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One Big Happy Family

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People are such fickle creatures, this she has seen all her life. They will shower you with affection and adoration when your are useful or entertaining to them, but they will soon grow bored or wary or worst of all, fearful, and shun that which they loved so.

She has seen it in the treatment of the palace-folk towards her when she was the youngest princess of the kingdom of Myung-Joo. She has seen it in her fellow priestesses when she was relocated-come-banished to the palace of Dae-Hyun. And she has seen it in the people of Dae-Hyun towards her emperor and sponsor. Only the latter, does she have any qualms over, only in the latter circumstance does the first taste of bitterness seep into her mouth.

But his voice, the deceased emperor, still manages to seep into her conscience. And when Baek-Yeom tries to hang onto that bitterness, tries to incite her to see things from his angle, all she can think of is how kindly his father had been and how he had only ever wanted a happy and prosperous empire.

"I will not aid your ambitions of conquest," she says with purposeful enunciation. Baek-Yeom's features mar themselves into a snarl for a moment, before he rearranges them.

"It is what my father would have wanted," he says instead. The line doesn't cause him to throw up and Ga-Bi wonders if there is no depth he would no sink to, in his mindless quest for power.

"Your father wanted the continued safety of the empire and I will use my powers to guarantee that."

"Absolute safety can only be achieved when we have the other countries as our vassals."

"I do not think so." She presses her lips and thinks. Baek-Yeom is wrong as usual, but she wonders if she is right this time around. They spar without blows or words for a couple heavy minutes before he huffs in an entirely unbecoming manner, turning on his heel and storming out.

"Do not think I will let you leave the palace before you see through your end!" he bites out, as if he could ever make her stay. But she will stay and she will not escape until an appropriate defense system has been constructed. This is what the late emperor would have wanted, and she will see his wishes through, at the least. And only after Baek-Yeom himself has confirmed the defense's feasibility, will she leave and never return.

---

That was the plan, at least.

What happens instead is that she dreams of the dead emperor for the first and last time, waking with tears and the bittersweet taste of all that could have been. It is the dead of the night but it matters not; she does not want to be seen, has no patience for the guards at this hour, and so she cloaks herself and enters the belltower alone. At the center, as it was in her memory (as it was in her dream), is the grand bell from the days of war.

Take it down, the emperor has asked her. Take it down, he means, so that there will be no more war.

Later on, she will remember it through hazy frames, loosely connected as if they were without real beginning or end. She does remove the bell from its place and she does end up in an alchemy room afterwards, but she doesn't remember what she did or what she said, merely that she was alone for the entirety of their creation. Although she could have used magic, for some reason, her fingers are itching, and so she crafts each bell from the larger bell by hand.

On the first day, she makes Ji-Eun, thinking of her own stiff-lipped but loving mother while forming the shape. She gives Ji-Eun her mother's straight black hair and her tight-lipped smile. Her peerless wit and her unsheathed tongue. This is the first divine bell, she thinks, and her lips move on their own, forming both her name and her power. On the first day, Ga-Bi hears herself recite, there was nothing. She combs the straight black hair, but refrains from breathing life into her creation, choosing instead to sleep.

On the second day, she makes Gang-Hui, and though later on, she will chide herself on picking favorites, he is the bell which was formed closest to her heart and soul, that much she will admit. She fashions his appearance from the palace of her childhood, the painted red petals of the camellias become his hair, the rays of sunlight through the autumn maple trees become his eyes, and an alternating affection and frustration towards the place and the world at-large become his personality. On the second day there was fire. Again, she combs through the still figure's hair, choosing to sleep instead of making be.

On the third day, she makes Yun, quick to anger and love, eager to please and retaliate, with light eyes and light hair, and she thinks, so this is how I saw Baek-Yeom as a child. And then, but where did that child go? She worries that the weight of his character will crush his spirit, and so she quickly makes a counterweight to him, Ju-Hie, and fills that with all the best qualities of herself: her compassion, her affection, her determination and loyalty. And she joins their hands and hopes that they will find peace in one another, unlike herself and Baek-Yeom. She combs through their hair as well, Yun's dirty gold and Ju-Hie's soft pink, and murmurs: On the third day, there was ice which melted into water, before going to sleep.

On of the fourth day, she makes Sun-Hoa, thinking of her mentor-priestess who showed her the ways of the temple and shielded her from the generals' ambitions. Sun-Hoa is a ray of sunshine, perpetually smiling and of good cheer, her hair is a more saturated pink than that of Ju-Hie and her stature that much smaller. But oh, the presence she would be capable of giving! Ga-Bi combs out her locks and presses a kiss to her brow, whispering, On the fourth day, there was the kindest wind.

On the fifth day, she makes Hoa-Back, a play on words in-conjunction with Sun-Hoa, and decides that he should be the moon to the other bell's sun. His hair is a smoky gray and his stature is about the same, and though she is tempted to give him a nature as aloof as Ji-Eun, in the end she decides he is too cute to be so serious and gives him the late emperor's willingness to believe and good-natured curiosity. The late emperor did not have any powers however, and she hesitates giving them to his namesake, before deciding that something constructive and difficult to activate would be much more acceptable. On the fifth day, she chants, going through the motions of the comb, There was the flourishing of a forest and the breach of earth by root and trunk.

On the sixth day, she wakes up and decides that she has put off breathing life into these bells long enough. So she makes twin bells on the sixth day and although she starts off thinking it will be over soon, she ends up spending hours over their every expression and action. She wants them to be similar, but not quite identical, and that nuance is harder to realize than she thought. In the end, she chooses for the girl to be more outgoing, naming her Bo-Wu and her twin brother Ra-Wu. She falls asleep combing through their hair and only manages to whisper on the sixth day, there was....

On the seventh and final day, she takes the now-empty bowl that contained the melted great bell and fashions a potion for herself. Where Baek-Yeom would have wanted them to swear unconditional loyalty to him, she realizes that she can never do that to these beings, these creations whom she would soon be awakening. Their personalities were a wild mix, a little from herself and a little from the rest of the world. So she makes the potion with great care, remembering that potions were not her specialty, and drinks it in a single gulp. It is a binding spell, from them to her, forcing up a swell of affection at their very existence, and she feels tears prick at the edge of her eyes.

She breathes life into all eight of them then, starting from Ji-Eun and ending wth Ra-Wu, and as each one opens their eyes, she fastens the bell in a meaningful location: chest, ear, hair, neck, chest, hair, hair, hair... she runs out of imagination halfway, she realizes with a laugh.

"What's so funny?" the second bell, Gang-Hui asks, right after she fastens the last bell onto Ra-Wu.

"I forgot to say the most important thing," Ga-Bi replies, holding her arms open at the eight bells drift towards her.

"And that would be?" Ji-Eun prompts.

"I love you now and I always will."