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The Last of the Wilds

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Long ago, the Earth was a place of raw magic, a place of large, unbroken forests and vast expanses of clear, shining water.  

Soils were rich with nutrients, plants bountiful and healthy.  The waters expanded wide and untamed, full to the brim with fish and sea-life.  The air was clear, the sun bright, the rains frequent.  

And nature worked together in one harmonious cycle... ebb and flow, beginning and end, life and death.

It all came back, full circle.

And within this carefully balanced system, many lifeforms existed.  Humans and Spirits were two entities that lived side-by-side, working towards a single-minded goal: maintaining the balance and life of the place they called home.  

Regardless of their differences, both beings relied upon the resources and power of the widespread forests that covered the Earth.

These forests were known as the Wilds.

The Spirits tempered the magic of the Wilds, monitoring the rain cycles and distributing the natural wealth of the magic back amongst the Humans.  In return for this gift, the Humans lived in contentment and they happily provided good, healthy energy for the forest to absorb back into its roots and for the Spirits to feed upon.

And the cycle worked, and many centuries passed in pleasure for all the creatures upon the Earth.

There was a moment in time, however, when the balance between the two lifeforms was badly disrupted...

Unbeknownst to the Spirits, the Human population had begun to rapidly expand.

Like the growth of a choking vine, the Humans began to slowly creep beyond their boundaries. 

They became greedy for territory, fighting each other for more space, more resources, more of the Wilds.  And once the Humans had taken all of the land from each other, they turned on the Spirits.  

A great Human army was amassed, a large sprawling band of Human beings that tore through the great forests and made the land their own, infecting the soils of the Wilds with a sick, demented energy.

Many Spirits disappeared into hiding.  Others chose to stay and fight, turning into twisted versions of themselves, feeding off the black energy that the Humans provided and battling against the intruders until they burnt themselves out, like a dying flame.  

And some Spirits, those Spirits who only wanted peace...

...they were the first to be captured by the Humans, and the first to be destroyed.

--~~--

Kyungsoo worked quickly, a sense of foreboding making his fingers clumsy as he struggled to pack his things.

He needed to hurry.  The Human Army would be upon them soon and he and Kai had yet to relocate to safer grounds within their territory. 

They'd waited too long.

Even though Kyungsoo loved their small log cabin with all of his heart, it wouldn't be much protection.  They'd built this one together, and they could do it again, build another, even if it was somewhere else.     

"Kyungsoo!"

The Earth Spirit straightened, head cocking toward the sound of the approaching voice.

"Kyungsoo!

Kyungsoo immediately dropped his pack and stepped out of the front door.

A body ran into him full tilt and they both stumbled backwards until Kyungsoo was able to regain his bearings and straighten them out.  Joonmyun was breathing hard, eyes wild.  Kyungsoo could feel the Water Spirit trembling from where he gripped the other male's shoulders.

"What's going on?" Kyungsoo ordered, holding Joonmyun steady.  He'd never seen his fellow Spirit so frantic.

"It's---  they've got..."  Joonmyun stopped and inhaled deeply before attempting to speak again, but his words still came out in a quick stream of nonsense. "I didn't know what to do!  He won't listen, I came as quickly as I could---"

Kyungsoo felt that ball of foreboding drop to the pit of his stomach, and his patience snapped.  "Joonmyun!"  

There was no time for this.  The Army was practically upon them and Kyungsoo still had last minute preparations to make.  He needed Joonmyun to get to the point.

The Water Spirit's face was streaked with dirt, his clothes tattered from his own preparations to defend his territories from the imposters that were encroaching.  

"Who do they have?"  Kyungsoo repeated slowly, his heart already pounding with dread.

"It's Kai,"  Joonmyun finally choked out. "He insisted on trying to speak with them." 

Kyungsoo cursed. He should have known that Kai would attempt something as foolhardy as this.  

"Where is he, Joonmyun?"  Kyungsoo demanded.  "You have to tell me where --"

"The waterfalls!" the Water Spirit exhaled quickly.  "He's being held in the grove near my falls."

Kyungsoo left without another word, taking to the trees in one bound and leaping from branch to branch as fast as his body would allow.  He tapped into his powers, and the forest responded, bending to his will and assisting him onward.

He could smell the great stink of the Army miles before he drew near its location.  The strong scent of cloying smoke and closely quartered Humans invaded his senses to the point of making him gag.

But he persisted onward.

The Earth Spirit's heart was hammering in his chest as he emerged into the high branches of the trees that bordered the grove near Joonmyun's waterfalls.  

He grew still, studying the scene below with widening eyes.  For a split second he lost all train of thought, mind unable to fathom the destruction that spread before him. Kyungsoo felt as though his breath had been knocked from his body, his vision suddenly blurry with pain.

His forest, his beautiful, beautiful forest, once so green and sprawling, was now a wasteland. From this vantage point he could see where the Army had carved straight through the western portion of his territory.  

Trees had been toppled, plants and flowers crushed under muddy boots.  In the distance, flames rose from the small Human town that had been nestled against the edge of Kyungsoo's forest.  

He had no doubt the same fate awaited his and Kai's tiny cabin should the Army make it that far.

Kyungsoo inhaled deeply and blinked, tears welling in his eyes and falling silently down his face. 

The damage was so much more terrible than he had anticipated.  

How could these Humans destroy the very land they were after?  It didn't make any sense. 

And Kai.

"He insisted on trying to speak with them." 

Joonmyun's words echoed through Kyungsoo's mind and he snapped back into focus.

Kai was in there somewhere, and Kyungsoo had to get him out.

He studied the clearing that was directly below him.  The once familiar grove was now lined with tents, Humans walking here and there as they went about their various duties.  Kyungsoo couldn't spot a place that would be easy for him to infiltrate the camp without being seen, and besides that little detail, he had no idea how to discern where Kai was being held prisoner.  From up here, all of the tents looked the same, no one structure more grand than the other.

The Earth Spirit exhaled and wiped an arm across his face, furiously smoothing his tears away and steeling his resolve. There was no time to cry about the damage that had already been done. He was going to have to go into the midst of this army regardless of whether he knew Kai's location or not.  

Kyungsoo gave his surroundings one more quick examination before unfolding from his crouched position and preparing to drop to the ground.

He was about to release the branch when a high and lilting voice addressed him.

"Come out Earth Spirit, I know you're watching."

He froze in place, still hidden in the trees, his eyes immediately zeroing in on a familiar figure that was being led between a group of approaching Humans.  Kai was pushed into the clearing, his hands and arms bound behind him. 

A woman in a long, red cloak followed after, her eyes trained on the tree that Kyungsoo was currently hiding in.  He didn't recognize the Human woman, but Kyungsoo was immediately unnerved by the fact that her gaze was able to find him so easily.  

Her black hair was pulled back from her face in a severe braid, and her ruby red lips were quirked into a smile as she called again.

"Come out," she repeated, "We have a deal to make."

In her slender hand, she twirled a single flower:  

An amaryllis.

Kyungsoo recognized the plant instantly.  Of all the shrubs, weeds, and flowers that grew in the great expense of the Wilds, the red-petalled amaryllis was Kai's favorite.  The sight of something so fragile and precious being carelessly spun in this Human woman's hand drove Kyungsoo out of the trees, anger prickling beneath his skin.  He dropped to the ground on silent feet and stepped into the awaiting ring of people.

The Red Lady's eyes glinted with satisfaction.  

"What do you want?" the Earth Spirit questioned, his voice low and brusque with anger. He could feel Kai's eyes on him, the Flower Spirit keeping quiet as the Red Lady moved to stand directly in front of Kyungsoo.

"You know what I'm after," she purred.

His land.

Kyungsoo's jaw tightened.  "And if I refuse to give it to you?"

She flicked the flower between her fingers, staring at it thoughtfully.  "You will wish you had chosen otherwise."

Kyungsoo's gaze flitted to where Kai was standing; his shoulders were slumped, hands bound behind his back, completely useless.  Kai was a younger Spirit than Kyungsoo, his powers not as potent.  But still.  Kyungsoo had to wonder why the younger male had not simply escaped already.  

Either he didn't want to...

Or he couldn't.

The Red Lady smiled, noticing Kyungsoo's shift in attention.  She stepped back toward Kai, her hand reaching out to trace along the line of his shoulders.  The Flower Spirit tensed at the touch, his gaze finally flicking up to meet Kyungsoo's.

He looked petrified.

"Don’t make the mistake in believing that Spirits are the only ones to control the magic of the Wilds," she murmured cryptically.  "Humans are not as docile as we seem."

Clearly, Kyungsoo wanted to spit.  But he held his tongue, determined not to let this Human know what he was thinking.  He didn't know what game she was playing, but it was one he wanted no part in.

"I will not let you destroy this land," he finally responded.  "It does not belong to you.  Release that Spirit and leave."  

The Red Lady frowned, clearly displeased with Kyungsoo's lack of reaction.  "Pity," she murmured lightly.  "I thought he meant more to you.  Maybe I should get rid of him right now."

Kyungsoo's whole body stiffened, his sight going hazy.  And the Red Lady took notice.

"Ahhh...there we go."  Her carefree countenance suddenly darkened, her eyes hard and menacing, a predator closing in on her prey.  "Relinquish your lands or the Flower Spirit dies."

"You can't kill a Spirit,"  Kyungsoo retorted lowly.  "It's impossible.

Well.  Not impossible.  Spirits lived on the energy of the Wilds, but if that energy were to disappear, dry up...so would the Spirits.

But this was not something that a Human could invoke on her own.

She still spun the delicate stem of the amaryllis flower between her fingers, a considering look upon her face.  "Shall I show you how it's done then?"

"The flower!"  Kyungsoo's gaze jerked back to Kai.  The Flower Spirit’s eyes were wild with fear and desperation, like he was trying to tell Kyungsoo stay and run at the same time.  "Kyungsoo she--"

The Red Lady's gentle fingers suddenly curled into a hard fist, and Kyungsoo looked away from Kai just time to see the stem of the flower snap cleanly in half.  Kai's voice cut off abruptly, and Kyungsoo felt as though time itself stuttered to a stop.  Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.

The young Flower Spirit's eyes were wide in disbelief, hurt, pain.  His mouth still open as if he were about to say something.

But nothing ever came out.

Kyungsoo watched in frozen horror as Kai's body began to slump, his eyelids drifting shut, his knees collapsing.  

The male fell forward in a slow, arcing descent.

And then Kai, the Flower Spirit, disappeared before he even hit the ground.

Kyungsoo's eyes were glued to the spot where Kai had vanished.  

He couldn't breathe, his mind unable to fathom what had just happened.

Kai couldn't possibly be----....no.  He couldn't. 

Not possible.

"Where is he?" Kyungsoo mumbled, taking a frantic step forward.  "What have you done?"  

The Earth Spirit glanced around wildly and the Red Lady only stared at him in cool disregard, allowing him to search.  The broken flower in her hand fell to the dirt in an unceremonious heap. 

"He is gone," she replied dispassionately.  "And such shall be your fate too, unless you hand over your lands."

Kyungsoo stared at the flower on the ground without really seeing it, his brain trying to reverse everything that had just happened.  His vision went hazy again, a thousand memories and emotions flitting through his mind in rapid succession.  

Kai grinning in excitement, cheeks flushed and eyes squinted.  Kai digging into the dirt, nails dirty and bangs plastered against his forehead with sweat. Kai running toward Kyungsoo in delight and dancing so gracefully in the moonlight.

Kai lying in bed, beckoning him forward. Kai's searing kiss when he was in a hurry and his languid one when he was not.  Kai's sleeping form, lying so peacefully against him.

Kai was everything.  Kai was his.

And they had been together for longer than any of these selfish Human beings had even been alive.

Kai couldn't be gone. 

He just couldn't.   

Spirits didn't just disappear like that.  Spirits didn't just die.

"Bring him back," Kyungsoo growled, his body trembling and hands curling into fists.  His vision was going red.

"I cannot.  His life energy was bound to that flower, and now that energy is gone, and so is he."

"Impossible!" Kyungsoo raged.  He felt his anger pool in his limbs, gathering like a rising tide.

The Red Lady's foot lifted slowly, and Kyungsoo's eyes traced the movement.  Her leg halted midair, and then she dropped her heel back down upon the flower with crushing force, grinding the delicate petals into the dirt.

Kyungsoo let out a quick, disbelieving huff of air....

...and then the rage within him broke with the force of a tidal wave.

All of the magic that had been building in his system was released, his hurt and anger flowing into the Earth in one cataclysmic rush. 

And the ground responded, opening up all around him, creating a giant crack that widened as it picked up force and spread outward.  The area was suddenly filled with the high cries of humans who were unlucky enough to fall into the new crevice, the solid ground under their feet suddenly nothing but thin air.  Horses screamed as they too tumbled downward, loud and eerily piercing, but Kyungsoo couldn't find it in himself to even care.  

He would destroy this entire Army single-handedly if he had to.

Kyungsoo straightened, a sudden flash of red catching the corner of his eye amongst all the chaos.  

The Red Lady was fleeing toward the trees, her cloak flying behind her like a beckoning banner.  She was abandoning her Army in the hopes of saving her own neck. 

Kyungsoo felt a wave of disgust.  How cowardly.  How predictable.  How futile.  How Human.

The Red Lady disappeared into the forest line and Kyungsoo smiled grimly, allowing her a head start, letting her believe she had a chance of getting away.  There was no way it would happen.  She was in Kyungsoo's territory now.

Kyungsoo let her run just to watch her tire herself out, but when he realized where she was headed, he closed in on her.  

But he’d waited a moment too long, let her go too far.

He found her in the very same clearing that he and Joonmyun had conversed in just hours ago.  The one that protected his and Kai's small, two bedroom cabin.  The Red Lady was standing atop the large boulder that sat off to right of their home.  It was Kai's favorite sunning spot, the rock large and flat enough that sometimes Kyungsoo would even join him. 

And now the Red Lady was using it as a platform.  She stood there, her eyes closed, head bowed, hands pressed together in front of her chest.  And she was mumbling, speaking low and fast.  Some sort of incantation.

The Earth Spirit snorted, his vision still edged crimson with anger.  

She would need more than some stupid incantation to save herself now.

Kyungsoo stepped toward her, and it was like he'd triggered a hidden sense.  Her eyes shot open, dark as night, but her stare vacant and locked on something that Kyungsoo couldn't see... 

He stopped walking.  

The Red Lady's voice grew in pitch and urgency, and Kyungsoo suddenly felt as though his very breath was being sucked from his lungs.  He couldn't move, couldn't  speak.  He could only watch in frozen, breathless silence as a tiny orb of light emerged from his body and floated towards the chanting female.  

Her hands unfolded, one reaching out to caress the small light and coax it closer.  The light hesitated, wavering for a moment, caught in the air as though indecisive, and then it lost resistance, following her gesture forward. 

And suddenly Kyungsoo knew exactly what was about to happen.

That little light was his soul, the part of him that was connected to his life energy...and she was about to bind it to the boulder.

The Red Lady clenched her fist, collecting the light, and then Kyungsoo watched in sick silence as she thrust her hand downward, connecting it to the moss-covered rock beneath her.

Kyungsoo saw white, his body bowed outward, his lungs gasped for air.  

"You will stay here for all of time," she murmured, speaking in a language that Kyungsoo could comprehend.  Her voice was trembling with exhaustion.  "You will stay here until this rock is broken, and you will be unable to do anything as your land is slowly taken away from you, piece by piece."

Kyungsoo collapsed onto the ground, his limbs devoid of energy.  He clenched his teeth and forced himself to raise his head, to stare at her in defiance.  "I will escape," he hissed. His heart hurt, his body hurt, and he was so full of hate. "And I will find you, and I will kill you."

A small smile lifted her lips.  "There is only one way to break this bond, Earth Spirit."

Kyungsoo just stared up at her in silent malice, daring her to continue.

“In order to free your soul from this boulder, you must complete this single requirement…”

And Kyungsoo immediately knew that it would be something impossible, something that would keep him bound to this boulder forever.

"You, Earth Spirit, must fall in love with a Human."

There was a blinding flash then, a signal that the Bind had been sealed.

Kyungsoo laughed bitterly, his head falling back to the ground.  He rolled over so that he was on his back, facing the sky, his eyes blurry with tears of mirth and anger.  

“Never.  I will never fall in love with a dirty Human."

The Red Lady slipped down from her perch and slowly approached the fallen Earth Spirit, a half-smile on her painted lips.  "I will leave you this clearing and a small section of forest,”  she told him as she walked away.  "But the rest of your land is mine to do with as I please."

Kyungsoo stared up at the sky, fresh tears leaking from his eyes as the finality of what had just happened struck him.

His lands were gone.

His freedom was gone.

His love was gone.

And Kyungsoo was bound to a boulder for all of eternity.

--~~--

Red Shamans, they were called.  

Humans that had found the ability to harness the magic of the Wilds, and aptly named after their creator. 

They were able to twist the magic in their favor, use it to their advantage as they pleased.  Humans, however, were not meant to trifle with such potent magic, and so their abilities were far from perfect.  These Red Shamans could not control the elements, nor gain the lengthy lifespan of a Spirit, but they could use such incomplete magic to manipulate the energy that the Spirits relied on.  

Many a Spirit perished, life energy trapped to an object that was then purposely destroyed.

However, due to the imperfect nature of Shaman magic, there was always a loophole with such energy binds...a stipulation, an exception, a certain balance that the Shaman had to invoke in order to seal the bind. 

It was very rare that any Spirit had a chance to attempt to break their bind, as the Shaman nearly always made the stipulation something that the bound Spirit would never have the means to complete.

It was a dark age for all Spirits, and as time passed, the Wilds became smaller, the Humans became more widespread, and the careful balance that had kept the Earth in line for so long, slowly disappeared.

Few Spirits voluntarily remained in this new Human world, most choosing to withdraw into hiding, and those few Spirits who did remain had little interaction with the Humans.  For as time went on, and greed, and lust, and hate grew in the hearts of men, the Humans eventually lost the ability to even see the Spirits of the Wilds....

--~~--