Authors: black_goose & umberela
Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, Sehun/Luhan, Tao/Kris, Kai/D.O
Word count: 7,048
Summary: "The Oracle has seen the twelve united. War is coming to the Nations. We must prepare for battle."
A/N: DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN. this fic just keeps getting longer and longer jesus
It was Kai’s gentle tap on the shoulder that woke Kyungsoo from his doze. “There,” Kai said, pointing with one hand into the distance while his other arm held Kyungsoo to him, Kyungsoo’s back secure against his chest. “Do you see?”
Kyungsoo squinted, trying to make out what Kai wanted him to see. After a moment or two, he saw the pinpricks of light on the horizon, high enough in the sky that he’d almost mistaken them for a particularly bright star constellation. “Is that...?”
“Yes. The Air Nation capitol. We’ve finally made it.” Kai’s sigh suggested that he was anything but happy about that.
Kyungsoo understood the feeling, but at the same time, something like triumph bloomed in his chest. They’d done it. They’d set out to bring Chanyeol onto their side and deliver him back to the Air Nation capitol, and they’d done it.
“We’re almost there,” Kyungsoo called excitedly over his shoulder. There was adrenaline running through him suddenly, chasing away the vestiges of weakness left from his injuries.
“Yay,” Luhan said, sounding the opposite of enthused. He looked downright mopey when Kyungsoo turned to stare at him.
“We should land,” Suho called. “It won’t do to look like we’re sneaking up on them in the dead of night, and we should probably clean ourselves up as well. I imagine we’re going to be meeting with the Elders fairly soon after our arrival.”
“Why don’t we land and just never go back,” Luhan suggested, quietly enough that most of them probably wouldn’t have even heard.
Kai must have sent a mental nudge to the dragon, because they began a gentle descent. It had been a week since they’d left the Fire Nation village. In that time, the dragon had healed enough that a couple of days earlier she’d been able to start flying. It was like Kai had said; dragons had a penchant for fire. Kyungsoo was glad. He’d been worried about her.
Their progress had sped up considerably since then, making their way quickly across the Air Nation. The letter from Taewoong’s brother had proven to be a good indication of the state of affairs in the Air Nation. They’d passed a multitude of villages and small towns, all of them burned and empty. No one spoke about what could have happened to the inhabitants. They’d avoided landing near those villages, no one willing to potentially end up in a skirmish.
Kyungsoo braced himself for the final touchdown but it still sent his bones rattling and he couldn’t avoid yelping in pain. Kai murmured something that Kyungsoo couldn’t quite make out, his arm tightening around Kyungsoo’s waist.
“I’m okay,” Kyungsoo muttered, wriggling a little. “I’m strapped to you, there’s no need to stop me from breathing.” Kai relaxed again after a second, mumbling an apology. He teleported the both of them down, and once Kyungsoo’s legs were steady, began to undo the straps connecting them.
Luhan flopped down upon the grass. “I don’t want to go back.”
“We must,” Suho said.
“Urgh,” said Kris. He made it sound like a grumpy assent, somehow.
“Come on, Luhan,” Xiumin said, trying to be cheerful. “They won’t execute you, and they probably won’t lock you up. Think about the rest of us.”
“If they take one of our hands, I’m the most screwed,” Kris said. He sounded like he was trying to make the situation seem brighter but didn’t quite believe it could be brighter. After a moment he sat down heavily on the ground and covered his face.
“They take hands for stealing objects,” Luhan grumbled. “I am not an object.”
“No, they’ll just take our heads,” Kris said, muffled and miserable.
“They can’t do that,” Taewoong said, slightly scandalized, as he’d been each time they’d mentioned this previously, and they had mentioned it a lot. “You’re important.”
“We’re counting on that to save our skins, in the end,” Suho said with a sigh.
“Well, it’s not like we can turn back now, not really.” Kai gave the dragon a pat and she ambled away a little bit, the ground trembling beneath her. “We’d have to go live in exile somewhere and leave our countries to burn, which defeats the whole purpose of this venture.”
“Ah, logic,” Chen said. “I do hate logic, it interrupts the best melodramas.” Yixing pinched him. Chen rubbed his arm and glared at him.
“Someone give Luhan a bath,” Kris suggested. “Find him something white to wear and make him look as pure as possible.”
“Do I look sullied right now?” Luhan asked.
They all took a moment to stare at him. “Yes,” Kai said. Luhan looked rather pleased about it.
“We haven’t got anything white to wear,” Sehun said dejectedly. Luhan looked even more pleased.
Suho scrubbed at his face. “We’ll just bathe, and tidy ourselves up as best as possible, and have to pray to the gods they have mercy.”
“You do have me with you,” Chanyeol ventured. “I can always attempt to bargain for you, bribing them with an offer of assistance.”
“That’s sweet, Chanyeol,” Suho said. “I am unsure that will do much good.”
“Yeah, they weren’t exactly happy with you either last we knew,” Chen said, patting Chanyeol on the shoulder. Baekhyun side-eyed him.
“I think things will work out,” Taewoong said stubbornly.
“Your optimism is a ray of light to us all,” Chen said.
“Will you be flying into the city with us, Taewoong?” Kyungsoo asked. “It might be better if you pretended to be a commoner who’d travelled up here on your own.”
Taewoong shook his head. “I don’t want to miss this. I think it’ll be one for the history books.”
“The day all four Head Shifters lost their heads,” Tao said solemnly. “What do you think they’ll call it?”
“I’m sure they’ll come up with a suitably bad pun for the history books,” Chen said, as he grabbed his pack from the side of the dragon. “Which way is the river?”
Kai pointed to the east. Chen ambled off, whistling, and Suho hissed at his back to be quiet. Chen paid him no heed. One by one they followed suit, grabbing their things and making their way to the edge of the river to take a long needed bath. It was bright out tonight, the moon nearly full, and Kyungsoo saw the light glinting off the rushing water of the river long before he reached it.
Finding places to bathe as they’d travelled hadn’t been as easy as they’d hoped. Kyungsoo had grime and dirt in places that he’d hoped to never have grime and dirt again. He still wasn’t used to the ties of the clothing he’d been given by Taewoong, and his weakness made his undressing a slow process besides, so that by the time he was fully naked, almost everyone else was in the water. He tried to enter the water as quickly as possible but it was almost unbearably cold, and by the time it reached his hips, he stopped.
“I don’t like this,” he whined.
“Just dunk your whole body in,” Suho said, swimming in the middle of the river. “It’s really not so cold.”
“You live on a glacier,” Kyungsoo grumbled. “You’re never cold.” All the same he heeded Suho’s advice, quickly dipping up to his neck into the water. He gave a small cry, goose-bumps rising on his skin. He scrubbed himself off as quickly as possible, then promptly got out, shivering.
He sat on the riverbank trying to put his outfit together, huffing in frustration. The coldness of the water had left his leg and hips aching, although he did his best to ignore it. When Kai got out of the water to help him, he accepted gratefully.
“You alright?” Kai asked softly.
Kyungsoo nodded. “The cold just seeps in and hurts a little.”
“We can get Yixing to make you some willow bark tea.”
Kyungsoo turned to look at Yixing, who was happily splashing Chen in the face. “No, I’ll be alright.”
Kai sighed, tugging his own clothes back into place. They walked back to camp slowly, leaving the others gently chattering behind them. Soon the sound of the rushing water ate up the echoes of their talk.
“Kris is a pessimist, but he’s right,” Kai said slowly. “We could all be sentenced to die tomorrow.”
“Are you working up to some sappy, last night on earth speech?” Kyungsoo asked, squinting at him. “Because I don’t want to hear it.”
Kai sighed. “Fine. Besides, we aren’t going to die.”
“You sound pretty sure.”
“I am. I’ll teleport us out one by one if I have to. I’m going to have Luhan give me all the energy he can tomorrow morning, so he’s light and I am strong.” Kai’s face was determined, and Kyungsoo rather thought he had enough energy already. Luhan had been practicing with his energy so much they’d already run through all the frog tea, but even so, at the end of every day Kai was the only one Luhan was ever able to actually give energy to. Kyungsoo rather thought that with continued practice, Luhan might be able to get the hang of it, but as it was they didn’t have much time. And in the interest of not wanting to explode again, at the end of every session Luhan transferred his energy to Kai.
Kai continued speaking, helping Kyungsoo over a log as he did so. “The Air Nation is big on tradition, they won’t just seize us and hack our heads off. There will have to be a proper ceremony.” He grinned at Kyungsoo. “I’ll be able to get all of us out in less than a minute.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Kyungsoo said. He was somewhat comforted nonetheless.
They set out their pallets and curled under their furs, Kyungsoo pressed against Kai’s front. He must have slept, but somehow when he woke with a start just after dawn, he felt more tired than he had when he’d laid down. He sat up, knowing the back of his hair was sticking up wildly. His hand reached up to attempt to pat it down. Normally he didn’t mind much but if they chopped off his head, his hair should look decent.
Luhan was already up, sitting upright. His eyes were only half open though, and he stared blearily at Kyungsoo. “Don’t wanna go,” he mumbled.
“Have to,” Kyungsoo replied. He stood, kicking the furs off of Kai so he woke. “Give him what energy you’ve collected, he might need it if this goes badly.”
Luhan grumbled but came over and put his hands over Kai’s. Kyungsoo left them to it, rousing everyone else, grabbing some food to break his fast. He wasn’t hungry, his stomach felt pretty precarious, but he knew he’d need his strength.
Everyone was unusually quiet, going about their morning business in silence. An ominous air seemed to hang over them all, reminding Kyungsoo of the night and morning before they’d arrived at Chanyeol’s city. In both cases, they had no idea of quite what they were walking into. Out of them all, Chen seemed the most unaffected, making fun of Kris for looking like the world was about to end.
When it was time to get on the dragon, Kai teleported him up like usual, but for the first time since they’d left the village, Kai didn’t strap Kyungsoo to himself. At Kyungsoo’s questioning glance, Kai simply said, “I think we’re going to need to be able to move freely as soon as we land. Just in case.”
Kyungsoo swallowed thickly and nodded. Kai made up for the lack of straps by holding just a smidgen too tightly to Kyungsoo’s waist. Kyungsoo didn’t bother complaining, glad of it.
They made it into the air without incident, and Kyungsoo found himself hoping this was the last time he was stuck on the dragon for a while. He didn’t have anything against her, he was just so tired. He felt like they’d been flying every day for years.
The floating city gleamed white in the sharp dawn sunlight, far closer than Kyungsoo had thought. Kyungsoo squinted, trying to see it clearer. At first it was a bit fuzzy, but as they neared, Kyungsoo could tell that there were people rushing out, onto the dock area.
“I think they’ve seen us,” Kyungsoo said uneasily.
“The dragon’s hard to miss,” Kai replied wryly. “It doesn’t matter, I am not having her land on the docks.”
“Where are we landing?” Kyungsoo asked, but Kai didn’t answer.
The dragon flew right over the mass of guards and soldiers that had gathered on the docks, giving a bone shaking roar as she did so. They all scattered as if afraid she was going to blast them with fire. The grounds of the floating city sped beneath them, until they were flying past the main gates and then over roofs, heading right for the palace center.
Kyungsoo knew where they were going to land moments before it came into view; the large open courtyard they’d escaped through when they’d taken Luhan. “You are terrible,” Kyungsoo said to Kai disapprovingly.
There were still some large stones strewn around the courtyard, remnants of pillars, but the tree the dragon had uprooted had been cleared away, and a large new fountain was being built, scaffolding around it. It crunched under the dragon as she landed. Kyungsoo heard someone who sounded suspiciously like Yixing yelp with laughter from behind him.
“Well, that’s two courtyards we’ve destroyed,” Suho said heavily.
Within moments, the dragon was surrounded by soldiers, approaching just as hesitatingly as they had last time. Archers appeared on the walls, but none of them loosed any shafts.
“They don’t look happy,” Taewoong said uneasily.
“We did warn you,” Suho told him. He turned, sliding down the dragon’s side. He held his hands up, raising his voice. “We mean no harm. We’ve come with the Oracle, unharmed, and the Phoenix.”
The soldiers shifted, one of them stepping forward a little and saying, “If you mean no harm, give us your weapons.” Kyungsoo noted a slight quaver in his voice. Suho obligingly unbuckled his sword belt, and handed it over. “Your companions, too.” He turned to look at the rest of them, still atop the dragon. She was getting fidgety, tails swishing as the tiny soldiers slowly came closer.
Kris sighed, sliding down and offering his sword as well. Tao followed, and then Chanyeol. When Kyungsoo slid down he stumbled a bit, but didn’t fall. Once he’d handed over his shortsword he was herded beside his companions, surrounded by a circle of bared steel and unhappy faces. After they’d all been suitably disarmed, he was afraid they were all going to be butchered on the spot, but that didn’t happen.
The dragon leapt into the air without warning, and Kyungsoo felt as if the entire floating city rocked from it. A single archer loosed an arrow at her and missed, and then she was well out of range.
Suho looked slightly devastated, but Kai was calm. The soldiers were all muttering.
“Which of you is the Oracle?” a soldier asked, squinting at each of their faces in turn.
Luhan tripped forward, pulling his hood off, and his blonde hair stuck up every which way. “Here!” he said, slightly squeaky. “As you can see, they did not kill me.”
The soldiers began muttering amongst themselves them, clearly excited but also confused as to what should be done with them. Luhan was wedged between Sehun and Kris, and any move to grab onto them would put him in potential danger.
Kyungsoo sensed movement, and he turned his head to see a man shoving through the soldiers, a pin in the shape of a whirlwind on his broad chest, showing he was an Air Nation general. He was huffing and puffing, face a blotchy red, like he’d run all the way here.
“Have the traitors returned?” the general panted. “Where is he? Where is the Oracle?” He scanned them over, searching for Luhan.
“Yeah, because he’s the only one who matters, not, you know, the Head Shifters. Or the Phoenix,” Chen mumbled, and Yixing stamped on his foot.
Suho cleared his throat. “We brought Luhan back, yes.” He pointed at Luhan.
The general looked Luhan up and down, then his shoulders relaxed slightly, clearly in relief. “The Oracle has been returned to us.” He looked up to the sky.
Luhan’s mouth twisted sourly, but he said nothing.
“And you said the Phoenix was with you as well?” the general asked, appearing to refocus. He mopped at his brow with his sleeve.
Chanyeol raised his hand tentatively. “I am the Phoenix.”
The general seemed a bit uneasy, and the soldiers shifted restlessly, shooting glances at one another. None of them made to grab any of them and put them in shackles, which took Kyungsoo by surprise.
They’re afraid of us, he realized. They were outnumbered more than ten to one, and yet these soldiers feared them. Kyungsoo slid a glance at Chanyeol, and thought maybe they had a right to be.
The general shook himself. “The Elders are in the council chamber, waiting for you. A meeting was in progress. They want to see you immediately, and instructed me to bring you to them.”
“This is good,” Suho croaked, and then cleared his throat. When he spoke again his voice was stronger. “We have much to discuss with them, I think.”
“Perhaps, ah,” the general said, wiping his forehead somewhat fervently, “perhaps the Oracle should be taken—”
Kris grabbed Luhan’s upper arm and tugged him closer, away from the soldier who had tentatively stepped forward as if to usher Luhan away. “He stays with us.”
The general grew somewhat pale, his eyes fixated on where Kris was touching Luhan, but he nodded wordlessly. “Of course. Just. Treat him gently.” Kris scowled.
They were marched single file through the corridors, the general leading them. The soldiers on either side of Kyungsoo were at least a head taller than him. He was just grateful they hadn’t been bound. It would have made him feel more vulnerable. And this way they could pretend they weren’t being arrested, even though Kyungsoo knew that was what this was.
The grand double doors to the council chambers were just as Kyungsoo remembered them. Their guard marched them through the doors but then parted from them, going to stand around the edges of the room. The general led them into the center of the chamber, then went to take a seat along the side. Kyungsoo’s eyes felt glued to the floor. He was terrified to look up at the Elders.
A long silence filled the room, and the others around him fidgeted, all at a loss for what to say. Kyungsoo took a deep breath, reminded himself that he was a prince, squared his shoulders, and looked up, intent on saying something of intelligence and diplomacy. What came out of his mouth was a horrified, long squeak. There was someone far more terrifying than the Elders sitting up on the dais beside the crotchety old men Kyungsoo had grown all too familiar with. Kyungsoo felt his face pale.
The doors behind them swung shut with a bang, and Kyungsoo wanted to wrench them open again and flee through them. There was another brief silence before the man sitting on the dais next to the Elders leaned forward, laced his hands under his chin, and drawled, “Hello, Kyungsoo.”
Out of all of Kyungsoo’s companions, only Suho knew his father in any real capacity. Everyone else turned to stare at Kyungsoo in confusion, completely lost as to who this person was. Kyungsoo somehow managed to wrench his mouth open and squeak out, “Hello, father.”
He heard Kai groan beside him.
A voice spoke up from one of the chairs to the side, one of Suho’s generals remarking that he’d had them all very worried, and caused a great deal of trouble, and Suho gave a wince in response. As Kyungsoo turned to look at him, he saw that there were far fewer Water Nation Generals here than there had been when they all left, and that their seats had been filled with people of note from his own nation. There were only a few, but the fact that his father had come with any sort of entourage spoke volumes. They nodded at Kyungsoo as his eyes passed over them. Kyungsoo felt the distinct urge to sink to his knees and beg for mercy.
The Elders, in typical fashion, seemed so beside themselves at the sight of them that it took up until that point for any of them to speak. “Where is the Oracle?” one of them demanded, hands clutching the table in front of him. “Have you returned him?”
Chen shoved Luhan to the front, rolling his eyes. Luhan tripped again, and when he straightened he looked pale and scared, practically shaking. “I - I’m—” he tried, and then fell silent.
The Elders, while still looking mildly apoplectic, seemed to relax somewhat at the sight of Luhan in one piece. “Is he well, is he unharmed?”
“He does seem to have all his limbs,” Kyungsoo’s father, King of the Earth Nation, drawled.
The Elder turned to the gaggle of assistants to the side. “Take him to his tower, have him checked for damage. Then he must be cleansed. Once he is safely away, we shall deal with these... others.” He hissed the last bit between his teeth.
The group of six assistants, garbed in wispy pale fabric, hurried forward, intent on ushering Luhan away. “No!” Luhan wailed. He shied away from them, taking a few steps back until he could grab Kai and hide behind him. Kyungsoo thought it sounded like every single Air Nation native in the room collectively gasped in horror. The assistants looked so scandalized Kyungsoo was surprised they didn’t faint.
“Oracle!” one of the squawked. “You must not—”
“You can’t make me go!” Luhan cried, finding some courage. “I— I’ve been sullied!”
“Touching the Shadow Walker, of course you are,” another Elder said, then gently added, “but do not worry, we will purify you, and then everything will be as it was. The taint will wash away.”
The assistants hovered, making to step forward. Luhan bit his lip and then burst out, “I’m not a virgin anymore!” Then he clapped his hand over his mouth in mortification and hid his face behind Kai’s shoulder.
Kris gave a small sob, clearly already mourning the rest of his limbs, and Suho sighed. It seemed to take the Elders a moment to take in what Luhan had said, and Kyungsoo watched as their gaze moved between Luhan and Kai, putting two and two together and coming up with five. “No,” one of them moaned in horror, drawing the sound out. Another had grasped at his own chest, and Kyungsoo thought he might be having a fit. The Head Elder had gone deathly pale.
“Great,” Kai muttered. “Now they’ll take my dick as well as my head. Thanks, Luhan.”
“They— they—” one Elder gasped, unable to articulate himself at all, so great was his horror.
The one having the fit pointed weakly at them. “Heads. Take their heads.”
“We didn’t sully the Oracle,” Chen said sulkily. He gave a pointed look at Sehun, who looked like he wanted the floor to open up and swallow him whole.
“You kidnapped him, and now he’s ruined,” the Head Elder said. He slumped back in his seat, like he might faint. A servant rushed over to fan him.
“Don’t be so ridiculous,” Kyungsoo’s father said. “They returned him in one piece, no actual damage to him. And they brought the Phoenix with them, or did you all fail to notice that particular thing in the midst of your conniptions?”
That did get their attention, and they scanned the faces of their party, eyes falling on Chanyeol. They all made strange, choking noises, and while they were working to find their tongues, Kyungsoo asked, “Father, why are you here?”
Kyungsoo’s father peered down at him. “I received a rather frantic letter from our esteemed allies, the Elders of the Air Nation, claiming you had kidnapped their Oracle, razed a portion of their city, and flew off into the sunset with him upon a dragon. It seemed so far-fetched that I almost thought it was a joke. But they were quite insistent, and seeing as these crimes were tantamount to treason, I felt it prudent to come and discuss things with them.” His eyes narrowed. “I must say, I was not really expecting you to come back in this fashion.”
Kyungsoo wrung his hands. “We— they wanted us to assassinate Chanyeol. We wanted to bring him into the fold. We need him.”
“It wasn't enough to disobey us,” the Head Elder huffed, “they had to steal our Oracle, to make sure we would not attack them while they held him hostage!”
Suho visibly paled. “That wasn’t why we took him—”
“The reason does not matter,” another Elder interjected. “The deed was done, that is enough.”
“The penalty for such is death.” The Head Elder stared down at them all. “We can give mercy, in light of the fact that you have brought Chanyeol to us.” His eyes slid to Kyungsoo’s father as he said that. “But this should not go unpunished.”
“Hands!” another Elder cried. “Take one hand from each. And geld whoever touched the Oracle inappropriately.” He glared daggers at Kai.
“I never touched anyone inappropriately,” Kai protested. Kyungsoo coughed, and Kai corrected himself, “I never touched Luhan inappropriately.”
Kyungsoo’s father had raised an eyebrow, and Kyungsoo flushed.
“Taking only a hand is too lenient,” the Elder on the end griped.
“I think it is too extreme,” one of Suho’s general’s said. “The Phoenix will be a boon, if he helps us. Is he going to help us?”
Chanyeol started, realizing they were waiting for an answer. “Yes, yes I will.”
“With him, we may win this war, which was looking rather hopeless. Rather than pitching fits over the Oracle, perhaps we should be looking at this service they have provided for us, or at least weigh it in,” Suho’s general said.
Suddenly everyone was talking at once over what was to be done with them. The Elder originally demanding their heads began to insist at least a few of them be killed, while Suho’s generals were shouting about lashings, and the Elder who’d asked for their hands grumbled about how they could settle on a few fingers. Kyungsoo’s father rolled his eyes up to the ceiling.
Finally the Head Elder banged his hand on the table, demanding silence. “That is enough. We will put them in irons and have them locked in the dungeons, until we decide what is to be done with them. There are other matters to discuss, and now that we have them all here, we no longer have to worry about what they are plotting out in the wild.”
The soldiers made to converge on them, and Kyungsoo was about to say something in protest, but Taewoong gave a shout and moved forward, yelling, “Wait!” Kyungsoo, in his panic over being arrested and his father being present, had forgotten about Taewoong.
The Head Elder gave a start, clearly having not noticed Taewoong, who’d evidently been lurking with his hood up. “Who are you?” he asked, squinting.
Taewoong ignored the question. “You cannot just lock them up!” He seemed downright indignant. Kyungsoo bit back a groan. At this rate he would be locked up with the rest of them.
The Head Elder looked at Taewoong like Kyungsoo would look at horse poop. “Oh? And who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?”
Taewoong hesitated. “I am a Fire Nation commoner, I helped them return here, after some injuries befell them. I came here with them to vouch for their honor and valor.” He waved his hand, as if to brush that information aside. “But the point stands, your lordship, you cannot lock them up! I don’t even know why you’d want to.”
The Head Elder began to turn red. “Why? Why? Have you missed the entirety of this meeting? They stole our Oracle, sullied him, injured dozens of guards, flattened a very old courtyard and uprooted a sacred acorn tree, broke the Vase of Tears—”
“Oops,” Luhan muttered.
“But they’re the Twelve,” Taewoong cried. “Can’t some leniency be shown?”
Stunned silence filled the room at that. Kyungsoo stared at Taewoong, whose chest was heaving, in blank shock, wondering where on earth that had come from.
“Taewoong,” hissed Suho, stepping forward and snagging Taewoong’s shirt. “Taewoong, what are you doing?”
“What do you mean, what am I doing?” Taewoong stared at him. Then he flung an arm in the direction of the Elders. “They’re going to lock you up!”
“Yes, but,” Suho said desperately, “that doesn’t mean you have to lie for us.”
Taewoong gave him a look of sheer confusion. “But I’m not lying.”
“We’re not the Twelve, we’re not strong enough. Besides, there’s only eleven of us!” Suho cried, waving his arm at Kyungsoo and the others.
“No, Suho, we’re twelve, remember? The eleven of us plus Chanyeol,” Kris hissed. “Basic math, for god’s sake.”
“We’re twelve,” Baekhyun repeated numbly, like it was sinking in.
“But we’re not the Twelve,” Chen said, a laugh bubbling up his throat. “We couldn’t be.”
“Wait,” said Taewoong. “You mean you didn’t know?” There was shock written all over his face.
“These people are not the Twelve,” said the Head Elder. “Some of them are not even Shifters, according to our records.”
“No,” said Tao, stepping forward, glaring up at the Elders. “We are all Shifters. The records are incomplete, as you’re perfectly aware of.”
“But it doesn’t matter,” Suho said quickly. “We’re not the Twelve. We’re not.”
There was an echoing silence after that, every eye upon them scrutinizing in a way they hadn’t been before. Kyungsoo’s mind was racing. They couldn’t be the Twelve. It just wasn’t possible. They could not be the coming of the prophecy.
Taewoong was staring at them in shocked confusion. Xiumin was shaking his head in horror, Chen’s smile was still on his face in a frozen sort of way, and Kris looked like he might faint. Sehun was downright green. Kai had a strange, terrible expression etched across his features.
“No,” Chen croaked, “no no no.”
“We’re not the Twelve,” Suho cried, staring up at the Elders, who were looking at them with a new assessing eye.
Luhan cleared his throat, his voice coming out shaky. “Actually,” he said quietly, but it echoed around the room, so deep was the silence, “I think we might be?”
“No,” Chen said harshly.
“I,” Xiumin said, “am not one of the Twelve. Look at me.” Sehun seemed like he echoed these sentiments. He was still rather green.
“What makes you say that, Luhan?” Suho asked.
Luhan began to wring his hands. “Well, I mean, I’ve had visions of Chanyeol being a member of the Twelve, and we’re his companions, and there’s enough of us, and we’re all Shifters. It’s not the first time the thought has occurred to me, and I always dismissed it before but— what are the chances? It’s like— it’s like it was—”
“Destiny?” Kris have a short bark of laughter. “Fate?”
“It was not destiny that—” Chen started viciously, before he cut himself off, turning away from them.
“The abomination is not a member of the Twelve,” said one of the Elders, in a matter-of-fact way. “You have this wrong, Oracle.”
“Why can’t he be?” Kyungsoo asked, before he could stop himself. He didn’t even think they were the Twelve, but the assumption in that statement struck him as deeply unfair.
Kai hissed out of the corner of his mouth, “I am actually with them on this one, Kyungsoo.” Kyungsoo scowled at him, and Kai looked down at the ground.
“He cannot be, because he is a Shadow Walker, and the Twelve are the heroes of our age. Besides, this is all clearly a ploy to get out of a proper punishment,” said the same Elder.
“There is no ploy,” Suho snapped. “We are not the Twelve.”
“Yes, you are,” Taewoong shot back, at the same time Kyungsoo spoke up.
“Kai may be a Shadow Walker but he’s shown far less maliciousness in his entire life than you lot have shown us in the last five minutes. And he’s powerful, as well, we all are.”
“I’m not,” Xiumin said stubbornly.
“You melted someone’s face off,” Baekhyun pointed out quietly.
“That was an accident.”
“It still happened.”
“Are you saying you think you’re the Twelve, Kyungsoo?” his father asked, his eyebrows raised.
Kyungsoo’s cheeks turned red under that shrewd gaze. “No, I just—”
“Because I am inclined to think your Oracle, sullied as he may be, might have gotten this correct.”
Kyungsoo choked. “What?”
“What?” Suho echoed.
“What?” the Head Elder asked.
Kyungsoo’s father ignored his son and turned to the Head Elder. “You have stated before, quite proudly, that your Oracle’s visions are, essentially, law. They always come true.”
“Well, yes,” the Head Elder blustered, “but that was before these— these traitors came and— and sullied him. Who knows how their evil has warped his abilities.”
“And yet here we have the Phoenix and eleven companions standing in front of us, all of them powerful Shifters. You call them traitors to your cause, but does that mean they fight for the Fire Nation? No. What’s that part of the prophecy about having no allegiance to any one Nation?”
The Head Elder opened his mouth and closed it repeatedly, trying to find words, but Kyungsoo’s father didn’t give him a chance.
“Also if I recall correctly, your Oracle had his first few visions of the Twelve far before he was borrowed by his companions. Or are you implying he was wrong then, as well?”
The Head Elder finally found enough coherency to choke out, “The Shadow Walker cannot be a member of the Twelve.”
“I do not recall that being written anywhere. And besides, my son, our nation’s crowned prince, has vouched for the Shadow Walker,” Kyungsoo’s father said smoothly. “Do you not trust his judgement?”
“The Shadow Walker is a poison,” the Head Elder said. “He could easily have twisted their minds with his dark powers. How can we trust any of them, when they have been in his company all this time. Kidnapping the Oracle was probably his idea, and the moment we trust them, they will turn on us at his behest.”
Kai was biting down harshly on his lower lip, chest heaving, but he didn’t say anything to defend himself. Kyungsoo was too angry to speak.
“Actually, the Shadow Walker had naught to do with our plans,” Suho said stiffly. “It was I who wanted to leave to find the Phoenix.”
“And I was the one who broke the Oracle out of the purification room and stole him,” Tao said simply.
“We were aware of that,” one of the Elders sneered. “You have already been dealt with. You have been stripped of your position, we will not allow a traitor to be named as our Head Shifter.” Tao turned pale but didn’t protest. Kyungsoo knew that he’d been expecting such a move but it must still have come as a shock.
“It is not merely the Shadow Walker,” the Head Elder said. “There are others in this rag-tag bunch who are not worthy of being members of the Twelve. It is not possible, not with people of such — such low moral quality.”
Baekhyun appeared to flare up at that. “Are you talking about me, I wonder? Slaves, I imagine, are not fit for such an esteemed position in your eyes.”
Chanyeol turned to Baekhyun in genuine shock. “You’re not a slave,” he protested. They met one another’s eyes and then Baekhyun turned red.
“He is, as far as this court is concerned,” the Head Elder sniffed. “And I can see he is just as unnecessarily vocal and disrespectful as he was before.”
“He still hasn’t learned his place,” another Elder muttered, glaring at Baekhyun.
“How dare you,” Chanyeol bit out. He took a step forward, his hair ruffling in some invisible wind, the air around him distinctly hotter than before. “His place is by my side. If he is a slave, what does that imply about me? Even if you don’t believe the others are part of the Twelve, your Oracle has said that I am a member. I am a member of the Twelve, I am the most powerful Shifter alive, and you will not speak to him like that.”
All of the Elders drew back in fear, the soldiers in the room shifting restlessly. Kyungsoo’s father didn’t look frightened in the slightest; instead he was staring at Chanyeol in approval.
Chen reached out and lay a hand on Chanyeol’s shoulder, wincing at the heat surrounding him. “Calm down, Chanyeol,” he murmured. “You’ll make things worse.”
“Actually, he’s probably making things better,” Tao said under his breath. “They’re terrified of him.”
So am I, sometimes, Kyungsoo thought, and had the weirdest urge to laugh aloud.
“These people,” Chanyeol said, gesturing at Kyungsoo and the others, “helped me escape from the Fire Nation, helped me learn the truth, and have shown that they are true friends to me. They genuinely want to help in this war, and yet you repeatedly scorn them. They are, if nothing else, my companions, and I shall not be very cooperative if any of them come to harm.”
The Elders blustered, but it was rather weak. They had all gone somewhat pale.
“We did not mean to offend you, Lord Chanyeol,” the Head Elder said.
“And,” another Elder began, nervously wetting his lips, “friends of yours or no, they must still be punished. The treason... the Oracle...” He trailed off under Chanyeol’s furious gaze.
Kyungsoo’s father’s voice rang loud in the room. “Is it treason if they left to seek a way to end this war? End it in a way that favors us, I might add.”
The Elders shifted, mumbling under their breath. “No,” the Head Elder finally said. “But their means — they abandoned us and took the Oracle—”
“They did not abandon anyone. They came back, with the Phoenix, as was their mission all along.” Kyungsoo’s father turned his eyes on Luhan, who shrank under their gaze. “And I could be mistaken, but I am under the impression that no one took the Oracle. He seems to have gone willingly.”
“Wanted to go,” Luhan said, voice shaking. “I wanted to help.”
“Your place was here,” the Head Elder said, “helping us. Your visions could have saved us all! Now—”
“I never asked for this.” Luhan had his hands fisted. “I never asked to be locked up. I wanted to help, not just be a puppet. And I did help, I can help. I won’t be locked up again.”
“There, see?” Kyungsoo’s father said. “I understand your upset, but as far as I can tell, no actual punishable crime has been committed.”
“Consorting with the Shadow Walker—”
“Is frowned upon, but, last I looked, not a crime.”
The Elders pursed their lips, but said nothing.
“What about the prophecy?” one of Suho’s generals said from off to the side. “If they are the Twelve...”
“We are,” Luhan said, standing up straight. “I think we are. I will have to try and See for sure, but I think we are.”
“I actually think we might be as well,” Chanyeol said softly.
“We should forgo punishment for now,” another general said. “We must get them out on the field, send them west to the fighting.”
“They are not the Twelve,” the Head Elder said, face flushing red again. “And we cannot send them out, they will probably flee. Besides, the battlefield is no place for the Oracle.”
“I am not the Oracle anymore!” Luhan cried.
Kyungsoo’s father stood. “I grow weary of this. I believe they are the Twelve, and should be made use of. Seeing as many others disagree with me, I think we should discuss this at length amongst ourselves at a time in the near future and come to a decision on what is to be done. However, right now there are other important matters to be discussed. I know there is a section of the castle close to the center, where the rooms have no windows. Perhaps rooms can be prepared for them there, so they may be held comfortably but still be unable to escape until such a time as a decision has been reached.”
The Head Elder was still a bit pink about the cheeks, but he agreed. Suho’s generals grumbled, but in the end, they were ushered out by a heavy guard. Luhan muttered something about being locked up again, and Kris snapped that he should be glad to still have his head.
The rooms they were shown to were a lot smaller than the room Kyungsoo had been given when he’d first arrived in the city. The rooms had beds and a wardrobe, and not much else. Still, they were lucky to not be in proper prison cells. The rooms were all placed along one long hall, and four guards were posted at each end. It was all a bit of a futile effort, as Kai could teleport them away any time he chose to, and really, even without him they could fight their way out, but they would stay here, for now. They wanted to be brought back into the fold, and that would require them to seem contrite.
Taewoong was taken away. Suho and Kyungsoo initially protested, afraid for him, but the guards stiffly informed them that he would be set up elsewhere, as he did not take part in their crimes. They could only hope that he would be treated well enough.
After that, there was nothing else to do but wait.