Choi Yeonjun felt the itch on his lower back.
He felt the phantom swish and flick of his tail, the tense pull on the base of his spine from the desire to let them free, and the stiffness in his walk as he tried to get accustomed to walking with his fox tails hidden again. He never did get over the uncomfortable sensation of hiding them.
He walked alone, in the middle of the night towards the undesirable part of town. The glow of red and blue neon lights from the shops hazed over the pathway, the light drizzle of rain blended both colours into a violet puddle on the floor. Street lamps emitted a soft glow of amber that spilled into the cracks on the pavement, like runny egg yolk that streamed and stained between the lines. There was no light from the windows, all of the blinds were shut, curtains were drawn and all that he heard was the splattering of raindrops relentlessly bouncing off his umbrella and shoes as he walked towards Moonchild, a cafe downtown.
A sharp turn left and a straight path before he turned towards the right brought his body towards the cafe, the only part of town that was alive at this time of night. Yeonjun was not as naive as he once was, he knows that all kinds of creatures lurked in the shadows. But the street was empty. Except for the heap of rubbish bags piled onto the corner of the street and the local alley cat that rummaged through the pile in such ferocity, you’d think there was gold hidden among the litter.
Moonchild was nestled in the corner of the street. A luminous neon scrawl of the owner’s handwriting displayed the name of the shop proudly, the lilac fluorescence of the sign was accompanied by a doodle of a crescent moon with a star right at its centre. The large floor to ceiling windows gave a full view of what was supposed to be occurring inside: people, students usually that crammed for their last minute deadlines, drunk teenagers that sought sobriety and local night owls with the desire to mingle with the people from the neighbourhood. Only these customers were not people. They were not human. The glint of fangs could be easily missed, the horns that protruded from the crowns of their heads could be mistaken for drunken imaginations of the occasional passerby and the cat ears on some could be seen as the latest fashion trend. Humans would believe anything except for what is right in front of them.
Yeonjun twisted the door knob embellished with a large amethyst at its centre and entered the cafe. He was immediately greeted with the ever-present scent of coffee and the fragrance of freshly baked goods that always lingered and the warm wash of magic that cloaked him as soon as he entered the establishment. His best friend Soobin, was seated at a stool at their usual table at the far right corner of the cafe, close by to the door that leads to the room upstairs, his nose buried in his English textbook.
The soft blue glow of the UV lights lined around the walls, painted the cafe in a warm wash of soft blue, a hue of light that is not too harsh for their heightened senses. He passed by the regulars: the demons at the larger round tables- they were chattering away with some of their tails casting dancing shadows on the walls, a couple of guardians with their daggers and other various weapons laid out in front of them like a glorious feast, and of course a few of the Kitsunes from his pack to which he nodded to in acknowledgment.
Yeonjun slumped over their shared table, nudging some of Soobin’s numerous workbooks forward, as he laid his head on the makeshift pillow that is his arms.
He heard Soobin sigh before a rather heavy book was tapped on his head. “Yah, don’t sleep now I just saw Tae-hyung go upstairs. He said he’ll call us up soon,” his smooth voice interrupted Yeonjun’s attempt at a mini nap.
Yeonjun responded by letting his magic run free, a zing of yellow runes tickling his skin as he felt his fox ears brush against his hair and his three fox tails waved back and forth. As if someone increased the volume of a television, the ambient sounds of the cafe increased ten-fold to an almost deafening noise. He felt the rapid twitching of his ears as they once again adjusted to his surroundings.
He heard Soobin huff and Yeonjun finally raised his head before Soobin can hit him on the head again. His ears were sensitive okay.
Soobin closed his eyes and just like Yeonjun, he emitted a thin layer of light- periwinkle this time. With a few visible runes that traipsed along his skin, Soobin’s wings erupted from his back. The snow white feathers were a bit ruffled, their silver edges glaring at Yeonjun as if he was the one who twisted them just so. Soobin’s meticulous fingers smoothed them over, each feather eventually slotted perfectly over each other like a completed puzzle.
Yeonjun pouted. Soobin looked like every girl’s dream man. His hair that was neatly arranged previously was now artfully tousled, the strands slightly covered his eyes, which made him look like he just rolled out of bed after sex. His bright cinnamon eyes reached a deeper coffee colour- more inviting and sensual. Soobin’s lips appeared to be plumper and his smirk curled at the side of his mouth just so that Yeonjun knew that his friend was amused at his own current lethargic state.
Soobin looked like the epitome of beauty and grace: sat primly at his stool, his lustrous wings folded behind his back, spine straight and head held up high. The charmer’s face was amused at Yeonjun’s visibly more rumpled state. In contrast, Yeonjun’s crinkled white school shirt was buttoned three quarters of the way with his collar bones exposed, his navy jumper was tied haphazardly to his waist, and his hair sticked up in numerous directions from his pseudo nap.
“Not all of us can look perfect,” Yeonjun grumbled.
Soobin simply rearranged his study notes on the table and began rattling off the new facts he’s learnt whilst waiting for Yeonjun. This was the only reason why Yeonjun’s grades climbed higher; the continued exposure to a bookworm. Soobin continued to recite facts and Yeonjun absorbed them like a sponge as time passed on. The cafe’s commotions lulled him back to comfort, his ears calmed as he picked up his pen to start his study notes.
Soon enough, Yeonjun heard Tae-hyung as he dashed down the stairs, his feet fell in front of each other in discord and nearly tripped right in front of Soobin. Yeonjun’s hand darted out to catch his hyung’s arm before he fell right on to their table scattered with various papers and stationary.
Tae-hyung coughed and pushed his gold-rimmed glasses up his nose as he dusted off his verdant hoodie. He grinned. His blonde locks were in disarray, his hair appeared like ramen noodles under the soft blue lighting of Moonchild, his auburn eyes alight with manic frenzy- an overall look Yeonjun and Soobin are accustomed to regularly with their hyung constantly going on his ‘Magic Binges.’
“Right, I have the items you wanted. I’m sorry it took longer for me to prepare them but you see I had to wait for valerian roots and you know how I had to wait for the full moon and that took a couple more days as well as figuring out how to write the runes in...” Tae-hyung prattled on as Soobin and Yeonjun followed him up the stairs to his workshop right above Moonchild.
The room itself was quite large -most likely enhanced by a room extension rune- but it did not appear spacious. It was cluttered with an array of trinkets from the three cauldrons that bubbled and burbled- which brewed different potions at the mahogany desk that has been pushed to the right wall, to the sun dials dotted around the room which pointed in different directions and crystals of all shapes and sizes were scattered everywhere. Books were fitted in every nook and cranny along the right and back of the walls; some were piled high on Tae-hyung’s study desk that it almost reached the ceiling. The windows that stretched on the front and the left wall of the room dappled them in moonlight. More metallic trinkets that Yeonjun didn’t know the name of winked at his peripherals, as they all bathed in the lit incense that produced fluffy shaped clouds that oddly made the room smell of mint chocolate.
Tae-hyung clapped his hands three times and the clouds diminished, revealing a runic circle drawn in charcoal with the Chinese characters for secret right at its centre. The characters for protection sliced through the middle of the circle in a slant and placed right at its centre was a pair of earrings and glasses.
Tae-hyung snapped his right fingers and fire began to lick his hands and whole arms, his hoodie seemingly resistant to the heat. He placed his index finger right at the edge of the circle. From the moment his finger connected to the circle, the loop ignited and flared up before it bursted into loud sparks. Tae-hyung stepped into the drawn circle and bent down to retrieve the glasses and the earrings.
He turned around, his eyes bright, the liquid auburn swirled with hidden power. “Right now try these on,” Tae-hyung said as he handed Soobin the glasses and Yeonjun the fox fang earrings.
Yeonjun watched as Soobin placed the glasses on his face; the circle spectacles framed his eyes perfectly. Soobin’s wings shimmered for a second or two before they dematerialised and he went back to looking like a handsome student- not an incredibly attractive, statuesque angel with bewitching looks that humans lost their minds over.
Yeonjun found it oddly ironic that his best friend Soobin, possibly the most innocent person he knew would be an Erote- a magical being with the affinity for mind manipulation and deception through their natural beauty and allure. Tae-hyung has enchanted glasses for Soobin’s affinity to be repressed; his allure has gotten stronger during the Summer Solstice. Just like how Yeonjun’s senses heightened to almost unbearable levels. He had to spend most days fully human- he missed the comfort that his kitsune form gave him.
Once he put on the earrings, he felt a slight tingle on his head right where his ears were and along his spine. The previous tension on his muscles disappeared and he felt himself relax a bit more. Judging from Soobin’s expression the rune worked flawlessly- both masking their alternative forms and removed the discomfort of staying as humans for prolonged periods of time.
“Thank you hyung,” Yeonjun announced after he finished admiring the effects of the enchanted earrings.
Soobin continued, “We know that you must be busy with the cafe and all your other projects. Really hyung thank you so much.”
Tae-hyung simply smiled at Soobin and Yeonjun, his signature boxy smile revealed a set of faultless teeth, as he reached over to ruffle their hair. “You both know you can come to me for anything. I’m just glad I could help.”
Both Soobin and Yeonjun left the study after a few more minutes of catching up with their hyung, the three of them exchanging stories of how school was going and how Taehyung was doing a full restock on his medicinal potions after his boyfriend Jungkook, their hyung drained his last supplies.
“He just doesn’t take care of himself,” Tae-hyung huffed. Yeonjun was more worried for the other guy; Jungkook hyung was the best Guardian Yeonjun knows- specialising in every magical weapon he can possibly name. Yeonjun mourned the loss of missing such a spectacle. It must have been a good fight.
Yeonjun and Soobin left the cafe at around 3 am. The shower of rain has ceased and they separated as soon as they navigated out of the maze of back alleys and reached the Main Street.
Yeonjun ambled back home alone, his shoes splashed on the puddles on the pavements. The city never slept. The incessant lights of skyscrapers and billboards stared back at him, as he slowly faded into the the cityscape- a mere dot in the urban forest.