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memento mori

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Year 1972

“What you seek won’t make you stronger,” for the last time, Kun sharply pierced through the silence of air that remained for so long. He’s unsure whether to try once more—to speak or to give up all of it. One of the greatest and most powerful kingdoms was heavily obstructed, and only a view of a ruin stood. The watchtowers from each side that once stood with all their glory were currently nothing but dust and ruptured concrete on the floor.

In the middle of the whole havoc, Taeyong stood. Darkness consumed his tall, slender body. His eyes were bloodshot and it seems that Kun was rather too late. He sat on the throne of the king as if he was already waiting for him, a throne precisely from the one he decided to kill in order to claim it, of course.

Taeyong scoffed, a response Kun found very pointless. He knew it was only meant to taunt him. “The throne is already mine and there is nothing more you can do now.”

Memento mori, Taeyong.” There was actually one more magic trick Kun has under his sleeves. Memento mori meant ‘remember you must die,’ akin to him reminding Taeyong that he was bound to die, having no ability to escape it. Mortals like them cannot control fate and death. Spiritually, they could transcend the concept of being born again. However, that is going to be their limit.

Kun pointed to the place in front of him, where Taeyong sat. The latter watched him nonchalantly, believing that nothing would happen to him. Briefly, Kun flicked his finger in front of Taeyong and absolutely nothing happened.

“There’s nothing.”

“Well,” Kun interjected, knowing so well that something will indeed happen at any moment now. “I believe nothing is still something,” and with that, a rectangular board hovered Taeyong as he sat. Standing up, Taeyong is seemingly followed by the out-of-place flat and rectangle floating object above him. Desperately, he approached Kun with knitted eyebrows, a frown so deep, and a sword he carried. The latter produced an irritating sound after it was dragged, obvious to his eyes that he lost his cool.

His silver sword is now drenched in blood, where an accumulative amount of the royal family’s blood, unfortunately, tainted the sword. The same sword radiated dark red as it was influenced by the blood themselves.

Fortunately for Kun, he saw the situation in advance. “Subjugate and chain the corrupt soul, hold his essence bound evermore. His spirit shall remain in the core until time decides no more,” he whispered, stopping Taeyong from coming after him, despite only being a few meters away from reaching him by his hand. A number of chains above Taeyong fell as it shackled his limbs to the point of not letting him move any further. He was pulled into the flat, rectangular surface that later revealed itself as a painting's background after.

“If a day comes and I free you from this cage, I am ought to bring you onto your death. Do you understand?” Kun considered this idea, yet during this time, it’s going to be near impossible. Taeyong’s soul as of the moment is very corrupted and it was going to be hard in order to restore him, as he realized how Taeyong still had the crown clutched close to his chest. He still has an attachment to the crown and to the power he craved, gotten, but stolen.

He’s powerless inside the painting after he was pulled from outside. He could talk, but his power is useless. There was nothing that could help him there. “…”

“You have slaughtered so many innocent lives, Taeyong. I do not want the world to continue moving while a threat like you lurk inside the shadows.” Simply put, Kun is a magician who prefers only battling with every trick under his sleeves. He is one who places others before himself and would like to prefer the light over the dark, and this was the best solution to a soul he thought would never consider the light ever again.

Unfortunately for him, he found his opposite, and that’s Taeyong. A sorcerer who aspired to take the crown from the king and the royal family. Much big of a massacre, Kun is unsure how he was able to take over the entire kingdom in mere hours. The only speculation he could muster was the use of his own shadow work. Taeyong seemed to be fond of dark magic and used that to create multiple versions of himself in a dark form, indicative of what Kun saw him from before.

This incident was simply a jewelry robbery, and he hasn’t seen anyone who practices dark magic with that amount of focus and skill. There had been information passed to him by some scholar from the center of the kingdom that maintaining contact with your own shadow and making them follow orders is the highest degree of dark magic. That day he saw Taeyong, it was mayhem. Several onlookers and civilians were injured, and Kun wasn’t able to catch him as he was too quick. That was something Kun noticed to be so difficult for him. Taeyong was able to outspeed and lure him to nothing.

He had already decided by the time he replied to him, as there is nothing much more to say that tell him the condition of the imprisonment. “So I shall see you in two scores and a decade, precisely fifty if you prefer a straightforward answer.”

 


 

Year 2022

HOT: Famous painter Qian Kun, buys a worn-out painting by someone unknown! It was said that this painting is half a hundred years old--

Kun sighed as he closed the TV and leaned back on his sofa. Is there nothing more important the news can report? He was simply a painter by this time and age yet people stayed the same. Kun thought there’s much more important news to be discussed or aired, but it seems that he’s one of those ‘important’ things for them.

Ding!

Kun eyed the door as his doorbell rang, indicating a visitor. The speaker that is connected from the inside emitted sound, too. It seems that this painting bought by him was already here, just about time. “Hello, sir. We’re from the Dream Lab Gallery, we would like to deliver the painting piece you bought?” A younger boy spoke outside as he rang the bell again. Kun nodded and answered a happy coming!

As Kun opened the door, the two surprised him. He knew the two of these from their past lives. The first one was a model—who, unfortunately, died in a car accident, and the other one was a popular writer, who was famous up until his last breath in his own home. It’s interesting to see them intertwined with this life right now. “Hello, sir. My name is Chenle and I am with my friend Renjun to help you set up the painting you bought. Are there any confirmation IDs or receipts you could provide us for validity?”

Kun shrugged, of course, this is still business. “Ah, yes,” he opened his wallet and pulled out the receipt of his transaction with the gallery and his driver’s license as well. “Is this enough?” The two boys looked at both pieces of evidence through their small tablet screen, which Kun assumes to be something that is connected to their gallery’s list of patrons and smiled at him after.

“Looks good, sir!” Chenle beamed. “Where would you like it placed?”

Kun purposely pointed out an empty space in his well-built house, made exactly—more than if he was honest, for this painting to come. “There’s a free space in here,”

“Alright, please sign here for the confirmation,” Kun does as instructed, while the other boy continued to speak. He didn’t mind that, either. “We assure a year worth of warranty for this piece, please do not hesitate to call the gallery in case any mishap happens.” The boy named Renjun smiled as Kun reciprocated the gesture. It was still fascinating to him how much these boys remained the same and yet different. He still thinks nothing much has changed, but he knew they grew up well.

Chenle took the paper with Kun’s signature and surprisedly gasped. “Sir Qian, you seem quite familiar…” Kun replied with nothing but one more smile of his, one that kept his playfulness intact.

“I could just be someone similar. Anyway…” Kun interjected as he ended it there, no longer wanting to keep the other two as they could be too busy with art deliveries.

The two successfully sensed the signal as they appeared to accept this request. “Yup, I think that’s our cue to go. Thank you for the short accommodation, sir, until our next transaction, hopefully!” There could be none more, after all, it was all this painting he only looked out for. He could look at a few pieces, probably examine some that could have trapped evil souls inside them. For now, however, he’ll look after this instead.

“Take care, the two of you.”

 


 

Kun glanced one more time at the painting in front of him. It’s been fifty years and he wondered if anything had changed. Has time truly reshaped the person stuck in this piece of art? Would it be possible to say that time healed him, somehow, reverted his evil soul to be the complete opposite?

He sighed deeply before raising his hand in front of the painting, similar to how he locked the spirit inside. “Free the wretched from the shackles of this prison, bestowed upon thee.” The lights of his home flickered for a while before they came back to normal. The floor slightly shook too, or it was probably him who got dizzy while reciting the magic.

“New owner knows magic at this time and age?” The person in the painting fluttered his eyes open. His voice was surely questioning, yet he wasn’t aggressive. Kun shrugged with the mention of magic. It wasn’t usual for people to use magic now unlike before as it is seen as unconventional. In this era, there haven’t been any other users of magic besides him so far.

A puff of smoke revealed a moving figure inside the painting, and that same subject spoke. Kun finally laughed. “You might be familiar with me.”

“Kun?”

He might as well answer him. “Well, what do you know. You stayed the same, I hope you had a great, long sleep.” He meant the look, of course. He’s not aware of his personality yet.

“It was, indeed,” To Kun’s surprise, Taeyong was no longer the aggressive soul he used to be. The way he was approached Kun seemed to be very calm, but he continued to keep himself watchful over the possible animosity that could happen. The other man stood calmly before Kun himself, a clear distinction of clothing garment fashion from a few years back. The more Kun looked at him, the more it seems that Taeyong no longer poses a threat to him, nor did he see him as one.

The person from the painting spoke once more and Kun is left in slight shock. “Thank you, still. Will you open the gates of death?” Kun promised him the moment he locked him up inside that the moment he came to him, he’ll bring him to his death. That’s probably how he still expected it to go, hence, his sad smile.

As Kun saw the person in front of him, he wondered if this was a dream. He would’ve never imagined this to happen, more so with Taeyong, the power-hungry soul who stole the crown of the kingdom. “I’m letting you choose. Would you prefer to be my companion until the world sees its end or would you opt for the passage of death?” He could still do it. He could summon a portal down to hell and send him down if that’s his answer, or he could do the opposite of that. Kun saw that change in him that he looked for several years ago, and now that he’s physically here, he wanted to give him a chance.

“If I could remind you, Taeyong, memento mori. If you choose to live now, doesn’t mean you’ll surely be alive tomorrow. If you choose death, it wouldn’t guarantee you a perfect reincarnation. Life is a complex thing.” It’s just a simple reminder. Some things won’t change.

Kun knew nothing, but he was not aware of this sudden change in demeanor. It could be due to the length of his stay and the way he saw different kinds of people, but that’s merely speculation. “Fifty years is a long while, after all. There is so much learn and when you have all of the time in this world, you’ll never notice that you’ll change, too.” Taeyong quietly described. It seems that he didn’t expect this change, too.

“There were kind people and there were ones too cruel, even more than am I. I’ve seen how the world and its people changed, I predict you did as well.” Kun watched him explain, nodding by the sudden name call. He is perhaps a changed man, after all, the world changes. People change, too. “After seeing a thousand hundred number of people with every difference, I found myself growing and I soon realized I was no longer the person I was. Something shifted when I stayed here, and I would be eternally grateful for that.” Nothing more than that would make Kun feel happy for him, as one misguided soul found its hope.

“I’ve only done the right thing,” and he happened to be influenced by that good, as well. Kun is just as grateful that Taeyong has changed, and he watched him smile. “Is there anything you’d like to ask?”

There was silence, a few seconds worth of it that seemed to be a minute. “I do have something,” Taeyong easily answered him as he stepped out of the painting, finally. Kun’s keen senses kicked off once more and he stepped back, still a little afraid. Taeyong laughed at his actions and retreated a step as well, his back closer to the frame and canvas of the painting he stayed in. “I won’t hurt you, please. I’m sorry, you may not trust me but please, it’s okay, you can come close.”

“Please trust me, I would not hurt you in any way whatsoever.” Somehow, this was able to convince Kun to come closer.

Kun slowly walked his way through and finally faced him. “What is your question?”

“The first time I noticed you, there was no evidence of you remembering me, but now, it seems that you do. How did you remember me?” Kun owed an answer to Taeyong. He kept it a well-founded secret that all of this reveal would supposedly happen after he bought the painting, one that successfully happened. Now, the real question is how and why.

It was going to be quite an effort to go into detail, so Kun decided to specify all of the important parts of his journey. He couldn’t tell a single soul about this because people might see him as someone simply imagining things. “It was my consequence for trapping an evil soul in a painting, at least fifty years in total. That practice was seen as much more of a problem than a solution. Hearsays were coming around that method, once they were found free from that cage, they’ll do something evil again.”

Taeyong threw yet another question. “Is it exactly how you did it if I am not mistaken?”

“It is exactly how it was described,” Kun answered him honestly. The townsfolk believed that once an evil soul was trapped somewhere, breaking free is bound to happen specially when the spirit is stubborn and brings too much trouble to the table. This is similar to how Kun did it, except the soul didn’t retaliate despite being brought in the first time.

Kun eyed the other soul, the once jet black eyes is now colored in a lighter shade of gray. Colors represented the purity of themselves, and seeing this massive change from him made the former think that the world keeps on turning and so do people who keep changing. “Now, I’ve answered your question, have you made up your mind? If you stay, then you’ll know more about humanity. If you leave, life will continue as usual, as long as you don’t do the same thing again.”

Kun realized how long Taeyong already pondered. It took him a few more minutes to reply. “I don’t want to be alone again.”

“Is that choice the first answer?”

Taeyong smiled and for the first time ever, Kun saw how genuine he was. It’s similar to a sunflower looking up to the sun, so willingly and bright. It’s something he’s not so used to, but probably will be, in a few months. “I’m staying beside you, Kun. Dum spiro spero.”

Dum spiro spero, which when roughly translated, meant ‘While I breathe, I hope.’ It’s fascinating because it felt like an answer to the phrase Kun always liked to say: memento mori, or the ‘remember you must die.’ Kun always valued life and death, but he feared the latter. The world will keep on going; things will come and go. When the time comes and everything has to repeat, a part of humanity will disappear and a new one will come forth. This is the cycle of life that continues on for eternity, or until the rest of humanity fades away and there is nothing more to be.