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Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting

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The inability to focus didn't come from the familiar way his pre-licked forefinger and thumb slips between frayed edges of timeworn pages, casually and flippant. Certainly not because of his obsessive familiarity with a specific childhood fairytale. Definitely not from his comfortable position on Mingyu's bed; obviously soiled with tepid beer, if the frat boy that staggered out of this bedroom before him was any indication—Seungcheol sniffs, scrunching his nose in retaliation. Okay maybe the piss-beer odor is equally distracting.

"Seungcheol, you bastard!" That. That is the reason.

Attention dissipating away from his story, Seungcheol sneers at his best friend currently leaning on the open doorway. The thumping music entering the previously dampen area is a reminder of why Seungcheol chose to seclude himself in the first place. Simultaneously, it's also the reason why concentrating is borderline impossible.

"Join the party!"

The party.

Glaring, Seungcheol ignores his intoxicated companion, deciding to reread his paragraph instead. Jane Chatwin deserves that modicum of respect.

Ignoring Mingyu however, becomes evidently impossible when his gargantuan friend drapes himself across his thighs. Seungcheol can feel it becoming numb already, but...Fillory awaits.

Thumbing to the forefront of the section he begins rereading.

"Ugghh," Mingyu whines, tossing in his lap.

Next page.

"Uggghh!" Another whine. Seungcheol can't confidently say grinding teeth together is healthy, but it's not like choices are available.

Ignoring his friend in a last ditch attempt, he barely makes it three lines before—

"Ugggghhh..."

The book slamming overpowers the loudness transpiring outside. Giving up, Seungcheol tosses the storybook (carefully) onto the nightstand, folding his arm, emulating a petulant child.

Two petulant children inside the room, how amazing.

"You won."

Jumping suddenly, Mingyu smiles, before his acid reflux forces him to surrender to gravity. "Jesus, fuck, I think I had too much to drink."

Considering the swaying's reminding Seungcheol greatly of a tree dancing in a hurricane, he agrees.

"If you have nothing substantial to contribute to the conversation then I recommend you pass out now," Seungcheol comments, wanting desperately to return home and bury himself underneath a pile of Fillory books.

And maybe Xanax.

"Oh please, like your fairytale is any contribution—you're sucking out the atmosphere in the room!" His friend whines, words slurring together, an eruption of giggles following consecutively after.

Oh...his friend is drunk drunk. But Seungcheol still can't forgive the comment. "You used to like that book by the way," Seungcheol remembers, "what's partying gonna do anyways?"

Hearing this, Mingyu brightens before amending himself with a sheepish feature, apologizing silently for offending Seungcheol. "I do like those books—before. But those are fantasies." grabbing the book from the nightstand, Mingyu begins flipping through pages, as if it proves a point "Created for feeble-minded children with nothing else better to do."

Wrestling the storybook from Mingyu's fingers, Seungcheol grumbles. "Your point being?"

"There're so many wonders the world can offer, Cheol—partying expands your horizon surrounding people, plus—your college interview's tomorrow..."

Seungcheol sighs, deeply. "Yale."

"Exactly." Scooching closer, Seungcheol's able to see the desperation in his childhood friend's eyes. Essentially begging Seungcheol to move on. "Everybody out there I invited because of their connections—most of them from Yale."

It's not like Seungcheol didn't attempt any sort of intermingling. He brought his deck of cards for this specific reason. But entertaining a bunch of drunk-off-their-assess or high-of-their-assess college students with magic tricks isn't exactly what Seungcheol calls interesting.

Seungcheol lives for Fillory. Something about it's fantastical, magical quality entices him. It isn't because Seungcheol's afraid he'll fail with accustoming himself to such high prestige. But having only been released exactly thirteen days from the mental institution still weighs heavily. Besides, he has a sneaking suspicion that he won't belong.

Mingyu's intentions are good, setting-up Seungcheol's interview is probably his way of showing attentiveness. Unfortunately, it feels stifling Seungcheol instead. It's like he's still constricted, but with different appendages. Figurative ones.

"You'll do amazing."

"Easy for you to say; you're perfect, you have everything."

When the kindness falters from Mingyu's expression is when Seungcheol realizes his mistake. "Oh shit—I'm sorry, I didn't mean—"

Mingyu fiddles the silver ring circling his pinky finger, eyes watering almost automatically. Floating under the fickleness of numerous types of alcohol didn't help either. "It's okay, it's been like, what now? A year?"

Wonwoo, Mingyu's boyfri—ex—boyfriend, has been missing for precisely eleven months. He should've gotten over it by now.

Now Seungcheol feels guilty.

"Okay, introduce me to some people—" Mingyu's snaggletooth grin reveals his eagerness. Seungcheol rolls his eyes in retaliation. "—but, I'm sleeping early—Yale is definitely a big deal. Resting is important." Even if it isn't personally important to Seungcheol people would still kill for such prestigious opportunity. Besides, his body can't recuperate as quickly as it previously could.

"Deal."

 

♤♤♤

 

"Do you think sunglasses are inappropriate for a college interview?" Seungcheol whispers gruffly, barely tolerating that amount of volume.

Mingyu's condition isn't any better, with bags hanging darkly underneath his eyes, and the way he keeps squinting menacingly at the sun. But this isn't his interview. No, Mingyu's already enrolled, for four semesters now so his worries is completely empathetical.

The complications of being imprisoned inside a might-as-well-be asylum is the way time freezes so heartlessly inside. Whereas for everybody outside the world keeps turning.

Seungcheol can't decisively declare if he misses that passage of time he's been excluded from, but presently he's aware he dislikes tardiness.

They arrive before the anticipated home-office department earlier than expected. Which to say they're both still tardy.

The building, Seungcheol observes, stood forebodingly over his fate. When he reaches the knockers, Seungcheol's enraptured with the magnificent detail of the ornament. A beautiful decoration shaped like twin rams' head facing away from one another, the design somehow familiar to Seungcheol—it couldn't be.

"Knock again?" Mingyu voicing his worries snatches away Seungcheol's attention enough to knock on the door. Hearing the hollow echoes reverberating inside.

It isn't long before his attention returns towards the peculiar ornament. It's definitely gold-plated, shiny as if brand-spankingly-new. It looks strikingly misplaced upon the relatively simplistic modern architecture of the building and it raises a couple of suspicions within Seungcheol.

Awaiting minutes passes, nobody answers. Seungcheol frowns before Mingyu knocks on behalf of him, harder.

Click.

"Uhm...should we welcome ourselves inside or..." Seungcheol muses before Mingyu snatches his gesturing hands.

"Fuck it, let's just do it."

Barreling inside, they encounter face-first a wafting of dust particles and a smell of something unpleasant. The atmosphere is damp, like nobody has entered or exited in some time.

"Hello?" Mingyu scans around the room, finding nobody living in sight. "Okay, you go to the right, I'll go left."

Seungcheol ends up stumbling across, presumably, the office. First impressions of the interior deliver a solemn disappointment within Seungcheol. From the outmoded-ness of the ram door knocker, he expected everything within to be decorated with oldfangled furniture and antiquity. Instead, modernistic drab, linear designs, and minimalistic furniture dominates the equally unremarkable area.

"Well that's disappointing," he whispers before snooping around the desk area.

Documents scattered atop the glass table serve as the only disruption inside the perfectly structured space. Seungcheol inspects the documents only to find a layering of dust when he touches it.

Weird.

He doesn't dwell much when he discovers his documents. Reaching forward, a clock chiming suddenly startles him from his inspection.

"Fuck." Clutching his chest, Seungcheol turns towards the grandfather clock furiously only to be flabbergasted.

The ordinary grandfather clock Seungcheol is expecting in actuality is anything but. That's why the door knocker's design is familiar to him. Of course; the rams' heads are designs he's familiarized himself with by reading religiously his favorite fantasy storybook.

"The enchanted grandfather clock," Seungcheol gasps, mouth hanging open.

He giddily approaches the ornate memorabilia, noticing immediately the disturbed dusts underneath it. The grandfather clock must be a new instalment.

Inspecting the attention to detail, Seungcheol can't help but to fanboy; the textured glass, the curving wood shaped meticulously into butterflies, and of course the hulking ram's head atop of the collectable timepiece

"Fucking Fillory and Fur—"

"Holy fuck!"

Seungcheol turns, noticing first Mingyu's disgusted expression before he catches sight of the reason. A man slumping sideways on an oddly positioned swivel chair, mouth hanging open with greenish liquid cascading downwards his adam’s apple slumps listlessly.

"Please tell me that isn't the interviewer."

 

♤♤♤

 

Calling upon paramedics isn't exactly the twist of event Seungcheol predicted for today. Ironically, it's almost expected with his luck.

The gurney strolling outside turns both Mingyu's and Seungcheol's head in discomfort.

"Oh, wait, sir—" Mingyu catches the attention of one of the paramedics "—so has he been..."

"Deceased long? - most likely." Mingyu nods gingerly, grimacing at the thought of inquiring more. The paramedic seems to understand and nods. "The matter of death is natural—heart attack."

"Thank you."

Mingyu skedaddles back to Seungcheol, who sighs deeply, slumping backwards on the concreate wall.

"What the fuck am I gonna do now, gyu?"

Resting his hand comfortingly on Seungcheol's shoulder, Mingyu begins to rub circles onto the knotted flesh. "Don't worry, Jihoon—the guy's assistant—" he explain, Seungcheol quirking his brow "—He's supposed to be here an hour ago, he's probably running late."

Mingyu had mentioned knowing an acquaintance of an acquaintance that might be able to straggle in Seungcheol for an 'unofficial' interview. This Jihoon must be important.

The guy standing in five foot three, dressed in a oatmeal-colored trench coat, hand-knitted beret, and harry potter glasses running with stubby legs somehow doesn't fit Seungcheol's image of 'importance'.

"Seungcheol...Choi?"

"That's me." Seungcheol raises his hand, stepping forwards in greeting.

Jihoon halts, staggering when he sees the paramedics carting his superior onto it. "Oh shit..." Somehow, he doesn't sound surprise.

"Jihoon." Mingyu inches forward, taking Jihoon's hand as well. "I don't suppose you could set-up another interview for Seungcheol?"

Jihoon winces, "Ooh, I'll see what I can do. In the meantime—" Opening his parcel bag, Jihoon fishes a manuscript before thrusting it towards Seungcheol, who takes it hesitantly.

"What is this?"

"Fillory and further—Professor Pickwick intended to give this to you after the interview but he gave it to me and I forgot it this morning, ran back to my apartment, yada—yada and uhm...well." Unfortunately unfortunate events happened.

"Fillory and further? Why would a college professor give me this?" Curiously thumbing through the pages, Seungcheol's heartbeat accelerates when he realizes these passages are unfamiliar to him. "What—"

"He's a niche collector of everything Fillory, your resume mentions your interest in it as well, I believe," Jihoon explains.

Seungcheol spares a glance towards Mingyu who shrugs abashedly. "What?—Yale likes creative people."

"That indeed," Jihoon hums.

Seungcheol unfortunately, is still dumbstruck on the manuscript he was given. Jihoon, noticing his agitation flips the manuscript over softly, pointing at the cover. "Volume six."

"There has never been a volume six," Seungcheol points.

Shrugging, Jihoon burrows himself into his coat. "I don't know much about Fillory books." There's a dissonance Seungcheol discerns between the words, noting the glimmering of knowledge behind Jihoon's eyes.

For the sake of politeness, he doesn't stray further.

"Thank you."

Jihoon inclines his head, "You're welcome. Well if you'll excuse me, I have to tie some loose ends with Professor Pickwick but I'll inform you again if another interview's available. I have a feeling you won't need it though."

Raising a brow, Seungcheol's disappoinment grows when the other doesn't elaborate.

"Alright, thank you again Jihoon," Mingyu says.

"No problem."

During their return, Seungcheol uncontrollably skims over several pages of volume six. The first immediate changes he notices is the point of view difference; from third to first. The personal decision affects the character portrayal greatly, it's intimate and infinitely more realistic. There's something magical encompassing the storybook Seungcheol loves dearly, drawing him ever deeper within the lore. Teeming with anticipation of returning to his apartment, he—

"Seungcheol! Are you listening?" Mingyu's shrill voice cutting through his fantasizing puts Seungcheol into an instantaneous aggravated mood.

"What?"

"We need to make another game plan. A new interviewer means new interests." Mingyu snaps his fingers, irritated at his friend’s inattentiveness. "Come on, Cheol, you need to get on top of this."

Seungcheol acknowledges Mingyu's argument, but the realization his childhood friend who had previously share his interest in the magical universe of Fillory is currently ignoring an important masterpiece stings a little. Seungcheol's always known Mingyu's someone infinitely more mature than himself. That's probably why Mingyu had gotten together his act in time for college season; he'd stopped partying and having fun in general. Until recently. Seungcheol, however, went the opposite pathway.

"Mingyu, Fillory in Further volume six doesn't exist—" Seungcheol waves the manuscript around for emphasis. "Aren't you the least bit curious?"

Mingyu scoffs.

It's strikingly clear between the two Seungcheol's the one with loose priorities. Maybe it's his parental issues, or his clinical depression, but he finds solace within magical fairytale, also from pretending. Because to him it's real and bone-chillingly vivid inside his mind.

Maybe Mingyu's beliefs in discovering the fictional universe of Fillory has dissipated. Forgetting their childhood scribbles—maps, wanting an expedition that'll eventually lead them to Fillory, but Seungcheol still remembers.

Seungcheol doesn't know about an expedition, but this volume six is tangible. Enough so that Mingyu should understand the stability it awards Seungcheol.

"Oh yee of little faith."

"Jesus, grow up Seungcheol!" Mingyu snatches the manuscript away, finally receiving Seungcheol's complete attention.

"Give it back."

"Not until you get your head out of Fillory's ass and focus!"

Their struggling captures attention from passersby until Seungcheol immerges victorious. The manuscript ended up moderately crinkled but otherwise unharmed. His heart however, is constricting at their first big fight after being separated during his mental institution retreat.

"Did you ever think that I don't wanna go to Yale!" Seungcheol shouts, beginning something he's hesitant he'll be able to finish.

Mingyu scoffs, folding his arms over his chest, quite clearly disappointed. "What other option is there?—Hogwarts? You can't keep playing card tricks forever and expect them to miraculously turn magical!"

Now they've started.

There's a saying; the true mark of friendship is how one’s relationship fairs in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, this isn't fairytale nor make-believe. There's no brotherly relationship maintaining Mingyu and Seungcheol's togetherness besides the ones they'd manufactured. Magic obviously doesn't exist, there's nothing withholding whatever this situation's devolving into.

Mingyu clutches his ring automatically, the action usually happening whenever a hurricane is subjugating his brain.

Seungcheol clutches his bottle inside his pocket, because that's the singular reason preventing him from being hyper insensitive.

"Seriously?" Mingyu jutting his hip, crosses his arms exasperatedly, before tilting his head. It's the posture that Seungcheol associates with numerous derogatory curses.

"Oh, come on—Yale?—I'm not ready Mingyu. I'm a fucking magician who barely escaped the mental institution for fuck sake!" The reason this explosion’s probably marginally important is the fact that everything's rooted from the reason of Seungcheol's admittance. Specifically, the butterfly-effect.

The pressure of college life, the effortlessly put together life of his best friend—despite his losses, how he's immaturely clinging onto fairytales because he can't handle reality...

"Is this about your dad?"

Seungcheol groans, hands swiping his face, "Oh come on!" They've garnered a couple looks now, but Seungcheol's pass the point of caring.

Truthfully, his father being diagnosed with cancer right before he was admitted is a soul-destroying moment, but him passing whilst Seungcheol's trapped inside was worse. It's a memory Seungcheol vehemently separates from their current situation. Call him idiotic but he likes processing his feeling by avoiding it entirely.

Nobody can be as perfect at dealing with loss as Mingyu.

"It's about you always suffocating my interest! I know Fillory isn't real, I'm not stupid," Seungcheol sighs, "Y'know you once love those stupid fairytales too."

"Yeah—well I grew up!"

Seungcheol scoffs, they've pulled themselves aside to an alleyway, avoiding any collision.

Seungcheol can feel his guilt already racking up even before their crescendo. "Not everybody is as perfect as you."

Mingyu wavers, a smile compulsorily invading his expression. "Is that what you think? That I'm forcing my agendas onto you?"

"Everything's perfect for Mingyu Kim; Cum laude future, penthouse apartment, no boyfriend but I'm sure you got some lining up." And as soon as those bullets slips pass his mouth, Seungcheol regrets everything immediately.

Nodding Mingyu steps back, face scrunching in disbelief. "Okay," he says understandingly. Almost condescendingly. "You're not in the right head space, go home, Cheol, get some sleep."

With that Mingyu walks away, his pinky finger quivering.

Regret mercilessly consumes his entire being. Jealousy; that's what it boils down to. Mingyu's always perfect, his accomplishments and perseverance prevailing, whilst Seungcheol—Seungcheol believes in fairytale and does card tricks periodically.

Similarly to Peter Pan he's unable to grow and move on from his childhood crutches. In a way, Mingyu is also a crutch. He doesn't know how to process that information.

Fidgeting with the bottle in his pocket he feels the dampen clacking of his pills hitting against one another. For how much he's glorified those medication, he'd only realize now he hasn't taken any in over a week.

 

♤♤♤

 

Stepping into the elevator, Mingyu ponders the situation that transpired.

It's obvious Seungcheol is hurting, suffering within his terrible head space. Maybe seeing the interviewer deceased is what triggered his outburst.

"Stupid gyu," he whispers, the statement delivered efficiently with a knock upside his temple.

The mirrored-walls of the elevator sending him upwards provides insufficient companionship for Mingyu. The sight of himself echoes his disappointment.

He should've known pushing Seungcheol into college-life directly after everything was a horrible mistake. His friend is still sensitive. A year inside a mental institution isn't a miraculous cure-all.

But Seungcheol's also in the wrong. Maybe it's because Mingyu's an expert on compartmentalizing his emotions but unlike popular belief, he's not okay. Whenever he arrives inside his apartment the reminder of Wonwoo and what could've been cosntantly breaks him.

Seungcheol expresses himself outwardly. Mingyu realizes that. His friend won't hesitate with fangirling over Fillory and further—which Mingyu still loves privately. It's nothing to proudly parade.

He'd grown up. Nothing horrible with that.

The elevator dinging indicates his arrival. Looking downwards, Mingyu unenthusiastically ambles towards his apartment expecting the familiar monotonously decorated hallway, contant monochrome, and the harmonious parallel of his mentality.

Instead everything is bright—suspiciously bright.

Snapping up, Mingyu's eyes follows a never-ending row of floor to ceiling windows. Everything is illuminated by incessant natural lighting. Afraid, Mingyu stays within the shadows. He's absolutely positive this isn't seventeen stories up a building. Outside he can see people sauntering about—not directionless, but somewhat frantic. Like they're late.

"Wait!" He shouts, hoping anybody responds to him.

Nobody seems to care so Mingyu opted for running along the hallway.

Was he drugged?

Turning a corner expecting some similarly long-winded hallway, his expectations is surprisingly met. Additionally, there's something else—somebody; a boy, hips cocked, eyes rolling exaggeratedly into his skull wearing some expensive button up and slacks that strangles curves into position, holds a card in his hand, blank, save for two words, he reads, "Mingyu...? Kim...?"

Mingyu looks around like somebody's about to surprise him, announcing whatever prank is happening currently. When nobody does answering seems like the wisest decision. "Yeah?"

"Follow me. You're late."

The boy starts speed-walking, and Mingyu—all gangly limbs—struggles to catch up.

"Wait a minute, late for what? Who are you?"

The boy spares him a glance, giving him a domineering once-over before answering, "Seungkwan."

Okay, that's enough.

Mingyu snatches the other's elbow, turning him around. The other sighs exasperatedly.

"Okay, explain to me, please." Speaking slowly, Mingyu hopes his imperativeness came across, "Am I hallucinating?"

Rolling his eyes for the innumerable time, Seungkwan leers condescendingly. "If you are—how would asking me help?" Is all the answer Mingyu receives before he resumes walking again?

"Are you coming?" Seungkwan hollers over his shoulder, beckoning Mingyu who's frozen in spot.

He figures there isn't exactly any other alternative presented besides following, this is completely undiscovered territory after all.

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore," He mumbles, before resuming his walk.

 

♤♤♤

 

Seungcheol admittedly feels discombobulated.

The student-guide...Soonyoung —who approached him, alludes ominously concerning an entrance exam when all he desperately wanted to discover is how the fuck he got there.

Upstate New York, constricting, unimaginative, gloomy, nearly raining if he remembers correctly is somehow confoundingly spacious, grandiose, even the surrounding atmosphere's unbelievably lighter. He'll be jumping with excitement if he's certain this isn't a hallucination.

Sitting on one of the unoccupied desks, he raises the booklet sitting atop it. "Entrance exam...so, Soonyoung explained."

Everybody else seems captivated already. Several important-looking people eyes him curiously, fronting the room. The person in the middle smirks.

There's a hulking banner proclaiming 'Brakebills University' behind him. "Welcome, you may address me as Dean. I know you have questions and they will be answered in time. Now, your only responsibility is to answer the examination before you—" He pauses to choruses of bated breath. "Begin!" He announces.

Scrambling, Seungcheol launches towards his booklet. Flipping through its content he's furthermore disoriented. These are...calculus? Long divisions?

It's one of those nightmares, he theorizes. Any minute now he'll be butt-naked.

That's until the numbers, symbols, shifts erratically. Moving around before settling into a drastically different image. Hand gestures, specific postures, are depicted onto the paper and Seungcheol gasps, rather loudly.

He actually knows how to answer these.

Avoiding overthinking, Seungcheol immediately begins answering, iterating functions he never knew is a requirement for an educational institute.

Finishing the exam, Seungcheol feels surprisingly content with his answers. Almost everything he confidently answered. He doesn't know why he's putting in genuine effort into something he's unenlightened of the purpose yet but for the first time in sometime he feels excited.

Slotting the exam inside a box, something exits the opposite side. The autorotative looking man takes it, delivering it towards Seungcheol with a semi-prideful look upon his face. "Please report to the next room for your final examination" he instructs firmly.

Seungcheol, accepting the card alongside his fate begins walking towards the exit before he spots a familiar head-of-hair. "Mingyu?" Seungcheol watches the other turning, confirming his intuition.

"Mingyu!" The two hugs immediately, depending their lives on one another. It's relieving to have somebody familiar within unfamiliar territory. "How did you get here?" Seungcheol inquires, drawing closer, maintaining their minute distance.

"I-I don't know it was weird. I got into the elevator and got outta—"

"Okay, okay, Thank God."

"Thank God, why?"

Seungcheol steps backward, resolve crumbling with his relief. "That you're seeing this," He whines, before hugging his companion again. "Cause I just restarted consuming my medications and—"

"Please," a woman beside the doorway implores suddenly, outwardly inclining her head, "report to the next room."

 

♤♤♤

 

As spinningly-quickly as they became reunited. Mingyu discover himself separated from Seungcheol again.

Whilst his friend was transported towards a waiting area, Mingyu's instructed to enter a secluded office instead.

Every peculiar knick-knack catches his attention. There are several crystal balls lining the window sill, refracting lights in beautiful array of colors. The books collecting dust on the shelves utters names of people Mingyu's never heard of before. There’re several arcane-looking objects distributed sporadically everywhere; wooden boxes with unidentifiable hieroglyphic-like writing engraved onto it, weird contraptions, viles brimming of everchanging liquid—

Mingyu startles from his inspection when a kind-looking man wearing a wool-knitted sweater enters the office, document in hand. "Mingyu Kim?" He perches opposite Mingyu.

"Yes," Mingyu answers after a pause. "What is this?" He questions, gradually becoming impatient.

the stranger exhales, "Well, you’ve just been given an examination on your magical aptitude. We had reasons to believe you possess certain...nascent, abilities."

Mingyu straightens within his seat, a hopeful smile transforming his expressions. "Magical?—I always believe—"

"—And perhaps you did—previously. Regrettably you failed your written exam." The person rolls his sleeves, kind-heartedness disappearing instantaneously. "I'm here to prepare you to go home."

"I—what?" Mingyu stutters, he should've known nothing comes effortlessly in this forsaken universe.

"It's alright. We'll provide you an alibi for your missing time—"

"—That examination was insane," Mingyu accuses, "Any normal person—I-I mean—every single question kept transforming—"

"Be that as it may—"

"No!" Slamming his palms onto the table, Mingyu reiterates his determinations, "Don't you want students who makes actual inquiries instead of accepting like sheep?"

The man smiles placatingly at his outburst. Mingyu finds himself disliking the pity.

"I apologize. It's just—I can't return to Yale after knowing magic exists," he apologizes, downcast towards his heavy ring finger.

"Which is why we'll make sure you won't remember this place's existence. Standardize procedure."

Getting whiplash from looking up quickly, Mingyu begins stuttering excuses, "What?—N-No!"

The man turns, standing up silently despite the protesting, rummaging through equipment inside his chiffonier.

Mingyu's eyes darted erratically everywhere, scrambling for something quickly that'll allow him to remember. Because he can't return to that soul-sucking apartment building waking up every day until forever, attending an uninspired university to study fucking psychology, when he could be studying magic instead.

Wonwoo wouldn't want such a monotonous destiny for him.

Wonwoo...

His ring, it's understated, something without numerous eye-catching decorations except for a piece of diamond embedded in the middle. Wonwoo once proclaimed diamond would be the popularly chosen material for a sword if it weren't for its heaviness.

Hurriedly, before the examiner turn, Mingyu uses his ring to lacerate from his wrist upwards his forearm, silently thanking whatever deity that necessitated him to wear long-sleeves this morning.

Wincing, he watches the beads of blood surfacing his ripped epidermis begins flowing. Unrolling his sleeves, he barely manages to react accordingly before the examiner turns around.

"This won't hurt a pinch."

 

♤♤♤

 

Seungcheol, painfully unprepared, uncoordinatedly repeats his question. "What?"

"Real magic, Seungcheol."

The people that had overseen their written examination alongside the Dean are observing him expectantly. For the last minute he'd been persistently recycling shitty card tricks. Unfortunately, the standard-looking deck given to him turns out quite slippery, causing him to repeatedly fumble cards onto the ground.

"I-I don't know what—"

The Dean stands—glasses glimmering judgement within the prestigious walls of their surroundings. Even the others are sitting atop high-chairs, resembling medieval thrones more than anything.

"Do you like this place, Seungcheol?" The Dean inquires—or more—interrogates. "You have a gut feeling, that...something special?" The Dean circles Seungcheol predatorily, compelling Seungcheol backwards, floundering gracelessly over the cards.

"You wanna return to Columbia?" The mention of his mental institution stutters Seungcheol's heartbeat. How did he—

"That pointless miasmic march to death you call life?" Seungcheol despises every single notion, his head begins to shake without his volition, "Family that never calls, friends that don't understand you, and feeling alone and wrong—" the Dean drawls endlessly "—until it crushes you."

Gulping down apprehension, Seungcheol tries straightening his spine. "N-no," Seungcheol manages to strangle out, head-to-toe body tremors wracking over him like a sledgehammer.

"Then stop. Dicking. Around!"

Seungcheol can't possibly handle all this- this screaming. His head's a spiraling disarray of expletives alongside self-derogatory statements. He barely escaped the mental institution with his life and now...magic? "Stop," he whispers.

"Seungcheol Choi!"

"I said stop!"

Cards fly everywhere and Seungcheol becomes incapable of stopping it.

Nothing in his twenty something lifespan could ever prepare him for this.

Seungcheol watches disbelievingly as all fifty-two cards dances around the air, flying sideways and upwards. All Seungcheol's thinking is how absolutely erratic everything is—it'll be helpful if things are coordinated.

And then, just when he begins to think that maybe everything is manageable, that nothing can surprise him anymore the formation transforms. The cards arranges almost precisely according to pictures inside his mind. It keeps stacking and building and eventually—

Before him stands grandiosely a perfectly replicated Whitespire Castle from Fillory and further, complete with the spinning diamonds floating atop the pillars.

"Seungcheol!" The Dean suddenly hollers gleefully. No evidence of authority left behind his voice. "You did it!"

"Fuck..." and then there's only blackness.

 

♤♤♤

 

Spiraling, Seungcheol inadvertently rounds the tree he's attempting to escape from. Little stone-paths covering the soil provided limited explanations on what he's required to follow, but the girl knows-

"Hey!" Seungcheol beckons, only for the girl to scurry further away. "Hey, please!" Waving his hands he watches as the familiarly attired entity disappears into the thinly-veiled forest "Fuck," he breathes.

"Looking for somebody?"

Seungcheol yelps, rather girlishly, before turning. "You—" he accuses, swearing the girl had successfully evaded him.

Stepping closer, mysterious girl's identity became apparent. "Jane Chatwin," He breathes, rather disbelievingly. It's not every day your favorite Fillory character comes invading your uncharacteristically comprehensive dream.

"Oh good!" She chortles, "You realize this is a dream."

"Oh...kay?"

"Now," stepping forward, her features contort from the previously unguarded childlike expression into something appallingly serious. "I have a message for you," she utters forebodingly.

"Which is...?"

She smiles again, and this time the smirk is overpowering. "Stay on the garden path Seungcheol Choi."

"Wh-what does that even mean."

Stepping impossibly closer she tilts her head, her signature periwinkle beret tilting alongside her motion. "Find out, would you?" She delivers the statement with a barreling open-palm hitting towards his chest. There's a symbol embroidered onto it that Seungcheol doesn't recognize, but he doesn't have to.

Panting, Seungcheol tries reorienting himself with the unfamiliar atmosphere.

"Ah!" He hisses, turning his palm over to inspect something burned into his skin. So, that's the symbol.

Observing his surrounding, Seungcheol finds himself somewhere he's positive he wouldn't ever see—a standardize college dorm. Complete with a bedside drawer and a study table on the corner.

Realizing his situation, Seungcheol grins ear-to-ear.

"Stop that!"

Seungcheol flinches, halting whatever images assembling inside his brain.

Being overly preoccupied celebrating, Seungcheol didn't realize somebody is occupying the bed opposite him, eyeing him intimidatingly.

"I-I'm sorry?"

"Your thoughts," the person explains, slamming whatever book he was reading. "It's annoying."

Seungcheol doesn't understand the statement one bit. Unless-

"Yes," The person answers before Seungcheol voices anything.

Are you—

"Yes."

So, can you-

"No—look, just shut up. Stop thinking so loud, I'm trying to read," the person grumbles.

"I'm sorry," Seungcheol repeats, feeling anything but.

"Whatever," the person responds, picking up his book. "And my name is not 'the person', anyways, okay, it's Minghao."

"Oh-kay, I'm—"

"Seungcheol, I know. You have some self-aggrandizing thoughts."

Getting comfortable within his already personalize side of the bedroom, Minghao steadfastly ignores Seungcheol. When Seungcheol continuously mishandles his way through everything Minghao sighs, closing the book louder this time.

"Would you just go, please."

"Go where?"

"Dean's office—y'know report back or whatever."

Seungcheol isn't aware that is something someone has to do.

"Well now you're aware."

Right, mindreader. This is gonna be fucking exciting.

 

♤♤♤

 

"So, this is..."

"Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy."

Seungcheol exhales. "And I'm enrolled?"

"Congratulations!"

"But there's gotta be a mistake—if Mingyu—"

Leaning forward, Dean Fogg finally takes off his sunglasses. Seungcheol has a feeling he's in for an intensive lecturing.

"Mister Kim failed his entrance examination by his own misguidance. It has no correlations with your standardize aptitude," he explains, "You, Seungcheol, is simply...magical."

"Right."

Dean Fogg chuckles, "Well don't overreact. You've been casting magic your entire life."

"Card tricks and slight-of-hand maybe."

"Seungcheol," Dean Fogg leans further, like he's about to whisper something conspirational. "You're horse-shit at close-up magic."

Seungcheol's actually offended by that.

"It's true," Dean Fogg cackles. "What you've been performing is transmutation—moving objects from one area to another."

Seungcheol can feel an oncoming protest developing underneath his stomach, but—rethinking, he realizes several coincidences that's becoming understandable now. "Holy shit," he whispers.

He'd always figured whatever card he manages to make disappear had been catapulted randomly wherever he was. That's why he'd always find his cards in peculiar places afterwards.

"It wasn't strong. The cards always resurface near you."

Seungcheol doesn't care, magic exists and he's been unknowingly performing it his entire life. Seungcheol has a million questions brimming his lips—mostly, he wants to know how Dean Fogg seemingly knows everything about him, but that probably attributes to magic.

Unfortunately, as enthusiastic as he's feeling, the heavy guilt lumbering inside his stomach is persistent. Mingyu had been rejected. Surprisingly, Seungcheol's worthy in comparison to his friend.

He's certain that his Mingyu is light-years ahead of him in terms of intelligence. If somebody like Mingyu didn't make it, then he'll have to believe his enrollment is merely a coincidence, a mistake.

"I...don't belong here. I'm a depressed medicated sycophant."

A solemn expression settles upon Dean Fogg's features. He's getting extremely exhausted of reiterating the same heart-warming encouragements towards the same person.

"Seungcheol, you're not depressed. You've been alone," hands clasping together, Dean Fogg rearranges himself. "You're not crazy. You're angry, and...you are correct, but everybody medicates, but in here we hope you won't have to."

Seungcheol nods.

"Now, Soonyoung and Seungkwan will accompany you."

 

♤♤♤

 

"Oh, you didn't know?—sweetie, you've been unconscious for two weeks," Seungkwan explains, dodging floating apples flying above their heads. "Oh! a green one," grabbing one, Seungkwan bites into it, offering it towards Seungcheol.

"No thanks."

"So...nobody told you?" Soonyoung questions.

"Out of the regurgitation of information I've been bestowed upon, somehow...that one escapes me."

The two eyeing him curiously pauses.

"Nerd," Seungkwan hollers before breaking into a honking laughter, the boisterous couple intertwining his arms and keeping him within pace.

"Kidding—Shit doesn't matter. All you need to do is pay attention to the campus tour."

"Ooh!" Soonyoung points towards a cluster of students who are animatedly moving their hands. Their fingers up to their forearm follows some specific rhythm—almost dancing. And from those fingertips blooms energy wavelengths, fire, electricity, you name it. "Physical kids, rarest; move shit, lift shit. Most can fly." Stealing one of the floating apples himself, Soonyoung greets presumably his classmate. "Also, magnificent partiers—do not come by our cottage if you have shit to do the next day."

"Absolutely," Seungkwan declares unashamedly.

Atop of physical kids, there are several other disciplines, Seungcheol is informed. Psychic magic; i.e. possess telepathic, empathic, and prophetic abilities.

"Otherwise known as weirdos."

"We hate you too Seungkwan!" A student shouts, completely ignoring their previous meditation.

That must be what his roommate, Minghao is.

"Then there's knowledge kids," Soonyoung drawls. "Freak of nature sleeps in the attic."

Seungcheol eyes widen. "Really?"

"Seriously."

"What do they do?"

Seungkwan sighs, honestly knowledge students are in his opinion the most boring. "They mutate the shit outta a spell and create an abomination."

"Pompous know-it-alls," Soonyoung reiterates.

"Right."

Right as he's walking, Seungcheol trips over something hulking and fumbles onto the pavement.

Seungkwan only sighs, "Carter, don't be a dick."

And to his surprise, Seungcheol watches as a random student appears completely from nowhere, with his foot still outstretched .

"Damn bitches live in a castle," Soonyoung mutters, shaking his head, carding Seungcheol along.

Continuing, Seungcheol comes across a couple students with their heads downcast, their skin hauntingly grey from how lackluster they saunter.

"Who are they?"

"Oh..." Seungkwan hisses, grabbing Seungcheol by the shoulder to steer him away. "Third-year students. Their entire class went missing a year ago."

"So they just disappeared?" Seungcheol's flabbergasted.

"Rumor has it they died," Seungkwan whispers.

"Or stopped attending, or flunked, or maybe died seventeen perfectly natural deaths—we all signed this waver, hope you read yours. It says that spellwork is not unlikely to murder you and if so...oh well"

The matter was brushed away swiftly and they continue further into the madness and so far they've covered both healers and naturalist or "Hippy gardeners" as Soonyoung described.

"That's pretty much everything. There's like—other disciplines like Horomancy and luck and whatever. But they all either flunked or don't exist here so...no need to worry."

"All you need to know are the people you can take advantage of," Soonyoung agrees.

"Precisely."

Seungcheol had a feeling these two are a handful.

He can't wait to become friends with them.

"If there's no further questions then that's it," Seungkwan announces, clapping his hands excitingly together.

"That's it?" Alright, the campus ground seems easy enough to traverse.

"That's it. Welcome to Brakebills Seungcheol."

Chapter Text

Mingyu wakes with a massive headache—strange, he's absolutely positive the party happened two days prior. But then he remembers arguing with Seungcheol. He probably—unsurprisingly—spiraled into a depression-session.

"Uggghh!" He grumbles, desiring nothing other than sleeping away his existence. Unfortunately, he remembers other responsibilities. Apologizing to Seungcheol, amongst numerous others.

Grabbing his cellphone, he fires a concise text to Seungcheol, asking if they could meet.

Sauntering towards his refrigerator, he begins his repetitive morning routine. Rummaging for food, making coffee, grimacing over his horrible breath, eating breakfast anyways, finally, washing up.

Everything's seemingly standard transpires right up to the second he washes his hands, rolling up his long sleeves and revealing—

"Oh shit! He staggers backward, from this angle the wound can be easily misconstrued. And his imaginations are about to jump to conclusions when he remembers—

Everything.

Suddenly, a new priority appears for today.

Minghao wakes with a massive headache, somewhere in between his and somebody else's.

"Nightmare?"

"A waking one," Minghao mutters, beginning to burrow himself into the comforter again when Junhui seizes his arm.

"No, we'll be late."

Minghao whines, he's grateful for meeting Junhui during orientation and for the otherworldly sex they've been having whenever Seungcheol slept over the physical kid's cottage. But their three-weeks-old relationship might need to end here if this is how Junhui keeps acting.

"School's important."

"So is sleep, but the whispering bastard in my head didn't seem to think so."

Junhui ceases his pulling then. "Again?"

Minghao has been complaining about an ominous voice whispering instructions inside his head, incessantly compelling him to do random biddings. 'Read about pauper', 'pauper-fucking-two, idiot!', and the 'burn Seungcheol's Fillory volume six, now!"

That's a week ago, Seungcheol hadn't notice thankfully, overly enraptured with magical studies.

"What did it say this time?"

"Help, Seungcheol and...Jeonghan? Tonight." Mysterious voice even gave him specific coordination on where to go. How helpful.

Junhui frowns, disliking his fuck-buddy/future-boyfriends tribulations. Kissing Minghao on his temple, Junhui resumes his incessant pulling. "Well, we'll figure it out. Right now we're late for practical applications."

 

♡♡♡

 

For somebody who's obsession has surrounded magic for the past twenty something year of his life, you'd think Seungcheol will be capable of staying awake in class. But just like any intro classes—shit's boring as hell.

"How about you Mr. Yoon," Professor Sunderland requests. Placing a spherical glass for the student to perform.

Seungcheol watches as a student, blonde and wavy-haired saunters towards the front of the class. Shoulders hunching inwardly and glasses slipping off an adorable button nose.

Suddenly, the class isn't boring Seungcheol anymore.

Jeonghan settles beside the spherical glass, cupping the area surrounding the object.

"Go ahead," Professor Sunderland implores.

Something bright and burning opens from the cup of Jeonghan's palms. The glass bead beneath it start to melt, and Seungcheol observes enraptured. Finally, some goddamn magic.

The glass previously in spherical form begins to transform, flattening at first, like it's melted thoroughly from the heat. Seungcheol's certain that's the objective Professor Sunderland had asked. Now to reverse it.

Seungcheol gasps quietly, "Woah."

From the opposite side of the classroom, Minghao chuckles quietly. "Ooh...melty magic."

"Shhh," Junhui reprimands jokingly, "a master magician’s at work."

Ignoring the spiteful comments, Jeonghan refocuses himself onto the task given. Instead of reshaping the glass back into a sphere, Jeonghan begins doing pinching motions with his fingers. Hands delicately dancing, controlling an invisible marionette.

Jeonghan simpers secretly at his creation, and Seungcheol finds it difficult when his attention is divided in two. The spherical glass or the magnificent prodigy?

The glass moves alongside Jeonghan, pushing and pulling erratically, creating divots and outdents before finally...

A tiny glass bunny begins hopping around, click-clacketing onto the metal surface.

Seungcheol can't fathom how such a thing is created.

"Thank you, Mr. Yoon, you may take your seat."

Simper disappearing, Jeonghan swipes the motionless glass bunny with a grave almost solemn expression, taking his seat wordlessly. Inching inwardly every time the accompanying claps gets louder.

From afar, Seungcheol observes as Jeonghan hunches from the attention. Head ducking, a curtain of semi-long golden locks covering his face.

Simping a week into his studies is not what Seungcheol had planned.

 

♡♡♡

 

"What d'you guys know about Jeonghan Yoon?"

Stubbing the cigarette onto the concrete settee, Soonyoung perks immediately.

"He's—oh hold on—" smoke billows from his mouth, Soonyoung shuts it again, kissing his closed-off palms, before shifting in ninety degrees, index still touching his lips. He curls his fingers into a fist, index higher than the rest and circles it around his mouth twice. Opening his mouth then the smoke forms little stars, dancing around before dispersing into the air—useless.

"Drama Queen," Seungkwan mutters.

"Y'know smoking's bad for you," Seungcheol points, earning a dutiful glare.

"It's an herbal option, some upperclassman name Josh created the recipe," Seungkwan defends

"Whatever, Jeonghan's a first year—like you. He's supposed to be a third year—also like you," Soonyoung explains.

"Why isn't he?"

Seungkwan shrugs, stealing a newly lit cigarette from Soonyoung's pack. "Who knows, but it's definitely not his competence that's the issue. His family are all prestigious master magicians."

Seungcheol perks, finding something as an alibi for hanging around Jeonghan. "D'you think he'll tutor me if I ask?" First year classes are boring as hell, but it doesn't mean it's any less difficult. Flunking is also not an option.

"Probably not—dude's fucking more closed off than a prude."

Soonyoung chuckles, "Tell me about it."

"But I'm not—hey, Vernon!" as quickly as Seungkwan lay sideways on the settee, he perks back up at the presence of Vernon his...

"Fuck buddy," Soonyoung cuts.

"Future love of my life you mean."

Soonyoung hums unconvincingly, "Does he know that?"

"Seungkwan, hey..." shifting his eyes towards the pavement, Vernon forcibly smiles. "Look, I'm kinda busy, but maybe—"

"No!" Seungkwan shouts. "I mean, no. I'm inviting you to a party—our party," Seungkwan gestures towards Soonyoung.

"Physical kids party?"

"Tonight—i-if you wanted."

Vernon smiles, and this time it's a little more genuine. "I'll think about it."

"Oh, okay—I—see...bye!" Seungkwan stutters, waving at Vernon's retreating figure.

Seungcheol eyes widen, sitting up he claps his hand onto his thighs. He seriously needs other friends. "Welp, I'm gonna go find Jeonghan."

"Bye!" Soonyoung waves perkily whilst Seungkwan's still preoccupied with openly ogling.

"Alright then."

 

♡♡♡

 

Fortune—or luck, is definitely not Seungcheol's discipline. He spent almost his entire day searching for Jeonghan like a love-sick puppy. In addition to everything, his palm started burning again, the symbol; what can be described as an illuminati sign inside several pentagrams—did not resembles satanism in the slightest. But for more information he went searching inside Brakebills Library for answers.

That's how he finds himself there, petrified, several feet away from the subject of his fascination—Jeonghan.

He's probably exaggerating, but it feels like he's been standing for hours just...looking.

"Are you gonna keep standing there with a book covering your face expecting me not to realize you want something from me?" Pulling away from his scattered paper, Jeonghan fully-faces Seungcheol, brows quirking in expectation. "So?"

Seungcheol mumbles out and apology before stumbling over his sentences. Hands gesturing wildly at everything surrounding him. He's about to escape when Jeonghan startles him.

"Wait!" He interrupts, "Where'd you get the symbol?"

And that, Seungcheol knows how to answer, unfortunately, "You won't believe me if I explain."

"Grab a seat," Jeonghan challenges

Seungcheol ended up recounting his certifiably preposterous dream, Jeonghan nodding occasionally, pretending he's listening whilst simultaneously ignoring Seungcheol.

"So...uhm...what's this about? Cause like, I came here to ask for your tutoring help." Seungcheol interjects himself mid-story, eliciting a grumbled response from Jeonghan.

"Look, my parents are useless, crazy people who never taught me a drop of magic, okay? So, if you think that my family is some sort of advantage, you've been misinformed."

So...that's a negative on the tutoring.

So that leaves only one reason for Seungcheol's alibi. "What d'you know about the symbol, Jeonghan?"

Ignoring, Jeonghan instead scrambles frantically, thumbing over books, eyes periodically cutting daggers towards Seungcheol. Like glaring might miraculously make Seungcheol disappeared.

Simultaneously, Seungcheol's incessant broadcasting thought is how adorable the spiraling tuft of hair hanging over Jeonghan's glasses were—God ,Seungcheol hopes Jeonghan isn't a mindreader.

"Please," Seungcheol beseeches again when Jeonghan's persistently unresponsive.

Tapping onto a specific page, Jeonghan turns it towards Seungcheol. "Here."

"Summoning spell..." Seungcheol reads "Who are you summoning?"

"Nobody," Jeonghan bites instinctively.

Seungcheol's been loitering around a loaded library for over an hour. He's not surrendering now.

"Look, whoever it is, you probably won't be able to summon them without me," holding up his palm he gestures towards the symbol. "I'm involved remember."

"It's for Joshua" Jeonghan begrudgingly answers, expression disentangling.

"Who's Joshua?"

"My best friend. He died. It'd be nice to say hello."

Seungcheol exhales, that's a little heavier than he expected. Death is something of a sensitive subject currently.

"How did he die?"

"Horribly, I assume since nobody's willing to tell me what happened. All I know is that it happened here at Brakebills two years ago." Fishing out the tiny bunny he created this morning, he caresses it. Reminded of Joshua.

Joshua was the first person to introduce him to magic. Jeonghan's parents are, unfortunately, a couple jackasses.

The bunny, is the first thing Jeonghan ever perfected.

It's unfair, he's supposed to be attending third year alongside Joshua if it weren't for his parents forbidding him from Brakebills. Perhaps then Joshua wouldn't have died.

"I'll help."

"I didn't ask for help. Besides, the book the summoning spell is on is from the restricted section. You'll get expelled if you get caught."

Leaning forward, Seungcheol's hand hesitated over Jeonghan's cupped ones before ultimately settling comfortingly onto it. "I'm helping."

 

♡♡♡

 

Moving the physical kid's cottage towards the furthest section of campus ground this year-round, is, in Soonyoung's opinion, Seungkwan's greatest achievement since his drunken indoor ice-skating ring saturnalia. Because then partying as rambunctiously as possible becomes easily achievable. Nobody can complain.

Overall, this should be a celebratory occasion. Held by the two utmost exuberant physical students to ever existed.

Unfortunately, those two individuals are currently preoccupied with their constipated love-life to enjoy their own creation.

"This is ridiculous—I'm actually catching feelings. It's insulting."

Soonyoung clinked their glasses of color-changing whiskey together. "You're telling me. I stole Jihoon's bag this morning when he's distracted." Vibrating with culpability and excitement, Soonyoung sips tentatively at his alcoholic beverage. "I'm getting desperate."

"Well, my boy's a no-show," Seungkwan huffs, lips jutting out instinctively. "D'you think, he thinks I'm clingy?"

Soonyoung is about to answer when he notices Seungcheol, sneaking towards the entrance from the couch. The two immediately intercepts said movement.

"Hey...you two." Eyes shifting, Seungcheol rapidly makes his way towards the exit, only to be halted by Soonyoung and Seungkwan.

"Where the hell d'you think you're going? Y'know how coveted it is to be invited into a physical kid's party?—without being a physical kid?" Seungkwan admonish.

Soonyoung humming in agreement beside him. "A freshman no less."

Seungcheol grimaces, trying and failing to be steadfast. "Well...I sorta have a study date with Jeonghan," he lies.

At that their eyes expands comically. Pride exaggeratedly invading their features.

"That fast?" Seungkwan asks.

Seungcheol shrugs as an answer.

"Well—"

"Hey! Isn't that Vernon?" Seungcheol uses his distraction to successfully escape outside.

Fortunately, he wasn't lying. Vernon is there, at the bar, chatting with a frantic looking Jihoon.

"Well shit," Soonyoung mutters, the pair exchanges look before deciding to visit the bar. Sleazy smiles equipped alongside sensual smolders.

Jihoon's bent over, searching for something beyond the bar, attracting a confused Todd, who's defiling yet another drink.

"Looking for something?"

"Oh!—he's looking for a bag," Todd interrupts artlessly, looking exactly like a puppy who desires desperately to be included.

"I hate desperation," Soonyoung's whispers to Seungkwan who nods agreeing-ly, snapping his fingers.

"Shoo, Todd, before we kick you out again," Seungkwan deadpans, finger-snapping Todd away.

Jihoon, seemingly unaware of the two boisterous boys continues searching for his bag. He figures since the group projects previously held here, he'd absentmindedly left it.

Fingers prying yet another container of whiskey, Jihoon frustratingly huffs. He knew he should've casted an incorporate bond onto it—it'll doubtlessly be cause for humiliation, having a bag plastered onto your body, but at least his irreplaceable, important possession wouldn't disappeared.

"Fuck!" He shouts, finally registering the resting hand on his shoulder. "Fuck you want Soonyoung?"

Soonyoung staggers, unexpecting his name to be uttered. "Y'know my name!"

"Fuck..." Jihoon whispers. He refuses to fall for the same mistake repeatedly.

"I gotta go," Jihoon mumbles, brushing past Soonyoung and towards Seungkwan. At least then it'll keep them apart in a friendly distance. Jihoon doesn't think he can survive another disaster.

Just until then, Jihoon promises to himself.

"Hey, Boo, tell me if you find my bag. It's brown, 'bout yay big." Jihoon demonstrates, he watches as Seungkwan cuts his gaze towards Soonyoung, instead of Vernon as he'd initially expected. Jihoon wonders if Seungkwan knows more than he's revealing.

"Darling, you'll be the first to know," Seungkwan covers breezily.

Then just like the west-wind Jihoon's gone.

"Fucking hell, you'd think he'll make shit easier," Soonyoung mutters, waving his hands, moving the airborne glasses erratically, then drink, then the gin—not the expensive kind either.

Seungkwan would love to kill time with his best friend, but Vernon looks about ready to escape, and he'll be damn if both of them struck out today.

"Vernon!" He shouts in an incredibly weird accent, that at least elicits an amused grin from Soonyoung.

"Hi, Seungkwan—listen,"

Anticipating rejection, Seungkwan—quick on his feet—turns Vernon towards the ice sculpture he made specifically for the party. It's Capricorn, but hunky, and his dick is shooting tequila.

Vernon, gawking at the...something, is at a lost for words, "That's a—"

"My zodiac." Seeing it up-close, Seungkwan realizes that maybe his sculpture isn't something he should be elated over. "Not my most tasteful work, but-"

"Listen, Seungkwan—" This time Seungkwan is susceptible to listening, with Vernon touching his forearm.

Seungkwan wonders if Vernon realizes he's caressing it.

"You're leaving, aren't you?"

"I'm sorry."

By now, any normal person would accept the hint, but Seungkwan's not the type to surrender so easily. "Is it because I'm a bitch? Cause like...I can't change that but I'll try."

"No no no," Vernon chuckles at Seungkwan's jabbering. "It's not that."

At this point, sharing an ice breaker, the awkwardness dissolves. Eyes breaking into smiles, an easiness settling over them. But as soon as Seungkwan rejoices upon it, a reluctant expression wipes whatever expression of positivity is on Vernon's face.

Instead of facing Seungkwan apologetically, his expression's steadfast.

"I don't want a relationship," Vernon states, voice betraying no emotion.

"I never said anything about—"

-"Please, Seungkwan, there's a reason why only one of us overshares during pillow talk."

Squinting, Seungkwan's about to release one hell of a comeback when Vernon steps away. Seungkwan's never been this offended before.

"I'm gonna go, and if you know what's best for yourself, you'll stay away from me." That last part opens a sliver of emotion behind Vernon's face. A hint of regret, barely showing, but enough for Seungkwan's gut to disentangle itself from humiliation.

The rushing blood in Seungkwan's ears are deafening, freezing him in place until Soonyoung comes up behind him.

"Oh Kwannie, baby, I'm sorry." Thrusting a glass of something greenish, Seungkwan takes it in one shot.

"It's fine."

It's not. Seungkwan doesn't think frequent pillow talk can compensate for healthy relationships in any instances. But at least from that he knows the kind of person Vernon is. And this. Indifferent and uncompassionate. Is not it.

"Let's go get shitfaced."

 

♡♡♡

 

Lighting the candles, Seungcheol steps backwards, watching Jeonghan finish everything else. His previous excitement for helping spellcast and practice magic alongside being involved with Jeonghan somehow, has subsided. What's behind in its wake is a gaping hole that intensifies his anxiety.

If something goes awry, Seungcheol might get expelled. Losing his memory of magic'll probably be something Seungcheol's unequipped with managing currently—ever. He wouldn't forgive himself.

"It's almost ready."

He hopes Jeonghan is worth this.

Countless times he's reached for his pills. Surely if something's good for him, it wouldn't cause him such concern.

"Okay, I'm done." Grabbing the book, Jeonghan reads several lines before dumping a vile of charcoal liquid into the golden chalice.

It stinks of sulfur and peroxide. Seungcheol grimaces, stepping as further as necessary.

"Okay, it says we need a mirror," Jeonghan repeats.

"Check," Seungcheol points towards the mirror in the corner, stolen from the Practical Applications classroom.

"We need...something personal for the spirits connection." Jeonghan clutches the glass bunny tighter, it's different than the ones made in class. Less intricate and refined, filled with touches of inexperience.

Seungcheol nods as Jeonghan lists everything required, it seems like the summoning will transpire swimmingly. Then Jeonghan curses. Seungcheol knew they missed something.

"This summoning need at least four magical adapt."

"Great, where are we going to find two students willing enough?"

A rapping at the door startles them, before they can react the entrance opens revealing—

"Minghao?"

"Y'know him?" Jeonghan asks warily.

Seungcheol nods, "Yeah, my roommate. What are you doing here?" Minghao's brought a companion. Seungcheol can't believe their luck.

"Heard y'need help."

"Heard?" Jeonghan blurts frantically, "From who?"

Minghao grimaces, having letting slip his constant mental intruder, "Nobody," he covers ungracefully.

"Look, you need help or not?"

"Who are you?" Seungcheol asks the nameless stranger.

"Junhui. I'll help. All you need to know."

Seungcheol glances backwards at Jeonghan, still fidgeting quietly, suspicious of their new arrival's intention. It's one hell of a coincidence two magical adapts suddenly appears to help them without an incentive.

"Just...fucking—do you need help or not?!" Minghao's not here for somebody's willing contingency; on the contrary, the reasoning is purely self-serving. Refusing his mental infiltrator proves to be am egregious mistake, since anonymous hasn't stop jabbering since.

He and Junhui even stopped mid-fuck for this. He'd like to return.

Seungcheol sighs, Jeonghan isn't going to refuse because of his desperation. But just because Seungcheol's in support of the summoning and the possible consequences—doesn't mean the other two were. "Prerequisite warning, summoning might get you expelled."

Junhui hesitates, but eyeing Minghao, he notices his fuck-buddy/future-boyfriend, uncomfortable. "What do we gotta do."

They ended up sitting at four points, repeating enchantments with the gracefulness of a first-year Brakebills student. Jeonghan however, lists everything almost instinctively. Seungcheol eyes the other curiously through his fringes, wanting not for the first time today to explore deeper into this prodigal freshman.

Even without knowing Jeonghan long, Seungcheol feels something. Maybe magical, probably just pure intuition—something brewing between them.

They finished the summoning with less of an exaggerated flurry and more of a decrescendoing of volume. Whatever occurrences the book says would happen with each incantation surprisingly happened.

Except for Joshua.

"I don't understand." Thumbing through the book, Jeonghan seeks every page frantically. "We did everything correctly, it should work!" There are tears quickly brimming Jeonghan's eyes, compelling Seungcheol to rest a comforting hand on the other's shoulder.

"Jeonghan..."

"No!"

"We should probably go," by now the yammering has stopped. Since the reprieve is the only thing Minghao's in search for, he's finished.

Spine-chillingly, existing in the absence of jabbering, is a delighted, borderline malicious feeling that makes Minghao, for the first time, fears his mental companion.

"Let's go Jun."

The two late comers stand up, sending a downcast sympathetic look towards Jeonghan. "Sorry," Minghao apologizes. "I can feel Joshua's important to you."

Tears free falling despite his restrains, Jeonghan hiccups, "What d'you know."

Sending one last apologetic glance, the two take their leaves. "We'll see you in class," Jun mutters as a goodbye.

Seungcheol spends probably hours consoling Jeonghan. Joshua's spirit has either moved on, or he didn't die gruesomely enough for it to left an apparition. Whatever the reasoning, Seungcheol hopes it's at least understandable. Because Jeonghan deserves more than to be ignored by his childhood best friend.

 

♡♡♡

 

"Where have you been?" Sitting beside his younger boss, the other smiles wickedly.

"Caught in a party—brought you another book." Stealing from the library has become a regular occurrence for them. Unfortunately, it's difficult to do without getting noticed.

"Whatever." Diverting the attention towards the mirror, the two observes assiduously at the ongoing summoning. Writing things meticulously, knowing it probably won't work.

"They're summoning a spirit—they're kinda...unreliable."

The older hums, learning things Brakebills never teaches him before.

Carefully planting summoning books within Jeonghan's vicinity, knowing that's his desires. Implementing thoughts within Minghao's mind; is probably the hardest tasks he'd ever received from the younger. It's still necessary for their upcoming project. Pleasing the head-bitch and the younger's mother.

Al though, the mysterious entity he'd encountered within Minghao's mind is still agitating him. The remnants of something powerful patiently lurking inside his mind.

After the summoning predictably ending uneventfully, they finally turn their mirror off before beginning assessing the notes.

"This is definitely enough."

"Hope so," he despises the hedgewitch life-style, but the younger is something akin to a brother. And having been taken in from a young age, he owes them tremendously."

 

♡♡♡

 

Some hours later, Jeonghan and Seungcheol finally picked themselves up. Seungcheol meaning to escort Jeonghan to his dorms.

Leaving emotionally burdened, the two completely missed the apparition in the mirror behind them.

 

♡♡♡

 

Seungcheol returns to Mingyu's apartment several days later. He's aware it's probably selfish to come running to Mingyu searching for comfort. But Jeonghan's blatant ignoring and unbelievably depressing expression, is beginning to rub off toxically onto Seungcheol's already unstable mental health.

He can use a little stability. And if Professor Van Der Weghe hadn't lied to him, Mingyu should be unaware of Brakebills. Which means he's as stable as somebody can be.

"Mingyu?—Sorry I haven't been answering your texts. School's been..." Letting himself in, Seungcheol notices the first sign of something wrong. "Busy—Mingyu?" There are papers—books, scattered around the apartment. The smell of something rotting, pungent, musty filled the customarily open-aired space.

Suddenly, Seungcheol's here to be the stability.

"Mingyu?" Seungcheol discovers his best friend hunching over a laptop, spine unnaturally curving alongside his sitting arrangement - steadfastly on the concreate floor. "Hey," he whispers, mirroring tranquilizing a wounded animal.

Mingyu startles from Seungcheol's touch, turning, barely sparing any acknowledgement, before returning to whatever. Muttering an excuse of 'later' behind his shoulder.

Curious, Seungcheol reads whatever article Mingyu's engrossed upon. He figures it's probably for a paper. Maybe this semester in Yale is currently packed.

He wishes.

if Seungcheol's reading everything correctly, Mingyu's writing down a crude misshapen enchantment from Pauper I. "Gyu...You're not supposed to remember."

With a bitter laugh, Mingyu dismisses Seungcheol, "Right."

"I'm serious." Grabbing purchase of Mingyu's shoulder, Seungcheol tries to pry him away. "If they found out they'll—"

"What? Erase my memory again?" Mingyu scoffs, "Because that worked so brilliantly last time."

"Gyu..."

Pity...disgusting.

Whatever insults he'd cultivated dies within Mingyu's throat however when realization strikes "You gotta tell them they made a mistake."

The only reasoning behind Mingyu's rejection is his absence of any magical ability. Now though, with around three weeks’ worth of research, Mingyu stands a chance.

"Gyu..." Seungcheol exhales, "You're not a magician.

Shaking his head, Mingyu diverts Seungcheol's attention towards the laptop. "No no, see, these spells are genuine."

Accepting the laptop, Seungcheol eyes the article doubtfully. His best friend's losing his sanity. "Gyu, this is..."

"No!" Slamming the laptop shut, Mingyu begins gesturing unrefinedly with his hands. Crudely cupping them, grunting, sounding further more insane.

Seungcheol's about to put an end to everything when sparks begin flowing through Mingyu's fingers. Spontaneous and fleeting.

For a moment, Seungcheol feels his heartbeat stop. Something selfish embedding itself inside his ribcage.

"Gyu, that's nothing. Some enchantments are real, but every...mundane can do it." The sight of his friend unmistakably falling apart breaks Seungcheol. But he can't help the instinct of wanting to push Mingyu out for encroaching on his thing. Having fallen severely, deeply obsessed with magic, intoxicates Seungcheol.

"But- but- no, no, I can do so much more, Cheol—"

"Enough, Gyu!" Reeling backwards, Seungcheol begins standing up, a beginning of a headache's clouding his judgement. "Can't we just say what's obviously going on here?!"

The sight of tears welling up in Mingyu's eyes, almost makes Seungcheol falters. The furious glare behind it however, is what's keeping motivates him.

"You always have to be perfect with everything. It's—"

"It's what?" Mingyu challenges, "it's what Seungcheol, huh?"

Shaking his head, Seungcheol readies himself to leave. Maybe Dean Fogg saying he didn't have to medicate at Brakebills because magic is a drug. Because his best friend is having withdrawals over something that isn't even his in the first place.

"Forget it, I'm not vouching for you."

"Cheol—" the damp, hitching noises behind him almost makes Seungcheol turns. His selfishness nearly thawing out. "Please."

"Why should I?" Whatever Mingyu'll answer next will be the penultimate decision on whether Seungcheol will help or not.

"They cut of my life, Cheol."

Perhaps it's the incredibly toneless implication of that statement; the fact that for his entire life, Seungcheol has been obsessed over magic—real or otherwise. Having introduced Mingyu to the wonders of fairytales and shitty magic tricks, of miracles and Fillory. Perhaps it's remembering that that successfully hammers in Seungcheol's decision.

Something abominable, horrendous, and ultimately unfair.

"This is your life."

Then Seungcheol left Mingyu, sobbing, broken apart during a certain someone's disappearance’s anniversary that neither remembers.

 

♡♡♡

 

Gathering his resolves inside a bar several hours later, Mingyu plunges himself unceremoniously onto the corner, tucking himself defensively. Today has been unquestionably godawful. Yesterday impossibly worst.

Seungcheol had no right cutting him off like that—

Mingyu chuckles mirthlessly. Even inside his own thoughts, he resembles an addict.

Sounding spine-chillingly like Seungcheol before rehab.

Swiping the crystalline glass in one shot, he requests another from the bartender. He's unaware what he's drinking, having requested for the strongest.

"It's everclear," some guy interrupts unwelcomingly, he's no older than Mingyu, who raises his brows in return. The guy shrugs, "You were mumbling it."

Ignoring the newcomer, Mingyu continues his self-destructive contemplations. What can he possibly do after he'd lost everything? Ironically enough, college is the furthest thing from his priorities. But he's positive after this, college'll become another thing he'll lose.

Seungcheol, a solid constant, predictably occupied, maintaining his life-style. Having swing downwards on the seesaw, Mingyu's left to watch upwards at his best friend.

Doubting Seungcheol—stifling his interests, was a miscalculation. A regret that Mingyu has to neverendingly remember.

But Seungcheol's far from absolved himself.

Either way, Mingyu's reasonableness is becoming untrustworthy. The only other person he desperately needed disappeared forever ago.

The understated diamond shimmering against the glass, tapping lazily, reserves his attention. Mingyu misses him, he honestly do.

"Break up?" apparently, the guy isn't receiving the hints.

"None—" Mingyu swallows another mouthful. "—Of your business."

Raising a finger, the bartender expeditiously prepares another drink. Leaning, Mingyu intends to obtain it when another swipes it away immediately, eyeing it curiously. "Y'know, getting drunk off of...alcohol, is never the answer."

Sliding the glass towards its owner Mingyu takes it exasperatedly. Completely missing the misplaced, barely visible sticker latching onto it as he once again down another drink.

The guy smirks, satisfied. He fixes the bottom section of his shirt whilst standing up, giving Mingyu a shoulder pat before mumbling, "See you in the bathroom."

Scoffing, Mingyu shakes his head. "Yeah right." But as he says it, his body begins moving, limbs stiffening, simultaneously swinging erratically. The feeling's comparable to a drunken stupor or a sleep paralysis episode.

One thing's certain, he's moving towards the bathroom.

Entering, he sees the guy from before awaiting him, leaning against a stall-door before he graciously opens it.

"Welcome!" He announces.

Whatever compulsion is controlling Mingyu like a marionette, is forcing him onto his knees before a toilet bowl.

"First rule of hexes, this one..."

Mingyu lurches.

"Only ends once it runs its course." The modus hex is a behemoth of an enchantment, having no possible counterreactions once it takes purchase. Prevention is solution.

Having his stomach discharged, Mingyu becomes light-headed, but otherwise able-bodied in controling his limbs again. "You're a magician," Mingyu accuses his assailant, still panting.

"I prefer the term hedge witch, although..." he chuckles, thinking of something Mingyu's uninformed about. "Never mind. I got a proposition for you."

Mingyu scoffs, trusting a guy who hexes people is definitely a unintelligent decision.

"It'll get you magic—real magic."

Ears perking interested, Mingyu slowly turns around. He staggers himself onto the toilet seat, not bothering to flush or wipe himself clean. "How?"

"D'you think Brakebills's the only place you could discover magic?"

No, that's why Mingyu searched for weeks, eventually finding several articles with slight magical legitimacy. Finding it's a difficult journey, he should've realized there's probably a lot more Brakebills dropouts besides himself.

"How should I trust you, I mean—" Mingyu chuckles humorlessly, snaggle tooth glimmering through his disparaging grin "You made me puke for...what, exactly?"

"I need you sober, dipshit. Besides, beggars can't be choosers, so what do you say?" outstretching his hands, the guy waits impatiently for Mingyu to accept it.

Finding no other downside—his life has become absolute shit anyways—Mingyu accepts the offer.

Halfway through freshening up, the guy mentions something about waiting outside. Before leaving, Mingyu interrupts swiftly, "Can I at least get a name."

There's a hesitation taking over the guy's features, but as he turns around, a wicked pearly-white toothy grin prevails, unafraid, probably a little reckless.

"Vernon."

 

♡♡♡

 

"Oh fuck!" Minghao hollers

Everybody sequestering themselves inside their dorm rooms might as well attend classes. Because the two occupants currently fucking each other's brains out aren't relenting any time soon.

Minghao's never had zero-gravity sex before. He's positive his gut's rearranging every time Junhui so much as maneuvered them differently. Legs dangling down, barely caressing the bed sheets below.

Discovering Junhui during their preliminary examination is definitely the highlight of Minghao's entire existence at Brakebills. Being a fucking Adonis, Junhui's proven consecutively how amazing he was in bed.

Telekinetic sex? Taking the expression 'a flying-fuck' into a desirable, mind-blowing level.

"Keep going." Placing himself above is probably the best position Minghao's ever been in. Junhui feels extra...deep.

"Junnie—I" his breathing hitches, pushing of the ceiling, his toes manage to caress the plushy surface below, his height nearly there, before—

you shouldn't have done that.

-The worst climax of his life.

With a tapered of moan of his own, Junhui descends them safely onto the mattress. Their bodies bouncing making Minghao wince. "Fucking hell. Can't have anything anymore."

Carefully maneuvering off his somewhat-boyfriend/probably-fuck-buddy, Minghao watches in distaste the egg-shells ceiling.

"What?" Minghao asks, annoyance palpable.

Junhui, rolling over gives Minghao a confuse look.

"Not you—just—" kissing the worry consuming Junhui's face, Minghao closes his eyes.

A spine-tingling scenery reveals itself, blooming into a blurry picturesque scene inside Minghao's mind. The rustling of Junhui's cleaning fading slowly into the background.

Wherever he's seeing, it’s awfully dark, shadows casting sideways onto broken chains intermingling with climbing vines.

Following the lines of said chains, Minghao' s mind's eye comes across a person, withering within chains. His sharp nose downturns inwards his chest, darken hair hanging loosely over his features. Taking in a raggedy breath he looks up, startling Minghao.

"You shouldn't have summoned anybody," he repeats, grave expression upon his face.

"What?"

Somehow this person seems familiar, racking his memories briefly Minghao realizes who the other is. "I saw you, a year or two ago—you were—"

"Asking for help," the guy chuckles, voice gurgling slightly from disuse. "I still am, but it doesn't matter. If somebody tells you to do whatever again, don't. You have no idea how dangerous it could be."

"Well I would be ecstatic to, but whoever it was, was pretty goddamn loud."

"Ask the teacher for help, seriously. Or down an Advil with vodka—it'll be fucking safer."

Humming incredulously, Minghao paces around the person. "How'd you get here?" He begins curiously. "What's your name."

Feeling a responsibility to rescue this could-very-well-be-imaginary person, Minghao wonders why he's received the signal years ago.

"We're more similar than you think—if, I'm guessing correctly." The guy is surprisingly light-hearted in his situation. "And as to how I got here it's..."

"A long story?"

"Yes, but my name is Wonwoo."

Walking around the scenery, Minghao founds himself questioning its location. It resembles a medieval torture chamber enough for it to be misplaced in their common world.

"Hey, where are you?"

The seconds the words are uttered, a spine-chilling wind blew upwards his spine. Freezing, Minghao's breath hitches. This is an astral projection, nothing should—

Coming around to face Minghao is a...something. Face carefully concealed within a myriad of flying moths, as this monster begins outstretching a hand towards Minghao, the prisoner shouts—"Wake up!"

Catapulting into reality, Minghao wakes with a strangled gasp. His chest is burning, whatever it was had touched him. Crimson marred skin proves its validity.

Junhui, who's half-way dress, rushes comfortingly to Minghao's side. "What?—what happened?"

Crying loudly, clutching his middle, Minghao hunches in on himself. He's never felt fear clawing inside his brain like this before. Darkness and empty nothingness leave an impression of callousness, fearlessness, and absolutely no remorse.

A fragment of his soul—if it even exists, feels tainted.

"It's a fucking—oh shit—" Minghao breathes, gasping wetly—"monster, it's a—

Beast.

Chapter Text

The deteriorating warehouse Vernon's leading him towards, is definitely either going to be some super-secret extraordinary hideout. Or a soon to be murder scene.

Somehow, Mingyu's desperate enough to find out.

"Fucking—" stepping into the puddles is definitely making him rethink his choices.

Vernon, chuckles nonchalantly, barely giving Mingyu a glance. "C'mon," He instructs, fiddling with his ties, revealing his sleeves scattered with peculiarly shaped tattoos.

"That's some ink," Mingyu comments. The tattoo; a simple black symbol shaped into seven-pointed stars, has a lock symbol within each star. One has the number ten instead of the lock.

Vernon glances at Mingyu, pearly whites revealing in a dominating grin. "You'll get them too if you survive," He assures ominously.

Fortunately, entering reveals a—slightly—better interiors that previously predicted. It's not completely dilapidated at least. Mingyu conjectures of the entire area shifting slightly into the more positive route.

"It's storage, for ingredients and stuff," Vernon explains when Mingyu asks.

There's somebody crouching in front of one of the doors plastered on the long-winded hallways. Face sporadically lit by the flickering fluorescent lights. From what's discernable, Mingyu thinks he's pretty young—and cold, considering the visible breath escaping his blue-tinted lips every now and again. Adorning the latest homeless fashion; an oversized navy windbreaker, a beanie that hangs loosely above his eyes, and knitted gloves, the younger shakily stands.

"What is this college hazing?" Mingyu asks, incredulous, he's beginning to feel whoever these magicians hedgewitches are, they're into more fucked up things than he thought.

"Calm down," rolling his eyes, Vernon beckons the kid to stand up, joining them. "This is Chan, he's an initiate, like you!" Patting the presumably younger, the aforementioned winces, looking absolutely done.

"Okay, fine, what is this? Another test Vernon?" At least, the youngest's voice is deep enough for Mingyu to relax. He refuses any involvement with a child.

"Yes." Opening one of the huge metal doors, Vernon sheep-heard the two inside.

The coldness of the space immediately hits Mingyu within his thin-clad chest. Barely winter ready, adorning only a leather jacket, atop of a regular t-shirt. Whatever this warehouse is, it's egregiously cold.

Metal shelves towers over the two, it's spines frost-bitten and rotting. There are random objects haphazardly strewn around the room. Whatever shelving unit this is must've been important enough to keep cold.

"What's this, a meat locker?" The younger grumbles, rubbing under his armpit for emphasis, turning petulantly before glaring at Vernon. "Okay what's the test?"

Vernon smiles, lips stretching in amusement before a simple, "This," becomes the answer, followed by the door slamming shut.

The two run towards it, knowing it's pointless.

"Urggghh!" The younger screams, banging incessantly at the door. A beginning of a long, loud journey. "What the actual fuck!"

 

♧♧♧

 

Vernon's incredibly hesitant in leaving the two 'initiates', but his instruction is important. Why waste precious time during assembly, when he can just steal the book then?

The library is always brimming full of students, enchantments, and of course librarians. Now though, with an emergency (pre-scheduled) assembly—something about the fountain ghosts acting up—Vernon manages to sneak, steal, and escape with whatever needed.

That is, until, running face-first onto the singular person he's trying to avoid until preferably...forever.

"Seungkwan," he meanders awkwardly, making several abortive motions to help the person he'd barreled into. "My bad," he ends up settling, arms bent in a peculiar angle of his hips.

"Why aren't you in assembly?"

"Could ask the same about you," Vernon rebuttals, maybe a little to defensively.

"Hmm." Narrowing his eyes, like somehow, he'll be able to predict whatever mischievous schemes Vernon's subscribing into, Seungkwan instead settles on not mentioning anything.

Fuck Dean Fogg, if Vernon's caught escaping mandatory assembly, it's not Seungkwan's responsibility. "Whatever—if you see anybody else tell'em to go to assembly."

Beginning to walk away, Seungkwan can't say he's surprised of the grip halting his elbows.

Turning around to face a now crimson-eared Vernon, Seungkwan awaits the expected apology.

Nothing.

"Alright, I'll just—"

"No, wait! Uhmm—" shifting his eyes, Vernon figures an explenation is the least he can give after the atrocity at the physical kid's party. "I'm sorry, about...tha—uhm...that night. I was rude, it's inexcusable."

Humming, feigning nonchalance, Seungkwan pretends to consider the apology. There's something about Vernon that both intrigues and unnerves him, like there's something he's hiding. Seungkwan couldn't begin to iterate the amount of times Vernon forcibly choked himself off in the middle of pillow talk.

Seungkwan gets it, but he doesn't. And maybe he's admittedly overly sentimental for his own security. Somehow Vernon seems worth it.

"But I'm not gonna date you."

There it is, scoffing Seungkwan turns, despising all the echoing footsteps following behind him. "What?"

"I—"

"Y'know being passive-aggressive and super bating is an asshole move. Are you an asshole, Vernon?" Revving up, Seungkwan taps erratic rhythms onto the staircase.

"No I—"

"No, you're just enough of a self-absorbed asshole to think that I'm trying to slither my way into your pants the same way you did mine." Finding the more the opposite shrinks, the more Seungkwan feels relieved, he adds, "Y'know what maybe I thought you were attractive enough for me to date, but now?"

"Seungkwan—"

"Go suck another cock, Vernon."

Leaving, slack-jawed and thoroughly red for filth. Seungkwan returns heartbroken to the assembly, meaning to search for Dean Fogg along the way.

This is why fuck buddies are essential to staying fuck buddies, he huffily thinks.

Vernon, on the other hand, feels another weight occupying his ribcage. Their shared bedroom thoughts were always a highlight before the hedgewitches demands became increasingly intolerable.

Maybe someday, whenever his contracts nullified and he's free from dangerous, treacherous magicians he'll apologize better to Seungkwan.

Right now, he's going to betray another thing he loves—concealed book in hand—Brakebills.

 

♧♧♧

 

Searching through a barrel full of sardines is useless, Mingyu thinks before slumping sideways onto said barrel.

"Anything?"

Chan, for all intents and purposes, have been absolutely useless. Opting to shivering, complaining, and whining during untimely times.

"No."

"Unsurprising," Mingyu mutters, fighting against frost-bite, shifting to a stand.

"Hey, I'm trying okay—you try being tested for the billionth time," Chan huffs, his nose is getting redder by the second, tears brimming his eyes from frustration. "It's not fun."

"Whatever."

Vernon returns to no progress, watching the inmates becomes somewhat sad. Considering Mingyu's bending over another barrel he's certain is full of whale's cum.

He's positive a little help is necessary. He just hopes his young boss agrees.

Crossing his palms into an X over his chest, Vernon rises them until it's face-level. Bending the upper half of his palms, he wiggles his fingers before straightening the palms, left facing upwards and the other downwards. He pushes it forward, forming a balled-up fist, before using it to stab an imaginary dagger onto his chest.

"Come on," he whispers, waiting for the magic to take effect.

Chan's beginning to get a headache with how jittery Mingyu's becoming, his desperation as palpable as the rotting boar carcass in the other room. "Give up, they're trying to murder us."

Mingyu scoffs, shaking his hands of the dusts gathering on his palms from the shotty looking cookie jar. Hopefully, it's nobody's grandma. "They're not trying to kill us—they're not ballsy enough."

"Then what?"

"It's a test." coming across a lighter, Mingyu tries it, unsurprisingly it doesn't lit. "I'm getting sick of flunking tests." Mingyu's positive he's dropping out of Yale. If his egregious absence hasn't booted him out already.

Magic is his purpose now. Like hell if he's surrendering that easily. Not even the biting cold temperature of the meat locker's getting in his way.

"Wha-what is that?" Chan stutters, fingers pointing towards a murky plastic partition. One that usually reveals a section of the glorified refrigerator, where butcherings take place. Something feels off.

Mingyu sees movement behind it, a person, maybe? "Hello?"

Groaning, whoever it is begins picking up speed alongside Mingyu's steadily inclining heartbeat. "Hell no fucking—watch out!"

A shrieking noise rips through their tense silence, a naked man revealing himself, walking numbly on his feet, fumbling over matter. His head lifts as if sensing the two young magicians, and in an instant, it's pursuing them.

"Run!" Mingyu bellows.

"Don't have to fucking tell me twice."

They take of running through the labyrinth of shelves, brimming with herbs and curious ingredients.There isn't plentiful space for them to evade whatever creature-human's pursuing them, and eventually they find themselves cornered. A dead end.

The creature-man, growls. Mingyu barely noticing the Y-shape stitches on the other's greyish chest before it charges towards them, roaring loudly. Pushing the younger away in time, the naked man barrels instead onto metal pipes sticking out of the walls, running right through.

Did somebody just die?

"Holy shit."

Inspecting the person closer, intending to ask his status, Mingyu trips backwards when the previously lulling head shots up, Chan shrieking incessantly in the background.

"Calm down, it's just me." And that voice sounds familiar.

"Vernon?"

"Yup, you're taking too long, starting to second guess myself here," it's peculiar seeing the movement of the corpse's mouth lining with Vernon's voice. "Search somewhere you won't think to look, maybe? Hurry, frostbite's setting in."

"What does that mean?" Chan, who's thankfully stopped shrieking, huddles closer towards Mingyu. Mindful of the bodily fluids the corpse had emitted.

"Frostbite," Mingyu whispers, already realizing. "It's inside the corpse."

"What?" Chan yelps.

"Whatever spell we need to escape is inside the corpse," Mingyu reiterates.

From his peripheral vision, Chan's adamantly shaking his head, gagging for emphasis. "You do it—I'm not fucking desperate enough for that."

"I am."

Mingyu's hands ended up gut-diving disrespectfully inside the corpse. The initiate wincing and silently apologizing throughout.

"Anything?" Chan mumbles impatiently for the umpteenth time today. It'll better if he's more of a participant, Mingyu thinks.

Though the boy looks green.

"Be patient," Mingyu reminds.

Chan's barely useful, except as a chatter-box sniffling companion. Only either jabbering or caressing that necklace of his.

"What is that?" Mingyu eventually asks, succumbing to curiosity, grasping any topics of conversation away from the corpse he's violating.

"Something important," Chan mumbles forlornly, before adding in a small voice, "I don't remember why though."

Mingyu hums noncommittally before feeling the edges off paper and ripping it out with a triumphant cry.

"Finally!"

Un-creasing the paper, Mingyu attempts his best at reading the blood-marred writing. "Un chaleur temporaire," Mingyu reads, "Temporary fire."

The warming flames provides enough time for Mingyu to find absolutely nothing, except for a pair of shotty scissors.

Good enough. Barely

Kicking open the door with a huff, Mingyu finds himself facing several others besides Vernon who begins slow clapping.

"Well done."

Oh, hell no. "Fuck off—I-I-I mean what's the point of all that, huh? There weren't any spells to help us escape," Mingyu berates. "Oh, and scissors?" waving the utensil around, Mingyu throws it haphazardly towards Vernon's feet. "Makes a shitty screwdriver."

"That's the point. You need to know magic's not going to fix everything if you wanna last a month," Vernon counters, offended that his so poignant lesson went over Mingyu's large head.

"You're not still considering letting me join, are you?" He asks incredulously, because Mingyu's fed up of hypothermic goose-chases.

"I invited you—"

"No, you attacked me in a bar, in the bathroom, on the shitiest day of my life." Dusting himself of excess frost, Mingyu begins his exit. "I'm done proving myself to you."

"You weren't."

Mingyu halts at the unexpected voice.

"You're proving yourself to me." The previously cowering, complaining, too young teenager, Chan, looks all but twenty feet tall. Intimidating in his stature.

 

♧♧♧

 

Mingyu arrives to the hedgewitches' sanctuary, an unassuming garage behind a dilapidated building. It's hardly what somebody would describe as containing endless bounds of magical practice. But it'll do. Vernon's correct, beggars can't be choosers.

Mingyu receives his first tattoo on a rusty metal table by an equally rusty old man. His beard reeking of pesticide and rotten milk. He spares Mingyu a backhanded smile before whirling the tattoo machine to life, scratching his beard uncaringly.

The first touch of the needle to his virgin skin stings like a motherfucker.

It's a simple tattoo, apparently, no incantation imbued within the pitch-black ink. But the shapes symbolize free reign over the city's underground magic.

Chan himself, have tattoos crawling upwards his arm, almost into a full-length sleeve. A number fifty, strikingly clear against the lock symbols. Quite high, but not the highest, Mingyu's been explained.

The younger walks constantly with his head upturned towards the sky, shoulders pulled back. Overall, he's entirely stylized himself away from the scared timid initiate persona he'd cultivated during Mingyu's initiation.

An expensive leather coat drapes over his shoulder, beneath it a cerulean blue blouse accompanied by luxurious looking slacks. Hair slicked back, sunglasses rests atop it. Looking menacingly down at the other bustling hedgewitches, he eventually joins them. A cigarette lit between his daringly smirking lips.

"So," Mingyu winces, needles stinging worse than he predicted, "You're the boss of the hedgewitches?"

Chan smiles, something contemplative and apathetic hidden behind. He slides himself silently opposite Mingyu, hands tapping demurely at his chin, his dominating aura full-fronting and present. "This particular sanctuary, yes. But the whole southern area of the city, belongs to my mother." Supposedly a level two hundred fifty, but Chan can't confirm whatever she did to deserve such prestigious title.

It's far beyond a time he can remember. Chan still have trouble discerning real memories from fabricated ones. Can't even begin picking from the enchantment and real memories. It's partly why the young hedgewitch have difficulties with steady relationships.

He understands though, the responsibility given to him over governing this particular hedgewitch community.

"She must be something powerful," Mingyu notes, a hint of sarcasm Chan probably picks up on, but agrees to an extent.

His first tattoo, that'll grant him visitation to different hedgewitches' sanctuary, allows him to purchase from the underground black market; signifies his belonging to a purpose. A place where magical knowledge is accessible for him to learn and rebuilt. To create something of his life. Brakebills—or more classical training as they described it—be damned. "My first tattoo," He surmises forlornly

"First of many, hopefully," Chan smirks, extinguishing the bud of his cigarette on the metal table.

Leaning closer, Mingyu feels all of Chan's five feet eight inches in all its glory. Feeling power and intimidation from the younger, and physically shorter, in waves. "So Mingyu Kim," he begins, "Ready for your first spell?"

 

♧♧♧

 

Refusing to attend, Junhui's stuck between a red-nose, puffy-eyes, Jeonghan and a petulant Seungcheol. Unideal. Impressively annoying.

Minghao's been inconsolable since his vision with...Wonwoo? was it. Shouting about something coming—something dangerous.

Not wanting to leave, Junhui intended to stay before Dean Fogg found them, offering to take Junhui's place instead.

It's awkward, but unavoidable, so Junhui agrees. For whatever it's worth, the assembly's actually informative.

The Van Pelt Fountain—or, the aptly nick-named Suicide Fountain, has been caused for numerous deaths within Brakebills. If one happens to accidentally fall inside, the body will be unrecoverable.

There's been a recent increase in freshmen meandering about said fountain, prompting the emergency assembly.

"Whatever you do, do not run near it."

Why they haven't bother to close it is beyond Junhui.

Jeonghan, juxtaposing, finds the subject interesting. An artifact surrounding spirits and in-campus deaths. Maybe Joshua fell inside, that's why nobody's talking about him anymore.

The lecture/assembly stretches longer than expected. Dean Fogg himself not making an appearance. If Junhui's to describe it, it feels like time's frozen.

Oh, how true he wishes it isn't.

The first sign alerting him that something's amiss is the fluttering sound coming from the mirror leaning precariously beside the blackboard, a singular butterfly floating from beyond it. Surely, Junhui's seeing things.

The next, is his complete inability to move except for his eyes, that immediately sweeps the room, finding everybody's equally as frozen.

Shouting, he hears only hissing noises barely escaping his throat.

Professor Van Der Weghe stands defenseless as the otherworldly creature figures his way beyond the mirror threshold. Chuckling sinisterly, the creature with six fingers—face carefully concealed behind erratically flying insects, inches threateningly closer towards the teacher whose eyes are bleeding liberally into his stuck-open mouth.

Junhui's eyes widen, knowing his begging goes unheard. A faint hissing noise coming from his side alerts him that both Seungcheol and Jeonghan are screaming as well.

"Good bye," the creature said, voice echoing madly, almost distorted, extraterrestrial. Before quickly snapping the professor’s neck with rapid finger movements no magicians ever achieved before.

The students watch the light dying from within those previously lively eyes. The body doesn't slump, covering itself from the other's sight. It freezes, a floating corpse, an unghastly decoration.

Soonyoung, sitting closest to the massacre regrets every choice he's ever made. His eyes can't stop boring into Jihoon across from him, position equally as close towards the—the beast.

Whatever heaven exists, Soonyoung hopes he gets there before Jihoon.

"Well well," The creature speaks, moving closer towards a whimpering Jihoon.

The beast cocks his head, inspecting, before huffing an amused breath. "You lost it, didn't you?"

Jihoon whimpers, eyes shifting briefly towards Soonyoung and immediately Jihoon thinks please, not again.

Unfortunately, the beast catches the brief movement, resulting in him coming closer towards Soonyoung.

Eyes concealed beyond flapping wings, the beast sees its target. Fishing the bag out of the backpack, the entire room lay witness as the leather pouch burns incessantly, flames licking uncomfortably close to Soonyoung's face.

Jihoon's bag, now ashes on the floor, means the beast's searching another target. Head scanning around the room, he finds it. "Oh, Seungcheol."

Jeonghan's breath hitches besides Junhui, regretting not sitting beside Seungcheol when offered.

Expensive loafers ascend closer towards Seungcheol. With every movement, the beast hums a recognizable old-timey melody, six-fingered hands fussing over the lapels of his luxurious tuxedo. Fixing it, as if desiring to represent his bestest during Seungcheol's demise.

Hand shooting upwards, Seungcheol thinks, this is it, he's going to die devoid of magical expertise—

The door opens with an echoing thud, instantaneously Minghao enters, following behind, Dean Fogg and Seungkwan.

Seeing Junhui close to the creature, Minghao quickly balled a fist away from his body, the other hand coming to encompass it before the hand inside shoots open, fingers intertwining, then Minghao pushes.

An almost invisible screen shoots towards the beast, sending it flying backwards.

Running towards Junhui, Minghao attempts to maneuver the other's stiffen limbs. "Come on!"

Behind him, the creature rises, growling menacingly. Dean Fogg, interrupts it's movement, sending it backwards repeatedly, blasting a particularly powerful enchantment to release everybody from its hold.

"Enough!" It bellows, and now the newcomer is frozen.

Dean Fogg watches unmovingly as the beasts rounds angrily towards him. The last thing he witness before a searing pain inside his eye socket.

Dread of impending suffering covers throughout the sporadically brimming classroom. Each and every student feeling the weight of their purpose holding tightly to their oxygen, clenching within their souls. Useless against the practical deity.

They're all about to die.

Chapter Text

Seungcheol's ears are ringing, he's almost positive it's clogged by drying blood. Professor Sunderland crouches before him, repeating questions Seungcheol's echoing mind's having trouble discerning. "Hey, Seungcheol—" Professor Sunderland snaps her fingers. "Can you describe the beast that attacked you?" Lulling his head sideways, he sees his roommate chatting uncontrollably with another faculty member, eyes darting around to the core four. Junhui stands beside him almost proudly, chest puffing intensely as a defense mechanism.

Vaguely, Seungcheol remembers the several spellcasting Minghao did towards the beast. Each stubborn blast successfully sending the creature backwards. Battle magic, if Seungcheol guesses correctly.

"How did it know your name?"

Across the room, students curiously inspect the inside of the classroom turned warzone. Soonyoung and Seungkwan's shakily pushes them backwards, attempting light-hearted quips but never managing to deliver them naturally.

Soonyoung's glancing periodically at Jihoon who's crying silently over to the sides.

"Answer me, Seungcheol."

Lulling the other side, Seungcheol sees Jeonghan's inwards figure talking to Professor March. There are dried blood caking the side of his feathery white long-sleeves sweater, Seungcheol hopes none of it belongs to Jeonghan.

Hazily, Seungcheol remembers Jeonghan firing off intricate spellwork—at least second-year level—against the beast. Simultaneously protecting Dean Fogg whose eyes lay limply on the table, a bloody smile drawn below it. Eventually sending the beast back through the mirror threshold

"Seungcheol!" Professor Sunderland shouts, cutting through the ringing, effectively—finally—gaining Seungcheol's full attention. "Let's start from the beginning."

 

◇◇◇

 

Jihoon's breath comes stuttering in staccato inhales, his pace quickening towards the infirmary. He hopes Dean Fogg is okay. Somehow, after everything, this particular event is unforeseeable.

Similar but more destructive.

Shutting his eyes tightly, Jihoon replays the moment the beast was inches away from Soonyoung. "Oh fuck," he hiccups wetly, hands coming up to dry tears uselessly.

"Jihoon!" The aforementioned freezes, recognizing the voice.

Jihoon turns around to see a vibrating Soonyoung, lips outstretch into a forced smile. Something the slightly younger knows is a defense mechanism whenever the latter's been through trauma. Jihoon's sure the sudden reminder of his unfortunate past didn't bode well with Soonyoung.

"I'm sorry," Soonyoung apologizes immediately. He's sure by know the jig is up. Jihoon must've seen the burning satchel—the one the other's been searching before in the physical kids’ cottage.

Soonyoung shouldn't have kept it. But the thought of being able to portray a knight in shining armor for Jihoon—somebody who he's been forlornly admiring for a distance—is too much of an enticing opportunity to pass up.

The reminder of his satchel burning—yet another failure—incites anguish within Jihoon. "What did you do!" Balling up his fists, Jihoon pushes the taller's chest. "What the fuck did you do!"

"I'm sorry, please, I'll replace anything."

Staggering dazedly backwards, Soonyoung manages to catch Jihoon before falling. Receiving a face full of mirthless maniacal laughter.

"Replace? Soonyoung the content was priceless and now we're—" choking on a tear, Jihoon reluctantly releases the hold Soonyoung has to steady him. He can't afford getting closer now "We're doomed."

Soonyoung lets the other escape, he himself staggering towards the physical kids' cottage, feeling weighed down by repressed trauma resurfacing, and a terrible feeling his actions had world-ending consequences.

 

◇◇◇

 

After escaping interrogation; Jeonghan, sound-minded enough, gathers the four culprits inside Seungcheol's and Minghao's dorm room. Needing privacy before achieving any solutions.

"What're we gonna do?" Seungcheol begins.

"We're going to shut the fuck up, that's what." Junhui has been silently seething ever since Minghao became the target of the beast. His deafening shouts yesterday a preemptive warning. Everything was caused by their defected summoning. And as far as Junhui's concern, Seungcheol and Jeonghan is responsible.

"We shouldn't have done the summoning." After revealing his knowledge of battle magic, Minghao doubts he'll escape future interrogations unscathed. Curling within his duvet, he leeches artificial warmth surrounding it, barely soothing his grievances.

"What's done is done, all we need to do is agree to stick to a story, okay?" Seungcheol suggests. "Give each other an alibi."

"Fuck off!" Junhui explodes, pointing an accusatory finger at Seungcheol. He realizes it's probably unwarranted, but he's angry. A lot of people could've died and for what? Somebody who's already dead. "You don't get to boss us around after starting the summoning."

"Hey!" Jeonghan cuts, body positioning himself into covering Seungcheol behind him "That was me. So if you wanna blame anybody blame me, but it's still was your decision to help."

"I'm fine," Minghao whispers, trying to caress Junhui's hand before the other rips it away.

"You're not!" Junhui doesn't know why he's the only one who's thoroughly freaking out.

Minghao's probably had his fill with premonition-like visions. Having known when to arrive to safe everybody alongside Dean Fogg. But even then, it wasn't enough. There are several casualties. Dean Fogg lost his eyes. Professor Van der Weghe died. And they're all sitting here discussing about saving their asses.

"Whatever that fucking...thing was—managed to fucking slaughter master magicians! Alright, nobody's fucking safe!" Stalking forward, Junhui crowds Jeonghan into a corner, the other has his hand scrambling onto the dresser, dropping items onto the ground.

"Guys," Seungcheol begins, only for Junhui's wrath to descend upon him.

"No, you shut up—you shouldn't have helped Jeonghan in the first place. Then Professor Van der Weghe wouldn’t’ve died!"

"Hey!" seizing Junhui's muttering, Jeonghan stalks forward himself, chest puffing in defense. "Last I check you could've tried to stop the summoning yourself if you were wise enough to know this will be the goddamn result!"

"I—"

"No, what's done is done. Now you can continue bitching about the past like a thumb-sucking baby, or you can get your head in the game and invent, a goddamn, story." Jeonghan ends his tirade crowding Junhui into a sitting position. The other automatically crawling within Minghao's blanket fort.

Swiping his bangs away, Jeonghan huffily sits besides Seungcheol, who's hand immediately caresses the tension forming behind his back. "I'm sorry—look—just. Can we fucking stay afloat here? please."

Heads begin nodding, room quickly filling with semi-civil silence.

"Okay," Seungcheol nods, "We'll say we're studying late—at the physical kids' cottage. We can get Soonyoung and Seungkwan to back us up."

"Okay," Minghao agrees.

"Whatever." Junhui's still pissed, but there's nothing ahead except repression.

"Alright." Jeonghan stands, hands gripping tightly onto Seungcheol's, warmth immediately blooming in result. "Let's go."

 

◇◇◇

 

Stepping inside the glass-paneled room, Jihoon glares angrily at the innocent sunlight. Shadows laying across white upon white, emboldens nothing but unmarred cleanliness inside the infirmary. Everything's sterilized, clean cut, and mechanical.

Sitting himself onto one of the numerous, disinfected, crisp, white bed, Jihoon manages his best not to distract the working healers. Everybody's busy outside, mostly, checking over students. Disbelievingly searching pulses from Professor Van der Weghe's corpse.

Jihoon remembers everything clearly, his mind almost overlapping his previous memories. This one was violent.

Currently, the only practicing healer, Seokmin, is doing his damndest in recovering fragments left behind from whatever damages has been done. There isn't plenty spellwork can do in the veins of appendages and detached organs. So instead, him and Professor Lipson fashions some glasses that might alleviate the...blindness.

"Is he going to be okay?" Jihoon questions warily. Seokmin offers an uneasy smile in return.

"Health wise, he's absolutely perfect."

Jihoon clenches the bedsheet beneath him until he's sure the sheets are rumpled, but he utters no further rebuttals, instead waiting patiently. Seokmin eventually leaves him alone with his thoughts and incredible guilt.

Dean Fogg awakens some time later. Eye socket now clad behind round sunglasses. Somehow the Dean pulls it quite well.

"Jihoon." Is the first thing Dean Fogg utters, beckoning the student forward.

"Ca-can you see me?"

"Outlines, there are unforeseeable consequences in forcing ones organ into its previously attached state," the Dean mutters sadly—if it's that easy, every medical complications in the world would be fixed—before righting himself into a tightlipped smile. "Why are you here?"

"The pocket watch's destroyed." Jihoon can't keep it hidden forever. Sooner or later everything will start to fall apart. It already has.

There're no casualties this early before.

Dean Fogg sucks in a hefty breath, releasing alongside his working neurons. Thinking of whatever's best for their current situation.

"Have you informed anybody about our...current situation?"

Jihoon shakes his head. "No, it's best if we let Jane's vision of things takes its course."

Dean Fogg hums, "Perhaps you're right."

"But they're in danger now—aren't we suppose to protect them?" At least until the inevitable takes it's course, their decisions along the way becoming a deciding factor whether the outcome will be different.

"I might have something. I'll inform Professor Li of the situation later, he might be able to help. In the meantime, Jihoon," Dean Fogg shakily places his hand on the young student’s shoulder, expression somehow managing to convey importance without eyes animating emotions. "You'll have to stay close to them. Keep them safe."

"But—" the thought of getting closer to Soonyoung again makes Jihoon's gut grumbles in protest. After today. After everything. Jihoon doesn't think he can survive another life ending catastrophe. "Okay," he surrenders, recognizing their tight position.

Some sacrifices need to be done.

"Be careful Jihoon, with the pocket watch destroyed..." Dean Fogg decrescendos, knowing that Jihoon understands the gravity of their situation.

Whatever future decisions going to be taking place, will determine the results of their efforts.

 

◇◇◇

 

The physical kids' cottage is devoid of any sprightliness. Classes are predictably canceled for today, and college students being college students are out traversing the city somewhere. Partying, fucking, whatever. Leaving only two second years smoking, drinking absolutely horrendous cognac after realizing their bar's been raided by the others.

Seungcheol silently slithers himself between the two, eyes devoid of any emotions, contentedly accepting the flask thrusts automatically upon him. Jeonghan's left to stare.

"We need you guys to give us an alibi." Quick and to the point, Jeonghan's always been, wants to return to the dorm, quickly forgetting todays horrific experiences.

Hands caressing atop the rose-wood floorboards, Seungkwan stands first, figuring divide and conquer as the optimal method, sliding his arms around Jeonghan familiarly. "C'mon, gotta pair of tight jeans that's gonna look awesome for that asset you're hiding under that pilgrim tent."

"Wha-wait—" the distance protest of Jeonghan falls on deafly ringing ears. It hasn't stop since this morning. Every time Seungcheol closes his eyes he's left to remember the terrifying scenario. So he keeps it steadfastly open, eyeing the beautiful garden instead; complete with suggestively trimmed hedges, and mulberry bushes Soonyoung's fond of transforming into brandy. Not that it tastes particularly amazing. He just enjoys being an alcohol connoisseur.

"I really need your help," Seungcheol begins, stubbornly ignoring the look Soonyoung's boring into the side of his skull. "I really fucked up."

"What'd you two do?" Blowing smokes upwards the strategically charmed blue sky, Soonyoung watches their dances. He also can't stop thinking about the assembly.

"We tried summoning a spirit and it ended up summoning...that."

Chuckling, Soonyoung thrusts the cigarette onto Seungcheol’s awaiting fingers. "You don't know that. We've got mental cases like those happening every year. It's bound to happen."

"Somebody died."

"Which is worse than the seventeen third year students missing how?" Soonyoung rebuttals. With magic comes complications far greater than your ordinary occurrences. One student, he remembers, accidentally created shrooms that allows you vision into another—randomly chosen—dimension. It resulted into an incredible high and several students walking straight into traffic or off a bridge.

Tragedies, obviously, but not uncommon around these parks.

It's just been a while since Soonyoung sees somebody died.

"I can't get expelled, alright?—I-I—can't—I—just." Breathing in, Seungcheol tried to release the tension knotting his insides. "I can't go back, before Brakebills I was in a mental institution. If life had no meaning then just—why fucking bother?" He remembers the disappointed faces of his parents, his father in particular before he passed. Then Mingyu, who's connecting bridge he burned solely for magic. He can't return to that depressing life he once led, only knowing magic as a fantasy he reads inside childhood Fillory stories. "I can't forget about magic."

Soonyoung chuckles, nipping the bud of the cigarette onto the porch, ignoring probable fire hazard. "Before Brakebills I lived on a farm in—" Soonyoung gulps, feeling bile rise up his throat from the memory "Idaho," he grimaces. A farm boy, what a pitiful life. "Dad's a homophobic bastard, he...enjoys beating up...people." me. "And I just fucking had it one day and I thought...I thought he should stand in front of that fucking tractor my mom's driving." She wasn't paying attention anyways, broken hearted over seeing her husband in bed with another woman. "Guess what happened?"

Seungcheol observes the worry lines covering Soonyoung's features. Soonyoung has always been his senior when it comes to magic, but never once did Seungcheol regard him as older. Now, he looks older, like he'd lived lifetimes no twenty something should endure. "What?"

"He fucking did, he just walked right over and got—" a broken giggle chokes Soonyoung off. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me." Wiping away tears, Soonyoung gaze remains on the artificially blue sky. "Telekinesis is a motherfucking bitch."

They stumble into silence for a while, enjoying each other’s companionship and sentimental suffering. It's comforting to know everybody around you are as fucked up as yourself.

"I'll tell'em you guys were out partying with me," Soonyoung relents, knowing that Seungcheol's somebody he enjoys being around. "I also got a mental ward spell, it's fucking foolproof, trust me, I tested it on my magical parole officer."

Giving a small smile, Seungcheol nods, "Thanks Soonyoung."

 

The insides of the physical kids' cottage is nothing like Jeonghan imagined, simultaneously, it's predictable. It's definitely larger than the exterior will suggest; considering there are a couple dozen magician students living inside, it's to be expected. Whilst the exterior resembles a cottage similar to those you'll discover inside fairytales: whitewoods, frame by darken mahogany, and terracotta rooftop surrounding two chimneys. The interior's thankfully much more...unpredictable.

There's a bar in the middle of the living room/hang-out area. The first floor's decorated with mismatching colorful secondhand furniture, ornamental light fixtures, candles, and posters cluttering around the fireplace. A light-up sign that spells TADA brighten's obnoxiously the room. The walls are painted garishly yellow and turquoise, a modernistic pattern splashing in between the rustic atmosphere. There are also shelves stocked full of liquor bottles, some full, mostly empty. The area is lit by ambiance natural lighting, but also gaudy chandeliers, each different from one another.

It reeks of physical students, everything random albeit predictable. Hopefully, if Jeonghan lasts until the second semester, he won't receive physical magic as his discipline.

The second floor, at least offers more variety. Each room’s decorated to the owner's desire. Some apparently enjoys dark bondage and others academia aesthetic. Which is...interesting.

Of course Seungkwan leads him into the predictably trendy bedroom. Complete with maroon velvet bedsheets and a vanity. "So, this is my room." obviously, Jeonghan rolls his eyes.

Seungkwan pushes him crudely onto the bed, climbing beside him, companionably thrusting what's left of the cognac to Jeonghan who reluctantly accepts.

"So...Jeonghan Yoon, right? What's it like, having magician parents." Contrary to popular believe, muggle-born magicians take up the majority of magician population. it's rarer to come from a family of magicians.

Particularly because a lot of them are gay and or statistically die young.

"It's not as impressive as you think. My parents are a bunch of sex hippies who praises natural magic than learned ones." They also have Brakebills on a payroll, carefully concealing, constricting, Jeonghan away. That's why he never received an invitation for the entrance examination.

Swallowing down the sharp alcohol, Jeonghan grimaces. Alcohol definitely doesn't agree with his culturally sheltered body.

"You managed to get into Brakebills though," Seungkwan points.

"My parents have alumni keys."

"Which is...charmed by McNaughton's unstealable."

Jeonghan scoffs lightly, turning his head to stare an incredulous expression unwaveringly at Seungkwan. "I stole one."

"Huh." Jeonghan might be more formidable than his uninspiring attire outwardly portrays.

"Look, I'm not here for—" Jeonghan cuts himself off, not wanting to seem overly crude "What I mean is—"

-"I'll help, I'll tell them you guys were here, partying or something."

A 'thank you' not managing to slip through, Jeonghan questions, "Why are you helping me?" He suddenly turns, from his experiences life is one huge transaction. Nobody gives anything away for free.

"Because I just wanna be your friend, I guess?" Seungkwan shrugs.

"I don't feel like you do." Now he's offended Seungkwan. "Right, uhm...I apologize, just. Thanks for the alibi. I owe you or, something."

Jeonghan escapes the alice-in-wonderland esque confines, leaving Seungkwan feeling like he's dishonorable for being curious. Jeonghan's got a lot of potential for greatness, intelligence alongside beauty. It's unsurprising Seungkwan might take a bit of an interest, albeit for his own selfish purposes, surrounding Jeonghan.

But by Mayakovski does Jeonghan have zero sense of social interactions.

 

◇◇◇

 

They gather the four around the administration office, or, Professor Sunderland's domain. Fearful and miraculously covered, they wait.

"I'm probably going first," Junhui mutters before the door opens to confirm him. He flits his eyes towards Seungcheol before duplicating it towards Minghao. Two strikingly different gazes that drops a weight into Seungcheol's stomach. "Don't worry," Junhui addresses Minghao, "I got this."

Seungcheol gulps, somehow the statement doesn't comfort him.

Jeonghan interrupts through his whirling thoughts with a resting hand on his thigh. "We'll be okay."

Seungcheol's uncertain of that.

"So, Junhui, tell me everything about the beast."

Junhui's thought long and hard about this. Minghao's been experiencing his telepathic/astral projecting abilities ever since childhood. The fact that he's unaware of magic beforehand didn't prevent oddly dangerous situations from happening to him. If Minghao's memories gets erased, he'll be left defenseless in a cruel world without spellcasting to defend himself. No knowledge of mental wards, no magical coping mechanism, he'll return to square one. Who knows whatever deity-like monsters might potentially attempt to infiltrate Minghao's mind again.

Brakebills don't give a shit about this. Only Junhui does. Considering their supposed alibies are shoddy at best. Junhui's made his resolve.

Leaning back, he disrespectfully crosses his legs atop the desk before him. "Look, you don't have to beg. If you shut up I'll happily tell you everything."

Junhui returns to the waiting room pretty quickly. The look Seungcheol receives is enough to predict his destiny.

"C'mon Minghao." Junhui opens his arm, herding Minghao away from the depressing area.

Professor Sunderland peaks her head moments later to a terrified Seungcheol and a concerned Jeonghan.

"Jeonghan, you're free to leave. Seungcheol, please come inside."

There's a tempestuous gaze accompanying those words that even Jeonghan's comforting squeeze alongside reassurance can't stop the inevitable.

 

◇◇◇

 

Seungcheol ambles through campus gathering thoughts alongside stuff. He's carrying boxes out of his dorm rooms, glaring menacingly at Junhui entirely throughout. Soonyoung and Seungkwan's been silently resign, muttering their apologies and condolences.

Quite frankly, everybody can suck it. Whatever happens, at the end of the day they're not flunked. They'll still retain magic. Junhui's selfish enough to cut him off from it without getting to know the importance of Brakebills to Seungcheol. But Seungcheol's done with taking losses.

"C'mon c'mon c'mon...please Mingyu, pick up." The singular tone replaying repeatedly is driving Seungcheol bonkers. Mingyu's probably still angry at him. It's actually ironic how Seungcheol's being disconnected from magic currently when he'd done something similar to his best friend. The one he hasn't convers with in weeks. He's selfish but he'll be damned if he'll come out empty handed.

"Mingyu, here. Probably busy, so..."

Side-stepping straight to voice mail Seungcheol begs. "Mingyu, look I know I'm probably not your favorite person right now but...it's an emergency. I need to know how you remember magic," Seungcheol iterates frantically before the dial tone promptly disconnects him.

Furiously slamming the phone back into the receiver, Seungcheol's thoroughly transformed into an asshole of a student.

"Fuck!" The unsanitary surface of the metal booth sooths cooling temperature onto his temple. Seungcheol unsure he'll survive long without magic.

"Hey." The hand on his shoulder startles Seungcheol enough into tumbling backwards. "Oh, shit. Are you okay?"

Jeonghan has been the only steady companion throughout Seungcheol's grievances. But even he still leaves for classes.

"I'm not," Seungcheol grumbles, dusting himself off the ground. "I'm halfway outta your life though so who cares."

Jeonghan doesn't take the jab personally, he knows Seungcheol's hurting. Jeonghan, not particularly glorifying magic himself still couldn't imagine how life will be like without it.

"D'you want company? I remember you said you wanna say goodbye to Dean Fogg?" Jeonghan steadies Seungcheol onto his feet, slinging their arms together, grabbing the box Seungcheol's currently holding. It's a little awkward and definitely tension-filled, but Seungcheol appreciates the gesture.

"Thanks."

Walking down the stone staircase, Seungcheol's eyes hit the sunlight he's been hiding from. He forgets how sensitive eyes can get from never-ending crying.

"So, I was thinking. I'm going to find you out there, okay?—I-I can see how important magic is to you and I know you knowing magic won’t replace your experiences and studies, but—"

"Thanks, hannie." The nickname brings blood rushing through Jeonghan's cheek. The gratitude palpable through the depression.

"No problem."

Preoccupied with staring into Jeonghan's perfectly constructed eyes, Seungcheol's shoulder stumbles upon another. Sending him downwards onto the pavement, startling Jeonghan.

"Watch where you're going dumb fuck!" Junhui shouts, snickering ones he realizes it's Seungcheol. "Oh," he mutters plainly. "It's you."

"C'mon let's just go." Minghao's tugging is enough to maneuver Junhui away, but before they can escape, Seungcheol intervenes.

"You've got some fucking nerve throwing me under the bus like that!"

"Yeah?" Junhui turns unapologetically. He saved Minghao and Jeonghan, somebody needed to withstand the blame and it wasn't going to be him. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Seungcheol—"

"No!" Brushing away Jeonghan's hand, Seungcheol watches furiously the couple's retreating figure. His patients dissipating along with them.

Everything after becomes hazy. He remembers the motion his appendages take. Replaying memory of Minghao during assembly. A fist covering another. The one underneath opens and intertwining the two hands. And then...

push.

Junhui goes flying upwards, the force-field flinging him to a near willow tree.

Seungcheol, unable to celebrate, promptly fall unconscious.

Seungcheol awakens with Jeonghan and a stranger leaning over his body.

"I think he's awake."

Jeonghan spares a 'no-shit' glare towards Seokmin, shooing away the healer student, opting to sit besides Seungcheol's waking figure. Soonyoung and Seungkwan's present as well, but they're more tentatively waiting towards the side rather than completely crowding Seungcheol's space.

"Now wasn't that completely moronic," is what passes as friendly greeting to Jeonghan.

Seungcheol shakes his head gruffly, mumbling an apology but for who he doesn't know. Inspecting his surrounding he realizes he's in the infirmary, with Junhui's angry figure staring across him. Seungcheol have a few choice words he wants to throw, but Minghao's designated hand mirror's Jeonghan's own, pushing their respective person backwards and away from each other's line of vision.

"Are you in pain? I snuck in a couple Advils," Jeonghan offers.

"Oh—I also got vodka," Soonyoung inputs happily, swinging the flask in proof.

"No, I'm fine, It's just..." this changes absolutely nothing. Except now, when his memories are completely erased, he'll be unaware of his upcoming destruction if Junhui decides to take revenge. "A headache."

"Okay."

Dean Fogg alongside Professor Sunderland, graces the students who's in the infirmary with an infuriated glare, the former of whom manages to do so even without eyes.

"Who fired of the battle magic?" Professor Sunderland questions cuttingly.

"Seungcheol," Junhui mutters quickly.

Seungcheol scoffs, "Well I learned it from your fucking boyfriend so you got him to thank."

Minghao glares but otherwise remains silent, Seungcheol's has the right to be furious.

"Well you're the one who summoned the fucking beast."

"You and I both know it's not just me."

"Enough!" Dean Fogg unconventional as an authority as he is, still manages to sound bellowing and commanding at times. "From what I can see you're all responsible for this destruction. All four of you."

Jeonghan winces, both from being caught and the ill-timed unintended pun. See. Blind.

"It would do me well to flunk each and every single one of you—including you—" Dean Fogg turns to face the general direction of the two second years. "Seungkwan and Soonyoung. Aiding and abetting is still an offense serious enough for flunking around here."

The pair winces.

"But, somebody came to me imploring me for a second chance. God knows why one of my brightest students will do that considering you're all a bunch of fucking idiots, even you Jeonghan." Stepping from behind the two authority figures comes Jihoon, small stature carefully concealed throughout this time.

"I know you, you're the one who gave me the Fillory manuscript," Seungcheol points, realizing that whatever that day was probably a ploy to get him into the entrance exam.

Waving his hand Jihoon smiles tightly. "Hey."

"He's also the one who'd convince me of your...importance, so thank him."

"Thanks," Soonyoung complies sprightly before shaking his head—not the place, got it.

"However, it has come to my attention that whatever that creature that manages to step through several advance wards around the campus was, it has a vested interest in the lot of you." Inhaling briefly, Dean Fogg feels only a slight bit of remorse for enjoying what he's about to utter next. "So, for the sake of everybody's safety, we're going to have to do something that you might not like."

"Not...like?" Seungkwan pushes.

"Yes, as in you'll wish you're fucking dead instead once it's done." shaking his head, Dean Fogg musters as much empathy in his tone. "So, if you're willing."

"Yes," Seungcheol's quick to answer, anything's better than expulsion.

Dean Fogg gathers the unsuspecting students, including Jihoon, into Professor Li's basement. Preemptively knowing they'll accept the protection, every single ingredients are already ready and awaiting.

"You too, Jihoon."

"What?—No...no no no, please..."

"Well that doesn't sound ominous at all," Seungkwan whispers, there's a pretty amount of alcohol lining the shelves. Expensive liquor that Seungkwan's dying to taste by the fireplace, the only source of light in the room.

Dean Fogg sees this line of sight, grabbing the Ley Diamante Pasion Azteca Platinum Tequila, dusting it, he thrusts it upon Seungkwan.

"Seriously?"

Dean Fogg smiles, huffing, "First order of business. Everybody grab a bottle of something strong and finish it." When the others only stare, Dean Fogg claps his hands twice. "Chop-chop."

They all follow the instructions, feeling thoroughly intoxicated and staggering on their feet. Jeonghan still has his senses to ask what the hell all this is for.

"This," Professor Li answers, buzzing the needle a couple of times.

"A fucking tattoo?" Junhui asks incredulous, that doesn't seem so bad.

Dean Fogg chuckles, glad he's not the one undertaking such burden. "It's more than a tattoo. It's a spell; a very big, very intricate, very painful spell.

"Arrgggghh fucking asshole! Fuck!"

Minghao's bent over figure's been screaming unendingly these past several minutes. And out of the handful of them—he's the one who's had tattoos before.

"Fucking—arrghh—fuckity fuck, shit!"

Junhui hums in sympathy, watching the intricate pattern blossoming on Minghao's back. He does his best to keep shoveling alcohol down the other's throat, cooing, "I know baby, I know," intermittently.

Soonyoung—a giggly drunk, is left to chuckle besides an equally shit-faced Seungkwan. "Oh man, we're fucked."

Jeonghan, leaning his whole-body weight onto Seungcheol observes the two drunken mess, a little slurry himself. "Y'know things are fucked when Soonyoung and Seungkwan reaches their limit with alcohol."

Seungcheol taking a sip, hums, agreeing, agitated.

Fortunately, everything passed without any problems. Their backs are painfully burning, not even their upper-halves exposed to the chilly surrounding atmosphere helps. Whatever ingredients within that ink feels like hell-fire.

At least everything's over.

"It's not over."

"Fucking hell," Seungkwan complains. "What the fuck's going to happen now?"

Professor Li puts a halting finger in the air, before turning towards the furnace burning wildly behind them. From within, he uses his tongs, snatching something pitch-dark and wriggling.

Once revealed openly the creature shrieks, compelling everyone who's descending from their total drunkenness into grimacing oversensitively, shutting their ears.

"What the fuck is that?" Jihoon bellows over the shrieking. It resembles a puppy in shape, albeit demented and constructed of burning coal and shadows.

"This, is your protector, it'll inhabit your bodies until the beast comes and you'll ultimately release them."

"Inhabit our backs?" Soonyoung chuckles. "Oh, fuck no."

"Then all that tattooing would've been for nothing."

Somehow the entering of the cacodemons are outstandingly more painful than the tattooing process. The first contact of their cacodemons on their backs feels like the sun decided to lick up their spines, searing hotness as they lay helpless. The grotesqueness of everything emphasized by hearing the sizzling of their skin.

Seungcheol feels it shriek, trying to wriggle away from the enchantment before it finally succumbs and enters his back.

It feels like a dildo was stuck up his ass so far that he feels it inside his spine.

"It's fucking moving. It's fucking moving. Jeonghan, Jeonghan," Seungcheol grapples for Jeonghan's hand, who comfortingly reaches his.

"Oh fuck," Jeonghan mumbles sadly. He's next.

Cacodemons in and magicians thoroughly violated, comes a set of instructions.

"They're very powerful, release them and I'll assure you the beast will have something to grapple with for a while."

The releasing key is simple. They only need to say their names follow by a clear instruction that you want them free. It still feels bizarre having a semi-living powerful creature stuck inside one’s body. But the fact that they need it at all verifies the gravity of their situation and just how dangerous their opponent is.

 

◇◇◇

 

Creating a fist with his right hand, he releases it into an open tightly-wound palm. Sliding his index and middle finger over it.

Before him, hundreds of dollars begin shooting liberally from the atm machine.

"Holy shit," smiling contentedly, Mingyu snatches the wad of cash before immediately stuffing it inside his pockets.

Returning, he finds Chan conversing offhandedly with Vernon, switching opinions surrounding the book Vernon’s apparently stole from Brakebills.

Noticing Mingyu, Vernon beckons, "You got it?"

"Yeah." depositing the crumpled bills onto the metal table he entices Chan's attention, Mingyu tries copping a peak of the book. "What's that for?"

Slamming it shut, "Later." Chan glares behind him. It still unnerves Mingyu how immaculately Chan portrays a petulant teenager during Mingyu's initiation. It's almost unnerving seeing this heartless domineering shorter figure before him. "For now, you'll be only concerning yourself with practice."

"Right," sitting down, eager to learn, Mingyu disregards the other hedgewitches staring at him. He realizes how starkly different he was from everybody else.

Having been raised upper-class, he adorns expensive clothing articles frequently. The only other person matching his sensibility in clothing are the people sitting on the table. The three of them a distinct antithesis to the tumbledown garage hideout; full of leaking pipes, a strong feces odor, and dimly flickering lights. It's unpleasing to the eyes and definitely unassuming, but Mingyu knows better than to complain.

"Whatever you want me to do just shoot." Knowledge of magic, real spellwork, is what his goal's always been. So far, he's content.

Slamming a metal lock onto the table, Chan leans on his rickety seat, feet crossing over the edge of the table, throwing a book, already marked, haphazardly at Mingyu. "Open the lock," he breezily instructed.

The casting seems moderately simple. Reading whilst practicing, Mingyu touches his index and middle fingers according to the book, switching it over and over before making a pulling motion. "Odemknaut," he repeats.

The metal lock rattles but otherwise remain locked.

"Pull your fingers faster, like this," Chan demonstrates, and Mingyu follows pretty obediently.

He works on the spellcasting several times until he succeeds, to which he's diverted towards another casting, then another.

His two supervisors are thoroughly engrossed in the book, Mingyu's definitely interested himself. "Uhm, so, what're you guys planning to summon?"

Raising an incredulous eyebrow, Vernon switches to look towards the newest hedgewitch. Mingyu points to the book, "Evocatio; evoking, otherwise in Latin means—"

"Summoning. Right," Vernon finishes. Mingyu's quickly proven he's observant, adaptable, attentive, and dedicated. Qualities he knows for certain Chan appreciates.

"So, what're you summoning?"

Humming disparagingly, Chan considers telling the new initiate. Tomorrow's going to be his first real mission. If he fails Chan won’t hesitate to kick him out. It's best if Mingyu knows the stakes. "A God."

Eyes widening, Mingyu's mouth gapes. "A-a God? As in there are several—they-they exist?"

Chan nods nonchalantly. "Uh huh."

"Well shit."

"And tomorrow I'm going to need you to do something important. Something difficult, so you better flex those magic fingers now," Chan instructs and Mingyu quickly returns to the task in hand.

"What is it?"

"I'm going to fuck with your boy, Seungcheol's mind—and you're helping."

Briefly Mingyu wonders what exactly it is he's involving himself into. But between those questions, he can't make himself regret ever joining the hedgewitches

Chapter Text

Prerequisite warning; Seungcheol's absolutely grateful of his life he's lived so far. At least, during Brakebills and the sporadic positivity in between. Sometimes, his gratefulness doesn't show and the universe find it's within their responsibility to correct their error via punishment.

Waking up before, Seungcheol's thankful of his plentiful oxygen intake- the view outside, freshly fallen snow touching the darken concreate; it's beautiful, actually.

"Seungcheol." A resting hand startles Seungcheol away from his staring, a darken expression attaches to the limb. "Come with me," the nurse instructs.

Sitting across from the maniacally laughing Seungkwan, Seungcheol's headache sums up his experiences so far. Trapped inside this unending nightmare, Seungcheol's beginning to think Brakebills isn't real. But that couldn't be the case, surely.

"Seungcheol." Forcibly drawn away from his daydreaming, Doctor Constantine reaches for his attention. "How about you start for today?"

This circle session is relentless, Seungcheol thinks, adamant in breaking down his resolution.

"No."

Fortunately, whatever coherent dream creatures lurking his mind still listens to him somewhat. Doctor Constantine easily diverts the conversation onto somebody else, reassuring him it's okay not open up currently. What Seungcheol's meaning to understand is how he arrived here. Waking up, he remembers only the confines of the mental institutions. Before that, he recalls nothing of the outside world.

It's beginning to drive him insane.

Eventually releasing them, Seungcheol's able to 'relax' in the creativity bay. Being a special inpatient—apparently—he's given playing cards. Unfortunately, none of the spellcasting he's worked on during Brakebills are working.

"Seungcheol." Looking up from his frantic casting, Seungcheol finds Jeonghan worriedly staring at him. "A-are you trapped inside too?"

Hope begins filling Seungcheol's chest, leaning forward conspirationaly, Seungcheol begins whispering, "You too?"

Jeonghan hums, eyes darting from nurses to nurses. "Its been weeks, Seungcheol."

Seungcheol's eyes widen. He's certain yesterday he'd only return from classes, sleeping idly inside his dorm room. Minghao, snoring lightly across from him. He'd fallen unconscious in Brakebills and had awaken to a nightmare.

"It can't be."

Jeonghan's expression is grave, nodding reluctantly at their situation. Pointing towards Soonyoung, who's been laughing at paintings for the past several minutes, Jeonghan shakes his head. "They've gotten to him."

Surely not Soonyoung, somebody better at magic than him. "Who?"

"Come with me."

Leading him discreetly towards a supply closet, Seungcheol's pushed inside, Jeonghan joining him promptly. It's dark and suffocating, Seungcheol's hand quickly searches for any source of illumination, finding it with a flicker.

Pupils blown wide Jeonghan startles him by kissing him breathless. Fingers deftly carding through his hair, legs finding purchase hugging his midsection. Nightmare or not, Jeonghan remains attractive, and his mind's inching to wet dream territory than he won't complain. That is until the kisses becomes deeper, wilder. More frantic.

"Hurry, Seungcheol, we don't have enough time."

Pulling back, Seungcheol struggles within Jeonghan's hold. "Time? Time for what?"

"Our mating cycle's almost over."

"O-our mating...cycle...?" Pushing Jeonghan reluctantly away, Seungcheol's hopes plummets. This isn't the real Jeonghan. Nobody's stuck within this waking nightmare with him.

"What are you doing?!" The supply closet opens with a myriad of hands, searching blindly within. Jeonghan's ripped away first, Seungcheol following suite. The nurses within his nightmare has a surprisingly strong grip, Seungcheol struggles to relief himself from it. "Let me go!"

"Doctor Constantine wants to see you."

Eventually he's deposited onto a metal chair, hands chained towards the table like a criminal. He doesn't remember any of this being the institute protocol.

"Seungcheol." Doctor Constantine opens with a flurry of bullshit, telling his medication needs readjusting atop of other medical jargon. "You need to open up, Seungcheol."

"I'm not crazy!" And as he opens his mouth, saltiness floods inside. Tears have been flowing, going unnoticed by him. Whatever nightmare this is, he needs to wake up.

There's another knock at the door before a nurse peaks inside, mumbling something. Seungcheol's ears are ringing wildly, whatever conversation's happening falls steadfastly into the background. Vaguely, he registers somebody's arrived to visit him. The relief washing over him once he realizes it's Mingyu.

"Gyu?"

"Hey Cheol." Waving his hand, Mingyu looks lightyears better than his magic-crazed self before. Unable to hold it in longer, Seungcheol deposits himself within the others hold, tears spilling wildly. "Gyu, get me out of here."

Mingyu rests a comforting hand on his shoulders, stroking intermittedly. "It's okay," he mumbles.

"Please get me to Brakebills," he begs.

"Brakebills?"

Seungcheol rips himself away, this...isn't actually Mingyu.

"What's Brakebills?"

"You're not actually Mingyu."

Heads cocking confused, Seungcheol can slightly discern the details of the actual Mingyu- still, it's not precisely Mingyu.

"Cheol...you're scaring me."

"You're not real," he mumbles. "Nobody is!"

"Seungcheol, please." Mingyu's frantically trying to calm him down. Seungcheol shouts alongside endless litany of curses. Whatever this spell is, it manages to break Seungcheol thoroughly.

"Seungcheol, you need to get better, your father—" pausing, Mingyu squirms "your father wants to visit you."

And that's perhaps the cruelest thing this nightmare world's concocted so far. The false hope of his father being alive.

Eventually, visiting times's dwindles and Mingyu's instructed to leave. That's when the first hopeful sign arrives, quite unexpectedly too.

"Useless."

"Excuse me?" Seungcheol asks, incredulous, he did not just heard Mingyu say that.

Turning, Mingyu throws him a confused expression. "I didn't say anythin- useless."

"There!" He points, seeing Mingyu's face warping, molding into another, a burst of laughter ripped unnervingly from his throat before the facial expressions stops and Mingyu's back to his concerned self. "Nobody's seeing that?" He knows he's making the situation worst for himself, this incredibly detailed nightmare's not letting him breathe.

Mingyu manages to escape Seungcheol's unending question, grabbing limbs curling around him. He watches his friend running away, whilst nurses heard him towards the creativity bay. It's a nightmare. Seungcheol's absolutely positive. Hoping for the best, Seungcheol comes up with another plan.

The creativity bay consists of dully colored couches, paints and easels, carefully padded games being the only source of time fulfilling activity. Junhui, who's apparently an inpatient in his nightmare as well, is steadfastly ignoring everybody around him. Mumbling underneath his breath about someone infiltrating his head, balled up fist loosely knocking himself upside the head intermittently as his eyes stare blankly.

It's a loose chance, uncertain at best, also it's absolutely gruesome. Seungcheol's maybe Junhui's least favorite person, but taking revenge within a nightmare seems incredibly petty. Seungcheol needs to escape though.

This is how.

Coming behind the unsuspecting inpatient, Seungcheol taps Junhui's shoulder. The other flinches and Seungcheol almost feels bad for what's happening next.

This is a hallucination, he repeats, growing uncertain the more time passes. It's gotta be.

The first punch flies easily, Junhui reals, screaming for help instantaneously. Guards rushes the scene, hands gripping Seungcheol tightly, prying him loose.

The punches flies steadily harder and harder. Each pummel’s accompanied by Seungcheol silently screaming, begging for things to work. For a second, he thought nothing will happen- bloody punches thrown making his stomach queasier by the second, that is until—

"You-you fucktard, what the hell are you doing to my boyfriend?" Minghao interrupts hands flailing before realizing he couldn't touch anything there. He recuperates his posture, glancing at his surrounding curiously before scoffing. "Jesus your dream's fucked up." he shakes his head. "And loud."

"Minghao!" Seungcheol frantically shouts, ignoring the hands still grappling him and forcing him towards the ground. "Please tell me you're still at Brakebills."

Eyebrow rising, Minghao shrugs. "Yeah, I'm sleeping, so be fucking quiet." Beginning to turn, Seungcheol shouts towards his roommate again.

"No, wait, please. Find me out there and wake me up! Minghao, I think somebody's fucking with me, please!"

"Why should I do anything for you?"

Whatever qualms they have with one another Seungcheol promises silently to amend, but whatever it is needs to be put aside now. Seungcheol's desperate. "Please, Minghao, I need you, please—"

Minghao awakens with a strangled gasp, eyes bloodshot and exhausted. Looking around he remembers his location, snuggling inside Junhui's room, on his bed, whose roommate’s thankfully away. If he remembers correctly, partying in the city.

The dream seems strikingly real, but Minghao's aware of its possible loose validity.

His stirring begins waking Junhui, and he has mere moments before deciding his next course of action. "Junhui..." He begins tentatively, "I think something's happening to Seungcheol."

 

♤♤♤

 

Scarlatti Web; described as a complicated spellwork that allows the caster to conversate with somebody in a vegetative state. Mingyu can already see the endless possibilities within the spell, perhaps if time allows, he'll reconceptualize it with another spell. But currently, Mingyu's stomach's too busy doing backflips to allow any daydreaming. The occasional swerve of direction the limousine takes to circumvent traffic doesn't help either.

"You look green newbie." Eyes carefully concealed beyond an expensive pair of sunglasses, Chan's been preoccupied with examining the scandalmonger city surrounding them to notice Mingyu's grievances. Truthfully, Mingyu doesn't know how Cham can see through those sunglasses and through that heavily tinted window. Perks of being a headbitch, he guesses. "Am I wrong to think you're not up for this?"

"No!—I'm up for it, really."

"Then suck it up, we're hedgewitches. This is the least egregious thing we'll ever do," Chan turn towards the city again, not much humanity reflecting in his gaze.

It's something about revelation, how truth can sometimes become greatest unheard, because now Mingyu's second guessing himself. Is the quest to knowledge worth his best friend's waking nightmare? Mingyu's not certain anymore.

"Where are we going anyways?" Brakebills is the answer, but Mingyu's forgotten where it is. And the longer they're driving the further away they're getting from the pandemonium of the city. "How'd you even remember?"

Chan's caressing his necklace again. A peculiar thing really; rectangular in shape, with a miniscule unmoving clock in the middle. Mingyu wonders what its importance is to the younger hedgewitch.

"Less talking, more cooperative spellwork," Chan snaps his finger, regarding coldly behind the rim of his sunglasses, throwing Mingyu an unimpressed look, "How's he doing?"

"Thoroughly under." Clicking his tongue, Mingyu tastes bile rising progressively. His stance becomes rigid in the comfortably expensive car seat. Looking outwardly, the car pulls to a halt behind a darken alleyway, beyond it a forest-like area Dark and foreboading, every bit 'Brakebills' as Mingyu imagines it.

"C'mon newbie, let's break into a school."

 

♤♤♤

 

Discreetly eyeing the boisterous group, Vernon's been patiently waiting for Chan. The younger texted not too long ago that they're moving. Not quickly enough. Any minute now Dean Fogg will be concerning himself with Seungcheol, who Vernon has noticed become a teacher's favorite recently.

They're definitely not letting Seungcheol die. It releases a stir of jealousy; what is it about Seungcheol's that's gotten even his enemies bending over backwards.

"Wait, is he going to be okay?" There goes Seungkwan, with Soonyoung predictably plastered at his side and Jeonghan escorting them to the Dean's office. Apparently Seungcheol's unconscious body's too important for the infirmary.

"That's the thing, they don't know yet," Jeonghan answers, eyebrows creasing in worry, blond locks laying unkempt from the anxiety. Seungcheol's been the only person he's decently acquainted with, yet he's given the most trouble. Jeonghan almost regrets downplaying Seungkwan's friendliness.

All of that's been put to the side currently. Everybody who's involved with the beast are converging inside the Dean's office, figuring out whatever's happening to Seungcheol.

To Vernon's dismay, of course.

"Y'better get here quickly Channie," he mumbles, concealing himself again, returning to the forested area behind campus ground.

Dean Fogg will undoubtedly realize quickly what's happening to Seungcheol. Vernon can almost see Professor Li performing the casting already.

Staying behind the invisible barrier, ready to give his younger boss a tour of the campus, Vernon waits, bouncing restlessly on the crunching leaves below. Hoping they'll arrive on time.

 

♤♤♤

 

Dean Fogg's hand hovers over Seungcheol's sweating forehead, eyebrows creasing in contemplation. Everybody watches with bated breath, even Junhui, who's been thoroughly irritated by Minghao's explanation, is leaning in interest nearer to Seungcheol's unconscious body, awaiting the diagnostic.

"As I suspected."

They've spent the better part of the morning trying to figure things out, the other part used for phyisically searching for Seungcheol. It took quite a while bringing Seungcheol's unconcious body into Dean Fogg's office after finding him stuffed precariously inside the broom closet. But this matter needs to be carefully concealed from the rest of the student body. Even behind his sunglasses, Dean Fogg spares Jihoon a knowing glance.

"Scarlatti web—a, uh—bitch of a spell." Beckoning Professor Li forward, Dean Fogg steps safely away. "Let's hope we're not too late. Minghao, you'll have to astral project inside, explain to Seungcheol what’s happening. Don't let him drown within his own thoughts."

Nodding, Minghao reclines backwards in the opposite couch, body relaxing quickly. Astral projecting is a newer ability for him, it's undisputed he'll get psychic magic as a discipline. Which is...annoying.

 

♤♤♤

 

"Seungcheol, let's repeat your breathing exercises."

Strapping inpatient into an unmoving electric chair is definitely medical malpractice. It's apparently necessary for his treatment. Having fallen into several fight with thirteen different inpatients, Doctor Constantine finds it within herself to introduce shock therapy as a solution, Seungcheol disagrees.

Strapping the headgear, a belt between his lips, the projector above him begins whirling and whining it's machinery noises. Seungcheol's much prefer the padded room compared to this.

"You know why your father refuses any visitation offer, Seungcheol?"

Seething through the leather binding his teeth, Seungcheol manages his most menacing glare. "Fuck you my father's dead." Coming out gargled, more like, "Fah—yuh—ma fa ehs de." To which doctor Constantine chuckles at, the voice sounding unnaturally deep and guttural

"Oh Seungcheol." And Again, similarly to Mingyu, her face shifts erratically before settling again, beaming a somewhat normal grin.

The projection above him whirls mechanically again, demanding attention, stitching together moving pictures.

Besides him, Doctor Constantine sighs disappointingly. "Oh, Seungcheol, Seungcheol, Seungcheol..."

The repetition of this endless statement vexes Seungcheol. He keeps reminding himself of several things; it's a waking nightmare, his father's dead, and it's self-destructive to keep his hopes up.

"This is why."

Eyes remaining to the illuminated wall, Seungcheol begins discerning pictures he's regretting watching.

"My father's dead!" His video graph counterpart complains. A man that looks eerily like his father stands before him.

"Seungcheol-"

"No, my father’s dead!"

That's when his video graph counterpart launches at his father. Teeth barred and inhuman talons digging divots into the soft human flesh.

"No, stop this, please!" Fighting against the leather bounds are useless, the intermittent shocks to his temple is making it worse.

"Your father fell out of remission the day after-" head spinning to address Seungcheol, Doctor Constantine smiles almost menacingly -"and it's because of you."

 

♤♤♤

 

Minghao arrives inside Seungcheol's cognition exactly before the drill touches the other's temple.

"Christ Seungcheol, martyrdom much?"

Extending himself backwards, Seungcheol releases a sigh of relief. "Oh God, Minghao you're here. Are you getting me out?"

"Uhh...can't." Everything after this will be up to Seungcheol, but apparently if he dies, he'll go catatonic. "Look, Seungcheol, you have to fight it. This is your nightmare—your imagination."

The drilling noises are drowning whatever background shouts Seungcheol's hearing.

"Fight it!"

"Stop!" Everything besides Minghao and himself freezes, Doctor Constantine half-warped face gleans menacingly down at him. "Go away," Seungcheol breathes, and is further surprise when his expectation's followed.

Helping release Seungcheol from his confines, Minghao takes a gander before explaining the situation, leaning close to whisper just as Seungcheol releases the final strap. "Out there, they're trying to help you okay? But it won't work without your cooperation, so Seungcheol. Whatever you do remember it's a dream, okay?"

"Okay, but—"

Minghao awakens gasping for oxygen, Junhui attending to him immediately. Dean Fogg's in the middle of listing instructions, sweat beading his usually cool temple. "Alright, Professor Li, bring down the barrier."

In order for the Matarese to be summon from the underworld, the wards protecting the school from unwanted visitors needs to be deactivated. Seems egregious for a single student, but Seungcheol's worth a lot more than that.

Jihoon grips tightly his cellphone, like it's the pocket watch that he'd lost, because right now there's nothing to do but hope. Nodding discreetly at Dean Fogg, he breathes an unfortunate sigh from their shared thoughts.

Somebody's trying to infiltrate Brakebills.

 

♤♤♤

 

"So, why can't you just steal your memories back?" It seems like a backwards plan to summon a God, beseeching it for Chan's memory attending Brakebills when they're merely meters away from the special room containing boxes of memories. Why not take a detour?

Mingyu wonders where his memories are.

"Oh, trust me. I may not remember everything, but some things...they're impossible to forget" Chan rattles off, looking upwards at the invisible barrier before them. "I'm special, my memories wouldn't be contained just anywhere."

The Matarese will have about twenty minutes before completing its tasks and flies away again, Chan keeps this information tucked inside his memories as he faces fully the barrier.

They wait and for seconds the forest remains unmoving until a steadily increasing buzzing noise draws the pair of hedgewitches to glance above them. A metallic-gold looking scorpion with wings flies above their heads.

"That?" Mingyu eyes incredulously.

"Yup."

With the arrival of the Matarese, the barrier surrounding Brakebills deactivate with a flourish of illumination. Slowly, astoundingly, a picturesque scene of the campus reveals itself.

"Woaah, I've been here?" Mingyu asks disbelievingly.

Vernon, true to his promises, had waited for their arrival, hands tucked inside his pockets. "Yup," he says, walking through the barrier. "Ready for the tour?"

 

♤♤♤

 

Jeonghan watches curiously as the Matarese makes its way onto Seungcheol. Burrowing itself into his gaping mouth.

"What's happening next?" Jeonghan asks. Him, Soonyoung, and Seungkwan's probably the only people worrying for Seungcheol's wellbeing. He doesn't let it known yet, but Jihoon suspicious behaviors are beginning to caught the blonde's attention.

"Everything after this is up to Seungcheol," Dean Fogg's baritone voice explains, "it's his decision if he wants to wake up.

Soonyoung besides Jeonghan begins to squirm, knowing how mentally unstable Seungcheol still is. Jeonghan glance this movement curiously.

Fixing his glasses, Jeonghan tries not to let the anxiety incapacitate him. "Wake up, Cheol," he mutters under his breath.

 

♤♤♤

 

Seungcheol finds himself running from zombies that looks similarly like his father. Tears streaming downwards his face, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember Minghao's warning.

It's his nightmare. His decision.

Screeching to a halt, Seungcheol bravely faces the faceless monsters "Stop!" He commands finding himself between complete and utter nothingness suddenly, the image of the hallway brimming with monsters slowly dissipating into unadulterated darkness.

There's nothingness for miles, Seungcheol feels his heartbeat pounding his ear. "H-hello, is anybody—" Before the question's finished, Lights streaming down from above begins barricading him inside a tightly wound circle.

"H-hello?" He hesitantly repeats, voice echoing through the abyss. Not expecting any answer, Seungcheol jumps at the unexpected voice.

"Hello." Turning around, Seungcheol's faces a familiar opponent. "Care to play a game?" Jane Chatwin asks, signature baby-blue beret tilting curiously alongside her mischievious lopsided grin. She's not alone.

 

♤♤♤

 

Breaking into Brakebills’ library, Chan finds himself trusting Mingyu and Vernon with the lookout, leaving them posted outside the billowing double-doors.

"Don't fucking go anywhere," he warns unecessarily, only a suicidal magician would go against him in such a high-strung situation.

Obviously the second he said that, Vernon begins walking away, rigid stance deflating without any supervision, as he sets his attention elsewhere. Mingyu'll be okay anyways. Nobody's suspecting anything's amiss.

"Where are you going," the taller magician asks.

"Dean Fogg's office," Vernon explains, walking away when his elbow's seized.

Mingyu looks at him imploringly, "What? Don't leave me!"

"Mingyu—"

Aloof to the happenings outside, Chan immediately searches through the restricted sections, fingertips ghosting over dangerous spines. His time away from Brakebills, though tough and tortures, had transformed him into the incredibly thick-skinned magician standing here today.

Pandering through books, endless rows of knowledge, Chan takes in the wonderful smell of intricately crafted magic. The darken illuminated library filled with shelves made of rosewood and elk, bring forth memories just below the surface of remembrance. It gives Chan motivation to carry on.

"Fuck you, Fogg."

The restricted sections filled with enchantments is armed to the ninth, invisible barrier constricting him from moving forward. Chan scoffs, raising his arms to begin spellcasting long divisions, hoping—knowing he'll finish on time. He has to.

 

♤♤♤

 

The ghastly sight of the paling Seungcheol unnerves Vernon. Perhaps the two of them have gone too far this time. He knows Chan desires his memories more than anyone's life and summoning a God is the only feasible way to acquire those memories. But Chan's mother...

Heartless. Powerful. Vernon doubts she'll let her son have anything.

"What's happening next?" Vernon hears Jeonghan questions.

"Everything after this is up to Seungcheol," Dean Fogg's deeps voice explains, "The materese only does half the work." "What do you mean?" Jeonghan bites at fingertips anxiously. "It's like being trapped inside a prison on an island. the materese releases you from the prison, but you need to escape the island yourself. it's his decision if he wants to wake up.

If the room was ruminating in tense silence before, then its completely soundless now. knowing Seungcheols disposition for being, well...unstable, it's anybody's guess if Seungcheol wants to wake up. Judging by the tenseness om everyone's shoulder. Vernon doubts Seungcheol's chances.

 

♤♤♤

 

Vernon returns in a hurry, Mingyu acknowledging the regret immediately “wh—"

"It's not good Mingyu. Seungcheol'll probably never wake up."

This's possibly the intersection of life everybody usually refers to. Whatever decision Mingyu makes might determine everything; whether he stays within this path or exits, facing the consequences.

Seungcheol's an asshole, somebody who'd introduced him to magic and repeatedly opens his wonder. A childlike thorn stabbing his side for a better part of twenty year. Somebody he hates for almost departing this world.

Somebody he cares deeply for.

 

♤♤♤

 

Chan leaves with a flurry of disappointment. Vernon nods at his younger boss before waiting for the barrier's reconstruction, Chan's heavily infuriated expression's the last thing he witness.

Riding inside the vehicle, returning to his hidden sanctuary. Chan feels disappointment settling within his ribcage. Mingyu had had potential, and now, he's nothing.

But it doesn't matter. God-summoning book in hand, fingertips clasping his necklace, Chan readily faces his future.

 

♤♤♤

 

Mingyu's arrival startles everybody. Breaking into the office of somebody who'd probably instructed his staff to erase Mingyu's memory of magic is probably surprising.

"We know, Mingyu—if this information was given earlier in the morning then Seungcheol's chances might be greater." Eyes downcast towards the unconscious student, Dean Fogg doubts his chances. "In this state..."

"No!" Barreling through crowds of displeased students, Mingyu kneels beside his best friend. If this curse/hex revolves around will power and want, Mingyu's going to make Seungcheol want.

"Hey, Cheol," Mingyu begin, getting to his knees, fat rolls of unattractive tear blocking his features. "Remember when we were little, we use to read each other stories of Fillory?" Mingyu chuckles chokingly. "We wanted to discover Fillory."

Jeonghan watches warily to the side as the so-called best friend begins muttering stories to an unconscious Seungcheol. Something about it stirs a sting of pain within Jeonghan. Nothing the blonde prodigy completely understands quite yet.

"Well—" intertwining their hands, Mingyu bites back a hiccup "we can't find Fillory if you're dead, so—remember when Jane Chatwin met the madness maker?"

Standing a safe distance away from the young British girl, Seungcheol instead focuses on the chest board hanging upside down above him. "What's that?" He points.

Jane smiles, a hidden knowledge wittily concealed behind it. "A friend, you've met him before."

From seemingly nowhere a man, no taller than Seungcheol reveals himself. Eyes a black and white spiraling mess, hidden within a desire for chaos. Teeth glimmering iridescently underneath the lowlight, the mouth stretches, carrying a lifeless smile. A top hat towering above brunette locks completes the look.

"Madness maker."

Shuffling forward, Mingyu whispers lowly. "He likes to play impossible games with Jane—"

"—Trapping victims inside nonsensical rules," Seungcheol remembers, stepping up to pick the upside-down horse chest piece to play. "Making them go—"

"Insane," Mingyu reminds, voice going horse the longer Seungcheol's eyes remain close. "He likes to change—"

"—The rules randomly, according to his desires." Stepping forwards, the madness makes gleams, waiting for Seungcheol's move. "You can't win in an unwinnable game."

"So, it's best to re-remember," Mingyu stutters, clenching Seungcheol's fingers tightly, letting out a stuttering breath when Seungcheol squeezes back. "That you can only escape if—"

Seungcheol breathes, hearing an echoing instruction further away, bouncing around the dark emptiness. He nods at it, releasing the tiny horse piece. "If you don't play at all."

Throwing his fists upwards, Seungcheol knocks the upside-down board, play pieces shattering like glass as the madness maker shrieks silently.

Seungcheol's done playing this game.

 

♤♤♤

 

"Come in," Dean Fogg beckons their unwelcomed guess.

Seungcheol's given recovery days away from classes. If succumbing through a traumatizing magical event doesn't warrant school credit than Dean Fogg doesn't know what does.

Mingyu’s egregiously tall, timid stature contradicts itself throughout his walk inside. Head downturn demurely after being stuck inside Professor Sunderland's office, who've been secretly testing the young magician's aptitude.

Folding his hands impatiently over his desk, Dean Fogg directs his blind staring to address Mingyu. "Do you know your spellcasting nearly killed Seungcheol?"

"I-I'm aware," Mingyu stutters, picking at his fingernails anxiously.

"Then why, please explain, did you do it?"

Mingyu takes a second to answer, but when he did it's apparent in desperation and selfishness, Dean Fogg hums in acknowledgement.

"Are you going to erase my memories again?"

Dean Fogg surprises Mingyu when the older chuckles. "Oh God no. Whatever the fuck you do outside is whatever the fuck you do outside. You'll have to live remembering you almost murdered your best friend and you betrayed your only source of magical information, but, hey...it's your life isn't it?"

Hunching impossibly inwards into himself, Mingyu mumbles an apology.

"Tell that to Seungcheol."

"Of course. So...am I dismissed now?"

Dean Fogg regards the familiar person before him. In another lifetime, where he himself hadn't wrong this young magician, the two would've gotten along swimmingly. Now as they currently stand between a unbreakable barrier he'd created, everything's a middle ground.

"For now, classes start on Monday. You'll have to endure several examinations for missing credits. And if you fail, you'll have to repeat the semester. Am I clear?"

Mingyu gapes in shock, he's surely hearing things incorrectly. "D'you mean—"

"Correct, Mingyu," Dean Fogg says, exasperated. "You're enrolled into Brakebills."

Chapter Text

Seungcheol comes out of Professor Sunderland's office rather scatterbrained and disorganized. Left reeling after the annoying, yet somehow, predictable answer of, "Correct, you don't have a discipline," Seungcheol groans, falling out of step of the quick-footed Seungkwan and Soonyoung. They themselves have been busy preparing for mentors. Brushing up on their basic techniques and appealing to the rarities.

"It's not uncommon for magicians not to know their discipline yet," Seungkwan comforts, knowing most of the physical kid's cottage is filled with outliers. "It sometimes depends on emotional stability or...y'know..."

"Maturity," Soonyoung supplies shamelessly, earning a pinch to his midsection.

"Great," Seungcheol mutters, "I'm not fucking mature then."

The way Dean Fogg had hyped disciplines too, makes Seungcheol wants to discover his.

"We test to discern your Discipline. Your area of concentration. It is what you are, and with the right guidance, you may safely rise to unknowable heights"

Professor Sunderland had examined his expertise on spellcasting, which he passes, unremarkably so. Leading her to throw playing cards at him, imploring him to halt its movements which he couldn't do. Then promptly drop a bonsai, root-barred and all, onto Seungcheol's awaiting palm.

"Come on," She had muttered, tapping her foot impatiently. "Do something!"

"I'm not a naturalist!" Seungcheol defended, earning a glare and a mumble of 'obviously' before being sent away unrewarded.

"Better luck next time kiddo," Soonyoung placatingly pats, before the two party mongers disappear into the library.

Seungcheol's about to turn away, dejected when Mingyu startles him. "Seungcheol," he breathes, eyebrows creasing, "Can we talk?"

They choose an area underneath a liberally sized willow tree, shading them from the beating summer sun. The atmosphere bringing them both back to their long-standing history together. Childlike wonders playing pretend.

Now they're old, cynical.

They've muttered their apologies, accepted them, but nothing since ever reverted them to their previously tight knit friendship.

"So, knowledge student, huh?"

Mingyu was aptly examined by Dean Fogg. The first thing he instructed, accompanied by a knowing smile, is a series of magical spellwork that Mingyu passes with flying colors. Literally.

"Meta-composition," Dean Fogg explained. "You don't only understand the theories behind the spell, you're able to reshape them."

The refracting lights dancing through the corners of the classroom grows brighter by the second. After indulging themselves in the beautiful sight, Mingyu returns the rainbow back inside his palms.

"Knowledge student," Mingyu concluded.

"Part Psychic, part Physical. There really is no branch it doesn't touch upon. The summarized version; you are fascinated, mind and body, to the discovery of magic," Dean Fogg happily explained, a prideful forlorn expression etching his features, as if remembering a time that never happened.

Stepping back, Mingyu felt guiltiness racking through his body. Having almost killed his best friend using magic, should render him forever unworthy of wielding it. Instead, he got accepted. "I shouldn't do this—I—magic is a drug. It makes you hurt people." Which isn't exactly a false statement with the way he's been treating the craft.

"Mingyu, the reason you treat magic like a drug, is because people that taught it before acted like drug dealers. They buy it, sell it, they fight over and they fuck for it. Well, that's not the only method to live."

Mingyu gratefully accepted the statement. Moving into the attic above Brakebills Library, where his discipline resides. It's aptly positioned considering their hankering for knowledge.

"So, without a discipline, where'll you..." Mingyu trails, not wanting to offend Seungcheol.

The tactile, superfluous nature, is greatly accepted. At least this factor, Seungcheol’s readily accepted without further complaints. "Physical kids' cottage." With their discipline's rarity alongside the enchantment that allows the building to unendingly grow according to occupants, the wayward magicians often reside there.

"That's cool."

It doesn't really matter. Seungcheol has a gazillion things to look forward to whilst attending Brakebills. General studies aren’t included in that statement, but the sentiment still stands.

Seungcheol's made it, with Mingyu, his best friend. Their eight-year-old selves have been dreaming about this since forever.

"Fucking magic school," Seungcheol chuckles, slumping familiarly sideways to his gigantic best friend.

"Wait, how'd you get a approved to skip a whole semester?"

Mingyu shrugs, displacing Seungcheol's cheek from his shoulder. "Hedgewitches' studies are transferable apparently."

They share a laugh, jokingly poking fun of one another misfortune before Seungcheol shuts up promptly. Eyes widening and back straightening.

Jeonghan walks swiftly, unacknowledging the two, accompanying an older woman whose features are similar to the young prodigy.

Seungkwan and Soonyoung who Seungcheol’s thought are studying in the library trails behind the pair discreetly, shoving at one another, Mingyu chuckling at their antics. But Seungcheol's too preoccupied with Jeonghan; the other boy's wearing a thin white blouse, loose around his shoulder, giving everybody who glance a sliver of skin. Round glasses perched adorably at the edge of his button nose, and blonde slightly tussled locks framing an annoyed face as Seungcheol vaguely registers him explaining something to his...grandmother.

"Go talk to him," Mingyu nudges, noticing Seungcheol's unwavering gaze. Jeonghan he's gotten quite acquainted with during Seungcheol's resting period. The other seems apathetic and displeased with his sudden appearance, and by the worry frown the blonde had sported for Seungcheol, Mingyu can guess why.

Seungcheol follows Jeonghan towards the café, feeling like a creepy stalker for not being brave enough to spark a conversation. The grandmother eventually walks away, Soonyoung and Seungkwan tripping over their feet to follow her.

That's when Jeonghan halts his walking, allowing Seungcheol to catch up.

"You're incredibly preceptive," Seungcheol notes, Jeonghan shrugging.

"Lunch?" The blonde asks, garnering a grumbling response from Seungcheol's stomach.

The school café is something quite niche to the student who frequently goes. With modernistic neon lights framing the edges of each wall. It's simple and the food, plentiful and delicious. Students frequents there, though, for its Wi-Fi.

"What are you researching?" The adamant tapping finally getting Seungcheol's attention.

Jeonghan spares him a glance beyond the rim of his glasses and contemplates telling Seungcheol.

"Joshua," he settles on explaining. "I'm not giving up on him."

And its a given, without any physical promises that Seungcheol’ll eventually help, but right now they're busy with second semester preparation.

"You found a mentor yet?" Seungcheol questions, knowing that Jeonghan probably has loads of offers.

"Uh huh, many, but I'll probably ended up sticking to my grandmother."

So that's why Seungkwan and Soonyoung was adamantly following.

"You?"

"Oh, uh, no," Seungcheol chuckles, self-consciously rubbing at his neck. "Nobody wants a nothing-mancer."

Jeonghan grins, amused. "Nothing-mancer?"

"My discipline, I have none."

Jeonghan shrugs, like it's not a particularly large set-back for a budding magician. "It's a segregative system anyways. It's not like there's no possibility of it manifesting later on."

"Right, maturity."

"And mental stability," Jeonghan finishes. "Mine isn't particularly amazing either."

Seungcheol leans curiously. "What is it."

Sticking his hands onto the direct stream of sunlight, Jeonghan begins moving his appendage until Seungcheol can't see it anymore.

"Woah."

"Phosphoromancy—physical magic, I bend light," Jeonghan explains.

"That's amazing." Physical magic has always drawn Seungcheol's interest the most. The discipline seems tangible and elusive, something Seungcheol can sink his teeth into.

"There are better studies," Jeonghan brushes, be himself preferring knowledge or maybe herbology.

Eventually they make their ways back to the physical kids' cottage. Their luggage already transported seamlessly inside. Unfortunately, people neglected to tell them the key.

Snatching the post-it notes from the wooden entrance, Seungcheol reads, "Let yourselves in bitches," he deadpans.

Jeonghan inspects the note before giving up. "Hazing, seriously?"

Seungcheol shrugs.

Great.

Fucking magic school indeed.

 

♡♡♡

 

"Our lady underground," the headwitch reads, caressing her son's cheek with her talon-like nails, glistening teeth shining in the lowlight. To anyone, she looks gorgeous. Standing at six feet tall, without the stilettos. Hair cascading down healthily in silky darkness.

To Chan. She's his mother.

"Well done baby." Pinching his cheeks between slender fingers, she shakes his jaw condescendingly before moving to access the statues, milk, and gold coins Chan and Vernon’s acquired for the summoning.

Vernon's been a source of moral support throughout the younger hedgewitch grievances. Preparing for the summoning—god summoning, has been quite stressful. Having observed Jeonghan failed summoning, taking notes on errors and making renovations. Collecting offerings throughout the seediest corners in the city's underground. Everything been challenging. Vernon's also been preoccupied with overseeing disciplines and placement tests.

A queromancer, a rarity within the magical community, he remembers taking the test. His proficiency in searching for objects been taken advantage of ever since, especially searching for those offerings. It was still difficult.

It's nothing though, compared to preparing for Chan's mother.

With eyes brimming with deceitfulness and arrogance, casting downcast glares below her. To her own son. Her highest-level honor has deconstructed whatever's motherly within her, into an insidious monster.

Chan loves her.

"Apparently she grants whoever partakes in summoning her one wish each." Chan's voice is unwavering, but his downcast eyes before his own mother makes goosebumps crawl up Vernon's spine.

"Apparently?" She drawls, stilettos clicking intimidating circles around her slightly quivering son.

"I know."

Patting his head condescendingly, she finally reveals her eyes by pocketing her Chopard sunglasses (no doubt stolen). "That's right, baby, you know."

Baby—the term of endearment turns into a symbol of condescension passing through her lips. These types of moments are the times Vernon wants to ship Chan away, beseeching sanctuary to Dean Fogg and Brakebills' board of directors.

"Alright then, let's begin."

The thing is, Vernon doubts her validity as a level 250 hedgewitch. A master magician? Who's never casted anything decent throughout the time Vernon knows her.

She's definitely proficient enough to convince everybody else, but a master magician? Vernon seriously doubts that.

Circling the candles, pomegranate, the vial of truly vile-smelling liquid; the hedgewitches chants according to the book. Their heads ducking down in respect, eyes mostly closed.

Except for the headwitch, her imperious upturned nose sniffing the oxygen above her.

If Vernon had the balls, she'd be dead.

Except he doesn't. He's only grateful for the opportunity to nullify his contract with said headwitch. He's positive Our Lady Underground is capable of that.

Their chants drawls longer than expected. Them standing around for hours, perspiration sweating through their foreheads contributing to the dampness of the hideout.

"Why isn't anything happening?" The bored snooty tones accompanied by an accusatory glare towards Chan, who shrinks before her.

The difference between a failure of a summoning and a successful one, Chan had discovered, is their believes in them.

Jeonghan believed that Joshua will answer his prayers. But the other three was along for the right.

Chan’s impart this knowledge to the other hedgewitches, who easily follows their leader's instruction. They themselves wanting their wish granted.

The problem is her.

"You have to believe," Vernon speaks out, earning a curious brow in return.

"Oh?"

"You have to have faith, that's what the book instructed." you would've realized that if you'd bother to read it beforehand, is what Vernon wants to shout.

Scoffing, she snatches her hands haughtily from her underlings. Effectively breaking their circles. "Believing in anybody but myself is beneath me," she spits, Vernon reeling from the attention.

"It doesn't specify who you should believe in," Chan clarifies.

Sneering the headwitch reluctantly returns to the circle. The two youngest hedgewitches apparently finds strength in only one another.

"Alright," Chan begins, "Goddess, Our Lady Underground. We beseech you for your graceful presence. We implore you to grant our wishes." The chanting echoes through the entire hideout, even the headwitch is repeating it.

When their object of summoning eventually arrives, it’s something similar to a wind passing by. Not noticing anything; the changes inside the room, the temperature steadily decreasing, their oxygen depleting. What catches their attention is Vernon's obnoxiously loud gasp.

"The fucking statue's crying milk," Vernon shakily points.

"Now is that anyway to beseech as goddess?"

Every single head snaps quickly towards the source of the voice. Who they see is somebody no older than thirty, swaying softly within her summer dress.

She walks barefooted towards the middle of the circle, leaning in closer towards the offerings before sighing greatly. "Oh great, I answer the wrong call."

"A-are you Our Lady Underground?" Chan stutters, earning a massive glare from the supposed goddess.

"That bitch, has been on hiatus for like, two millennia now—lazy whore," she whispers the last part. "But I'll grant you one wish if you give me an offering."

The mention of wish granting garners the headwitch's attention. Eyes gleaming with greediness she barrels over her underlings taking a step forward. "What do you want?" She asks. Something in her tone disconcerts Vernon, compelling the young hedgewitch to maneuver closer to Chan.

The Goddess smiles, endless rows of sharpen incisors revealing itself, displaying her divinity "I'm hungry," she hisses, eyeing everybody surrounding her. "Bring me flesh of a magician." Stepping forward, she encircles the headwitch who shrinks visibly under the unyielding energy. "Somebody you love."

Eyes cutting quickly towards Chan, Vernon realizes what's about to transpire. "Chan!" He shouts. He shouldn't have, because her skilled telekinesis quickly pushes Chan inside the circle, dropping the younger vigorously with a thump.

"I—" he begins before his mother shouts. "I want unlimited power."

Of course, Vernon thinks, predictable.

The demon-lady-like goddess rounds uncaringly towards Chan. Quickly skidding before the younger, Vernon tries his damndest to shield the younger away.

"Vernon?" Chan breathes, almost disbelievingly.

Unfortunately, a lowly magician isn't any match for a goddess. Sending his backwards with a flying backhand, Vernon watches helplessly as the goddess sinks her teeth within the delicate flesh. Withdrawing a blood-curdling shriek from the youngest.

The sanctuary descends into chaos. Hedgewitches trampling over one another in an attempt to escape. Leaving only a bleary-eyed Vernon, the headwitch, and Chan.

Vernon needs to do something. anything.

Apparently though, truth always prevail.

Spitting the sizzling blood onto the concrete ground, the goddess stands with thunderous fury illuminating her eyes. "I said somebody you love!" She bellows rounding over towards the trembling headwitch.

She's not slightly remorseful, Vernon realizes. Her concern nowhere touching her features. The only thing she keeps repeating is, "Well he's my son!" Like it's the marker of love.

But Vernon realizes he cold-heartedness even before he agreed to their spell-binding contract. Noticing the opportunity, Vernon stands unsteadily to his feet, running quickly towards Chan. "Please," he whispers to the younger. Knowing the solution is within Chan.

"Well," the goddess begins, her voice steadily succumbing into intimidation territory. "Nobody's getting their wish today, but I still want. That flesh and if nobody gives it to me then-"

"Chan loves his mother!" Vernon interrupts, eyes squeezing tightly.

Scoffing, the goddess turns around. "What am I supposed to remember who those people are?" Shaking her head, she impatiently waits.

Chancing a discreet glance towards Chan, observing the blood trailing liberally downwards the other's neck, pooling within his collarbone, Vernon finds his motivation. There's terror shattering his eyes, but the emotion Vernon notices the most is betrayal. "Please," Vernon pleads, the offering can only be validated by somebody who's willing to sacrifice their love ones.

"Well?" The goddess questions. It's terrifying how such a divine creature can rapidly switch between unbothered asshole into a menacing monster.

Grabbing Chan's balled up fist, Vernon tries his best to convey comfort towards Chan. They're not surviving this if Chan's unwilling. "Please," he whispers again.

And his eyes must've reverberated something motivational because the younger hedge's eyes harden, hands coming up to his bleeding neck like it's nothing. Without missing a beat, eyes still boring onto Vernon's, he mutters, "I offer my mother to you."

The two held their gazes, maintaining their fragile sanity.

Blood-curdling shrieks reverberates within the echoing confines of the sanctuary. It's painful enough to deter anybody within earshot of the area.

Bones crunching’s followed by another hair-raising scream. Never once do their eyes travel away from their boring gazes.

Eventually the shrieking seizes and there was nothing but silence.

"Alrighty," the goddess mutter before snapping herself away.

That's when Chan finally breathes—hyperventilates, crawling uselessly towards Vernon and burying his face within his neck.

The only thing leftover of Chan's mother is a single finger, and a loose piece of flesh.

"Oh God," Chan sobs, hiccupping onto the elder’s shoulder.

By now, Vernon guesses guilt has started agonizing the younger hedgewitch. Every hiccupping—hitching breaths within the younger's voice manages to tremble Vernon's unwavering shoulder. "You did what you have to do." A sentiment frequently repeated amongst the hedgewitches. 'You did what you had to.' 'It's not your fault.'

'I sacrificed my goddamn mother, Chwe," Chan growls, "it doesn't get more treacherous than that."

Chan spent their minutes sobbing before the hedgewitches begins flocking back towards their headquarter, having no other places to return to.

And curiously, the damndest thing happens.

Vernon observes as Chan, unsurely but steadfastly, launches to his feet. His hiccupping diminishing into dull hitches of breaths every now and again. Jaw clenching tightly, white-knuckled fist denting crescent moons into his flesh, Chan sticks his neck impossibly higher.

It's more leader-like than that supposed loving mother/magnanimous guardian ever was.

With the headwitch decease, Vernon's contract’s finally nullified. But now, staring upwards at his younger friend, he finds himself not wanting to leave.

you will.

A dull chuckle reverberates through Vernon psyche. So brief that he doesn't register it before it's too late.

Something previously hijacked the summoning. Gripping his mental cognition. Undetectable yet by Vernon's conscious body.

Vernon's preoccupied with staring up at Chan. Standing impossibly tall, like his mother wasn't just annihilated in front of him.

Swallowing a particularly sizeable knot, Chan straightens his posture. "Back to work!"

 

♡♡♡

 

The door finally opens, Seungcheol reaching a hand through the sizable whole and wincing.

"Metal gets hot when you heat it up, Seungcheol," Jeonghan teases. Which doesn't seem fair because Seungcheol ultimately masterminded their entrance.

Just in time; the sun's about to hide between their particularly towering trees. Using Jeonghan's discipline they melt their way in. Ingenious.

Stepping inside, the familiar occurrences are on display. Todd hanging upside down with a bottle of Hennessey pouring down his throat, trying terribly desperately to fit in. Every other physical kid are either floating, making somebody else float, or lazily floating their alcoholic beverages from the counter. Point is there's a lot of floating.

"Phosphoromancy bitches!" Seungcheol announces, arms wide for the sake of garnering everybody's attention. Everybody cheers drunkenly and Seungcheol allows himself a momentary showering of pride before Jeonghan yanks him upstairs.

They find their room linked with a door between them. Probably curtesy of Seungkwan and Soonyoung. The two's been pushing Jeonghan and him together recently, in absence of their own potential romantic relationship.

"Welp, everything's here, “Jeonghan doesn't know what he's expecting. He's incredibly particular of his luggage and the appearance of his dorm room.

The awfully rotten-egg color chinoiserie-patterned wallpaper needs to go. Jeonghan's certain he'd come across decorating spells before. The individual room ward protection needs to be erected immediately, especially with the threat of the beast. And the old-timey vanity in the corner's giving Jeonghan the creeps.

The study-desk is apparently rearranged perfectly to emulate his previous dorm room. Something he appreciates. The wardrobe is also carefully color-coded, but that's probably Seungkwan.

Finding everything in order, anything left are the two magicians awkwardly standing inside Jeonghan's dorm room.

"So..."

They ended up sitting leaning against one another on Jeonghan's bed that's tremendously bigger than their previous ones.

"I wonder if the knowledge students get the same bed," Seungcheol muses. Knowledge students doesn't have the luxury of an ever-expanding cottage.

From the mention of knowledge students, Jeonghan squirms minutely beside Seungcheol. Hands clenching harder on one of Seungkwan's bejeweled bottled he hides from everybody else. They'll make it up to the boy later.

"Seungcheol..." Jeonghan inhales, almost shaking his head before thinking better of it. "So, Mingyu's your best friend?"

Seungcheol doesn't know much of the interactions the others had with his—apparently—former hedgewitch friend whilst he's in a perpetual semi-coma. All he's informed is that everybody knows of Mingyu, but nobody particularly likes him. Which is understandable. Classical students and Hedgewitches has a long-standing rivalry spanning a better part of the millennia.

Jeonghan hates Mingyu though.

"Yeah, well...we're working our way back up," Seungcheol strategically answers. Sipping the horribly fruity champagne. "We sorta betrayed each other." Pressing his finger contemplatively on the tiny incandescent Swarovski crystal, Seungcheol's amused of the little divots it creates on his thumb.

Preoccupied with this, Seungcheol doesn't realize Jeonghan hasn't been talking for a while. Chancing a glance, he sees Jeonghan gripping tightly his bunny memorabilia. Looking equally as contemplative as Seungcheol probably was.

"Before you say it's a terrible idea, I'm going to try summoning Joshua again." Learning his lesson is one thing. Not dying from it is another. Besides, learning from experiences is the blonde's specialty.

Jeonghan doesn't particularly give a fuck about his fleeting mortality. He's not exactly personable. Before this he'd been home-schooled. Seungcheol's the only person who'd actually stayed after all his aggressiveness, perhaps that's why the other's opinion is as scathing as it feels.

Nipping the bud beforehand seems reasonable.

"Then I'll help." Seungcheol's tone allows no sort of argument. Not that Jeonghan's meaning too. Seungcheol's decision is completely Seungcheol's decision.

Never mind the minuscule fear creeping up Jeonghan's spine from the thought of getting Seungcheol hurt.

"Y'know you're quite interesting." Squirming against Seungcheol, Jeonghan finds the other's body heat plastering his side. He doesn't quite hate it. "What d'you get from helping me?"

Looking up, Jeonghan discovers Seungcheol's face has inched it's way closer. The self-proclaimed nothing-mancer's breath fanning over his, giving off heat that knotted his stomach.

"N-no-nobody that I know ever does things for themselves," Jeonghan explains, because Seungcheol's looking at him like he'd grown up abused. Which is incredibly hypocritical knowing Seungcheol's literally been admitted into a mental institution. "They always want something."

"Except for Joshua?" Seungcheol asks, a darkness within his gaze that the blonde finds himself wanting to fall into an simultaneously push away.

Gulping, Jeonghan whispers, "Except Joshua."

Neither recognizes they're both leaning until the soft-plush feel of a pair of lips registers in their mind. Choices, actions, needs to be taken after. Whether to push or to pull is completely up to the subjects involved.

For Seungcheol the answer's simple.

Grabbing Jeonghan behind his neck, he draws the blonde closer, feeling their teeth clacking whenever they inhale. Jeonghan's lips are warm, Seungcheol noted, a hint of strawberry chapstick layering it that the other no doubt uses strictly for practical usage.

Kissing Jeonghan feels like a fresh start. Something Seungcheol's been pining desperately since his father's death. The one he's been repeatedly denied of.

So, he intertwines his finger into Jeonghan's perfectly silky hair, his other hand gripping Jeonghan's hip. Together, he tugs harshly at both of them, finding purchase to get them closer. Eliciting a breathy groan from Jeonghan. Taking the chance, Seungcheol introduces tongue that Jeonghan seems to revel before he finally pushes Seungcheol away.

Honestly, Seungcheol thinks Jeonghan wouldn't have let him in the first place.

Jeonghan will be lying if he says he doesn't faint their reverberating panting echoing throughout the still mostly barren dorm room hot. The sweat glistening the raven-haired boy truly an amazing sight to see against the glittering sunlight.

Everything about Seungcheol polarizes Jeonghan in ways the blonde’s completely confused himself. Being the intelligent person, he is, he knows it probably stems from childhood trauma, neglect, a traumatizing death, yada-yada-yada. But the fact of the matter is-

"You can't do this," Seungcheol finishes Jeonghan's thoughts— which is—God, super attractive, but—

"No, I can't. Not until—" choking on his emotions, Jeonghan distracts himself by occupying his hands with straightening the fly-aways in his hair.

Leaning closer, Seungcheol maneuvers Jeonghan closer by the wrist delicately. Feeling the other easily going with his motion, until Jeonghan's blonde head of hair is tucked underneath Seungcheol's chin. "Joshua," Seungcheol finishes again, swaying the blonde softly, rubbing the other's back.

"I need closure." Jeonghan doesn't realize he's crying until he recognizes the tell-tale saltiness blooming his tongue.

He doesn't know why he's crying.

"You'll get it. I'll make sure of it."

Perhaps it's because his god-awful parents never allowed him to mourn his best friend's passing. Burying the manner of death atop a horrible mystery. Forcing Jeonghan to find solace in mourning in a loose acquaintance's arms, who's beginning to become more than Jeonghan bargained for.

He doesn't despise it.

 

♡♡♡

 

Soonyoung's fine.

Seungkwan's angrily glaring at him, intermittently pausing this glowering by taking a tequila shot. But Soonyoung's fine.

He's fantastic.

He's tongue-deep in another student's throat, and it doesn't feel bad. Only sparing a glance outward when Junhui blows open the door when everybody refuses to open it for him. Hazing the freshmen are a ritual after all. "Fucking psychos!" He shouts, before running upstairs, effectively away from Soonyoung's attention span.

Seungkwan's still scoffing though.

"Burying your feelings won't result in anything!" Seungkwan bellows, but what does he know. His preferable method has always been hook-ups, whilst Soonyoung's is alcohol. They've simply switched today.

Pushing away the warm body he's draped himself ungracefully over, Soonyoung makes an attempt to look the other dead in the eyes. "What's your name again?" Soonyoung's knee-deep in Hoberman's enchanted carrot cake, and everything feels slightly like a hallucination.

"Seokmin—I uh—I'm usually practicing in the infirmary."

Right. The hot nurse, Soonyoung always though he'd fuck or whatever which way around. But that was before Jihoon.

The fact that Soonyoung stayed away from hook-up solely because of an unconfirm relationship is pretty miraculous. Today, he'll obliterate his streak.

"Well Seokmin, wanna fuck?"

Fumbling their way inside Soonyoung's dorm room, shirts quickly discarded, they make a b-line towards the bed. Pushing Seokmin onto it- like- literally. With his mind. Soonyoung tumbles uncoordinatedly himself. Positioning atop of Seokmin, thighs splayed either side of the other's mid-section.

Seokmin tries to maneuver him into a comfortable position, but Soonyoung steadfastly refuses. The fuck. He's not about to move, he's too lazy for that.

Their lips meet gracelessly, Soonyoung slipping on his palms, nearly headbutting Seokmin. But their lazy make-out continues until buldges are tenting their pants. To which Soonyoung drunkenly claps to.

"Fucking yes- finally." Slurring his words, Soonyoung fumbles with the button of Seokmin's pants. And being the somewhat sober one of the two, Seokmin seizes his movements.

"Wh—"

"You okay?"

Sighing, slumping onto his mismatching crochet blanket, Soonyoung knows there's no fucking or being fucked today. His energies depleting anyways.

Leaning against his arm, Seokmin maneuvers himself into a comfortable position hovering over Soonyoung. "You're swaying, I thought I should be responsible for once," Seokmin explains earning a hum as an answer.

Soonyoung's preference from warm lighting and rustic interior casts the golden shadows onto Seokmin's features. It's ashamed he hasn't tap that yet. "Whatever, I stopped drinking so I can fuck," jutting out his bottom lip, Soonyoung makes it a point to look petulant as possible. "I'm not getting fucked, am I?"

Shaking his head, Seokmin chuckled at elicited response. "I'm guessing either heartbreak or like...exams, but I heard you're pretty good in your classes."

Scoffing, Soonyoung rolls over, barely managing it with how lazy its. Arm motioning wildly at his bedside drawer, it rattles before a water bottle shoots right into Soonyoung awaiting palm. Chugging it, he disregards the droplets dribbling onto his bed - it was supposed to be soaked anyways

Seokmin eyebrows rises, "Impressive."

Soonyoung grins mirthlessly, "Well I'm here to entertain." tracing an uncontrollable finger onto the other's chest, Soonyoung mumbles, "At least a blowjob should happen."

Seizing the other's finger, Seokmin tries his best not to come off as an overly friendly stranger. But he figures the both of them are probably using the other for exactly the same reason. "My boyfriend died today like a year ago."

Soonyoung withdraws then, "Oh shit," me mumbles surprise, before righting himself, clearing his throat. "This isn't going to be an impromptu therapy session is it?"

"It doesn't have to be. I don't wanna take advantage of you, is all."

Soonyoung dismisses the other with a light scoff. Taking advantage of him is practically impossible.

"Fine," relenting, Soonyoung finds it best facing away from his opponent. It provides a needed partition between him and the incredibly hot truth-monger behind him. "Y'know that like, monster thingy that killed Professor Van Der Weghe?"

"Yeah—wait you were there?"

It's important to note that quite a handful (like...forty percent) of Brakebills students manages to escape the horrendously drawn out assembly before the beast visited them. Lucky bastard."

"Yes you fuck, it wasn't a pleasant experience so you cockblocking me right now is cruel," slapping blindly behind him, Soonyoung hears Seokmin chuckles, promptly gasping when Soonyoung manages to hit his groin.

"Ow—fuck—fine, I'm sorry."

Seizing his slaps, Soonyoung figures it's better to rip the band aid of quickly. "I stole a bag from my crush and like, the fucking monster destroyed it. And like, I think he has something to do with all that, cause there was this secretive bullshit with Dean Fogg and—" Soonyoung gasps, turning around, eyes as wide as possible for him "D'you think he's fucking Dean Fogg."

Leaning in, Seokmin cups the other's cheeks, eyes equally as wide. "You're drunk."

Smacking his lips, Soonyoung pushes away, slumping back down like a stingless puppet “m'just saying."

Seokmin nods, now they've exchanged their unequal baggage, it's safe to say they're finally on equal grounds. And despite acting like it, Soonyoung seems to be sobering up. Figuring alcohol poisoning isn't in the other's future anytime soon, the only thing to occupy the time is- "This is purely fucking."

"Or a blowjob," Soonyoung shrugs, "M'not picky."

"Great, cause I don't wanna think about my dead ex-boyfriend on the anniversary of his death."

"And I don't wanna think about my potential boyfriend hating me for apparently destroying some sort of valuable object."

Nodding they both agrees, purely, unadulterated physical attention. Fucking. "Perfect."

"Fantastic," Soonyoung huffs.

They ended up passing out, limbs messily entangled well into the break of morning when they send each other away with a messy handjob, managing to traumatize Seungkwan—who'd visited to make sure his best friend hadn't choke on his vomit—forever.

 

♡♡♡

 

Apparently located by the Metaphysics Center and Telekinesis and Psychokinesis Building on the southwestern quadrant of campus, there's a place called The Consciousness Building. Which is apparently where Minghao will reside from henceforth. Fantastic.

"So in here we do our routine breathing exercises and meditation and oh—" Motioning to the crying girl in the corner, Professor what’s-her-name, offhandedly swats her away. "dear, crying isn't allowed between seven to three."

"But it was so sad."

The coo-coo Professor sighs, reprimanding her again for good measures. "She's been following the mind of a cancer patient," the professor whispers to Minghao who steps back accordingly.

"Lady, I don't give a fuck."

The rest of the tour transpires predictably uneventfully. Minghao being given a meditation chamber himself. Which basically means a tent, with vibrantly colored Kalamkari shawls, draped into a roof shape. It's somewhat distracting. The cushion he's currently perched on is also musty.

At least the attic-like space has a liberal amount of sunlight. The stain-glass windows providing innumerable array of colors, the amuses Minghao quite a bit.

"Okay, Minghao, being a psychic, you'll have to—"

"—Meditate. I know, I've been literally doing that all my life." At least, before he realizes Benzodiazepines exists.

Smiling tightly, the hippy grandma-esque Professor eventually leaves Minghao. It's a rarity for Psychic's to have such an obtrusively annoyed personality, most of them cries whenever they meditate.

Finally, alone, Minghao allows himself into fall into habitual motions; lotus pose, steady breathing, letting his mind wander.

In all honesty, he doesn't really think that he's a psychic. He can admit that whatever his true discipline is, it's also incredibly similar to mind-reading. But it's incomplete.

"Hey." Wonwoo seems to be to only person Minghao's been able to reach ever since getting to Brakebills. At least, whenever he deliberately seeks out open mind candidate.

"It's cause you're not a psychic," the chained-boy deadpans. He looks better than Minghao last visited him, spritely and filled. Which probably means his captors finally fed him.

"I fucking knew it. That batshit fucking hippy lady's delusional."

Managing a strangled chuckle, Wonwoo shifts onto his right leg. Because of his captivity, he enjoys Minghao's recent visitations. It subsides the mental torture he endures daily. "Don't blame her. There's probably like five of us written in earth's history."

"Us?"

"Travelers," Wonwoo explains, "it's similar to psychic except we're technically aren't magicians as much as—magical creature, technically?—We can teleport, basically. And astral project."

That makes sense. From their descriptions, psychics are able to see themselves through other people's mental cognition as well as reading their thoughts. Minghao's able to do that sometimes, but mostly nobody ever describes it as mind full-body appirating into certain locations. Seeing perspective that his supposed mind's-eye couldn't possibly conjure.

"Sweet."

Wonwoo grimaces, Minghao's unsure if it's from the bleeding wound tearing his side, or from knowing being traveler is anything but sweet. "You'll most likely die y'know if—"

That's when Minghao feels it; the all-encompassing hopelessness seizing his chest with its deathly icy fingers. Growling lowly in his ears, "Hello, traveler."

Minghao manages to see the edges of a butterfly wing before promptly waking up. But he isn't at Brakebills anymore.

There's nothing untouched by thick, piling snow. Even the sky is anemically bleached, sending snowflakes onto the earth

"What the—"

An animalistic roar interrupts him, turning behind him, he sees a polar bear charging at him before—

"Holy—" a rhinoceros, horns readily pointing at him, begins to charge. "Fuck!"

Dean Fogg encounters Minghao in Mumbai. How the older knows that the traveler is there is beyond Minghao. But the more coincidences happen, the more likely the traveler won't let things go.

"Mr. Xu, fancy seeing you here," Tapping the side door twice, circular sunglasses adorned Dean Fogg grins to garner Minghao's attention. Minghao's trapped between to empty wooden carts. Probably been stuck there, in the countryside market for hours.

The rusted crimson truck that's waiting for the traveler comes as a reliving salvation. Brushing away all the dusts, grime, and chicken feathers—yes, chicken feathers. Minghao stands with an annoyed expression. "Get me the fuck outta here."

Halfway through their drive's when Minghao finally realizes they're moving oppositely away instead of into the city, making the traveler squirm uncomfortably in his seat. "How am I getting back without a passport?"

Dean Fogg chuckles, like Minghao said the stupidest response of all history. Suddenly braking, the motion jolts the traveler in his seat. "Fucking—"

"We don't need to, we're already here."

Which, of course. Looking around Minghao sees the familiar uniformly cut green grass of Brakebills' ground, Professor Sunderland already coming to greet them from the main office building.

Fucking magic.

"Okay..." Minghao drawls, feeling increasingly awkward having been collected by the Dean. "I'm going."

Reaching for the door, Minghao finds it locked. "Seriously?" Minghao questions incredulously, the other just smiles blindly. You know, cause he's blind.

"Minghao, Stanley's here to see you," Professor Sunderland says, leaning through the window on Dean Fogg's side.

Minghao's got questions.

Sitting down begrudgingly in Professor Sunderland's office, Minghao impatiently waits for the supposed mentor who wants to meet him. Whoever enters is an unassuming man, with a crutch, wearing the latest homeless fashion and a yellowing toothy grin. He introduces himself as Stanley. Just Stanley.

Minghao asks him questions.

"You are what you are, so I'm here."

Scoffing, Minghao leans backwards in the incredibly uncomfortable wooden chair. "What, a Scorpio?" That promptly wipes the smirk from the other's face.

Leaning against the desk with his forearms, Stanley stares daggers into Minghao. Unperturbed, Minghao leans further back.

Maybe a little perturbed.

"Travelers are rare. Hadn't been one at Brakebills in 35 years, I guess."

He's received similar lectures before, although, for his psychic abilities. Which aren't elusive, but are commonly hailed as a gift. The fact that it drove Minghao into substance abuse and alcoholism be damned. "I get it, it's an amazing gift."

"It's a terrible, life-destroying burden." Now Minghao's listening.

Stanley shows him tattoos, ones that Minghao needs to prevent the traveler from teleporting uncontrollably.

"I lost my leg after teleporting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—in the literal middle." Razor-sharp corals grabbing his leg, unforgiving waves creating turbulence. "It was fucking excruciating."

"You want me to tie myself to the earth?"

Stanley hums, rubbing his wooden leg fondly. "Astral projections only."

That night, Minghao breathes a sigh of relief. One solution to the insurmountable amount of problem. Until his astral projection decides a visit to Wonwoo is due immediately.

Wonwoo's chains are pulled tautly than previously. Overflowing crimson hot blood littering his body. Minghao winces, wishing for the umpteenth time he can safe Wonwoo for his chains.

"S'that why mindreading's so tough for you?" Wonwoo asks meekly, vocalizing through soreness. "You wanna safe everybody you hear."

"None of your business," Minghao answers, without the usual defensiveness present. "What happened to you?"

"The beast; I'm a traveler, my blood allows him to move through mirrors anywhere he wants. That's why he kept me alive."

The underground prison seems to eclipse wherever Wonwoo is, sparse sunlight casting shadows, looking like prison-guards spirit awaiting carefully concealed. "Is he going anywhere?"

"He's planning something. I don't know what but- listen. You can't tie yourself down. Your friends'll probably need your teleportation."

Friends? Minghao's unaware he has any. "Stanley said tying me down is the best solution for traveler. Our powers are uncontrollable."

Wonwoo scoffs, turning into heaving coughs, clumps of blood dripping down his chin. "Stanley's an old crackhead who's cowardly enough not to travel after one life-threatening experience! Y'wanna be useful? Y'wanna not see everybody around you die? Get another tattoo!"

Minghao staggers, Wonwoo grabbing at his chains like he's meaning to escape. "Wh-what tattoos?"

"Brakebills south'll have shit tons of books on travelers, you'll visit there soon. Y'wanna be a real traveler Minghao, asks Mayakovski."

Minghao rushes to his body, head thumping backwards on the solid oak. His mind's racing, concocting a headache he seriously can't handle. "What the actual fuck?"

Chapter Text

As far as Seungcheol remembers, the physical kid's cottage has always been chalk-full of mingling students. Young magicians with verbose discipline that likes to show off when given a platform. It's a party every day. Literally.

Mingyu's never been to one, being a newbie and all. So Seungcheol took it upon himself to break Mingyu's virginity...to campus parties, duh.

So why, oh why, is nobody here?

"Shit's right outta a nightmare," Mingyu whispers, whistling at the wicked cobwebs forming in the corner of the room, "Y'sure this isn't a dream?"

Seungcheol shrugs offhandedly, busying himself with sneaking through his own cottage. This is definitely unusual. The mood lighting; dim except for several ominously placed candles and the moonlight shining oh so specifically through the windows, creates a tense atmosphere. There's subtle creaking every once and again, followed by distant giggles that'll make anybody's hair stand up.

"I smell bullshit," Seungcheol sniffs exaggeratedly, earning a giggle and a shove from Mingyu.

Creak.

And the two's heart stutters. Turning around Seungcheol manages to see a glimpse of burgundy robe, flowing through the wind, turning a corner. His first instinct is to grab a book.

Mingyu eyes the weapon-of-choice curiously, a singular brow rising, "Seriously?"

Glaring, Seungcheol hits Mingyu's shoulder with it, earning an expectant yelp. "Seriously," Seungcheol grins.

Tap-tap-tap

A sound of dulled foot-steps crossed behind them. Seungcheol makes the executive decision to throw a book at it. 'It' as in thin air, because nobody's there and Seungcheol's beginning to get increasingly fed up with whatever bullshit is happening. "Wanna just do an impromptu sleepover?"

Mingyu eyes Seungcheol contemplatively before nodding.

Turning around they’re both faced with a final creek and a scratchy bag over their heads. With that the two's asses are forcibly hauled away. A muffled "Fucking heavy bastards" can be heard through the thin cloth.

Seungcheol can now confidently say he's fucking exhausted with all this bullshit.

After being deposited onto the slightly wet grass, threatened to be sacrificed, and being called a virgin...well, Seungcheol can confidently confirm his mood has soured.

Throwing the bag over his head away, Seungcheol stands. "The hell Seungkwan?" He deadpans, hearing the muffled giggles behind the masked-figure.

Mingyu's non to happy himself.

"Oh please, calm your tits."

When glares are the only reaction the third-year receives, Seungkwan swiftly intertwine their arms, sheepherding them. "Come, come. Follow follow," he chipperly instructs when Seungcheol's heavy reluctance threatens to drag them behind.

The three ended up in a clearing somewhere near the forested area of campus. The only source of illumination are torches and several bored looking third-years holding their cellphones flashlight up.

Yawning intermittently, Seungcheol draws closer to the clump of first-years students. Most of them still in pajamas, or wearing close to nothing, looking every bit of the sleep deprived college student they are.

Jeonghan seems fine though.

"Jeonghan," Seungcheol whispers, already dragging the irritable blonde closer by the elbow.

"What," Jeonghan hisses, that's when Seungcheol notices the horribly purple bruise-like bags under the blonde's eyes. The scowl he's sporting echoing the mood of every freshman there.

Seungcheol chuckles.

"Uggh," Jeonghan turns, before Seungcheol grabs him again. "Seriously Cheol, I'm not—"

"D'you know why we're here?" Seungcheol interrupts, not wanting to poke the bear even more.

Jeonghan takes a second to glance at Mingyu positioned behind Seungcheol, growling something about 'it's too early for this', Before exhaling. "Hazing, probably."

"Students!" Somebody suddenly bellows and judging by their tone of voice, Seungcheol's completely fed up already. "Hello first years! At this appointed hour, as tradition dictates, you will follow a series of test that is simply referred to as—" Soonyoung—because Seungcheol is absolutely certain it's Soonyoung—dramatically pauses "The trials!" He grandiloquently growls.

"Soonyoung," Minghao who's somehow looking more dead-on-his-feet than Jeonghan is, throws the masked-figure who is absolutely Soonyoung—who is he kidding?—the most menacing glare possible. "Get on with it."

"Alright, fine!" Soonyoung throws his golden full-faced masquerade mask (probably from party city) to the ground, huffing. "Y'all people drain the shit outta fun."

As exposition goes, this ones easy enough to follow. Soonyoung's emotive expression, illuminated only by the unpredictable flames dancing surrounding him really does make for a compelling story.

If it wasn't three in the morning.

"Oh nut up, this isn't fucking Harvard, these test actually requires effort y'know." Huffily, Soonyoung tries shaking himself into his jester-like state before.

Nobody cares.

"Alright, third-years are supervisors, report to the common area, yada-yada-yada, move," Soonyoung deadpans, with a limp swish of the cape. When nobody reacts, Soonyoung shouts, "Go!"

From the corner of the slightly raised podium, Seungkwan hisses, muttering words of encouragement.

"They hate me."

"You were amazing babe," Seungkwan reassures.

Arriving at their designated waiting spot, Seungcheol finds himself liking the turn of tonight. Everything is dark, electricity purposefully turned off, giving this ominous atmosphere. Come to think of it, everything feels more mystery novel esque.

The usually familiar neoclassical architecture looks gothic leaning in dim lighting. The struggling to stay upright students adds this horror element to everything. Seungcheol's excited.

Jeonghan's not.

"Name," Seungkwan asks sweetly, head tilted. His perfectly lip-glossed lips tilting in a smirk.

"Seriously?" Jeonghan deadpans, earning an eyeroll. "Jeonghan Yoon."

"Ah, Yoon!" Following an invisible list of names with his finger, Seungkwan mutters, "Yoon Yoon Yoon Yoon, Yoon!" He points melodramatically at an equally invisible name. "There you are."

"No shit."

Brushing of the comment, Seungkwan happily thrusts a placard towards the absolutely bothered blonde magician who reluctantly accepts.

"Suckmapussykatdollz," Jeonghan mutters blandly. What did he expect really?

"Report to your group inside the classroom."

The interior of the classroom, expectedly follows the common thread of being barely illuminated. This time only singular candles lit the center of their group designated tables, providing minimal visibility. Besides that, each of the table hosted an hourglass, several dusty-looking vials, beside a gold-plated metal bowl, and an ominously positioned blue book. The lacy fabric draping across the table underneath those objects serve as further decorations towards the spookiness of their surroundings. It also serves to past the time, as Junhui pokes through the holes relentlessly.

There's another student seated beside him, in the so eloquently named 'HornyChupacabras' table. They've been awaiting their third for the better part of an hour. Apparently third-years didn't think the sorting process thoroughly enough.

Minghao's sitting across from him, with Jeonghan, the lucky bastard. Having a genius in a group would probably help immensely on whatever trial they're doing tonight.

Sensing Junhui's stare Minghao looks towards his...boyfriend? Sure, boyfriend. Sending a kissy face his way, alongside some motivational bedroom eyes. Junhui turns scoffing, but there's a ghost of a smirk invading his lips, visible only when the wind blows the flickering flame correctly.

That at least gives Junhui some form of encouragement...until the soul sucking succubus known famously as Seungcheol 'Nerd-Alert' Choi completes his group trio. "Fan-fucking-tastic."

Sneering, Seungcheol makes a point of sitting further away from the telekinetic. The two locking eyes quickly devolves into an unspoken battle.

"Well, I can see why our group is named hornychupacabras," the third stranger, who, Junhui vaguely remembers as Spencer, comments.

"Wh—I-I don't even know what a Chupacabra is!" Seungcheol stutteringly defends, which, of course he doesn't know. Junhui doesn't even attempt to hide his exaggerated eyeroll.

"Chupacabras are spine-covered goat-sucking creatures indigenous to Mexico," Spencer exasperatedly explains, crossing his legs on top of their table, jostling a couple vials of presumably something important. "I can see we're immensely handicapped by your presence."

Chuckling, Junhui almost falls backwards in his chair. At least Spencer seems marginally reasonable.

"Students!" Soonyoung bellows from the front. Switching his cape for a pearlescent silk robe that seems to change color depending on the source of illumination. Swishing said skirt grandiloquently, candle holder clutched tightly, Soonyoung begins making his rounds through the classroom. His face partially illuminated from the candle light.

Oh boy, Junhui thinks, here we go. "In eighteenth century, England, the secret society known as the Brethren encrypted hundreds of spells to hide from the church," Soonyoung begins.

Twirling his forefinger through his blonde hair, Jeonghan recalls his knowledge of said magician group, unearthing memories from scriptures he once researched. Assessing the ingredients on the table, Jeonghan begins to piece together their assignment. Pushing his sliding glasses up his nose, Jeonghan straightens. This is going to be easy.

Pushing through towards the main table, Soonyoung flips over the hourglass in the middle. Inexplicably, every other hourglass followed. Sand beginning to cascade from the top where it previously pooled at the bottom. "You'll have until sunrise to decode those spells and cast them. People who failed or..." Soonyoung glares towards Jeonghan's table, "the ones who don't pull their weight, will be expelled."

Seungcheol gulps, it seems that every other occasion, magic itself makes it a personal mission to torment their magicians. Cutting his gaze towards Jeonghan, he's awarded with the blonde's confident smirk, casted downwards at the blue notebook. The blonde looks up, sensing Seungcheol's staring. Jeonghan's smirk wipes completely away.

Seungcheol frowns. That at least garners a 'good luck' mouthed towards him.

"FYI this test is practically impossible so...good luck!" Clapping his hands with a flourish, every first-years heads bend downwards towards their blue notebook. Quickly, everybody gradually realizes just how impossible this trial is.

"This is bullshit," Junhui grumbles, twenty-thirty something minutes in. Every scribble inside the book are of ancient runes and languages long forgotten by humanity. They're supposed to not only unencrypt, but cast this?

Seungcheol hums in agreement, he's unsure if somebody the likes of Dean Fogg himself is able to finish this. With every grumble thrumming through the room and every particle of sand thumping onto the bottom of the hourglass, Seungcheol's getting increasingly desperate.

At least Jeonghan's table looks fine.

"Ooohh," Soonyoung hisses, bending over Seungcheol, eyeing the empty notebook. "Y'guys are fucked, huh?"

Junhui growls menacingly, kicking the table frustratingly, "Yeah, y'gonna help?"

Soonyoung chuckles, a beginning of a nasty grin stretches his features. "Sorry boys, only geniuses can do this, besides—" cutting himself off, Soonyoung looks towards a particularly vertically challenge magician. As a third-year himself, Jihoon's there to participate with the hazing. Soonyoung's positive the other's been avoiding him all night "Gotta go."

With that, the HornyChupacabras are left with nothing but confusion.

Assessing everything they're given; their limited experience, barely familiar ingredients, and ancient encryption that, as Soonyoung pointed, only geniuses can decode—Seungcheol's beginning to think something's amiss here. "This is impossible—even Soonyoung said it's impossible."

"Actually, he said it was practically impossible," Junhui corrected.

Neither of the three knows how much time is left. Reading hourglass isn't exactly in the syllabus. But the first ray of sunshine indicates pretty much how fucked they are.

"It's impossible," Spencer echoes, their equally as flabbergasted third. "He also said only geniuses can do it."

"Oh, so what only geniuses can become magicians?" It would be an absolutely perfect world if every magician is a genius, but even Seungcheol realizes their upperclassman aren't always the brightest group of learners. Maybe Jeonghan could..."Holy shit," Seungcheol breathes, rubbing his face in disbelieve. "We've been Kobayashi Maru-ed."

"We've been what?"

"Kobayashi Maru-ed, it's a Star Trek thing—I-uh...I think we have to cheat."

Having been in close proximity with a delusional nerd-freak and an apathetic third-wheel's been irking Junhui all night. Another reference to whatever nerd thing Seungcheol knows, Junhui's gonna flip. Cheating, at least, he can get behind.

Leaning forward, Junhui knocks his forearm onto the wooden table. "Alright, whatever that means, yes," he snaps, pointing at Seungcheol.

"No no no no, absolutely not!" Spencer interrupts, pointing an accusatory finger at Seungcheol. The more sunlight's coming in through the window, the more visible their third gets. And he looks royalty pissed. "Why would they want us to cheat?"

Seungcheol glance sideways like he'd miss some sort of joke. "Because...we're magicians?"

Spencer chuckles, "No they just want to test how far we can go—"

"There's no such thing as half a spell!" Seungcheol counters, watching Spencer's head shake like a bobblehead, before he takes his notebook and jot whatever (nothing) he'd managed to crack, down.

"Whatever, I'm not participating in your bullshit."

Meeting his gaze with Junhui, the telekinetic nods in silent agreement.

"Supply closet," Seungcheol whispers, half-way standing up, "I got a plan."

The 'plan' is disgustingly crude, involving Junhui reaching his telepathic connection with Minghao. Basically, begging with sorta-boyfriend powers for answers.

Thankfully, Junhui's dick is big enough of an incentive.

Escaping the supply closet, the two magicians sneakily copies what they discovered onto their notebook, casting it quickly. Barely making it as the last particle of sand hits the bottom.

From across the room, Minghao's head lulled before jotting himself painfully awake. His astral projection returning to his body after helping his boyfriend cheat.

God, he hopes he doesn't get expelled for this. With his engine running fully, Minghao's been unable to concentrate clearly. He feels guilty for his minimal help, but Jeonghan seems to be covering everything perfectly. Still, the ever-present monster on his shoulder weighs heavily. Being terrified of sleeping in his bedroom only to wake up somewhere else has been steadily haunting him ever since knowing he's a traveler. He needs to be at Brakebills.

After his hardship throughout his life, hearing deafening voices of people overstaying their welcome inside his head, wanting something to drown it out, he finally found exactly two things capable of that; Junhui and magic.

He'll be damned if he gives everything up. Minghao hopes helping Junhui'll be worth this.

Seungcheol eventually discovers himself in a literal awkward position. Feet bare, crouching atop of the chair that's swaying precariously the more he nervously rocks his anxiousness away. Soonyoung's coming over to check if their chalice will light. Apparently, that's the required result.

Bending over, Soonyoung hums at the gloopy mess that smells awfully similar to rotten eggs mixed with whiskey. Don't ask. His fingers tapping lightly at the matches he's holding.

Junhui's absolutely over the upperclassman’s theatrics, "Light the damn thing!"

Glaring, Soonyoung lights the match, sending it flying inside the golden chalice, watching it burn a brilliant turquoise color. "Perfect," he comments, head upturn almost condescendingly, a glint of mischief refracting from the daylight sun.

"Y-yeah?" Seungcheol tries, smiling sheepishly. His heart is pounding away his ribcage.

"Yeah," Soonyoung reaffirms, "Unfortunately, I know you guys cheated."

Bated breath encompasses the three occupants. From across the room, Seungkwan silently judges his melodramatic friend. Soonyoung just loves stretching it.

"So..." and stretching it.

Hands clasping onto the two cheaters shoulder, his grip tightens surprisingly immediate, a menacing glare taking over his usually bubbly expression. Before—"Congratulations you two, you've succeeded your trial."

Seungcheol's absolutely certain he died a little there. Maybe pissed his pants, but—"Two?—what about—” Looking behind there's only an empty chair where Spencer previously occupied. This test doesn't mess around.

Soonyoung hums, "Thinning the heard."

 

♧♧♧

 

Seungcheol awakens to a massive headache. Above him branches sprawl upwards, climbing towards the sky, spinning uncontrollably as his vertigo settles into reality. Steadying himself, his spine aches. The backside of his shirt's completely coated with morning dew permeating from the bolder he'd previously leaned on.

"Fuck."

Grimacing, Seungcheol ears ring through the sounds of trickling water. Blearily looking opposite him he spots a river with crystal clear waters and slippery stones. Birds are chirping indicating that the morning sun's barely risen through the horizon.

God, please don't tell him he's been sleeping outside all night. He could've gotten fucking...hypothermia or something.

"Fucking Seungkwan," Seungcheol grumbles.

All he remembers happening last night are his conversations with Seungkwan. The other had comforted through a bottle of absinthe—roofied absinthe, apparently.

Getting unsteadily onto his feet, Seungcheol wobbles ungracefully, hitting the closest tree, before leaning against it. Hands splayed before his face; he creates a diamond shape. Eight fingers crossing the top, constructing an archway as his thumbs intersects at the bottom, completing the shape.

Looking through Seungcheol hopes to discover something; protective wards, glamourized camouflage, anything. When there's nothing, he switches hands, the left now facing inwards before he returns it again. When this doesn't work, he repeats it. Again. And again. And aga—

"Can we skip to the part where you realize there's no makey magic here?" Soonyoung interrupts, finding Seungcheol's struggle amusing but annoyingly time consuming. He's got better things to attend to. Like stalking a certain slightly younger (shorter) magician and repeatedly apologizing until he completely changes the meaning of the word 'sorry.'

Regardless he'll be firstly overseeing this. At least he's allowed to be as boisterous as humanly possible.

Adorned in a pristinely white guanashina three-piece with matching trouser and semi-realistic vermillion rose embellishments framing the sleeves and calves, Soonyoung carries himself similarly to capitol assholes from hunger games. He probably should've worn less eyeliner but this'll do.

Finally turning towards Soonyoung, Seungcheol's completely bemused at the third-year currently sitting cross-legged on his diamond encrusted throne. Hidden behind a clothed table, atop it candelabras, fancy hoderves, and fine pieces of china decorates the expanse. Above Soonyoung hangs a chandelier, with beaded pearl droplets.

Somehow that's possible

"Greetings my fellow under-classman, Welcome to your secondary trial," Soonyoung announces with a flourish of grandiose hand gestures. The third-years brought his wine too Drinking it, Soonyoung's absolutely relishes in Seungcheol's bewilderment. "Look below my child."

Refreshing his site to the flowing river underneath his feet, he waits for Soonyoung’s expositions.

"There they are," Soonyoung melodramatically points towards the slippery smallmouth bass, casually swimming through, avoiding the rock Seungcheol's perching on. "I require one, fetch it for me." Soonyoung claps, a set of bow and arrow suddenly appears beside Seungcheol's feet.

The first-year gathers it in confusion. Surely these aren't the only equipment he'll be receiving. "You're fucking joking."

"I'm fucking not my child."

"Would you stop talking like that?" Seungcheol protests, rolling his eyes, emphasizing his annoyance.

Soonyoung smiles, lips stretching taught before a simple, "Nope," passes his lips and he completely disappears, leaving Seungcheol alone with an impossible assignment.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

 

♧♧♧

 

Every autumn, Junhui's child-like wonders usually escalate. With the slightly chilly atmosphere and dimming sunlight, everything seems perfect for an amazing stroll through a tree-ridden area. That's when walking through central park without jumping into a bunch of weather-dried warm-toned leaves becomes practically impossible.

Now though, with his feet accidentally stepping on yet another shriveled pile, Junhui's beginning to despise the reminder of autumn. Brakebills is sucking his soul away.

"Come on you fucking pheasant!" He shouts, half hoping he'd stumble into Seungkwan somehow, axe gripped tightly, looking thoroughly like the Jack Torrance he's trying to emulate. He's certainly driven insane enough. How the fuck is he expected to capture a bird with an axe?

Stepping into a pile, Junhui startles when his feet becomes thoroughly soaked with water. "Ah fucking—" deceiving motherfucking pile he thinks.

Junhui's thwarted from expanding his anger when rustling leaves towards his right captures his attention. He'd swung at a flock of pheasants couple minutes back, maybe one had gotten wounded and is currently seeking purchase and concealment onto trees. It's wishful thinking but— fist clenching onto the mahogany, left hand gripping the back handle whilst the other clenches the throat, Junhui swings erratically at a wayward branch, hearing a creaking whimper echoing his desperation.

Something scarlet and spherical falls, hitting his head on its journey downwards. Junhui staggers before realizing what it is. "God, fucking—apples, really?" He tsks, beginning to walk away when another cluster of rustling, this time coming from the overgrown evergreen shrubs, becomes increasingly noticeable.

"I swear—" Junhui mutters before taking the axe, swinging it above his head and—

"Woah wooaah woah, stop!" Covering his face (because of course it's Seungcheol's only valuable asset), Seungcheol breathes a sigh of relief when Junhui actually listens, stopping the axe mid-swing before bringing it thumping onto a nearby stump.

Seungcheol gulps, scratching his neck. That could've been his skull.

"What're you doing here Choi?" Junhui grumbles, dislodging and relodging the toe of the bit into the innocent stump. Junhui thought he's the only magician dumped onto this section of the forest. At least that's what Seungkwan had ominously alluded.

Although, the way the other was cackling manically, casually dipping his potato chips into caviar dips before consuming it, with fingers fluttering together like a version of a hyper-feminine bond villain, well...Seungkwan isn't really reliable is all Junhui's saying.

"I need to catch a fish with a—" Swinging the bow and arrow, Junhui scoffs at the unassuming weapon. What a load of bullshit. "I sorta lost the stream, when my arrow decided to fly through the branches instead of, y'know, onto the fishes."

Junhui chuckles, of course.

"You?"

"Catch a bird with that—" Junhui nods towards the axe.

So, they're both fucked.

After their silent agreement to keep one another company, their doubled pair of eyes carefully scanning through trees for both pheasants and streams, Junhui's beginning to realize the ridiculousness of their situation. Couple years before he was panhandling at Metropolitan Avenue. Running away from home after thinking he was insane for shattering that glass beaker during science. That reaaally did a number on his psyche.

Turns out he's not insane. Unless these are all painstakingly detailed hallucinations.

Perhaps it is, catching a pheasant with an axe seems absurd when there's a perfectly capable bow and arrow at their disposal for said task. Unfortunately, Junhui's not experienced with archery.

"Oh, Jeonghan is, his family used to make him take lessons," Seungcheol comments. His breath is shallow, a testament to how his nerdy body can't withstand tracking seriously. Maybe he should start jogging.

"No shit?" Of course, thee Jeonghan Yoon—born into a family of wealthy magicians—took up archery growing up. "What, did he take up Violin too?"

Seungcheol chuckles, remembering the time when Jeonghan said he nearly did, "Nah, he took up Harp." and singing lessons, which Seungcheol had been graced with hearing a couple times. The blonde mumbling lyrics under his breath.

"Y'know you're not so bad when you stop being such a stick-in-the-mud," Junhui comments, noting the dutiful apprehension encompassing the other's face. So he stops, regretting it because—crunching leaves. "No, seriously, that cheating idea was actually pretty entertaining."

Seungcheol stops, several feet ahead. He turns slowly, wondering if Junhui's setting up some cleverly thought punch-line with his compliments. "Thanks?" He gouges, then continues when Junhui doesn't continue talking. "You're not so unbearable yourself when you're not busy targeting me for something we all participated in."

They continue their walk, occasionally stopping when a rustling sound captures their attention. So far, their expedition has been unfruitful.

"I'm sorry about that by the way—I just..." Junhui pauses. He tends to latch onto elementary targets, wanting somebody to blame. Seungcheol was just irritating enough.

"Yeah it's cool."

Who would've thought their second test is going to bring two unlikely magicians together? It's almost like the frustration, absurdity, and the therapeutic silence is designated to make them work together, somehow...

"Wait!" Junhui pauses, gripping Seungcheol until the other faces him. Eyes wide, his lips stretch absurdly into a maniacal grin. "Those fuckers," Junhui whispers in elation. "C'mon."

 

♧♧♧

 

After apparently some sort of brilliant breakthrough, Junhui tows Seungcheol along. Running erratically through seemingly random directions, announcing he's got a plan.

Well Seungcheol certainly hopes so.

Eventually, they come across their third, Junhui exhaling in relief when they finally do. "Thank fuck."

Jeonghan was in the middle of erecting his contraption. Utilizing careful angles, rope and trees to—"My task is to chop down a tree," Jeonghan explains, which, brilliant as his scheme was, hasn't been working as satisfactorily as he'd predicted.

It's something about the unaccounted factors. How sturdy the actual branches are, how feasible it is for the rope to collapse a massive tree, the velocity with which Jeonghan's running into his contraption, and the gravity something-another—Seungcheol isn't exactly paying attention. "It's practically impossible!" Jeonghan huffs frustratingly, hips cocking sideways as he eyes speculatively at the axe Junhui's holding. Then the bow and arrow.

"You catching on?" Junhui questions. Seungcheol finds the way Jeonghan's head apprehensively inclines into a nod unbelievably adorable.

"Okay, then, let's find the others."

They discover Minghao concealed behind several bushes. A freckled chestnut Appaloosa beyond him is eating fallen apples unassumingly. The three finds Minghao's silent crouching accompanying mumbled curses amusing.

The traveler silently inches forward, bucket firmly clasped. When he's merely centimeters away behind the horse, he chucks the metal pail. This, expectedly, resulted in a spooked stag, that escaped further away inside the forest. Leaving a wounded (pride) magician on his ass.

"Motherfucking—Argghh!" Screaming his lungs out, Minghao's blissfully unaware of the others awaiting him several meters away.

His hearts been hammering uncontrollably, there's a lump of terror lodged stubbornly within his windpipe he's unable to dissolve. Perhaps it's because of Wonwoo, knowing another traveler in communication with him is being tortured by the beast. Or maybe he's terrified of similar things happening to him because of his dangerously uncontrollable traveling.

Regardless, he needs this, magic, like he needs air to breathe.

The sobbing came quick, followed by Minghao curling in on himself.

Junhui decides it's not amusing anymore. Revealing themselves, crouching beside the traveler, reserved chuckles dissipating rapidly, he says, "C'mon, we'll solve this."

Their final puzzle piece is currently occupied with lowering a net into a well. Granted, the net's been thoroughly covered with leaves. But even then, as the net ascends, whatever water was previously contained inside the defective contraption had escaped by the time it reaches the top.

Mingyu grumbles, frustrated, throwing his net away. How the hell is he expected to gather water with a goddamn net?

That's when the quartet's presence becomes known to him. Mingyu turns to find amused smirks and shaking heads.

What captures his attention though is the bucket Minghao's currently clutching.

That's when Junhui announces, "I think we need to work together." Towards the group of magicians who's beginning to catch on.

Seungcheol's still absolutely confused though.

 

♧♧♧

 

"Alright," Minghao begins, grabbing the bucket Jeonghan's handing him. Mingyu's inability to tie a knot correctly will undoubtedly result in a failure. Seeing as the tallest of the magicians need to quickly fill up the container without dropping it from its loose knotting. "I'll fill up the container." His expertise from three years of scouts training and childhood boredom better be worth staying in magic school. "I need somebody to catch me a horse though."

"Seungcheol could do it," Mingyu blurts, receiving an immediate death-glare from Seungcheol. "He had a unicorn faze," Mingyu adds just to be a dick about it.

"They're fantastical creatures!"

-"Fairytale."

"Creatures!" Seungcheol glares, grabbing the rope anyways and winding it around his shoulder with a huff. He catches a trickle of giggle escaping Jeonghan's throat and suddenly blood overtakes his heated cheeks.

Clearing his throat, he nods towards the phosphoromancer, "How ‘bout you? You can handle catching birds, right?"

"Pheasant," Jeonghan corrects, his voice stuttering out when everybody stares at him. Tucking a stray piece of blonde hair, he takes the bow and arrow Seungcheol's handing. "I can shoot that pheasant down."

"Okay, then I'll cut down that tree for you." Hauling the axe onto his shoulder Junhui, huffs. "That'll leave..."

"Me." Shaking the net excitedly, Mingyu bumps Seungcheol's shoulder. "I'll catch the fish."

Seungcheol has zero doubts, Mingyu'll be fine, knowing the other frequently catch fishes in his Florida summer home during school break.

"It's settled then."

After everything's been straighten, it's almost comically simple how every single assignment's easilly completed.

Seungcheol captures the horse the same way he used to when he visited his uncle's ranch. Utilizing his carefully constructed methods to acquire the perfect result. Lassoing the horse becomes an easy requirement when the wild creature approaches Seungcheol instead.

Regardless, Seungcheol returns to the clearing with the wild-born stag.

Second to return is Jeonghan, having only hidden for several minutes before a flock of pheasants perch themselve where Jeonghan knew a bunch of insects were accumulating. All he had to do was aim and shoot.

"Oooo, that's really..." Seungcheol hisses. Jeonghan's got the pheasant by it's leg, an arrow shot right through its chest. It's somewhat gruesome, but Jeonghan doesn't seem to mind, only huffing before he approaches the horse, petting it lightly, unable to resist.

"It's beautiful for a wild horse."

Their eyes meet in a rather unexpected motion, and really this palpable tension shouldn't be this strong for their circumstance currently. Fortunate-unfortunately their moment's interrupted when Minghao, grunting and huffing, places his brimming bucket down.

"Junhui's almost done," Minghao reports, having astral projected midway through Junhui's grunting. He might've gotten turned on with those exposed bulging muscles of Junhui's arms but...that's definitely for later. "How about—"

"I'm done!" Mingyu shouts, running with the net resting over his shoulder. The fish imprisoned inside wiggles erratically.

Seungcheol nods, their almost done, it's just—

"Timber!" Somebody billows, followed by a humongous thump.

 

♧♧♧

 

Soonyoung leans over the flapping fish. It's rounded eyes and flapping tail wiggles in protest, spattering droplets of disgusting river water onto the besuited magician, who grimaced, moving backwards in response.

"Fish. Check," he announces, giving the checklist an apt 'v'.

Nudging, Seungkwan leans over to inspect the pheasant, speared through with the arrow. Gingerly, he picks it up, nose pinched, face scrunching. "Pheasant. Check," He confirms, voice nasally from the pinched nose.

The five other magicians stood, hips either cocked or eyes rolling into their heads. They don't much appreciate being inspected by the couple of over-dressed-crazed-with-power magicians when their task is clearly ludicrous.

"Can we go now?" The sun is higher up in the air, beating blistering heat onto their skin. The forest moisture has climb several notches than before. After running around chasing different absurdities, they all much rather change. Perhaps eat lunch.

"Y'all caught everything yourselves?" Soonyoung asks, eyebrows arching.

Jeonghan steps forward, hands on his hips in a poor imitation of a confident person as he stutters out, "Y-yeah, well, y-yeah, you see anybody else around here?"

Smirking, Soonyoung stood back to his full height, Seungkwan coming in beside him. The quintuplet appears guilty of something, it sparks a terribly amusing idea. "Without magic?"

This time, Seungcheol comes beside Jeonghan, mouth opening and closing emulating the fish he supposedly caught before settling on, "Well...yeaah." They couldn't anyways, Soonyoung had made that abundantly clear.

"Good."

"Great!" Junhui groans, "Can we fucking leave?"

Seungkwan purses his lips, slender finger tap-tapping on his chin in pretend consideration. The conniving magician couple's eyes meet, before bursting into exaggerated cackles.

"No," Seungkwan shakes his head, "First you gotta make a fire out of the wood—"

-"Broil the fish," Soonyoung adds.

-"Pour the water into chalices..." Seungkwan sing-songs, twirling around the five exasperated magicians.

-"Aaaaand...Roast the pheasant," Soonyoung finishes.

The horse neighs, feeling left out, Minghao turns to it ever slowly. "And this thing?"

"Oh! You can take turns blowing that thing," Seungkwan deadpans.

Their eyes boggle, Seungkwan and Soonyoung stood back, delighting in the terrified-disbelieving look in all their faces before..."Holy shit!" Soonyoung cackles, bending over with hooting laughter, gripping at Seungkwan. "You people actually believed that!"

"Did you see their faces?" Eyes brimming with tears, Seungkwan points at the five. "Mingyu was like—'fine...but I'm not going first"!"

"Guys!" Seungcheol shouts, thoroughly done with the situation. "Can we go?" The chirping cicadas indicating the closing of today really puts into perspective how annoying these tests are getting.

"Oh alright you wet blanket." Clapping their hands twice, the forest previously surrounded them suddenly disappears and they'd return to Brakebills, beside the physical kid's cottage.

The two still laughing their asses off.

"Oh suck a dick." Grabbing Minghao, Junhui leaves first, followed by Mingyu who throws a promise of hanging out later at Seungcheol.

With that, Seungcheol stands awkward beside Jeonghan. Apparently, their invisible tension is getting increasingly harder to bare and Jeonghan doesn't like it.

"I promise, after the Joshua thing is done—" he stops, looking at Seungcheol, giving a 'y'know...' look.

"Okay."

Jeonghan leaves, probably to change and Seungcheol veers himself into the direction of the library, meaning to find other methods of summoning spirits.

 

♧♧♧

 

Their (Hopefully) final trial, delivers itself uncharacteristically as a whisper. Carefully collected inside the classroom, they were straightforwardly instructed to couple up, a sense of overwhelming dread encompasses the classroom.

"I'm sure you're all aware by now, Brakebills teaches you to be arch and ironic about magic," Seungkwan begins, twirling a heavy-set rope between his fingers, grinning shudderingly down at it. He remembers when he completed this trial with Soonyoung. Everything after becomes easier after discovering such a close-knit friendship.

"But this one plays it seriously; you must bear yourself in front of another magical adapt and expose your highest-governing internal circumstance." Soonyoung watches as whatever's left of the first-years squirm uncomfortably. Honestly, this final trial is absolutely the hardest. Knowing Seungkwan was a God-send back then.

"You have until midnight, begin!"

Seungcheol watches as magician after magician couples uncomplicatedly, shadowed by the midnight glow outside. Traveling through oceans of people, he barely manages to stumble into Mingyu, meaning to ask his closest friend to be his pair. Unfortunately...

"Sorry Cheol, somebody already asked me." The nothing-mancer watches disappointedly as his friend leaves easily, following behind, finding a place within the herd to deliver their task.

Seungcheol eventually meanders himself atop one of the buildings, contemplating pathetically the clock tower ticking away his productive time.

Three minutes passed with his expression steadily crumpling. Even if somebody decided to couple with him, nothing will invalidate the hammering through his ribcage knowing how frighten he is.

Baring yourself, even in the isolated silence of this moment, with only the silver moonlight bestowing him company, Seungcheol's terrified. Fearful of whoever might discover his secrets.

Strangely enough, it isn't exactly a secret. It's just something he's struggling to comprehend himself.

"No pair?" Somebody asks cutting the silence. Turning around Seungcheol finds himself facing the blonde beauty who remains uncharacteristically pairless.

Jeonghan shrugs, "Nobody l-likes an awkward bitch I guess." There's a shallowness to the phosphoromancer's clipped tone, something trembling behind the solid gaze.

He's probably remembering Joshua. Seungcheol thinks. It's the only explanation the other's shivering intently, even if the midnight temperature is warmer than usual.

Seungcheol chuckles, fishing the piece of paper the third-years gave everybody now that he's partnered up, dropping the rope sling across his shoulder. "It's probably some third-years ritual hazing so they can take pictures of us naked to blackmail us later."

Jeonghan chuckles, stepping underneath the moonlight, silver hair swaying along. Seungcheol thinks Jeonghan's extremely beautiful, he could die.

"Unfortunately not, it's unorthodox and arcane, but...secrets magic exists," Jeonghan remorsefully rebuttals.

Sighing exhaustedly, Seungcheol tries to wish away this last trial.

It doesn't work.

Stepping to meet Jeonghan half-way, Seungcheol reaches the phosphoromancer. He lies to himself and reasoned that his knees are buckling from the nonexistent wind up there. "So, what now?"

Gulping, Jeonghan re-remembers the instruction written in the paper. "We-uhm.. bind one another, the rope w-will fall off once we reach transcendence."

 

As the evening slumbers entirely into night, every couple across Brakebills ground groans into a silent whisper. Eyes piercing through darkness as fingertips tentatively touch, bare-skin-to-bare-skin. No billowing wind comes to overtake their murmurs, spellwork being muttered, as blushes grew tantalizingly on different skins.

Everybody's afraid. All of the trials they've managed to succeed, this one is the hardest to complete.

Looking up, Minghao sees the heavy-lidded eyes of a certain Chinese firecracker. Someone who—since the day they've met, eyes drawing secrets from one another—has managed to penetrate the solid walls Minghao has built surrounding himself. Somebody who at first is gritty and rough, toughen through years of personal hardship, who's cherished smirk is difficult to come by. Minghao can't imagine falling for somebody like him.

Fallen, he has. The question is, how powerful is his love for Junhui compared to his love for Brakebills.

"Ready?" Junhui inquires, ripping his eyes away from the parchment.

 

Pinpricking sensation rises upwards Seungcheol's spine. Jeonghan's fingers are freezing dipped in charcoal, as it draws straight lines underneath each of his eyes. Like tears of darkness. The straight lines across his collarbone.

Standing back, Seungcheol does similarly to Jeonghan, pearlescent white paint the only differing factor. Seungcheol might've indulge. In their secretive privacy, his fingertips linger as it glides smoothly over the expanse of silky skin. Feeling every unadulterated shiver Jeonghan responded with.

"Okay?" Gaze piercing brightly, doe-eyed to smaller shaped ones, Jeonghan clears his throat when Seungcheol thumbs presses onto his collarbone lightly.

"Y-yeah."

Grabbing the delicate knobby wrist, Junhui smirks at the blushing Minghao, before binding said wrists firmly.

Junhui's fingers are warm despite the coldness of their surroundings. Choosing to sequester themselves underneath a large tree, away from public viewing, Minghao heart stutters as Junhui's chestnut hair catches the moonlight.

Something darkens within his mind, almost chuckling and he knows somebody's watching.

This is why he's been absolutely terrified. The future without Brakebills seems bleak. But a future without Junhui seems bleaker.

"Too tight?"

Shaking his head, Minghao echoes similar instructions. The two left naked, binded, painted, facing one another.

 

"Ready?"

Shaking his head, swaying uncontrollably, Jeonghan mutters his first secret. "I'm a virgin."

Choking, Seungcheol staggers. Jeonghan starts off strong. Still, the binding around the wrist never loosen. Jeonghan lamenting the loss of a good secret.

"Uh— I well— I've been institutionalized."

Looking downwards, Seungcheol expects something.

Nothing happens.

"Welp—" Going over towards the pile of clothing, Seungcheol might've turned crimson all over from Jeonghan's naked backside as the phosphoromancer bends forward, grabbing something from within his pocket.

"J-Jeonghan?"

"Hold on."

Seungcheol shouldn't look, he shoul—

"Got it!" Returning, Jeonghan pushes the flask towards Seungcheol who raises a brow in suspicion.

"What? It's probably going to be a loooong night."

 

"Okay, let me start first."

Minghao has no problems sitting back, prolonging the inevitable, watching Junhui readying himself for a secret. Even if he isn't a mindreader, Minghao still knows Junhui will undoubtedly finish quickly. The other had no intention with being secretive. And that, perhaps is why Minghao's confession will be more unbearable.

"So, uhm...I came from Princeton, Jersey. Y-y'know it's not exactly a nice place," Junhui chuckles mirthlessly, and Minghao unable to prevent the melting of his stoicism chuckles in sympathy. "I-I live my life hopping from one place to another, trying to escape who I was when I was....stuck in that shitty town."

It's no secret Junhui's somebody who requires taste to be loveable. Seungcheol, Jeonghan, even Minghao at first, had encountered his antagonistic tendencies. Seungcheol getting the worst.

"It's d-difficult, for me, to uhmm...like people?" Caressing lightly his hands, Minghao encourages Junhui to continue, his own nightmares momentarily forgotten. "That's why you, Minghao, is so terrifying. But what I'm saying is..."

Somebody, who so easily burrows himself between Junhui's calcified ribcage must be a miracle worker. No other explanation is possible. Because Junhui's toughen, calloused. He fucks. They fucked, a million different positions. That's how it's supposed to remain. Instead...

"I love you."

There it is, Minghao's heart shriveling in his throat, tears ready to spill.

"Minghao I—"

-"Junhui, don't." Frantically snatching his hands away, Minghao has just enough time to see the binding's around Junhui's wrist loosen, thumping unceremoniously to the ground. "I need to go—"

"Wait, what is it?" Junhui's grip is incessant, inching ever closer underneath the skin. Minghao's full-on crying now, unable to hold back.

He's terrified, of the monster in his head, and the monster inside himself. Both threatening the very existence of the magician holding him tightly. "I'm scared okay!"

"Minghao—"

"No! Something massive is coming, forces unbeknownst to all of us wants us dead! I used to fucking abuse Adderall before getting into Brakebills and controlling those voices in my head, I can't lose Brakebills!" Voice decrescendoing into a whisper, Minghao continues, "I'm afraid you'll be the reason."

The couple's forehead touches in a searing passion, down casting their eyes, they watches as Minghao's rope joins Junhui's, thudding ungracefully.

"I-I don't understand..."

A painful sob escapes Minghao's mouth, before the younger covers it. "I love you..." Minghao explains, wanting to furthermore expand this. "But I'm afraid of losing myself because of you."

Overwhelmed, the couple encompass one another in a voluntarily-involuntary embrace. Hands trying desperately to piece together whatever semblance of warmth still remains.

"I've fallen before, they—" Perhaps words escaping him is a signal, instead, reaching deeply Minghao unfurls himself before foreign thoughts—memories—star-spangled Junhui's mind.

Minghao's fallen before, with somebody so uncharacteristically harden that the person stands starkly against the colorful world. Somebody who Minghao's confided freely towards, abused his powers. Somebody who made the grip he had with his abilities loosen, letting in millions of chattering thoughts to invade his nightmare every single night.

Today, after Brakebills, the beast, the never-ending trials; Minghao's at his breaking point. Ready to leave, knowing he'll lose everything. Loving Junhui feels like an added burden, not something beautiful like his aspiration made it out to be.

Minghao's afraid— terrified.

"Minghao, I'll never be like that." Planting firmly a kiss between Minghao's butterfly lips, Junhui tried to convey his sincerity through action.

That night, the two fell harder, whatever trials upcoming after the horizon, they would have no option but to bravely face it. Together.

 

The bell tower announces unabashedly the echoing hours of midnight. Seungcheol's halfway drunk—not drunk enough, muttering secret he'll probably dread divulging in the morning. "How's there s'many alcohol in that thing?" Seungcheol points towards Jeonghan's flask.

"Enchanted it," Jeonghan answers before leaning pathetically against the wall, looking abysmally downwards at the students who managed to succeed. "Welp, being a goddamn genius means nothing in the end." Somehow, he's still in a state of disbelieve. Without Brakebills, Jeonghan can't continue searching for Joshua.

Perhaps it's better to let things go. Staring blearily at the entirety of Brakebills, glistening underneath the midnight glow, Jeonghan thinks Joshua will love this. Pragmatic as he was romantic, Joshua would've love amorous atmosphere, grounded by the solid reality of the school buildings. Thinking that, Jeonghan remembers, he couldn't simply let things go.

"Motherfucker," Seungcheol whisper-chuckles. Jeonghan turns to the other ever so slightly, head leaning on his arms. "I fought so goddamn hard to be here—I literally pushed everybody away and now I'm getting kicked out like this." Undignified. Naked. "I love magic."

"Like fairytales?" Jeonghan coaxes, untangling Seungcheol’s fingers from his flask to down a mouthful himself.

"What's the difference?—Tomorrow, this—" Seungcheol inclines to their surroundings, getting increasingly irritated of the beautiful sight "—is going to be fairytale once we get flunked." Seungcheol can't imagine a life worth living without magic. "I'll be back to hoping something out there will be worth this utterly, irrevocably, sad existence."

Leaning shoulder to shoulder, Jeonghan attempts to cover Seungcheol's naked side with his own. The buzzing alcohol within his system compelling him to be braver than usual. In fact— "If it makes you feel any better, I'm not good with people either. That's why searching for Joshua's so important to me. A childhood best friend, the only person who knows me," Jeonghan chuckles mirthlessly, "well...until you."

Eyes widening in surprise, Seungcheol whirls unexpectedly towards Jeonghan. Breath immediately stuttering at the beautiful—naked—sight. "Me?!"

Shaking his head, rolling his eyes, Jeonghan tries tactlessly to cover the rising redness of his cheeks by turning away. Seungcheol can know so much, without knowing anything simultaneously. It's comically laughable how he manages to uncover Jeonghan piece by piece, without actually understanding the phosphoromancer at all.

"Honestly Seungcheol, why'd you think I'm so hellbent on waiting on...y'know, us? My parents are fucking lunatics with marital problems. Their only fucking solution is to sex-magic their way out of everything." The countless nights Jeonghan recalls of his childhood, burying himself uselessly underneath his sheet, unable to counteract the thin walls. Constant adultery can do a number to one’s psyche.

That's why, when Joshua appearped suddenly, Jeonghan felt salvation creeping in. Somebody he could run too when his parents were...

"Growing up on that can turn you off on any semblance of intimacy. I even call my mother by her name."

Silence grows larger between them, Seungcheol unable to respond. The humorous topic of the subject is definitely something—anything, but humorous to Jeonghan.

Having stripped themselves naked, barring everything fully, Seungcheol somehow doesn't see this coming. Understanding it entirely requires time.

Time that Jeonghan feels has passed, because suddenly he blurts, "Yes, okay! it's stupid but I'm afraid of sex! That's my massive goddamn secret!" The feeling of ropes slipping through his fingertips, draws Jeonghan's attention to it.

Seungcheol is currently facing away from him, eyes gleefully down casted at the forest across. "It's not stupid," Seungcheol begins.

Somehow, the underwhelming response brings comfort to Jeonghan. Growing up under lavishly dramatic circumstances, Jeonghan appreciates the inwardly drawn, and unexpected responses Seungcheol always deliver.

So the phosphoromancer inches closer, fingers curling in between Seungcheol's. Head leaning tentatively, nosing painted collarbones.

"Intimacy can be frightening. It's at least no stupider than— " interrupting himself, Seungcheol shakes his head, seemingly unaware of how close Jeonghan is beside him. "For fuck sake, I've been through revolving doors of mental institutions since I was a teenager. I always thought life wasn’t worth living before Brakebills, but... "

"Yeah?" Jeonghan coaxes, remarking Seungcheol's loosening binds.

"Now that I found magic, I'm afraid that it won't change anything. That I'll still be the stupidly depressed Seungcheol who loves fairytale and despises growing up."

The tickling sensation of scratchy ropes hitting his metatarsals jolts Seungcheol into coherentness. "What the—"

"So that's your biggest secret, huh, Seungcheollie?"

Snapping his head, Jeonghan's suddenly closer than before, lips ghosting over hesitatingly.

Between them, Seungcheol's the braver one when it comes to intimacy, despite having rarely connected with anybody. Realizing this, he wants the boy unconfidently faltering before him to be one of those connections.

So he surges forward, warm breath fanning over frozen-over cheeks. Freezing lips quickly heating up as it dances, caresses, then Seungcheol thinks as he encircles Jeonghan's midsection that this is everything. Before the phosphoromancer opens his mouth and tongue becomes part of the equation.

Now...this is everything.

Indulging themselves for seemingly forever, the two eventually part, the increasing need of partaking oxygen compelling them apart. They remain impossibly close though, all expanse of unclothed skin touching in some ways.

"Guess we won't get flunked after all," Jeonghan giggles, the sound decidedly being the prettiest thing in Seungcheol's world.

Leaning their forehead closer, Seungcheol draws Jeonghan, nosing his cheeks. "Guess not," he whispers before lapsing into another bout of endless kisses.

Archaic and arcane as it was, secret's magic is perhaps Seungcheol's favorite of all.

Chapter Text

The magnificent double-doors shut billowingly tight behind them, something magical forcing it close. Stepping forward, the handful of magicians are greeted by dilapidated shelves lining peeling wallpapered walls. There's a boar's head, stuck over a brick fireplace, a couple armchairs predictably facing it.

Stepping hesitantly inside, floorboards creaking annoyingly with every step, Seungcheol grimaces at the stuffiness surrounding the air. Everything feels moist, completely unkept, whilst simultaneously barren and dusty. Tables run parallel before them, the middle furniture holding rows of candles and the two outermost ones are cluttered with contraptions, paraphernalia, something a mad scientist would own. And from the description of Mayakovski, he might as well be.

As the handful scatter, Jeonghan and Seungcheol remains rooted, unable to comprehend the happenings they've faced. The lingering feeling of feathers catching wind underneath their appendages—it's something...something burgeoning. A stubborn need to revert to animalistic mindlessness.

"We flew here—" Seungcheol breathes disbelievingly

"With wings," Jeonghan finishes, seemingly unable to shake off their persisting experience.

It might've sounded ludicrous, several months ago, if somebody told Seungcheol he'll be doing a ritual buck-naked alongside his crush and immediately after be transformed into a goose. Wings flapping and throat honking, before feeling the compulsion to fly upwards, away, and towards...

"Antarctica."

"Right?" Mingyu agrees, ever pragmatic as ever. Some students are seemingly unaffected by the experience. Uncoincidentally, those unaffected possesses no mental health issues that Seungcheol knows of.

Being burdened inside a vessel brimming with earthly thoughts and desires, whilst being fundamentally flawed and incapable—well, it's a miserable existence, Seungcheol knows. Having been freed from that, even for a fraction of a second. Brain encompassing one of goose, thoughts streamlined into fucking, eating, and shitting..."I-I've never felt, so..."

"So free," Jeonghan agrees.

A disturbance of footsteps jolted the couple out of their delusions. Junhui stomping angrily from the side entrance grimaces at his hands. "I've never shitted so much in my life," he announces unprovoked.

Minghao, leaning against the table full of trinkets, giggles. "Gooses...geese metabolism probably."

Coming together, the five succumbed to the relative silence of the room, shoulder to shoulder. Flying to Antarctica from Brakebills might've broken them a little.

"Are you done?" A voice, distinctly Russian in nature, bounces through the room. Before a man, peeking from behind one of the armchairs.

Slowly, dramatically, the man pulls himself taller until his swaying feet's underneath him. The man looks...underwhelming.

"Mayakovski," Mingyu states, tone undeterminable. There's a reverent spark on the knowledge student's eyes. Perhaps admiring the so-called greatest magician alive.

To Seungcheol, the man, shaded from the precariously boarded up windows behind him, appeared as nothing more than a drunk. Adorning ripped pajama pants, soot-stricken hoodie, a beanie, and sporting a peppering of scraggly beard. His appearance’s completed with halfway finished vodka bottle in his hands. He looks somewhat homeless.

"Sit," he announces, the accent becoming something amusing. "Sit, sit! I am not babysitter and I will not ask again. Sit!" He instructs antithetically.

The five of them eventually sits. Inexplicably, a piece of parchment appears before them. "Hammer Charm of Legrand," Jeonghan deciphers immediately, inspecting the piece of paper for further information. "It's simple spellwork, we know this." The phosphoromancer's tone, unimpressed, garners a dark humorless chuckle from the homeless-looking Mayakovski.

"Simple spell, yes, what does it do?" Whirling impossibly close, he leans towards Mingyu, who's trying his hardest not to gag. The smell of day-old vodka and rotting flesh breaches his nose. "Well?!"

"It's-uhmm...it's-"

-"Speak up boy!"

"It's a spell that makes nails go into boards perfectly straight," Mingyu regurgitates, "sir," he tacks on, because he feels it appropriate.

For several beats, Mayakovski only circles around them, pretending to be menacing with his heightless stature. Still, he poses a darken energy that sucks whatever spare light is inside the room. "Do spell, now."

A clattering of nails falls unceremoniously onto the table, everybody flinching in response.

Seungcheol, ever vigilant, hovers a hand above a single nail. "Ein saat shlug tief-"

"Silence!"

Words dying inside his throat, Seungcheol watches helplessly as his nail’s clatters mutely.

"You children learn magic like parrot learn Shakespeare. Tricks for treat," Mayakovski accuses. Tongue clicking in repulsion. "It's disgusting, you're disgusting, no? Magic is gift, learn better!"

With that, Mayakovski leaves without flourish, slinking over like he's barely able to sustain himself.

Well. What the shit?

 

◇◇◇

 

With Mayakovski distracted, alongside rooms chock-full of frustrated students, trying to embed a nail without speaking, Jun and Minghao slips away unnoticed. Like a breathless wind, traveling through the grand hallways, searching for the fated library.

Where to?" Junhui mouths, knowing he's completed the nail-challenge thing for both of them. Being telekinetic is useful sometimes.

Unfortunately, the curse is still in effect, having not used the designated charm. The embedded nails will at least distract Mayakovski.

Minghao, for a psychic-traveler, knows nothing about searching stuff. Mayakovski's thoughts are tightly locked, and he's no queromancer. Just— He mouths, really wishing he's capable of speech currently Let's go.

Grabbing Junhui's wrist, they amble aimlessly to the first territory they discover.

 

◇◇◇

 

Seungcheol eyes the nail endlessly, tongue curling over his lips, fingers hovering above the teetering nail that's barely dancing overhead the plank of rosewood. Magic moving the object along, Seungcheol's lips follows spells dying within his throat-

fuckin Mayakovski, he thinks, Greatest magician alive my ass.

Seungcheol tries to strangle a squeal when his nail finally's a quarter way inside. Happiness filling through him after three hours of doing this bullshit.

Pushing, the nail enters more, another push, his veins bulging on his temple and the nail-

Clang

- is now, embedded inside the concrete floor.

Fantastic.

As if compelled, Seungcheol looks upwards sheepishly, feeling Jeonghan's silent giggles directed at him.

They're both roomed across from one another, a very infuriating decision considering their ever-increasing tension. Especially after the secret's magic.

And the goose thing.

Seungcheol watches, enraptured as Jeonghan's delicate, considerably refined movements influences the nail to slowly makes its way inside. Centimeters closer to its destination, something shines within the blonde's eyes—something similar to hopefulness that really affects Seungcheol somehow.

Perhaps if anybody's succeeding, it'll be the smartest student in Brakebills. But at last- with an ear-piercing creak, the nail bents halfway inside. Jeonghan's arms lays limply to his side, the magician blowing hair out of his glasses.

The two magician's eyes meet in a surprisingly heated gaze. Seungcheol eventually breaking it with a placating smile and a shrug, hands revering blindly to his billions of nails embedded onto the floor. Jeonghan, giggles silently in response.

Feeling almost conciliated, Seungcheol means to return to the subject but then—

The condescending steps of Mayakovski resonates onto Mahogany. Eyerolling, Seungcheol braces his middle finger.

"So you idiots haven't finish?" Mayakovski's accented voice reverberates through their skull, Seungcheol feeling it ringing inside his ears. "Very incompetent, no? Considering friends all have succeeded, yes?"

Ever since they've arrived, Mayakovski has singled both him and Jeonghan out. Sensing tension cultivating inside and exploiting that turmoil for his amusement. Seungcheol's admittedly near his breaking point.

"All giggling, smiling..." Mayakovski continues, sneering at the two pitiful magicians. Smirking, Seungcheol can almost imagine a cigarette lit to the side of his lips, supercilious expression reflecting through. "Why don't you two, eh...fuck? Yeah."

That's it. Seungcheol's breaking.

Standing blindingly fast, chair scraping menacingly behind himself, Seungcheol raises his hands in in the air, as hundreds of nails obediently follows.

For a second, Seungcheol sees fear reflected over Mayakovski wide disdainful eyes, before with a rapid movement, jerking his wrist, the nails flies onto the rosewood. The sound clatteringly frightening, that even Jeonghan flinches.

There, on the unassuming plank, spells "DICK" in big embolden letters as Mayakovski peers over the message.

Scoffing, the greatest magician stands back, hands inside his pocket, shaking with laughter. "You could do that three hours ago—" He comments, as Seungcheol's voice returns. "Stupid child," He says before walking away.

Seungcheol, thoroughly dislikes him.

"Don't let Mayakovski get to you." The addition of Jeonghan's voice, softly encouraging, startles Seungcheol away from glaring. Looking at the blonde, he sees the other's perfectly embedded nail.

Seungcheol hadn't notice him succeeding.

"Yeah, well, if he stops being an asshole."

 

◇◇◇

 

Waiting for everybody to succeed is grueling, Mingyu discovers. As he hovers before the boarded windows, painfully looking at the snowy landscape outside. Nothing waiting except freezing temperatures and emptiness.

Left with his thoughts, Mingyu's imagination begins to wonder of happenings that never happened. Instances that never was.

The crackling flames of the fireplace sets the atmosphere.

Mingyu used to know somebody who would've adored this—discovering a universe hidden in plain sight. Realizing there's more to explore within their existence. He wonders, if like attracts like, was Wonwoo also a magician such as him. Such as his closest companion Seungcheol.

If whatever happens a couple years before never happen, would he've been honored to be alive. Standing beside everything he's ever desired, completing his every aspiration.

Clack

The imposing sound of the window frames hitting against the glass startles Mingyu away from his daydreaming. Almost instinctively, choking back tears, Mingyu wipes his dampening cheeks, before turning to the source of the clatter.

There, stands a sheepishly squirming magician—the one who re-enrolled, if Mingyu remembers.

"Sorry, I-I just wondered if those windows actually open."

Shaking himself into complacency, Mingyu approaches, body hunching in on himself despite the brilliant smile plastering his face. "It's fine. You're Seokmin, right? The nurse?"

"In training, yes." Mingyu notices his smile mirrored on Seokmin's face. Something luminescent that never reaches his eyes. "You finished quick."

"So did you," Mingyu counters, hearing the other humbled chuckle escaping his throat.

"I'm sorry, if I was imposing, I just—didn't wanna be alone." The tone of which Seokmin admits it is surprisingly sincere, something melancholic hidden behind it.

It surprises Mingyu so greatly in fact, the knowledge student feels himself teetering onto unnerving memories he desires to forget. Pacing away, he approaches the stacks of books, choosing one at random, occupying his restless fingers.

"Sorry."

"No, it's okay." Shutting the book, dusts floats upwards and Mingyu quickly returns it.

"No, truly, I'm a healer so—" Seokmin pauses, a mirthless chuckle bubbling through his throat "I'm kinda attracted to healing...sickness."

I'm not sick, Mingyu thinks stubbornly, distracting himself, picking-prodding through knick-knacks strewn around the majestic room.

"Mentally, you're in pain."

To that, Mingyu's eyes sharpen, holding the gaze that he'll know he'll loose with the healer magician. As predicted, the first prickling of tears sends his gaze downwards, distracting himself with fingers curling around the ornate candelabra.

"Me too, y'know."

"This isn't fucking therapy," Mingyu interrupts bitingly, gripping the edges of the table unyieldingly.

Presumably silenced, it becomes soundless for quite some time, whispered footsteps pattering away from the heartbroken magician before a creak alerts Mingyu of the other's current position, perching on the couch.

"I lost my boyfriend to magic, couple years back." Seokmin begins and all Mingyu wants is to reprimand the other, screaming silently for him to stop. But all that happens is his ears prickling from the familiarity. "Today would've been an important day for us, but— well..."

"Now you're here, spending it alone," Mingyu finishes.

The conversation brings nothing, only sorrowful history resurrected through painful words shared between tormented people. Something pointless and inconclusive, only wallowing in their stewing regrets.

And yet a smile invades both their faces.

"My name's Mingyu," is everything the knowledge magician is capable of managing, but he feels his heart settles as he utters it. Beginning to move along.

"Well...it's nice to meet you, Mingyu."

Perhaps opening up is imperative for their healing. Mingyu's glad, to have discovered somebody as haggard as he, within the confines of magic.

 

◇◇◇

 

After the annoying-ness that is traveling, the negative mental impact that has affected Minghao, Junhui saw to it to create an amulet. Something simple and understated that gleams underneath the moonlight. Something he snuck inside the library for, right before getting transformed into a- godawful goose.

Brakebills Library is not something to overlook. Having an extensive collection of magical information, from their history to their physiology—sentient books, as Junhui discovers, have a short life-span. Needing to fuck one another to produce the next issue.

Yes. Literally. Procreate.

But those leather-bound books, ginormous hulking novels, thoroughly researched encyclopedias; everything wrapped inside a pleasantly Brazilian Rosewood confines, with strewn about multichromatic couches, and coffee machines—Everything, is nothing compared to Mayakovski's library.

A terribly musky venerable place. Decomposing shelves haphazardly painted over with Chantilly lace, covers its decrepitude. Termite bitten parchments scatters around desks, flickering light fixtures, and dusty corners. It's claustrophobic nature, alongside the lack of proper lighting paints a picture of horror instead of something majestic and to be desired.

And yet.

Curiously, Junhui flickers through a book, snide comments bitten back the second the passages swims through his cognition. Spellworks, history, knowledge, everything inside an unassuming notebook. Something surprisingly perspicacious compared to its size.

Well, I get why you wanna search for it here, Junhui comments.

With lips still constricted, their only ways of communication is through Minghao's telepathy. Something that causes the younger frequent headaches, which means they need to find it quickly—

We're searching for what again?

Minghao glares from underneath the rim of his glasses, bending over to search through another pile of books. You'd think with this important information, one would organize better.

The Complete Encyclopedia of Traveling and Travelers, Wonwoo told me he last saw it inside Mayakovski's Library.

Wonwoo, right, a familiar character to Junhui but nonetheless an unnerving one. Whenever the name Wonwoo, is uttered, it's always accompanied by stories of the beast. How it's growing stronger. Who's to say Wonwoo isn't one of its disciples.

Eyerolling, Minghao whirls exasperatedly towards his boyfriend. He's not. And could you please just help me search?

Surrendering his palms up, Junhui immediately does as instructed. Grimacing over stale vodka odors that covers the majority of the books.

The two searches for seemingly forever, swearing whatever sunlight capable of infiltrating through the window has dimmed a little ever since they've arrived. Which is peculiar, because this is Antarctica.

Found it.

"Have you now?"

Flinching, the two slowly turns, expecting the last person they wanted to see.

A disappointed expression greets their uncomfortable smiles. Pinching the air, zipping it quickly sideways, The two magicians finds themselves breathing words again, immediately gasping their words out, shamefaced, chastised.

"Go ahead," is Mayakovsky's response to their frantic explanation.

Confused, Minghao thumbs through the pages of the encyclopedia, heart dropping, consuming every word written. "It's a motherfucking cook book." Slamming the godforsaken thing, the traveler angrily throws it towards the pile in the corner. Propriety be damn.

"Couple years ago headwitches took book, yeah? Replace with Russian cook book- tiny bastard," Mayakovsky explains, huffing the last part underneath his breath.

Minghao though, is universes away, head aching as frightening thoughts invades his hopelessness ones again.

Seeing his boyfriend distressed, Junhui quickly shuffles beside the traveler, sitting him down in the corner with soothing shushing noises as Mayakovsky's watch from above. Contrary to popular believe, he's not a heartless magician.

"You are traveler, no?"

Sniffling, it takes some mustering of courage for Minghao to swallow his frustrations, eyes glassy but piercing nonetheless. "Yeah."

"Amulet is temporary solution for not traveling, so you need encyclopedia for tattoo, hmm?"

"I—yeah."

"What's your point?" Junhui grounds, disliking anybody prying into their business. Although, after infiltrating someone's library, Mayakovsky’s owed at least that, so he softens immediately.

To his credit, the master magician steps forwards handing out his bottle of vodka before crouching before Minghao. His hands, outstretched tentatively grasps the amulet, bloodstone reflecting the artificial illumination.

"Traveling is rare discipline, why are you suppressing it?"

Considering the fact Dean Fogg found him somewhere in the middle of India, Minghao has his reasons. "Traveling's dangerous, I'm trying to not die here."

Protectively corralling Minghao, Junhui puts himself in between the two. Sensing something, he grasps his boyfriend's trembling hands tightly. Wanting ones again to shoot out some comments.

"Then you learn traveling, not run away like child or coward. I teach you, yes?" Something gleams over Mayakovsky's eyes, his beards almost prickling with amusement.

"What are you—"

"I teach now." And the two realizes belatedly the hand yanking away the amulet.

"No!"

With hands clenching tightly to one another, they open them slowly only to find they're somewhere that's definitely not Antarctica.

"Fucker!"

 

◇◇◇

 

Unsurprising to anybody, their next set of exercises gets increasingly ridiculous than the next. It's down to handfuls of them left, Seungcheol minutely wonders where the Junhui and Minghao has gone. Somehow, he doesn't think they failed after seeing the knowingness in Mayakovsky's face.

Regardless, currently transpiring is their supposedly final task before being allowed to sleep and eventually forget the experience of Brakebills South.

One would think, being paired up with the smartest freshman will bring effortlessness, instead-

"Ow!" They both flinches as another firefly runs into another metal wire.

-it's anything but.

From across the room, Seungcheol sees Mingyu passing with flying colors. All thirteen of his fireflies successfully getting through the looping wires, never ones electrocuted.

After returning from the Hammer Charm of Legrand exercise, Seungcheol found Mingyu chatting carelessly away with who he recognizes as a nurse-in-training. Something about the picture screams terrifying, with how both magicians looked like they've lost a battle a hundred times over, and was then chatting away at their losses.

Something about it tugs inside Seungcheol's heart. Perhaps his ever-increasing jealousy of his always competent best friend. Maybe it's the insecurities inside him rearing its monstrous head. Magic is supposed to be his thing that Mingyu hijacked halfway. Even if he'd forgiven his friend, Seungcheol hasn't forgiven himself.

"Ow!" At that pain he's harboring, the one he impends with pills and unheard therapies, will— "Ow, fuck, shit!" —be his undoing.

At the end, fingers interlocking with Jeonghan's twelve out of thirteen of their fireflies died. The only survivor was a fluke, Jeonghan sneezing and somehow relinquishing enough control for the firefly to float through itself safely.

"We suck," Jeonghan muses dejectedly, ripping away the electrodes connecting him with Seungcheol, sending sparking tingles through both their brains.

Jeonghan ones thought of himself as a prodigy, able to withstand anything. He never prides himself on his intelligence, always treating it as a useful set of limbs not everybody owns. But now, as he feels his competence slipping away, perhaps from unknown arrogance, Jeonghan finds himself wanting it back. At least until he properly lays Joshua to rest.

"Fireflies dead because you two. Still, haven't fucked yet?" Cackling, Mayakovsky rounds Mingyu and Seokmin away, congratulating them for being halfway competent.

Ignoring his increasing irritation, Seungcheol instead faces Jeonghan, who's fingers, despite having finished their exercise, still interlocks with his. Rubbing minute circles, Seungcheol tries plastering an encouraging smile, failing at the eyes.

"M'sorry."

This is probably them coming to ahead. This...peculiar tension.

"You two!" Mayakovsky's shouts. Both magicians jolting backwards after leaning in unbeknowsntly.

After failing, miserably, in the majority of their practices, Mayakovsky, the genius magician he is, thought it best for two students to stand butt-naked before the open entrance, welcoming the sharpness of Antarctica’s weather. Shivering, pitifully trying to cover themselves.

"Is this actually necessary? Giving us hypothermia." The fight previously embedded inside Seungcheol's tones dissipates somewhat, preoccupying itself with relegating energy, wanting to raise his body's temperatures.

Somehow when Jeonghan sheds the last article of clothing, Seungcheol, in his butt-naked existence, finds himself inching closer to the other, covering. Recalling the night where they performed secrets magic, remembering Jeonghan’s secret and his insecurities.

Silently, the blonde thanks the other for it.

"Predictable," Mayakovsky sneers, downing another mouthful of vodka that taste increasingly like his tolerance is building up.

Fantastic. These students are nightmares. Anxiety ridden potentials.

"Basic trainings failed you—" Mayakovsky says, tapping away at his chin contemplatively, despite knowing the solution already. "So, you fly here as geese, now you run away as—" Hands raising above, the master magician crinkles his fingers, echoing spells wordlessly as he watches his students shrink and shrink, until "—Foxes."

It's a peculiar thing, surrendering yourself to your outmost primal nature. Seungcheol ones thought that if that ever transpires, he'll jump-off the closest skyscraper, ending his life in a humorlessly selfish glory. His blood painting the busy street, transferring his horrors and trauma onto innocent bystanders, perhaps pushing another over the edge.

What he doesn't expect when relinquishing one’s human nature, is the shedding of his inhibition. His mind a jumbled mess of wants and needs that's incredibly simple.

For example, it's freezing, even for a fox like himself, protected thoroughly with thick cocoa-colored fur, he still yearns for warmth. And what the fox wants, the fox gets; immediately rushing towards a cave in the horizon.

Vaguely, Fox-Seungcheol, in his animalistic mind, remembers the companion staggering behind him. J-Jeonghan? Yes. Jeonghan, probably finds it difficult to relinquish control. The blonde's white fur easily overlooked in the winter landscape.

Whimpering, scratching at the snow piling the confused white fox, Fox-Seungcheol implores his companion (who smells amazing what the fuck?) towards the cave.

Ones inside, the two restless, body finally warming, but still desiring something more.

Fox-Seungcheol wants. Fox-Jeonghan wants. Their pheromones filling the increasingly warming cave sends them into rutting, growling, the magicians within them fights against themselves.

Eventually, having their humanity strip, their earthly, nonexistent problems dissipating into mindless background noise, the two succumb to their wants. The only contributing factor of their humanity influencing the way they indulge their fox-ly desires.

Currently, without burdens of jealousy, suicidal thoughts, alongside general feelings of incompetency. Without pressures of propriety, of wanting to find what history lost, and absolute anxiety over human interactions. Without all those advanced problems, Fox-Seungcheol and Fox-Jeonghan finds there's really one desire shining through from their human form to their animalistic nature, and that is that they desire one another. Desperately.

 

◇◇◇

 

Final day at Breakbills South finds the incompetent ankle-biters magicians worse for wear. With outwardly expressive leering directed towards their superior, their professor, Mayakovsky, who sticks his middle finger up freely in return.

Seungcheol remembers seeing Junhui and Minghao, once, somewhere in the middle of doing—that, with Jeonghan, in their cave, before blipping away. His animalistic, less than competent mind, couldn't process the happenstance enough to remember it completely. But he guesses from seeing them today, Minghao clutching to Junhui like a vice as they slowly walk through the hallway, that something must've happened with his traveling. Something that smells like vodka and vulgarity.

"Traveler!" Speak of the devil.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Mayakovsky finally returned Minghao's amulet, it's shining majestic quality stripped of its usefulness after being stolen away. Minghao had growled, ripped it unceremoniously, winding it tightly around his neck. He couldn't, however, conceal his relief after receiving it.

Leaving behind Breakbills South right now isn't soon enough.

Trudging over towards the pair he'd traumatized (amongst others), the scraggly magician rummages somewhere over to the corner, procuring a book that's been collecting dust for probably centuries. With a slightly bored expression, the professor thrusts the books forcefully onto Minghao's unexpectant hands. Eyes imploring secrets of the imperativeness of said bounded manual.

"Book teaches you travel, experience teaches you not to be afraid," He explains, accent heavier than usual. Which is all he utters before leering and walking away, leaving the couple stupefied and borderline offended.

But even through his haze of furiousness, Minghao begrudgingly admits, after forcibly traveling everywhere across the universe in a span of several hours, his balls have dropped when it comes to what he is.

With a slight bow towards his boyfriend, who steadfastly clung to him even when his traveling transported them back for a brief period, Minghao rests his head familiarly on the broad shoulder. Whispering, "Let's go home." And feeling Junhui's awaiting arms escorting him through the portal.

 

◇◇◇

 

Seeing magicians after magicians blipping through the portal, Seungcheol finds himself staying behind everyone, with Jeonghan's half-sleeping form draping sideways across him. After their...night, they've discovered that their Reynard pheromones clings even through their human form, even after being transfigured back. And in their human form, naked and vulnerable, they might've clutched onto one another for the entirety of the night. Jeonghan waking up expectedly freaked out, but unable to resist the temptations. Pheromones.

Or, at least that's the excuse Jeonghan gave.

Seeing Junhui and Minghao, the last of everybody else, going through, Seungcheol nudges Jeonghan into alertness. "C'mon, our turn," he whispers into the vaguely strawberry scented blonde hair.

Pliantly willing, Seungcheol manages to maneuver Jeonghan enough until their almost through the portal. Looking back, he observes the palace of knowledge he's leaving behind. Dilapidated, a definite eye-sore, yet it possesses so much value Seungcheol feels himself drowning in them.

Mayakovsky stands leaning against one of his knick-knacks covered table, eyeing the straggler curiously.

"Got something to say?" The professor mutters, not at all defensively. There's a sadness that Seungcheol detects through the other's unwillingness to admit, but it's presence's compelling the younger magician lingers if it isn't for Jeonghan's slumping warmth steadily invading his senses.

Instead he opens his mouth, hesitating for a second. "You—you're a truly great teacher."

Seungcheol watches as a shit-eating smirk travels its way onto Mayakovsky's face, before being overtaken with a vodka bottle. "I know."

"Then why're you here?" That's the question that's been gnawing at Seungcheol. Why would anybody willingly sequester themself, alone, with nothing but blizzard and mustiness as company? Torturing themself.

Perhaps they've gotten off terribly, Seungcheol only discerning the arrogance and not the brilliance hidden within. Because he could admit, that every single one of them genuinely learned something inside these too big walls. Against this roughen personality, they're sculpted into slightly better people.

"Mistakes were made."

Seungcheol hums understandingly, "You can't return, can you?"

Mayakovsky shrugs, letting another wash of vodka burn his throat. Pointing towards Jeonghan, he inclines his head somewhat. "Watch out for that one, brilliance is something difficult to manage."

Nodding, Seungcheol places his arms beneath Jeonghan's thighs, carrying the willing dead weight. With a last look to the receding figure of the master magician, Seungcheol travels through the portal, finding something similar to a purpose stirring withing him and within his arms.

 

◇◇◇

 

Jeonghan awakens inside his room, with the midday sun hitting his covered eyelids incessantly. He feels himself succumbing fully to the warmth of familiar bedcovers, drowning underneath a steadily-becoming-familiar scent. Finding himself secured, Jeonghan almost fall into unconsciousness again before said familiar smell begins to recede.

"Wait," he mumbles barely coherent, only now remembering- "Seungcheol, “He whispers, scratching at his heavy eyes.

Wordlessly grabbing the other's sleeve, Jeonghan reclines backwards until Seungcheol's above him, covering the blonde from the irritating sun.

Seungcheol faces Jeonghan, unabashed and a little curious. Having known several compelling secrets pertaining the other, Seungcheol knows Jeonghan's unwillingness to participate in anything intimate has been ingrained within him ever since childhood. The blonde has no traces of fear though, as he pulls the older down into a soft, lazy kiss.

Jeonghan hums into Seungcheol's mouth, the vibration sending welcomed full body shivers. Finding purchase within the darken locks, Jeonghan draws Seungcheol impossibly closer, thighs parting instinctively.

Hands traveled itself everywhere on Jeonghan's body, before settling with gripping a bruising pressure onto his hips.

Before long, their languid kisses transform into something more passionate, deeper. Their desires shining through.

Fingers dances deftly onto the waistband of Jeonghan's pants, silently imploring. For a moment, the phosphoromancer wants nothing more than to allow everything to happen naturally. His body desiring something it's been prevented from consuming since forever. The touches are tender, somewhat unassuming, heating steadily instead of all at once. Slowly bringing his guard down.

"Jeonghan," Seungcheol moans into his ears, sentimental and a little desperate, and that's what reminds Jeonghan of the reality.

Putting a hand on Seungcheol's shoulder, Jeonghan pushes the other delicately away. Already a look of disappointment encompass itself onto Seungcheol's features, and Jeonghan's about to become angry when the other suddenly mutters silently, "Is it me?" And then Jeonghan deflates. The disappointment isn't directed towards him.

"No."

"Is it Joshua?"

Hesitating, Jeonghan finally says, "...No." Although his childhood friend plays a particularly sizeable character.

After what happened the last time, he entrusted someone with intimacy (though not romantically, it still was important), Jeonghan discovers his reluctance with opening up again. In being hurt again.

Seungcheol might've taken this the wrong way, as the other begins walking towards the door. For a second, Jeonghan's muffled brain's unable to process the movement, still inside some delirious, half-dreaming state from last night. Until his eyes catch up with the situation, lips parting in retaliation.

"Wait!" He says, volume definitely too loud for the situation. "Wait," he amends, making his way towards the hesitant boy.

Seungcheol follows willingly enough, his openly adoring expression sending waves of something warm through Jeonghan's body. And he thinks if this is what intimacy is, he's not entirely opposed to the notion.

"I'm sorry, I just—I wanna know if it's pheromones or—" Leaning down, Seungcheol comes face to face with the so called prodogical magician. close enough to see the minute details; the blonde's creasing eyelids whenever his lips lifted just slightly. But there’s fear in between those crinkles, apprehension that makes Seungcheol move backwards just slightly.

"I get it," he whispers, seeing Jeonghan's relief flooding through. It's apparent now, Jeonghan's inaptitude with being present with intimate situations. "Sleep," Seungcheol instructs softly, fingers moving slow comforting circles into the blonde's back, until his body's fully horizontal, to which Seungcheol makes to leave again when a hand grabs at his wrist. Pressure less and tentative.

"Stay," Jeonghan whispers, equally as apprehensive, eyes holding hope that Seungcheol can't deny.

Nodding concisely, Seungcheol makes to recline before Jeonghan's fingers moves towards the hem of his shirt, lifting slowly.

Staring dumbly, breathlessness taking over, Seungcheol can only anticipate the expanse of skin he's seen before underneath the moonlight. But the glistening skin, greyish and cobalt underneath the whispering moon, currently is Sunkissed, reflecting the morning light. Jeonghan hesitates, lifting his glasses from where his movements skewed it, a small nervous chuckle escaping his perfect butterfly lips.

And there Seungcheol thought Jeonghan couldn’t’ve surprised him anymore.

"Woa—" Moving blindingly fast, Jeonghan speedily covers Seungcheol's mouth, chuckling anxiously when he realizes what he did, drawing his hands towards his chest.

"I'm sorry, I just—can we do it like this?" Like last night, is what Seungcheol hears. Remembering the coldness seeping through his bones after ditching his fury physique. The freezing temperature only staving off ones he and Jeonghan got inside the covers, shivering, clinging desperately.

"Yeah," Seungcheol strangles, clearing his throat before copying Jeonghan. To his credit, his apprehensions are nowhere to be seen, knowing one of them needed to be braver in this situation.

Getting into the covers, the two positions themselves into comfortableness. Jeonghan's searching finger coming over the other's chest, his nose tucking into Seungcheol's perspiration covered neck, the remaining scent of fox slowly dissipating.

Through the comforting circles moving on his lower back, Jeonghan sighs and reassess his situation. The one where the intimacy he'd battle for forever is now the very thing he's craving for. That thought terrifies the ever pragmatic phosphoromancer. Resting his fitfully eyes, Jeonghan slips inside a nurturing slumber. The one he'll awaken from fully sober, after transforming into someone different.