exo // kai/lu han/sehun, kinda ot12 // r // 10,000~ words
warnings: some gore...
[MAMA!verse] All wars are a form of nostalgia, elevated to the next level. Jongin dreams, and he sees himself leading a Holy War alongside Lu Han.
nostalgia nos·tal·gia [nŏ-stāl'jə, nə-]
1. a bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past.
2. the condition of being homesick; homesickness.
1770–80; < Neo-Latin < Greek nóst (os) a return home + -algia pain
He felt the rift in the air before he could see it, delicate tendrils of black smoke swirling in the air ripping the space open as his vision shifted and a dark room appeared around him. Dozens of shimmery crystal balls shifted under his feet, quickly parting to create a path from him to the other figure in the room. They made a beautiful picture of contrast, one shrouded in darkness, and the other in light.
“Kai.” The other smiled but made no move towards him. Lu Han looked the same as always - bright eyes, soft smiles, his slender frame dressed all in white, the light illuminating his form.
“They said you have seen the prophecy come true.” He walked slowly towards Lu Han, eyes flitting across the hundreds of crystal balls the Seer had strewn across the Temple, as if he could look for an answer in any of them. The Seer was the only one who could See, the ever omniscient demigod among them all.
“Not all of it, of course. Just fragments, little bits and pieces that hint towards-“
“Oh, don’t even front. You have seen the Holy War.” Kai rolled his eyes. He wasn’t here to run around in circles with Lu Han. “The Eclipse is coming. The twelve Guardians will be united as one, and we will win the war against the Shadow.”
Lu Han frowned, his fingers gracefully flicking up a small crystal ball. “I have also seen bloodshed and agony. The prophecy speaks of a sacrifice to be made the day the two worlds are united. We still don’t know what that sacrifice is, so don’t get too excited. I don’t know the ending to this story.”
Kai made a low humming noise, his hand reaching out to tentatively touch the cold sphere. It felt tingly and wet on the tip of his fingers. “Surely the sacrifice can’t be worse than having the world split apart into two. Whatever it is, it would be worth it. We would win this war.”
“I certainly hope so,” Lu Han nodded. Their fingers were next to each other’s on the cold surface of the crystal ball, just millimetres apart, but not quite touching. The sphere glowed gently under their hands. He could see it then, the two of them leading the Holy War, Lu Han on one side and Kai on the other, the two most powerful demigods of the Pantheon, the omniscient and the omnipresent. The Seer and the Herald. Him he could see the Holy War and him who would bring upon the world the War.
“They call this the Holy War,” Kai’s lips quirked up in imitation of a smile, “but the truth is this is nothing but a war of nostalgia. Have you ever thought about that, Lu Han? That maybe everyone in the two worlds is happy enough where they are. Maybe sometimes there’s a touch of déjà vu or the feeling of missing someone they’ve never met, but they don’t know what they’ve forgotten. Ignorance is bliss for all those mortals. The only ones who cry out for reunion are us, the Guardians, because we remember. We remember and we cannot let go of what we used to have on the other side. This Holy War is just a form of nostalgia elevated to the next level.”
“All wars are some form of nostalgia.” The Seer sighed as Kai’s fingers dropped away from the crystal ball. “The humans long for their country’s gloried past, the gods long for their forgotten power.”
“What if we’re the dark side instead, and no one wants the two worlds back together but us?” Kai’s eyes were dark and piercing. Lu Han’s frown deepened.
“The side who wins the war writes the history.” His voice was harsh and cold.
Kai’s expression shifted, a smile suddenly blooming. “Good answer, Seer.”
“What is this about, Kai? Are you still with us?”
“Of course I am. Why else would I be here? The little phoenix-“
“You mean the Fire Guardian.”
“-Chanyeol might have found the book that might lead us to where the Tree of Life spat out its two precious hidden Seeds or whatever in the two worlds.”
“I know. Is he going to look for them?”
“I hate that phrase of yours by the way. Of course you know. No, actually he isn’t. We need him in the frontline to actually fight the battle. I am going to look for them, which would be more convenient because surprise, I can move between both worlds.”
“Be careful, the Shadow is looking for the hidden Seeds as well. It will be a race between us and them.”
Kai was already walking away, waving his hands in dismissal. “Yeah yeah, sure, I just popped by to tell you that. Oh, and Sehun said hi.”
The lopsided grin on Kai’s face turned into a half-grimace. “Of course you do.”
“Kai,” Lu Han suddenly surged forward, grabbing his wrist. Kai froze on his spot, the skin of his wrist tingling hot underneath slender fingers. “Be with us, okay? I don’t know what you’re thinking, but we need you to win this. We have been waiting for this for too long.” Hundreds of years desperately looking through the mirror for a glimpse of their nostalgia.
“Lu Han...” Kai shifted, gently tugging his hand away from the other’s grasp. “You would do anything to get Sehun back, wouldn’t you?”
Lu Han stared at him. The answer came with no hesitance. “Yes.”
“Me too.” Kai nodded and ripped away, leaving behind a cloud of black smoke.
The War has begun.
His eyes were open, but his eyelids felt heavy and hot. There was a strange sensation in his chest, a tightening feeling of cold dread and suffocating fever. His parched lips mouthed along with the echo in his head.
“The War has begun...” Jongin blinked. Even his eyelashes felt hot against his skin. “But what war?”
The empty ceiling of his bedroom offered no answer.
He lied there in his bed, his breathing loud and harsh in his ears, the fabric of the bedsheet rough against his skin. The clocked ticked away somewhere over his head, and time stretched slowly like molasses. There was a shout from somewhere downstairs. His mom.
Jongin blinked again. The hot weight in his chest disappeared. He rolled out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. He had school in one hour.
The morning passed by much like the same way it had in the last week, sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow, time like a rubber band stretching and snapping at unexpected intervals. Jongin had to keep blinking to keep his eyes open. He hadn’t been able to have much sleep the night before. His best friend hung all over his shoulders during lunch break.
“What’s up with you? Did you stay up all night playing computer game again?”
Jongin leaned into the touch. Sehun’s skin was cool and comforting against his. “Mhmm. No. I don’t know. I think I had... some kind of dream, but I don’t really remember now. It’s been bugging me all day.”
“What kind of dream?”
“I’ve just said I don’t remember.” Jongin turned back to roll his eyes at Sehun. “But I think it was something about a war.” His mind drifted to that echo in his head in the hazy moments between dream and consciousness.
“You’ve really been playing too much computer game, Jongin-ah.” Sehun nudged him with his bony shoulder. “Now you’re dreaming about wars and shooting people even at night.”
Except it didn’t feel like a computer game, not really. Jongin remembered the cold sensation at the back of his spine, the way the tip of his fingers tingled every time he woke up in the last week, as if he had been touching something cold and wet, but not water.
“Do you want to come by Lu Han’s place later after class? I told him we would come.” Sehun had turned back to his lunch now, no longer thinking about his little problem. Jongin’s eyes flickered down to his plate. He had no appetite.
“Nah, I don’t think so. I’m really sleepy, I’m just going to go home and catch up on sleep after class. You go and tell him I’m sorry, maybe next time.” Jongin reached for his bag and pulled out his lecture notes. If he was not eating, he might as well study during lunch break.
“What’s that?” Sehun’s fingers landed upon a loose page in his mess of a folder. The drawing took up the whole page and drawn over several times in black ink, obviously why it had caught Sehun’s attention. He had been bored and spacing out in class.
“I don’t know, just some doodle. The lecture was mind-numbing. I guess the design is kind of cool. No idea where it came from though.” Jongin smoothed his hand over the piece of paper. The drawing was of a large triangle enclosing a swirling circle. It seemed more precise and detailed than what a random doodle could be, but somehow at the time he had felt like he’d remembered, and it’d urged him to get it down on paper. He had probably seen it somewhere before and taken a liking to it, Jongin supposed. Maybe a computer game?
“It looks good,” Sehun nodded in agreement, his fingers traced the edge of the blank ink. “You could draw better than I thought.”
The War had begun.
He travelled between worlds, going from oceans to deserts, from one battlefield to the next. He was not fighting, really, he was just looking for the hidden Seeds, but he visited all of the Guardians on their battlefields. The book the little Phoenix had given him was vague at best and incomprehensible at worst, but he had the feeling they were on the right tracks this time. Chanyeol was the one who had found the stones sealing their powers by the same book, it would just take a little longer for them to figure out the whereabouts of the hidden Seeds.
A Seed was hidden in each world, the prophecy said. His first stop was in the Other World. The old mansion looked familiar, but not quite the same, every little detail a little out of sync with everything he remembered in his own world. The grand ballroom was frosted over in a thin layer of ice, reflecting the wane light of the moon outside the window. There were ice statues strewn all over the place, and when he looked closer, he could see they were actually bodies frozen to death inside the ice. Their eyes were wide in horror and their mouths were open in a soundless scream. Death was always so ugly and undignified, he mused.
The centrepiece in the room was a glacier tower several metres high, with some countless bodies speared open on its sharp spikes, dark blood running down the cold ice, dyeing red pools of liquid at the feet of the structure. He could see their guts spilling out over the ice. Someone had gotten caught by their throat, the heavy body swaying as the head couldn’t support the body with a severed neck. Kai ran his fingers along the edge of the ice. It was sharper than he’d thought, cutting into his skin, blood prickling at the tip of his finger. He let the blood slide along the ice into the ground.
“This is beautiful,” he said out loud, eyes sweeping over the magnificence of the glacier tower.
“Thanks for your aesthetic appreciation.” A tired voice spoke up from somewhere behind the tower. Kai walked around the centrepiece, and saw someone bent over a smaller man with his hand over the other’s shoulders.
“Xiumin, Lay. I trust it’s been an eventful night.”
Lay moved back, and Kai could see he had been healing Xiumin’s shoulders, the soft glow of his power still lingering on Xiumin’s bloodstained skin. His jacket looked torn to shreds, and Kai could imagine his shoulders had not been in much better shape. There were still angry lines of reddened scars running from his collarbones to the back of his shoulders, the flayed skin looked hastily stitched together. It was quickly healing though, the gentle light smoothing over the pale skin.
“You can say that again. The War has begun, they found us way faster than we thought. I guess the news have reached them, and they are getting desperate.” The Ice Guardian shook his head, his body slightly shuddering as Lay pushed back on his shoulders again, starting the last wave of healing.
“News that you are now searching for the hidden Seeds as well, of course. There are more of them than you, but you are The Herald, of course they are afraid. Finding the hidden Seeds will determine the victor of this war.”
“So I guess I’d better get going. Baekhyun and Suho send their greetings.”
“Tell them we’re doing just fine. Tell them the wait is going to be over soon.” Lay looked up at him, his smile fond with memories, and Kai nodded, ripping himself out of the icy room.
He found Chen on top of an empty rocky hill, next to a lone tree that had snapped in half and laid broken on the ground. The air smelled of ozone and burnt flesh, the ground was littered with bodies struck down and burnt to crisp black, the fabric of their clothes fusing into their melted skin. What was left of their faces was distorted in agony. Kai stepped over someone’s amputated leg, bones white underneath the hot red mess, and saw the Lightning Guardian sitting on the broken trunk of the tree. He didn’t look like he wanted to talk, so Kai left.
He turned up at the Time Guardian’s place in the middle of his battle. Time was slowed down into molasses, and between one fall of a flower petal and the next, Tao had already had a dozen bodies slashed open into pieces on the ground. Red blood rained down on them like a flower storm, staining the ground a vibrant colour. The way the Time Guardian moved was graceful, all sharp lines and perfect curves with his ornate sword, like a dance of Death as he pulled the sword through someone’s heart, over and over again, snapping ribcages open with a flick of the hand. Kai supposed he should help since he was already there, so he reappeared in a swirl of black smoke with his hand through someone’s chest, crushing their heart to pulp in his grip. They let out a choked scream, and Kai dug his nails in deeper, tearing muscles and blood streams open. His hand dripped blood all over his clothes when he finally ripped his hand out of their chest.
Tao said nothing about him helping, the Time Guardian had always been the quiet one, so together they fought, until they could walk on nothing but severed heads and broken fingers. The Time Guardian still looked beautiful with his dark clothes drenched in red blood, his sword pinning down a mangled throat to the ground. He left before the Tao could say his thanks.
The battle was already over when he arrived at The Dragon’s place. Some bodies were torn open with giant claw marks, and others were burnt down to the blackened bones. The Dragon still looked effortlessly perfect, perched on top of a skyscraper. Kris didn’t turn back when he approached, just looking at the sunset settling over the city. It was beautiful, but it was not quite the same as the sunset in his own world, the sky here a little sharper, a little redder.
“They call you the Herald, and the Harbinger of War.” Kris’ voice was cold and aloof, but Kai knew otherwise.
“Do they now? I don’t even fight half of the battles. You are all doing such a great job.”
“This is a war, Kai, and people get killed in wars. I’d just rather it’s their blood on our hands and not the other way around. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I have a plan,” Kai told him, smiling. Out of all of them, he supposed Kris was the one who would understand. But it was still too early for that now. “Chanyeol showed me the book. I know there is a certain way to reunite the two worlds. I just have to find the hidden Seeds before the Shadow does.”
“I hope the Seer knows what your plan is.”
Kai’s brows furrowed, but before he could say anything, Kris cut him off. “It might seem like Lu Han and you are leading this Holy War because you two are our most powerful, but you’d better remember we stand together as the Pantheon. All twelve of us.”
Lu Han didn’t go out to the battlefield much, but it didn’t mean he didn’t fight. Kai had seen him tear apart bones and flesh with a flick of the wrist, bodies blasted into nothing with the Seer’s telekinesis power, not even a drop of blood left behind. The dead never even knew what hit them.
“All these people dying for our cause, cities burned down and towns reduced to ashes, do you still think this is a Holy War? Aren’t we just selfish beings trampling on precious little mortal lives?” His voice was light and teasing, but Kai could tell Lu Han didn’t appreciate it.
“History has always been the same for thousands of years. All gods are selfish and cruel, with their notorious demands for humans, all the lies and trickery, all the plundering and killing just for fun and entertainment, because immortality is a boring place. What we are doing has a meaning, not just mindless slaughtering.”
“We are not gods, but we are not human either. I guess that excuses us.”
Kai found the hidden Seed in the Other World after he had ripped the hearts out of three hundred Shadows’ bodies on his way to the ancient ruins. He stroked the hair back over a young girl’s forehead on his way out. She looked beautiful in her death. After all the Shadows were nothing but normal human beings who had been Turned into ugly killer ghosts.
Sehun definitely didn’t let Jongin get out of coming to Lu Han’s place the next time. His best friend literally dragged his half-asleep ass out of class, and Jongin was too tired to put up a fight. He still hadn’t been able to sleep. He was starting to remember bits and pieces of his dreams now, and those images haunted him in the waking hours. Sometimes he would blink and jerk awake in class, burnt flesh and broken bones flashing in front of his eyes. It felt almost like something out of a horror story, but somehow he didn’t feel scared. He didn’t know why, but there was just a sense of cold detachment following those visions, as if he couldn’t find it in himself to care.
He remembered faces, too. The figures in his dreams had the faces of the people around him in his life, which Jongin supposed was to be expected, since dreams always used familiar faces in his own head. Still, they felt different – the people he saw in his dream only looked the same as the people he knew. They felt like him in the dreams, he supposed – cold and detached, too powerful, too big for their skin.
They stumbled into Lu Han’s little Chinese restaurant just before the dinner rush hour. Lu Han looked the same as always – bright eyes, kind smiles. Jongin had a flash of déjà vu, but quickly realised that was stupid because of course he had seen Lu Han here hundreds of times before. Lu Han helped his aunt manage the restaurant, and it had quickly become the ultimate hangout spot for their group of friends.
“Hey Jongin, you okay?” A hand slapped his shoulders, and Jongin turned back to see Yixing, a waiter who worked at the place. Obviously, being friends with Lu Han, everyone at the restaurant knew him. “Sehun said you weren’t feeling well last time?”
“I’m okay,” Jongin shrugged, returning Yixing’s smile, “just haven’t had much time to sleep, school and all.” Yixing ruffled his hair in encouragement, then pranced away as duty called. When he turned back, Lu Han was there, pulling him into a hug. His fingers lingered on Lu Han’s slender arms as soft strands of hair tickled his cheeks. Lu Han was rambling about something, but he could barely hear.
“Hey, don’t I get a hug too?” Sehun laughed next to him, and Lu Han turned to him, grinning. They hugged as well, playful and laughing, and Jongin looked over their shoulders to see Tao, the other waiter working at the restaurant, just standing there looking at them. Something flashed in his eyes, an image of that very same face splattered in blood he knew wasn’t his, standing amidst fallen flower petals with dead bodies underneath his feet. Jongin blinked, and the vision disappeared. Tao was still looking at them.
“Do you want some dumplings?” Lu Han asked from somewhere next to him, and Jongin nodded, letting Sehun pull him over to a table.
“Let’s go over to my place after we finish dinner,” Sehun told him as he handed Jongin a cup of hot tea. He simply nodded again.
The door of the restaurant opened again with the familiar tinkling sound, and familiar laughter rang all the way through the restaurant. Lu Han perked up from his seat, his mouth forming an O in excitement.
He turned his head to look, and there was Minseok, a close friend of Lu Han who was probably at the restaurant as often as Sehun was. Following him today was Jongdae as usual, he was probably Minseok’s cousin... or something? Jongin had never really asked.
“Yah, don’t call me little, you brat!”
“Fine, fine, Fat Bun then.” Lu Han poked Minseok’s cheek with a chopstick. The other boy huffed and dragged Jongdae to sit down at the table next to them.
“Hey Sehun, Jongin! How are you guys- whoa, Jongin, what happened to you? You kind of look like you need a one-thousand years sleep!”
Jongin blinked again. His eyelids felt oddly heavy. He hadn’t realised he had been nearly falling asleep on the table. “Huh?”
Cool fingers brushed his forehead. “Hey, maybe you should get back, you look really tired. I’ll get the food for you to go, okay?”
He nodded in a daze, rubbing at his eyes with his fingers. His vision was blurring, and for a moment when he looked up, Sehun was looping his arm around Lu Han’s waist, but when he blinked again, they were standing several feet apart. Something felt wrong, but he wasn’t sure what.
“I’ll take you back home, okay?” Sehun wrapped his arm over shoulders. Jongin shook his head.
“No, let’s go back to your place.”
He fell asleep on Sehun’s bed when they got back, having half a mind to wish the dreams wouldn’t come this time. He thought he heard Lu Han’s voice around sometime later that night, but maybe that was just another dream. Warm fingers brushed his temples, and Jongin felt sleep drag him under again.
The War in his own world had been escalating in its own way. The decision to keep Chanyeol on the frontline was obvious in its strategic direction. The Phoenix was a sight to behold in his full power, wings spread wide and exploding in flame. Just a small brush, and everything would be reduced to ashes and ruins, buildings and people burning in its wake. The Phoenix didn’t fight his battles, he simply destroyed. Chanyeol’s power was probably the closest to Kris’ in the Other world, but he was surprisingly more cruel and indiscriminating in using it. Kai thought Chanyeol had always looked slightly deranged when his power was fully unleashed, sometimes he thought Chanyeol had this look as if he just wanted to burn the whole world down all the way to the Other realm, but if that was what it took for them to win the war, they needed it.
If anyone had ever thought the Light Guardian would be useless in a fight, they were the furthest away from being right. Kai had seen the way Baekhyun burned the eyes out of all the Shadows with a flick of his fingers, leaving them screaming in excruciating agony as their eyeballs shrivelled and burned to ashes in their sockets, dripping blood and who knew what else. He left behind corpses with dark empty holes in their skulls, the lines of horror etched deep on their faces.
If that wasn’t enough, he worked side by side with the Water Guardian. Suho looked like the gentlest demigod in the entire Pantheon, and he probably was, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t squeeze all the water out of a body like a throwaway drag, leaving behind shrivelled corpses, shrunken down to ashen dry skin and bones, crackling with dust. They all killed, some more than others, some with less enthusiasm than others, but they all fought their battles.
He found the Earth Guardian perched on top of a collapsed building, the remnants of an earthquake strewn around him. A city reduced to rubbles and ruins. He looked angry, but D.O. had always looked angry for one reason or another.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Kai. I hope we are fighting a war more than just because of your own selfish desires.”
Kai smiled, because he knew D.O. would know. “Aren’t all wars simply about selfish desires? The humans can start wars just for a single woman.”
D.O. stared at him, unimpressed. “Don’t even try to pretend you’re not doing all of this just because of Sehun. And the worst thing is he isn’t even your lover.”
He visited Sehun last in the desert of dirt and storm. Kai had always hated that place, with the air hot and dry and suffocating with every breath. He didn’t know how Sehun could stand to be there all the time, but then again the Wind Guardian probably viewed his isolation as a self-punishment. For what, Kai had never been quite sure. All he knew was Sehun fought his battles alone in the desert, winds and storms breaking bones and tearing the Shadows apart in the dry hot air, burying them deep into the ancient sand dunes, sometimes alive, sometimes not.
He stood to watch Sehun fight his battle from afar. He looked tired and lonely, Kai thought. It didn’t use to be this way, back when the world was still one and there was always someone else to stand side by side next to Sehun’s shoulders. Sehun used to smile at him. Now he sometimes sat for days in the desert, staring at the sky as if he could one day see something in the red murky sky. He knew Lu Han could see him, but that didn’t mean anything when they were separated by skies and grounds apart. All he had was the little messages passed back and forth by Kai, because The Herald was the default Messenger, and there was only so much they could say without seeing the other for hundreds of years. Over time, the messages got shorter and shorter, because Kai thought it pained Sehun to actually think about the waiting.
He wondered if Sehun ever hated him for it, Kai being the only one who could move between two worlds. Then he decided it didn’t matter anymore, because the Holy War was the final war in the prophecy, and they would either reunite the two worlds or die trying. Kai would make sure they succeed, because he still remembered the days when they were all together and Sehun laughed when Lu Han leaned in to kiss the edge of his mouth. He wanted that smile and that laughter back. Nostalgia was indeed the roots of all wars.
“So the Eclipse is drawing near.” Sehun stood motionless in the middle of his battlefield, his eyes staring at the sky. “What do you think the sacrifice will be for the two worlds to be together once more?”
“I don’t know, the Seer didn’t see it.” Kai shrugged, his gaze fixed on the sky as well. Was Lu Han watching them right then? “But whatever it is, I know we are all prepared to pay for it. Wouldn’t you do anything to have everything back the way it was?”
Sehun turned to look at him then. “Of course I would.”
They were over at Lu Han’s place, studying, because somehow that was what they would always do when Lu Han had a day off. He didn’t remember how it happened, but it would always be Sehun and him coming over, whether to just play video games together or furiously cram for their next exam. Lu Han never objected to their presence in his place every single week, and he even joked about how it was their obligatory date every week, but the jokes had slowly tapered off.
It was nice, these little not-dates. Lu Han had his own place, and sometimes Sehun and he would even spend the night there, fighting over the sleeping bag and the couch. Sometimes they just spent the morning doing nothing, sprawled all over each other eating chips and watching horrid drama reruns, the smell of morning coffee warm and comforting in the small apartment.
Right then though, looking at Lu Han tease Sehun over his crappy coffee making skills just made the tightening feeling in Jongin’s chest worsen. At least they looked happy, he thought. This was what he had wanted after all. Jongin blinked at the thought. It seemed a little strange, but... wasn’t that right? That he had always wanted Sehun and Lu Han to be happy together? It felt right, but the words sounded strange in his head. Jongin rubbed at his eyes, his vision was getting blurry again. He’d thought he had been getting better after that night he’d crashed at Sehun’s place, but the dreams were slowly coming back full-force.
When he opened his eyes again, Lu Han was holding out a mug of coffee to him.
“Hey, try this. You can be Sehun’s guinea pig because there’s no way I’m drinking it before I know it’s safe for human consumption.”
Sehun made an indignant noise behind them, and Jongin rolled his eyes. “I don’t know, it would be pretty dumb of him to try and poison his boyfriend of five hundred years.”
He didn’t even notice the way Lu Han paused and looked at him in puzzlement. “Yeah, except I’m not his boyfriend, so.”
It was Jongin’s turn to stare. “Wow, that is the worst joke. Sehun, does it keep you up at night that your boyfriend is a cruel bastard in denial?”
“Yeah, except I don’t have a boyfriend!” Sehun called out from the kitchen. Jongin snorted and rolled his eyes.
“What’s wrong with you today?” Lu Han looked half amused half bewildered. “I thought you always hated the boyfriends joke the others always made with Sehun and me.”
“Wait, why would I hate it? I mean, if it’s true...”
“Jongin, what’s up with you today, seriously? Of course we’re not together. Is this a joke or have you really been operating under the assumption that we’re dating all this time?”
He stared at Lu Han, but the other just looked half bewildered, half worried. He tried to find the trace of a joke, but there was none. Lu Han had never had that much of a poker face. “What are you talking about? I don’t assume, I know... Did you think I didn’t see you two fucking by the lake when we went down to the midlands together that spring?”
Lu Han’s eyes had widened, and Jongin felt almost vindicated before the other opened his mouth. “Jongin, what are you even talking about? What lake?”
Jongin opened his mouth to answer before he realised – he did not know. The tightening feeling in his chest worsened. But how could it be? He knew there was a lake, but he just couldn’t remember anything about it. It was as if there was this image stuck in his mind, not tied down by any memories but insisted on being remembered anyway. The persistent knowledge of something that had never happened. There was no lake. Sehun, Lu Han, and he had never gone to any lake together. Sehun and Lu Han were not together. He knew this to be true, and yet it suddenly didn’t feel right at all.
“But that’s impossible,” he blurted out, feeling confused and dizzy, “you have always been together, you must be. You’ve waited for him for so long... hundreds of years in that lonely temple... looking at him looking for you in that forsaken desert...”
“Jongin, Jongin, calm down. What temple? What are you talking about? Sit down, you’re freaking me out!”
Hands grasped his shoulders, but all he could feel was the burning hot air of the desert and the crushing feeling of desperate hope.
“He waited for you... And all I ever wanted was for you to be happy...”
When he found the last hidden Seed was also exactly when Kai finally figured out what the ancient book tried to tell him about the secret of uniting the two worlds. The half-drawn plans in his head quickly completed itself, and at that exact moment, Kai finally saw the final motions of the Holy War in his head. He saw precisely how the Eclipse would play out, as long as he gave it the right push. The Herald would win this war for them.
He swallowed the Seeds, letting them slide down his throat and consuming their power. He could feel the steady burning in his stomach, the raw power slowly growing and twisting, twining into the cells of his body, writing itself into his skin and bones. There was a thrumming power barely contained under his fingertips, and it was intoxicating.
Lu Han knew something was different the next time he came. Of course Lu Han always knew.
“You have found the Seeds.” Lu Han turned to look at him with a frown. “Where are they?”
“I’m keeping them safe.” He shrugged. He knew Lu Han could feel the raw power coming off him, but he didn’t know the exact mechanics.
“Are you really not going to tell me your plan?”
“Just in case it falls through, I want to keep this absolutely under wraps. You will know when it is time for you to know.”
Lu Han was staring at him, and it took him a while to realise the Seer was looking at the charm he had hooked on the zipper of his jacket, the little triangle that had his teleportation symbol. It was flashing and pulsating with light, the power of the Seeds vibrating inside the metal. He knew Lu Han had noticed his own cuff was flashing, too. Their symbols were responding to the ancient power.
These little accessories they owned had meant nothing at first, Kai just found them a nice thing to have as a reminder, rings for some and brooches for others, but then he realised the design of the symbol itself drew the power to them, concentrating and clarifying it. All the Guardians kept them close to their bodies now, a reminder that they were part of a Pantheon and once stood together on the same ground, a link between the two worlds.
“I just hope you know what you are doing.”
It was getting old, people telling him the same thing over and over. Kai shrugged, and ripped himself away in a cloud of black smoke.
He kept travelling between the two worlds, flitting in and out to visit the other Guardians and bringing messages on the two battlefields. No matter what, Lu Han and he made a good team, strategising and coordinating both sides of the war. They fought and won, because the Guardians were the closest thing to invincible, except when they weren’t and Lay had to rush in to save the day, closing wounds, mending bones, and smoothing over burnt flesh. They weren’t gods with invincibility, no matter how hard they tried.
He could feel the power of the Seeds inside him getting stronger and stronger each day, his own power nurturing them. It made his teleportation stronger, each rip in space more forceful and sudden than the last, but the truth was he could feel things escalate too fast inside him. The fire in his chest was slowly taking over, and some moments it made him feel off-balanced, like he could throw himself from one end of the universe to the next with a fingertip, the raw energy under his skin clawing at his flesh, desperate to break out. He knew they were running out of time soon.
He travelled between ancient ruins and crumbling cities, abandoned shores and burning forests. Both worlds were falling apart at the seams, cracking around the edges. Sometimes he stood over a fallen skyscraper in his own world and saw the sunset of the Other realm. The parallel universes were fusing together, either to become one again or blink out of existence altogether. Their battles were too much for both worlds, throwing them into disarray. The Guardians would destroy everything before the two worlds could unite.
This was their Holy War.
Dance class was fun, but these days he was usually too tired to care. It was worrying, but Jongin found he stopped caring for a lot of things after the dreams started invading his waking hours. He never knew if he was actually sleeping anymore. Whenever he closed his eyes he only saw crumbling buildings and endless fields of burning corpses, and the tall dark figures standing on top of that world, watching dispassionately with blood running down their hands.
Then the visions started. He saw things he knew couldn’t be quite true, like phoenix wings on the back of Chanyeol’s body, the crackling vein on Kyungsoo’s arms, or Minseok’s bloody shoulders slashed wide open. He knew random things with no sources he could remember, like how Baekhyun would give Chanyeol backrubs every day, or Joonmyun was the best swimmer out of them all. These faces and facts haunted him, and sometimes the ones he saw wasn’t the same people he knew.
Jongin hissed as Joonmyun pressed a cold water bottle against his heated cheek, jerking him out of his reverie.
“You okay? You seem out of it lately.”
“Yeah. Just. Weird dreams.” Jongin shrugged, returning Joonmyun’s kind smile. They were having small break, Baekhyun and Chanyeol screaming and being obnoxious on the other end of the dance practice room as usual.
“Mhmm. Not really, I don’t know. They sound like they could be nightmares, but they’re not scary. Just weird. Oh, you guys were all in them, actually.”
Joonmyun blinked. “Really?”
“Yeah, I don’t know, you were some kind of... really powerful demigods or something? You all had super cool powers. Fighting evil or some shit. There was this epic war.”
“And what was my power?”
“Water.” Jongin blinked, images of a strange water-drop brooch flashing in his head. “Baekhyun could throw balls of light or something. And Chanyeol was basically Dark Phoenix.”
“Sounds very X-Men.”
Jongin chuckled. “Our war was cooler.”
Sometimes Jongin went home and didn’t remember falling asleep, but when he opened his eyes, the sky was a murky dark red. He remembered a lot of things now, symbols and signs and a broken old tree on top of a rocky hill. Sometimes when he walked to school he could feel the ground rumbling underneath his feet, but no one around him looked alarmed.
One time when he woke up from his short nap, there was someone else in his room.
“Holy shit, Jongin, what the fuck?”
He sprang up from the bed, and there was Kyungsoo, his neighbour friend, staring in horror at the wall above his bed. Kyungsoo came over sometimes to play video games with him, they’d known each other growing up, fighting over basketball and broken toys.
“Your room looks like something out of a Japanese horror movie! What are all these things?” Kyungsoo grabbed a sheet of paper stuck on his wall, and Jongin looked up. The entire walls of his bedroom were covered in doodles and sketches, mainly of that one symbol, the triangle with the swirling circle, over and over and over again, drawn in pencil and black ink, blue ink, red markers. Not just on sheets of papers, but also straight on the wall. The one above his bed was the biggest, a human-sized black sign of that symbol staring straight down at him, lined several times in pencil and black ink.
“Oh. I don’t know. Just something I remember.”
Kyungsoo stared at him in barely concealed panic. “Are you haunted by a ghost?”
“I guess... I do feel a little haunted.” Jongin said mildly. “But not by ghosts, I don’t think.”
Suddenly he wanted to ask if Kyungsoo remembered it, too. He’d had it as a ring in the dream, the metal flashing white as his palm pressed against the shaking earth.
The Herald disappeared for a long time just before the time of the Eclipse. No one knew where he was, not even the Seer. The crystal balls exploded with blinding light every time Lu Han tried to reach him. The enormous power of the Seeds Kai carried on him was blocking out Lu Han’s power. No one said anything, but they were all getting anxious, because they needed the Herald to win the war, because Kai was the only one who knew what the plan was. And they didn’t realise it, but they missed his presence on their battlefields, the dark form of the Harbinger of War always standing behind their back, always watching, a solid presence of trust, a link between all of the Guardians. The last person Kai had visited was the Wind Guardian, but all Sehun remembered Kai had said was goodbye.
When the Herald finally reappeared, it was only to crumble at the feet of the Dragon. It happened all too fast, and Kris barely managed to reach out before Kai’s knees hit the floor and his body crashed to the ground after he appeared in a cloud of intensely thick black smoke. Kai was out-cold and boneless when Kris picked him up in his arms, his body uncomfortably hot to the touch, even compared to the fire of the Dragon. Kris knew there was ancient power sizzling under the touch of his fingers. The almighty Herald looked startlingly young and vulnerable in his state, the sunken lines of his face etched with exhaustion. There were no easy smirks or the casual arrogance he’d always remembered from Kai. He had never seen a Guardian like this before.
Kris flew him to Lay. The Healer stared in horror and shock when he saw the slumped form in his arms, and that expression didn’t change when he finished examining Kai.
“I cannot do anything. There’s something inside him... it’s burning, consuming him from inside out, and it’s too fast, too strong for me to heal anything. I have never seen raw power like this. He could potentially wipe out universes if he wished, but I don’t think his body can bear it any longer. Even as Guardians, we are not meant to hold this much power.”
“It’s the Seeds.” Kris said, and it wasn’t a question. The cuff on his wrist had been pulsating with power ever since Kai appeared. “Can he hold on until the Eclipse?” They still didn’t know what would happen at the Eclipse, but it was best that the Herald would still be alive for it. Kris ran a hand over Kai’s forehead.
Lay bit down on his lips. “Maybe. But even then, I don’t know if he can still wake up...”
It turned out he could, and the Herald had already disappeared again when they checked on him the next day. Lu Han came to them, looking frantic, which was an almost scarier sight than a fallen Kai.
“We need to contact the other world, we have to tell the others to keep the Herald back if he turns up.”
“Wow, slow down. We cannot contact the other side, that’s the whole point of the two worlds being separated. We’ve only been able to do so because Kai has been the messenger, and now he’s gone.”
“Do you know what his plan is?” Kris’ sharp eyes bore into him, and Lu Han sucked in a breath.
“No. But I’ve seen destruction and agony like nothing I’ve encountered before. All I know is that whatever Kai plans on doing, he needs to be stopped.”
“Even if that could potentially reunite our worlds?”
Lu Han closed his eyes. “I don’t know if he knows what he’s doing anymore, or whether the Seeds have consumed him.”
The battles were drawing to a final climax, the skies darkening and the grounds breaking up. They all waited for the Eclipse, but while they were waiting, the worlds were still falling apart around them.
Then the Eclipse came, and all hell broke loose. The Herald had come back.
Jongin didn’t even feel the blow to his head, walking on his way home from Sehun’s place. He only knew that when he woke up, he was tied up and strung out on the dark dirty wall of some horrid abandoned building. It was impossible to breathe with the ropes cutting into his throat, and his vision swam as he struggled with every inhale, the pounding of his heart loud in his ears. There was a thrumming pulse under his skin, something hot and itching to get out.
“I have been watching you...” Cold fingers brushed his cheek, and Jongin flinched away even if he could not see. “I have waited so long for you, Harbinger of War... The Herald was the greatest leader of the Pantheon, alongside the Seer, but that was another life...”
There was a loud explosive noise somewhere in the distance, the vibration shaking him all the way to the bones. Sharp nails dug into his skin, and he blacked out again.
When Jongin came back to himself again, the ropes around his throat were gone and he could breathe again. He was lying on the cold floor now, but it hurt less, although the burning feeling was still there underneath his skin, insistent and familiar. Yet it took him several minutes to decide he wasn’t dead or hallucinating the sight in front of him.
On the other side of the room, a tall man was pinning a writhing woman to the wall with his hand on her head, his fingers digging deep into her skull. She was screaming, her dark hair sizzling with fire. He recognised that man – the quiet but cool-looking guy who would sometimes come by Lu Han’s restaurant to pick up Tao after his shift. He had half a thought that he was still dreaming, but it seemed impossible, because in the dreams he had never seen them so angry and shaken.
They were there, all of them, Jongin didn’t know how he knew but he did, just by looking at their darkened forms in the room. Yixing, Tao, Minseok, Jongdae, Chanyeol, Baekhyun, Joonmyun, Kyungsoo, all the familiar faces he had seen in his dreams, all silently standing behind the tall man as he pinned the screaming woman’s skull to the wall, fire licking at his fingertips. They called him The Dragon, he remembered...
“It was you all along, we should have known. All the dreams he’s been having, all the visions he’s been doused with. You were trying to awaken the Herald.” The man’s voice was cold, but he could sense the disgust beneath the words.
“I know it is him, in that body of the human child.” The woman hissed, her eyes black with pain and anger. “I can sense his power, it’s so weak but I can sense it, that disgusting rotten smell of the Harbinger of War. I have been waiting and watching for so long... I travelled all over the world to break the seals, only for this day...”
“What did you even want to achieve with awakening the Herald? He would not fight your war.” Someone else spoke up, voice tinged with disdain. It was Chanyeol, he recognised the cadence.
“But he knows where the hidden Seeds are! The legends said it, that he was the one who found and kept them till the end! I must-“
The words got cut off as the man squeezed his fingers and crushed her skull in, bursting it into flame, black ashes falling from his fingertips. “You crazy delusional Shadow, summoning Kai’s power into the child’s human body would have torn him apart before you could ask him anything.” He stepped back, and her headless body crashed to the ground. “The joke’s on you, because Kai cannot even be awakened. The Herald is not asleep, he is dead and gone. That child might have the human body of the Herald, but he is not Kai.”
He was not Kai, but he remembered.
The Herald appeared on the last battlefield just moments before the Eclipse. Lu Han stared at him in barely restrained anger, blood trickling down the side of his face, staining his white shirt. The Seer looked furious and frightening with his full power unleashed, the cuff on his wrist flashing white as he crushed everything around him into dust and nothingness, his slender frame stark against the crumbling world.
“You are here to fulfill the prophecy.” Lu Han looked so angry, and Kai could only smile as he took in the sight of all the Guardians around him in their last battle. The barrier between the two worlds were thinning now, sometimes he could see brief flashes of the Guardians from both side appearing next to each other. Right then, he could see the Dragon and the Phoenix standing back to back, their wings bursting with magnificent flame, drawing the world in ashes. Then the Phoenix vanished, leaving Kris behind to fight his own battle.
Just brief moments, but he knew the worlds were breaking apart. The sun was close to being completely eclipsed by its counterpart. The time had come. The fire in his chest felt stronger than ever, he felt like he could burst open any moment.
“I guess now we both know what the sacrifice is. And I need your help.” Kai stumbled on his way towards Lu Han, the pressure of the Seer’s power strong against his body, but the bright ancient power in him steered him forward, cutting through it like butter.
“I will not help you. You are crazy, you don’t know what you’re doing.” Lu Han hissed, and Kai thought he might have looked a tiniest bit afraid. What a novel sight, but he had no patience for this now. They were standing mere steps apart now, the dark and the light. The corner of Kai’s lips quirked up into a familiar smile.
“You know the book is right. This is the only way. Any moment now, the ancient power of the Seeds inside my body would burst out of my flesh, because even I cannot contain it any longer. The Seeds amplify my power by the billions, and as I explode, I would leave a part of me on every corner of the world, linking the two realms together. I have travelled to all the battlefields, leaving my blood behind as the seal for this. My blood, flesh, and bones carry the codes and memories of both worlds, because I am the only one who has been to both. This is how we fuse the worlds together. I am the key.”
“You are the sacrifice.” Lu Han choked out. “You have always known this.”
“Yes, but I cannot do it without your help. You are the only one with the power to tear me apart and scatter me in both worlds.”
“Kai, I cannot do this... I cannot.”
He leaned in closer, cradling Lu Han’s face in his hands. The skin felt cool under his burning fingertips. “You told me you would do anything to win the war. You told me everything would be worth it to get him back, don’t you remember?”
Lu Han’s fingers grasped his wrists. “No, this is not the price I’m prepared to pay. We were supposed to be all together at the end, all twelve of us.”
Kai sighed and leaned in, his breath shaky against Lu Han’s lips. “This is a war, and people die. We have waited for hundreds of years... this is our only chance. If you don’t help me, I will still burn out of my flesh, but only for nothing. What is your choice, Lu Han?”
He could see a brief flash of the Wind Guardian out of the corner of his eyes, Sehun’s eyes dark and solemn as he looked at them amidst his sandstorm. Fire burst in his chest.
“Do it, do it now! Lu Han!”
Lu Han mouthed soundless words against his lips, and the world exploded in the light.
“We called it the Holy War but it was nothing but my own selfish desire. I wanted to make you happy... I would have done anything to make you happy...” There were fingers on his face, the caress soothing and familiar. Soft lips pressed kisses against his mouth.
“You crazy fool, did you think it made me happy, tearing your flesh and bones apart and strewing you all over this world? You didn’t give me a choice, Kai, you forced my hands, you selfish bastard...” He knew, he knew all too well it was all too late now, and the words falling from Jongin’s lips were nothing but the last echoes of the Herald’s soul imprinted in the human body of Kim Jongin, in that moment right before he got torn asunder. Nothing but the echoes of a ghost long gone.
“When that Shadow broke the seals, his soul was calling back the missing pieces because this human body had the most of Kai left in him.” Yixing knelt next to him, his hands hovering over Jongin’s body, glowing in the soft light. “He can see fragments of Kai’s memories, but that’s all. Kai is dead and gone, he cannot be put back together. You know I tried. We all tried.”
“I remember... I have seen him in my dreams...” Jongin rambled, his fingers squeezing tight against someone’s wrist. Sehun. He remembered flesh and bones. “I was him and I saw inside his head... It was so dark, so heavy... that crushing feeling of despair and longing... I could not breathe. I have seen him, and I am not that person.”
“You are not, Jongin. And I don’t want you to be.” Sehun leaned down to kiss his eyelids. He could see then, the small pendant Sehun wore underneath his shirt, something he had seen once, many years before, but had forgotten. A little triangle with a swirling circle.
“I don’t want to be that person. But you miss him.”
“And he’s gone, but you are here.”
“Do you see him when you look at me?”
“No, not really.”
“It was worth it in the end, wasn’t it? I told you it would be worth it...” He sighed, and his eyes drifted close as Yixing’s hands brushed over his eyelids.
The war had been won, and the Herald was dead.
Sehun slumped next to him on the ground, his fingers shaking around the little triangle charm Kai had always hooked onto the zipper of his jacket.
“Maybe if we... if Lay could just, I don’t know, wait a few days, we could go to where he had hidden the seals...” D.O. stammered over his words, his eyes wide and disbelieving as he looked at the Seer’s tear-streaked face.
“No, the Herald is dead.”
“Just shut up, shut up. He is dead, don’t you understand? We are not immortal, nor invincible. We are just superpowered humans playing gods for our own selfish desires. Kai is dead, and he isn’t coming back. Even Lay cannot save him.”
“I can do it.” The Healer suddenly spoke up, his voice small and hesitant. All heads abruptly turned to look at him. “It won’t be Kai, but it will be something. He’s got his human body, right? We all do. There’s... there won’t be any memories or power, but at least that’s something. I don’t know.”
Lu Han was silent for a beat. “Do it.”
“Do it.” Sehun spoke up, voice low and hard. Chanyeol sighed and turned away.
“We- we can stay close to him. All of us, together.” Xiumin hesitantly stepped forward, placing a hand on Lu Han’s shoulders.
They stood together over the ruins, watching the new world open up in front of them. The Holy War was over. They were coming home.
Sehun’s hand brushed against his, warm and oddly familiar. Something surged in Lu Han’s chest, feelings he thought he had forgotten after hundreds of years.
“We would wait for him.” Sehun told him, and Lu Han nodded, a small twisted smile on his lips.
“Of course we would.” Their hands intertwined, the small triangle charm pressed between their palms.