sounded behind him as a hand came on top of his, pulling the broom out of his hands. The boy laying on the ground had woken up and now Yoongi could see he was in fact much taller than him. The boy sat down with his legs crossed under him with the broom in his lap, inspecting it.
"It's ruined!" he groaned and looked up at the sky as if it might drop a new broom if he glared hard enough.
"It was already burning when I picked it up. The flames were nearly to the flowers, if i hadn't picked it up this whole field would have lit up by now."
The boy made a wounded sound as he caressed the handle of the broom, his bottom lip sticking out in a pout.
"Can it be saved?" Yoongi felt bad for the boy even though he wasn't the one responsible for setting it on fire.
"No. I don't know. Maybe.” He looked forlorn, his fingers ghosting over the smoldering broom handle. “Urgh, this sucks I've had this broom ever since my first quest and now it's just a smoldering stick. How am I supposed to go around now?" The boy stood up and stumbled, his ankle rejecting his weight. Wincing, he leaned his body back on the tree trunk, his broom still in his hand.
"Whoa, whoa, you're injured. Here, let me help you." Yoongi reached out to support him.
"I'm fine, I don’t need help." The other boy whined but didn't resist when Yoongi pulled his arm around his shoulders, sliding the other around his waist.
"I'm Yoongi, by the way."
"Listen, how about we get you back to my place and take a look at those wounds. I’m not a physician so I can’t really help much with your ankle but I’ll show you where you can find one. You can tell me how you ended up here after, all right?"
"Yeah, alright that sounds good.”
If Yoongi was struggling under Taehyung's weight it didn't show as they hiked through the forest in the direction of the village.
Taehyung was quiet for a while. Yoongi began to worry he might have fallen asleep on him but then he heard his voice. “You know for someone so tiny, you're pretty strong."
"I'm not tiny, you're just incredibly tall. You don't have Giant blood in you, do you?" Yoongi threw back.
"I don't actually. What about you? Do you have in Goblin yours?"
This was going to be a long trip back, Yoongi thanked the heavens his house was close by.
By the time they reached the house Yoongi had to practically drag the other boy along. Taehyung was already asleep, his head resting on top of Yoongi's, his light snores filling in the spaces between the sounds of the night. He had talked Yoongi’s ear off most of the way until the exhaustion of the crash had caught up with him.
When they reached the house Yoongi called out to the other boy, at first lightly but then louder when he didn’t get an answer back. Taehyung’s snores faltered in their rhythm, making Yoongi think the boy was waking up but soon after they fell back into the same pattern. Taehyung slept like the dead, it seemed.
Balancing Taehyung precariously on one side of his body, Yoongi fished for his keys and opened the door. With a sigh, he gently laid Taehyung over the couch, his feet hanging over the side. He then went on to grab his medic kit to tend to Taehyung's wounds.
Yoongi took care of the scratches, making sure to disinfect them, and wiped off the ash off the sleeping boy’s face. He made sure to apply a soothing cream over the other’s ankle and carefully wrapped a bandage over it.
Yoongi wasn't sure where else Taehyung was injured and couldn't really ask him at the moment. He got a spare blanket and pillow from the closet and covered up the sleeping boy, making sure to cover his feet as well. Placing a glass of water and some pain relievers on the table beside Taehyung, Yoongi decided he'll just deal with the rest in the morning.
The next morning Yoongi woke up to the smell of herbs and the distinct scent of something sweet burning.
He jumped out of bed in a rush to get to the kitchen only to find Taehyung over the stove and the place a mess. The counter was littered with vials and bowls. A pot on the stove was bubbling and smoking in three different colors. Yoongi hadn’t even know that was possible until then. A pan sizzled next to it, its contents a mystery from where he was standing.
“Good morning!” Taehyung beamed at Yoongi, his smile so dazzling Yoongi was thrown off a bit. He looked much better than he had when Yoongi had initially found him. His hair was now brown and looked softer, his features clearer. His clothes cleaner and more put together; his white shirt - the sleeve no longer burnt - was tucked neatly into his trousers, brown suspenders holding them up. Yoongi could see a silver dangling earring on one ear.
"I hope you don't mind, I used your kitchen to make some healing potions." Taehyung made his way to the dining table, two plates, each with a handsome stack of perfectly round pancakes, and two cups of coffee balanced on his arms. His steps showed no signs of his ankle injury anymore. "To make up for it, and for letting me stay the night, I made us breakfast! I hope you like pancakes because that's the best thing I can make." He looks up at Yoongi then, all hope poured into his eyes. "You do like pancakes, right?"
Yoongi blinked back into the moment, pancakes were suddenly his favorite food. "Yeah, um...I-I like pancakes."
"That's great!" Taehyung’s smiled again, a whole miniature sun on his face. "Sit down and eat before they get cold then! I added a little rosemary to some because you didn't have any fruits. I'm not sure how it'll taste but they smell amazing. Oh, and don’t worry about cleaning up, I’ll take care of that when we’re done."
While the kitchen was messy, the table setting was immaculate. A plate of pancakes and a steaming mug of coffee were placed in front of each seats, a jug of syrup in the middle next to a jug of milk and an empty one stuffed with yellow daisies, probably plucked from Yoongi's garden outside.
Yoongi sat down facing Taehyung feeling a little bit self conscious in his blue flannel pajamas. Taehyung beamed at him, hitting him in full force with his smile with their proximity. He diverted his attention towards his pancakes instead, feeling the blood rush to his ears.
"You said you made healing potions so, what does that make you?" Yoongi asked, poking his stack of pancakes and having a bite. Instantly the flavor of the rosemary mixed in the batter bloomed in his mouth. Yoongi had to hold back from moaning out loud at the taste. He made a mental note to experiment with herbs more for his bakery.
"I'm a witch - well not exactly an actual witch yet." Taehyung mumbled through a mouthful of pancakes doused in a probably unhealthy amount of syrup. He swallowed and continued. "I kinda still don't have my license yet so I'm not really a full witch, more of witch-in-training really - but I'm extremely close to getting it! I have to finish one more quest and then I'm a full, certified witch."
“A quest? So I take it your scorching landing here wasn't an accident."
A light blush brushed over Taehyung's features. "Well, this town was the destination but the landing was a little, ehe, rough." His hand came up, scratching the back of his neck. "I was bored and revising a spell and accidentally set fire to the broom, that’s why my hair turned orange too." Taehyung laughed sheepishly.
"So um, what's your quest then?" Yoongi asked and went back to his pancakes. Taehyung noticeably perked up.
"I have to find this place and according to my research the entrance should be right in this town. It really is a beautiful town, from what i've seen through the windows. I can't wait to explore it, after I find a place to stay, that is. Do you know if anyone's renting out rooms nearby?"
The words were spilling from Yoongi’s mouth before his brain could process the thought more. "Oh, I actually have an empty room above my shop. It used to be as storage but I can rent it out since we're not currently using it. It has a bed and everything so you don't need to worry about any of that. I can show it to you after breakfast, if you'd like."
"Really, you would? Yoongi you’re such a liar, you clearly have angel blood in you. First you come to me when I crash and then take me in and treat my wounds and now you’re giving me a place to stay. Tell me, are you my guardian angel?”
"It's no big deal, don't mention it.” Yoongi spluttered as he felt the blood rush to his ears again, he needed to change the subject. “So what's this place you're supposed to find?" He said taking a bite of the pancakes.
"Oh, hold up I'll show you." Taehyung reached into his orange pouch and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He unfolded it on the table, being careful not to get any syrup on it and leans into Yoongi's space. It was a map, the mountains and sea surrounding their village sketched in fading ink. Notes and remarks were scribbles on the margins. Red dashed lines made a path from the sea towards the village. A drawing an orange fox was placed in the area of Yoongi's house.
"It's supposed to lead me to the entrance to the Underworld but the map isn’t there yet."
Taehyung’s casual tone had Yoongi choking on his pancakes.
"You're telling me you found the entrance to the Spirit realm and that it's right in my village?"
"Well, it's somewhere close by. The instructions weren't very clear on the exact location and I can’t exactly crystal ball this you know. The map has a mind of it's own, it's enchanted to prevent that information falling in the wrong hands. It'll only show me more specific information when it thinks I've earned it. I got this far but I still haven't figured out how it decides I'm worthy yet."
"How did you even get a map to the Underworld? Did you have to sell your soul for this?"
"Don't be ridiculous you don't need a map if you already sold your soul; the demon you sold it to would probably drag you there themselves. I bought this map from the market, naturally."
"A witch market?"
"There's no such thing as a witch market, Yoongi.” Taehyung snorted. “I got this from a fishing town up North. You know you'd be surprised what you find when you actually go looking in those markets."
"May I ask why you want to find the entrance to the Underworld?"
"I'm looking for a big dog." A grin found its way on Taehyung's features. Yoongi then noticed how close they were then, physically. He ignored the way his heart jumped.
"A big dog?"
"You know, Cerberus, the three-headed giant dog that guards the gates to the Underworld. My mission is to find and befriend him."
Yoongi stared back at him, mouth agape. The thought that he let a storm into his home and life floated to the top of his mind. "Your mission is to find and befriend a giant three-headed dog from Hell."
"Don’t call it that, the spirit realm is complicated; not all of it is considered part of Hell. Technically speaking, Ceberus isn’t in Hell anyways, he’s just at the gates.”
"So do all witches seek to befriend giant dogs from Hell or is that just you?"
"Contrary to popular believe, they don't actually. Most witches tend avoid the Spirit realm as much as any regular person would. There are too many variables there and no guarantees. That’s a necromancer territory, not ours.”
"Then why are you here looking to tame a beast from Hell?"
Another boxy smile found its way on Taehyung's face then.
"Because, it's my destiny." He simply said.
Yoongi's eyes narrowed. "Destiny's a pretty big word to throw around before noon. Let’s finish breakfast so I can show you the room, I need to open my shop in a while."
Yoongi wasn't sure how he was feeling at that moment. Witches were a topic to avoid in his village. He remembers the last time a witch visited and would never be able to forget what happened after. Sitting across from Taehyung he felt those memories surface and bubble bitterly in his throat. He shoves another pancake piece in his mouth, not tasting the rosemary at all this time.
Yoongi's house was located right behind his shop, taking up three of the four corners, the fourth was occupied by the empty storage room. In the middle of that was an empty courtyard that Yoongi had taken upon himself to convert into a flower garden. Taehyung was incredibly enamored by it.
"Do you mind if I plant a few herbs of my own? I’m not sure how long I’ll stay and my supply's almost out. I'm going to need to be fully stocked at all times during this quest."
"Yeah sure, go ahead." Yoongi began climbing the stairs up to the storage room with Taehyung on his heels.
The room was fairly sized, with an empty bed pushed to the furthermost corner. A vanity with a mirror and chair was placed in the opposite direction, getting the most sunlight. A bare table with two chairs was placed in the middle. A huge window with a view of the garden and the sea beyond the streets took up most of the wall, a window seat pushed right under it.
"It's not much, but I won't charge you if you choose to stay here. I have extra bedsheets and other things I could lend you in your stay." Yoongi leaned against the door frame, watching the other explore the room.
"It's wonderful, the view is incredible and what do you mean you won't charge me? I have the money, let me pay." Taehyung furrowed his eyebrows at the other’s direction.
"No, it wouldn't be right. I took you in and now I’m exploiting you for money. "
"You're not exploiting me,” Taehuyng scoffed. “This is a business deal, of course I'm paying."
"No you're not, I won't take it."
“I’ll leave the money in your house.”
“And I’ll send it back with a flower bouquet.”
The two were locked in a glaring match, both refusing to back out first. Taehyung sighed and gave the other a softer look.
"If you're so against me paying then at least let me help you around the shop, it's the least I can do."
A grin overtook Yoongi’s features at that. “Fine, that I can work with. Do you want to come into town with me to buy things for the room later?"
"It's alright, I got everything I need right here." Taehyung patted his small orange shoulder strap pouch. He had to be kidding, Yoongi thought, there's no way he had everything in there. He was about to speak out when Taehyung beat him to it.
"You could help me unpack if you'd like, though."
Yoongi decided to humor him. "Yes, of course."
Taehyung set down his broom in one corner of the room and proceeded to take off his pouch. He unzipped it and reach inside it, pulling out a few vials and set those on the vanity. He reached in, putting his entire arm in this time, and pulled out a cauldron, carefully setting that by the table. He took out more things, a couple of heavy volumes, a crystal ball, a bunch of strings of dried flowers and herbs. At one point he pulled out a bookcase almost twice his height and packed with volumes, artifacts and several jars and vials and turned towards Yoongi.
“A little help with this one?”
Yoongi was still standing by the door, his mouth hanging open in wonder at what Taehyung's actions. He snapped back with Taehyung’s comment, walking in his direction.
“So where do you want this?”
“I think that corner would be best, since it doesn’t get much sunlight, I don’t wanna overexpose some of the potions in here.” Both boys pushed the bookcase towards the corner.
Yoongi was still staring at the small orange pouch by the time they were done organizing. He turned towards Taehyung. "How are you doing that?"
"Yoongi, I'm a witch.” Taehyung smiled as though amused with Yoongi’s reactions. “It's a charmed pouch, it can fit anything as long as you know it's not unsealed liquids or else that would be a disaster.” Taehyung put his hands on Yoongi’s shoulders, forcing him to look him in the eye. “I gotta ask you a really important question right now. I really should have asked you before I unpacked, this could change things."
"What is it?" Yoongi's brows furrowed in confusion, a sliver of anxiety running through him.
"How do you feel about dogs? You're not allergic, are you?"
"Why are you planning on bringing back your Hell beast here?"
"Hah, very funny. Answer my question though this is important."
"I love dogs and no, i'm not allergic."
A grin split Taehyung's face then, "that's really good to hear." He reached for his pouch again and brought it to his face. "Soonshim. Soonshimy, Come here girl."
To Yoongi's horror and Taehyung's delight, a great white dog emerged from Taehyung's tiny pouch. The dog seemed like an animal form of Taehyung. Yoongi watched as she ran around the room with excitement, discovering her new environment. Soonshim ran to Yoongi and barked at him until he leaned down and pet her - a form of greeting - only then did she take off in another excited leap to curl up on the window seat, her head resting on her paws.
Taehyung watched the metamorphosis of Yoongi's expression and couldn't help but laugh.
"Yoongi, I'm a witch."
The bakery was quaint, a fading yellow two story building squeezed in between a flower shop and a bookshop on a little street by the village square. Sugar's was painted in shades of pink, faded with time, some letters more hidden than others. To an outsider, the bakery's name appeared to be called Suga's. Yoongi had given up trying to correct everyone, he answered to Suga as well now. The front glass showed a rotating cast of all the cakes and confectionaries the bakery had to offer.
Yoongi unlocked the backdoor to the kitchen and walked in, Taehyung behind him. The kitchen was relatively large, with multiple ovens and tables placed neatly in rows. The aroma of sugar and baked goods clung to the walls. To Yoongi, it smelled like home.
Taehyung watched Yoongi open the fridge and pull out dough and other ingredients, getting ready for the day.
Taehyung cleared his throat and only then did Yoongi seem to remember his presence.
"Oh, come with me." Yoongi pushed a set of doors and walked on, Taehyung following. The front of the bakery had a cosy feel to it, like the feeling you get when you visit your childhood home again after growing up, nostalgic in a sense. A few tables with mismatched quilts and a single flower, placed in a jar right at the middle, and chairs were scattered around the shop. A single counter faced the worn out wooden doors, with a row of carnations lining it, courtesy of Seokjin, the florist next door.
"There's really not much to do but I guess you could help with cleaning." Yoongi hands Taehyung a broom and a cloth. He looked at his wristwatch, "customers won't start showing up until two hours from now, at least. I'll be at the kitchen at the back, call me if you need anything."
"You got it, boss!" Taehyung beamed at Yoongi and threw him a salute.
They worked in relative silence, with Yoongi baking cakes and pastries in the kitchen, preparing for the day and Taehyung humming under his breath as he swept the already clean floor of the bakery.
Yoongi was arranging the last of the eclairs in their display by the time the first customer arrives. The bell chimed with the beat of their footsteps as they entered the bakery.
"Yoongi! We've got a customer." Taehyung scrambled to put away the cleaning cloths to take his place by Yoongi's side behind the counter.
The customer was a tall man, almost Taehyung's height. A hat was covering the majority of his face, a box carefully balanced in his arms. He gently set it over one of the tables and turned to face them.
"That's not a customer, that's just Hoseok." Yoongi wasn't facing them, instead he had been busying himself with making coffee - pouring them into two cardboard cups, the scent of vanilla and hazelnut evident as he grabbed two lids to cover them up. He reached for a marker from his apron and hastily scribbled over a S and H on each cup, respectively, and made his way towards Hoseok.
"Morning Hoseok," Yoongi mumbled as he placed the coffee cups on the table beside him. "What do you have for me today?"
Hoseok had taken off his hat and was already rummaging through the box’s contents.
"Morning Yoongi, let's see. We got some queen anne’s lace for the tables, and a bunch of dahlias for the counter." He took out the freshly cut flowers as he spoke, carefully laying them on the table by the coffee. "Oh, hello there," he said, finally noticing Taehyung beaming at him.
"Hoseok this is Taehyung. He's staying in my extra room so I'm letting him help out around the bakery for rent. Taehyung, this is Hoseok, his family owns the bookshop next door."
"You're staying in the haunted room? Good luck man, you'll need it." Hoseok said, shaking Taehyung's hand.
"It's haunted? Yoongi you didn't say anything about it being haunted, what kind of spirit lives there?"
"That's because it's not. Hoseok just thinks so because of that time he slept over and heard someone laughing," Yoongi deadpanned.
"I'm telling you that was no human laughter, it sounded like a demonic presence."
"It's not haunted, -" Yoongi started but was interrupted by Taehyung.
"Even if it was haunted, I'm a witch so I'm not too worried about any spirits. I'm friends with a necromancer and he told me my spirit has a calming effect on other spirits, so it’ll be alright."
"Wait, what? You're a witch?" Hoseok gaped at him.
"Technically, I'm not a full witch yet, more of a witch-in-training. I don't have my license yet." Taehyung was scratching the back of his neck.
"You wouldn't have to worry about that because that room isn't haunted." Yoongi turned the flowers, ignoring the pointed look Hoseok was throwing at him. "Taehyung come help me change these flowers before actual customers start arriving."
Hoseok took that as his cue to leave, saving that conversation for another time.
Hoseok corners Yoongi the moment he opens the back door, the trash bag falling to the ground, spilling eggshells and banana peels all over the alleyway. The noon sun was peeking in through the clouds, watching their encounter.
"Sweet custard, Hoseok warn a guy before you tackle him to the ground. Look at this mess." Yoongi shook him off and turned in the direction of the trash but Hoseok grabbed his arm, pulling him back.
"Yoongi, what are you doing?" His eyes drifted towards the closed bakery back door.
"I'm cleaning the mess you've made."
"That's not what I mean and you know it. A witch Yoongi? You really let a witch into your home?"
Yoongi's eyes grew sharp, suddenly defensive. "He's not a witch yet."
"Oh, i'm sorry a witch-in-training then. Cut the shit Yoongi, he's still a witch."
"He was injured when I found him Hoseok, was I just supposed to leave him there. He won't be here for long anyways, he just needs to finish his quest." Yoongi broke away and reached for the the trash bag, he needed to clean this mess before it started to smell.
"And what's his quest? To eat a tiny and pretty baker's heart?" Hoseok's crossed his arms, pinning Yoongi with a look.
"Hoseok don't tell me you believe in those stories, they just told us them to scare us off from wandering too far from the village."
"What's his quest Yoongi."
With a sigh, Yoongi answered. "He said he wants to find and tame Cerberus."
"Cerberus. As in the three-headed dog that guards the gates to the Underworld, where demons and spirits live, yeah? That Cerberus?"
"That's the one."
Hoseok let out an exasperated sigh as he looked up at the sky, as if waiting for patience to rain down on him.
“Yoongi, -” Hoseok started.
"He's not like that Hoseok, you've met him." Yoongi's voice is smaller than before.
"Just. Make sure you know what you're doing. You know better than anyone how witches can be. We're both adults and I know I can't make decisions for you but please be careful."
"You know I will."
Hoseok wordlessly picked up a banana peel off the ground.
The village of Karaz is a lively one. Located at the edge of the continent, it was destined to become both a fishing and agricultural village with boats lining its docks and colorful fields chasing up the mountains. A lighthouse painted in fading reds lured in sailors and travelers alike to its shores while the mountains hugged the area, protecting it from harsh winds. The sun would peek in through the clouds on occasion; checking in on the villagers yet never directly interacting.
To an outsider, the village seemed like two sisters; both alike and opposite in every way. The streets closer to the shoreline were wide, the stones smoother - a result of the constant waves of pounding feet and the sea. The markets colorful strings of stalls and shops lining the buildings and inns by the docks. Seagulls circled fishermen's stalls, looking for luck. The scent of salt and stone was embedded through the foundations of this part of the city.
On the other side, the further you went away from the shore the narrower the streets became, the stones became slightly rougher - less worn out. The buildings pushed against each other, higher and more colorful, as if they had once reached up to the sky and stolen the rainbows off the clouds. Clothing lines and banners connected them, while bright flowers lined most their windows. The markets advertised themselves by shiny wooden plaques hanging from the side of the bright buildings. The scent of flowers and baked goods prevaded through this part of the village.
The village square held the heart of the village, constantly bustling with events and people. The clock tower a magnet, attracting those of salt and stone and those of flowers and sugar alike to its reach. At any time of the day, entertainers from travellers and Karazians alike would put on shows and tell their stories. Vendors pushed carts of refreshments and snacks to accommodate the crowds always forming.
The first time Yoongi took Taehyung around the village was eventful. The bakery was closed for the day. They had taken Soonshim with them, letting her lead the way while they dragged behind.
Taehyung had been fascinated by everything, stopping Yoongi every now and then to ask about a shop or a building, dragging him through all the alleys and every nook and cranny. They tried all the food stands, Yoongi introducing them to Taehyung. They always left out the part that Taehyung is a witch. Taehyung didn’t volunteer that bit of information himself.
It was almost time for the sun to set, the only time the village ever got to see it in all its glory without the cover of the clouds. Yoongi and Taehyung were sitting barefoot, their shoes placed haphazardly behind them, by the edge of the docks, feet dangling occasionally grazing the water's surface. Soonshim was somewhere on the shore beside them, chasing after seagulls.
Taehyung was munching on some fish cakes Yoongi bought for him from one of the stands.
"These are the best fish cakes I've ever had, and I've had so many." Taehyung let out between bites.
"Glad you liked them. Karaz is known for our fish cakes, that among other things." Yoongi looked back at the setting sun.
"You know Karaz is really beautiful." Taehyung swallowed the last of the fish cakes before continuing. "It's incredible how different it is depending on where you are, it's almost like two different villages smushed together. I've never seen anything like that in my travels."
"You travel a lot?" Yoongi turned to look at him.
"I had to, with all the quests I had to finish. I like it though, it's refreshing.”
“How many quests have you done so far?”
“It’s tradition for a witch to complete thirteen quests to earn their license. We get our quests in different ways, you could get a good old prophecy, or through a vision through a crystal ball. A friend of mine, Minho, always got his through his dreams. Mine never came in a set way, each one’s different. This quest’s my thirteenth, it came to me through a dream, which is a first.”
“Whoa, that’s really cool.” Yoongi laid down, feet still floating just slightly above the water, and stared up at the sky, following the movement of the clouds.
“Yoongi, can I ask you something about Karaz?”
“Isn’t that what you’ve been doing all day?” Yoongi scoffed but a smile was on his face.
“Yeah, but this is a different question.”
“Sure, ask away.”
“Why do they hate witches? I’m not stupid. I saw how Hoseok reacted and how you never mentioned it to any of the people we’ve met today. So tell me, did something happen?”
Yoongi sat up. Whatever he expected Taehyung to ask, it wasn’t this. He held to his silence a little longer, the words pushing at each other in his mind as he wondered how to phrase the tale.
“Something happened years ago, when I was still a kid, barely seven. A witch came into the village. It was the first time Karaz got that kind of traveler and everyone was enchanted with him. He had all these spells and potions that no one has seen before. He knew exactly how solve all problems and aches. The whole village was under his spell." Yoongi paused, taking a deep breath before continuing.
"There was a girl who was the enchanted the hardest, they all said. She was enamored with him, and after a while it was clear he was with her as well. She was a pretty thing with an even prettier heart and he was the thing of dreams and fantasies. Everyone was convinced they were destined for each other.”
“The girl was sick though, something chronic and untreatable, even with all the witch's spells and potions. However, when she was with him her sickness seemed to fade, her heart healing her body. Everyone was convinced it was true love that actually healed her." Yoongi kicked at the sea, the water flying up in an arc towards the setting sun.
"But this wasn't a fairy tale nor was it the stuff of dreams. Her sickness came back to her, gradually at first, a few coughs surfacing here and there, a few spikes of fever over the nights, nothing too alarming so they paid it no mind. They should have though; the sickness was gradually creeping up and once they finally noticed it had been too late. Not even the witch's entire books of spells and complete collection of potions could save her then; the girl was gone." Yoongi paused, uncurling his fingers off the edge of the wooden dock.
"He never came back after that. They said he ate her heart and the pain of that caused her sickness to come back and once he was done he had left. She was gone and so was he. That’s why they don’t like witches around here; they’ll eat your heart and when they're done, they'll run away, leaving hurt and loss after them.” Yoongi looked up ahead, catching the last moments of the sunset, watching the sun melt into the sea.
Taehyung was quiet and for a while. They just sat there watching as the stars blinked into the sky, making way for the moon.
“That’s so sad.” Taehuyng’s voice held a quietness in it, as if scared he could break something with his words.
“It is, but it’s also the story from the villager’s perspective.”
“What do you mean?
“I’m saying,” Yoongi shrugged. “This is how the people of Karaz remember it but not necessarily the way it actually happened.”
Taehyung was quiet, processing this bit of information.
He got up then, dusting himself off. “Let’s get back home, we’ve got an early day at the bakery.” He extended his hand towards Taehyung, pulling him up and together they walked back towards Karaz.
Taehyung was carrying a tray of croissants out of the kitchen when the bakery bell chimed, their first customer of the day. Hoseok technically was more of a family friend than a customer but Taehyung still referred to him as one.
Yoongi was behind the counter pouring the coffee into the cardboard cups and scribbling initials like Taehyung has seen him do every morning. He doesn't bother turning and greeting the other just yet.
"Good morning, Hoseok." Taehyung turned towards the door, expecting to see their dimpled friend carrying the same heavy box of flowers just as he had seen him do every morning. Instead he was greeted with another man carrying the same box Hoseok usually did.
He was tall, taller than Hoseok and where Hoseok was lean this man was bulky. Unlike Hoseok he didn’t wear a hat, his hair a soft brown and cut short, just above his eye brows. With his large doe eyes and plump lips Taehyung was convinced this man had to be part fairy, he made a mental note to ask Yoongi later on.
"Seokjin. Morning." Yoongi's eyebrows shot up in confusion but he didn’t voice his thoughts. He moved from behind the counter, placing the coffee on a clear table as he usually did with Hoseok.
"Morning Yoongi." His voice was smooth and soft, like flower petals, perfectly matching his appearance. He turned towards Taehyung then. "Good morning Taehyung. I'm Kim Seokjin, I own the flower shop next door." He moved to shake Taehyung's hand, squeezing lightly.
Taehyung perked up. "Oh! We passed by the other day. Your flowers are really beautiful, and a lot more alive than the ones in Yoongi's yard."
Seokjin laughed and Taehyung was vaguely reminded of dolphins.
"We actually planted that together one summer when we were kids."
"Hey I take good care of those, don’t mock my gardening skills." Yoongi defended himself.
"No offense Yoongi but your daisies are beige."
Yoongi grumbled under his breath.
"What was that?" Seokjin's eyebrows quirked up in a challenge.
"Nothing, Taehyung hand me those flowers, actual customers might start arriving soon."
Taehyung reached into the box and pulled out the flowers, handing them to Yoongi. Seokjin sat on one of the tables, sipping on the coffee Yoongi placed there.
The oven timer alarm sounded from the kitchen, signaling that the rest of the croissants were ready. Yoongi looked up at Taehyung, a silent understanding passing through them.
"Go, I'll finish setting these." Taehyung took the flowers from Yoongi's hands. "I don't have your magical touch when it comes to baked goods."
Smiling back, Yoongi threw a quick thank you in the other’s direction, making his way back to the kitchen, leaving Taehyung alone with Seokjin.
"So, Taehyung. Hoseok tells me you're a witch." His tone was calm but his eyes were sharp - calculating. "Is that true?"
Taehyung paused, rotating the flower stems between his fingers. He thought about concealing the truth, thinking back to Yoongi’s tale by the docks. Karaz held a cloud of stigma around witches and Taehyung wasn’t sure how they would react to the fact that he was one. Nevertheless, he thought, it is what I am, and decided against it.
"Not exactly, I’m more of a witch-in-training really. I still don't have my witch license so I can't be considered one yet." He gets back to arranging the flowers on the tables.
"Oh." Seokjin's tone held wonder, if he was faking it Taehyung couldn't tell. "What difference does the license make?"
Taehyung paused, thinking how to best word it. "It's like, a bigger field to be in. Right now I'm only a witch trainee, so the kind of magic I'm allowed to attempt is limited, think swimming in a pond. A witch however, does not have that limitation, it's like swimming in the ocean instead. No realm nor area is not allowed for a witch, except that of the living and dying, that's a necromancer's jurisdiction."
Seokjin put down his coffee. "That's really cool. How come you don't have your license yet then?"
"I still need to finish my final quest, that's why I'm in Karaz."
"Oho, a quest? What kind of quest?"
"It's not a big deal. I just need to find and befriend a magical creature."
"That's really cool."
Right then, Yoongi came out of the kitchen, two trays of assorted baked goods balanced in his hands. Taehyung wanted reach out and dust the flour off his dark hair.
"Taehyung, could you carry the rest of them out. It's almost opening time." He glanced at Seokjin's direction. "You're still here? Don't you have your own store to run."
Seokjin scoffed at him. "I was just keeping Taehyung company while he arranged the flowers."
“Well, Taehyung is a busy man as you can see, so stop bothering him and go back to your flowers.”
"Yeah, yeah, I’m leaving.” Seokjin got up, grabbing both his and Hoseok’s coffee with him. “It was nice meeting you Taehyung, if you're ever bored working for this guy my shop's right next door."
"If you still have a store, that is. I swear you’re never in it."
“I swear, one day I’ll lock the bakery and hide the key on a high shelf.”
"And I’ll throw the key to your shop in the ocean. Say hi to Hoseok for me." Yoongi smiled at Seokjin's retreating figure.
"Will do, you garden gnome! " Seokjin put up the hand holding the coffee as he left, a smile on his face.
Yoongi was dumping the trash when Seokjin's voice came up behind him, making him jump.
"Min Yoongi, what are you doing?" He said in a slow deliberate tone.
"Fucking hell Seokjin, warn a guy, will ya. You're not gonna tackle me like Hoseok are you?"
"He won't." Hoseok was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed.
"What is this?" Yoongi looks at them with narrowed eyes.
"Is exactly what we're asking you. A witch and a Hell beast, Yoongi really you've outdone yourself." Seokjin sighed in exasperation.
"Listen, I know it sounds bad, but he's really not that bad."
"Yoongi that's what everyone said the last time and you know better than anyone else how that turned out."
Yoongi's expression turned to stone at that. "Yes, I would so I don't need you nagging me about it."
"That's not what I meant, Yoongi. I'm just worried, we all are Yoongi."
"You guys met him, he isn't like that.” He paused. “He’s not trying to force his magic into our lives. He’s just trying to finish his quest and leave."
"It was the same with You-Know-Who at first, I was old enough to remember back then. It's only a matter of time before he does, you know, their spells work over time."
"Stop it, just stop. We're not reliving the past, it's different this time."
"Okay how about this," Hoseok pushed himself off the wall and walked towards them. "We take shifts so that his spells doesn't affect one person the most."
"This is ridiculous," Yoongi scoffed, crossing his arms. "What am I supposed to say? My friends don't trust you so they're taking turns babysitting you?"
"We'll just say we need extra hands in our shops, nothing weird about it."
Yoongi was just about to reply when the bakery back door opened and Taehyung peeked out.
"Yoongi, we're out of almond croissants - oh hey Hoseok and Seokjin. What's up?"
"Taehyung! Perfect timing, we were just telling Yoongi about how he's lucky to have you. We really could use the extra hands at our shops especially these days with all these travelers coming in." Seokjin put his arm around Yoongi and shook his tiny being. “Say, you wouldn’t mind working a few hours in our shops do you? We’ll pay you, of course.”
“You don’t have to, Taehyung.”
“No, it’s alright. I want to help, if I could.”
“This is exploitation, you know.” Yoongi glared at the other two. “You’re exploiting my employee.”
“Technically, it’s not exploitation if he agrees though, is it?”
“I mean, you’re getting paid for those hours so it’s not really exploitation.”
Despite all Yoongi’s grumbling, Taehyung agreed to their proposition. They gathered after the day had ended to discuss a schedule for his work hours.
Yoongi begrudgingly watched Taehyung head towards Hoseok's bookshop as he made his way to the bakery. Today was Taehyung’s first day working for Hoseok.
The building was painted a fading light blue with daffodils growing around its edges. A wooden plaque hung on the side with One Verse calligraphed on it in bronze ink. A large window reflected the early rays of light, shielding the inside from the people on the street.
Once Taehyung was through the door a gasp found its way out of him; the bookshop was much bigger on the inside than the outside would suggest. The rows of bookshelves extended to the back into the shadows and reached towards the high ceilings. A single desk was pushed by the wall with a chair behind it, a heavy volume laid open on top - a log book. In front of that, by the window was a sitting area, worn out and mismatched cushions and couches arranged in a semi-square. A quilt was draped on one the chairs. Soonshim would love this place, Taehyung thought.
Hoseok's laughter reached Taehyung's ears but he couldn't see the other boy anywhere.
"Up here." Hoseok's voice came from the other direction. Taehyung turned to find the boy on a ladder and holding several books, sorting them into their rightful places. "I didn't think you'd come so early, give me a minute and I'll be with you. Feel free to make yourself comfortable."
Hoseok came out from between the bookshelves after a while. He wore a deep green sweater and dark shorts, round glasses pushed high on his nose. “Morning, Taehyung.”
"Morning, Hoseok. It's amazing in here," Taehyung looked up at the shelves in awe. "How far back does it go?" He craned his neck looking at the back.
“Not as far back as it looks. We keep adding bookshelves every now and then, travellers and sailors bring back books sometimes and more often than not, they end up here.”
“That’s really cool. It reminds me of that one time I visited the Abandoned Library, of course your bookshop looks a lot more cosy than there.”
“Wait, you visited the Abandoned Library?” Hoseok turned, grabbing Taehyung by the shoulders. “How and when, I require all the details.”
And so Taehyung told him. He told him how a quest had taken him there and how he had visited the Library searching for a pirate’s treasure map, hidden in an encrypted volume on poisonous plants. He told him about the dragon he had to escape when they eventually found the treasure and showed him the burn mark it left on his shoulder.
It was a slow day at One Verse, they spent it dusting the books on the very end of the shelves where the light could not reach and retelling stories whether from the books or their own experiences. Pausing only when a customer passed by looking for a particular book or just wanting to browse. Hoseok got to learn about many other quests and Taehyung got to hear about Hoseok’s childhood with Yoongi and the others.
Hoseok told him about the odd travellers they had encountered and that one time they tried to stow away on a ship. He told him about the time they slept over in the room Taehyung’s currently renting and Hoseok swore there was a vengeful spirit passing by that night Taehyung laughed so hard that day his side ached, it was a familiar feeling but one he had come to miss while working on his quests. Being in Karaz reminded him of the days before he began his quests, when he was rooted to his own village. He pushed the rising nostalgia back down; it wasn’t the time for that.
Yoongi was wiping the counter, the last duty of the day, when the bell chimed and the door opens. He turned to tell whoever came in that they’re closed but it was just Hoseok and Taehyung. Yoongi’s eyebrow quirked up when he noticed Hoseok had his arm around the other’s shoulder, huge smiles spread on both their faces.
“Yoongi I’m here to tell you I’m stealing Taehyungie away from you.” Hoseok informed him. “He’ll waste away in this bakery, wiping tables and serving people cake. Do you know he speaks seven languages? And that he’s actually been to the Towers of Solitude.” He grabs Taehyung’s shirt and shakes him. “The Towers of Solitude, Yoongi! The one we read about in history class. There’s so much he knows that isn’t in any book in my shop and there are a lot of books in there.”
“Ah, Hoseok you’re exaggerating.”
“Excuse me, I need your infinite knowledge. I’ve read most of those books in there and you have what they can not give me.” He turned and grabbed his face between his hands. “Marry me, Taehyung.”
Yoongi snorted as Taehyung spluttered, his face blooming red at Hoseok’s words.
“Hoseok, stop scaring the kid.” He threw the cloth back in its place and pulled a bag from under the counter and made his way to them. He reached up, putting his arm around Taehyung’s shoulder, pulling him to his side and away from Hoseok’s grip.
“Go get Seokjin will ya, I saved us some treats.”
The story of how Yoongi was housing a witch slowly spread around Karaz. It began with a sudden increase in customers with too many wary glances and deliberately slow slurps of coffee. Then the questions came, at first cautious and cryptic, then evolving into suspicion and accusations. After that people began avoiding Sugar’s altogether, only going for their necessary baked goods and none for the sweeter delicacies. It didn’t last though, the people of Karaz were a lot of things but prejudiced was not one of them. They came in to Sugar’s as they did every morning except now they carried walls around their hearts and caution in their steps.
Yoongi noticed those periods, of course, and so had Taehyung but none of them ever brought it up to talk about so they left it at that.
It was early in the morning. The sun rays filtered through the cherry tree outside, pouring into the bakery and enveloping everything in a gentle glow. The birds were barely awake, their chirping still a discordant harmony. The aroma of baked goods and coffee wafted down the street, waking up its inhabitants.
Yoongi was in the kitchen, they had a few cake orders for the day, so Taehyung took care of the front counter.
The door to the bakery chimed and a smile colored Taehyung’s features. “Good morning, Bogum! The usual again today?”
The other man smiled and nodded shyly at Taehyung. He was Taehyung’s age and a usual customer.
“An almond croissant and a latte, coming right up!” He turned to prepare his order. “So, what’s special about today?”
“What?” Bogum looked confused. “How did you know I have something today?”
“I used my witch mental powers, of course.” Bogum paused, gulping. “Relax, I don’t have those powers. I just noticed something’s up since you’re dressed differently. You’re usually so casual but today you’re more...put together? Don’t get me wrong you look incredible in whatever though.”
Bogum laughed, a light blush dusting his features. “I actually have a thing today. There’s this traveling theater in town for a show, I’m sure you’ve seen their ships dock yesterday. Anyways, they’re holding auditions today and I thought I’d try my luck, you know.”
“Whoa, that’s really cool. They’ll definitely take you.” Taehyung placed the croissant in a paper bag, putting that on the counter. He picked up the coins the other left on the counter as payment and put them into the cash register.
“I don’t know, I’m sure there are a lot of other more talented people auditioning as well.” Bogum scratched the back of his neck, looking down as he spoke, the blush now spreading to his ears.
“So, they’re not you. I’ve watched your performance the other day in the village square, it was beyond captivating. You’ll blow them away with your talent. I just know it.”
Bogum was flustered “Thank you, that’s really kind of you to say. I just hope my voice is loud enough to reach the entire stage this time. I’ve struggled with that before.”
Taehyung surveyed him for a bit then smiled, he went back to preparing Bogum’s coffee. “Trust me you’ll have no problem with that today.” He said as he handed the other boy the cup. “Try it, we’re trying out new flavored syrups.”
The other boy took a tentative sip from the cup. “This is really good, what syrup did you use?” He took another sip. “Also, what makes you so sure today would be different?”
Taehyung smiles as the other boy took another sip. “Because I spiked your coffee with a luck potion.”
Bogum choked on the coffee. “What? Taehyung, why’d you do that? I can’t audition now or it’ll be cheating.”
“It’s not, really. The potion’s really diluted so it won’t work unless you do something drastic like jump off a cliff or something, it’ll make sure you survive that. Think of it as having a spirit drink before doing something risky.”
The other boy still looked skeptical about the whole thing. “I don’t know, Taehyung.”
“It’ll wear off in an hour, don’t worry. Just go and ace that audition, I believe in you.”
Bogum bit his lips, “I guess it’ll wear off by the time my turn comes around.” Yoongi walked in then carrying two trays of strawberry tarts in his arms. “I gotta go now if I wanna finish this before we start.” He said gesturing towards his breakfast. “I’ll come by after maybe."
“Tell me how the audition goes!” Taehyung throws an exaggerated wink in Bogum’s direction and watches as he flushes, raising his cup in a mock good bye.
“What was that all about?” Yoongi began arranging the tarts in their display.
“Oh, he has an acting audition today so I told him I spiked his coffee with a luck potion.” Taehyung began helping the other with the tarts.
“What? Taehyung, you can’t just start adding potions to people’s drinks.”
“Yoongi, I didn’t actually add any.”
“W- wait, what?”
“I just told him I did to give him that extra mental boost. I know I’m a witch but that doesn’t mean I keep vials of potions randomly stuffed under my sleeves.” He grabbed the now empty tray and turned to the kitchen, pausing by the door. “You know I’ve found in my travels, the mind and heart are more powerful than any witch’s magic. If you believe in it then it is so, many witches even draw their magic from that fact.”
Yoongi started at the other silently for a bit until a chuckle escaped past his lips, Kim Taehyung was truly something else.
Bogum ended up getting the part he auditioned for and soon after that incident the people of Karaz began coming into Sugar’s with other orders. They asked for shots of charisma, for a dash of luck, for a sprinkle of confidence. Taehyung never really added anything to their drinks and orders but every customer left with a smile on their face and a jump in their steps.
Eventually Yoongi let Taehyung experiment with his own recipes, infusing his magic into the pastries and drinks. He created drinks that bloomed with edible flowers, cakes that tasted differently depending on what time you ate them, and so much more. The people of Karaz found themselves ordering these items more than their usual orders. Yoongi had no problem working on these instead, even if he couldn’t make them without Taehyung’s help.
It was a cloudy day on a weekend when Taehyung had to help Seokjin around his flower shop. It would not be open until a few hours later but of course that did not mean there wasn’t any work to be done. He had gone to Sugar’s first, helping Yoongi with a few things and making Hoseok and Seokjin’s coffee, then he made his way to the flower shop. He had tried cajoling Soonshim to join him but she was more interested in napping in Hoseok’s shop.
In Bloom was located in the building beside Sugar’s, the once bright orange paint dulled by time into a faint beige. Though the building housed a florist it was not decorated with flowers on the outside, instead a mural of the flower fields and the sea beyond it was painted. It was the handiwork of a traveling artist that had passed Karaz decades ago, back when Seokjin’s grandfather still ran the place. To this day the artist remained anonymous, the only clue to his identity the initials hastily scribbled on the edge of the wall, now chipped off with age and wear. The glass window revealed little of the place inside, with the shop name calligraphed above their mark, a hand holding a single flower. Underneath that, a phrase Seokjin’s family had lived by for generations, Flowers can not solve all problems, but they are a start.
Taehyung pushed open the door with his elbow, his arms occupied with the coffee and pastries Yoongi had sent with him. What hit him first was the smell, it was not overwhelming and yet it enveloped him as soon as he stepped foot inside. The fragrance of the flowers merged into the air, a symphony of scents that awakened the senses.
The interior was dark, much to Taehyung’s surprise, holding a hint of maturity. The mahogany wood covered most of the place as cabinets and shelves. A single rectangular table was positioned in the middle of the place, brown wrapping paper and rolls of colorful ribbons hung from its side in a row. The flowers were a stark contrast with their surroundings, their hues popping against the dark backgrounds. The tops of their glass vases had been painted black, to match the decor probably.
Taehyung could see Seokjin’s head peeking from the back room. He set the coffee and pastries on the table in the middle and made his way over to him.
The back room was smaller than the kitchen back at Sugar’s. It held a single table, smaller than the one in the shop, and an assortment of scissors and shears hung from the wall behind it. Flowers in bunches were placed in the corner, fresh out of the fields. Seokjin stood there in a beige shirt and dark pants, gloves on his hands as he pulled apart the rope binding a group of roses together. His single silver earring catching the light.
“Good morning, Seokjin.” Taehyung greeted the other.
Seokjin turned in surprise. “Oh, good morning, Taehyung.” He chuckled. “Hoseok was right; you would arrive earlier than I expected.”
“I left our coffee in the store, Yoongi even sent some croissants today.”
“Oh, that was sweet of him. Well, we shouldn’t let them get cold now, should we.” Seokjin shed his gloves, turning to wash his hands in a sink in the corner that Taehyung hadn’t noticed earlier and they both made their way out to the front.
Seokjin sat on the table in the shop and gestured for Taehyung to do the same as he began indulging his breakfast.
“Are you sure it can handle both our weights?” Taehyung looked skeptic.
Seokjin let out a laugh then, almost choking on his coffee. “This baby’s made from the same type of wood they use on ships.” He knocked on the table’s surface. “It could easily handle the weight of half the village. Get up here.”
Taehyung sat up, knees slightly touching Seokjin’s as he had his croissant and coffee. His drink was a new one he was experimenting with, a drink that was supposed change flavor according to the drinker’s mood. Taehyung could currently taste vanilla and cinnamon and the faintest hints of oranges.
The door chimed and Hoseok walked in. He wore a yellow sweater and dark pants today, his glasses missing.
“Morning, Taehuyungie.” He smiled at them, taking his coffee from Seokjin’s outstretched hand and placing a kiss on his cheek. “Morning, blossoms.”
Taehyung paused mid bite, eyebrows raised, his croissant hanging in front of him as he observed the scene. Hoseok’s laughter rang in the shop.
“You didn’t know? It’s not like Seokjinnie and I try to hide it.”
“No, it’s more like it was in front of me but I didn’t put it all together and realize. Sorry, I don’t mean to sound rude.”
“Nonsense!” Hoseok replied, throwing a few hand gestures for emphasis. “You know, I’m actually surprised Yoongi hadn’t mentioned it.” He jumped on the table as well and the other two arranged themselves in a way where they’re all facing each other.
“Why would he?” Taehyung’s eyebrows furrowed.
“He’s the reason we ended up together, really.” Seokjin said through a mouthful of croissant.
“Wait, our Yoongi? The same one who runs a bakery, about this height?” Taehyung threw around some gestures, his eyebrows showing no sign of relaxing yet.
“That very same one.” Hoseok held up his cup in a mock toast.
Taehyung put down his coffee, crossing his arms. “I want the full story, and don’t spare any of the details. I want to know everything.”
So they told him, Seokjin and Hoseok taking turns to fill in a detail the other had missed. It happened around the time they just began coming of age. Yoongi’s grandfather had fallen ill and eventually had to pass down the responsibilities of Sugar’s down to Yoongi, who was barely of age himself at that time. Hoseok and Seokjin’s families, long-term friends with the Mins, volunteered them to help Yoongi around with the bakery now that it all rested on his shoulders.
It wasn’t easy at first. Although Yoongi attempted to hide it, the weight of Sugar’s wasn’t a gentle one. Nevertheless, he always put one foot in front of the other and marched on.
Working with Seokjin and Hoseok proved to be something else entirely. Though they had known each other practically their entire lives, they had not come to know each other as work colleges. Their movements were uncoordinated, their tempers crashing and their synchronization was rusty. It took a while for them to grow accustomed into seeing the others in that light. They still bickered of course, they just learnt to work together in harmony despite their different temperaments.
Yoongi was the first to notice, naturally. He said their feelings were as obvious as the mountain hugging their village and yet they were both too stubborn and headstrong to notice, let alone to do something about it. He mostly stayed out of it, biting back his comments and remarks on the matter, not wanting to address it if they won’t.
If not for that one event, Yoongi would have let them both figure it out on their own. It was a busy week at the bakery, a group of travellers with an extreme case of the sweet teeth. Hoseok and Seokjin had been at each other’s neck the entire week, even more than usual. Yoongi grit his teeth and carried on with his tasks, imploring with whatever spirits looked upon them for a little more patience.
The last straw however, was what happened when they were closing up the last night of that week. Seokjin and Hoseok’s argument had escalated, their voices too loud for the late time of night. Yoongi had gotten between them, trying to settle them down. He wasn’t sure who or what happened next but the next thing he knew himself lying on the edge of the counter with glass all over the floor. His arm was bleeding, the blood staining his shirt and the floor of the bakery. He was barely aware of that though, the anger pumping through his body stopping all logical reasoning.
Hoseok and Seokjin had stopped arguing when they had seen what they had done, but that didn’t stop Yoongi from grabbing them by the collars and dragging them to the chairs. He had yelled at them then and told them how they needed to sort out whatever tension they had grown in the spaces between them. He said so much to them that night and only stopped once he began feeling faint, the blood loss catching up with him.
After taking care of Yoongi’s wounds and cleaning up the bakery, Hoseok and Seokjin had taken a walk, ending up somewhere by the docks. The talked about a lot of things that night, the sea breeze keeping them cool. They didn’t tell Yoongi what had gone down and they did not need to. He could see it in the way they now spoke in softer whispers, in the gentle touches slipped here and there when they thought no one was looking, in the way a dash of rose colored their cheeks whenever the other was near.
They eventually stopped helping around in the bakery, Yoongi shooing them away, back to their own family businesses. He managed Sugar’s alone then, figuring out a right balance for the responsibilities it dragged along. Hoseok took to the books in One Verse and Seokjin began working in In Bloom, each on one side of Yoongi.
The croissants were nothing but crumbs against the table now, their coffee cups drained. Taehyung noticed the similar fond looks plastered on Hoseok and Seokjin’s faces, a budding smile was set on his as well.
“And that’s the story of how the tiny baker next door brought us together.” Hoseok’s smile grew as he directed it towards Taehyung.
“He didn’t just bring us together, he showed us,”Seokjin was smiling too hard, a gasp of laughter slipping through, “all we kneeded was love.” His laughter came out in full then, ringing through the empty shop. Taehyung had to admit it was contagious as he found himself laughing.
Hoseok scrunched his nose. “Baby I love you but, please stop.” Despite his words Hoseok’s smile didn’t falter.
“It’s almost opening time.” Seokjin got off the table, dusting himself from any runaway crumb. He bunched up the pastry bag and cup, tossing them both into the bin under the table. “Let’s get to work, Taehyung.” He turned to Hoseok, planting a soft kiss on him. “I’ll see you after.”
“Yeah, I better get going too.” Hoseok threw his crumpled breakfast into the bin and turned, making his way to the door. “Good luck being a florist today, Taehyungie.”
A pair of gloves were thrown at Taehyung when he joined Seokjin in the back room again.
“So first thing we’re doing is cleaning the flowers. It’s a different process with each different type but you’re lucky, we have roses today.” Seokjin cut the ropes binding the flowers and they spill all over the table. He handed Taehyung a pair of scissors. “So for a rose it’s fairly simple, pluck the leaves and cut the thorns. Just be careful about the thorns, those gloves are thick but they can still pierce them sometimes.”
They worked in relative silence, with the occasional humming and small talk here and there. They developed a system for efficiency, Seokjin plucking off the leaves and Taehyung cutting away the thorns. They placed the finished ones in clear cases parked behind them, separated the roses by color.
Seokjin spoke about the flowers, telling Taehyung each had a story to tell. The phrase painted on the glass outside was something his grandmother had always said. She had always said, it didn’t matter if you were celebrating or mourning, flowers were an important part of it. He told Taehyung about the different types of flowers they have and all the different villages they get them from. Seokjin talked about how Yoongi designed the current interior of In Bloom, they had remodeled just before Seokjin took up its responsibilities.
“Seokjin, can I ask you something?” Taehyung looked up at the other, placing another thornless rose into the case.
“Go ahead.” He handed him another leafless rose.
“You said Yoongi had to take up the bakery responsibility alone when his grandfather fell ill, what happened to his grandfather after?”
“He didn’t make it. The sickness was too strong and his body wasn’t what it used to be. He put up one hell of a fight, but...well you know. It happened around the same time Hoseok and I got together, I feel like that could have been one of the reasons Yoongi lashed out that night.” Their conversation flowed between the sea of roses.
“That’s awful. Yoongi must have been hurting a lot, had it always been just the two of them?”
Seokjin stopped his motions, lowering the rose down. “Not always. Yoongi lost his mother when we were young, he was around seven at that time I think. It took us a good couple years to get him back after that. He would disappear for hours at the beginning, worrying his grandfather to the moon and back, but he was a good kid; he always came back. He began working at the bakery with his grandfather soon after, sticking close to his side and learning the craft. I think he was worried about losing him as well.”
“Oh.” Taehyung’s pout intensified. “I feel so bad for not knowing.”
Seokjin smiled but there was no mirth in it. “How could you?” He lifted the flower and began working again. “He’s not the type to wear his heart on his sleeves. I’ve known him practically his entire life and still can’t figure him out that way. His heart holds enormous amounts of love in it but it’s a closely guarded thing.”
Seokjin dropped his scissors and rose to the table, turning to Taehyung and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Taehyung, I need to know, what are your intentions?”
“With Yoongi. I know you’re here for your quest but I’ve seen the way he looks at you. You’re pulling down his walls and he’s letting you in. It’s the first time I’ve seen him do that. I need to know you won’t love him and then pick up and leave once the quest’s over. Taehyung, he’s a brother to me. I need to know you won’t hurt him.” Seokjin’s eyes held a sincerity within them, genuine love for his best friend and brother. A pang of misplaced envy sprung in his heart, Yoongi was lucky to have Seokjin and the others.
“What are you talking about? He doesn’t see me that way, we’re just friends.”
Seokjin let go of his shoulders and smiled a different type of smile, a knowing one. “He offered you a room and wouldn’t take your rent money. He has you helping him in the bakery kitchen, experimenting with recipes together and whatnot. He closes his shop earlier so that you two could get a chance to go around Karaz, would get a chance to work on your quest. He shifted his entire schedule to accommodate you fitting in it. And he stood up for you.”
“What do you mean stood up for me?”
Seokjin pursed his lips, turning back to the roses. “When you first came to the village we confronted him, Hoseok and I, when we found out you’re a witch. Did he tell you what happened the last time a witch came into Karaz?”
“He told me about the girl and the witch, and how their story ended, what the people of Karaz thought of it. ” Taehyung grabbed the rose from Seokjin’s outstretched hand and went back to the table, grabbing his scissors and getting to work.
Seokjin paused a little before continuing. “Hoseok and I had confronted him a number of times and begged him not to work with you, for him to get rid of you. I know, it sounds bad but we didn’t want to lose someone else to a witch again. You know what said then, he told us trusted you and knew you were nothing like that witch. Every single time, he stood up for you.”
Taehyung was silently processing this new information. The fact that Hoseok and Seokjin wanted to get rid of him at first was upsetting but also understandable given Karaz’s history with witches.
“I need you to be careful, Taehyung. That boy thinks he lost all his family but he still has us. we’re his brothers and we’ll make sure he doesn’t get hurt. So, I’m asking you, please don’t love him if you’re only going to break his heart after. Don’t do what that witch did to Yoongi’s mother.”
“The girl from the story, the one who’s heart the witch ate, she was his mother.”
Taehyung thought of Yoongi and of that day by the docks. He remembered the way he had unconsciously curled his fingers around the wood, the way his tone shifted into a monotone as he told him the story. He remembered what Yoongi had said about the story being from the villager’s perspective and probably not how it actually happened.
A gasp of pain tore its way out his mouth. He had been holding the rose too tightly, the thorns piercing his hand through the gloves. Bright spots of red began forming on the glove.
Seokjin was instantly on him, taking off his gloves and inspecting the injury. “What happened? Let me see. Oh sweet fuck, you’re bleeding, hold on let me get something to wrap this with.”
Taehyung grabbed his arm, holding him there. “I don’t plan to hurt him. My feelings are my own, Yoongi doesn’t have to know about them. But as you can clearly see,” he held up his bloody hand, “I wear my heart on my palm.”
Seokjin started at him for a moment, letting his reply sink in, and then burst into laughter. “That was horrible. I can’t believe you started all serious and ended with that.” He pulled Taehyung onto a chair. “Sit, I’m gonna go get the medic kit.”
They sat in comfortable silence as Seokjin carefully disinfected and tended to Taehyung’s cuts. Taehyung’s mind ran back to his conversation with Seokjin. He had feelings for Yoongi, that much was certain, how deep those feelings ran however, he wasn’t sure yet. He thought about the way Yoongi often got flour in his hair but never on his clothes, about the way he would sometimes sing to himself as he baked. Taehyung thought about the way he would always talk to his customers, asking about family members and their healths. Yoongi remembered to ask him about his quest every single night, trying to come up with possible things to convince the map of Taehyung’s worth.
“I was serious, you know. I really don’t want to hurt him, he deserves better than that.”
“That’s good to hear. But just so you know, in the rare event that you do end up hurting him, I’ll personally hunt your ass down and smother you in rose thorns. Understood?” Though Seokjin’s tone was calm Taehyung still felt a chill at them.
Taehyung gulped. “Understood, Sir.”
Seokjin snorted at that, patting Taehyung’s arm. “Come on, it’s opening time.”
Hoseok and Yoongi made their way to the florist at the end of the day. Yoongi’s mind was a whirlwind of thoughts of what Seokjin could have done to Taehyung, shears were included at some point. His hand tightened on the bag of pastries he was holding as he pushes the door open.
Seokjin and Taehyung were sitting at the back room, the door slightly ajar, their laughter pouring out. Hoseok and Yoongi make their way to it.
“Honey, I’m home.” Hoseok announces as he places a gentle kiss on Seokjin’s face and just plops himself on the other’s lap. “We brought snacks.”
“Hey guys, how was work?” Taehyung asked.
Hoseok made a wounded sound and hid his face in Seokjin’s neck. “Let’s not talk about work, please.”
“Seokjin, is that an earring?” Yoongi’s tone was full of amusement.
“It is, isn’t it cool?”
Yoongi snorted at that. “You look like a pirate.”
His comment was met with bursts of laughter and Seokjin’s offended yells.
“Taehyung wears one and you don’t tell him he looks like a pirate.”
“That’s because he looks like a hot pirate.” Hoseok adds.
“I’m breaking up with you.” Seokjin says dramatically and pushes Hoseok off his lap. The other screams in fake outrage that just fades into laughter.
“What happened to your hands?” Yoongi notices Taehyung’s bandages then, dropping the bag of snacks and going over to inspect them.
“Ah, it’s nothing, really. I held onto a rose too hard and the thorns cut me, but it’s alright Seokjin took care of it for me.”
“Can your healing potions work on this?” Yoongi was still inspecting, holding the other’s hands gently in his own. Seokjin’s words surfaced to Taehyung’s mind and he pulled his hands out of the other’s.
“It’s no big deal, Yoongi. It’s just a scratch, they’ll heal with time. I don’t wanna waste healing potions on something like this.”
“Yoongi you monster, you squished the tiramisus.” Hoseok was kneeling by the bag Yoongi had dropped.
“They still taste good though, Seokjin got any plates around here?”
“Let me close up and we can go back to my place.” Seokjin stood up and the rest followed.
It was a calm day at the bakery. Aside from the same usual customers not many people had visited that morning. It was still early, sometime around noon, the sun's rays peeked in through the branches of the cherry tree outside. The windows were open, letting in a faint sea breeze. The smell of coffee was thinning out by now, slowly being replaced by the aroma of baked goods and the heavy scent of sugar and confectionary.
Yoongi busied himself fulfilling special orders of birthday cakes, anniversary pies and the such. For generations his family had attended every event in their town, happy or otherwise, in pastry form. Yoongi loved working on these orders. To him it was like branches of himself extending to the rest of the village, connecting him to all the people and occasions of Karaz. It anchored him, gave him roots.
He was currently working on a cake, a special order from a daughter to her parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. He had carved intricate patterns and floral prints into sheets of icing sugar and painted them in the sepia tones of a sunset. Yoongi had carefully arranged them in a crescent around the middle of the cake, leaving enough room to write the requested message at the heart of the it. The tip of his brush dipped into the edible paint with purpose and then hovered over the surface of the cake. Yoongi held his wrist with his other hand to steady it. Slowly, the brush's tip kissed the surface, the words blooming to life within the crescent in golden hues.
"You know, seeing you like this anyone would think you're magical. Are you sure you don't have any angel or fairy in you?" Taehyung was leaning against the counter, watching Yoongi work.
Yoongi was startled and almost messed up his calligraphy.
"It's just years of practice, I started helping my grandpa around when I was about eight." Yoongi went back to his letters.
"Eight? That's so young." Taehyung remembered Seokjin’s story.
"Not really, the bakery's been in our family for generations and I had a knack for it."
"Clearly u do," Taehyung nodded in the direction of the cake. "I'm wasn't exaggerating when I said it's magical."
Yoongi’s ears were beginning to turn red the longer Taehyung sat watching him work.
Yoongi put down the brush and admired the final product. Vines and leaves snake around the cake, meeting in the middle to form a crescent enveloping it in an embrace. In gold lettering 'Hold My Hand' is painted on. Yoongi gently adds the chocolate logo of the bakery underneath the golden ink. It was a masterpiece and yoongi was the one to bring it to life. He took out a box to and gently placed it inside, sealing the whole thing with a golden ribbon.
"Hey Taehyung, come here for a bit. Normally I wouldn't ask but there's a few more cakes I need to finish before closing today so, could you please deliver this in my place? I've drawn a map and everything."
Taehyung was beaming, his broom in his hands before Yoongi could even finish talking.
"Of course I can! You can count on me Yoongi, I'll deliver it in half the time even." Taehyung took the box from the other's hands and made way to the door.
"Are you sure your broom's fixed well enough to fly?"
"Well, there's only one way to find out." With that, Taehyung had flung himself out the door and out of the bakery before Yoongi could open his mouth to reply.
Yoongi scrambled after him, his heart dropping somewhere in between his stomach and ass. He wasn't sure what he was more worried about; the cake or the reckless witch. He swung the door open and looked up to the find the retreating figure of Taehyung getting smaller in the distance.
Taehyung turned and looked down at Yoongi, waving down at him. "I guess my broom is fixed now. Have another cake ready for me when I get back. You just got yourself a new delivery system, boss." With that he saluted Yoongi and flew in the opposite direction of the house he was supposed to deliver to.
Yoongi concluded then; Kim Taehyung was going to be the death of him.
Yoongi closed his shop for the day, he had a trip to make. Taehyung went with him since he was supposed to help in the bakery that day. Again, Taehyung attempted to convince Soonshim to join but it seemed she prefered Hoseok’s couch over his company. Taehyung had pouted about that all morning.
The trip was longer than their usual ones. Taehyung had never explored this side of Karaz, where the docks merged into the mountains and caves hid unknown mysteries so close to the houses. The buildings here were less colorful, the place a canvas of greys and green shrubbery. The only flowers to grow here were white in color, as if trying to blend in.
Yoongi said they're going to visit a friend, word had reached him that the other was injured gravely on his last trip abroad. So, they had prepared a basket of baked treats and other things to help him feel better. It was one of the more busier days for business in Karaz so Hoseok and Seokjin couldn't make the journey with them. However, they made sure to send their regards along with a delicate flower bouquet and a heavy novel. Taehyung had pitched in as well, creating basic healing potions and salves for the injured boy.
Yoongi didn't say much when Taehyung had asked who the friend was. He merely said Namjoon was a childhood friend, much like Seokjin and Hoseok, except that he lived much farther away than the other two.
Yoongi stopped at a shop located at the end of the street, the furthest from the sea. The building could have been white once but was now a dirty beige. Metal gates separated the inside of the building from the rest of the street. Monster Smiths was carved into a metal plaque on the top of the gates. The gate was slightly ajar, revealing the vacant courtyard of the place. Yoongi pushed them open without any hesitation and gestured for Taehyung to follow.
The door to the house was open just a slight, the sound of clanging metal echoing and reaching Yoongi and Taehyung. Yoongi snorted, of course Namjoon would work his way around his injury and still work.
Once they were close enough Yoongi kicked the door open, forcing his way into the room.
"Namjoon, you workaholic fuck, do you not know the meaning of ‘you should rest’?"
The room was warm, an open fire oven was blasting in the background. The walls held onto hammers and pliers among other equipments, a layer of soot covered everything. A boy in a black tank top was standing by the fire, a heavy looking hammer in his hands. His dark hair was a sweaty mess, as if he kept running his fingers through it to smooth it back. His arm muscles were defined and darkened with the soot of the oven. Sweat lined his features, his brown eyes shone in the glare of the open flame of the oven. This boy was not Namjoon.
"Uh -" Yoongi was interrupted by Taehyung squealing behind him. He was then pushed as Taehyung ran to the boy holding up the hammer and jumped into his arms, the other boy dropping the hammer and nearly toppling into the oven in shock to hold on to Taehyung.
"Jiminie!" Taehyung's voice was muffled but still seeping with excitement, spoken into Jimin's shoulder. He pushed the other boy back but held onto his shoulders. "What are you doing here? I thought you went to Durak for your quest."
The other boy, Jimin, flushed and looked away. "Yeah, well I was but I ended up taking a detour." His voice was soft,
"Jimin, is someone there?" A voice came from the other room, the owner of it joining them after. He was tall man, his hair an unruly mess of brown. He dressed in a short-sleeved dark shirt and shorts. Both his arms were wrapped in thick bandages up to his elbows.
"Oh, hey Yoongi." Namjoon threw a dimpled smile at him.
"Don't hey Yoongi me, what is this?" Yoongi placed the basket he was carrying on a table nearby to cross his arms.
Namjoon scratched the back of his neck as well as he could with his arms bandaged up. "I guess I should explain. Jimin, why don't you go wash up, I'll make us all some tea till you're done. We should tell them together."
Jimin peeled himself away from Taehyung. "Yeah, alright. Except I don't feel it's safe for you to make the tea."
"I'm perfectly capable of making tea without hurting myself, Jiminie." Namjoon looked offended at the other's words.
"That's not really what I'm worried about, remember last time you tried to make tea?"
A sheepish smile made its way onto Namjoom's face as the memories resurfaced.
Yoongi snorted. "Did he somehow burn the pot and not boil the water again?"
"Wait, what do you mean again?" Jimin asked while Namjoon yelled "It was ONE time Yoongi, let me live."
"I'll make the tea, go get washed up," Yoongi gestured to Jimin as he picked up the basket again. "I'm expecting the full story when you're done."
After introducing Taehyung and Namjoon to the other, they made their way towards the kitchen.
Once the tea was made -- cinnamon added courtesy of Taehyung, the pastries were laid out on the table, and Jimin was back from his shower they could finally start. They sat in Namjoon's living room, a colorful display of mismatched furniture and plush cushions.
"So, you know how I went to Durak for that Smith Convention?" Namjoon began the story. "I met Jimin there, we were staying at the same inn and sometimes drank together at night. I told him about the convention and all that and he told me why he was in Durak." He paused then, looking solemn as he started again. "Yoongi, I need to tell you. Jimin, he's actually a w-"
"A witch, yeah I guessed as much."
"Wait, how'd you know that?" Confusion dusted Namjoon's expression.
"Taehyung here is a witch and I figured with how reacted to seeing Jimin then he would be one as well."
"Wait, Taehyung's a witch too?"
"A witch in training, really. I'm currently on my last quest, same as Jiminie." Taehyung cut in.
"Actually Taehyung, I already finished that. I'm a full certified witch now." Jimin smiled and his eyes disappeared into thin lines, crescent moons Taehuyng liked to call them.
"What? Sweet Hecate, you should have started with that, you fucker, come here!" Taehyung launched himself into Jimin's arms and hugged him tight, almost knocking down the table and spilling the tea. “I’m so proud of you!”
"Congratulations Jimin, Taehyung could you please get off him so we can hear the rest of the story?"
Taehyung releases Jimin and plops down beside him, keeping his arm around the other's shoulder.
"Okay, so Jimin told me about his quest and, you know what you tell them the next part." Namjoon gestured at Jimin who was still in Taehyung's death grip.
"I was supposed to find dragonglass and create something with it. The only problem was, you could only find dragonglass in an active dragon's lair." Jimin paused a little to sip his tea before continuing. "Namjoon and I were out for the night, looking for a place to eat at to celebrate his conference ending when we accidentally found it." He softly snorted. "I spent almost two months in that city looking for that lair and couldn't find it and the day I go out with this guy we just stumble into it, literally. We lost our way back to the inn after our dinner and ended up falling into a cave where coincidentally a dragon lived." He shook his head. "I'm telling you, this guy's my guardian angel."
Namjoon had his face in hands. "Stop that, god. You're making me sound like I'm a dragon whisperer or something." Jimin just laughed, wrapping his arms around Namjoon and hiding his face behind the other boy.
"So what happened next?" Yoongi prompted them to continue. Jimin straightened up and started again.
“So you know how dragonglass grows on the walls of caves where dragons live, right? The cave looked abandoned, there were barely any animal skeletons scattered around and it was freezing down there. We couldn't hear or see the dragon so we assumed it had moved on to another lair."
"So we're standing there scrapping the dragonglass off the walls of the cave when the dragon comes back. We tried running away but this idiot," he punched Namjoon's shoulder, "he went back for the dragonglass and got burnt." There was a pout in Jimin's words. "I'm grateful for him because we finished the quest and I got my license but the idiot got burnt with dragon fire, not even my magic could help with that."
"It was my decision to go back for it and could we turn back time I'd do it again." Namjoon smiled at the other.
"If you don’t mind, may I see the burns, please? I think I might be able to help.” Taehyung turned to Namjoon.
Namjoon turned to Jimin who just nodded, telling him without words that he trusts Taehyung. Taehyung had always been the better healer of the two, Jimin trusted him with this. So Namjoon put his arms into Taehyung who carefully began unraveling the bandages. The skin was badly burnt, blistering and obnoxiously red. Dragon fire was a thousand times hotter than regular fire, it was a miracle that he survived with this little damage.
“I think I can make you a salve to help with the healing, but you’ll still have the scars. I’m afraid our magic’s limited when it comes to dragons.”
“That’s alright, I want to keep these scars. They’ll remind me of how we met.”
“You’re so cheesy.” Jimin hid his face behind Namjoon’s shoulders, his exposed ears turning red.
“You two are so cute. I’m going to use your kitchen to make the salve. It shouldn’t take long but you will need new bandages. Jimin could you prepare those, please.” Taehyung stood up and made his way there as Jimin got up and followed.
Namjoon turned to Yoongi the moment they were alone. “So, you’re housing a witch now?”
“You’re one to talk, your eyes turn to literal hearts whenever they land on Jimin - see even now when I’m only mentioning him your eyes are going soft wow you’ve got it bad.”
“Shut up. I mean, he’s really cute and fun to be around, and he looks after me and can cook, and the way he laughs is adorable and he tells the best of stories. But that doesn’t mean I’m in love with him or anything.”
Yoongi snorted. “Sure you’re not.”
Namjoon spluttered. “I’m injured here and you’re bullying me. This is harassment, I’m telling Taehuyng about this.”
They stare at each other in silence for a second before they burst into snorting laughter.
“What about you and Taehyung then, huh?” Namjoon asks when they’ve calmed down.
“What about us?”
“You know what I’m asking, Yoongi.”
“It’s not like that between us, we’re just friends.”
“You don’t seem like just friends, not with the way you look at each other. ”
“It doesn’t matter what we seem, he’s leaving after his quest’s complete anyways.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way, though. He’d stay if you asked, if you told him.”
“There’s nothing to tell, Namjoon. We’re just really good friends.”
“Maybe I should ask Taehyung then.”
“Ask Taehyung what?” Taehyung walked into the room carrying a jar of what appeared to be purple slime, Jimin following him with clean bandages in his arm. Yoongi held in his breath.
“Ask you what your quest was.” Yoongi exhaled at Namjoon’s words.
“Oh, I have to find the door to the spirit world so I can find and tame Cerberus.”
“You know, the three-headed Hell beast.” Yoongi adds.
“That’s so. Wow. The spirit world, really?” Namjoon’s mouth hung open, his expression morphing through different emotions. Taehyung simply laughs as he starts tending to his burns, telling him the details of it.
“So, Jimin, what did you do with the dragonglass?" Yoongi asked after Taehyung finished explaining his quest to Namjoon.
"Show him, Jiminie." Namjoon nudged him with a smile which Jimin returned.
"Wait, I'll go get it." He got up and went into the other room.
Jimin returned shortly after, a wrapped object in his arms. He laid it on the table, pushing away the cups of tea and the leftover pastries away. He moved the cloth surrounding the object and unsheathed it from its casing.
Jimin held up a sword more beautiful and grand than any sword they had ever seen before. The hilt was pure silver, labradorite gemstones encased within delicate strings of silver, shifting colors underneath the light. The blade itself was midnight black and incredibly reflective, it rippled like the surface of water underneath the light; dragonglass.
“We forged it first week we got back. Namjoon instructed me while I did all the labor.” Jimin was smiling again, crescent moons again. “Do you wanna hold it?”
Yoongi nodded and Jimin placed it into his hands. He ran his fingers on the blade, it felt cold and smooth despite the heat from the oven in the room across. Taehyung was suddenly at his side, fingers ghosting over the gems in the hilt.
“It’s beautiful, you guys did a really good job.”
“You really did.”
“So, Jiminie, what are you planning on doing now that you’re a full witch?” Taehyung asked.
“Well,” he looked over at Namjoon then. “We were thinking after Namjoon’s all healed up and all we could go traveling for a bit, exploring some areas together before settling down for good, you know while we’re young and able to.”
Yoongi was shocked to hear that, he knew Namjoon was taken by Jimin but he didn’t realize how serious it was. He looked at him then, saw Jimin run his fingers through his hair, smoothing down the mess. Namjoon threw a gentle smile in his direction. Yoongi smiled, Namjoon was in good hands.
“That sounds incredible. You’ll write us, won’t you?”
“We will of course, but you’ll have to send us your address once your quest’s over.”
“Oh.” Taehyung seemed to remember then, how temporary this all is. “Yeah, Of course.”
Yoongi nearly fell off the chair he was standing on when Taehyung screamd his name. Leaving the boxes he had originally went to get, he rushed to the front of the shop where Taehyung was, a silver of anxiety creeping upon him.
"What happened, why are you screa-" Yoongi was interrupted by Taehyung grabbing his hands and twirling him in a circle a few times. He ended it by pulling the other in tight embrace, Yoongi's heart felt like it was working overtime.
Placing his hands on Taehyung's arms, Yoongi pushed him away until he could see him. Taehyung seemed to have an abundance of energy coursing through him as he kept jumping on his heels.
"It happened Yoongi, it finally happened." Taehyung smiled widely.
"What are you talking about? What happened?"
Taehyung grabbed Yoongi's arm and pulled him along to a table and proceeded to unfold the map laying there.
"It don't know what I did but, it finally showed the path. Look at this, there's a trail and everything." True to Taehyung's words the map had changed and now showed a path in dashed red lines starting from Sugar's all the way to a location by the shoreline in the opposite direction of the docks. Yoongi wanted to ask how it had changed, what made it suddenly decide Taehyung was worthy to know where the entrance of the Spirit world was.
"Yoongi, we're so close. We're so, so close!" Taehyung was smiling so hard his cheeks hurt, his eyes turning to slits, he was still slightly vibrating in his place. Yoongi felt a smile overtake his face as well, Taehyung's excitement seeping into him.
"This's really close, we could go tomorrow since the Sugar's closed."
"Let's go right now."
"Hey, hey. I'm just as excited as you are for this, but the Sun's gone down and we don't know what to expect in the Underworld yet, yeah? Let's go tomorrow when we're more prepared and not tired. We can leave as soon as the Sun comes up."
"I'm not tired."
"You say that but we've been up and working for literally 15 hours."
"No really, I'm not in the least bit sleepy or tired." As if on cue, a yawn forced its way out Taehyung's body. "Yeah okay, tomorrow morning then." He grabbed Yoongi, hiding his face into his shoulder and laughing. “We’re so close, Yoongi, so close.”
“Yeah we are.” Yoongi tried not to let his mind wander to what would happen after.
"Taehyung, I think it's this way." Yoongi was holding the map, walking with Taehyung by his side.
"Are you sure? There's no giant tree on the map." Taehyung mushed his face close to Yoongi's to get a better look. Yoongi prayed for his heart.
"I'm pretty sure it's this way," Yoongi pulled back. "The map doesn't really show distance all that well. We should just continue down this path. It's an enchanted map, it'll probably change course if we stray from the one it showed us."
"Let's hope it does."
They were currently following the map and walking through the forest that lined the island. The edges of the very same forest Yoongi had found Taehyung in so many weeks back. It seemed like an eternity had passed since then, Yoongi thought. He couldn't even imagine his days without Taehyung anymore, from the way he hummed and sang lightly as he does work around Sugar's to how Soonshim finds her way into Yoongi's room to wake him up as Taehyung makes them breakfast. Taehyung had wormed his way into Yoongi's life and had become a constant. Yoongi didn't want to allow himself to think of what would happen after the quest was over.
Taehyung hooked his arm around Yoongi's shoulders and pulled him close, pulling him out and away from his mind.
"This is great, we’re almost there, Yoongi. I’m gonna be a full certified witch after this, just like Jiminie.”
“Yeah, it’ll be amazing.” Yoongi looked on ahead.
The trees were thinning, and judging from the sand they were getting closer to the beach. Outlines of what could have once been a house littered the place, large pieces of wood occasionally surfacing in the sand.
An abandoned lighthouse lay in front of them in the water, the paint on it fading to the point where the original color remained a mystery to the viewer.
"I think this is it. Look, the path leads straight to it and there's a circle around it on the map." Taehyung held out the map to Yoongi and sure enough the path did lead them to it. "What is this place anyways? It's so creepy."
"This used to be part of Karaz, long ago. A huge storm hit and it took with it most of the village along with it. Everyone had to move up the island and closer to calmer waters. The lighthouse was the only structure that survived. They say the spirits of all those it had guided before gathered to protect it from the storm. Now that the map led us here I see the irony in that."
"How do we get there? I don't see any boats close by."
"There's a path nearby, come on." Taehyung noticed the ease Yoongi carried himself around with.
"You know, you seem like you're awfully familiar with this place."
Yoongi felt his ears turn red, memories of another time resurfacing. "I used to come here a lot as a kid, back when I lost my mother. Her family was originally from this part of the village and I don't know, it was easier here away from everyone."
"It must have been hard."
“It was, but time passed and I learnt how to put one foot in front of the other and carry on.
The walkway leading up to the lighthouse was worn out, the sea taking a hold of it a long time ago. Lichen crawled up the boulders that made up the path. Some of the boulders had been swept up and away into the sea, small sea creatures had long since made homes in the areas in between. This was going to be a tricky path to navigate.
Taehyung jumped on the path and started walking on ahead with the other boy following close by.
The lichen was worse around the middle of the path, making their steps slippery and more dangerous. Yoongi was just about to tell Taehyung to go slower when Taehyung slipped.
Yoongi's body moved on its own accord, grabbing Taehyung by his arms, preventing him from falling. Their faces were incredibly close. Were Taehyung's eye lashes always that long?
"Whoa, that was close.” Taehuyng chuckled.
“It’s slippery around this part you gotta be more careful.” Yoongi scolded him.
“I will, I- hmm, I never noticed you have a mole on your cheek; it's really cute." Yoongi straightened up, pulling the other boy along with him. He could feel his face get warmer, the blood rushing closer to his skin.
"We should go on, we don't wanna waste daylight." Yoongi took the lead with Taehyung following.
The storm had knocked out the glass of the windows in the lighthouse. The door had been knocked out and thrown somewhere into the sea along with pieces of the wall surrounding it. No one had come here ever since then and it showed. The spiral wooden staircase was worn down, the bottom most stairs completely broken down by the storm and time. The paint peeling and rust overtaking the metal rails. Undisturbed cobwebs filled in every nook and cranny and a fine layer of dust rested on top of everything.
Yoongi looked around, it had been years since the last time he came here. He was sure no one came here but him and that if he looked, he would find his hidden stash of food, now probably nothing but dust, and other things still in the place he left them in.
Taehyung frowned at the map. "Yoongi, come here for a bit. The map isn't changing anymore."
Yoongi leaned in, holding the other side of the map up. "Doesn't that mean the entrance is here?" Yoongi looked at his surroundings again. "What does the entrance to the Underworld even look like?"
"It wouldn’t be something obvious like a door with Spirit World emblazoned on it, you know."
They split up looking around, trying to find something that wouldl help.
Taehyung's fingers ran over the remains of the engraved stone archway that was once the door to the lighthouse. The symbols and letters too worn out to be anything but scratches now.
"How did this look like before the storm?" Yoongi looked up from where he was crouching over some old corner.
"It's the same as the one over there," Yoongi pointed at the wall opposite where a similar archway was engraved over solid wall.
"Why would they add an archway if there's no door inside it?"
"Maybe there was one and they closed it off, or maybe they thought to add one later and had this just in case to mark the place."
"Yoongi, shut up."
"Well sorry for answering your question." Yoongi huffed out in annoyance, why ask a question if you didn't want an answer. "Clearly you have no use for my local knowledge and -"
"Yoongi, I think I found the gates please stop talking so I can decipher these carvings."
Yoongi instantly stopped talking and shuffled to where the other was standing. Taehyung had his brows bunched up, mouthing the words as his fingers caressed the carvings.
"What language is that in?"
"A dead one, one that can only be found engraved on the crypts of kings and queens."
"How come you know it then?"
"I bought a spell book written in it once, I had to learn it to finish a quest.”
"Whoa, that's cool. So what does it say?" Taehyung cleared his throat and began, his fingers tracing the words as he spoke them. The air felt electric, static gathering in the spaces between spider webs and every breath they took.
"Come Spirit, leave the mortal world behind. Enter the Underworld, and may your spirit justice find.”
The archway began glowing, a faint blue from within its confines, making the boys take a step back. However, as soon as it had arrived, it left, leaving the boys staring at it.
"Yoongi, there's something I have to tell you." Taehyung turned to look at Yoongi, a serious look in his eyes. "Only spirits can enter the Spirit world; we'd have to separate our spirits from our bodies if we want to go. It's a dangerous process and a risky one; if we stay out in spirit form for more than a day then we can never get back to our bodies, we'd be stuck in limbo." He paused, taking a deep breath. "I'd understand if you don't want to risk it, I don't mind going alone from here on. You've been an amazing friend and companion to me and my Soonshimy; thank you for everything -"
"Taehyung." Yoongi interrupted his rant.
"Shut up. I didn't reach this part with you so I can watch your back as you disappear into the Underworld alone." Yoongi delivered a punch to Taehyung's shoulder, glaring up at him. "I'm coming along and nothing you say will change that. We're in this together, you loser."
A smile overtook Taehyung's face. "Okay. Yeah, alright." The smile fell then. "Yoongi, it's not a painful process but it will change you. Mortals aren't supposed to shuffle from spirit and physical forms, we will never be the same after this. So I'll ask again, are you sure about this?"
Yoongi pushed down the doubt in his heart, he trusted Taehyung.
"Taehyung," Yoongi reached up and grabbed Taehyung's face, his cheeks squished between Yoongi's hands. "Listen, I trust you. I wouldn't have come all the way here if I didn't. Alright?"
Taehyung nodded, face still between Yoongi's hands. "Now how are we supposed to get into spirit form?" Yoongi let go and stepped back, inspecting the archway again.
"It's a spell, what basically happens is that you push the other person's soul out their bodies."
"That sounds very morbid."
"Well, I did learn it from a necromancer."
"I still can't get over how you're friends with a necromancer."
"Hey, don't be so close minded. The only thing he brings back are his pet cats; he had like twelve last I saw him, half of them undead."
"That's actually kinda cute."
"It really is."
"So, how do we do this?"
"Face me first." Yoongi turned to face Taehyung. "Wait, we should probably sit down for this; our bodies could get injured when we leave them. They'll literally be nothing but meat suits."
"That's a comforting thought."
They sat cross-legged facing each other in front of the archway. "So I'm going to chant and you need to repeat after me, at one point I'm going to push you, I need you to push me back immediately then for this to work."
Taehyung shoved the nerves starting to bubble up to the back of his mind, this was a high tier spell, one not even his necromancer friend had attempted before. This was a spell that required a strong mental connection between the casters to work, he hoped what he and Yoongi had was enough to get the job done. This was the only way he knew and so, as Yoongi always said, one foot in front of the other.
Taehyung held both of Yoongi's hands and placed them on his chest, right above his heart. If he focused, Yoongi could feel Taehyung's accelerated heartbeat under his palm.
With that Taehyung began chanting, his deep voice echoing as it hit the lighthouse walls. Yoongi repeated the words after him. He felt lightheaded and awake as if someone was draining his blood and replacing it with caffeine. His limbs twitched with phantom static energy.
Taehyung's voice got louder and so Yoongi raised his voice to match. He felt Taehyung pushing on his chest and so he pushed back.
He instantly felt lighter, as if he had woken up from the best sleep of his life. Yoongi looked up at Taehyung and noticed a violet glow emitting from his body, he stared back to his own body to find it glowing in blue.
A thud sounded behind him. Turning around he could see his motionless body laying there, eyes closed and chest shallowly rising. It was an unsettling sight.
"We're not dead, just in spirit form. I can't believe that actually worked." Taehyung laughed.
"What do you mean you can't believe it? You doubted it'd work and still did it?"
"Traditionally it's a necromancer spell, even high power witches never attempt it. I'm glad it worked or else that would have been a disaster." Taehyung laughed again, Yoongi didn’t join in.
"So, what would have happened if the spell didn't work?"
"Well, we could have either stayed as we were in our physical forms or died right where we sat."
“Sweet fuck, Taehyung.”
Taehyung moved to the archway and rested his palm on the wall. Instead of being met with a solid wall like he had expected his hand passed through, the wall rippling like water under him. The archway gave a little glow.
"So I guess this is how we're getting in."
Throwing one last look in the other's direction, Taehyung and Yoongi stepped through the wall within the archway and into the spirit world.
Their feet make contact with the ground soundlessly. It’s almost as if unnecessary sounds have been muted on this side of the gate. The atmosphere feels different - lighter almost, as if the realm was sighing in relief; the burden of keeping everything alive off its shoulders.
Turning to face the island, Yoongi was almost disappointed to find that the spirit world looked a lot like the physical one.
"It looks a lot like Karaz, doesn't it? I read that the spirit world is almost mirror realm to our physical one - except that it's a distorted mirror; nothing is ever as it seems here. It's supposed to ease spirits into the place, luring them in with the familiar so they'd trust and follow. It supposedly changes the deeper you go into the realm."
"How are we supposed to get to the island, there's no boat and no path like in the physical world. I'm not sure I wanna take my chances and swim in spirit waters." Yoongi said frowning.
"If the book I read is right then we don’t need a boat. Wait here, I need to check something." Taehyung was already sprinting along the outer ring of the lighthouse.
"Wait, don't just leave me here." Yoongi hurries behind him. He catches up to Taehyung, finding him yelling in rejoice as he stared down the path. In front of him, in place of the broken path the physical world had, a railway lay shallowly submerged stretching in the direction of the island.
"The Rails of Anab." Taehyung said with a look of wonder. "They're said to help guide wandering spirits towards the island when they get here. The water's supposed to cleanse them from their misery and pain as they make the walk. It's supposed to clear their souls and purify their hearts from grudges of their past lives."
"Is it safe for us to cross?" Yoongi asked, staring at how the water above the tracks remained perfectly still while the rest of the sea around them was alive with movement.
“The waters won’t affect you probably, you have the purest heart I’ve ever met.” Yoongi wanted to push down the blood rushing to his face, can spirits even blush? Taehyung carried on. “Besides, it’s the only way across.”
"Well, we came all the way here so we might as well."
With that, Yoongi took their first step into the still waters.
The distortion of the spirit realm became apparent to them the longer they stayed there. The tracks seemed endless, taking them a longer time than they anticipated to reach the shore. The more Yoongi glanced at the sky the more the colors seemed to shift, what was a void of blue had somehow bled hues of pink and orange in between bright blues and yellows; it was both every color and a colorless sheet. The clouds shifted and rearranged themselves in shapes and styles, almost as if chasing each other in a game of tag. Yoongi swore he saw a dragon slither out of one and disappear into the next from the corner of his eye, he turned in time to catch its tail disappear into a particularly large cloud. Taehyung turned around to see it so fast he almost lost his balance and fell off the rails.
They reached the end of the tracks, the water seeping into the sand of the island. The waves crashed silently into the shores in an embrace around them. Yoongi was the first to step on the island, his steps still held no sound.
“We’re actually here.” Yoongi mused. He turned to face the other and found himself awestruck. Taehyung’s hair fluttered around him in a silent breeze. He was glowing, his smile radiating his entire being. The Spirit realm suited him well, Yoongi decided.
“Welcome to the Island of Spirits, Yoongi.” Taehyung turned his smile towards Yoongi.
Yoongi snorts. “That’s a creative name.”
“They’re not very subtle, I agree.” Taehyung’s smile grew wider as he turned his head to the village. “Now, let’s go find a giant three-headed dog from Hell.”
They stood at the edge of the beach, staring up at the buildings. This close it was clear this village was nothing like Karaz. There were no docks, no boats lined up at its shores. No seagulls circled its walls and shops. The colors were wrong, Yoongi thought. He was so used to seeing his village full of color - full of life, this version of it did not feel right. The buildings were a dull light brown, as if dipped too long in tea leaves, their windows all shut. The thing that really put him off though was the silence.
“It’s so quiet.” Taehyung’s voice sounded like a cannon blast in the serenity of the island.
“Is it supposed to be this way?” Yoongi whispered, it felt like they were supposed to whisper.
“I’m not sure? The books never mentioned anything after the Rails.”
“So, we’re on our own now.”
“Yeah, I guess we are.” Taehyung raised an eyebrow at the other. “You watch my back and I’ll watch yours?”
Yoongi smiled at him, a full gummy smile on display. “You know I will.” And with that they stepped into the village.
The instance Taehyung’s foot made contact with the road seemed to bring the village to life. It was as if they had been underwater the entire time and had just now come up for air. Voices and sounds rushed back into the realm while colors bloomed on the buildings and roads, the tea brown fading into something more. It was as if the city was coming back to life.
Spirits of all kinds buzzed around the place. Some looked relatively human with only slight modifications, like horns or wings, while others were downright the stuff of dreams. Some had intricate tattoos covering their bodies while others had colorful scales shrouding them, blues and purples and pinks and oranges. Some floated from street to street while others crawled their way to their destination. The village was alive with them. Their voices meshed together into a language that was one language and all languages at the same time. Drums and stringed instruments sounded from a distant corner, the wind spirits carrying them across.
Yoongi felt a tug on his sleeve, he turned to see Taehyung with a finger on his lips, signalling Yoongi to be quiet. He pointed at the spirits around them and gestured at how they can’t see them. Yoongi thought he would like to keep it that way. Taehyung walked forwards, pulling Yoongi behind him towards the village square.
Their path was lined with trees.They held a faint glow, their roots extending far below the surface of the ground. The only evidence their feet were touching the ground were the pulsations of color the ground let out with every step.
The village square was a mirror of the one in the physical realm, save for the spirits filling it. The clock tower was the same astrological one they had back in Karaz. They stood on the sidelines, waiting. Yoongi wasn’t sure what they were waiting for but Taehyung was looking around, craning his neck to see behind some of the larger spirits.
The clock tower dinged and with it, the spirits in the square seemed to halt. The vendors put down their products to watch, the spirits passing paused in their places, flying spirits landed on every surface.
Yoongi and Taehyung watched as the clock’s face opened up like a door and a man seemed to float out to the ground. He wore a light blue tunic with pants of the same color underneath. His hair a dark and eyes a deep blue. He looked too normal to be a spirit, Yoongi thought, too human for that. The man extended his arm and twin fish crawled out of his being, leading him towards the sea. He seemed to glide, as if the air was made of water.
“Lord Pisces, do you require any assistance?” The air next to him rippled and a face appeared, a wind spirit.
The man turned his head slowly and smiled.
“Not at all, young one. I’ll be returning soon, once the moon had its share and the Sun had rested enough.”
The spirits parted around him, creating a path for him. They watched him as he passed them, their faces a mixture of awe and envy.
He was out of the square then and the clock closed its doors, returning everything to the way it had been. The vendors went back to their business, the perched spirits picked up and took flight, motion came back to the square again. Taehyung grabbed Yoongi’s arm and pulled him along to the center of the square.
A large notice board had been placed there, various ads and posters had been posted on there and with them on the side, a map of the island. Taehyung raised his arms in victory, Yoongi smiled back as he raised his eyebrows towards the other, questioning how he had known about this. Taehyung just shrugged, biting his lips to keep his laughter inside. These spirits were efficient, Yoongi thought as he studied the map.
The gates of Hell were located at the topmost edge of the island, the opposite direction to where they were at the moment. It would take them at least a day’s journey to reach there, not counting the journey back. Taehyung and Yoongi turned to look at each other, reading the other’s eyes. It was time they did not have, they both knew that. They had to be back to the mortal world in less than a day or else they’ll be stuck in limbo for good. A groan of annoyance slipped past Taehyung’s lips, and with it the illusion of their invisibility had gone.
Standing in the middle of the village square the spirits could see them clearly; naturally chaos broke.
“MORTALS! MORTALS IN THE SPIRIT REALM!”
“HIDE THE CHILDREN, HIDE YOURSELVES ”
“CAPTURE THEM BEFORE THEY ESCAPE.”
“CAN I JUST EAT THEM? THAT’LL SOLVE EVERYTHING WON’T IT.”
A loud screech brought Yoongi and Taehyung to their knees, their hands clasped over their ears, and silence into the square. A figure swept in and landed in front of them. It was a large bird, its feathers a brilliant red, gold necklaces embedded with colorful jewels resting over its chest and a colorful crown placed on its head.
“How dare mere mortals enter the spirit world?” A woman’s voice sounded from the red bird, velvety smooth and high in pitch. It was a voice that commanded authority. She faced the other spirits in the square. "And how dare the rest of you act on your own? This is not your dominion, you have no power over here. I’m taking them to King Hades, he’ll decide what we ought to do with them.” With that she flew, capturing Yoongi and Taehyung by the shoulders in her talons and flying the opposite direction, towards a great black castle on the edges of Hell.
She released her hold over them the moment they entered the castle gates, they fell to the ground in an ungraceful heap by the foot of the stairs leading up to the castle. It was a grand structure; the walls composed of pure obsidian, so shiny their reflections stared back at them. The windows held no glass but instead seemed to house black holes, there was no telling what lied behind them nor how far they went. The whole thing seemed to reach out into the dark sky, Taehyung wasn’t sure where the sky ended and where the castle began.
The garden surrounding the castle weren’t any less grand. Purple and blue flowers bloomed in bushes around the walls, silver trees reached out to the sky, their branches intertwining in intricate patterns, deep red pomegranates hanging off them, ripe for the taking. An eerie silver glow seemed to emanate from everything in the garden. If they focused, the sound of trickling water could be heard.
A chill was in the air, Yoongi could suddenly see his breath leaving him in puffs.
The doors slid open and a tall figure made its way towards them. He had dark hair, magnificent horns in the same shade grew out of his head. His skin was ghostly white, as if the color had been filtered out so he would match his surroundings. His dark silk tunic ruffled in the phantom breeze. The air seemed to get colder the closer he stepped towards them.
He stopped a few feet to where they were still laying on the floor.
“Come with me. My master isn’t a fan of waiting.” The man then turned around and walked back to the castle, not even turning back to see if they had followed.
Yoongi got to his feet, reaching towards Taehyung to help him up. Together, they followed the man with the horns through the gates of the king of the Underworld.
They were led through a hallway lined with a deep red carpet, a row of candles giving off the same silver glow of the gardens were the only light source. The walls were lined with paintings, some were of civilizations, of old and new and some they will not come to know. Some were of historic events, things that were and things that would. Taehyung was captivated by the shifting knowledge engraved within those walls. Other paintings were too hidden in the shadows to show; Yoongi wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. Their footsteps and breathing were the only sounds in the hollow hall. The horned man did not turn around once.
They stopped when they reached a dead end. The man guiding them put out his hand and suddenly the wall seemed to give way. It was as if it was melting, letting a great door slowly come to view. It was the same black obsidian of the walls, with the edges and handles gleaming in gold. Two guards appeared as well, they had the faces of dogs while their bodies were that of humans. Their golden spears were crossed in front of the gates, preventing entry. They spoke in unison, as if they were a single being.
“Halt, stranger. What business do you have in the throne room?”
“Mortals in the spirit realm.” The horned man replied. The guards uncrossed their spears, the door opening soundlessly in front of them. The man walked in, not looking back. From where Yoongi was standing the door led to darkness, no candles nor glowing gardens offered any illumination to their next destination. He felt Taehyung grabbing his sleeve, pulling him along after him as the doors started to close.
What appeared to be darkness at first had morphed into a grand hall. The throne room was luxurious, the ceiling high and the walls a mix of black marble and onyx, intricate designs of vines and gardens encrusted with jewels crawled up the pillars holding up the ceiling. Chandeliers of crystals and jewels hung in orderly rows across the grand hall. A vacant throne of gold and iron sat at the end of it facing them. The lighting was the weakest surrounding it, the darkness seemed tangible there, shifting and twisting in ways shadows do.
The horned man spoke into the emptiness of the hall, his voice bouncing back at them.
“Your Grace, these mortals were found roaming the spirit realm. What would you have us do with them?”
The air seemed to twist, converging into the darkness beyond the throne. A cloud of smoke and shadow materialized out of that darkness, gathering on the throne. The shadow and smoke cleared, revealing a bored looking young man resting on the throne. He wore a suit so dark it was as if it was weaved from the night sky, embroidered gems gleamed like stars. His eyes were sharp, a piercing blue, yet he wore a lazy expression, his cheek resting on his hand as he faced them.
“The only mortals that ever pass here are the damned, the ones that have forsaken their lives, the ones beyond the reach of all their deities and lords.” His voice was velvety smooth, the texture of honey, but held the coldness of a thousand winters within every syllable. Yoongi felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand. “Tell me mortals, which of those are you? What brought you here?”
Yoongi looked at Taehyung, silently communicating his thoughts. This was bad, this was very bad.
“Well, you see, we’re here on a trip.” Taehyung started explaining. “We’re on a quest, if you may.”
“A quest?” A single eye brow shot up, he shifted in his throne, moving his hand from his cheek to rest his elbows on his knees, giving them his full attention. “The last time I had mortals here looking to finish a quest was when us gods ran the physical realm.” He tilted his body back, his stare stabbing them. “So tell me, what is the nature of this quest?”
“We’re here to befriend and take Cerberus with us.”
Yoongi threw a look at Taehyung, why was he spilling everything?
The man on the throne barked out a laugh. “You can’t lie here, not if you passed through the Rails of Anab.” His expression morphed back into a serious one. “You come here into my home and mean to steal from me. Give me one good reason I shouldn’t just kill you right now.”
Taehyung licked his lips, his brain shifting through excuse after excuse for the King to spare them. Yoongi put a hand over the other’s shoulder, squeezing, reminding him he’s not here alone.
The doors behind them burst open and three women join them in the room. They had on flowy dresses, the colors of smoke, making their movements look like that of shadows. Their hair jewel tones of copper, silver and gold, shifting with the lights of the chandeliers. Yoongi couldn’t take his eyes off them, their faces were carved porcelain. It was as if an artist had spent his entire lifetime perfecting their features.
Taehyung elbowed Yoongi, breaking him out of his reverie. “Those are the Fates. Don’t be seduced by their looks and charms, they hold power over all mortal lives in their hands.”
The Fates came to a halt by the King’s throne.
“Your Grace.” They fell into a curtsey, picking themselves up after and flanking the King.
“What have we here?” The first one asked.
“Mortals in the spirit realm, how uncommon.” The second added.
“Surely you don’t mean to just kill them, your Grace.” The third continued.
“And if I was?” The King raised an eyebrow at them.
“That’s no fun, you’re really no fun these days.” The Fates pouted in the King’s direction.
“What would you have me do with them then? Let them reign chaos in my realm?”
One of the Fates suddenly clapped, her face filled with joy. “I know what we can do instead.”
“Tell us, sister, tell us!” The other two fawned over her waiting for her announcement. The king looked unbothered.
“We can hold a tournament, trials like all the great heroes had in the past.” The Fates squealed, excitement filling them. They turned to the King on the throne.
“Your Grace, we’re having the tournaments.”
“You can’t refuse, we’ve foreseen this before. This is a prophecy that must occur.”
“Please don’t kill the champions before then.”
With that they twirled into the shadows beyond the throne, their laughter fading into the darkness.
“Very well then, you will go through three tasks, each harder than the one before it. Should you survive, you can leave and go back to your own world with Cerberus. However, should you fail, your souls shall never know rest. You will be chased by a great terror, eventually falling and dying. Have no worries though, I shall make sure you are resurrected the next morning so that you may go through all of that again.” He smirked at them and continued. “Your physical bodies will lay where you left them in eternal slumber, waiting for a host to occupy them once more, and make note that they will be. I shall send my shadows after them. While you souls are here suffering eternal damnation I shall make good use of your physical vessels.”
Taehyung and Yoongi weren’t sure what exactly they had gotten themselves into at that point.
The trials were held in a vast arena. All the spirits of the realm had been invited, from the high divinities and constellations to the lowly skeletons and shadows. Banners and streamers hung across the rings of seats, some cheering on Taehyung and Yoongi, others advertising restaurants and inns. A Giant screen floated above, displaying different areas of the arena. Hades and the Fates sat in an enclosed area facing the middle of the arena. His suit was now made of a shimmery purple material, shimmery jewels covered the ends of the sleeves and jacket. The Fates were in matching flowy dresses now in different hues of pink, blue and yellow.
Taehyung and Yoongi sat in an enclosed part of the arena, watching the spirits cheer and rise in excitement. The first trial was soon to begin, neither of them knew what to expect.
“Yoongi.” Taehyung looked solemn, his usual bright smile wiped off his face. “I’m sorry about all of this.” His voice was shaking, breaking off at the end, tears were gathering in his eyes. “It was my fault they captured us and now it’s my fault we’re potentially facing eternal damnation. I’m -”
Yoongi grabbed his face, stopping him from continuing. “Hey, hey. Stop that. Stop.” He wiped a stray tear that fell on his cheek. “I walked in here with you on my own, you didn’t force me so stop apologizing.”
Taehyung sniffed. “If it means anything, I’m glad it’s you that I’m spending eternity with.”
“That’s really sweet and all but I’ve got a bakery to run and you’ve got a license to get. We are not staying here, despite what that rich bastard may think. So wipe that frown off your face, we’re going to kick these trials’ asses.”
Taehyung sputtered a laugh, wiping his face from the rest of the tears.
The horned man appeared from behind them. He made his way towards the gates to the arena and turned to them, a smirk forming on his lips.
“It’s time. I look forwards to having you here for eternity.” As soon as the gates were fully open, the mandisappeared as if he had never been there in the first place.
Taehyung reached out and intertwined his fingers with Yoongi’s, the other gave a squeeze in return. Together, they walked into the arena.
The Sun was high in the sky, its glare falling straight into their eyes and causing them to squint. The floor of the arena was filled with white sand, cushioning their steps and absorbing its sounds. The arena was far from quiet, the spirits and deities were in uproar; screams and roars rose from the benches welcoming them into the arena.
With a single raise of his hand, Hades bought silence into the field. He stood up and observed the crowd for a while before he let his eyes rest on Taehyung and Yoongi. When he spoke his voice was booming, magnified by his power, reaching every end of the realm.
“My dear guests, today we witness a rare sight. These mortals dared enter a realm with the intentions to steal from its king. Had it been not for the merciful whispers of the Fates, they would have already suffered a fate so terrible I will not speak of the details. We gather here today to put them on trial, to allow them the chance to prove their worth. If they should succeed and pass through all three of my trials, they are free to go back to their realm, along with Cerberus, if he so pleases.” He pauses and the smirk is back on his face.
“However, should they fail then they bring misery upon themselves. Their souls would not be allowed passage back to the physical realm. They shall stay here and go through daily miseries only to eventually die and be resurrected the next day to go through it all over again. This was the agreement made and the Fates bore witness to it all. With that let us begin with the first trial.”
Hades put down his arm and sat back into his seat. The arena sprung to life once more. The crowd’s screams were but a distant noise to Taehyung and Yoongi as they watched the pit transform in front of them. The sand shifted, metal rods rose from underneath and came together, forming structures. The metal came together above them, intertwining in a pattern. A cage was being formed, separating the crowd from the inside of the pit.
The sand underneath Taehyung's feet began to shake. He stepped to the side fearing something coming up at him but instead found himself in a trap. Vines came out and grabbed his limbs, restraining his movements. He opened his mouth to shout a warning at Yoongi but another vine found its way around his throat and squeezed, keeping the pressure where it allowed him to breathe but not to speak.
Yoongi watched as Taehyung was captured by the vines and carried up with them. He ran after them while attempting to avoid the vines reaching towards him.
The vines pulled Taehyung higher into the air towards a mass of vines coming together in the other side of the arena. The only interest the vines had with Yoongi was to stall him, they tripped him and grabbed his limbs only to fling him back and away from Taehyung and the mass behind him.
It was clear by now that the vines were coming together to form a great sphere, suspended by magic on the side of the field. Taehyung was dropped unceremoniously into it. He sat up, taking a deep breaths and rubbing his bruised body. Up to that point, he hadn’t even known you could get injured in spirit form.
Yoongi paused from where he was wrestling with a certain vine and looked up at the sphere.
For a minute it seemed the vines had halted their movements, the arena going quiet apart from Yoongi and Taehyung's labored breathing.
The vines then suddenly sprang to life expanding in the sphere surrounding Taehyung, their stems grew thicker, closing in the gaps between themselves, hiding him from the outside world. The sphere seemed to rest then, releasing a gasp of breathe as if it was sighing in relief after a big meal.
Yoongi broke free from the vines holding him and ran in the direction of the sphere, screaming for Taehyung but the other’s voice had been muted once the vines closed in. Their audience had gone quiet, sitting on the edges of their seats in anticipation.
This was not happening, Yoongi thought, he cannot lose Taehyung this way, not after he promised to keep him safe, not after how far they've got. He opened his mouth, intending to curse at Hades's general direction but then the sphere seemed to suddenly deflate.
The vines making it up went back to their original thickness, a clear substance filled in the crevices that left behind. Yoongi let out a sigh of relief at the sight of Taehyung curled up inside, seemingly unconscious.
A sudden spurt of vines came from in front of the sphere so fast Yoongi was forced to take a step back. The vines came together to form a figure two meters tall, it morphed to show a face. The figure opened its eyes first, black orbs staring right into Yoongi’s being. Then came its mouth, its voice soft and ancient, as if she had carried the weight of the island her entire life.
“I can be cracked, I can be made. I can be told, I can be played. What am I?”
“You have three tries. Your time begins now. The sphere behind me will keep time. Your friend’s life relies on your mind.” The instant she finished talking the sphere began constricting slowly, enclosing the air surrounding Taehyung.
The gears in Yoongi’s mind were turning in a rapid pace, he only had three chances to save Taehyung. What can be cracked, made, told and played?
“A game, you’re a game!”
“Incorrect. You have two more tries left.”
The sphere was almost half its size by now.
“She didn’t mention it but with every wrong answer, the vines would constrict faster.” Hades’s smug voice reached Yoongi’s ears. He bit his lips to stop himself from throwing a few choice words in the King’s direction, his ass could wait, Taehyung couldn’t. Yoongi willed himself to focus on the riddle.
“You’re an idea.” He gives his second answer.
“Incorrect. You have a single try left.”
The sphere was a quarter of what it used to be, soon enough it would constrict completely and crush with it.
“You could just give up now and maybe I won’t be too harsh with your eternal damnation. I could grant you immortality and you could forever be my personal assistant, or maybe I’d make you in charge of
Yoongi had enough of this, had enough of that bastard of a king. His mouth was open before his brain could stop him. “Shut the ever loving fuck up.
You’re a joke! You hear me, you’re nothing but a joke.”
The instant those words are out of his mouth the vines stop their constricting. The crowd held its breath. Hades sat at the edge of his seat. The Fates held their hands above their mouths.
"That is correct. You may pass." The figure tells him and instantly the sphere began to unravel. It was as though invisible hooks were attached to the vines and had began to pull them back under the sand.
The arena erupted in shouts, some of joy and some of discord. Hades sat back into his seat. The Fates squealed, one of them pulled a few notes of cash and handed them over to the other two, grumbling about luck.
When all the vines had disappeared Yoongi ran to Taehyung. He found him still unconscious on the sand, his hair matted to his forehead.
"Taehyung," Yoongi called out to him. Taehyung did not respond.
"Taehyung," Yoongi called again while shaking his shoulders. Again, there was no respond.
What happens when you die in spirit form, Yoongi didn't want to think about that. He slapped Taehyung's face while calling his name. He answered their stupid riddle. He wasn't going to lose him this way.
Taehyung seemed to splutter back to consciousness, taking in a deep breath just as Yoongi slapped him again in an attempt to wake him.
"Ow, what was that for?" A pout formed on his face.
Yoongi's heart let out a sigh of relief, his head falling on the other’s chest. "For making me worry, you moldy piece of toast." Taehyung ran his fingers through the other’s hair. "I thought I lost you." Yoongi added in a smaller voice and brought his head up. Taehyung just threw him a smile.
Yoongi scoffed and stood up, helping the other up along with him. Taehyung dusted himself off and ran his fingers through his gelled hair, a disgusted expression on his face when his fingers got stuck.
"This is a look."
"One no one should wear."
Hades stood up, the arena instantly went silent.
"You passed the first trial. Two more remain. I hope you didn’t get too confident with your stolen victory, had this one,” he pointed at Yoongi, “kept his temper your souls would have already been mine. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t have been a very entertaining trial.” He clapped his hands a single time, Yoongi’s raised a brow in annoyance. “The second trial would be on a different level. Luck shall not be on your side this time.” He clapped again, Yoongi suspected just to annoy him. "Let us begin with the second trial." Hades puts up his hand to the side and drops it, giving the signal and the arena responds in an instant.
The ground shook once more under them. This time Taehyung held Yoongi close, he wasn't going to be separated again. The arena had other plans of course.
All around them tall barriers came out of the sand, caging them in a maze. One coming up specifically between them, separating their joined hands and eventually them. Hades's laughter reached their ears, he was doing this on purpose, that old fuck.
By the time the pit calmed down a maze had been set up. The walls of the maze were so high Taehyung couldn't see above them.
"Yoongi, are you okay?"
"Yeah, are you?”
"I’m fine. So, are we supposed to find each other? Is that this trial?"
"I guess so? Let's do that first."
As soon as Taehyung took the first step towards the other's voice the walls of the maze began to vibrate in place. He paused, waiting for change. As if enchanted, the black walls of the maze had disappeared and left their frames behind, suddenly Yoongi and Taehyung could see each other.
Taehyung moved towards Yoongi but was greeted with a glass barrier. Yoongi turned looking for another path but instead was met by his own reflection staring back at him. The walls have been replaced by glass and mirrors.
"You were right, the trial is to find your way out of this maze. But you should know, you two aren't the only living things in the maze." Hades's voice floated to them, as if he was standing right next to them.
They had agreed to walk, calling out to the other occasionally to keep track of their locations by the sound of their voices. They walked into the glass more than once, Hades' snickering reached their ears whenever they did. The mirrors were no better, confusing them and making them go in circles half the time.
At one point, Yoongi and Taehyung found themselves falling into a duet, it was an old song, native to the people of Karaz. A guy with a guitar had been playing it in the village square the day Yoongi took Taehyung out to explore Karaz. He was surprised when Taehyung had suddenly grabbed him and fell into a dance. Yoongi found himself smiling at that memory. The whole arena clapping along to the tune. Their voices complimented each other, the Fates gushed. It doesn’t matter how nice their voices were, Hades threw back at them, grumbling.
Taehyung yells out when he spots Yoongi in front of him, a grin erupts on Yoongi's face. There was no glass separating them and no mirror confusing their path anymore. They ran towards the other, thinking they finally finished the maze and can now be reunited.
A glass wall sprang between them suddenly, halting their steps and separating them. Taehyung put his hand on the glass, staring at Yoongi on the other side. Yoongi put his hand on top of his from the other side.
The glass began to shift, catching the sun rays and transforming in front of them. They took a step back and watched the glass distort and turn into something else. Yoongi felt the walls behind him move, surrounding him in a hexagonal glass coffin.
Taehyung calls out to him and the glass ripples, the clear surface warping and suddenly there were six Yoongis staring back at him. The reflections all looked the same, all blinked in unison. However, each version of Yoongi moved on its own, following a different motion than all the others.
"What the hell?" Taehyung said.
"I told you, you two aren't the only things in this maze." Hades sounded smug, like things were finally going his way. "If you can tell which one's yours you can get him back and you pass to the next trial. However, chose wrong and you have to deal with whatever comes out of there in the next trial too."
“What happens to the actual Yoongi if I pick wrong?”
“Well, he fails. He’s mine for eternity should you fail, so pick carefully.”
There was no telling which was the actual Yoongi from the other reflections. Taehyung felt a headache forming between his eyebrows, how was he supposed to find out which was the real one. He would like to think he knew Yoongi well enough for this but doubt was creeping up his spine. It was all his doing, Yoongi had trusted him and walked into the Spirit realm with him. They had agreed to have each other’s backs, something they didn’t need to say outloud, Taehyung
Taehyung decided he would have to walk to each version and quiz it individually. He walked up to the first reflection. This Yoongi was smirking, the cuts on his face making him look more dangerous than vulnerable.
"Yoongi, what’s your bakery name again?”
“It’s whatever you want it to be, sweetheart.” Yeah, this isn’t his Yoongi.
“Ah, alright.” He turned to Hades, “not this one.”
“Are you sure? You could perhaps damn him if you chose wrong.”
“I’m sure.” Hades waves his hand and that version of Yoongi dissolves into smoke. One down, four more to go. He makes his way over to the second one.
This version of Yoongi had its face stuck to the glass, staring Taehyung down. Taehyung couldn’t pinpoint what it was but something looked off with this version.
“Shut up. Why do you keep asking questions? Why can’t you for once shut the fuck up?” This Yoongi carried on in a rant as Taehyung studied him, comparing him with the one beside him.
“Hmm.. you look different.” He looked up at Hades then. “Not this one either.”
“Are you su-”
“Yes I’m sure, he doesn’t have a mole on his cheek, and neither does this one.” He pointed at the mirror next to it. “Yoongi isn’t either of them.” The instant Taehyung said those words both versions vanished in a puff of smoke. Now Taehyung had two reflections of Yoongi left to choose from.
Both versions of Yoongi stood with their hands on the glass of the mirror, identical looks of desperation in their eyes. Taehyung stood in front of them, the gears in his mind turning at astronomical speeds.
“Hey, Yoongi.” Both reflections stared back at him.
“I’m giving you a heads up, when this is all through I’m quitting Sugar’s and marrying Hoseok.” Taehyung’s tone is cheerful.
The reflection of Yoongi on the left bursts into tears at Taehyung’s words. He begins blubbering apologies and promises of how he can do better, begging Taehyung to stay at the bakery. The reflection on the right scoffs, giving Taehyung a pointed look while throwing in a few colorful words.
Taehyung grinned and knocked the mirror on the right. “This is him, and yes, I’m sure. I’d know this loser anywhere.”
To Taehyung’s horror both reflections dissolve into smoke and shadows. Fear that he had failed grips him, he turns to Hades’ direction, meaning to ask him the fuck this means. The sound of the mirrors falling back into the sand stops him, he turns to find Yoongi standing there in the middle.
“You really couldn’t think of anything but “I’m gonna marry Hoseok.” You idiot.” Yoongi delivers a punch to his arm and Taehyung returns it with a grin as he puts his arm around the other’s shoulders, pulling him in.
The crowd erupts in shouts then. Taehyung was certain he saw a dragon fly above their cage and around the arena. The Fates grumble as they reach into their pockets, one of them looking magnificently smug. Hades’ gaze is unreadable as he stares down at Taehyung and Yoongi. He raises a single hand and the entire arena is silenced.
"That's two now, you have won luck and coincidence on your side. However, you still have one more trial left.” He nodded at someone in the distance and the sound of scraping metal fills the arena. “I said the third is the most difficult, and I meant it."
The ground did not shake this time, nor did anything spring out from the sand at them. Snarls came from the same gate they entered the arena from. Three pairs of red glowing eyes stared back at them.
"You wanted Cerberus, you can have him, if you can tame him that is."
The metal bars of the gates dissolve into shadows and a giant paw stepped onto the sand. Yoongi watched as the owner of the paw came out fully and in all his glory.
Ceberus was taller than any man Yoongi had ever seen, taller even than some of the buildings back in Karaz. His coat was a dark shade, but like most fabrics they'd seen here it seemed to shuffle between colors under the sunlight. The three heads were identical, except for the scars lining their jaws and eye in one of their cases. Their eyes were a deep red, holding no calmness within them. Taehyung gulped.
Cerberus made his way towards them slowly. Taehyung and Yoongi took a single step back for each one Cerberus took in their direction.
“Taehyung, what’s our plan now?”
“I’m not sure, hold on.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?” Exasperation lined his words. “We came all the way here to tame it not to be its dinner.”
Ceberus broke out in a run at them. Taehyung and Yoongi ran in opposite directions, attempting to confuse the beast. It didn’t work, however, two of Cerberus’s heads followed them individually and eventually intercepted their path, making them run the opposite direction again.
“Taehyung, what did your necromancer friend tell you about spirits again?” Yoongi yelled at the other.
“He said I have a calming effect on them.” Taehyung yelled back.
“If you ever see him again, tell him I said calming effect, my ass.” Yoongi scrambled as Cerberus gained on him, rounding corners to try and lose him.
“Hey, Jeongguk knows what he’s talking about alri- Wait.” Taehyung stopped running, he walked in the direction of the center of the arena. Cerberus stopped chasing Yoongi, he studied Taehyung standing in the middle and then calmly stalked over to him.
“Taehyung, what are you doing?” Worry coated Yoongi’s voice, Taehyung was just standing there waiting for the Hell beast.
“Yoongi, trust me on this.” Taehyung meant for the smile he gave Yoongi to be calming but all it did was increase the dread he was feeling.
Cerberus circled Taehyung, closing in on the distance with every turn. Eventually he stood in front of Taehyung, surveying him.
Taehyung could feel Cerberus’ hot breath on his face, his snarls grew in volume around him. He took a deep breath and smiled at the beast.
Cerberus’ snarls softened and eventually stopped. It worked, Taehyung thought to himself. He felt Yoongi come up behind him, grabbing his shirt in a gentle grip, as if to say I’m here, you do your thing, I trust you. Taehyung reached up, his palm facing Cerberus’ faces.
The beast sniffed his hand with all three of his heads, one even put the entire thing up to the elbow in its mouth, tasting it before letting go. Yoongi’s grip had tightened then.
Cerberus let out a wild howl then, spreading terror through the crowd. He sat down, causing the ground under the arena to tremble. Taehyung ran his hand on top of Cerberus’ middle head, the ones on the side sniffing and licking him.
Laughing, Taehyung freed himself from Cerberus’ clutches and moved to Yoongi. He grabbed Yoongi’s arm and led him to three-headed dog. There was hesitation in Yoongi’s steps and Taehyung could feel it.
“Trust me, he won’t hurt us.” Taehyung put Yoongi’s hand on top of Cerberus’ heads, letting Yoongi pet him in his own pace.
“It’s like petting soonshim, but bigger, right?” Taehyung laughed.
“And you know, from Hell.” Yoongi added, another one of Cerberus’ head licking his face. His hair stood up on its own now in a comical swirl. Taehyung decided that head was his favorite.
“So, does this mean we passed the third trial too?”
“I guess we did.”
The arena was once more filled with noise, from the joyous screams of some to the grumbles of the Fates as the same one handed more cash to the other two. The only one holding their silence was Hades. His expression unreadable, his eyes calculating as he watched Taehyung and Yoongi pet Cerberus. He raises a single hand and the noise died as fast as it had started.
"You have passed all our trials and proved yourselves to be worthy, congratulations. I will make sure to consider that when I assign you both your Eternal Sufferings."
"What do you mean Eternal Sufferings? The deal was to pass all three trials and we're free to go."
"Sweet child, did you really think we would allow a mortal to leave the Spirit World? If we did I'd be running a resort and not a realm. You two aren't leaving, that was obvious when you made your first step here."
Taehyung felt his stomach drop.
“Listen you old fuck, we had an agreement. The Fates even bore witness to it.” Yoongi yelled at Hades.
“That they did. We did not, however, swear it on the Styx,” he shook his hand in front of him. “I’m afraid that oath holds no weight here.”
This was not happening, Taehyung thought.
Yoongi turned to Taehyung and whispered. “Do you have your broom?”
“Your broom, is it in your pouch?”
“Yeah, it’s always there. Why would I-”
“Because, we reached the deepest part of the Spirit realm and survived that bastard’s trials. We fulfilled the quest, and I’ll be damned if that old fuck is the reason you don’t get your license after all of that. Get your broom out, we’re leaving this place and taking the damn dog with us.”
Taehyung’s face splits into a smile as he reaches into his pouch for his broom. “How are we taking hi-” he was interrupted by Cerberus leaning into Taehyung’s pouch, sniffing his hand.
“Can he fit in there?”
“Yoongi, please. I could fit the entire village of Karaz and its surrounding mountains in here.” Taehyung pet each of Cerberus’ heads, preparing to shove the beast into the pouch.
“Yeah okay, stop bragging and stuff the dog in now, please. I think Hades’ tired of waiting.”
As Yoongi spoke shadow soldiers appeared around them. The horned man stood at their lead, a smirk lining his features.
“Go.” The horned man ordered and the skeletons were on them, running at them at full speed from all directions.
“In here, boy.” Cerberus jumped into the tiny pouch at Taehyung’s words. “Good boy.” He pulled out the broom and grabbed Yoongi by the shirt, pulling him up on the broom beside him.
The moment they took flight the skeletons were on them, piling up on top of the other attempting to catch them from that height.
The metal cage was drawing closer and closer. “Taehyung!” Yoongi shouted.
“I got it, cover your eyes.” He chanted a few lines and then in wave of flames, a way out was presented to them.
“Kiss my ass you pompous bastard!” Yoongi yelled back at Hades while throwing him a certain hand gesture.
“Get them! Don’t let them escape the realm!” Hades’ voice contained so much fury, Yoongi felt the hair on the back of his neck raise. “First one to capture them for me can request anything, any wish shall be granted to the one that brings the mortals back to me before they pass the gates!”
At his words the crowd erupted, dragon spirits and divinities flying up and chasing them. Others summoned great beasts to ride in the chase. All around them spirits seemed to appear, some riding the wind.
“I got it, just hold on!” Yoongi held on tighter, wrapping his arms all the way around the other’s waist. Taehyung began to fly in random lines, attempting to shake off the spirits after them.
The lighthouse was in their line of sight now, they were so close to getting away. No sooner had the thought passed their minds when a giant spirit rose out of the waters, covering the sunlight from them. It was about the size of the entire island, its body that of a fish. Its mouth taking up most of its face. It opened its mouth and let out a howl as it descended over the lighthouse, attempting to swallow everything with it.
“I know, trust me and hold on tight!”
The giant spirit was almost closing in on the lighthouse. Taehyung angled his broom lower and their speed increased as they flew right under its fangs and straight into the lighthouse. They got off the broom and tumbled into the gate, back into their own realm and away from Hades' wrath.
As soon as they stumbled back they found themselves waking up in their physical bodies. They breathed in the air as if they had been underwater the entire time. Their eyes met and it was impossible to stop the laughter that bubbled up then, they fell into hysterics.
"We're gonna have one hell of a time when it's our turn to go to the Underworld, you know?"
"Not necessarily, I can call in a favor from my necromancer friend, Jeongguk. I bet he'd get us out before Hades would finish throwing his tantrum."
Yoongi laughed. "His speeches man, he'd probably have us spend eternity just listening to him gloat."
"You think the Fates would take bets against us escaping again?"
"From what I've seen, they probably started already."
They just laid there for a while, clutching their stomachs and catching their breaths. A few rays of the setting sun reaching them in the lighthouse. The full weight of what just happened sinking in.
"So, he's still in there?" Yoongi said, pointing at the orange pouch.
"Yup, most probably getting all comfortable in there." Taehyung patted it with a smile on his face.
Yoongi realized this was it. The quest had come to an end and Taehyung would be making his way out of Karaz and his life very soon. He pushed the thought aside, if Taehyung didn't bring it up first then he wouldn't.
Yoongi got up and groaned, the pain blossoming instantly. His entire body ached, as if he had done strenuous labor for the past week without rest.
"Taehyung, why do I feel like an elephant sat on me several times?"
"It's all the bruises and injuries we got down there." Taehyung winced getting up. "It'll take a while for them to heal since they're spiritual and not physical. I can make us something to ease the pain but there's not much we can do but wait it out."
They stood by empty archway where the door of the lighthouse once was and watched the sun dip into the sea.
"We should get back before it gets completely dark. The woods aren't safe."
They put their arms around each other's shoulders, attempting to support the other as they made their way back to Karaz.
A constant heavy knocking was what woke Yoongi up. He shoved his head under his pillow, willing the knocking to stop with his mind. It didn't.
He sat up, looking over to where Taehyung was sprawled beside him. He was holding a pillow in a tight embrace, Soonshim draped on top of his legs.. They had gotten back late and Taehyung had whined about climbing the stairs to his own room so he’d spent the night at Yoongi's.
The insistent knocking just kept getting louder, it was a miracle Taehyung was still asleep. He got out the bed and made his way to the door, grumbling how Taehyung sleeps like the dead.
Yoongi was almost met with Hoseok's fist as soon as he opened the door.
"He- the hell, Hoseok."
"What the hell, Yoogni? You both just disappeared?! No note, no heads up, nothing. Do you know how worried we were?" Hoseok looked furious.
"Wait, slow down I just woke up. Just, come in." Yoongi moved to let Hoseok in while rubbing his temples, a raging headache had just hit him full force. “I’ll make some tea and then we can talk.”
They sat in the living room on the same couch Taehyung had slept on his first night there. Yoongi was nursing his cup of tea in his hands, warming them. Hoseok left his on the table, undisturbed.
"You were gone for three days." Hoseok crossed his arms across his chest. "Explain."
"What? No we went and came back the same day."
Hoseok's expression remained unchanged. "Yoongi, what date is it today?"
"It's the 12th."
"Yoongi, it's the 16th. You left on the 12th and we haven't even heard of you two since. We were worried sick, we thought you were both dead somewhere."
At that moment Taehyung stumbled in rubbing his eyes, his clothes crumbled up from sleeping in them. His single dangling earring glinting in the sunlight pouring in.
"You guys are noisy." He sprawled himself on the couch his head on Yoongi's lap, his feet sticking off the edge. Yoongi unconsciously started running his fingers through Taehyung's hair. Hoseok observed them quietly.
"We must have been so exhausted when we came back that we just slept for two days."
"That's like a record."
"So what happened there?" Hoseok took a sip of his tea.
"Well, we might need you to contact a necromancer if we were ever both to die."
Hoseok choked on his tea.
"We kinda upset the king of the Underworld."
"Taehyung, I think upset is an understatement here."
Hoseok put down his mug. "I'm going to call Seokjin and the rest and you two are going to explain everything that happened down there, spare no details."
"We better get dressed and make breakfast then."
"Taehyung, it's three pm."
"Yeah but we just woke up, plus breakfast food is the superior food."
"It really is, Hoseok."
"Pancakes?" A smile spread on Taehyung's face.
"Pancakes." Yoongi's smile mirrored his.
It’s a sunny day at Karaz that day, a rare but welcome thing. They’re sitting in Yoongi’s backyard, chairs and tables sprawled in a comfortable way. Stacks of fluffy pancakes rested on plates on one of the tables with two jugs of Lemonade beside it.
Namjoon sat with his back resting on Jimin’s chest, the other had his arm around Namjoon’s middle. Hoseok and Seokjin sat the farthest from Yoongi and Taehyung, they didn’t know what exactly to expect so they took their precautions. Yoongi sat closest to Taehyung, Soonshim napping on his lap.
“So, I’m gonna let him out now alright.” Taehyung surveyed the party, taking note of Hoseok’s tight grip on Seokjin’s arm. “He looks scary but I’m assuring you, he’s harmless.”
“He’s kinda adorable, really.” Yoongi added, running his fingers through Soonshim’s fur.
“He really is.” Taehyung chuckled. “Alright, final warning. I’m letting him out now.” He unzips his pouch and reaches in with his entire arm, rummaging for a bit. He lets out a laugh then, “found him.” Taehyung flips the bag and everyone watches a three-headed black dog, no bigger than Soonshim makes his way out of it. He barks excitedly and jumps on Taehyung, all three heads licking his face.
“Yoongi, you absolute liar. You said it was the size of a building.” Hoseok shouts from the back.
“I swear he was, maybe taking him out of the Spirit world has something to do with it.” Soonshim jumped from his lap, surveying the new member to the party. She circled him for a bit before deciding he was alright and joining him in licking Taehyung’s face. She jumped on them and Taehyung fell back laughing to the ground. Yoongi instantly got up.
“Whoa, are you okay?”
“Yoongi, this is it. This is how I wanna go.” Yoongi snorts at him and is met with Cerberus jumping on him instead. He laughs as he pets what he can reach from his heads. “Hey Taehyung, do you think we should name the heads?”
“Hmm, yeah I think that’ll be a good idea.”
Hoseok and Seokjin made their way to them, wanting a closer look. “He won’t bite, will he?” Hoseok asks.
“Not anymore than I will.” Taehyung answered. “Pet him, he likes it the most behind the ears.”
Hoseok reached in and pet one of Cerberus’ heads gently, the other two surveyed him and Seokjin. Cerberus suddenly jumped at them, making Hoseok screech in surprise and everyone else burst into laughter.
They served the food after that. Seokjin complained the entire time about how you can’t have pancakes in the afternoon as he stuffed his face full of them. Hoseok demanded the recipe from Yoongi but he just shook his head and pointed at Taehyung.
“So, have you decided what to name them yet?” Namjoon mumbled through a mouthful.
“Hmm, how about we each name a head?”
“I like that, alright on the count of three we’ll all say a name. One, two, three!”
“No offense Namjoon, but what the hell is a Rapmon?”
“It’s short for rap monster, you know my for my shop and my passion.”
“I’ve picked up this new type of music in Durak, it’s called Rap. Try it, I’m sure you’ll like it, Yoongi.”
“Sure, I could come by one day and you could show me.”
“I suppose Rapmon’s better than Jjangu.”
“The slander!” Seokjin yelled through a mouthful of pancakes, causing him to choke and Hoseok to reach for the Lemonade for him.
“So, Holly, Mickey and Rapmon. I like that.”
“I’m still going to call him Jjangu, you know.” Seokjin said while Hoseok mumbled to him to “just finish your pancakes, babe.”
They spent the afternoon like that, laughing, eating and retelling tales, the warm breeze keeping them company. Summer was coming to Karaz. It was Yoongi’s favorite time of year, when the docks would overflow with travellers and merchants and the blossoms would take more the exotic shades of oranges and purples. Karaz came alive during the summer and once upon a time so had Yoongi.
Right now though, with the breeze gently tickling his hair and the sound of his friends’ laughter filling up the courtyard, Yoongi could agree this was where he felt most alive.
Yoongi knew this day was coming up but that in no way prepared him for it. He had himself to blame for that, he supposed. Whenever the thought of Taehyung leaving would come up he would push it back down, out of sight and out of mind.
He expected he’d feel a degree of sadness, maybe even some longing, but that wasn’t what he felt. A cloud of melancholy hung over Yoongi’s head, he pretended not to notice it but that didn’t mean everyone else did.
“Yoongi, don’t be like this. We all knew this day was coming.” Hoseok whispered so that only he would hear. They were in the field where Yoongi had first found Taehyung, he had wanted to have one last meal with everyone before he left for good.
“Here’s to earning your license! You’re a full witch now!” They had toasted him earlier.
Seokjin and Jimin were now helping Taehyung pull away the food, saving it for the long journey ahead of him. Namjoon and Hoseok sat on opposite ends, cleaning up after their meal, Yoongi fluttering between them.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Hoseok. I’m perfectly fine.” Yoongi’s voice was monotone.
“Yoongi…” Yoongi couldn’t have this conversation, not right now. He left Hoseok and went to help Namjoon.
He handed Namjoon a bag to carry as he shuffled the leftovers of their meal into it.
“You know it doesn’t have to be this way.” Namjoon began in a soft tone.
“Not this again.” Yoongi threw an apple core with more aggression than needed into the bag, moving on to the next area to clean.
“I’m just saying, you can ask him to stay.”
“Why would I do that Namjoon?”
“Because you love him, even if you won’t admit it to yourself.”
Yoongi paused, holding a crumpled up paper pastry bag as he stared at the single tree in the clearing, the one he had found Taehyung under all those nights ago. He thought back to the events of the Spirit world, to their days together at Sugar’s and their nights hanging with the rest. A lump had formed in his throat, Yoongi tried to swallow it down, ignoring the way his eyes were stinging. “It’s not like that, things aren’t that simple.” He said in a small voice throwing the pastry bag into the bag Namjoon is holding.
“Yoongi, you’ll never know till you try.”
“Listen, I appreciate your concern but I was fine before he came to Karaz, and I’ll be fine when he leaves.” He threw a smile at the other,
“You guys, I’m leaving now.” Taehyung’s voice called out to them. “Come here, I can’t leave without giving you all some love.”
Yoongi snorts at that, of course Taehyung would say that.
They gathered where he stood. His broom in his hand, now perfectly mended, and the breeze teasing his hair and his dangling earring. Yoongi looked away.
He hugged Jimin and Namjoon first, promising them a trip together in the future. Hoseok clung to him next, a red-faced mess of snot and tears telling Taehyung how much he would miss his ass. Seokjin had to drag him off the witch, making Taehyung swear to visit again, hugging him excessively and threatening to involve Hades if Taehyung doesn’t at least write to them every once in awhile.
Yoongi was the only one left now. The others were already leaving, claiming to have urgent matters to take care of back in the village. Yoongi and Taehyung both knew they didn’t.
A gentle smile was on Taehyung’s face as he looked at him, his expression soft.
“So this is it, you’re a full witch now.” Yoongi returned that smile.
“Couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Please, it was all you.”
“Excuse me, who was it who told Hades to kiss his ass as we made our grand escape from the Underworld?”
Yoongi snorts at the memory, his smile growing tenfold.
“You better make sure Jeongguk has our backs if we were to die. I’m pretty sure that old bastard can keep a grudge.”
“Will do.” Taehyung laughed but it died as soon as it started. “So, this is goodbye then.”
“I guess it is.” Yoongi buried his hands in his back pocket to give himself something to do.
“Seems fitting how it’s where we first met. Come to think of it, why were you out here that night in the first place?”
“Umm, I saw something flare up and fall towards this field. I thought it was a shooting star, but it turned out to be you.”
“A shooting star? Were you after its heart?”
“Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t you can’t prove anything.” Taehyung laughed at Yoongi’s reply.
“What were you going to use the wish for?” It was known that consuming the heart of a fallen star meant to grant a person any wish they desired, no matter the boundaries of the realms of men.
“Wealth and fame of course, what else?” Yoongi doesn’t mention how he had wanted to bring back his mother, even for a short amount of time. He wanted nothing more than to have a conversation with her, maybe talk about the bakery and how it was doing and tell her stories of the childhood she had missed. More than any of that though, he wanted to ask her about the witch, he had wanted to understand. After meeting Taehyung though, he felt as if he did.
“You know, I’m glad it was you who found me.” Taehyung suddenly said, breaking Yoongi’s thoughts. “I know I’m no shooting star, but I hope the fame we created for ourselves in the Spirit realm was enough for your wish.”
“Trust me, Not a single spirit won’t know our names by the time Hades’ is done with his temper tantrums.” Yoongi smiled back.
Taehyung rested his broom against the tree bark, turning to envelope Yoongi in a tight embrace. Yoongi felt his face heat up, he buried his face deeper into the other’s chest to hide it. Taehyung let out a wounded sound, smushing his nose against Yoongi’s hair.
“I’m gonna miss how tiny you are, a tiny garden Gnome.” Yoongi delivered a punch to his side at that.
“Shut up, you Giant.” Taehyung just laughed at that and released the other.
“I’m really glad I met you.”
Taehyung grabbed his broom and got on, turning for one last look at the other. “I’ll come visit, after I get my license and settle down.”
Taehyung raises his hand and salutes Yoongi. “It’s been a pleasure working for you, boss.” He adds in an heavy foreign accent. “But I’m afraid I gotta fly. Kids down there, they need me boss.”
“Go.” Yoongi laughs at the other’s theatrics. Taehyung calls out one more time before he takes off, flying into sky.
Yoongi stood there, watching as he kept getting smaller the further he got, until he faded into the distance, only then did Yoongi pick himself up and walk back to the village.
It was raining in Karaz that day, the sky holding onto Yoongi’s melancholy as he made coffee and baked cakes at Sugar’s. Autumn had rolled into Karaz and with it the winds of change. The leaves were brighter and the tides were gentler bringing with them ships of merchants and sailors in and out of Karaz.
Namjoon and Jimin had set out on their first quest together earlier that week, something about a kingdom of ice and a boy stuck in time. Namjoon’s wounds had healed remarkably after using Taehyung’s salve, thought he still had the scars like he was told.
Hoseok and Seokjin still worked in their shops, respectively. They both made it a habit to check in on the baker next door every once in awhile, no matter how much he pushed at them and insisted he was fine.
It was a rainy day in Karaz and Yoongi was already out of eclairs. It was a slow afternoon, a crew of merchants had come in early in the morning and cleaned out most of his goods and now he was out of eclairs. He supposed he should make some more.
He was on his way to the kitchen when the door chimed; another customer.
“We’re sold ou- Oh.” Yoongi paused, noticing who the customer was.
Taehyung stood at the door, panting and drenched from the rain. He looked different, as if an older version of himself. His hair was darker, with more hints of red than blond in it now. His bangs were cut short, just above his eyebrows. He wore his usual clothes with button up shirts and trousers, except he had abandoned the suspenders. The only constant that remained was the single silver dangling earring.
“Hi. W-why are you panting?” Yoongi hated how his voice broke.
“Because I ran all the way here.” Taehyung was still panting.
“Did you ruin your broom again? Why would you run all the way here?”
“Because I need to talk to you.” Taehyung’s tone was serious, his face solemn. It was a part of him that Yoongi had only seen at the last parts of the quest, just before they entered the Spirit realm. Yoongi leaned against the doorframe for support.
“Well, I’m kinda busy right now.” He ran his fingers through his dark locks. “We’re out of eclairs and I gotta-”
“Yoongi, stop talking.”
“Stop. talking.” Yoongi closed his mouth, apprehension blooming in his chest.
“I gotta say some things and I need you to be quiet until I’ve said everything.” Taehyung took a deep breath. “A few months back I crashed into this village and you were the one to find me. You took me in and even gave me a place to stay. You showed me around the village and even introduced me to your friends. Hell you even let me pull out your spirit and came to the Underworld with me.”
“Shut up, I’m not done. You know, I promised Seokjin I wouldn’t do this, but leaving Karaz made me realize I don’t care what Seokjin thinks.” Taehyung lets out a huff. “I got my license and a new dog but all that didn’t matter because I gave you up, Yoongi.”
“What are you saying?” Yoongi’s voice was small then. He bit his bottom lip, trying to stop it from trembling. Taehyung didn’t mean what he thinks he meant, he shouldn’t get his hopes up. Despite that, his heart gave a leap at the other’s words.
“I’m saying I care about you, you idiot, a lot. I didn’t realize how much until I woke up one day and knew I wasn’t going to see you, knew I won’t hear you sing quietly as you bake, or hear your stupid squeaky laugh when something made me laugh and -” he sighed. “You know, of all the things I’ve ever had to do on my quests leaving you and Karaz were the hardest.”
“You’re exaggerating now,” Yoongi huffed at him, looking away.
“I’m not, I’m really not.” He took a deep breath. “Yoongi, I need to know, if you feel the same way.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it matters!” Taehyung raised his voice.
“You left, Taehyung!”
“You never asked me to stay!” They were screaming now. Yoongi was sure their voices carried over to the streets but he didn’t care.
“How could I, I was terrified.”
“Of losing you like I had lost everyone, you ass.” Yoongi’s eyes were stinging now, unshed tears gathering in the corners. He bit his lip harder.
“You’re an idiot, you know.” Taehyung’s voice was quieter now, gentler. “You haven’t lost everyone. You have Seokjin and Hoseok, who look after you as if you were their own brother. You have Namjoon, who thinks of you as more than just a brother and recently, you got Jimin too.” Taehyung took a step forward with each sentence. “You have all of Karaz - all of it, from the mountains to the sea, standing by you and making sure you were alright. And you have me.”
“I can’t do this Taehyung, I-”
“Why?” He was standing in front of Yoongi now.
“Because, I-I just,” Yoongi was looking at everything but the witch in front of him.
“Yoongi.” Taehyung’s tone was still gentle but more firm. He put his hands on Yoongi’s cheeks, forcing him to look up at him. “I care about you, so much that it terrifies me. But what terrifies me even more is the thought that we could have had a chance to make this work between us but I wouldn’t ever know because I left you. So, I came back now. Tell me do you want this too? If you don’t just say the word and I won’t bother you again. I just need to know, Yoongi.”
“Of course I want this, it’s just. It’s a lot. The day you left was the hardest for me. The days after were no easier. I found myself looking for you when I know you’re not there, I’d call out to you from the kitchen and then remember and just,” he cut off, his voice getting heavy with emotion. “I missed you and missed having you and Soonshim around. Hell, I even missed the Hell beast. But that doesn’t matter now, does it.”
Taehyung released the other’s face and linked their hands instead. “I mean, it still does, matter I mean. I still care for you, so does Soonshim and Holly, Mickey and Rapmon.” A snort escapes Yoongi’s lips at that. “You just have to let us in.”
Yoongi thought back to his time after Taehyung had left, it was a phase he didn’t want to go back to ever again. “Stay. Stay here in Karaz, with me.”
“I’d love that.” Taehyung giggles, resting his forehead on the other’s. Yoongi can’t help but laugh too. His heart was still beating wildly, and perhaps it will never learn to calm down in the presence of Kim Taehyung and perhaps that was okay.
The sound of someone sobbing broke their moment. They turned around to find Hoseok in the kitchen with the door ajar, wiping his nose with a towel.
“That was so beautiful.” He blew his nose into the towel and carried on mumbling incomprehensible sentences through his tears. “Carry on, don’t mind me.”
They burst into laugher, with Yoongi resting his head on the other’s chest burying the sound there. Taehyung rested his chin on top of his head, a huge smile on his face.
The village of Karaz was known for many things. It was known for its fish cakes and for its beautiful shores. It was known for its flower fields and its painted streets. However, now it would also come to be known as the village with the magical bakery. It would be said the place was run by a baker and his witch boyfriend. They’ll tell you about the cakes that bloomed with charm and the drinks that shimmered with wonder. They’ll mention how you could possibly find a Hell beast napping in one of the corners along with a great white dog. It would be said that one visit alone is enough to put a spell on you and capture your heart.