title: Chew the fire, swallow the heart
prompt number: 137
other pairings involved: past!Jongin/Sehun
summary: "The hardest part about living in the Castle isn't that the fireplace won't leave him alone, but the fact that the handsome wizard who comes through the door on the black dial, drenching the place with the scent of roses, rarely ever comes home."
warnings: Oh! My! God! Massive apologies to the over-generous mods for this extremely overdue fic!!! It just suddenly exploded in my face;; Thank you to my beta for listening to my whines and sharing my stress, without whom I would have literally ignited into flames. Howl's Moving Castle is my fave movie of all time so this was a JOURNEY, but I hope everyone enjoys it! I'm screaming!
Chew the fire, swallow the heart
The war’s going bad. The streets boast it, posters of it, crunching like candy wrappers under the sole of Kyungsoo’s shoes. They were his most comfortable pair - shoes actually meant for walking rather than food for the eyes, and already the road was eating them layer by layer.
Three days of walking without a destination really makes your mind run in circles. The city doesn't seem to end. If Kyungsoo had realised this from the start he wouldn't have left, carrying only a sack of sandwiches and a bottle of water bouncing to the rhythm of his footsteps. The mouth of the horizon doesn't open.
But he knows where not to go, and that the war was going bad, and that's as good a start as any.
The cafe is a fanfare of noise and men crowding around the counter, waving bills, shouting orders and obscenities. At the table tucked away in the corner is our main hero, staring a hole into his mug of tea and thinking about the palace in the main city-
His little brown mirror slides away, and Kyungsoo looks up, annoyed enough to snap but another cup slides in front of him; a white porcelain cup wafting something with the same slap as roasted coffee.
“You know, people come here for the Potion, not a common mug of tea.” The stranger says. The drink was advertised on the shop window under the name - Seok’s, home of the Potion - and, Kyungsoo guesses, the reason why the place was packed like a locker room.
Kyungsoo hadn’t plan on talking to strangers on his journey just in case he does stumble across a magician, or worse, a guard. But there’s something about this man - broad shoulders, slicked blonde hair, tall nose, hard gaze - that makes him feel a little less hostile. “I’ve tried it and I don’t see what the fuss is all about.”
He lifts a sharp eyebrow but his eyes are laughing their guts out. “This is your first time here.”
Kyungsoo wants to tell him to fuck off, hostility rearing up like a tsunami wave. “It’s not, now leave me alone.”
“It is,” and the man leans, face waxing and waning in the steam of the cup, “because, you see, wizards can tell if someone is lying.”
A glass cup shatters on the other side of the room - a pin drop compared to the customers pressing against the counter with their orders, or Kyungsoo’s rampaging heartbeat. Less than a week and already he’s been found. There’s no point running now, good shoes are nothing against sorcery.
The man, suddenly so menacing, cocks his head and tugs a corner of his mouth. Charming, and he’s more than aware of it. “And even if I weren’t a wizard, no one leaves Seok’s after trying the Potion without coming back for more. There’s magic in the drink, it replicates the feeling of falling in love.”
Kyungsoo worries his bottom lip, “Okay, cut the crap. Why are you here, talking to me?”
If he’s surprised at Kyungsoo’s tone, he’s pretty bad at hiding, or maybe just an amazing actor playing the victim. “Sweetheart, I’m just looking for good company. And you looked like you needed it.”
“Wizards don’t have the best intentions at heart.”
“Then call me heartless,” he smiles, “I swear, if there’s anything I want from you it’s a smile. Don’t waste those pretty lips on frowning.”
By now Kyungsoo’s ready to leave, if not to get away from this supposed detective then to escape this horrible attempt at flirting. “Is this how you pick up dates? Are you serious?”
“Usually my face does it, but your standards are soaring.”
“What do I have to do for you to leave me alone?”
The man shrugs, pushes himself back onto his seat and looks at Kyungsoo under his nose. Perhaps he’s just a wizard with a boner, which would be believable - magicians only think through their pants. “Just try the potion. At least after that you’ll owe me for redefining your taste buds.”
Before Kyungsoo can even question if the man’s drugged the cup, he quickly takes a sip so that peace can finally descend upon his little table. But in between his mouth swelling with the rich taste of something sweet and salty at the same time and his heart ballooning against his chest, a million first loves he thought he had forgotten coming back in a dizzying rush, the man stands up, gently cocoons Kyungsoo’s hand in his palm, presses a kiss to his knuckles, murmuring, “I am a man of my word. Pay me back, when I see you next. Stay safe, sweetheart.”
It must be the Potion, Kyungsoo closes his eyes as blood rushes to his cheeks, it has to be. Falling in love has never tasted like salted caramel before.
Night falls and cracks onto the pavement, dribbling out yolks and whites and Kyungsoo’s feet are getting themselves sticky tracking all over the mess. He’s headed towards an inn with the directions of Minseok, creator of the bottled and commercialised love potion, and it should be by the roundabout, across the park. The streets are slowly emptying themselves out. Kyungsoo picks up the pace.
He finds the inn and doesn’t stop to admire the architecture, quickly slips through wooden doors and it feels as if he’s stepping back into his own bedroom. There must be a spell on this place, easing visitors into the warmth of the hearth. It doesn’t take him long to realize there was only one person in the lobby, and that said person was staring at him.
Kyungsoo scans him - tall, bronze skin, tight leather pants and a loose white shirt exposing an indecent amount of golden chest, unfairly handsome - feels the words before they’re actually spoken.
“It’s a particularly dark night tonight.”
Wizard, Kyungsoo thinks. They all talk the same, weight their words like they’re chanting a spell. A flash of fear, then, “yeah. I didn’t see the moon on my way here.”
“A lot of things are disappearing lately.” The man takes a step right into Kyungsoo’s personal space and his perfume is everywhere, musky and dangerous. This is what fathers warn their daughters of, the model image of wizards who prowl the night. “Tell me, is running away the end or the intermediate? A little owl like you leaving the nest so early and you don’t even know how to fly.”
Something drops from Kyungsoo’s chest to his stomach, “excuse me?”
“Your eyes, they say so much,” pretty boy leans down to get on Kyungsoo’s eye level, and his eyes are smoked with red eyeshadow, black hair tossed this way and that, textbook definition of sex hair.
The man's lips twitch into a fleeting smirk. A flash of the wizard Kyungsoo met at Seok's mirrors him, not like twins but the complementary couple of yin and yang. If wizards didn’t have the best intentions at heart, this man was all hearts; swallows them and absorbs their darkness.
"I- I don't know what you're talk-"
"Do you know who I am?"
Swallow, "are you from the palace?"
He barks out a harsh laugh, "worse. Think of the most evil magician you know, and then think of who he has nightmares about."
There's only one person Kyungsoo can think of.
Dread drums though him hard enough to break his bones.
The man smiles, sardonic and with practised precision, someone who's used to getting the answers he wants to hear. "This is for a personal offence. You look like a sweet boy, but all are men when the scales tip. My regards to Sehun."
Kai puckers his lips and blows softly but quickly onto Kyungsoo's face, still stunned and white with fear. A puff of what looks like cigarette smoke swallows Kyungsoo's entire vision, his body suddenly feeling so light he thought he’d fainted onto the ground, but it doesn’t smell like anything, only a chill on Kyungsoo’s cheekbones. By the time the smoke clears Kai has vanished along with it, and the lobby is empty save for Kyungsoo and a confused looking receptionist watching him. “May I help you, sir?”
Kyungsoo’s heart is still racing a thousand miles a minute, and that alone makes him sure that Kai was here, and Kai threatened him for something personal. My regards to Sehun. There’s only one Sehun that Kyungsoo knows of, almost as infamous as Kai in handsomeness and power, and he’s never met the man in his life. But whatever messed up baton relay the magicians have dragged Kyungsoo into, at least he hasn’t been found by the guards of the palace. Getting involved in business with Sehun and Kai and the sorts is better than going back- no, never.
A cough, Kyungsoo snaps back into reality- the inn, the hearth-enchanted lobby, the receptionist. “May I help you, sir?”
Whatever happens, Kyungsoo must keep going. “Yes, sorry, I would like a room for the night, please.”
The tenants next to his room blast their voices straight through Kyungsoo's room and into the next as if the world consists of four thin walls and thirty-five dollars a night. It doesn't annoy him even though Kyungsoo's used to solitude and the organized notes of classical music; but the unexpected hard thumps here and there make his heart jump. The previous night was fitful and he kept jolting awake to the sound of someone jumping loudly on the floor, followed by bouts of laughter. What could be so funny at past two in the morning?
Kyungsoo is in the bathroom washing his face the next morning when he hears three loud consecutive knocks. He recalls hearing the neighbours shuffling about and slamming their door with unnecessary force a few seconds before. Now he feels a twinge of annoyance; it's one thing to be loud but a completely different matter for that loudness to be blasted at his face.
When he opens the front door he doesn’t expect an aristocratically dressed man with a pretty face and a sheepish smile to be there. Kyungsoo's familiar with the sort - son of a noble, probably, with a pompous education and a large well kept garden growing up and their voices conditioned to be soft and indoor, not loud and drunk in the early morning.
"I'm sorry for the bother, but my friend may have accidentally teleported into your room."
Uh, okay. "I'm the only one here." One hundred percent not in the mood for joking.
"Actually," someone, a stranger, says from behind him, and Kyungsoo whips around to spot another well dressed though slightly dishevelled man lying on his bed, dazed with a stupid grin on his face. "I'm here as well. Sorry for the intrusion but we were testing this theory out, you see-"
"I'd love to hear it," Kyungsoo scowls, "but get out."
That shuts the one on the bed up. He raises his hands in surrender and shrugs, slinking off the bed and his towering height is only elongated with the pressed charcoal suit and red dress shirt. Kyungsoo keeps his head down and curtains his eyes with his hair just in case they recognize him from the palace - aristocrats are raised to remember names and faces.
The one at the door pipes up as his friend strides his long legs to the entrance, "none of this is my fault also, by the way. Yifan here can't seem to follow instructions. Too bad he's not a dog."
"Hey," the man, Yifan (foreign, familiar) scowls, then his expression clears up, rain clouds migrating last minute. "Can you morph me into a dog, that would be so cool-"
"Excuse me," Kyungsoo hates to cut their weird conversation short (read: delighted), "why don't you guys talk in your own room?"
Both of them give him a look, a raised eyebrow which simmers down to a squint and finale of realisation.
Yifan speaks first, stage whispering, "Junmyeon, do you see that?"
Short one, Junmyeon (very familiar, on the tip of his tongue) nods, "haven't seen a curse that bad since you pissed off the Sorcerer at the palace gala." Pause for a quick reminiscing.
Palace gala? Warning bells blare loud in his ears, feeling the floor give way under his feet, ceiling crashing onto his shoulders. They must know him; Kyungsoo's required to attend every palace event, make connections with every noble family. Then why can't he seem to recall who these two are?
Yifan and Junmyeon, dumb and dumber, share a look across their height difference and dart their eyes back at Kyungsoo. At the same time, "Kai's."
Wait, what. "Wait, what?"
"You must've done something excruciatingly bad to Kai for him to cast that sort of curse." Junmyeon squints at something above Kyungsoo's head, making Kyungsoo instinctively bat whatever it is away. His hands meet empty air.
"What curse?" Kyungsoo asks, anything to distract the other two from guessing his identity.
"That's the thing," Yifan furrows his brow, "we can't exactly see what it is. I don't think anyone can, or at least anyone not as powerful as Kai. So we can't take it off you.”
Junmyeon purses his lips. "But it's bad."
Yifan agrees. "Yup. Real bad."
"Okay," Kyungsoo snaps, metaphorically slamming his hands on a table. "I've had my fair share of magicians these past few days enough to last several lifetimes. So please, enough with the vagueness. What's so bad about this invisible curse? How do I get rid of it?"
Yifan smirks (by now Kyungsoo's shrugged off the deja vu ordeal and just waits patiently for his mind to recall the right memory). "I thought you wanted us to leave?"
No, Kyungsoo would definitely remember someone this much of a smart ass. "Fine. You guys can come in, but I swear to god if I see one of you cast a spell you'll experience terror even worse than Kai could even imagine."
Junmyeon smiles, catching the light favourably on his cheeks (how do these magicians manage to look so damn handsome?). "That's more like it."
In the room, the open window lets in a cool breeze smelling of the bakery a few stores over and the soft summer afternoon's lethargy. Kites in the sky, attached to nothing but small magicians-to-be and their sharp gaze, practicing telekinesis with the sun matting up the back of their necks. Kyungsoo can imagine their faces scrunched in absolute concentration - he remembers vividly, the palace attracts many scholars of wizardry after all - and wonders about the analogy his tutor once told him.
Magic is like playing an instrument. The mastering of it requires daily practice, strict discipline of the self, dedication, a respect for the instrument and its previous masters-
"-last year, I think, during the harvest festival I met Kai- Junmyeon you remember right? Before the fireworks went off we saw him by the temple steps all in red. He looked like the devil himself."
"Wasn't he with Sehun?"
"Of course! They couldn't keep themselves off of each other. Remember when Sehun turned every flower in the city red for Kai's birthday? Talk about PDA."
"Definitely not as bad as when Kai made it stay night for an entire 24 hours. I thought I was just losing it when I woke up to find it pitch black. What type of anniversary gift is it to take away a day of sunshine?"
"A romantic one, obviously. You know, stargazing? Moonlight escapades?"
-Of course it is hard for someone without magic to imagine the feeling of having it. The science of it, if you must, is understanding the object your trying to manipulate with your mind, understand it's purpose and-
"Sehun bottoms, obviously, I mean have you seen his ass? Granted Kai’s is close second.”
“I think Sehun made a potion for that, Yifan, that shit ain’t natural.”
“If you want to talk about unnatural let’s discuss Sehun’s dye jobs. There are only so many colours in the spectrum and he’s going all out-”
-find a connection with it. Magic is all about the relationship one has with oneself and one’s environment. It is an extension of oneself-
Kyungsoo pulls himself away from the kites to look at Junmyeon sitting at his desk and Yifan on his bed, sifting through the rainbow and debating the hair colours that suit Sehun’s face the best. Perhaps there’s no in between with wizards; they’re either the epitome of evil or… whatever words would best describe tweedle dee and tweedle dumb currently in his room.
“Guys,” Kyungsoo rolls his eyes, “I didn’t invite you in here to discuss the aesthetics of Kai and Sehun so please.” He pointedly glares at them both and leans back against the wall. He can practically hear their simultaneous nervous swallows, and Kyungsoo relishes in this power. You can take the prince out of the castle…
He stops his train of thought there, he can’t trust his mind with these idiots who don’t understand the concept of privacy. He screams loudly in his head, hoping it would cover his thoughts and Junmyeon gives him a very strange look.
“Okay,” Junmyeon drawls, “let’s talk about the curse. When was the last time you met Kai?”
The night of white smoke and egg yolk on his shoes is as clear as day in his mind. “Two nights ago.”
Junmyeon nods. “Did you do something that could have offended him?”
Yifan adds, “It could be anything really. Look at him wrong, wore the same outfit as him, blocked his sun?”
Kyungsoo shakes his head. “That night was the first time I ever saw him.” His thoughts muddled and swirled, trying to filter out a solution. “He did say to me, ‘my regards to Sehun’, but I’ve never met Sehun in my life.” Which isn’t the complete truth; the palace holds galas every other month, and if there are two things magicians can’t resist, it’s a beating heart and an ostentatious party. As Kyungsoo’s required to attend all of them, he’s seen most of what this kingdom’s magical society has to offer, and being the icon of the wizard stereotype Sehun is definitely unforgettable - tall, broad, a rose in a garden of daffodils. Though Kyungsoo’s never seen his face, his presence itself begs for an orchestra to accompany his every movement.
Yifan scrunches his face and look at Junmyeon. “My detective skills are drawing no conclusions, partner Kim.”
“Well, partner Wu, I think we’re gonna have to resort to a spell. Something like a memory scanner.”
Now Kyungsoo’s almost certain he knows them - Kim Junmyeon and Wu Yifan. From the thousand of names he’s had to memorise; they were definitely aristocratic, but not magical. Witches and wizards are unforgettable - each one of them leave a feeling inside of you so particular and distinctive that when you meet them again you recall the exact moment you had been introduced the first time.
Junmyeon faces him and something in his face utterly terrifies Kyungsoo. “May we perform a spell on your brain, just to find some answers?”
Kyungsoo can’t hold back his disgust. “Hell no.”
“A small, tiny spell. Trust us, we know to a certain extent what we’re doing.” Yifan says. What Kyungsoo imagines is Junmyeon and Yifan, leaning over his unconscious body and muttering something that’s more exorcism than enchantment, and cracking open his skull only to find the truth of his identity.
“Over my dead body.” Kyungsoo spits, then backtracks. That isn’t helping his imagination one bit. “Isn’t there any solution that doesn’t involve all this voodoo mumbo jumbo?”
The clouds outside drift out of the sun’s way, and the room suddenly feels like mid-afternoon instead of late morning. Yifan bats away invisible dust off his suit. “We’re dealing with a curse here, the only way to get rid of it is through magic.” He says.
Kyungsoo bites his lips and scowls. He’s gonna wrinkle by his twentieth birthday. “No offense, but is there someone more qualified to do this? Like a curse doctor?”
Junmyeon hums and knits his fingers together. “The only wizards who are powerful enough to break Kai’s curse are either Kai himself, the Head Sorcerer, or Sehun.”
“You're not gonna go to Kai for obvious reasons.” Yifan points out.
“The Head Sorcerer is out of the question.” Kyungsoo says without hesitation. Going back to palace is out of the question.
Junmyeon agrees. “As if the Head Sorcerer is gonna waste time away from the war effort to break an ordinary citizen’s curse.” The way Junmyeon says it unsettles Kyungsoo, like he knows. “So the only realistic option you have is Sehun.”
“He's the nicest out of the three. Arguably the better looking one too.” Yifan approves, clapping his hands together in satisfaction - just as businessmen do after a good deal. Very human.
“Where can I find him?” Kyungsoo asks.
“You track down the Moving Castle, obviously.” Junmyeon raises an eyebrow.
“In the Wastes? But I'll be dead before I even see it.”
Yifan grins. “The Wastes isn't that bad. The only thing that will kill you is the hike over the hills. Plus we can give you a spell to help-”
Junmyeon pouts. “Just one tiny spell that will make your muscles work better-”
“C’mon,” Yifan leans forward. “We helped you with your curse. You owe us.”
Kyungsoo smiles sweetly, and the room darkens. “Thank you so much for helping me. I accept gifts in the form of cash and utility objects, strictly non enchanted.”
“How about we conjure up something non magical?” Yifan pleads, eyes shining. Kyungsoo knows that's complete bullshit, that they'll cast some random ass spell that will make it change colour according to mood or whatever, but the look on Yifan’s face stirs something in Kyungsoo's heart. What is it called- pity? Sympathy? Damn, Kyungsoo, first sympathy for magicians, what’s next, love? Fuck that.
However, despite all that. “As long as it meets the guidelines.”
For the next half-hour, with their heads put together and a lot of ominous whispering and glancing back to Kyungsoo speculatively, Junmyeon and Yifan, in a burst of bright light, pull out from the blockade of their bodies a-
“Drum roll, please.” Yifan adds. Kyungsoo deadpans.
-walking stick. No gems, no carvings, no fireworks- and when Kyungsoo holds it in his own two, magic-free hands - no special effects. “For the long journey ahead.” Junmyeon smiles genuinely. The afternoon light really does them both justice - bright glinting eyes, shimmering hair, skin dewy from something else. The skin on Kyungsoo’s hands look dull and ordinary in comparison.
“Thanks,” Kyungsoo grumbles. It’s the first time he’s been treated with kindness since he ran away, hard to swallow, and settles oddly in the pit of his stomach.
Yifan slaps a large hand on his back. “Good luck, shorty. Kick that curse’s ass.”
Junmyeon winks. “Say hi to Sehun for us.”
And here begins the merry-go-round. One-two-three one-two-three one-two-three.
The Waste seems to stretch beyond the horizon because no matter how far Kyungsoo walks, past the hills are only more hills, rolling away from him. Behind him the city is a broken window caught in the sunlight. Up ahead, the castle silhouette refuses to come into the forefront, weaving in and out of the fog.
He stabs the walking stick onto the ground and it feels like his steps are twice as large as usual, taking half the effort he usually would hiking up the slope. Kyungsoo had known that the magic addicts Junmyeon and Yifan couldn’t resist putting some form of spell on the walking stick even with Kyungsoo’s strict instructions, but now he’s just the tiniest bit thankful.
Night has almost descended upon the sky and the castle seems to grow stubbornly further away and Kyungsoo swears it knows he’s after it and it’s just running away to spite him. Yes, the magic world has a personal vendetta against Do Kyungsoo. Well here’s a middle finger to that, no one can stop him, not the royal family, not some evil magician, nothing.
Kyungsoo stops trying to trudge up the hill and takes a breather, his head woozy from the sudden stop. The ground shakes beneath him and really the only person he can blame for his lack thereof of physicality is himself, though it is hard to find time to work out in the palace, and the whole running away business is the first time Kyungsoo’s come face to face with intense physical exercise. He leans on the walking stick and stares out into the horizon, trying to catch sight of the fleeting silhouette.
Scan once. Twice. Third time, warning signals blare loudly in his ears. The castle is nowhere to be found. Only now that he's senses are on alert does he notice that an eerie silence seems to have blanketed the trail he's on. The wind is so still it chokes him. Kyungsoo's throat thickens, oh no no no no no.
A booming crash sends heart leaping out of his chest. His vision blurs over, head swirling and buzzing until it feels like his skull is just housing a swarm of angry bees. All he can make out is the sudden cold and overwhelming smell of burning something. Metal and firewood and then - he hears it. The groaning of steel expanding and concaving over and over again.
Kyungsoo dares to open his eyes and leaning over him, a monstrosity of junk and huge pipes and wood nailed on top of each other, breathing, is the castle. The entire building (or whatever it’s called) reaches up at least twenty metres into the air, and the noise it makes is so ear piercingly loud it’s a wonder that Kyungsoo couldn’t hear it sneak up on him.
He gets up on shaky knees and darts his eyes around for an entrance. He finds a door tucked underneath the junk and stumbles forward quickly, praying the castle doesn’t decide to step over him with the metal chicken legs attached to its sides. The grinding of metal only amplifies and Kyungsoo, impatient and feeling his ankles will give way at exhaustion at any moment, doesn’t bother to knock and pushes his way in. Hopefully Sehun isn’t a stickler for courtesy.
And just like that, Kyungsoo completes his journey of hunting down the famous Moving Castle, no longer lost wandering the Wastes with an unknown curse weighing him down worse than a crown.
But when he steps into the house, Kyungsoo can’t help shake off the feeling that he’s even more lost than when he had began.
Inside, after climbing a flight of stairs into what he thought would be a lobby, Kyungsoo's only certain of a few things: one, the only light source is a simmering flame in a fireplace, barely strong enough to reveal the details of the entire room. Two, this isn't a lobby but the bottom floor of a normal house, if what he can make out underneath all the junk is a couch and a dining table. Third, it's all junk, inside and out.
He's been in castles. Hell he's lived in a palace his entire life and Kyungsoo can assure this is nothing more than a commoners dwelling.
There's a wooden chair set by the fireplace and Kyungsoo takes it. He's unsure whether it's disappointment clouding his head or confusion. He'd expected gothic architecture, velvet carpets and chamber music coming from an unidentifiable direction and chandeliers, certainly not a chaotic mess of a living room and a fire drowning in its own ash. Perhaps it's more accurate to call the feeling anger.
The longer he stares into the flames the more the feeling swells.
"What a curse." The deep voice of a man mutters, jolting Kyungsoo out of his reverie. He whips around but the place is as empty as ever.
"I'm hearing things", Kyungsoo sighs, leaning back into his chair, or maybe the castle is haunted.
"Nope, down here." The voice says. Kyungsoo checks down at his feet but there's nothing but dust.
"What the-" Kyungsoo purses his lips. It has to be an invisibility spell but he can’t sense a presence in the room. Try all you can in cloaking yourself with the environment but there’s nothing magical in the palpability of a human presence, that much Kyungsoo’s sure of. No amount of wizardry would be able to change that.
“I said, down here. Hello.”
Kyungsoo lifts his eyes from the floor to the fireplace and the shimmering flame, almost reduced to coals, rises into a larger fire the size of a fist, and an almost comical face forms. Two large eyes, and a cheshire grin for a mouth.
The fire’s talking to him. “Finally, I thought you were gonna break your neck trying searching the room.”
Kyungsoo’s dumbfounded. “You’re a talking fire.”
It shivers in the air. “My name is Chanyeol. And I am an extremely powerful fire demon. Hey, can you hand me more firewood? It should be right next to your feet.”
Kyungsoo’s too tired to acknowledge to crass of the order. He picks up a block of wood and tosses it into the fireplace, watching Chanyeol grab hold of it with two sparks for arms and take a massive bite out. He doesn’t want to know how that would taste. “You said something about my curse. Can you tell me more about it?”
“You have to tell me your name first.” Debris makes his words sound like mumbles.
Ever since leaving the palace Kyungsoo hasn’t mentioned his own name once, knowing that the instant he says it he would be recognized as the missing prince from the Kingsbury palace. By the third day of his departure the news was out, and rumours circulated the city streets worse than wildfire about how the enemy country had kidnapped him as leverage, all eyes on the king and the first prince in line, Kyungsoo’s older brother Jongdae, on their next move.
Names have power. Magical, social, just the utterance of your own leaves you vulnerable to the open palm of the other, leaves your tongue raw, gives a little piece of your soul to someone else each time. Names to a magician, or even worse, a demon, allows them to enter your body and drink your soul dry.
“That’s not important,” Kyungsoo says. “I only just want to know about my curse.”
Chanyeol suddenly glows a bright orange, the tips of his head licking the air white. “You come into my house, you disrespect the magic rules, and yet still have the audacity to give your demands? Baggage, you humans. The whole lot of you. Baggage!”
“Why do you want my name?” Kyungsoo sighs.
“Magic’s much more effective if it has the consent of both parties.”
Kyungsoo grinds on his teeth. “It’s unwise to make deals with demons.”
“I’m just a simple flame in a simple fireplace. What harm can I do. Do you want help with your curse or not?” The way Chanyeol talks makes every sentence sound like a joke, and Kyungsoo’s answers supposed to be the punchline.
He purses his lips and crosses his arm. His father, the King, keeps a record of every witch and wizard in the kingdom and regulates powerful magic by having them swear an oath if they were to train at the academy, run by the head sorcerer. If word gets out that Kyungsoo’s housing with one of the greatest magicians that’s passed through the academy, they would storm this place within the hour.
“On one condition,” Kyungsoo leans into the fireplace, “not one word to Sehun.”
Chanyeol smirks, turning orange. “You have my word.” It does nothing to appease Kyungsoo’s mind, currently spinning in a merry-go-round going ten times the speed.
“Okay,” Kyungsoo exhales. “My name is Kyungsoo.” The word tastes wrong on his tongue, almost like a curse.
An array of sparks shoots out of Chanyeol, sending Kyungsoo flying back against his chair, sure that his face was completely singed off.
"What happened?" Kyungsoo gasps. "Is my curse gone?"
Chanyeol's now a bright yellow almost blinding to look at. "Sorry Kyungsoo, I can't break curses. But now that I've got your name I can see if there are any illegal wizards harbouring in that mind of yours, hiding behind your identity. By the looks of it you’re clean."
If Kyungsoo were a fire himself he would be blazing a scalding blue and half on his way to burning the whole castle. "That was for nothing?" The fury makes his voice shake. "Give me one reason not to pour a bucket of water on you right now."
"Hey hey, slow down. I'm still gonna help you, but in return you gotta help me too."
"I already gave you my name. That's the most valuable thing I’ve got."
"Look, these are tough times. There’s the war, and the decree that every witch and wizard who graduated from the Academy must fight means that they won’t pay any attention to us sad folk whose troubles don’t involve the lives of millions. But this is what I can do,” Chanyeol says conspiratorially, “you help me break the contract I have with Sehun, and when I get my full powers back I’ll break your curse.”
“Why should I trust you now?”
“You’re still here, aren’t you, and as cursed as ever. I’m the best chance you got.”
That part’s frustratingly true. “Fine, Chanyeol. But one more little twist and you’re out. I’ll go to Sehun myself.”
Chanyeol snickers, settling down into a calm simmer of tiny flames in the ash of the fireplace. “You’ll have better luck with me-“ he yawns, sparks cracking the dark, musty air, “Sehun’s never once used his magic for anyone but himself.”
The yawn is contagious. Looking into the fire Kyungsoo’s vision blurs, gravity in a tug-of-war with his eyelids. The day’s been long, but really Kyungsoo hasn’t even properly started anything. “Can I just, rest my head here?”
“Be my guest.” A fire falling asleep reminds Kyungsoo of a miniature sunset. Just as he remembers that he prefers sunrises, he slips away into sleep much with his chest much lighter than the past few days.
Jongdae is next in line for the throne. Ever since they were kids, after Kyungsoo was born into the palace and the initial shock of the Queen not having made through this childbirth, Jongdae and he had been raised as one rather than two. Equal responsibilities, equal privileges, equal chances of getting the throne. There were times when the palace staff couldn't tell them apart, two shadows of the same overwhelming presence.
But the entire time Kyungsoo could tell the difference, and he suspected this was the reason why they were treated so delicately similar. It had been a long time since a magician was born into the royal family, and Jongdae was no less than than a prodigy.
Who wanted a weak, normal, human as the King anyway? Kyungsoo could see straight through their whole ploy. The Prince and the Pauper.
Pride pushed him to work harder, fight until he saw blood. Every time Jongdae had lessons in the Magic Academy Kyungsoo studied with the scholars from foreign countries, learnt their languages and politics, knowing this would put him at an advantage for the throne, hoping that making connections would get him somewhere but that one course disappointment inevitability. He knew his father's disregard for lineage was a one in a million fluke.
Then the Spring Eve Gala happened, and the rest was history.
It weighs so heavy on his conscience his sleep replays the same dream endlessly. The interrupted waltz, the head sorcerer's hand on the gilded gold of the throne, Jongdae and his father a picturesque portrait of kings.
And the bang bang bang of the applause, as ferocious as a stampede.
Kyungsoo's heart lurches out of his chest and he inhales a lungful of ash. A thousand needles prick the inside of his nose. He grunts, a cough harder than he's ever felt before racking his body.
"Good morning to you too, princess."
It’s so similar to the way Jongdae used to greet him in the morning Kyungsoo expects that when he opens his eyes he would see the larger than life window taking up the entirety of one side of his room, red drapes drawn open swallowing the sunlight in one hungry gulp, and Jongdae to the side, one hand on the drapes the other on his hip. Good morning princess, the day’s waiting.
The cough still has his body under siege and when he opens his eyes it’s not his palace bedroom that has him cradled in warmth, but the ashy fireplace, Chanyeol a bit too close to his face. His eyes float above the orange hue, sizzling with amusement.
Kyungsoo clears his throat and removes his head off the bricked mantel, leaning his back on the chair and arching his neck, groaning like there’s no tomorrow. As far he knows there isn’t, not while he’s living in a house full of magical abominations.
“Fuck my life.” Kyungsoo sighs out.
BANG- from the floor above him, as though someone’s punching their frustrations at the wall. BANG- it sounds so angry compared to the (from what Kyungsoo can tell through the modest window by the front door) calm morning. BANG- Kyungsoo nods, staring up at the ceiling, me too.
“Baekhyun!” Chanyeol roars, rising up to blazing white. “Shut the hell up!”
The muffled voice of a boy, Baekhyun, replies, “I’m trying to teleport downstairs but it’s not working! I keep appearing in this room and falling on my ass!”
Kyungsoo throws his arms over his face and suppresses the scream building in his throat. He thought he had left behind the annoying magicians back in the town.
“Are you using the right spell?” Chanyeol shrinks down to the size of a fist, turning to a healthy shade of orange.
“I think so,” Baekhyun answers, followed by another heavy thump, and a frustrated yell.
“Read it again!”
“I’ve read it a million times by now.” Then Baekhyun says a string of words that sound like mush to Kyungsoo.
Kyungsoo cracks a tiny smile. “Finally, quiet-”
A large weight crashes onto Kyungsoo’s lap, crushing his entire body and sending him toppling off his chair and onto the dusty floor, ears ringing and a searing pain spreading across his back.
“I did it!” The mysterious weight says. “Wait, who are you?”
Kyungsoo’s too winded to respond, only wheezes.
“He came in from the Wastes last night. Be nice, Baek, he’s a guest.”
Baekhyun picks himself up and Kyungsoo can finally breathe. He musters the angriest glare he can at Baekhyun, who’s towering over him with his arm crossed, a set of pretty features (yup, wizard) in a twisted sneer. His eyeliner is done so nicely it has to be the hand of magic.
“I’m Sehun’s apprentice, so right now I’m the master of the Castle. State your intentions.”
Kyungsoo can’t even begin to describe the soaring bratty attitude rubbing friction into his patience. He’s only been awake for about ten minutes. “I’m here to break the curse I’m under.”
Baekhyun sniffs and narrows his eyes even further, until all Kyungsoo can see is the absolute black of his eyeliner. “You’re going to have to pay for our services. We don’t offer free magic here.”
“Chill, Baek,” says the fire. “We’ve made a deal.”
“Hmmph,” Baekhyun turns away to glare out the dusty window that’s struggling to bring in even the slightest of blue from the sky outside. A few moments later, “that’s a powerful curse you’ve got casted on you.”
Kyungsoo forces down an eye roll and speaks directly to Chanyeol. “Kai casted it-”
The door bursts open and a gust of wind carrying an overwhelming scent of roses pushes all three of them back a step, Chanyeol squeezing his eyes shut as he flickers dangerously close to being put out. But that wasn’t what caught Kyungsoo’s attention; it was the presence - a loud cafe and a brown mirror in his cup of tea and a magician with slick blond hair and a nose as tall as his height and the warm taste of salted caramel in his mouth.
“Master Sehun, welcome home!”
Kyungsoo turns around and fixing his bright pink coat hanging off his shoulders like a cape, blonde hair as slick as Kyungsoo remembers, a gaze harder than diamonds, is the wizard from Seok’s Kyungsoo had met weeks ago. Oh Sehun.
“Baekhyun, Chanyeol.” Sehun greets, voice smooth and deep as they come. An invisible breeze makes his coat flutter like washing on the line. His legs seems to go on for miles. When he fixes his gaze on Kyungsoo it feels like he’s being shot dead straight through the chest. He must think Kyungsoo came back for him, probably used to suitors desperate for even just one second of his time.
(If he calls him sweetheart with that voice Kyungsoo’s definite his knees will give way. Scratch that from the record books.)
“You’re Sehun.” Kyungsoo says, matter-of-fact. What else can he say?
Sehun raises an eyebrow and his lips curve up like a cat. He dips his head and tilts it, like he’s analysing Kyungsoo below the surface as well as above. But it feels wrong - it feels like the first time.
“Yes, I am. And who might you be, perhaps?”