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another forever

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There's a mansion on top of the hill on the outskirts of the Higanbana town. A lone residence. Belongs to the Lee family. 

 

From afar, it looks intimidating cradled in the creeping shadows of the trees. Up close, it appears rather quaint. Fine decor. White plaster wall design. Beautifully crafted columns. With a well-groomed garden breathing life to the mansion.

 

Though, it doesn't erase this doubt in his chest.

 

Song Minho worries at his lip. Feels the piercing on the bottom lip with his tongue. Maybe he should just leave. Just refuse the offer. This place reeks of something—something that he can't pinpoint. There must be a reason why this mansion is the talk of the town. Why people stay away from the properties.

 

But, urgh, life sucks balls. The living cost is choking him, and his job as an art restorer doesn't pay much, so Mino can't afford to be picky.

 

Even if it comes from a creepy mansion like this. Urgh, shitty luck.

 

With a deep breath, Mino rings the bell.

 

The intercom buzzes. "Who." 

 

The voice sounds tired. Mino hates to trouble people, so he quickly introduces himself, "Song Minho. The art restorer who applied for the job online? The employer said I should come today to take a look at the painting."

 

"Ah, right. I did say that—" A sigh. "—I'm sorry. I forgot. Please come in," and the sea-green gate clicks open.

 

The first step has Mino reconsidering his decision. Intensified by the sudden gust of wind. Dark clouds over the mansion. As though the world is warning him. Against him from taking another step.

 

He doesn't feel good too. Like there's an ominous feeling creeping up from the ground. From the mansion. Invisible claws tracing over the walls, in the garden, ready to lash out—

 

—"Mino"—

 

CLANG!!

 

The sound of the closing gate startles Mino out of his stupor. He blinks at the closed gate behind him. Again when it doesn't explain his confusion, then turns his head ahead to stare at the mansion.

 

Right. Painting. Job. Mino shakes his head, tugs at his key necklace, then walks ahead.

 

When the wooden door opens, Mino's breath catches.

 

The mansion is mesmerizing—something he usually sees in Elite magazines. The design gives an aristocratic elegance through the addition of a bold cornice and a crystal chandelier. The stone-floored entrance hall is lined with family portraits, hung frame to frame on the pale grey walls.

 

Elegance and yet... creepy. Mino swallows thickly.

 

A man in a buzz cut greets him, with a smile and handshake. "Hello, I'm Lee Seunghoon, the owner of this place."

 

Mino returns the handshake weakly. Lee Seunghoon's grey suit, paired with polished oxfords, makes him self-conscious about his appearance; a long-sleeve checkered shirt with a faded pair of blue jeans.

 

The difference in social status. Embarrassment burns Mino's cheeks. Mino slings his bag to the front like it's a pathetic shield.

 

"Uhm, hello, I'm, uh, Song Minho, here to, uh, work?"

 

"Thank you for accepting this job. You saved my life." Lee Seunghoon claps his upper arm. A smile curls on his lips. Warmly. Friendly. A complete opposite to the image this mansion conveys—cold and lifeless.

 

Mino titters, eyes down. "Uhm, could you please show me the painting?"

 

"But of course! It's in the study room on the west wing. Please follow me."

 

Lee Seunghoon leads the way, jumping from one topic to another to make conversation—"How was your travel? I imagine it was exhausting," and, "Not easy to find an art restorer these days." Mino half listens to the man, eyes searching for other signs of living in the mansion.

 

None to be found, though.

 

"Uhm, pardon my rudeness, but, uhm, where are the others?" Mino asks.

 

"Others?"

 

"Yes. Your family or—or servants? I don't know, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude."

 

"No, no, it's okay. I understand why you asked." Lee Seunghoon smiles, twirling around to meet Mino's eyes. He has the grace of a dancer in his twirl, Mino notes. "To answer your question, no. No servants, no family members. I live alone."

 

Mino blinks owlishly.

 

"Well, the housekeeper comes every Friday to clean the place and the gardener every Tuesday to groom the garden, but most of the time this place remains empty."

 

"But I was informed this is a family residence." Mino tips his head to the side, puzzled.

 

"This isn't the main residence," Lee Seunghoon answers, "My family asks me to watch over this mansion since I work here. There are times where I'm not at home for days because of my odd working hours, so I thought hiring servants would be a waste of money."

 

"I see." Mino nods. That explains the lifeless aura.

 

"We are here!"

 

The sunlit study room is a picture of calm, focus and inspiration. In the middle sits a mahogany table. On the left side is a bookshelf, lined with books while the opposite wall is a bay window, framed with maroon curtains to give a contrast colour to the white room.

 

"That's the painting." Lee Seunghoon points at the covered canvas sitting behind the table.

 

The canvas is wrapped in a ragged cloth. Mino frowns—irresponsible. Careless, even. The painting deserves better treatment. Annoyance ticks in his chest, but well. Painting preservation isn't common knowledge.

 

Mino puts on a pair of gloves, ready to examine the painting. His eyes dart around.

 

"You can use the table, I won't mind. I rarely use this space, anyway," Lee Seunghoon adds helpfully.

 

Oh. Okay.

 

Carefully, Mino places the painting on the table. With cautious fingers and deliberate peeling, he uncovers the canvas, one corner at a time. He tries not to mind the layer of dust on the cloth.

 

And—

 

Wow. Beautiful.

 

Pale skin, light-coloured hair, thick lips—it's a painting of a man sitting in a chair. Elegance in the lines, in the strokes, in the curve of his smile. The dark background emphasizes the red outfit, bright, beautiful, harmony, like a sunset bleeds into the night.

 

The painting isn't done, hinted by the messy black strokes on the feet, on the drawn curtains, the details of the curtains. But those aren't what caught Mino's attention in the first place.

 

No. It was the eyes. Glittering magenta. With a note of sparkles. As though those eyes were carved from gemstones. As though they house emotions and memories, a window to the past—

 

"Mino."

 

"Yes?" Mino snaps his head up at Lee Seunghoon.

 

Lee Seunghoon blinks. "Yes, what?"

 

"I thought I heard you calling me."

 

Confusion swims over Lee Seunghoon's face. "No, I didn't say anything."

 

"But I really—" and Mino stops himself. No need to dwell on things. Maybe it's just the wind. He returns to the painting. "How long has this painting been in your possession?"

 

"A long time, maybe? I'm not sure. I found this painting in the garden storage," Lee Seunghoon explains, gesturing at the window which overlooks the garden.

 

No sign of the building he mentioned, though. Mino makes a mental note to explore the garden if Lee Seunghoon permits. For precautionary purposes—in case there's an anomaly found on the painting.

 

"Have you asked your family?"

 

"No one really knows about its existence. Well, except for my great-grandmother, I think. She took care of this place before falling sick. I hate to bother her, though."

 

"I'm sorry to hear that," Mino says sincerely.

 

"Thanks for your concerns. Will it be a problem?" Lee Seunghoon asks.

 

"No, not really. So long as I perform a thorough examination with ultraviolet light, it won't be a problem," Mino assures, with a smile.

 

Relief is apparent in Lee Seunghoon's voice. "Glad to know. I'm not trying to rush you, but when can you start working on this painting? This painting is too beautiful to be stored in a dark place. Its restoration is long overdue."

 

Mino finds himself staring at those magenta eyes. Captivated. Entranced by the beauty.

 

By the untold stories in those eyes.

 

—"forever"—

 

"Beautiful indeed."

 

 

...

 

 

A door. 

 

There's a wooden door in front of him. Secured with a heavy lock. Looks old, the wood and steel, eaten by moisture and time. 

 

Mino examines his surroundings. He's on a flight of cobblestone stairs, lined with bricks. The emergency lights on the walls are the only source of light. Otherwise, he's surrounded by darkness.

 

He takes the lock into his hand. Stares at the keyhole. And catches a faint sound from the other side.

 

"—Mino."

 

His eyes snap open. Which is strange because he doesn't remember closing them. Instead of the lock, Mino is greeted with the sight of the ceiling in his room.

 

And of his housemate munching his way through a bowl of cereal in the doorway. Porcelain skin, a pair of eyes, a straight nose, pretty lips and silky hair—Kim Jinwoo is blessed with a good look.

 

Oh. It was a dream. Mino groans.

 

"Good morning, Princess Aurora," Jinu says, with a spoon in his mouth. "Your phone has been ringing since forever." He uses the spoon to point at Mino's phone on the bedside table.

 

Surprised, Mino rolls to his side and glances at the screen. The courier service. Shit. His eyes skim over time. Ten past eleven. Shit, shitty. He answers the call. "Hello—"

 

A long rant blasts out of the speaker. Mino finds himself putting the phone away in the distance to spare his eardrum.

 

"Yes, yes—I'm sorry, this—"

 

Turns out, it's not an easy task to slip a word in between an angry rambling. Mino bows a lot, out of pure reflex, even though the caller can't see him. He struggles to put on his clothes while cradling the phone on his shoulder.

 

Ten minutes later, Mino is running across the living room, cursing when he almost steps on Jhonny's tail, who sits idly by the couch. The cat hisses angrily.

 

"Whoa, sorry, sorry, princess! I didn't see you. Hi, Rei, Bei."

 

The Sphynx cats simply blink slowly at him under the table.

 

"Work on the weekend?" Jinu asks from the dining table. Mino sees cans of beer on the table and a cigarette between Jinu's fingers. And raises a brow.

 

Too early for drinking is never registered in Jinu's dictionary. It's a wonder how his liver remains functioning well with that much of alcohol consumption.

 

"Yea. The painting just came in." Mino slips his hand into the sleeve of his jacket, then adjusts the collar. He cranes his neck to peek at his reflection in the mirror. Mino brushes his hair with his fingers. 

 

The red colour looks good on him.

 

"Should I be expecting you to be away for days?" Jinu offers him a slice of bread. "I know you're already late but eat. Don't work on an empty stomach."

 

Like a kid, Mino chomps on the bread. Then steals a sip of Jinu's coffee while he's at it. He erects his spine back to say, "Nah, not an urgent restoration. The client is lenient this time. I think I'm gonna take my time to do this project."

 

"Good because really, you must fix your sleeping schedule. I see the dark circles under your eyes. Ugly as fuck."

 

Wow, words. But that's how Jinu shows his concerns. Mino smiles, not too wide, just a straight line of his lips to express his gratitude. "Thanks, hyung."

 

Mino takes the bus to get to the studio. Fewer passengers today. Lucky. He finds a seat at the back, hugs his bag and makes himself comfortable.

 

Eight stops later, Mino gets off. There's a bakery down the street. He buys himself three meat buns and a soda—never working on an empty stomach, Mino remembers Jinu saying.

 

At the studio, Jaehyun's sour mood greets him. "The painting's in your room. The courier was pissed when I had to sign the form in your stead."

 

Mino winces. "I'm sorry, hyung. I didn't mean to put you in trouble. I couldn't sleep well last night. Here, a token of apology." He offers a meat bun to Jaehyun.

 

Jaehyun's eyes move from the meat bun to Mino's guilty look back and forth. Then accepts it. He jerks his head inside. "Have you eaten? I was about to order jjajangmyeon."

 

"Your treat?" Mino tails him, like a little duckling.

 

"Don't be a little shit." Jaehyun playfully ruffles Mino's hair, with a grin.

 

Mino tries to duck away from Jaehyun's naughty hand. "It took me hours to style my hair!" and Jaehyun laughs.

 

Lunch is a calm affair, with Jaehyun sneaking in his complaints about his current project, hired by a famous gallery—"What did they expect? The painting was kept in the darkroom, exposed to moisture," and, "I tried my best, but they were being unrealistic." Mino occasionally replies with 'hum' while slurping his noodles.

 

Bellies filled with jjajangmyeon, they both return to their respective working station. Mino finds the painting on his working counter, wrapped neatly in a new cloth. Annoying courier but excellent service.

 

Can't have both in this life, can he.

 

He removes the cloth and damn, the painting never fails to steal his breath away. Mino backs away a little to admire it. The composition, the lighting, the colour blending from the dark background to the bright subject; it is perfect.

 

And those magenta eyes—no words can describe their beauty. Mino can't help getting sucked into those eyes.

 

Done admiring at the painting, Mino puts on his earphones then pulls out his tools. The first task; testing for dirt and oil contamination. Cotton and diluted detergent.

 

He pours the solution on the wool pad to clean a spot. And hears a light gust of wind. Mino snaps his head, looking around. The window is closed. In another corner, Jaehyun has headphones on, in his own music world as he works on his project.

 

...well. Mino goes back to the painting.

 

The painting had been left in a closed place for a long time. So no surprise to see dirt on it.

 

Art restoration is a delicate job, Mino often reminds himself. Paintings are relics of a bygone era, created to capture memories when cameras weren't invented yet. The painters gave their everything to produce such great masterpieces, so it's only polite to preserve them with the utmost care.

 

Two hours in, Mino stretches his stiff back. Rubs his tired eyes. And—

 

"Mino."

 

His eyes snap open in surprise. Searching for the voice. None to be found. Odd. He's been listening to music, how could he hear his name being called? Mino checks the playlist—Sunflower by Post Malone. No way his name would be included in the lyrics.

 

"I've missed you."

 

Mino turns to his right. That voice; so close. Like a person was flitting by behind him. Like—

 

—hands pulling him back into an embrace, thick lips grazing the shell of his ear, whispering, "Mi—"

 

A breath startles out of him, and Mino slaps a hand over his ear and another on his chest, checking if it's real. Nothing. His pulse races a mile an hour. His eyes are wide.

 

It doesn't make any sense. It felt so real. Too real—

 

"You okay?" Jaehyun asks, concerned.

 

Mino blinks. Rubs his mouth. Takes his time to reply, "Ye—yeah. Tired, I think?"

 

"Smoke break?"

 

"Yea. A good idea." Mino goes to his bag and fishes his cigarette box out. "10 minutes," he tells Jaehyun and walks out of the studio.

 

True to his promise, Mino only takes a 10-minute break, just enough to clear his head. Jaehyun has returned to his project, head bobbing to the music.

 

The painting remains undisturbed on the table. Only half of it had been tested. 

 

He should try to finish two tasks today—testing for dirt and oil contamination, and colour fade—even if his client is generous with the deadline. 

 

Dread slides through him. What if that voice whispers again? What if someone pulls—

 

No. Nonsense. He was just too tired. This job demands in-depth focus for a long time. He's bound to get exhausted. With a deep sigh, Mino goes back to his working station.

 

Fortunately, no abnormal disturbance this time. Only a quarter left. Mino adjusts his sleeves, eyes scanning over the painting to see if he missed any spot. 

 

Looking good so far. Mino wants to give himself a pat on the shoulder. He continues working on the painting.

 

Then a red mark. On the cotton pad. Mino blinks.

 

He dabs a new pad on the painting. And finds another red mark. Bizarre. Mino swipes two fingers on the same spot. Thick red liquid coats his fingers. He sniffs at it. And can't identify the scent.

 

Can't be colour paint—oil would be more slippery and reek, and others would've dried out by now, exposed to air for hours since he unwrapped the painting.

 

An accident by the courier, perhaps? Mino dials the courier's number immediately, heading out to the stairs for privacy.

 

The courier seems to have calmed down when Mino calls him despite some traces of dissatisfaction in his voice. Can't fault the courier when he was the one who didn't show up after arranging the meeting time.

 

No accident occurred, the courier claims. He even offers his video feed if Mino doesn't believe him. Mino politely refuses the offer, feeling bad for suspecting the courier.

 

Mino bites his inner cheek, thinking hard. Taps his foot on the floor while he scrolls down the contact list. And comes across Lee Seunghoon's number.

 

A minute of consideration later, Mino presses the green button.

 

The call is picked up after four rings. "Hello?"

 

"Hello, Seunghoon-sshi. It's Mino, Song Minho, the art restorer?"

 

"Ah, yes. Is this about the painting?" Lee Seunghoon asks.

 

"Yes, regarding the painting," Mino sucks in a breath, calculating, "I found some red marks on the painting. Nothing serious, I believe, but I'd like to eliminate some possibilities here. Could you spare some time to answer my questions?"

 

"Of course. Of course. Uhm, wait—" Mino can hear the background noise segueing from loud to quiet. "—okay, better now. Sorry about that. Please carry on."

 

"How was the painting's condition when you found it?"

 

Lee Seunghoon hums. "Just like how I showed it to you."

 

"How about the room you found the painting in—the garden storage, if I'm not mistaken," Mino frowns trying to recall the information piece.

 

"I found it far at the back, so it was dark at that time. I couldn't be so sure of the place. Maybe there was something, maybe not—I'm not sure," Lee Seunghoon hums, "Would you like to see the place?"

 

Mino blinks. "Pardon?"

 

"I don't think I can be of much help. If you need to examine the place, please do so. I wouldn't be around, though, since I'm attending my great-grandmother's funeral."

 

Regret fills Mino's chest. "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. I can imagine she was a great woman."

 

"Thank you for your condolences," Lee Seunghoon says, with a note of wistfulness. "The painting?"

 

"I think it'd be okay if I didn't examine the place. It'd be sufficed if I just performed more tests. I'm sure I could come up with a decent result somehow."

 

"It puts me at ease to know if I could ease your work anyhow." Mino can hear a smile in Lee Seunghoon's voice. He can't turn down the offer now, can he?

 

"I can wait until you come back," Mino tries.

 

"No worries," Lee Seunghoon assures him. "You can come on Tuesday. I'll inform my gardener. He has access to the back gate and the storage room. Will that be okay?"

 

Mino considers. Then agrees because why not—he's free on Tuesday. "Tuesday would be great. Thank you so much for the offer."

 

"You're welcome!" and Lee Seunghoon ends the call.

 

He stares at his phone. Gives the offer a second thought because, really, it was unnecessary to go to great lengths when he has all the tools to perform more tests. Lee Seunghoon wouldn't be opposed to paying extra for a satisfying result.

 

Well.

 

Mino shrugs and goes back inside.

 

 

...

 

 

He's seated at a low table. The room is lit with an oil lamp on the table. 

 

His fingers turn the knob on the lamp, making it burn brighter. Men are sitting in front of him. Clad in hanbok. Expensive hanbok, with fine print that shows their status.

 

"He's becoming too strong," one of them says.

 

"—uncontrollable—" says another.

 

"—concerns about our safety—"

 

"—fear—"

 

"—threat to our power—"

 

Voices overlap one after another. He can hear grim in them. Concerns. Fear. Even a tad of jealousy. But he doesn't know why he's listening to these old farts when the one he should've been—

 

RING!!!

 

An alarm ring startles Mino out of his dream. This time he's blinking at the window instead of at the ceiling. And at Jhonny sleeping under the curtain. Oh, wow. Okay. Mino rolls to his back after switching off the alarm, tired.

 

Right. The mansion.

 

Mino climbs out of bed to get ready despite the exhaustion pulling at his bones.

 

 

...

 

 

The gardener is an old man. His skin is tanned by the sun over the years, wrapped tightly around the bones as though he never indulges himself in a feast. When he smiles that warm grin, Mino can see some of his yellow teeth missing.

 

"I'm sorry I don't have access to the main gain. But if you follow these walls, it will lead you to the back gate." The gardener points at the walls.

 

"Sure, thanks." Mino nods once then begins his short walking to the back gate.

 

The gardener is already waiting for him by the time he reaches there. It shares a similar design to the front gate; a sea-green shade, with a golden swirling pattern. He unlocks the gate for Mino.

 

"Thank you so much," Mino says again, out of politeness, and ducks inside.

 

"Boss said you're here to take a look at the storage room."

 

"Yes."

 

"Please follow me. I'll show you the storage room."

 

Obediently, Mino follows the gardener. He never admired the garden before, so he's sure taking this chance now.

 

The garden is one of a kind, Mino realizes. Red spider lilies paint the garden red, so bright it's reflected on his skin. When Mino walks through the garden, it feels as if he's walking in a lake of blood.

 

While some might find the view haunting, Mino finds serenity in it. Bathed in red. Right where he belongs—

 

"Here," the man says, jarring Mino out of his thoughts.

 

The garden storage is a refreshing contrast to the red garden. White exterior, with a touch of Western design. Mino can see creepers too, making it look unique rather than old and not well taken care of.

 

"It's quite huge if you go inside, so I don't clean the entire room." The gardener busies himself with the lock. "Boss doesn't mind since no one comes here. So long as I keep the upfront neat and tidy, Boss doesn't complain."

 

"He seems to have a thing for making the job easier for people," Mino says, with a smile.

 

"That he does." The gardener laughs. The door creaks open, and he flicks a switch. Yellow light floods the room. The old furniture is arranged nicely; chairs, tables, vases, China sets, even wardrobes. Some are covered in white cloth. Some are boxed. Many are left exposed to the air.

 

Mino pokes his head inside. Wrinkles his nose when he feels dust filtering in the air, and rubs his nose, slightly annoyed.

 

"You need my help to go through those?"

 

"No, thank you. I think I can manage it by myself."

 

"Alright. Holler if you need anything else. I'll be around here." The gardener pats him on the back. Mino mutters a garbled thank you under his breath, with a smile.

 

The gardener leaves him. Mino recalls Lee Seunghoon found the painting far at the back, so he skips the front. Upon first glance, he can see evidence of the room being left untouched for a long time.

 

Mino goes through every possible spot where Lee Seunghoon found the painting; the corner, behind a wardrobe, between the Ottoman chairs.

 

By the time he sweeps half of the room, he has dirt on his knees and palms. Mino huffs a breath, hands on his hips as he scans around his surroundings.

 

A footprint near a foyer table draws his attention. With a frown, Mino crouches down and flashes his phone light on it.

 

Multiple footprints, but disappear after a certain point. As though they float somewhere, or they fall into—

 

A fine line. There's a fine line. Formed into a rectangle. Difficult to detect in a glance. The discovery fills Mino with curiosity. He squints, sweeping his gaze around to see if—aha!

 

There is it. The handle, under a bedside table. Mino gets back to feet to move the table elsewhere. He clears off some furniture to be able to move freely. 

 

A bigger picture now, Mino sighs. Maybe it's a bunker down here or a wine cellar—he isn't sure, but the footprints hint at frequent visits. Perhaps Lee Seunghoon found the painting down here.

 

Mino wrenches the door open, with some effort. The hinge creaks. The sounds of 'clack' then of electricity running almost has Mino releasing the handle. He notices light spilling from the door.

 

Oh. Emergency lamps activated by motion sensors. Cool.

 

He opens the door wide. Finds a flight of stairs leading down. Peeks down. Feel eeriness crawl up his skin like ants. Or centipedes—no, Mino never experiences a centipede crawling up his body and hopes it stays that way.

 

Maybe he should stop here. Perhaps he should call the gardener for help. Maybe—

 

"—together, forever—"

 

Mino takes the first step down. Then another. And another. And another.

 

Until he doesn't have to duck his head to avoid the low ceiling.

 

Mino examines his surroundings. He's on a flight of cobblestone stairs, lined with bricks. Mino balances his steps with a palm on the wall. The emergency lights on the walls are the only source of light. Otherwise, he's surrounded by darkness.

 

He checks his phone. Still has the line, though, the strength of the connection has been decreased slightly. Okay, he can call the emergency number should anything happen. With a shadow of doubts in his pounding chest, Mino continues.

 

A door. 

 

There's a wooden door in front of him. Secured with a heavy lock, though it's left unlocked. Looks old, the wood and steel, eaten by moisture and time. 

 

Mino reaches for the lock. Stops midway, doubtful. Feels something tug at his chest not to touch the lock. Not to—

 

"—need—"

 

He takes the lock into his hand. Stares at the keyhole. And catches a faint sound from the other side. Can't make out the sound produced.

 

"—protect—"

 

Ignoring the constant alarm in his brain, Mino unlocks the door. He yanks the lock handle and pulls the door open. Instantly his nose is flooded with the scent of moist.

 

A round room. Built with cobblestones and clay. Four emergency lights light up the room, focused on the middle of the room, on broken red shards standing like a prison, on a—

 

Mino sucks in a sharp breath.

 

A person. In the prison of the broken shards lays a man. Eyes closed. In bright red clothes, with light hair—

 

His heart pounds loudly in his ears. His palms are sweaty when Mino cups them over his mouth. It's the man in the painting.

 

Several questions flicker in his mind. Who is this man? Why is he here? Is he okay? Has Lee Seunghoon been keeping this man captive? What should he do? Should he call the gardener for help? Should he flee—

 

"—together—"

 

Fuck it, Mino thinks. He needs to check on the man first. If he's still breathing or if he's still alive—

 

—because he's promised to—

 

In his haste to help the man, Mino hasn't realized his right palm grazing the shard. Hasn't realized his palm bleeding. Hasn't realized blood dripping down his sleeve.

 

Hasn't realized until he cradles the face in his bleeding palm. Until his bloody fingers touch those thick lips.

 

And.

 

Those eyes snap open. Revealing a pair of magenta eyes, bright, glittering, like gemstones—

 

Sharp claws yank at his shoulder down. Then.

 

An explosive, intense pain. On his jugular. So deep. So intense, so—

 

PaaaaaaaaAAAAAIIIIINNNNNsomuchsomuchsomuchPAAAAiiiNNNN—

 

Mino blacks out.

 

 

...

 

 

He wakes to a burning scent and screaming. The flight instincts have Mino sitting up quickly, eyes scanning his surroundings.

 

Gone the dim room. Gone the cobblestone stairs. Everything is bright now, but not a good sign.

 

Red. Orange. Black. Colours of wrath. Of death. Fire and destruction. Murky skies and devastation. Smoke and suffering. Agonized screaming tears the suffocating air asunder.

 

Mino knits his brows into a frown. What happened while he was unconscious? What—

 

He slaps his left hand on the pulse. No blood. Strange. He's sure he was bitten on the jugular.

 

His hand bumps against something. Mino looks at his right. A pair of lifeless eyes stare back at him, and he flinches away, only to have him bumping against another dead body on his left.

 

What the fucking fuck—

 

Then only he realizes. He's in a pool of blood, surrounded by dead bodies. Some have faces destroyed beyond recognition. Some have guts spilling out. Mutilated bodies. Eyeballs. A pool of red. Like red spider lilies—Higanbana in another language, a flower of death.

 

And in the midst of those dead bodies—in the midst of death and destruction, a man twirls around, arms spread, his legs soaking in blood like a kid splashes his feet on a puddle.

 

As though he's enjoying himself. Celebrating their deaths.

 

Mino swallows thickly. Frozen to his spot.

 

Then the man stops. Stops twirling. Like he's sensed Mino somehow. Or has eyes on the back of his head. And turns around.

 

Wha—

 

His magenta eyes glint in the red shade from the flame.

 

Out of fear, Mino backs away a little. His heart thunders faster in his ribcage. Everything screams at him, the voices inside his head, the alarms inside of him—screams at him to flee, to.

 

To.

 

The man smiles a bloody smile, with a slight tilt of his head. And says, "Why are you so scared of me? Didn't you promise me we'd be together forever? And another forever?"

 

—no