When there are three children in a family, it is a fact of life that the eldest will be lost to obscurity, the middle child will have success but not fame, and the youngest will gain fame and merit of their own creation. It’s the eldest’s job to help their younger siblings reach their call to fame and never strive for anything more, lest they doom themself to failure.
Kim Dokja was the eldest of three, and he was just fine with that. He had never been in want of anything more. Unlike Heewon and Gilyoung, he wasn’t born with any gifts and he knew it. Heewon was a strong, determined woman who could lay down a man three times her size, and Kim Dokja had never seen a child as willful and stubborn as Gilyoung. He was sure they would have no problems reaching their destinies.
The three of them grew up helping their mother run her hat shop in the little town of Eden, alongside their mother’s old friend, Bihyung. Gilyoung was born a scant few years before the ceremonious death of their father, and fifteen years after Kim Dokja. The murder of their father was not as big a news as one might have expected, but whispers still followed them every now and again. Shockingly, it did nothing to deter the steady stream of customers fluttering in and out of their shop, despite the fact that the owner was known to have killed her husband.
To anyone who exchanged more than a few sentences with Lee Sookyung, they would not have thought that she was the type to own and manage a hat shop. Indeed, Kim Dokja privately thought that his mother would have been better off owning a weapons shop. However, though the court had ruled that Lee Sookyung’s actions were self-defense, she had decided it would be better to lie low and not do anything that would make the townspeople jumpy. So, in order to support themselves, Kim Dokja and Heewon helped their mother create the hat shop that shockingly thrived. Bihyung had been a constant presence all their lives, so Lee Sookyung hired him to help with the accounting and management.
It was around the age of thirteen to sixteen that parents sent their children out to pursue careers. When their father died, they didn’t have the money to do so, and Gilyoung was still a baby. Instead of pursuing her interest in further schooling, Heewon agreed to stay behind with her family until Lee Sookyung sent their youngest out to pursue his fate.
As Gilyoung’s thirteenth birthday approached, Lee Sookyung shared her plans for his and Heewon’s futures. “Heewon, I know you’ve always wanted to continue your learning,” she said, even though Kim Dokja knew that Heewon’s interest had shifted from academics to swordsmanship. “At your age, it’s simply not possible to send you to school, so I’ve arranged an apprenticeship for you instead. Do you know Lee Seolhwa?”
“The witch on the edge of town?” Heewon frowned.
“Yes. She’s agreed to teach you everything she knows about healing and poisons. With her knowledge, you can easily live a very comfortable life.”
Kim Dokja recognized the way Heewon’s eyebrows furrowed, so he placed a hand on her shoulder just as she opened her mouth to argue. She wilted under his touch and said instead, “Thank you, Mother.” She shot a glare at Kim Dokja, to which he dutifully ignored.
Lee Sookyung nodded, ever the stoic and sure woman, then looked at Gilyoung. “Now for you, Gilyoung, you’re about the age where you can begin sword training.” Heewon stiffened again. Gilyoung’s eyes widened. “The swordswoman Uriel is skilled in what she does, and the Archangels are known to take jobs from the King himself. I’m sure your time learning under her will be beneficial.”
Gilyoung twitched, clearly trying not to look at their silently fuming sister. “Sure. That sounds good.”
Finally, Lee Sookyung turned to Kim Dokja. He wasn’t sure if she was purposefully ignoring the other two or genuinely didn’t notice their ire. It was hard to tell with her. “Dokja, I think it’s only right you continue working with me here,” she said. “You know best how to run a business and I know you’ve never wanted more. Bihyung already agreed to take you on as an official apprentice.”
“Thank you,” Kim Dokja said, nodding in agreement. It was true that there was nothing more he wanted, so he thought it was a good deal for him. Living comfortably was all he could ask for, as an eldest son.
As Lee Sookyung left them to return to the shop, it was clear Heewon and Gilyoung disagreed.
“It’s not right!” Gilyoung declared that night, sitting on top of Kim Dokja’s bed with Heewon. “I don’t like the sword! That’s noona’s thing!”
“Gilyoung has always been more interested in magic than I ever have,” Heewon added. “And Oppa deserves better than to rot in a hat shop for the rest of his life.”
“Yeah! At the very least, Hyung should have his own apprenticeship,” Gilyoung said and nodded firmly.
Kim Dokja sighed. “I’m the eldest. There’s nothing for me out there and I don’t want anything either,” he said. “It’s only right that this is how it is.” Gilyoung would surely reach great heights under the woman so skilled she was part of an order known as the Archangels, and Heewon would live comfortably as a doctor’s apprentice. It made sense.
Gilyoung and Heewon argued with him until he forced them to sleep. The next day, neither of them brought up the conversation, but they did shoot him disgruntled and unsatisfied looks before they left.
Having spent the better part of ten years working and building this hat shop, Kim Dokja knew what he was doing, so there was nothing for Lee Sookyung to teach him. The days following Heewon and Gilyoung’s departure were full of quiet when there were no customers. Neither of them knew much about how to have a conversation.
Heewon and Gilyoung began sending letters after they had been gone for a week, but they were few and far in between. Kim Dokja spent his downtime reading and combing through each one, memorizing their words and their handwriting. He noticed, however, that they sent nothing to Lee Sookyung. She didn’t mention it, so neither did he.
Business at the hat shop was booming as always. Kim Dokja did a majority of the trimming and creating of the hats while his mother dealt with customers, though he helped her too when there were too many people. He preferred the solitude of sitting with the hats. It numbed his mind to the days and let his head wander. When he was trimming them, he could think about books and stories that he would never be a part of.
As the days bled together in blurs of hat making and sitting in silence and rereading letters, Kim Dokja wondered if maybe he should visit Gilyoung. The Archangel Uriel wouldn’t be leaving town for some time yet, so it wouldn’t be too much trouble to walk the few streets it took to get to her facility. He would also visit Heewon, if she hadn’t said in her last letter that Lee Seolhwa was taking her out for a few weeks to gather materials for potions. Leaving the shop to his mother for a little while shouldn’t hurt.
He didn’t leave.
Every day, people streamed in and out of the shop. Gong Pildu, a local landlord, came in to buy a hat for his wife. The one he picked had him muttering something about a “powerful feel” and “very effective.” Up-and-coming performer Min Jiwon chose a rather plain bonnet and complimented him on how well it would work for her next show. A foreigner named Asuka Ren bought a small, feathered hat with glee over how it would cure her writer’s block. And so on the customers came, buying their hats and letting him listen to their gossip. He couldn’t bring himself to leave when there were so many people to attend to.
“You’re a liar,” Yoo Sangah said. She was a regular at the shop, though rarely did she ever buy anything. He could dare say they might even be friends. She was certainly the only person he spoke to regularly outside of the family, and even then, he was sure he spoke to her more than them.
“What?” he said.
“You’re a liar. Your mother works here too, as does Bihyung—you don’t have to stay here. Visit your brother while you still can. It’s not like the shop will burn if you’re not around.”
“It might,” Kim Dokja argued futilely. Yoo Sangah shot him an unimpressed look.
“Get out. I’ll tell them where you’ve gone. Don’t you want to know how he’s doing? He is only thirteen.”
An annoyingly compelling argument. With a put-upon sigh, Kim Dokja removed himself from behind the counter. Yoo Sangah smiled encouragingly at him, then practically shoved him towards the door. He scowled at her. She ignored him.
It wasn’t until that very moment that he realized just how long it had been since he went outside. The sun beating down on him was almost a foreign sensation and there were more people than he could recall since the last time he had somewhere to go. Kim Dokja swallowed. If it weren’t for Yoo Sangah, he would head right back inside.
Hurriedly, he began making his way down the street towards the Archangel facility where Gilyoung was said to be training. Not wanting to get caught up in the crowd, he took an empty shortcut. The path was narrower and a little out of the way, making it much quieter and easier to navigate. He had never liked walking the streets before, and as unused to them as he was now, he liked them even less.
“Is that Kim Dokja?” someone said, deliberately loud. “Son of the murderer?”
Kim Dokja froze. He didn’t recognize the voice, but he didn’t have to. Everyone was the same when they harassed him about his mother. If there was one thing—among countless others—that he couldn’t stand about Lee Sookyung, it was that she did this to him and his siblings. Nowadays he didn’t get much trouble from the townspeople, but some of them…
Stepping into his view were two men who might have gone to school with him, before he had to pull out when they couldn’t afford it any longer. He hadn’t been in school for long after his father died, but it was long enough for him to get a fair amount of schoolyard bullies. It looked like they didn’t change.
“What are you doing outside? The streets felt safer when we didn’t know a murderer was on the streets,” one of the men said.
Kim Dokja carefully plastered a small grin on his lips. It was better to smile than show fear. “Ah, but I didn’t murder anyone, and neither did my mother. It was self-defense.”
“She killed him. That’s murder,” the other one said. “For all we know, you could have followed her footsteps. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“You know, children aren’t their parents, but since you’re clearly still stuck in that old schoolyard, I’ll let that go.” He shrugged. “You need some new insults. It’s amazing anyone could think you’re an adult with the way you talk.”
The men stepped forward, their faces turning red. He held his ground, despite his urge to make a run for it and brave the crowded streets. “Are you implying something, murderer?” one of them demanded.
“I’m not implying anything. I’m saying, to your faces, that you’re no more than twelve year old boys. Younger than my brother, who’s decades older than you by comparison. In other words—grow up, would you?” He smirked. Nerves filled his stomach, though his heart was steady. He didn’t have the ability to fight them, so hopefully he was still fast. Heewon would be mad at him if he got beat up, and then she might end up actually arrested.
“Why you—!” The men choked and froze, staring up at something behind him.
Kim Dokja registered the shadow over him first, and then the presence standing behind him. A scarred hand rested on his shoulder. He looked up.
The man beside him had a distressingly handsome face. Dressed in all black and his thick eyebrows furrowed, he scowled at the two men in front of them. Kim Dokja was momentarily stunned by his appearance. In other words, this was the most his type man he had ever seen.
(He immediately squashed that thought down. No thank you.)
“Are these two bothering you?” the man said, voice deep and unhappy. “I was wondering where you were.”
“Uh…” Kim Dokja had no idea what was happening. His non-answer still made the man scowl further, and the other two gulped.
“S-sorry!” they squeaked and hurried past, clearly frightened. It was understandable, given that Kim Dokja would probably be pretty intimidated by the man too if he were on the receiving end of that glare.
The man’s expression didn’t exactly soften when he looked at Kim Dokja and stepped away, but he didn’t look mad anymore.
“Uh, thank you?” Kim Dokja said uncertainly. “I had it handled though.” He did not have that handled, but pride had him saying so anyway.
The man rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say. Be careful on your way out.” He clapped a hand on Kim Dokja’s shoulder in what was probably supposed to be a comforting gesture but actually hurt more than anything, and walked away. Kim Dokja stared at his back until he had disappeared.
He shook his head. Whatever just happened was luck, and now he needed to get going. He quickly began heading back on his way to the training facility.
The facility was in a more private part of Eden on account of it being owned by the Archangels. The land was expensive, so very few people could afford to own anything on that street, making it the subject of even more awe for the average townsfolk. Kim Dokja was no different. The building was huge and pristine, much unlike the older shops and houses that took up the majority of town. He couldn’t help stopping and staring for just a few seconds.
Walking in through the front doors led straight to an open gym. Two people were sparring, and a few others were watching. Kim Dokja expected to see Gilyoung among them, but instead, he saw—
Heewon disarmed her opponent quickly. She didn’t pay much attention to her win, turning instead to Kim Dokja with a shaky grin. “Oppa!” she said. “You should have said you were coming!”
“It was a last-minute decision,” Kim Dokja said slowly, staring wide-eyed. “What are you—”
“Uriel, would you mind if I talked to my brother?” Heewon asked, looking to the small blonde woman standing nearby.
“Not a problem,” the woman, apparently the Archangel Uriel, said. She was smiling brightly, looking almost childish. Heewon thanked her and dragged Kim Dokja into a neighboring room. It looked like an office.
“Heewon, what are you doing at Gilyoung’s apprenticeship?” Kim Dokja demanded.
“Gilyoung and I switched,” she admitted, words almost blurring together at the rate she said them. At his raised eyebrow, she repeated, “Gilyoung and I switched. He knew I didn’t care about learning magic and medicine and he didn’t care about swordsmanship, so we contacted each of our employers. They didn’t mind the switch.”
“But—Heewon, you can’t just do that,” he protested. “Mom set this up for you and this was supposed to be Gilyoung’s. He’s the youngest.”
Heewon frowned. “The rule of three children is superstition, not fact. I’m pursuing something I like, and so is Gilyoung. You should pursue something you enjoy too. You deserve that much, but instead you’re sitting in that hat shop because you don’t think you deserve to have fortune? What kind of bullshit is that? Mom’s no help—she always loved you most.”
“What? That’s not true.” Lee Sookyung always treated her children with the same distant care. She did her duty and she certainly did care for them, but she never showed it much. Kim Dokja was no exception.
“Yes, it is,” she scoffed. “Mom wants you close, so of course she’s not going to tell you that you can do more in your life. Gilyoung and I? She might not actively want us to leave, but she definitely doesn’t care to keep us as close as she wants to keep you.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” His mind was having trouble wrapping around the thought. Lee Sookyung wanted him close? They hardly spoke even before it was just the two of them in the house.
“Of course you didn’t notice. Mother always kept you on a tight leash so you wouldn’t get away, while she usually let Gilyoung and I do as we pleased. I love you, oppa, but I don’t love that she wants to keep you from finding your own life for her own selfish reasons.”
Kim Dokja shook his head. “There’s nothing I can ‘find’ in my life, Heewon. I don’t mind running the shop.”
“Yes, you do. You’re an amazing person and there’s so much that you can find out about yourself if you just let it happen.” Heewon’s eyes softened. She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I have to get back to training, but think about it. Gilyoung and I are doing what we’ve always wanted. Isn’t it about time you did the same?”
Kim Dokja stewed over his sister’s words as he headed back to the shop. He understood them, but he didn’t know where her absolute faith in him was coming from. Finding himself? What was there to find? He was the eldest, with little redeeming qualities, while Heewon and Gilyoung shone. Adventure was fun to read about, but he was hardly the type of person to be able to survive that kind of story.
Lee Sookyung welcomed him back when he walked in the door. He was quick to shake the thoughts off and go back to work. Heewon didn’t know what she was talking about. There was an order to these things.
The rest of the day felt like it passed slowly. Multiple times, Kim Dokja wanted to ask if Lee Sookyung really did just want to keep him where he was, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak. She probably knew he wanted to say something. She always knew. She kept quiet as ever though and when she closed up for the day, she said she would be going out and left with a reminder for him not to leave.
Kim Dokja was still cleaning up when he heard the door chime. He turned around. A woman stood, closing the door behind her. She didn’t look imposing. She was certainly attractive, but she also wore plain clothes. Somehow, she still gave him a strange feeling. The way she stared wasn’t any help.
“Sorry, ma’am but we’re closed,” he said politely. He could have sworn he had locked the door.
“It’ll only take a minute,” she said. “I heard from a few reliable sources that you’ve got some interesting hats. Can you show me?”
Kim Dokja glanced at the clock. It wasn’t that long since the shop closed, so it couldn’t hurt. “Um, sure.”
He led her through the array of hats, showing off what he thought wouldn’t fit her first as his mother taught him. The woman murmured under her breath, touching every hat he showed her with an odd look in her eyes. It was a little scary.
“You’ve got an impressive setup here,” the woman said in between hats, nodding to him in approval. “Very interesting. Why are you working in a hat shop of all places?”
“Where else would I work? Hat making is what I’m good at,” Kim Dokja said.
The woman frowned. “That’s not what I meant. I know you can do better.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, ma’am,” he said. It was uncomfortable, hearing a sentiment so similar to his sister’s twice in the same day. “I don’t have much potential for anything. I’m the oldest of three. This is the best I have.”
“You have no self-esteem,” the woman said flatly. “Where’s your pride? I know I’m right—you should know about it already and have honed your skills, not waste your time on things like this.” She flicked one hat, nearly knocking it off its perch.
“Skills?” The woman was repeating herself now and Kim Dokja was feeling an unfamiliar sense of irritation in his stomach. He knew full well how useless he was. Who did this woman think she was?
“Ugh. Something is wrong with you. You’re so ignorant it’s laughable.” She rolled her eyes and flicked a hand. “I’ll probably get shit for this later, but I’m a little pissed. You understand. Let’s see how you fair when you figure this out. Maybe it’ll teach you something.”
The woman was already heading out the door, but she turned back at the last minute. “Just so you know, I’m who they call the Witch of the Waste. And that curse won’t let you to tell anyone about it. Have fun fixing that.” Kim Dokja’s blood ran cold, and he could hardly pay attention to the small wave she gave him before disappearing out the door.
The women who came into the shop had a fondness for gossip. Usually, the rumors were petty things that he paid little attention to, but recently, he heard two rumors. One of the rumors was that of the Witch of the Waste.
This was not a local rumor so much as it was a widespread one. It was said that the King had asked a favor of the Witch, but in return, the Witch condemned him and insulted his throne and his missing son. The King then sent his strongest Knight Lee Hyunsung to deal with her on account of his proficiency in dealing with magic users. The Knight Lee Hyunsung never returned, and it was likely that the Witch killed him.
Kim Dokja could hardly believe the passive woman who just walked in would kill a Knight, but he knew her reputation. Small and blunt was not the image he had of the woman who struck fear into the hearts of many. His stomach churned nervously.
He locked the door before beginning to slowly head up to the house. The Witch’s words bothered him. They continued to bother him as he prepared for bed, and they bothered him so much he didn’t think to glance in a mirror.
When morning came, he forgot about the encounter. He went through the drowsy motions of preparing for the day and as he dragged his feet, he nearly missed his reflection in the mirror hanging across his bed.
He froze, thinking the sight was a trick of the eye, but when he looked at his reflection head on, he knew it wasn’t. His face was—
He could barely tell he had a face. It was blurred, pixelated in a way. His eyes couldn’t focus. It hurt his head looking at himself and he had to look away before the migraine got worse. He backed away from the mirror and knocked against his dresser in the process.
“Kim Dokja?” said Bihyung through his door. He knocked twice. “What happened?”
“Nothing!” he called, his hands gripping at his face. It didn’t feel as wrong as it had looked. “Um, don’t come in! I’m feeling pretty sick.”
The man was silent for a moment, then said, “Alright. I’ll tell your mother it’ll be just us today.” He listened to him walk away and when he couldn’t hear him anymore, he stood shakily. He stopped in front of his mirror and lifted his head to look again.
For the third time, it wasn’t a trick. He looked away before the migraine could return.
This must be the curse. His face was distorted. Anyone who looked at him… Well, they wouldn’t be able to look at him for long.
“I can’t stay here,” he decided. He could, technically, but after the initial shock, the choice seemed obvious. His family would never look at him again, much less Bihyung or their customers. It would be better if he left. He was oddly calm about the whole thing.
It was lucky, he mused as he began packing a few choice things, that his mother wouldn’t be checking on him for a while. At the beginning of the day, she wouldn’t think to check on him for another few hours when he would need lunch.
After a moment’s consideration, Kim Dokja covered the bottom half of his face with a mask and grabbed a hooded jacket to tug over his head. “This better be good enough so at least anyone can look at me without hurting themselves,” he muttered. It would be warm to wear when the sun came up, but when he glanced in the mirror, he was unrecognizable, and he could look himself in the eye. No one would think he had a curse this way. At most, they would only think he was sensitive about his skin.
Kim Dokja took some food from the kitchen. No more than some bread and cheese, along with a few coins for when he ran out. Then he took the backdoor out of the shop he had grown up in.
The streets were filled with people, but no one looked twice as he hurried along. Keeping his head down, it didn’t seem that anyone noticed how covered he was, and if they did, no one called him out. He headed towards the outskirts of town and to the hill that overlooked Eden.
He didn’t know how long he walked for. He wasn’t certain what he would find on the opposite side of the hill, but he wanted to move forward as much as he could for the day. He took a short rest for lunch, and again as the sun began to set and even though he had been walking for hours, when he looked back, he still saw the town far beneath him. Once the stars had risen, it wasn’t long before he heard something creaking, and then from the black of night emerged something Kim Dokja had only ever seen from a distance.
There were two rumors that had cropped up lately.
The first rumor was about the Witch of the Waste and how she had killed the Knight Lee Hyunsung.
The second rumor was an odd contraption that had suddenly appeared on the hills above the town. Most people called it a castle, despite no one ever actually seeing it. It moved about the hills as little more than a smudge in the distance, but it never came down. It was soon discovered that the castle belonged to the Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk. Everyone knew that the Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk was a man who ate the hearts of beautiful young women. As soon as Kim Dokja heard, he had warned Heewon to never go out alone. Though he had faith in her strength, she had never dealt with magic before.
Looking up at the castle that was slowly making its way towards him, Kim Dokja couldn’t help but liken it to more of a trash heap than a castle. While it was certainly impressive with its black stone walls, moving legs, and many windows, it also looked like something Gilyoung would have drawn when he was five and in his artist phase. In other words—it was a dump.
The wind blew sharply again. Kim Dokja wrapped his coat around himself tighter and shuddered. He looked contemplatively up at the castle. He was cold and exhausted. The Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk was rumored to eat the hearts of beautiful young women.
Kim Dokja was neither beautiful, nor a woman.
And he had just left his home.
With nothing else to lose, he stepped into the path of the castle and waved his arms. “Stop!”
The castle, with black smoke puffing out of its multiple chimneys, stopped.
Kim Dokja rushed towards it. It might have been a fluke that the castle stopped, so he wasn’t planning on wasting his time. As he neared, he became even more certain of his judgment in calling it a trash heap. It was certainly ugly. The door facing him looked like it might even be rotting away and was only still holding on through sheer luck. It was as good a door as any, though, and Kim Dokja reached out a hand.
He hit an invisible wall.
He scowled, knocking a fist against the barrier. “Hey!” he shouted. He banged a few more times. “Let me in! It’s cold out here and I’m tired!” Eight more times. “Let down this barrier!” One more hit, and then the next hit nothing but air. He grinned triumphantly. “That’s more like it.” He curled his hand around the doorknob and opened. Air blew out towards him, but this time it was blessedly warm. Without a moment’s delay, he hurried inside.
A momentary glance around the room revealed its clutter. What looked to be potions were so plentiful they were practically falling off the shelves, herbs and other trinkets hung from anything they could, books were piled in every which corner. There was also a number of swords and weaponry hanging on the walls, which was unexpected, but interesting.
Not that Kim Dokja cared to look for long, because there was also a fireplace. He practically threw himself down onto a chair across from it. He sank down, sighing in contentment, shrugging off his coat and tugging down the mask. There was no one in the room to hide from. The fire warmed his body. His fingers had been starting to get numb from how long he was out there. He could almost fall asleep like this, even though the chair was hardly the most comfortable thing in the world.
Footsteps rushed towards him. He opened his eyes, suddenly more awake, and looked to the side in time to see a little girl hop down the last step of the nearby staircase. She must have been about Gilyoung’s age. Kim Dokja hurriedly covered the bottom half of his face with his mask again.
“Um, excuse me?” the girl said, staring at him in confusion. “I thought I felt something odd… How did you get in here? Who are you?”
“I’m a guest,” Kim Dokja said.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the girl said. She squinted. “What do you want?”
“I’m exhausted. I’ve been walking for hours. I have a problem. I need his help.” Though he hadn’t exactly come in here wanting help, it wouldn’t hurt to at least ask.
The girl fiddled with her fingers. “Master is out right now, but I’m one of his apprentices. Maybe I can help?”
Kim Dokja touched the side of his face. He was pretty sure the mask only offset some of the curse and not all of it in the way that the mask and hood did. Would a little girl be able to fix a curse that the Witch of the Waste put on him? He doubted it. “No, it has to be the Wizard,” he said.
“That does look like a complicated curse…” the girl mumbled. “I don’t know if he’ll be happy letting you stay here though. Could you maybe come back later?”
“Nope.” Kim Dokja turned back to the fire. “I said it earlier that I’ve been walking for a while. I’m not going back there.”
“He won’t be back for hours.”
“That’s fine with me.” He leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes again. The girl said something, but he was already falling asleep. The Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk could tell him he wasn’t welcome himself. Until then, he was staying put. He had never met the man, but in a way, he could call this revenge for making it so he had to warn Heewon about being careful on the streets.
He was a little sorry about making the girl nervous, though. She looked very sweet.
When Kim Dokja roused from his sleep, it was still dark, but the girl was gone. He must not have been asleep for more than a few minutes. He straightened, stretching his arms out. His back cracked with his movement. He looked around again, noticing the clutter once more. There was also a human skull on one of the nearby shelves. He wrinkled his nose in distaste. This Wizard obviously didn’t know how to take care of a home.
“When he gets here, the first thing I’m telling him is that he needs to get his act together,” he said aloud.
A quiet giggle rang out into the room.
Kim Dokja stiffened. He turned his head this way and that, trying to see if the girl was still there, but she had completely disappeared. Another giggle sounded. Now that he was paying attention, it seemed to have come from—
“Sorry,” said the fireplace.
Kim Dokja blinked dumbly. “What?”
“Sorry,” the fireplace repeated. Its voice was high and feminine, and a bit young as well. Its flames formed to create what looked like its best imitation of eyes. “You’re just kind of funny. And new. I like new.”
“What… uh, what are you?”
“Oh. I’m a demon. Though, I’m not a fire demon.” The fireplace sounded almost petulant. “That’s just what kind of happened to me. I’m bound here by contract. What about you? I can sense—and see—that that’s a pretty bad spell.”
“It is annoying,” Kim Dokja said warily. “If you’re a demon, do you know how to get it off?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. It feels like the Witch of the Waste.”
“Her spells are tricky. I would have to watch you for a while to see if there was anything I could do.”
Kim Dokja groaned. All things considered, he did have all the time in the world, but that didn’t change the fact that he didn’t want to wait.
“There’s only so much I can do,” the demon huffed. “If you stick around, I’ll help you. But in return, can you try and break my contract? I hate this form, and Yoo Joonghyuk is…” The demon had no face, yet Kim Dokja could still somehow see the way they would have twisted their expression. If a demon could look like that, then the Wizard must be a truly awful person.
Though, he didn’t have to read to know that making a deal with a demon was probably a bad idea.
“I don’t know magic,” he said. “I’m not sure if I could help you.”
“You don’t…? Oh.” The demon turned quiet for a moment. “No, I think you could figure something out. If I learn how to break the spell on you, please break the contract between me and Yoo Joonghyuk. He’s awful. He’s got a terrible temper and he makes me do all the work with the castle so that the facilities run and it continues moving and I have to keep the barrier up too. I don’t like him.” Their voice turned into a bit of a whine. “I get some things out of this, I guess, but I’m too young to use up all this energy for him. I’m being used!”
“What exactly is your contract?” Kim Dokja asked.
The demon seemed to wilt. “I’m not allowed to say. Contract rules, like your curse.”
“That’s stupid. How am I supposed to help?”
“You’ll figure it out.” There was a confidence in the demon’s words that left him baffled. They had only been speaking for a minute; where did that surety come from? “I’ll break the curse on you, you break my contract, and neither of us have to deal with Yoo Joonghyuk anymore. If I can’t break your curse, you don’t have to break my contract. What about that?”
It was, in all honesty, a fairly good deal. No actual obligations and it didn’t seem that the demon was going to make him sacrifice blood or anything to make it set in stone. They were certainly much nicer than he had thought a demon would be.
“Alright,” he agreed. “For now.”
If a fire could grin, he was sure they would be. Instead, the fire just sparked a little higher. Kim Dokja tossed a bit of wood into the flames to make it burn better. “Thank you,” the demon said. “Now we just need a reason for you to stay.”
“I said this place is a dump,” Kim Dokja said thoughtfully, looking at the discarded whatever-they-were on the floor. “I’ll just say I’m not leaving until he gets his act together.”
“Will that work?”
“If he wants me gone so badly, he’ll have to force me out.”
The demon took that into consideration and seemed to find it acceptable. “Whatever works.”
Kim Dokja leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He still had time to kill after all and had already spent a majority of the night hiking. It didn’t take long for sleep to come.
It was the girl’s pattering around the room that woke him in the morning. The sun shone through the windows, making Kim Dokja squint as he tried to adjust to it. The girl leaned over him curiously. “You’re still here,” she said.
“I said I would be, didn’t I?” he retorted. He stood from the chair and stretched.
The girl shrugged. “You said you wanted to wait for Master, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised… Since you’re here, do you want breakfast?”
Kim Dokja’s stomach growled. He nodded quickly. “Yes. All I had was bread and cheese last night.”
“Oh…” The girl winced. “All we have is bread and jam.” Kim Dokja looked at the basket of eggs sitting on the table. Then he looked at her. “Master is the only one who can cook. Sorry.”
“I can cook. Give me a pan and I’ll make some eggs.” Kim Dokja held out a hand expectantly, but the girl shook her head.
“No, I mean, Biyoo won’t let anyone but Master use her to cook,” she said.
“Actually, I like him,” the demon apparently named Biyoo piped up. “I’ll let him.” Kim Dokja grinned at her, then looked at the girl. Her eyes widened, but she nodded and handed him a pan that had been hanging nearby. Biyoo didn’t complain as he set the pan over her flame.
Somewhere behind him, the door opened. He didn’t notice as he placed the bacon in the pan and let it sizzle.
“Welcome back Master,” the girl said helplessly. “Hi Jihye-unni.”
“Who’s that?” an older-sounding girl asked.
Kim Dokja turned around. In the process of draping his black coat over the banister of the stairs was a familiar handsome face. Kim Dokja’s mouth turned dry. It had been barely a day since he saw that face. It was the man who defended him when he was on the way to visit who he thought would be Gilyoung. He wore the same unpleasant expression, though not nearly as dangerous as when he was facing the two men. Next to him was a teenage girl, whose glare towards him was a lot less intimidating.
“Um, this is… ah…” The little girl looked up at him as she realized they hadn’t exchanged their names.
“I’m Kim Dokja,” he answered for her. “I’m your new housecleaner.”
The man—who he now knew was the Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk, and he really did not look like a Wizard—froze. The teenage girl’s jaw dropped open. She looked quickly to Yoo Joonghyuk. “You hired a housecleaner?” she demanded.
“No…” said Yoo Joonghyuk slowly. “I didn’t. Who are you to claim to be a housecleaner?”
“I decide because I’m a guest and you can’t even eat at the dining table because it’s full of… things.” He waves the spatula in the direction of the cluttered table, then remembered he was making breakfast. “Hold that thought.” He grabbed two eggs and cracked them into the pan.
“I can eat the shells,” Biyoo said when she saw him at a loss for what to do with them. He tossed them towards her and she seemed to create a mouth to gobble them up.
“Whoa, Biyoo is actually listening to you?” the teenage girl said, sounding amazed.
“I like him,” Biyoo said. “He’s nice. Let him stay.”
“I’m not letting a stranger stay in the castle,” Yoo Joonghyuk argued. “Especially not one with a curse on him.” Kim Dokja stiffened for a second, but quickly returned to cooking.
“I don’t think it could hurt?” said the smaller girl. “Biyoo doesn’t like anyone, but she likes him, and I wouldn’t mind cleaning up the place a bit.” Kim Dokja looked back at the other two. The teenager looked conflicted, while Yoo Joonghyuk was still frowning deeply.
“Whatever Master decides, I’ll support him,” the teenage girl declared.
“Let him stay,” Biyoo repeated her earlier words.
“You know, they say a clean home is the key to a clean heart,” Kim Dokja said, even though the only one who said that was his mother. She had also used it in regards to calling her deceased husband trash, but they didn’t need to know that. “Then again, I’m not sure cleaning the castle will clean you of your bastardry. At least you’ll be able to sit down.” Biyoo let out a sound that was half choking and half sobbing.
“Wh—you can’t talk to Master that way!” the older girl exclaimed. Kim Dokja belatedly realized she had a sword at her side. Huh. How ‘bout that. He looked back at the pan and slid the finished food on a plate that the younger apprentice handed him.
“You…” He very firmly didn’t look at Yoo Joonghyuk as he uttered that word. His voice was suddenly lower and deeper. It sent shivers down his spine.
“You have a lot of guts…” the smaller girl murmured. Kim Dokja didn’t tell her that his guts were his self-preservation going out the window in his panic to not show fear.
The room was quiet save for the sound of sizzling for one long, anxiety-inducing moment. The feeling that Yoo Joonghyuk was giving off seemed to fluctuate. Kim Dokja didn’t have the courage to turn around and see what expression he wore.
“You can stay a month,” Yoo Joonghyuk said abruptly. His voice broke the silence. Kim Dokja abandoned the pan to blink at him dumbfoundedly.
“You’re agreeing?” he said, the words echoed by the teenage apprentice immediately after in a much more horrified voice.
“Just for a month,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, narrowing his eyes at him. “It’s a trial run. If you’re going to clean, be my guest but don’t overstep your boundaries.”
Kim Dokja grinned victoriously. “Not a problem.” Finishing up with the last of the bacon and eggs, he slid them onto the final plate and removed the pan. Biyoo’s fire rose up into the chimney as though she were stretching. Kim Dokja turned and frowned as he remembered the clutter on the table and bench.
“I’ll make some room,” the little girl said and started gathering the number of books and trinkets to move into a different pile.
“Thank you,” Kim Dokja said and set the plates down. “What’s your name by the way?”
“Shin Yoosung,” she said. “That’s Lee Jihye.” She pointed to the other girl. “We’re Master’s apprentices.”
“Master, is this a good idea?” Lee Jihye asked.
“No,” Yoo Joonghyuk said. He sat down at the table once a spot was cleared. Lee Jihye took a seat next to him. Shin Yoosung helped put the plates down before sitting too.
It wasn’t until Kim Dokja was in front of his own plate that he realized he had to take off the mask. Yoo Joonghyuk looked at him suspiciously as he stared at the food. He ducked his head, tugging his mask down and quickly shoveling the food into his mouth.
Yoo Joonghyuk hummed. “Tell me about your curse.” He tapped a finger on the table. “It feels like one of the Witch of the Waste’s.” Kim Dokja wiped his mouth and slipped the mask back over his nose and lips before looking up. He tried to speak, only for his throat to choke up. The words wouldn’t push past his throat.
“That curse won’t let you tell anyone about it,” the Witch had said. He scowled, furrowing his eyebrow in the direction of his food.
“Right. You can’t say anything about it then,” Yoo Joonghyuk said. “You want me to break it?”
“I’m just here as a housecleaner,” Kim Dokja said, even though he really wanted the curse gone. But he made a promise to Biyoo—and honestly, he liked her more than the Wizard.
“So your curse is why it’s so hard to focus on your face…” Lee Jihye said thoughtfully. “I thought you were just ugly.” Kim Dokja felt a stab in the gut. He didn’t have much self-esteem, but he didn’t think he was ugly. Shin Yoosung giggled.
Yoo Joonghyuk stood as he finished his breakfast. “Biyoo, warm my bath. I’ll be going out after.”
“Yes, Ahjussi,” Biyoo said.
“Do you need me to come too, Master?” Lee Jihye asked.
“No. This is a personal matter.”
As he went upstairs, Biyoo muttered to herself, “I’m a great demon, and he has me warming bath water? This is the worst contract ever.” Kim Dokja coughed to hide his laughter.
“Hey, Biyoo, be respectful! Master is a great man!” Lee Jihye declared.
“He eats hearts,” Kim Dokja said.
“That’s a rumor,” she huffed.
“I’ve never seen him go after any young girls,” Shin Yoosung added. “He’s always too busy for that.”
Kim Dokja made a noise of disbelief. He would believe it when he saw it, but so long as it wasn’t Heewon, he couldn’t care less. “Sure. But he’s not a very pleasant guy, is he?”
“Dokja-ahjussi understands me,” Biyoo said. “I like you. We’re keeping him.”
“That’s up to Master,” Lee Jihye sniffed.
“I like him too,” Shin Yoosung said. “I can help you clean.”
Clearly, Shin Yoosung and Biyoo were angels.
Every day, Yoo Joonghyuk left the castle for “personal reasons” once he finished whatever business he had to take care of for the day. Kim Dokja thought it odd, but there was just enough work to be done in the castle that he didn’t bother to wonder. Whenever he was in, he was always a nuisance in Kim Dokja’s cleaning, so it was easier to keep him away. Shin Yoosung was more than happy to help, while Lee Jihye was more than happy to stay in her room doing whatever it was teenage apprentice girls did.
And so the first five days passed with relative ease. Though occasionally Yoo Joonghyuk would glare and threaten, it only took three times for Kim Dokja to realize he was nothing but talk. He grew to have no qualms about forcing him out of the way. Shin Yoosung and Biyoo kept him company when there was a lull in work. Biyoo in particular enjoyed having someone to insult Yoo Joonghyuk with. Kim Dokja saw no problem with this.
On the sixth day of Kim Dokja’s stay as the Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk’s housekeeper, he noticed for the first time that when Yoo Joonghyuk went out, he first turned the dial by the door to the blue color. He watched Yoo Joonghyuk step outside into the grassy hill before the door shut behind him.
“Yoosung, what’s that dial?” he asked. He sat in front of the hearth, mending a hole in one of Shin Yoosung’s skirts. She and Lee Jihye had taken to asking him to fix some of their clothes when they realized he knew how to sew.
“That door’s magic,” Shin Yoosung answered. “Each color represents a different place. The blue leads to the hill we found you on. The green is Olympus. The yellow is the Industrial Complex.”
“And the black one?”
Shin Yoosung shrugged. “No one knows. Except for Biyoo, I think.”
“I’m sworn to secrecy,” Biyoo grumbled.
Kim Dokja hummed, staring at the dial curiously. Though he had only been in the castle for six days, he found the magic to be fascinating. He wondered if Gilyoung was having as fun with his studies as Kim Dokja was simply watching the three wizards at work. He felt a small pang of sadness in his chest. He hadn’t had a chance to see his little brother before he left.
He shook it off as he noticed Shin Yoosung looking at him with concern. “Do you know what ‘personal business’ Yoo Joonghyuk has every day?”
“I think he’s looking for someone,” Shin Yoosung answered and giggled to herself. “He would do this in the past—go out for personal reasons without telling us why. It slowed down a bit over time, but recently I think he figured something out.”
“Ah, so he’s found himself a girl, then,” Kim Dokja said, nodding. “I hope he doesn’t eat her heart. I don’t want to be an accessory to murder.”
“Master doesn’t eat hearts,” Shin Yoosung sighed. Kim Dokja mostly said it to be difficult, but he also hadn’t been given any reason not to believe that Yoo Joonghyuk would eat hearts. He was certainly handsome enough to do as he pleased.
The next day, he watched as Yoo Joonghyuk disappeared into the door where the black dial led to. It was the first time he’d seen him open that door, but he closed it too quickly for Kim Dokja to see what was out there. After ten minutes had passed, he inched closer, staring at the damning black dial.
His hand closed around the door handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. He whirled around to look at Biyoo. “Sorry Ahjussi,” she said apologetically. “I can’t let anyone through without his permission.”
“Biyoo,” he moaned. “I’m so curious!”
“I can’t do anything about that. If it were up to me, I would have let you through, but…” Though she had no shoulders, she formed her flames into a shrug.
A knock sounded on the door for the first time since Kim Dokja had arrived. He jumped. He didn’t think anyone would knock on the door of a castle—other than him, but he found that he lost a lot of reservations when he had nowhere else to go and nothing to regret.
“Jihye-unni, Complex door!” Biyoo called. Lee Jihye bounded down the staircase, tugging her cloak on over her shoulders as she headed to the door and pushed him out of the way. She turned the dial to yellow and opened. Kim Dokja looked over her shoulder. A small girl stood, and behind her was the image of a bustling street. Kim Dokja’s mouth dropped open.
“Hello unni,” the little girl said. “You had a potion for my dad?”
“Right, come inside,” Lee Jihye said, stepping aside to let the girl in. “Wait a bit while I get the potion, please.” She left the girl to rummage around a few shelves. The girl looked around absently and stopped when she saw Kim Dokja.
“Hello, Ahjussi. I haven’t seen you before,” said the girl. “Are you another wizard?”
Kim Dokja thought about denying it, as he truly wasn’t, but thought better of it. “Indeed I am,” he said. “I’m a great wizard. I look after these two here while the master of the house is out.”
“Amazing! He must trust you a lot.” Lee Jihye came back, handing the potion to the girl, but she didn’t leave quite yet. “Ahjussi, why is your face so covered?”
Kim Dokja touched his cheek. He wore his mask again and had found a pair of glasses too. It made him practically unrecognizable, which meant the four residents of the castle could look at him directly now. If his family or Yoo Sangah saw him, he doubted they would suspect a thing. “Ah, you see, I’m quite ugly,” he told the little girl. “I’m afraid my face would only terrify you.”
“You’re not ugly, Ahjussi!” Shin Yoosung protested, echoed by Biyoo. Lee Jihye made a face where they couldn’t see, but he could.
“It’s true, Yoosung,” Kim Dokja said and laughed.
“Right, if that was all,” Lee Jihye said forcefully. She ushered the girl out the door and sighed when it closed. She looked back at them with a frown. “You know word gets around quickly.” Kim Dokja shrugged. He thought it would be quite funny.
By the next week, it had indeed gotten around that there was another wizard. Someone even dropped by to confirm it. By the end of the next week, he had become a known figure as a magic-user in more than one place. When Yoo Joonghyuk returned from his business in the Complex, his eyebrows were furrowed while Lee Jihye looked distressed.
“Kim Dokja,” Yoo Joonghyuk said. “Why are the people in the Industrial Complex asking me about the ‘Ugly Sorcerer’ staying with me?”
Kim Dokja knew he had brought the name onto himself, but it still struck like an arrow to the chest. “I’m a sorcerer now, didn’t you know?” he said. “In Olympus they call me the Masked Wizard.” He hadn’t set out to claim he could use magic, but he couldn’t resist when he had been asked a second time.
“Why are you pretending to be a wizard?” Yoo Joonghyuk pinched the bridge of his nose.
“It’s not like I’m doing any harm. It’s fun and I’m bored.”
“It is pretty funny,” Shin Yoosung said, smiling hesitantly at him. Kim Dokja rubbed the top of her head. She was truly a lovely girl.
“You…” With a sigh, Yoo Joonghyuk shook his head. “Never mind. Do whatever.”
“Are you going out on your ‘personal business’ again?”
“No. Yoosung, come with me.”
Kim Dokja’s eyebrows raised and he looked at Shin Yoosung as she hopped to her feet. “Oh? Where are you going?”
“We’re going to see Seolhwa-unni, just outside of Eden,” Yoosung explained. “She has a new apprentice around my age and she says he has magic similar to mine, so we’re dropping by.”
Gilyoung. Kim Dokja felt pained as he thought of the little brother he left behind. He wondered if he knew he was gone yet, or if Lee Sookyung hadn’t told any of her other two children. Bihyung must have said something, even if she didn’t. A traitorous part of him wondered if his family even missed him.
Heewon had looked happier than she had ever been at home when he saw her with that sword.
“What’s your magic?” he asked Yoosung.
“Beast magic,” Yoo Joonghyuk answered for her. “Let’s go. Jihye, work on your magic.” He turned the dial on the door and left, leading Shin Yoosung outside. Kim Dokja rolled his eyes as he waved goodbye.
“Have fun!” he called. The door shutting was his only answer. Lee Jihye sat at the dining table, apparently studying a spell as she muttered angrily under her breath. He reclined back in front of the fire, letting Biyoo warm him. With nothing to do, all he could think of was the fact that Shin Yoosung and Yoo Joonghyuk were going to see his little brother.
It took thirty minutes before his anxiety won out and he stood. He had seen Heewon before he left, but not Gilyoung. He just wanted to make sure he was doing alright. Lee Jihye glanced up for a second, but went right back to her spell. He was counting on that. He made sure his mask and glasses were still on, slipped on a jacket, and exited the castle without a word to either her or Biyoo.
He was back on the hill outside of Eden. In fact, they were so close that he could see the town, though it was still small in the distance. Kim Dokja had somewhat of an idea of where Lee Seolhwa’s clinic was. Near enough to the entrance of the town that anyone could drop by if they needed her, but far enough that she wasn’t bothered by any neighbors or people outside of work. With that in mind, he began the trek.
Not five minutes before he had began his walk, an enraged screech followed after him. He stopped, recognizing the voice as Lee Jihye’s. Her face was bright red as she caught up to him. She hadn’t had to run far, so she wasn’t breathing too heavily. It was probably her anger that had her face so brightly colored.
“Hello Jihye,” he said, smiling innocently at her. “I was just taking a walk.”
“Bullshit you were taking a walk!” she exclaimed and pointed a finger in his face.
“Shut it! You’re following after Master and Yoosung, aren’t you?” She set her hands on her hips. Kim Dokja thought her attempt at a disapproving face looked more childish than actually worrisome.
“Alright, you caught me.” He held his hands up, his mind coming up with a lie on the spot. “I realized I might know the boy apprenticing under Lee Seolhwa, so I wanted to check.” Lee Jihye narrowed her eyes. After a moment, she huffed.
“I’m coming with you then,” she decided. “Master won’t like it if you get lost or hurt.” Kim Dokja doubted that, but he wasn’t about to say no to some extra protection. He nodded and let her lead the way.
It was a long trek to the clinic, but not nearly as long as the one Kim Dokja made getting from Eden to the castle. He was only slightly winded when they arrived, and there was no change in Lee Jihye in the slightest.
Lee Seolhwa’s clinic looked nothing like a witch’s place—although, the only magic user Kim Dokja knew anything about was Yoo Joonghyuk. Her clinic, though far from Eden itself, looked less like a clinic and more like a quaint little house. The small porch was lined with flowers of pale colors. The lawn was a healthy green that Kim Dokja doubted he would find anywhere else. If he leaned to the side far enough, he could see the white fence that blocked off the area of her backyard.
The woman who answered the door was much younger than he thought she would be, though her hair was still just as white. Kim Dokja almost thought he had the wrong house, if not for Lee Jihye saying, “Hello, Seolhwa-unni.”
“Jihye, hello,” Lee Seolhwa said, smiling kindly. “Joonghyuk-ssi said you wouldn’t be joining them today?”
“I was supposed to be staying at the castle, but this idiot ahjussi decided to try and sneak out,” Lee Jihye huffed. “He said he might know your new apprentice so he wanted to check.”
“I don’t think that should be much of a problem. Come in, then. They’ll be in the yard.” Lee Seolhwa opened the door wider to let them in. A dog seemed to peer at them from around the corner. It stared wide eyes at them, then dashed out of sight. It was the shyest Great Dane Kim Dokja had ever seen.
“Did you get a dog, Seolhwa-unni?” Lee Jihye asked.
Lee Seolhwa smiled mysteriously. “Oh, I’m just taking care of him for a friend. Do you want tea while we wait? I don’t think you’ll want to see Joonghyuk-ssi and the children while they’re messing with magic.”
She led the two of them to the kitchen and they sat at the small dining table. The Great Dane was staring at them again, but didn’t approach. Kim Dokja furrowed his eyebrows. He was a strange dog. Curiously, he held out a hand, silently beckoning him near. After a moment, he approached. Kim Dokja scratched the top of his head and he leaned into his touch.
“You have a curse on you, don’t you?” Lee Seolhwa asked idly. “That’s why you wear that mask. You think Joonghyuk-ssi will be able to help?”
“Uh, no. I just clean for him,” Kim Dokja said. The dog was relaxing ever-so-slightly under his hand. “Can I ask why your apprentice needs their help?”
“I’m afraid his and my magic is somewhat incompatible,” she explained. “My magic is less offense-based. I can still teach him some, but not so long as he has so little control, which is why Yoosung is here.”
“Oh.” He didn’t know enough about magic to understand, but he supposed that made sense.
Lee Seolhwa smiled as she set Lee Jihye’s tea in front of her. “Would you like to see their progress so far? You can confirm if you know my apprentice or not. If you don’t mind my asking, why do you think you know him?”
“I’m a friend of his family,” Kim Dokja fibbed. “I heard he ran from his original apprenticeship and came here instead.”
She chuckled fondly. “Yes, they were a troublesome duo. As soon as his sister came, she demanded that I call the Archangels and exchange her for her brother. You must be quite close for him to have told you.”
“I know their older brother.”
“I see. Why don’t we see him then? We’ll stay inside; I don’t know what their beasts might do.”
Kim Dokja stood and followed her out of the kitchen, leaving Lee Jihye to happily sip her tea alone. The dog trotted after him, whining quietly. Lee Seolhwa stopped at the back door. Through the window, he could see and hear Gilyoung and Yoosung arguing.
They stood in a garden, with two different, enlarged beasts at each of their sides. Shin Yoosung had a giant squirrel while Gilyoung had a giant grasshopper. Both were practically growling at each other, imitating their respective humans. Yoo Joonghyuk looked tired as he stood a few steps away from them and didn’t intervene.
Gilyoung looked lively. His face was scrunched in anger, expressive in a way Kim Dokja had never seen before. He usually kept his head down around others who weren’t him or Heewon. And he had always loved bugs, keeping them in makeshift boxes and talking to them like they could understand them. If he knew about his magic the whole time, maybe they did understand him.
He was thriving here.
Kim Dokja couldn’t breathe all of a sudden.
“I think it’s time I go,” he said.
Lee Seolhwa looked at him, surprised. “Are you sure? Did you get what you came for?”
Kim Dokja went back to the kitchen. “Let’s go,” he said to Lee Jihye. She was finished with her tea, but he wouldn’t have let that stop him if she wasn’t.
“Right now? Shouldn’t we go talk to Master first?” Lee Jihye asked.
“It’s fine. You don’t want him to know I left, right?” He smirked. Predictably, she let out a frustrated growl and conceded easily. Standing, she nodded to Lee Seolhwa before saying her goodbyes. Kim Dokja scratched the Great Dane’s head.
He couldn’t get out of the house—and away from his happier little brother—fast enough.
Lee Jihye returned to her studying for the rest of the day. Whilst practicing using her sword as a makeshift wand, having switched from theory to practical, Lee Jihye got her sword stuck in one of Yoo Joonghyuk’s magic books, and it was just their luck that it was one of those books with actual magic cast on it. It wouldn’t let her sword go.
“How did you even manage this?” Kim Dokja huffed as he and Lee Jihye pulled. “For fuck’s sake—let the sword go already!” With one last, mighty pull, the two of them stumbled backwards, the sword finally released from the confines of the book’s pages, as well as an explosion of dust and other particles that spread along the floor. Kim Dokja coughed as he stood. The book’s pages and cover were torn. He picked it up and flipped it open, wincing. “Please mend yourself,” he muttered to it. “If Yoo Joonghyuk yells at me, it’s on your head. If he spelled a book to hold onto a sword but not fix itself, then he’s a shit wizard.”
Slowly, the rips began sewing back together. Lee Jihye stood and looked over his shoulder as she sheathed her sword. “Huh,” she said. “I’ve never seen a book do that on its own.”
“It was probably one of the spells Yoo Joonghyuk put on it.” He was willing to believe anything could happen when it came to Yoo Joonghyuk’s possessions. “I think you should stop practicing inside.” Lee Jihye sighed and nodded, grabbing a different book and sitting at the dining table to study it. Kim Dokja grabbed the mop and began cleaning.
Both Yoo Joonghyuk and Shin Yoosung were wrecks covered in dirt when they returned, twenty minutes later, but Shin Yoosung looked happy while Yoo Joonghyuk looked much more tired than he had been when Kim Dokja saw him hours before.
“Kim Dokja,” Yoo Joonghyuk growled, trekking mud footprints along the newly-mopped floor.
“Watch the shoes,” Kim Dokja said, affronted. “I just cleaned! Yoosung, take off your shoes before you take another step.” He waved the handle of the mop threateningly in her direction. Luckily, she hadn’t moved from the doorway, and she dutifully removed her shoes before walking across the room.
“Lee Seolhwa told me you came. Why?” Yoo Joonghyuk continued, ignoring Kim Dokja’s criticisms. Kim Dokja scowled under his mask and smacked him with the mop’s handle. It didn’t hurt him, but seeing his shocked look made him feel better. Shin Yoosung made a sound like she was trying not to laugh, while Biyoo was blatantly cackling.
“Take off your shoes first and don’t ruin my clean floor,” he ordered.
“You should listen to him,” Shin Yoosung said. “He did work very hard.”
“This isn’t your floor,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, though he was already stomping back to the entrance to take off his boots.
“It’s my floor because I’m the only one who takes care of it!” Kim Dokja sniffed and turned to Shin Yoosung. “How was your day, Yoosung? Good? Any day that makes Yoo Joonghyuk look like that must have been a good day.” Yoo Joonghyuk made an infuriated sound, which went ignored.
“Gilyoung is a brat!” she declared. “He wouldn’t stop arguing with me, and then his dumb bugs tried fighting my beasts! I can’t believe he told me his bugs were superior.” She made a face, but her eyes were light.
“You had fun though?” he said.
Shin Yoosung nodded firmly. “Yup! Gilyoung caught on really fast. It was lots of fun.”
Kim Dokja remembered Gilyoung’s face, for that short minute he saw them arguing. He thought Gilyoung would say the same if he were to ask about his day. He couldn’t remember the last time he said anything was fun.
“You didn’t answer me,” Yoo Joonghyuk said as he stomped back to stand in front of him. “Why did you come to Lee Seolhwa’s house?”
“I’ll have you know that there was something I needed to confirm. Not that it’s any of your business,” Kim Dokja said.
“I thought I told you to stay in the castle.”
“Actually, you never told me to stay put. You only said you were going out.” He grinned cheekily. Yoo Joonghyuk glowered. After weeks of having put up with his same three expressions—all of which expressing separate degrees of displeasure—he was unaffected. “You two need to bathe,” he said, “before you get more dirt on the floor. Then you can have dinner.” He ushered them to the stairs, Shin Yoosung going easier than Yoo Joonghyuk.
“I can’t believe you can manhandle Master like that,” Lee Jihye muttered. He pretended not to notice and set to scrubbing the floor. Again. Wizards, he thought with a quiet huff. Upstairs, he heard the water go off in two different bathrooms, while Biyoo moaned about the work she had to do.
Kim Dokja had been watching Yoo Joonghyuk dodge the King’s summons almost for as long as he had been living in the castle. The one time he had accepted an invitation, it was to throw in the fire as soon as the door was closed. Whenever Kim Dokja opened the door to Olympus, there was half-chance that a royal messenger would ask him to speak to the Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk, please.
“You can’t avoid the King forever,” he said, watching Yoo Joonghyuk stubbornly ignore the knocking from the Olympus door once more. “Why are you ignoring him so much?”
“He just wants me to find his kid. I have better things to do than drag a runaway back to where they ran from.”
“Prince Aslan was kidnapped.”
Yoo Joonghyuk levelled a look at him. “What are you talking about?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m not meeting with the King about his kid.”
“Well, he won’t stop bothering you until you answer, so you may as well go and tell him that yourself,” Kim Dokja said and swept away the ashes of the latest magical disaster.
“I don’t have time for that.”
“And what is it that you do, exactly?”
“None of your business.”
Once again, there was persistent knocking at the door, and Biyoo said, “Olympus door.”
Kim Dokja groaned. It felt like the King was getting even more persistent. “Can’t you take one day off?”
“Ahjussi, what if you went in Master’s place?” Shin Yoosung said. Kim Dokja furrowed his eyebrows, while Yoo Joonghyuk’s expression turned thoughtful.
“Hey, that’s a good idea,” Lee Jihye said, perking up. “There are disguise spells, aren’t there? Master’s not half bad at those.”
“Excuse me?” Kim Dokja said. “I can’t just meet the King—in disguise of all things.”
“It could work,” Yoo Joonghyuk said. “Kim Dokja, go to the palace and say no for me while I’m out tomorrow.”
“You will do it.”
“Do you listen to anything I say?”
Almost pointedly, Yoo Joonghyuk turned away from him, sliding into his seat across from Lee Jihye. Kim Dokja made a face at his back.
He thought that he would be able to get out of it, but the day passed, and in the morning, Kim Dokja found himself letting Yoo Joonghyuk cast a glamour spell on him. The magic felt somewhat tingly and he thought he could feel his features shifting on their own.
“Wow, you really look like Master,” Lee Jihye said, impressed. “Nice job, Master!” Yoo Joonghyuk nodded. Kim Dokja felt distinctly less impressed.
“If the King orders for your death,” he said, “I’m revealing this ruse immediately.”
“You’d have to break the spell to do that,” Yoo Joonghyuk said.
“I will find a way.” Kim Dokja narrowed his eyes.
Yoo Joonghyuk only frowned and turned away to face Shin Yoosung. She stood by the door, wearing a modest cloak over her shoulders. “Make sure he isn’t being trouble,” he ordered. Shin Yoosung smiled and nodded.
“Trouble? Me? I would never,” Kim Dokja said. Lee Jihye raised an eyebrow skeptically. Shin Yoosung made her way to his side and tugged his hand.
“Let’s go, Ahjussi,” she said. “We’ll be done faster if we leave earlier. Joonghyuk-ahjussi, good luck with your personal business today.”
“One more thing.” Yoo Joonghyuk turned back to him and grabbed his wrist. Then his grip turned softer. He slid a ring onto his middle finger. “Take this. I enchanted it to lead you back to me just in case. Don’t do anything stupid, Kim Dokja.”
“You have so much faith in me,” Kim Dokja scoffed. “I expect some damn good books for me to read when I get back.” Yoo Joonghyuk rolled his eyes.
“Good luck, Yoosung. And Ugly Ahjussi, too, I guess,” Lee Jihye said. He felt tired already.
Though he opened the door to Olympus often, he didn’t tend to wander far. He stayed in the castle usually, bringing potions and powders to clients with Biyoo’s help, and improvising when he couldn’t. The clients didn’t return to curse at him about fake remedies, so he figured he could continue doing as he was. When he wasn’t helping clients, he went to the market, which wasn’t very near to the palace. He had never so much as glimpsed it before.
The palace in Olympus was large and practically shimmering. There were guards posted everywhere. Kim Dokja straightened his back, not allowing himself to be intimidated. He imitated Yoo Joonghyuk as best he could, even furrowing his eyebrows to look angry like was his resting face. Shin Yoosung walked with purpose, too, which made him feel better.
The front entrance was reached by walking a huge set of stairs. Kim Dokja eyed it dubiously, feeling the exhaustion creeping on him already. He looked at Shin Yoosung. She looked back at him, then began the climb up. He had no choice but to go up after her.
Far too many stairs later, he reached the top, sweating in Yoo Joonghyuk’s dark clothes. He looked at the guards stationed by the doors and felt a wave of empathy towards them. They were probably near fainting as they were, in their full-body uniforms under the bright, unwavering sun all day long.
“The Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk to see the King!” was called across the chamber as he was led inside. He and Shin Yoosung were ushered through the long, confusing hallways and rooms, handed off between different people along the way. Outside a large set of extravagant doors, Shin Yoosung was taken aside and told to wait. Kim Dokja attempted to imitate Yoo Joonghyuk’s scowl, but didn’t make a fuss.
“Your Majesty, here is The Wizard Yoo Joonghyuk to see you.”
He was taken in through the doors, and there sat the King on a large, imposing throne, looking every inch the King that he expected. He sat with his back perfectly straight, both feet flat on the ground. He didn’t have a very friendly look to him. While Yoo Joonghyuk was all gruff in his expressions, the King’s furrowed eyebrows and frown under his furry beard seemed to be entirely disapproval and superiority.
Kim Dokja thought he would feel overwhelmed by the King’s sheer presence. Yet he stood in front of him and felt nothing. Despite the way he sat, as though looking down upon him, he felt like just another man who wanted more than he deserved. Kim Dokja had enough experience with those types of men.
“Yoo Joonghyuk,” said the King. “Have you come to accept my offer at last?”
“No,” he said. It was easy to remember what Yoo Joonghyuk wanted him to say. “You’ve been bothering me. I already said no.”
“I can compensate you for your time,” said the King immediately.
“No. I’m not finding your son for you. Use someone else.”
“You’re the only one. Who else am I going to ask? There’s no wizard or witch as competent as you.”
“I don’t care.”
Arguing with the King—as Yoo Joonghyuk—was so easy that Kim Dokja hardly had to think of his responses. He only had to be short and rude, and he was intimately familiar with that particularly behavior. The way that the King’s face was slowly turning red was also familiar, even if it was a brand new face.
“You are my subject,” the King growled, and slammed his scepter on the floor to prove a point. It didn’t have the same power as the time Yoo Joonghyuk got mad when he accidentally mixed up his potions. “You are duty-bound to listen to my ruling.”
“You think you can force me?” There was glee in how Kim Dokja could refuse the King himself, even if it was only because he wore Yoo Joonghyuk’s face. It was only his reputation that was keeping him alive, but he trusted Shin Yoosung right outside to protect him if it came down to it. “I won’t be helping you. I have better things to do.”
Kim Dokja wasn’t supposed to leave until the King agreed, but he still turned and started walking out of the room. The King didn’t even bother to get off of his seat, only yelling threats after him. He could feel a grin spreading across his face, and if it weren’t for the appearance he needed to keep, he would have let it. He forced his expression into his best impression of Yoo Joonghyuk’s regular angry-neutral.
“Yoosung, let’s go,” he said as he exited through the large double doors. The man that was watching her looked appalled by his conduct. Shin Yoosung only smiled and took her place at his side.
“Your business is finished, then?” the man asked hesitantly. He clearly heard the King shouting before the doors closed.
Just like when they came, they were handed off to different people through the different hallways, until they emerged outside of the castle and were left to walk home on their own.
Shin Yoosung waited until they were fully out of sight of the castle to ask, “How did it go?”
“The King has a bit of a temper,” Kim Dokja said, finally allowing himself to grin. It probably looked odd on Yoo Joonghyuk’s face. “Technically he didn’t let Yoo Joonghyuk off, but it’s not like that’ll change anything. He’ll just have to deal.”
“You did what you could,” Shin Yoosung said. He snorted. There were a lot of things he could have done that he chose not to.
Together the two of them walked the familiar streets of Olympus on their way back to Yoo Joonghyuk’s fake house. Kim Dokja told her about the many colors the King’s face turned while he was channeling Yoo Joonghyuk’s personality, and he was so caught up in his storytelling that he almost missed the figure that was steadily approaching them.
“Kim Dokja,” the Witch of the Waste said flatly. She hadn’t changed her appearance a bit. Whether that was because no one knew what she actually looked like, or because she was powerful enough that she didn’t need to, he wasn’t sure. “This is a surprise. You got that bastard Yoo Joonghyuk to take you in?” Kim Dokja stiffened. He put a hand on Shin Yoosung’s shoulder and shoved her behind him. The Witch rolled her eyes. “I’m not planning on doing anything to the kid. I only care about what you’re doing.”
“What do you want?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I’m only checking in. Have you figured it out yet?”
“You haven’t. What have you been doing all this time?”
“Get this curse off of me.”
“Nothing then.” She sighed, as though Kim Dokja were the one being difficult. “Unfortunately for you, I only create spells, not break them. That’s for you to figure out.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Please. You can’t be that dumb. Good luck, Kim Dokja.” She gave him a smirk. It was vaguely annoying. He wondered if that was what he looked like when he was messing with Yoo Joonghyuk. a“Oh, by the way, have you seen a Great Dane? He’s a bit of a coward, but sweet, I think.”
His mind instantly went to the one staying with Lee Seolhwa. “No,” he answered. She eyed him like she didn’t believe him, then shrugged. He pushed Shin Yoosung a few steps back as the Witch passed them.
“One more thing,” she added beside his ear. “Tell Yoo Joonghyuk that he’s looking in the wrong place. He can hardly find someone when he doesn’t remember their name.” He whirled around to face her, but she was already disappearing into the crowd.
“That was the Witch of the Waste?” Shin Yoosung whispered.
“Yeah. She’s the one that did this to me.” He touched his cheek—Yoo Joonghyuk’s cheek. He wished it was his own.
He felt his form shift, like it had when the glamour was put on. Shin Yoosung looked at him, wide-eyed. “Ahjussi, the glamour!” she exclaimed. Kim Dokja hurried to grab the mask he kept in his pocket and tie it around his head, just before the spell finally broke.
“He must have put a timer on that spell,” he muttered. He felt like himself again. It was weird being of a different body. Now skinnier, Yoo Joonghyuk’s clothes hung off of him.
“Maybe?” Shin Yoosung said dubiously. Kim Dokja shrugged.
They returned to the castle as the sky was beginning to darken. The haphazardly discarded shoes by the door was enough evidence that Yoo Joonghyuk had returned before them from his usual outing.
“Yoo Joonghyuk!” Kim Dokja called. He found him and Lee Jihye sitting at the dining table. He sat across from Yoo Joonghyuk. “The Witch of the Waste has a message for you.”
“The Witch?” Lee Jihye gasped.
Kim Dokja said, “She said you’re looking in the wrong place, and that you can’t find someone when you don’t know their name. What does that mean?” Yoo Joonghyuk’s expression turned stormy, his hands curling into fists on the table.
“What does she know?” he said lowly. “Where did you meet her? Did she say anything else?”
“We met as we were leaving the palace, and no, she didn’t say anything else. Yoo Joonghyuk, what is your relationship with her, exactly?”
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
“It is my business! She’s the one who did this to me!” He gestured to his face.
Yoo Joonghyuk narrowed his eyes. “What happened to the glamour?”
“It wore off. What does the Witch know?”
“They’re accomplices, sometimes,” Biyoo piped up. Yoo Joonghyuk glared at her. Kim Dokja looked between the two of them. He felt shocked, first, and betrayed second. He finally settled his gaze back to Yoo Joonghyuk.
“What does she mean?” he asked sharply. Lee Jihye quietly stood from the table, ushering Shin Yoosung upstairs.
Yoo Joonghyuk sighed. “Han Sooyoung and I… work together. Sometimes. I owe her, but we don’t get involved with each other. I don’t know anything about how to undo her curse on you. Her magic is… different, from mine.” He glared at the table, more frustrated than angry. The revelation of her name was surprising, but unimportant.
“Could you have gotten her to break her spell on me?”
“No. She doesn’t break spells.”
Kim Dokja crossed his arms. “And you’re telling the truth?”
Yoo Joonghyuk was a lot of things. Those things drove Kim Dokja insane, but he wasn’t much of a liar, as far as he knew. “Okay. I still expect you to figure out how to break her spell, then.”
“Right,” he said flatly. “Did you tell the King I wasn’t going to find his kid for him?”
Yoo Joonghyuk nodded. Reaching from the pile of books that still lined the edge of the table, he took two from the top and slid them to him. “Your new books. As promised.”
Kim Dokja had already read one of the titles, but he said, “Wow! I can’t believe you actually did it!” He grinned at the scowl sent his way. “Thank you, Joonghyuk-ah.”
Yoo Joonghyuk was gone before Kim Dokja woke in the morning, four days later. It wasn’t the first time, but it was becoming a rarer occurrence these days. Lee Jihye and Shin Yoosung were studying a book at the dining table.
“Did he go out to find his mystery person?” he asked Biyoo.
“He went to get answers from the Witch,” she answered.
“I see. If he gets himself killed, that’s on him.” Kim Dokja rolled up his sleeves and retrieved a few items to begin cooking. “Do any of you know anything about this person he’s looking for? Is it a friend? Family?” He paused. “Lover?”
“I don’t know,” Shin Yoosung said, looking apologetic.
“It’s not any of our business,” Lee Jihye huffed. “And it’s got nothing to do with you either, so don’t go bothering him about it!”
Kim Dokja looked at Biyoo under the pan on top of her flame. “Biyoo?”
She was oddly silent. “This person…” she said slowly. “I can’t tell you much about them, but they were very important to him.” Kim Dokja made a noise of understanding, and she added, “But he seems to be happier now that you’re here, Ahjussi!”
“Yeah, he used to be gone all the time when he wasn’t teaching us,” Shin Yoosung agreed. He turned to look at her oddly. She smiled proudly.
“He’s still gone all the time,” he said.
“He actually sleeps here though,” Lee Jihye said, sounding reluctant to add to the conversation. “I used to wake up to him coming in early in the morning and he’d just fall asleep right in front of Biyoo.”
“That’s because he knows if he didn’t sleep, I’d make him sleep,” Kim Dokja huffed, irritation bubbling in his chest as he remembered the first time he caught Yoo Joonghyuk sneaking back in at 3:00 AM. He had ended up forcing him to stay awake for the rest of the day until he passed out at 10:00 PM later that evening. “That bastard barely knows how to take care of himself, honestly! What kind of life was he living before I came along, huh?”
“Joonghyuk-ahjussi is hopeless,” Biyoo said firmly.
“You’re doing great,” Shin Yoosung said.
“Thank you, Biyoo, Yoosung. You two always know what to say.” Lee Jihye made an offended noise, of which he ignored.
Once breakfast was served, he set to giving Biyoo new wood and once again fixing the mess that Yoo Joonghyuk left every time he returned from his wizardly things. Lee Jihye accompanied Shin Yoosung down to Lee Seolhwa’s house, as she had taken to visiting Gilyoung every so often. She said it was for training, but he privately thought she liked having a friend her age.
There was a never-ending stream of people who needed assistance from any of Yoo Joonghyuk’s aliases, and Kim Dokja found himself substituting instead. It was usually easy things, like giving someone a ready-made potion or telling them to use a certain powder. Sometimes there was no solution that Biyoo could whisper to him, so he had to pretend to use a spell.
He was coming up with a falsified way to break the curse on a man’s watch in Olympus when he caught sight of one of the royal guards. He would have ignored it, had the man not been staring straight at him and marching his way. Kim Dokja tensed, hands tightening around the client’s watch.
“Uh, sorry, I have to—” he said, mind racing. “Here, bury the watch in your yard and leave it for three days. On the fourth day, dig it up and the curse should be lifted. If it’s not, you’re free to, uh, come back and refund me. Now, I have to go. Good luck, Sir.” He rushed inside at the same time that the guard began speeding up and slammed the door behind him, switching the dial back to blue.
Yoo Joonghyuk came flying through the door five seconds later. The girls followed suit. “We’re moving,” he declared. “The King is on a manhunt for me. Kim Dokja, what did you tell him?”
Maybe arguing with the King had been a bad idea after all. “I only did what you would have done,” he answered. Yoo Joonghyuk growled, but only pushed him off towards the kitchenette.
“Sit up there and don’t touch anything,” he said, shoving him on top of the dining table. He turned before Kim Dokja could answer and said to Biyoo, “We’re moving you, too.”
“What?” Biyoo nearly screeched. “Ahjussi, we could die!”
“Die?” Kim Dokja repeated. “If that’s going to kill you—”
“You won’t die,” Yoo Joonghyuk declared. “I just bought a shop down in Eden. It used to be a hat shop. We’ll be moving there.” Kim Dokja felt all his protests leave him in that moment as the three wizards ran around and across, moving objects and making marks in chalk on the floor and outside on the grassy hill.
Lee Sookyung was selling the hat shop. In a distant way, it made sense. He knew she didn’t truly care for it in any way, and now all three of her children were gone. Bihyung had no obligation to stay. He supposed there was nothing keeping her there, though a spiteful part of him wondered if she even cared to wait for him to return. Was she leaving Eden entirely? Would he see her again? How much did he even want to?
The girls hopped on to the table next to him. Yoo Joonghyuk had Biyoo on a shovel. She was nothing but a flame, though Kim Dokja didn’t doubt she would be anything else, and she was trembling. He saw that Yoo Joonghyuk’s arm was trembling too, slightly. In the midst of Biyoo’s flame was something round and dark. Whatever it was, was dented in the middle of it. Biyoo looked terrified, reaching out with arm-shaped flames as though to keep herself steady on the shovel.
“Ready?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked her.
“As ready as any fire away from their hearth can be,” she huffed. It was a good enough answer. He stepped into the chalked circle into the center, in the middle of a star. He held the shovel in front of him at arms-length.
Biyoo seemed to burst.
In array of colors—blue green orange red yellow white—her form grew and shifted, and with her, so did the form of the house. Everything seemed to sway and swing, the floor rattling underneath the table. Only Yoo Joonghyuk looked steady, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, while the walls shuddered and changed designs.
The room settled into a familiar parlor. They weren’t in the castle any longer. It was empty of the picture frames and decorations he was used to, but it was undoubtedly his former home. Shin Yoosung and Lee Jihye were already off, exploring the new place, while Yoo Joonghyuk returned Biyoo to her fireplace. She grumbled at him about reckless moves, but luckily, she lived.
Kim Dokja slid off the table and stopped beside Biyoo, giving her a log which she took gratefully. “Yoo Joonghyuk, you can’t tire poor Biyoo like that without warning,” he scolded. Though he had done nothing but sit, he also felt winded.
“She’s fine. It’s better than getting caught by the King.” Yoo Joonghyuk headed to the front door. Kim Dokja followed. He opened it, and outside was the familiar streets of Eden, full of familiar figures walking past, bustling about and getting ready to return home. It was the same scene Kim Dokja had seen countless times before. Yoo Joonghyuk closed the door, turned the dial from green to yellow, and opened it again.
“Where is this?” Kim Dokja asked. It wasn’t the Industrial Complex. The Complex was an old town, while this place looked new.
“First Murim,” Yoo Joonghyuk answered, frowning. “Not that far from where we were originally, but far enough that no one would think to find us here.”
“We moved the Complex house, too?”
“Han Sooyoung knew about it. We may not be enemies, but I don’t trust her knowing where we live.” Yoo Joonghyuk closed the door again. Kim Dokja found his eyes drawn to the black dial—the doorway he never opened. Yoo Joonghyuk grabbed his attention again. “Let’s go see the house. What kind of shop do you think we should open?”
“What?” Kim Dokja asked as he was led through the house.
“We own the shop now. What should we do with it?”
“You didn’t think of that before we moved? When did you buy this place anyway?”
It figured that Yoo Joonghyuk would make an impulse decision like this. “Right. A shop…” He thought of the books that piled in his room in the castle. All of them gifted by his housemates throughout his time with them. “A bookstore?”
“We’d need to order the books, but sure.” Yoo Joonghyuk nodded. They stopped at a room. Kim Dokja’s old room, where he used to sew hats and watch the street as he did so. It seemed like a lifetime ago when he muttered to himself as he sewed. He didn’t miss it.
“This is your room,” Yoo Joonghyuk said.
“Thanks,” Kim Dokja said. Nearby, he heard Shin Yoosung and Lee Jihye running about. He wondered if they took Gilyoung and Heewon’s rooms.
The sun had set long ago. Everyone else was asleep. Kim Dokja walked silently to Biyoo’s perch and sat across from her. She looked up sleepily.
“Whose heart is that?” he asked. It took him a while to recognize the beating object that Biyoo held in her flames. “Is it Yoo Joonghyuk’s?”
Biyoo’s form flickered awake. “I can’t tell you that,” she said sadly.
“But it is a heart.”
“It’s keeping me alive,” she said, “and in return, I keep someone else alive.”
“Kim Dokja, come with me,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, and didn’t wait before dragging Kim Dokja to the front door.
“Excuse me? This is kidnapping? Let go of me.” Kim Dokja flailed, snatching his wrist from his grip.
“Shut up. You live here.”
“At least let me put my shoes on first.” Yoo Joonghyuk crossed his arms, staring him down as he put on his shoes. “Right. Now where are we going?”
“We’re meeting my old teacher. She wants to meet you.”
He didn’t answer. He turned the dial to yellow and opened the front door.
First Murim was a sprawling area. While their original place wasn’t empty, First Murim was full of crowds and markets styled with foreign architecture. Yoo Joonghyuk led them through the crowds with ease, only stopping once to buy a dumpling before continuing on his way. Eventually, the crowds began to thin around them, until they stood in front of an old, rundown building in an empty area. The nameplate at the front said:
[Breaking the Sky Sword School]
“Your teacher…” Kim Dokja said slowly. “You were taught by the Breaking the Sky Sword Saint?”
“You know her?” Yoo Joonghyuk looked at him with surprise.
“I heard a little about her.”
Namgung Minyoung, the Breaking the Sky Sword Saint. Back when he worked at the hat shop, a few women would talk about her. She was said to be powerful. She was also said to be the last of her kind—though what her ‘kind’ was, Kim Dokja wasn’t sure.
“I thought she only taught women,” he said.
“I was an exception.” Yoo Joonghyuk opened the door without knocking.
Kim Dokja had seen a lot of questionable things since he had been cursed, so the sight of a dog and a girl sparring together wasn’t as surprising as it once would have been. Neither of them addressed them, finishing their spar with the dog being the victor. The girl bowed.
“Thank you, Breaking the Sky Master,” she said. The dog woofed happily.
“Jang Hayoung, Sahyung,” Yoo Joonghyuk called.
The girl turned. Her face seemed familiar, and beautiful. He didn’t think it was possible for anyone to be in Yoo Joonghyuk’s league of beauty. “Joonghyuk-ssi. Here to see Teacher?”
“She wanted to meet my housekeeper.”
“You’d think I’d be more than your housekeeper by now,” Kim Dokja lamented. It had been at least two months since he arrived. Yoo Joonghyuk was supposed to kick him out after one.
“You’d be Kim Dokja then? I’m Jang Hayoung. I’ve heard a little about you.” She smiled. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d seen her face somewhere before.
The Breaking the Sky Master exited the room and came back with a tall woman. A very tall woman. Kim Dokja finally understood what everyone meant when they said she was the last of her kind.
“He really brought you?” she said, looking down at him. “Your appearance is unclear. Interesting. I’d like to talk to you alone. Joonghyuk, help Hayoung, why don’t you? You’re her senior.”
“Teacher…” Yoo Joonghyuk said, narrowing his eyes.
“Oh please, I won’t hurt your friend.” She gestured for Kim Dokja to follow her and turned back to the door she came through. Kim Dokja glanced at the unhappy Yoo Joonghyuk before following.
She sat across from him in the new room, towering over him even as he continued to stand. He didn’t say anything. She watched him carefully, then said, “I’m not sure what I expected, but I think I expected more.”
“What?” Kim Dokja said.
“You just don’t seem like his type. Well, not that I thought he had much of a type. How is Yoo Joonghyuk, by the way? Is he still a little brat?”
He could talk about Yoo Joonghyuk’s issues for hours. “Yes. First, he barely cleans up after himself. He’s a good cook, sure, but at what cost? I’m constantly cleaning up after his messes, especially when he just leaves the girls to mess up on their own, which usually means I have to fix whatever he breaks. And then when he’s not making a mess of things, he’s just gone. Totally absent! I swear, I have no idea what he does outside, but he better not be eating any hearts.” He crossed his arms with a frustrated huff.
The Breaking the Sky Sword Saint laughed, a deep bellowing noise. “He’s still searching for that person, is he? I’m not surprised. He was the same back then, too.”
“He’s not gone as much anymore,” Kim Dokja admitted. “Do you know who that person is?”
“He’s too stubborn to tell me anything. You say he doesn’t leave as much now?”
“I can usually make him stay for a few days a week now.”
“Amazing. When I wasn’t teaching him, he would spend all of his free time searching. Tell me about yourself, Kim Dokja.” She propped her chin in the palm of her hand. “You’re not just a ‘housekeeper’ to him if you can manage that.”
“There’s not much to tell. I used to sew hats, but then I wanted to seek my own fortune. I found Yoo Joonghyuk’s castle and made him take me in. I’ve been bossing him around ever since.”
She laughed again. “That sounds right. I see why he likes you.”
That couldn’t be right. “Are you sure we’re talking about Yoo Joonghyuk? I think the only reason he hasn’t killed me is because it would make Yoosung sad.”
“No, trust me, he likes you. He wouldn’t be so worried about us being alone if he didn’t.”
Kim Dokja thought that the Sword Saint must be getting on in age, if she thought Yoo Joonghyuk could be worried about him at all. He didn’t say that out loud. “Oh, he’s also made a contract with a demon.”
“Ah, Biyoo. They made the contract before Joonghyuk came to learn from me.”
“You’re not concerned?” he asked.
“I am, but he wouldn’t let me break it, and that’s not the sort of magic I specialize in, regardless. Yoo Joonghyuk is the only one who can break it. Or you, I suppose.”
“Me?” Kim Dokja said. “Well I’ve been thinking about it—” He hadn’t, actually, he forgot about it entirely; Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t seem terribly cursed, “but I don’t exactly know what I could do.”
“Don’t play coy.” She reached over and tapped him on the head with a finger. It was heavier than she likely intended. “Your magic is volatile, but it’s there. With some practice, I’m sure you could do it.”
“Did he tell you I had magic? Because—”
“So you haven’t noticed.” She frowned. “Well, you’ll figure it out. You have talent. Unfortunately, you’re a man, or else I’d teach you myself.”
“If you only teach women, why did you teach Yoo Joonghyuk?”
“Why?” She grinned widely. “It’s because his face is good of course.” Kim Dokja somehow felt unsurprised.
She didn’t tell him anymore about his supposed magic. Their conversation came to an end and they returned to the main dojo, where Yoo Joonghyuk was demonstrating a form to Jang Hayoung. He watched the two of them, with their immeasurable beauty and that very familiar face, and then said, “Yoo Joonghyuk, I’m leaving.”
He turned to him, lowering his sword and heading to his side. “Right. Thank you for meeting us, Teacher.”
“I’m the one who wanted to meet your friend here. Don’t let the King catch you.”
“It was nice meeting all of you,” Kim Dokja added, even though he hadn’t had the chance to speak to the two students. They all nodded to him.
As they left the building, he said to Yoo Joonghyuk, “Wasn’t that Aslan Makerfield? The Prince?”
“Her name is Jang Hayoung,” Yoo Joonghyuk said. “You really must be blind if you can’t see that she’s a woman.”
“Don’t mess with me, Yoo Joonghyuk, I recognized that face from the papers. The King’s been looking for him and you knew where he was the whole time?”
“She’s not a prince. She’s a woman, and she isn’t going to the King.” Yoo Joonghyuk glanced at him warningly. “Why do you think she’s with Teacher?”
The reward for finding the Prince was large. He thought Yoo Joonghyuk’s refusal was him being stubborn and not wanting to spend time looking for the Prince when he was already looking for something—someone—else. Running away was different. Kim Dokja had run away too.
“Okay,” he said. “The Pr—Jang Hayoung. She’s a woman?”
Yoo Joonghyuk brought back countless books over the next few days and with everyone’s help and another day of additional magic-using, they managed to set up the bookstore: Masked Words & Readings. Yoo Joonghyuk had wanted to name it after one of his aliases, but all decisions for what to do with the shop had been Kim Dokja’s decision to begin with. He felt it fitting, not just because of his face, but also with the contents of the books that Yoo Joonghyuk had procured: all of them were from across the kingdom, and their productions could hardly make it to a small town like Eden.
After the wary first days, customers began to come in, and business boomed. Familiar faces came and went, buying books and cooing over their content. Asuka Ren, who had become an accomplished writer since Kim Dokja sold her that hat all those months ago, had even come in and gushed about the contents herself.
“This used to be a hat shop, you know,” she said as he rang up her fourth book of the week. It felt odd, how no one knew that the man who used to sew their hats was now the man who sold them books. “The oldest son ran away, but his hat did wonders for my creativity. I always wanted to thank him.”
“It was probably no trouble,” he said.
“Maybe. Don’t you get hot with that mask on all the time?” she asked.
He winked secretively. “It fits the theme.” She laughed, and left.
The shop wasn’t horribly busy, though it was certainly popular. Kim Dokja was able to run most things alone, though occasionally Lee Jihye would help with customers. Yoo Joonghyuk’s demeanor scared the customers after the first day he tried to help, so he and Shin Yoosung stuck to shelving books when they had nothing better to do.
The bell over the door chimed and Kim Dokja’s breath caught when he saw Yoo Sangah.
“Jihye, do you mind?” He didn’t wait for her agreement before he ducked out of sight, hiding from his old friend’s sight. His chest felt shockingly steady. One customer eyed him oddly, but didn’t bring attention to him.
“Excuse me,” he heard Yoo Sangah say, “would you be the new owner of this shop? And the house?”
“Ahjussi and Master own the shop, but I live with them,” Lee Jihye said.
“Do you know anything about the old owners? Specifically the son.”
“No, I’m sorry, you’d have to ask Master. He’s the one who bought the place, but he’s out right now.”
“Oh. I see.” Yoo Sangah sighed. “If, um, if a man comes by… He has black hair and a bit of a plain face, and he would have lived here when it was still a hat shop—if he comes, could you tell him that Yoo Sangah and his siblings are worried about him?”
He waited with baited breath until Yoo Sangah had left, the door closing quietly behind her. He inched back to where he was before, and faced Lee Jihye’s frown.
“What was that?” she asked. “Did you know her?”
“I admit to nothing,” he said.
“You knew her. Why didn’t you want her to see you? What are you hiding, Ahjussi?” She jabbed her finger in his chest.
“Jihye, leave it,” he said curtly. She blinked, backing off in surprise.
“Fine,” she said. “As long as this doesn’t hurt Master.”
Kim Dokja nodded.
He didn’t go out into town often. Even though there was no chance of anyone recognizing him, he felt safer in the shop and inside the castle. When he did go out, he tended to keep his head down. But there were groceries to buy, and the marketplace in First Murim overpriced everything. Just to be difficult, he made Yoo Joonghyuk come along too, since Lee Jihye was minding the shop and Shin Yoosung had gone to Lee Seolhwa’s again to play with Gilyoung.
“The Archangels are back in town” was the gossip that made its way into his ear that afternoon. Kim Dokja fought not to react, continuing to peruse the selection of fish in front of him.
“Do you think any of them will leave their building?”
“They have to, but what I’m curious about is—oh, my, isn’t that—”
“It is! Their newest recruit! Wasn’t she the one who used to help her family with the hat shop?”
Kim Dokja stiffened. Yoo Joonghyuk looked at him.
“I heard she’s been doing well. They say she’s already at the level of her senior apprentices, and favored by Uriel herself.”
“I heard her skill increased when she heard about her brother’s disappearance.”
“You think so?”
A soft ‘woof’ caught his attention. A dog nuzzled at his leg and panted up at him, eyes practically sparkling. Kim Dokja thought the dog must have been the Great Dane staying with Lee Seolhwa—but that couldn’t be right. The dog looked at him with recognition, however, all too happy to see him.
“Didn’t you belong to Lee Seolhwa?” he asked. The dog barked. “How did you get all the way here, then?” Of course there was no answer, but he was happy to pet him again.
“Steel!” That was Heewon’s voice. Kim Dokja lost all of his breath at once and he tugged the hood of his cloak over his head, hiding behind Yoo Joonghyuk, who oddly shifted to hide him better. The dog looked back, and Heewon jogged to a stop in front of them. “Why did you run away?” She ruffled the top of the dog’s head.
Kim Dokja kept his head down, but he couldn’t help glancing around Yoo Joonghyuk.
His sister looked good. She looked happier than he had ever seen her before she and Gilyoung switched apprenticeships, much like when he saw her before he left. Her clothes fit snugly over her muscled arms, a sword at her waist. She looked settled. If there was any doubt about his decision to stay with Yoo Joonghyuk, it all left him in that moment. Heewon had clearly done well in his absence, and Gilyoung had looked the same when he saw him with Lee Seolhwa. Neither of them needed their helpless older brother after all.
“Is he yours?” Yoo Joonghyuk said, though he knew the answer.
“Oh, well, not really. He was staying with my little brother, but I guess he got attached to me because he ended up following me.” She pat the dog’s head and left her hand there as she turned to face him. “Sorry, was he bothering you?”
“He didn’t. He’s… nice.”
“He is, isn’t he? Steel’s a very sweet dog. Is your friend alright?” Heewon leaned to peer around his shoulder, but Kim Dokja only tugged his hood lower.
“He’s fine. You should go on about your day.”
“Well, alright. Have a good day, Sirs. Steel, come on.” He watched Heewon’s feet turn and walk away. Steel whined, but followed after her with a small glance back at him. Kim Dokja smiled shakily and waved, making Steel’s tail start wagging.
He looked back at the fish, breathing out slowly. Heewon didn’t recognize him. He pressed his fingertips to his mask, gently. There was no going back anymore, even if he did manage to break the curse.
Yoo Joonghyuk faced him, expression twisted in curiosity. In the end, he said nothing, and he returned to making bad selections that Kim Dokja had to veto.
It was a noisy morning when Biyoo was mad at Yoo Joonghyuk. She usually was, but it was a serious sort of mad this time. Kim Dokja had been awoken by her shouting, followed Yoo Joonghyuk slamming the door behind him, disappearing into wherever the black dial led to, leaving her to fume among her logs.
“He’s dumb!” she screeched before Kim Dokja even had the chance to ask. “He wants to do the impossible and he knows I can’t say anything!”
“What did he do?” Shin Yoosung asked.
Biyoo flared, then settled down with a frustrated puff of sparks. “I can’t say, but he’s being hardheaded about the situation. It’s a good decision, but during a bad situation.”
“That sounds like him,” Kim Dokja said. If Biyoo weren’t a literal fire, he would pet her. She looked like she needed it. He supposed it was the contract that kept her from revealing anything further. It was a shame, he thought. A lot of things would be solved if his questions could be answered directly. Though it wasn’t like he could be very transparent about his curse, too.
She didn’t calm for hours. Kim Dokja had to leave to run the bookstore, but when he came back, she was still clearly angry, occasionally letting off a few sparks. Lee Jihye eyed her warily and didn’t approach, sitting at the dining table with Shin Yoosung. Yoo Joonghyuk still wasn’t back.
Kim Dokja shook his head. “Biyoo, can I cook?”
“Sure,” she said sulkily. She continued on to mutter about Yoo Joonghyuk and his many faults as he began cooking dinner, only slightly muffled by the pan.
He heard the door open behind him as he was just finishing up. “Yoo Joonghyuk, good, dinner is almost ready, and you can explain what you did to make our sweet Biyoo so upset,” he called without looking back.
“You might want to make more,” said Yoo Joonghyuk.
“What?” Kim Dokja turned to face him, pan in hand, and saw a girl who couldn’t have been much older than Shin Yoosung and Gilyoung standing in front of the doorway. He looked at her, then at Yoo Joonghyuk, and back at her. She looked too much like him to not be related. “Uh?”
“Master? Who’s this?” Lee Jihye asked.
“My sister.” He set a hand on her shoulder. “Mia.” Kim Dokja’s eyes strayed to the dial, set to black.
“Master’s sister?” Lee Jihye gasped. Shin Yoosung stood from the table and made her way over with a friendly smile.
“Nice to meet you,” she said kindly. “I’m Shin Yoosung, one of Master’s apprentices. Unni is Lee Jihye and Ahjussi is Kim Dokja.”
“Hello,” said Yoo Mia. She looked around, looking dazed and overwhelmed. Kim Dokja didn’t think she had ever seen her brother’s castle before. He had clearly kept her from a lot of things, which was just as well, as he kept a lot of things from everyone.
“How could you not tell us you have a sister?” Kim Dokja exclaimed, waving the pan in his direction. “Couldn’t you have at least said you were bringing someone back?”
“It was a last-minute decision,” Yoo Joonghyuk responded.
“Honestly.” Kim Dokja shook his head. “Sit down, all of you, and help yourselves while I make one more serving.” Shin Yoosung brought Yoo Mia to the table, already engaging in conversation with her. Yoo Joonghyuk smartly chose to help make the new serving, as though it would save him from any ire. Unfortunately for him, it only meant he would have to explain himself faster.
“Stupid Ahjussi,” Biyoo muttered. “Deciding things on a whim like this.”
“Why are we only now meeting your sister?” Kim Dokja whispered, glancing back at the three girls. “Have you left a little girl alone all these years?”
“Our parents were supposed to be watching her,” Yoo Joonghyuk said lowly. “My reputation was dangerous to her and she was too little, so I kept her out of here. I’ve only decided now that it’s safer for her to be here than with my parents. And…” He looked at him, with an expression that Kim Dokja couldn’t read. Funny. He thought he knew all of Yoo Joonghyuk’s expressions by now. “I thought it was time she met you.”
He felt heat rise to his cheeks. He blamed it on Biyoo. “Well,” he said, “if it’s safer for her here, then by all means.”
Yoo Mia turned out to be a lovely girl with no problem sassing her older brother when it came down to it. Kim Dokja learned that Yoo Joonghyuk turned red in the face when his little sister brought up what she could remember of his younger years. She was absolutely ruthless. He thought he could get along well with her.
“Can you tell us where you’re from?” Shin Yoosung asked. “Master won’t tell us. We don’t know anything about him!” Lee Jihye tried to deny it, but she couldn’t stop the eager look on her face.
“Oppa can be dumb like that,” Yoo Mia said, ignoring her brother’s wide eyes. “We’re from Seoul.”
“Seoul?” Shin Yoosung echoed. Kim Dokja hadn’t heard of it either, but before Yoo Mia could continue, Yoo Joonghyuk ended the conversation, and dinner along with it.
There weren’t enough rooms in the castle for a fifth person, so they set her up in Shin Yoosung’s room with a mattress that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. It definitely hadn’t been in the closet the last time Kim Dokja had cleaned up.
After the girls had long gone to bed, he asked, “Why won’t you tell us about this… Seoul?”
Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t look at him, locked in a staring contest with Biyoo. “You didn’t need to know about it.”
“Aha! You said ‘didn’t.’”
“You still don’t,” he corrected. “It’s a foreign place. My door is one of the only ways to get to and from there. I don’t like it much, and you don’t need to know more about it. I won’t be going back there again.”
Yoo Joonghyuk broke his gaze from Biyoo to look up at him. It was dark in the room, with only the lights from the street and the moon shining through. His face was illuminated by Biyoo’s fire. “Yoo Mia was the last thing keeping me there. I have more, here.”
There was nothing else to say.
Yoo Mia didn’t have the aptitude for magic that her brother held. Kim Dokja was shocked by how little talent she had when Yoo Joonghyuk was considered one of the greatest Wizards in the kingdom, but she didn’t seem to mind. She looked happy being able to help out in the bookstore. Unlike Yoo Joonghyuk, she knew how to smile and talk to people normally. When Yoo Sangah came in again—as she had taken to doing, at least once every week—Kim Dokja sent Yoo Mia to her.
The novelty of her new living situation wore off after several days, as Yoo Joonghyuk continued to refuse her requests to go explore the town. “It’s dangerous,” he said, which was cute in his concern, but only served to make her frustrated.
“What if I go with Ahjussi?” she bargained, tugging on Kim Dokja’s sleeve. Yoo Joonghyuk actually looked considering. After a minute of contemplation, he nodded.
“He should know where the danger is by now,” he reasoned. “But make sure Kim Dokja doesn’t do anything stupid.”
“Why do you always say that?” Kim Dokja exclaimed.
“It needs to be said. You’re a danger to everyone, including yourself.”
“Alright!” Yoo Mia cheered. “Show me around Eden, Ahjussi!”
“Don’t scare off my customers, Joonghyuk-ah,” Kim Dokja said warningly, wagging a finger at Yoo Joonghyuk, and then he led Yoo Mia out into town.
After having seen Olympus and First Murim, he thought that Eden was nothing special. It was a medium-sized town, and people who stayed tended to know those around them. The marketplace was nothing special. He thought that the most exciting thing here was the Archangels. Yet Yoo Mia looked at everything like it was new and worthy of excitement. He almost lost her in the crowd a few times.
The Archangels were still in town, or at least some of them were. Kim Dokja didn’t know if that meant Heewon was still around. He couldn’t help feeling a bit on edge, almost obsessively glancing over his shoulder, even though he hadn’t seen her the last few times he went out after their not-meeting. The Archangels rarely left their dojo when they were in town, after all.
It wasn’t Heewon they found this time, as he showed Yoo Mia the pier. They didn’t find anyone. Like it always was when it came to her, it was the Witch who found them.
“Yoo Joonghyuk actually brought his sister?” the Witch said before she could be hidden from view. Kim Dokja remembered how Yoo Joonghyuk had called her. Han Sooyoung.
“What do you know, Han Sooyoung?” he asked cautiously, keeping an arm in front of Yoo Mia, who only looked interested all over again. Of course she didn’t know what danger she was in.
Han Sooyoung’s eyes widened in shock. “You know my name?”
“Yoo Joonghyuk mentioned it once. What do you know?”
Her shoulders slumped the slightest bit. She sighed. “Oh. I’ve met his sister before. Hello again, Mia.”
“I know you?” said Yoo Mia.
“When you were younger. It’s been ten years, I think. You wouldn’t remember.”
Kim Dokja knew a lot of things about Yoo Joonghyuk, mostly by observing. He knew Yoo Joonghyuk loved dumplings, and that he cared for his apprentices more than he could say. He also cared about Biyoo, even though she spent more time chewing him out than returning the sentiment. He knew most of his expressions and that a lot of his rejections were him being stubborn, and that he wouldn’t eat anyone’s hearts because he probably found it more useless than anything. His relationship with his teacher was a close one and he was the kind of man who found a runaway Princess and chose to keep her safe instead of collecting the reward money that would have helped their financial troubles.
It seemed, however, that there was one thing Kim Dokja hadn’t known.
“I thought you two were just colleagues?” he said.
“Well, he’s not wrong. We were never friends.” She crossed her arms, an odd look on her face. “Or maybe we were, but we’re not anymore. We went our separate ways after he made that contract.”
“You know about that?”
“I almost did the same thing. I decided I liked my freedom more. Yoo Joonghyuk was different.” She glared in his direction, but not at him. He wasn’t sure how to feel anymore. Han Sooyoung—the Witch of the Waste—was starting to feel less like the rumors he thought she was, the more that he interacted with her.
“And you haven’t tried to break it? If you were close—”
“We’re not,” she interrupted, “and I’ve told you that I’m no good at breaking spells. That includes contracts. Only you can break that.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He had the urge to stomp his foot on the ground like a child. Han Sooyoung was proving to not be evil, but she wasn’t exactly helpful either. “What could I do? I’m just the guy who cleans.”
“You’re more than that. Haven’t you figured it out yet? What did I tell you when I cursed you?” She put her hands on her hips, judging him. He opened his mouth to retort, but found himself remembering that fateful night. You should have honed your skills.
“Magic?” he said. “You thought I had magic?”
“You do have magic. I could tell immediately.”
That was two people who claimed he had magic. The Breaking the Sky Sword Saint and the Witch of the Waste—two powerful magic-users in their own right. It made him wonder if Yoo Joonghyuk knew too. Was it possible? Did he have magic?
He thought, impossibly, of Asuka Ren and her bestselling writing. Of his old customers, and the glamour that wore off when it shouldn’t have.
“I have magic,” he said.
“Finally! He gets it at last!” Han Sooyoung threw her hands in the air. “What other wonders will he perform?” She rolled her eyes, and paused as she saw something in the crowd. “Well. If you got that far, I trust you can figure out the rest. I can’t stay and chat anymore. I’ve just found my Great Dane.” She turned and started yelling, “HYUNSUNG! Stop running away from me, damn it!” A panicked bark sounded, and Han Sooyoung ran towards it. Kim Dokja caught the tail-end of the dog known as Steel running the opposite direction of them, with Heewon yelling after both dog and Witch.
Yoo Mia grasped his sleeve. “Ahjussi, let’s go back,” she said.
“Right. Okay.” Kim Dokja wasn’t in the mood for a tour anymore. As they headed back to the bookstore, he had the thought to ask Yoo Joonghyuk about his past with Han Sooyoung. But that was their business, no matter how it made his stomach churn. It had nothing to do with him.
Yoo Mia, however, had no such reservations. The moment she saw Yoo Joonghyuk, she said, “Oppa, you had friends ten years ago?”
Lee Jihye tripped into the side of one of the bookshelves.
“What?” Yoo Joonghyuk said. Kim Dokja tried to signal for her not to continue, but she didn’t notice. Or maybe she was ignoring him.
“Ahjussi and I just met a pretty unni who said she knew me ten years ago,” Yoo Mia said. “Why didn’t I know about her?”
“You met the Witch of the Waste?” Yoo Joonghyuk looked at Kim Dokja with narrowed eyes. “What did she say? What did you say?”
“What does she want with us?” Lee Jihye asked. “She doesn’t know where we live, right?”
“I don’t think so,” Kim Dokja answered. “She didn’t bring it up. She only greeted Mia—” and told me that I had magic, “and then she ran off. But just because she didn’t say anything doesn’t mean she doesn’t know anything.”
“Fuck,” Yoo Joonghyuk hissed.
“Do we have to move again?” Shin Yoosung asked. “I don’t want to move again.”
“We have to.”
“Maybe not,” Kim Dokja said.
He loathed to put trust in the woman who cursed him and had an unspeakable past with Yoo Joonghyuk, but for all that Eden was full of his own past, it also seemed to make the girls happy. And he had a bookstore. He never realized how nice it would be to own a bookstore before Yoo Joonghyuk gave him the shop. “I don’t know what your history is, but she doesn’t seem to have any problem with us,” he explained. “I’ve put too much time and energy into this store to let you tear it all down so soon.”
Yoo Joonghyuk stalked towards him, lowering his voice and leaning in close. “Kim Dokja, you don’t know what she’s capable of.”
“I don’t like her, but she’s had multiple opportunities to hurt all of us and she hasn’t. We are going to wait, first. We’re not making Yoosung and Mia and Jihye move again.” He stared straight into his eyes. Yoo Joonghyuk was wound tight and angry, but Kim Dokja didn’t cower.
“Fine,” he bit out. “If she tries anything, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Kim Dokja crossed his arms with a satisfied smirk. Yoo Joonghyuk turned and headed out of the shop into the castle again.
Other than Yoo Sangah’s weekly visit, Kim Dokja found that life had settled down quite easily, and as the days passed with no word or action from Han Sooyoung, Yoo Joonghyuk began to relax again. Kim Dokja thought that this situation suited him well—he enjoyed running the bookstore and helping the customers, and though life was settled, it was hardly boring. Every day, it was a guarantee that Shin Yoosung would accidentally forget that her beasts were too large to let into the house, or that Lee Jihye would inevitably make something explode in some fantastic way. Yoo Mia found joy in magic too, even though she couldn’t practice it, and her curiosity led to amusing incidents—one of which turned Yoo Joonghyuk into a child for twenty-four hours.
Kim Dokja also hadn’t forgotten that he seemed to have magic. After long contemplation, he began to put it to the test. He was useless at spells, but after messing with some of Yoo Joonghyuk’s spelled objects, he found that it wasn’t nearly as hard to influence them. It did, however, take some explaining when he made Lee Jihye’s self-fertilizing plants become self-minded.
It was easy to miss Gilyoung and Heewon and his mother—and even Bihyung, to a certain extent—when he lived where they had grown up, but he knew his family would be doing alright without him. Yoosung’s stories and the rumors around town were all he needed to know that his siblings were doing alright. Lee Sookyung had never been very close to any of her children. He was certain she was fine without him.
Kim Dokja sat by Biyoo, fake glasses discarded but mask still in place, as Yoo Joonghyuk finished writing up a spell for Lee Jihye to parse through in the morning. Tomorrow it would only be him and Yoo Mia in the bookstore, he supposed. Lee Jihye and Shin Yoosung only helped a few days in the week, as there was still their magic training to see through.
“What does the newspaper say, Ahjussi?” Biyoo asked, trying to lean forward. He adjusted the newspaper in hands for her to read without her accidentally burning the pages.
“The King is still looking for us,” he said, “but I think he’s losing steam.” He snickered. Yoo Joonghyuk was impossible to find if he didn’t want to be found. It was an honest miracle that Kim Dokja had come across the castle when he had. Biyoo giggled too, greedily soaking in the words on the page.
He didn’t hear that Yoo Joonghyuk had stood from the table until he was standing beside him. He looked up, seeing that weird, unreadable expression on his face again. He set down the newspaper for Biyoo to keep reading while he turned to face him fully.
“Joonghyuk-ah?” he said. Yoo Joonghyuk lifted a hand. Kim Dokja didn’t stop him from lowering his mask, but he did raise an eyebrow. “Are you trying to figure out my curse again? You know, it’s been a while; if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you actually liked this ugly face!” he joked to hide the unease in his gut.
Yoo Joonghyuk frowned, not appearing visibly disturbed by the distorted face that Kim Dokja still saw in the mirror in the mornings, when he could be bothered to look. Kim Dokja set the mask back firmly over his face.
“Good night,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, not answering his question. “You should get some sleep soon.” He left up the stairs. Kim Dokja stared after him, baffled and breathless.
It was only Kim Dokja running the bookstore. Yoo Joonghyuk was teaching Lee Jihye, and Yoo Mia had gone with Shin Yoosung to see Lee Seolhwa and Gilyoung. It was a quiet day, so he didn’t mind, even if it was a bit lonely. He read a book at the counter—one of the books Yoo Joonghyuk had bought him that he hadn’t gotten around to yet. His few customers were off browsing the bookshelves and likely wouldn’t be coming to buy any time soon.
The bell chimed. Kim Dokja glanced up and stiffened at the sight of Bihyung. He was one of two people Kim Dokja had yet to see since he had left. He hid his face behind his book, but couldn’t help glancing over it to look at him. Though he had been around a long time, Kim Dokja didn’t know much about him. If he bought a book, he wasn’t sure what he would do.
Bihyung, instead of going for the shelves, stopped in front of him and cleared his throat. Kim Dokja lowered his book slowly, hoping the glasses and mask and the curse itself would hide his identity—but then he said, “Kim Dokja.”
“Bihyung,” he said, falsely cheerful. “What a surprise! What brings you here? Is Mother with you?” He expected questions, or demands. He never got the sense that Bihyung cared much for Lee Sookyung, but he had to have some disapproval for the way Kim Dokja left her without a word.
He didn’t get questions or demands. What he got was an apologetic look and the words, “I’m sorry.”
And then everything went black.
He woke up, and was unsurprised to find himself in an unfamiliar room, but he was surprised to see his mother, sitting by the bed.
“Dokja,” she said softly.
“Mother. Did you just get Bihyung to kidnap me?”
“I did not, in fact. He did that all on his own.”
Kim Dokja sat up and registered the air on his cheeks. His hands flew to his face, feeling the absence of his usual mask and glasses. “Where’s my mask? What did you do with it?”
“It was unnecessary and probably would have impeded your breathing while you slept.”
“I need the mask, Mother.”
“Why?” He gestured to himself. “Look at me. Why wouldn’t I need the mask?” Lee Sookyung only looked further confused and he stared. “You don’t see it?”
“I need a mirror,” he demanded. Lee Sookyung nodded slowly and left the room. He kept his hands to his face, feeling for the curse though he never could before until she returned with a hand mirror. He held it in front of him, partly hoping he would see himself, and not a glitch, for once.
But it was still there.
He dropped the mirror face down on the bed and fell back. “Shit,” he whispered, pressing his hands to his eyes. The curse was still there. He hadn’t figured it out yet, like Han Sooyoung seemed to think he would.
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” Lee Sookyung said slowly, “but I’m just glad Bihyung found you. Why did you run away, Dokja?”
“Reasons,” he muttered.
Lee Sookyung’s foot tapped on the wooden floor. Tap, tap, tap for five seconds. “Was it that Yoo Joonghyuk?” she asked darkly.
“What?” He dropped his hands to look at her.
“It was that damn Yoo Joonghyuk, wasn’t it? When did he have time to meet you without me or Bihyung noticing?” She bit the tip of her thumbnail, looking more frustrated than Kim Dokja had ever seen her before. His mother wasn’t the type of woman to have nervous habits. “He convinced you to come with him? I didn’t think that boy had it in him for such trickery, but if he had Han Sooyoung helping him—”
“What are you talking about?” he said.
Lee Sookyung straightened. All at once, she became the woman Kim Dokja had grown up with, cold and distant. “I don’t approve of Bihyung kidnapping you without my knowledge,” she said evenly. “However, I much prefer it over you staying with Yoo Joonghyuk any longer. He’s nothing but trouble.”
He sat up again to face her. “How do you know Yoo Joonghyuk?”
“That’s not important.” She waved a hand. “I’m sure you’re hungry, so I’ll make you dinner. Welcome home, Dokja.” She left the room leaving him to his confusion. He would have called out to her had he not known that it would be useless.
He stood and went first to the window. He didn’t recognize the city below. In fact, it looked like nothing he had ever seen before. Square buildings made of new materials, and metal contraptions moving along the streets. He’d never seen a city like this. Not even Olympus or First Murim, with their amazing magical technology and full crowds, had nothing on this.
He tried the door next. She hadn’t locked it, and he was free to move around.
Everything about this house was weird, from the walls to the hallways. Just like the sight outside the window, the house was brand new to him. Even Yoo Joonghyuk’s castle had a bit of familiarity to it that made it just like every other home—but not this.
He found the kitchen, where his mother was cooking on a counter without any fire. He watched as the food sizzled on the pan. She didn’t seem to hear him and he moved on, searching for the front door. The house was small, so it didn’t take long to find it.
He reached for the handle, but hesitated, looking over his shoulder. That was his mother in the kitchen, who he ran away from because he thought she wouldn’t be able to look at his face. But just minutes ago, she had shown that she could see his face, even though he couldn’t. His fears had been unfounded. He didn’t have a reason to run.
But Bihyung had kidnapped him. No one would know where to find him. He didn’t even know where he was. Shin Yoosung would worry, and he liked to think even Lee Jihye and Yoo Joonghyuk would be concerned. Yoo Joonghyuk, at least, would be angry he was gone. He had only had a few chances to get to know Yoo Mia. He couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t leave them to wonder. If he left, he could ask for directions to Eden, and he could go back to the castle and maybe Yoo Joonghyuk could tell him whether or not he knew his mother.
Resolve in mind, he reached for the door handle again—
But it didn’t open.
“I can’t let you do that,” Bihyung said. He appeared from nowhere, making Kim Dokja jump.
“Why not?” Kim Dokja demanded, whirling around to face him. “You took me from my bookstore! I had customers, you know!”
Bihyung recoiled, eyes wide with shock. Kim Dokja scowled. “I had to do my job,” he said, quickly recovering.
“Your job involved kidnapping me? You were an accountant.”
“My contract with Lee Sookyung,” Bihyung said. “I protect you and keep you away from Yoo Joonghyuk.”
He froze. “Your… contract. With my mother.” There was a possibility that he meant a professional contract between two people. He got the feeling that would be wrong. “You’re a demon?”
“Yes, and letting you leave again would be a violation of our contract.”
Kim Dokja brushed past him, heading straight for the kitchen. “Mother, has Bihyung been your demon this whole time?” he asked, stopping in the doorway. Lee Sookyung looked up at him, no expression to be seen. She had plates in her hands.
“He told you, then?” she said. “Yes. I contracted him ten years ago to keep you safe.”
“Just me? Not Heewon or Gilyoung?”
“They didn’t need it.”
Kim Dokja wanted to be angry. He wanted to be furious, but for some reason, he couldn’t get the feeling to rise. All he felt was a dull irritation. A numbing emotion. “You didn’t think your two younger children would need protection.”
“I know they didn’t. Not from what I needed to protect you from.”
“And what’s that?”
“I don’t need protection from him.”
Lee Sookyung set the plates down. “You do. You don’t know it, but you do. He’ll get you killed.”
“Why do you think that?”
“I can’t tell you.”
He tried to summon that fury that he so desperately wanted. It didn’t come. His shoulders slumped. “I’m not hungry,” he said. “I’m going back to the room.” Lee Sookyung silently watched him leave, her sharp gaze burning a hole into his back. It never bothered him before, and he wasn’t going to let it bother him now. Bihyung didn’t go after him either.
There was a room at the end of the second floor hallway that he couldn’t get into. He didn’t know what was in it. The door wouldn’t budge no matter how he pulled, and it was after the first four times that he realized it was because there was a spell on it preventing it from being open.
“What is this door?” he asked Bihyung, who had gotten increasingly jumpy around him ever since the first time Kim Dokja yelled at him. He used to be a bit of an intimidating figure. He wondered why he ever thought that.
“I can’t tell you that, but you can’t open it,” Bihyung answered, and then fled before he could ask any more questions. Typical.
If he tried to leave the house, Bihyung would keep that door closed too. The only way to go outside was through the backyard, and he was fenced in. He tried spending his time in the backyard where he could look at the odd buildings around them, but even the air in this place was weird. He went back inside.
Days passed in a similar fashion, where Lee Sookyung emphasized how she would let him outside with her, eventually, when she was certain he could handle it, while Bihyung kept him from doing anything that wasn’t exploring the odd technology around the house—of which there was a lot. There were a lot of interesting things he could find, but no matter how long he could spend trying to figure them out, he was more interested in the door with the spell on it.
He started a pattern of trying the door at least once while his mother was gone every day, pouring his magic into it, trying to shift the spell. He thought, Break. It didn’t, but he was making progress. Bihyung only shook his head at him and reminded him that he couldn’t go in, but he didn’t seem to realize what he was doing.
Kim Dokja tried the door again, pulling on the handle. Open, he thought. Open you damn thing. What are you hiding? He didn’t know what would happen if he broke the spell, but he hadn’t even known his mother could use magic. There was bound to be something important inside. It might be able to answer his questions. Bizarrely, he thought, Would I be able to see Yoo Joonghyuk? If this barrier would—
He thought he felt something shatter.
When he tried the handle again, the door opened, revealing an inky black depth.
“Kim Dokj…? No!” Bihyung shouted somewhere behind him. Kim Dokja glanced over his shoulder. Bihyung was rushing toward him. Without hesitation, he stepped into the shadows and the doorway—the weird, unfamiliar house—disappeared behind him.
There was nowhere to go but forward. Kim Dokja squared his shoulders and started walking. Maybe this was the way back to Eden, like the castle’s doors with its dials. Maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever it was, Lee Sookyung didn’t want him to see it, and that was enough motivation for him to keep going.
A phantom weight seemed to settle in his chest as he walked. He thought he was getting closer. He followed a small light that grew bigger as he came nearer. That was his destination. Closer he walked, until the light nearly blinded him, and he was somewhere else entirely.
He stood in a what looked to be a park. He thought it looked familiar, but he was sure he had never been here before. The park was empty, save for himself and a kid of maybe eight years, sitting on the swings. He walked up to the kid, thinking to ask him where he was, but he didn’t look up, or seem to notice him. When he waved his hand in front of him, he could see through his hand.
“I’m an apparition,” he realized.
Then the kid did look up, and Kim Dokja stepped back. That was him. Twenty years younger, but undoubtedly him. But how? He didn’t know this world. He didn’t know this park.
“What’s wrong with you?” a voice asked behind him. Kim Dokja spun and gaped at what looked to be a much younger Yoo Joonghyuk. What was this?
“Excuse me?” his younger self said. Kim Dokja backed away from the two children. “You can’t just say that!”
The little Yoo Joonghyuk crossed his arms. “Why do you look all mopey?”
“I don’t look mopey! You’re just blind!”
Kim Dokja watched them argue back and forth, both as stubborn and bratty as he thought they would have been, if they had truly met as children. Because this couldn’t have happened. He would have remembered meeting Yoo Joonghyuk as children. He was unforgettable. And when he was eight, he had definitely lived in Eden. He grew up there. He just couldn’t remember, at the moment.
The children's argument ended when Yoo Joonghyuk shoved Kim Dokja’s little self and stomped away. Little Dokja scowled at his back, and then the scene shifted.
He found himself standing in the same park, but it was the middle of the day, and a woman stood facing his mother, while the children faced each other. Yoo Joonghyuk was apologizing. Little Dokja sniffed haughtily, but accepted the apology.
The scenes shifted like this. Snapshots of things he didn’t remember, but was starting to think he might. He learned they were in Seoul, Yoo Joonghyuk’s hometown. Little Dokja and Little Joonghyuk met again and again, and Little Dokja made fun of him but also shared his food with him during lunch. Little Joonghyuk snapped at him, as angry as the adult him was, but defended him from bullies too.
When they were thirteen, Kim Dokja watched as Little Joonghyuk discovered magic, and immediately showed Little Dokja.
“Watch,” Little Joonghyuk said, and then summoned a sword. It was typical that the boy that played Final Fantasy VII twice would summon a sword. Little Dokja jumped back.
“Holy shit!” he said. “What was that?”
Little Dokja’s eyes went wide. “I want to do that. Show me.”
Kim Dokja watched as the two of them found out that Kim Dokja was also capable of magic. They practiced together for weeks, and much to Little Dokja’s frustration, Yoo Joonghyuk was better at wielding and summoning magic than him. That frustration quickly faded when Little Dokja found that he could counter his magic much better.
Yoo Mia was born one year later. Little Dokja threatened Little Joonghyuk, telling him that he better not turn his little sister into a mini-him.
“What does that mean?” Little Joonghyuk demanded. Little Dokja returned to cooing over Yoo Mia’s crib, the mobile that hung over her having been spelled to become moving, dancing stars and planets. Yoo Mia babbled happily, reaching for them, but Yoo Joonghyuk’s parents came back in and Little Dokja broke the spell.
Yoo Mia started crying.
One year later, Kim Dokja found himself surprised once more as he and Yoo Joonghyuk met a teenaged Witch of the Waste, all three of them staring at each other in shock.
“You guys can use magic too?” Han Sooyoung nearly screeched.
“Oh my god,” Little Joonghyuk said.
“I bet I’m better at it than you are,” Little Dokja said.
“Oh fuck you,” Little Han Sooyoung snapped. An illusion burst from the ground, tentacles emerging and aiming straight for Little Dokja. Little Joonghyuk summoned his sword, but Little Dokja cackled as he broke the illusion right as it was about to hit him. Little Han Sooyoung looked reluctantly impressed.
“So,” Little Dokja said, sauntering closer to her. Little Joonghyuk kept the sword at his side.
“So,” Little Han Sooyoung echoed.
Little Dokja held out a hand. “Join us.”
Little Han Sooyoung eyed his hand suspiciously. “Join you in what, specifically?”
“Magic. You look like you know what you’re doing. We just want to get better at it.” Little Dokja grinned. Little Han Sooyoung hummed thoughtfully, tapping her chin.
She took his hand and shook it once, firmly. “Why not? You could use my expertise.” She grinned viciously in return. Little Joonghyuk glanced between the two of them, caught somewhere between fear and exasperation. Exasperation won out.
And for years, it was the three of them. Practicing magic and ending up in the hospital far more than Lee Sookyung’s heart could bear, all in the pursuit of learning. None of this felt… wrong, to Kim Dokja. Like it only made sense that he and Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung grew up together practicing magic, in a world where Olympus and First Murim and moving castles didn’t exist.
They snuck out one night, on the night of a meteor shower. They were eighteen. It was Little Dokja’s idea, but Yoo Joonghyuk hadn’t put up much of a fight, which meant neither of them listened to Han Sooyoung.
“I’m just curious,” Little Dokja claimed. “We’ve been doing pretty good, but what if there was more?”
“Like demons?” Little Sooyoung said skeptically.
“I think demons makes sense,” Little Joonghyuk said.
“Yeah, because you’re a gamer dumbass.”
“Listen, I’m not planning on making like, a deal or anything,” Little Dokja interrupted. It had been a lie. He remembered thinking it would be cool, and he wanted to know what a deal with a demon actually entailed. He wanted to keep Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung safe, too, just in case, and also Yoo Mia and Lee Sookyung. The four people who meant everything to him back then.
“Okay, but demons that live in falling stars?” Little Sooyoung said.
“Sounds legit.” Little Joonghyuk nodded. She punched him in the shoulder.
“So my theory could use some tweaking,” Little Dokja said.
“’Some tweaking.’” Little Sooyoung rolled her eyes. “Where do you come up with this stuff?”
“I accidentally broke a spell in the library and found a bunch of magic textbooks hidden in a secret shelf.”
“Oh, okay! You can just casually and accidentally break a magic spell but I try to break a spell and I accidentally make our class lizard-turned-dragon grow ten times its size?” Little Sooyoung exclaimed.
“You’re not my type.”
“Yeah, I’m a bit too female for you.”
“Can we just get the demon already?” Little Joonghyuk said, frowning at the both of them.
“Fine.” Little Sooyoung snorted. Little Dokja led them for a while longer, until they reached a wide, open, empty area. Shooting stars flew low over their heads, and a few fell in front of them, singing a mournful song as they hit the ground and died immediately.
Little Sooyoung gaped while Little Dokja grinned.
“I was right!” he cheered. “Or I was at least partially right. Now let’s see if the other half of my theory was right, too.” He moved to the middle of the clearing, followed by the other two, and held his hands out just as a shooting star fell into them. Instead of dying, it remained, cupped in between his palms. Kim Dokja thought it might have been peering up at them, even though it was just a ball of light.
“Told you,” Little Joonghyuk said smugly, smirking at Little Sooyoung.
“Shut up,” she retorted. They looked back at Little Dokja, who was still staring at the shooting star. He was enraptured.
“Amazing,” he whispered, eyes practically shining. “Are you a demon?”
It was Biyoo’s voice that answered. “I don’t want to die,” she said, tiny and scared. So different from the Biyoo that would happily snark at Yoo Joonghyuk ten years later.
“I don’t want you to die either,” Little Dokja said.
“Hello? Shooting star? She’s meant to die.” Little Sooyoung crossed her arms.
Little Joonghyuk said, “How old are you?” Biyoo sounded like a child, and Yoo Joonghyuk was the older brother of a five year old girl.
“I don’t want to die,” Biyoo repeated.
“How do I keep you alive?” Little Dokja asked.
“No,” Little Sooyoung said.
“I need a heart,” said Biyoo. “I can share a heart, and we’d both be alive.”
“Sure,” Little Dokja said.
This time, both Little Sooyoung and Joonghyuk snapped, “No!”
“I’ll do it,” Little Joonghyuk continued, making Little Sooyoung stare at him. Little Dokja did too. “She sounds like Mia,” he explained. “Dokja, if something happens to you, your mother will be alone.”
“What about Mia?” Little Dokja said. “If something happens to you—”
“Mia will have you two, and our parents. I’m less reckless than you; I can do this.”
“You can’t guarantee that.”
“But it’s better chances—”
“No. You need to watch Mia. Mother will be fine without me, which is why I should be the one doing this. Little demon, how do I give you my heart?” Little Dokja looked down at Biyoo.
“Kim Dokja, no—”
“Kim Dokja, you could literally just let it die like it’s meant to—"
“Swallow a fallen star,” Biyoo said, voice turning to echoes, as if she was about to start singing again.
“Okay,” Little Dokja said.
Before Yoo Joonghyuk could yank Biyoo out of his hands, Little Dokja had already given his heart.
Little Dokja grinned. “Welcome to the living, little—”
The phantom weight on Kim Dokja’s chest—the weight of a heart he didn’t have, he realized—disappeared, replaced by the phantom of a searing pain. Pain that was much, much worse for his past self, as he screamed and collapsed to the ground, Biyoo still held as gently as he could hold her in his hands.
Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung fell beside him. Han Sooyoung tried a diagnostic spell, but it came up clean. Yoo Joonghyuk went to Biyoo, plucking her out of Kim Dokja’s hands. She looked as terrified as them.
“What did you do?” he demanded.
“I didn’t realize!” Biyoo cried. “I thought—I didn’t realize!”
“His gifts lie in breaking and changing! He-he can’t make something out of nothing, and tha-that’s what a contract is! If I take his heart—”
“His magic can’t replace it,” Han Sooyoung said. Her hands were trembling. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes! I’m s-sorry!”
Kim Dokja hadn’t known it then, because all he knew was pain, but that was the moment his mother burst into the clearing. She must have realized they snuck out. From her distance, she wouldn’t hear anything. All she would see was Yoo Joonghyuk, a heart in his hand, and her son screaming on the ground and clutching his chest.
“What if I gave him my magic to replace the heart he lost?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked. “Would that work?”
“Uh, um, theoretically, if you added your magic to the contract, you could, but I don’t—”
“I give my own to keep him alive.” Yoo Joonghyuk’s magic pulsed. Kim Dokja saw himself stop screaming, lowering into whimpers until the shock of it all lured him to sleep.
If Yoo Joonghyuk had stopped to listen, he would have realized nobody had ever done that before, and there was no guarantee it would work. He was glad he hadn’t stopped.
But there was no time for celebration.
Lee Sookyung raced forward and fell beside his unconscious body, pushing Han Sooyoung out of the way and holding him to her chest. “What did you do?” she snarled, mostly at Yoo Joonghyuk.
“We-we didn’t—” Han Sooyoung started, but his mother wasn’t finished.
“I knew you three were hiding something but I didn’t think it was magic,” she continued. “Dokja-yah should have never learned about magic! I should have know after the burns and the hospital—”
She had always seemed so unshakeable. So stoic. “Hysteria” was not a word he would have ever thought to associate with her, but there were tears streaming down her face and she wasn’t listening to the truth that they were trying to explain.
“Mother, it wasn’t his fault,” Kim Dokja said, even though she couldn’t hear him. “It was mine. It was all me.”
Lee Sookyung held out a hand and caught a star. She lifted her head, staring directly into Yoo Joonghyuk’s eyes. “Demon, I will give you my heart if you protect my son and keep Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung away from us.”
“Deal,” came Bihyung’s voice, and his mother gave her heart to a demon, too.
“You aren’t listening—” Yoo Joonghyuk growled.
“I always knew you’d be the death of him one day,” she said. “He loved you too much. He loved you more than he loved me. Stay away from us, Yoo Joonghyuk and Han Sooyoung.” She spoke a spell, words in another language that a few months ago Kim Dokja wouldn’t have been able to understand, but he now knew to be an amnesia spell.
His mother couldn’t have accounted for Han Sooyoung being better than her.
The world opened up beneath him, and he fell back into that inky blackness.
Kim Dokja remembered.
His mother replaced just enough of his memories that he didn’t question a few blanks. She remarried a man with two children. He had then killed his stepfather by turning a spell back on him. It was meant to choke Gilyoung until he stopped crying. Kim Dokja had turned it into a spell to choke his stepfather until he stopped living. That was when Lee Sookyung realized she had to erase memories of his magic entirely. She had underestimated how much they had trained.
The door at the end of the hallway in their house in Seoul was the door to his childhood bedroom. That was where he would practice the most. It seemed his magic remembered him, too.
Kim Dokja held his head in his hands. “Fuck,” he whispered. “Yoo Joonghyuk, you damned moron. And Mother…” If she had listened. If he had listened. If any of them hadn’t gone out to that clearing that night. “I need to see Yoo Joonghyuk.”
His ring trembled on his finger.
He looked at it. He’d forgotten it was there. In fact, he had gotten so used to its presence that he forgot what it was actually meant for.
A single beam of light came from the ring, leading far off into the distance.
He stumbled onto the familiar floor of the castle. The door slammed shut behind him, the dial set to black. Everybody looked at him. There were far more people than there should have been. His eyes went to Gilyoung and Heewon, his siblings that he knew now were in all but blood. Yoo Sangah was there too, eyes red-rimmed. A tall, muscular man he didn’t recognize stood beside Heewon. He dismissed them and looked at Shin Yoosung and Lee Jihye and Yoo Mia, then to his mother and Bihyung, and then, to Han Sooyoung, and finally—Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Is this a party?” Kim Dokja said, grinning rather stupidly. He squinted at the muscular man. “Hold on, aren’t you the Knight Lee Hyunsung?”
“It’s nice to formally meet you, Dokja-ssi,” said the man who was certainly the Knight Lee Hyunsung.
“You were Steel, weren’t you?” He knew there was a reason he hadn’t managed to forget that Great Dane.
Lee Hyunsung smiled awkwardly. “Your pets were, um, very nice.”
“Han Sooyoung fucked up again, didn’t she?”
“Oh shut it you bastard!” Han Sooyoung snapped. “Where the hell have you been?”
“If you must know, I was taking a stroll down memory lane,” Kim Dokja said. “It was very enlightening. I can’t believe you both forgot my name.”
“I remembered eventually,” Han Sooyoung protested. Yoo Joonghyuk said nothing, looking too shocked to do anything else.
“Dokja-yah…” Lee Sookyung took a shaky step forward.
“Mother,” Kim Dokja said flatly. “You erased my memories. You erased my friends’ memories.”
“They hurt you—”
“And if you had listened, you would have realized it was my own fault,” he interrupted. “I’m an adult. You can’t keep thinking I’m that bullied eight year old kid that relied on you for everything.” He sighed. He walked towards them, passing all of them to stand in front of Yoo Joonghyuk.
“Dokja…” Yoo Joonghyuk said breathlessly. He was collapsed in a chair. “Your curse—”
“Broken,” Kim Dokja said. “Though I did make a few accidental adjustments before I realized I had magic. You probably noticed.”
“What are they talking about?” Gilyoung asked, not quietly enough. Shin Yoosung hit him over the head.
“I’m kind of confused too,” Heewon admitted.
“Shh,” said Yoo Sangah. “They’re having a moment.”
“Dokja, why are you…?” Lee Sookyung said.
“Thanks for looking after my heart for ten years,” Kim Dokja said, “but I’ll need it back if I want to have this conversation.”
Yoo Joonghyuk gestured to where Biyoo sat, silent. “It’s all yours.”
Kim Dokja moved to crouch by Biyoo, looking at her face-to-face. She seemed to be trying to hide shamefully. “Biyoo.”
“I almost killed you,” she squeaked.
“My magic specializes in breaking and changing,” he said.
She peered up at him. “You mean…”
“A person can’t truly feel without their heart,” he said. He picked her—his heart—up in his hands. “And a demon can’t live without a contract. Biyoo, I change our contract. May you live with your own will for one thousand years.” He pressed his heart to his chest and felt it settle into the weight he hadn’t realized he missed.
Biyoo burst from his chest, a flame without a heart. Then she burst again, and her form changed. “Ahjussi!” she exclaimed. She made a cute puffball.
“There you are.” He grinned, warm in his entire body.
Biyoo flew in circles, squealing, before she stopped, looking over his head. “Ahjussi, there are people,” she said.
“Right.” He set his hands on his knees and stood to his full height again, facing his family. Gilyoung, Yoo Mia, and Shin Yoosung were already arguing. Lee Jihye didn’t even wait before she demanded answers, another voice among Heewon’s and Lee Sookyung’s who also wanted answers. Lee Hyunsung seemed to be trying to thank him. There were a lot of conversations that needed to be had. Misunderstandings to clear up, and explanations to give. But first.
Yoo Joonghyuk stood as he approached.
Kim Dokja looked up, stopping in front of him again. Twenty years of knowing this man, and months of getting to know him all over again. It was the same for the both of them.
With his heart settled fully into his chest, he figured it out.
“You looked for me for ten years,” he said. “It’s time for our happily ever after, don’t you think?”