Authors: black_goose & umberela
Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, Sehun/Luhan, Tao/Kris, Kai/D.O
Word count: 7,948
Summary: "The Oracle has seen the twelve united. War is coming to the Nations. We must prepare for battle."
A/N: Sorry this chapter is a bit late, Rara was stranded in Amsterdam yesterday. Oops. For this chapter, you might need to reference this really bad map of the four nations I made aaaages ago. I made it in like 10 minutes so don't take it too seriously, it's mostly meant to kind of show you the basic location and shape of the four diff countries.
Kai and Kyungsoo were cuddling in Kyungsoo’s room, Kyungsoo’s head resting against Kai’s bare chest. The sheets were tangled underneath them, the warm air comfortable against Kyungsoo’s skin. Kai’s hand played idly with his hair as he yawned lazily. “I can’t believe we’ve managed to survive three days locked up here together without someone killing someone,” he muttered.
“Well, if we can survive camping out in the middle of nowhere without killing each other, I think it’s natural that we can survive a place with beds and regular meals,” Kyungsoo said. He poked Kai in the side to take some of the bite from his tone.
“I know, but,” Kai protested, “we’re kind of imprisoned here, so tensions are a bit high, and yet somehow it’s so boring only looking at the same set of walls.”
“It must be so hard,” Kyungsoo said, voice dripping with sarcasm, even as he smiled against Kai’s skin, “to only have me for entertainment.”
“Oh, believe me,” Kai said, voice gone husky. “You’re more than enough entertainment.”
“I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me,” Kyungsoo sighed, smiling fondly. He tilted his face up in invitation, and Kai was about to oblige him, smiling, but then the door to Kyungsoo’s room creaked open.
They never bothered locking the door, seeing as the others generally had the good sense not to enter without knocking. “Wha--” Kyungsoo said, before the word caught in his throat, giving way to a high pitched whistle of terror.
Kai lifted his head to glare at whoever it was, but the second he saw, his face turned positively grey. He projected Kyungsoo off himself in his haste to grab the pillow from behind his own head, yanking it down so it could be used to cover his crotch. Kyungsoo used his momentum to roll right off the bed, where he’d flung his pants the night before. He tugged them on quickly and then stood, back straight, though his face was very pink he was sure, and he turned back to face who had come in.
“Father,” he said, in a somewhat shaky voice. His father’s raised eyebrow made him want to crawl under the bed and there die from shame. “I believe we’ve discussed how I feel about knocking.”
“We have,” his father replied archly, “and I’ve told you I don’t care.” He came in the rest of the way and had the grace to shut the door before coming to sit on the edge of the bed. Kai was still lying there, frozen, hands holding the pillow over his tender bits. Kyungsoo’s father didn’t even glance at him.
Kyungsoo took the cue and sat on the other side, so they could stare at one another on a similar level. After a long, awkward silence, Kyungsoo cleared his throat and managed to squeak out, “It’s good to see you.”
His father scoffed delicately. “Yes, I can tell you’ve been withering away without me by your side.” He finally glanced at Kai, and it was a testament to Kai’s affection for Kyungsoo that he didn’t teleport far away. Instead he just seemed to try and sink into the mattress. “The Shadow Walker, Kyungsoo?” his father asked, voice deliberately bland.
“The Shadow Walker,” Kyungsoo said, as if they were merely giving introductions. “His name is Kai.”
His father shook his head in apparent exasperation. “I suspected as much at the meeting, but I must say that you have truly outdone yourself.”
“What did you come here to talk to me about?” Kyungsoo asked, trying to keep his voice as bland as his father’s and almost managing. “I’m sure it’s not about the -- about my personal rela-- friendships.”
For a moment Kyungsoo wasn’t sure if his father was going to let the subject drop so easily, but eventually he said, “I came to see how you were faring.”
“They haven’t killed us yet,” Kyungsoo retorted. “I think that’s the best that can currently be said about our current predicament.”
His father sniffed. “Yes, well, it’s not for some of the Elders’ lack of trying. They squabble every day, and each Elder and lordling just makes the same suggestion over and over. It’s very tiring.”
Kyungsoo tried not to let his dismay show. “They aren’t any closer to making a decision?”
His father pinned him with a glare. “I have managed to dissuade them from hacking off any of your limbs in the immediate future.”
“That’s. That’s good?” Kyungsoo said weakly.
“There are some who still call for beheadings,” his father said, “they just can’t seem to decide who should be the lucky few to lose their heads.”
Kyungsoo gulped. If it came to that, Kai would have to teleport them out of here, but Kyungsoo didn’t want to tell him that outright. “What of the war?”
The set of his father’s mouth grew hard. “It is not lost yet, but near enough. The Elders would sue for peace, if they thought the Fire Nation would accept the offer. The Water Nation generals grow fearful, for after the Air Nation falls, the Water Nation will no doubt be the Fire Nation’s next target.”
“And then our own nation,” Kyungsoo said sharply, but his father didn’t blink.
“They won’t move on the Water Nation until after the coming winter passes, which will give both them and us time to prepare for an assault.”
Kyungsoo didn’t even know what month it was, but it must be late autumn by now. That wasn’t much time at all, and if the Air Nation fell, the Water Nation would be even more greatly outnumbered. “Prepared or not, they will lose.” Kyungsoo’s father said nothing to that, and Kyungsoo bit back a groan of frustration. He tried a different track, getting up from the bed and going to his pack. He searched around and then came up with a thin leather map of the four nations. He laid it on his father’s lap, his father raising his hands like he might flick it away, but he didn’t. “Where are the troops now?”
“The Fire Nation, for all intents and purposes, has split their army into two main factions.” Kyungsoo had known that, but he let his father go on anyway. He pointed to the border where the Earth Nation met the Air Nation. “As you know, they’d sent roughly a third of their army to march up the border while your forces were distracted. They had some trouble with the terrain in our nation from what I understand, which stalled them for longer than they’d anticipated, but eventually they’d moved into the Air Nation and towards the capitol.” He pointed to the southern border of the Air Nation. “The Air Nation managed to pull its troops back fairly quickly, the second half of the Fire Nation army chasing them north. Once over the borders they set up fortifications to try and stall for time. It has worked to a degree, on that half of the Fire Nation army anyway. The troops that came in from the western border however have split into smaller factions and are using the forests to their advantage, travelling about the country and destroying towns and crops, burning as they go. We do not have the manpower to stop them, we cannot pull troops away from the southern border lest we lose even more ground on that front. We’ve been setting up more fortifications, closer to the capitol, but at this rate, they won’t even need to take it, for the rest of the country will be ashes.”
“What of the north? And east, by the coast? Have they not sent up ships?” Kyungsoo asked, biting his thumbnail.
“No,” his father replied simply. “They don’t need to. As of now, the eastern shore and the northern border have escaped ravaging. The Air Nation has been pulling its people out of the western lands and relocating them to the east, and the Water Nation has also been taking in refugees.”
“The people don’t want to stay with their villages?” Kyungsoo asked. “To help defend them?”
His father scoffed. “All the fighting men, and quite a lot of women, are already fighting, the only people left in the villages aren’t fit to handle swords. Elderly farmers wielding pikes don’t stand a chance against fire Shifters.”
“So at this point, we’re not even launching an offensive, we’re just trying not to lose any more ground.” There’s not much ground left to lose, Kyungsoo thought.
“In a last ditch attempt, the Elders and Water Nation generals gathered two thousand men, and sent them to march down the eastern coast in the hopes of perhaps bringing down the Fire Nation’s own unguarded capitol. But, in the attempt to send enough men, they ended up simply gathering too much attention. The troops got caught while passing through the mountains a hundred leagues from the capitol. It wasn’t as unguarded as we thought. Some faction of their army had stayed behind, or gone back, we don’t know. All we know is when they heard an attack was coming, they sent troops to cut us off. The fighting is still happening, from what we understand.” He pointed to the eastern coast of the Fire Nation, on the map only two inches from the capitol, motioning to the spiky squiggles that represented a mountain range. “They got caught in a valley so it’s had a bottleneck effect. The two thousand men we have probably outnumber the amount that the Fire Nation capitol sent, but since there’s no proper battle happening in the valley, it’s taking too long to beat them. And they know the terrain better.”
They’d known the capitol wasn’t truly undefended, Chanyeol had told them that much. But now-- “So that’s it?” Kyungsoo asked. “If they pulled all the troops out of the capitol now to go fight in the valley though, it really is undefended.”
“There’s no more men to send down, Kyungsoo,” his father said simply. “There weren’t even really two thousand to spare, but the Elders wanted to try something, instead of waiting idly by.”
Kyungsoo plucked the map from his father’s lap, bringing it close to his face and squinting at it, brain running ahead of him. “I have an idea,” Kyungsoo said slowly, “but I need to talk to the others about it.”
He jumped to his feet, rolling the map up. His father, thankfully, chose to not ask any questions, rising to his feet also. Kai lay on the bed, staring blankly at the ceiling, still blushing to the roots of his hair. “I’m going to see Suho,” Kyungsoo said, feeling his own blush return to him as he looked at Kai. He’d almost half forgotten Kai was there in his conversation about troop movements. “Will you--?”
“I’ll be there,” Kai said, his voice somewhat squeakier than normal. He didn’t take his eyes off the ceiling.
Kyungsoo strode out of his room and crossed the hall to Suho’s door, knocking on it with a very pointed look at his father. His father gave no indication that he’d noticed. Suho’s call to enter came almost immediately, and when Kyungsoo opened the door he found Suho sitting on his bed, fully dressed, a book open his lap. “Oh,” he said, “I don’t usually see you this early -- oh.”
He scrambled to close his book and get off the bed as he noticed Kyungsoo’s father, who stepped into the room behind Kyungsoo wordlessly. “Your Majesty,” Suho said, with a curious look between Kyungsoo and the older man. He gave a stuttered bow. “Why -- may I ask why you’re here?”
“My father came to talk with me about war matters,” Kyungsoo said smoothly. “I’ve had an idea that I need to discuss with everyone. Can -- I’m going to go gather everyone here. Father, you stay here while I do that.”
“Kyungsoo,” said Suho, a hint of desperation in his voice, clearly not comfortable with being left alone with his father. Well, Kyungsoo didn’t want it either, not since he sensed that his father was probably going to lecture him on the subject of Kai the next chance he got.
“Here,” Kyungsoo said absently before Suho could say anything else. He shoved the map into Suho’s hands. “I’ll be right back.” He left the room so fast it probably was more accurate to say he fled.
Directly opposite Suho’s room was Chen’s. Nobody answered his knock and when he tentatively stuck his head in, he found that no one was there, the bed made up so neatly it seemed unslept in. Kyungsoo frowned as he closed the door. He had never been up early enough to know what everyone else’s morning routines were like, or where to find people who weren’t in their rooms.
Next to Chen’s was Xiumin’s. Feeling more conscious of time, Kyungsoo merely poked his head in this time and said, in his best strident voice, “Time to get up! Meeting in Suho’s room!” He retreated but not before he heard Xiumin yelp, and the subsequent bang of him apparently falling off the edge of his bed in surprise.
Kyungsoo took a deep breath when it came to the next room, Sehun’s, and made sure to close his eyes as he stuck his head in and repeated his wake up call. He pulled back too fast to even hear any response at all, which he was grateful for.
Yixing was awake and dressed, half-laying on his bed, his back propped up against the headrest. Chen lay the opposite way, his head hanging off the end of the bed, hair dangling down enough to show the burn scars around his eye. The blank look he gave Kyungsoo was a little disconcerting. “What?” he asked flatly. Yixing pinched his bare toe.
“We’re gathering in Suho’s room,” Kyungsoo told them.
“Have they decided to behead us yet?” Chen asked, with some interest in his voice.
“Not yet,” Kyungsoo said.
Chen sighed and pushed himself up into a sitting position. “We’ll be there,” he said.
Kyungsoo nodded, and left. The shadows under Chen’s eyes were darker than he remembered, or maybe he just hadn’t been noticing so much recently. Chen had kept mostly to himself, either in his room, or in Yixing’s. Kyungsoo had to admit that he also hadn’t been paying attention to much outside of Kai in these past weeks.
It was too dark in Kris’s room to see anything. “Wake up,” Kyungsoo demanded. “Meeting in Suho’s room.” He slammed the door shut afterwards just to make sure Kris was awake.
Out in the hallway, people were beginning to traipse out of their rooms and head towards Suho’s. Luhan stumbled out of Sehun’s room rubbing his face sleepily as Kyungsoo peeked into Tao’s room and found that it, too, was curiously empty. “I was still sleeping,” Luhan complained.
“Well, if you weren’t awake half the night making unnecessary amounts of noise,” Kyungsoo let himself trail off with a pointed look.
Luhan blushed delicately but retorted, “Says you.”
Kyungsoo was about to respond sharply when the door to Kris’s room opened and Tao tripped out, yawning and his hair stuck up every which way. His clothes were rumpled like they’d been pulled on hurriedly. Kris followed him out and glared at Kyungsoo when Kyungsoo said softly, “Oh, well then.”
He looked into Baekhyun’s room last and found a lump under the bedsheets, only a shock of red hair and a small amount of Baekhyun’s lighter hair poking out above them. “Guys,” Kyungsoo called. He didn’t know the protocols for waking up Chanyeol. How did one go about forcing the strongest Shifter in the four nations to get out of bed.
Chanyeol shot upright, staring around himself wildly. His eyes fell on Kyungsoo and a second later the expression in them softened, but not before Kyungsoo saw the fear in them. “Oh,” Chanyeol said. Baekhyun mumbled something and sat up too, draping himself across Chanyeol’s side with his eyes still mostly closed. “What is it?”
“We’re having a meeting in Suho’s room,” Kyungsoo said. “Now. So you guys have to get up.”
“Nooo,” Baekhyun moaned, flopping down onto the bed face first and covering his head with a pillow.
“We’ll be there,” Chanyeol promised. “Just give us a few minutes.” Baekhyun moaned something again, incomprehensible thanks to the pillow over his head. As Kyungsoo retreated from the room, Chanyeol leaned down to murmur something into his ear, and the last thing Kyungsoo heard was Baekhyun’s laughter.
In Suho’s room, almost everyone had gathered. Kai was already there, sitting cross legged in the corner furthest from Kyungsoo’s father, thankfully wearing clothes. Chen was sitting on the chair by the bed, shaking his head at something Yixing was telling him from his perch on the bed. Tao had his head bowed like he had fallen back asleep, and Luhan was pulling faces at Kris who looked like he wanted to strangle him. Xiumin entered after Kyungsoo, also taking a seat on the bed, and Sehun sleep-walked in and automatically plopped down next to Luhan. Suho stood in the middle of it all making awkward small talk with Kyungsoo’s father.
Kyungsoo caught Kai’s eye and mouthed sorry. Kai just shook his head, but Kyungsoo wasn’t sure if he was trying to say it was okay, or express his utter despair over what had happened.
It was mostly quiet while they waited for Chanyeol and Baekhyun to appear, nobody quite comfortable enough to have their usual conversations with Kyungsoo’s father inconspicuously there. When Chanyeol did come in, dragging Baekhyun by the hand, Kyungsoo heaved a sigh of relief at finally being able to begin.
“Alright,” Kyungsoo said, and his voice came out a bit weak because he was nervous. He cleared his throat, then spread the map out on the table. “My father--” his eyes went to his father, still standing in the room with a look upon his face that said he had much more important things to do, “has given me an update on the war...”
Kyungsoo filled the others in on what his father said, trying to be succinct while not leaving anything out. His father jumped in from time to time, but mostly left Kyungsoo to it. The others gathered closer around to better see where Kyungsoo was pointing to on the map. When he stood back, finally silent, the room was quiet.
“So basically,” Chen said, “the war is lost, and we’re fucked.”
“Yes, thank you, Chen,” said Suho tersely.
“I actually may have an idea,” Kyungsoo said. “Both to help us win the war and to convince the Elders that they might need us. But I need you lot to tell me if it could even work.”
Chen made a bored do-go-on motion, and Kyungsoo squinted at him. Tao cracked a wide yawn.
“Tell us,” Yixing said softly. He, at least, seemed to be paying attention.
“Alright,” Kyungsoo said, taking a deep breath, “alright, just-- just hear me out. I think we should take the Fire Nation capitol.”
Another beat of silence that was eventually broken by Chen again. “Oh. Oh, well, that’s so very simple, why didn’t we think of that?”
Kyungsoo’s nostrils flared. “I have a plan. Shut your big mouth and listen.” Chen’s mouth snapped shut, seemingly more in surprise than anything else. Tao snickered and Kris elbowed him. Kyungsoo searched for a way to explain this without sounding completely out of his mind. “The Fire Nation capitol is undefended, it is the largest, most populated city in all the Fire Nation, it is the heart. If we take it, it will be a blow. We could take ships down the coast, along with some men, we don’t need too many, just enough to help us overwhelm the city guard-- Chanyeol how many men are in the city to guard it, without any of the troops there?”
Chanyeol bit his lip. “Five hundred, or thereabouts.”
“We could take the same amount, they don’t even need to be Shifters as the city guard surely won’t be. There may be only twelve of us, but-- but I think we could do it. Kai could teleport some of us inside while the men we bring fight their way in from the outside.”
“How would we even get into the city?” Xiumin asked. “They have very high walls, from what I understand. Kai can’t teleport everybody inside.”
“The walls are high and made of stone,” Chanyeol mused, “and the doors are thick, but they are, in the end, made of wood and iron. The capitol was made to withstand an attack, but not an attack from fire Shifters.”
“What of their fleet?” Suho asked. “If we’re taking ships, that could be an issue.”
“We don’t really have one,” Chanyeol said. “There’s a few battleships, two very grand ones, if my memory serves, but most of the ships in the harbor are merchant vessels. They could be outfitted for fighting, I suppose, but we’re going to be sneaking up on them, so theoretically they won’t have the time.”
“We’d have to sneak up on them,” Kris said. “If they realized what was happening they could pull most of their troops out of the valley to the north, and bring them back. If that happened we’d be way too outnumbered.”
“But if we did catch them by surprise,” Kyungsoo said, “could it be done?”
Chanyeol scratched at his head agitatedly. “Possibly. I don’t know if they sent all their troops away. Even if they did the city guard is trained, and there will still be some soldiers and Shifters around, if only to protect the palace. And I imagine once the fighting starts, some civilians might take up arms to defend themselves. But it could be done, if everything worked out just right.”
“And to what end?” Kyungsoo jumped at the sound of his father’s voice; he’d nearly forgotten he was there. “Even if you take their capitol, with what men and what ships, I do not know, their troops would still be here, outnumbering yours. And after they lay this nation to dust they will simply march back down and retake their home. You cannot hope to hold the capitol.”
Kyungsoo bit his lip and braced himself. This was going to be the hard part. “We wouldn’t need to hold it, it would be the final strike.” He took a deep breath. “While we’re sailing down the coast, you can send troops from the Earth Nation through the mountain pass. By the time our ships reach the capitol, the Fire Nation troops should be well in hand. Well enough in hand for the loss of their capitol to be a blow.”
The edges around his father’s mouth tightened, and he took a very deep breath, and then let it out slowly, all while squinting down at the map. Kyungsoo waited. His father eventually looked up at him. “You’re suggesting I send my men into battle,” he said.
“Yes,” said Kyungsoo simply.
“We don’t get involved in the affairs of other nations, Kyungsoo. As I told you when you first wanted to leave, this is not our war to fight in.”
“You’re involved now,” Kyungsoo cried, exasperated. “You’re here.”
“Because you insisted on running off with the Air Nation’s precious Oracle,” his father pointed out, his voice much more measured that Kyungsoo’s. “I have to get myself involved in that sense. I couldn’t have them beheading the Heir of the Earth Nation.”
Kyungsoo took a deep breath and reflected that it was remarkably similar to the one his father had taken not a minute earlier. “And what happens after the Air Nation falls, father? What happens after the Fire Nation sweeps through the peninsula, and the Water Nation falls also? Are we just going to hide away in our mountains and pretend like everything is okay?”
“There’s no guarantee that the Water Nation will also fall,” his father said levelly.
“It seems increasingly likely,” Kyungsoo retorted. “Do you want to have to face the might of the Fire Nation after it has devoured three quarters of this land? Do you want to see them come knocking at our doorsteps?”
His father sighed, drawing a hand over his face. “Our troops may not even be enough to help the Air Nation,” he said. “If we lose some of them, we merely hurt ourselves later on down the line.”
“It’s better than hiding like cowards,” Kyungsoo said heatedly. “Father, they marched through our land.”
That seemed to hit a nerve, his father’s eyebrows drawing together. “I know, Kyungsoo,” he said, hissing slightly between his teeth. “I am aware of the Fire Nation movements, don’t presume that I haven’t been paying attention.”
“They’re making a mockery of us. Doesn’t that upset you? They marched into our lands without the slightest fear of reprisal. They don’t consider us a threat, father. And -- our land -- so much of it is uninhabited. Maybe we’d be able to barricade ourselves in our caves and be safe but our land wouldn’t be. They’d take it from us too.” Kyungsoo drew himself up. “I don’t want to be the ruler of such a pathetic nation.”
His father was staring at him and for once his face didn’t seem exasperated or like he thought Kyungsoo was a child. He didn’t, however, look overly happy. “You would rather be the ruler of a nation that waged war?” he asked.
“I would rather be the ruler of a nation who knew when to defend their allies, instead of cowering under an overly large rock. I would like to have a nation to rule, and at this rate, I might not.”
Kyungsoo became aware that everyone else in the room was staring at him too, their eyes wide. Kai’s mouth was half hanging open. Kyungsoo kept his posture as straight as he could, trying to appear as imposing as he could, even though his hip was beginning to ache with the somewhat awkward position.
His father gave a world-weary sigh. “You may be right, of course,” he said, exceedingly begrudgingly. “As much as I am loath to send any of my men to their death in a fight that is not yet our own, by the time it becomes our own it may be too late for us to win.” He gave another sigh. “I will think on this.”
Kyungsoo opened his mouth to argue for more, to argue for a decision; there wasn’t time to think on it, the longer they dallied, the more men would be killed. But his father was already sweeping out of the room, nodding his head stiffly at Suho as he went. The door shut behind him with a horrible note of finality.
Everyone stared at Kyungsoo. “That,” said Kris, “is actually a pretty good idea.”
“Thank you,” said Kyungsoo, a little shortly. It’s a shame it hinges on my father’s cooperation, he thought sadly.
“Having the Earth Nation fight would even the playing field remarkably,” Suho mused. “Taking out a large chunk of their troops and their capitol would certainly be a blow, probably one big enough to cause a surrender.”
“Yes,” said Kyungsoo. He felt very tired all of a sudden, and he turned and hobbled to the bed, wincing as his hip screamed in protest. Kai jumped up to help him, even though it was merely a few steps.
“You were great,” Kai said quietly, as Kyungsoo flopped backwards on Suho’s bed.
“Your father is slightly terrifying,” Sehun said idly. “I hope he decides to help us. He is the only one who could convince the Elders to let us go.”
“They’d be fools not to utilize us,” Suho said simply, but he looked worried. Kyungsoo knew he was thinking of the days that had already been wasted with them just sitting here, waiting.
Luhan was nodding. “We are the Twelve after all.”
“Don’t start that again,” Kris snapped, and Luhan pouted.
Chanyeol was staring down at the map, Baekhyun as well. “You alright?” Kyungsoo asked.
Baekhyun started, and Chanyeol simply nodded. “It’s-- it’s just hard-- even after everything they’ve done, to imagine attacking my home. I own a residence in the capitol. Owned.”
“It wasn’t your home,” Chen said harshly. “It was your prison.”
Chanyeol didn’t rise to the bait. He’d been remarkably calmer as of late, which Kyungsoo thought could be credited to his renewed relationship with Baekhyun. “It was, for a time. But it’s also where I trained as a Shifter, it’s where Baekhyun and I met. There’s more civilians than anything else there.”
Kyungsoo said quickly, “That’s why I think we should take so few men, and also why I want us to be the ones to go. We’ll be able to quickly subdue the guard, and with Kai’s help, some of us can just go right into the palace, and take anyone of note hostage, make them yield to us.”
“Where are the King and Queen in all of this, the Prince?” Suho asked, peering at Chanyeol’s face curiously.
Chanyeol shrugged. “The King had fallen ill, before the war started. He signed off on the decree that sent us to war though, and has been consulted on the movements since, though he is too weak to leave his chambers. The Queen refused to leave his side for the most part, though the last time I saw her, before I left on the march, she seemed unwell too. When I was back in the capitol, I did not see her again. I haven’t seen the Prince at all, though he is quite young and not privy to any of the more serious matters.”
“So who is making the decisions then? For the most part? Who would we need to round up?” Suho asked.
“Aside from the royal family, the council members, and there are also some generals in the capitol, the ones with the most weight.” Chanyeol lifted his eyes from the map to look at Chen. “Hwang is there.”
Chen’s fingers tightened around the arm of his chair, but it was Yixing who spoke. “Hwang is not the only one to play a role in what has happened,” he said quietly. “From what Chen -- from what I’ve heard, there are some generals who know the truth behind what happened in your cities, and some who don’t.”
“Yes,” Chanyeol said. “The truth will come out, in the end, but it does not matter for the taking of the city. I don’t even know if the King knows the truth, or if they are using his sickness to trick him. Our objective should be to overwhelm the guards and make them put down their swords, and secure the royal family, as well as anyone else of high birth we can, since the King and Queen might not be the masterminds behind all this. Hwang should be a priority, as well as a few others who I at least know for sure are in on this.”
“You make it sound so simple,” Kris muttered. “Also like this is a thing that is actually going to happen, which it very well may not.”
“We should plan for it,” Suho said reasonably. “We have nothing else to do.”
Kris sighed. “I suppose you’re right.” He shuffled around so he could sit closer to Chanyeol and the map. “You should tell us everything you know about the guard movements,” he said. Chanyeol blinked at him but obediently bent his head over the map.
Chen lay facedown on Suho’s floor. Yixing had perched himself on his back, face buried in a book. He’d apparently stolen a few from Vimera’s place and had occupied himself reading them over and over again, not seeming to get tired of them. Kyungsoo had also given them a few read throughs, but he did seem to tire of them. Now he mostly just napped, like the rest of them.
Tao was dozing on Suho’s bed, with Baekhyun tucked in beside him. Luhan was at the end, sprawled over their legs and not seeming to mind the lumpiness. Kai was sitting on the floor with Kyungsoo against his side, the both of them leaning up against the wall. Sehun was reading one of Yixing’s discarded books. Chanyeol, Suho, Kris, and Xiumin were gathered around Suho’s table, staring down at their map of the four nations.
“We should go over the plan again,” Suho was saying.
“I could recite the plan in my sleep,” Chen mumbled into the carpet. Suho gave him a weary look that seemed to speak of an intense desire for Chen to be quiet. It was a look that everyone had been giving Chen increasingly often recently.
“Shut up and go back to brooding, Chen,” Kris snapped.
“We could discuss troop formations in more detail,” Xiumin said quickly.
“Or we could die,” Chen grumbled. Yixing swatted absently at the backs of Chen’s thighs and he fell silent.
Kai heaved out a sigh as Kris and Suho began to bicker. This was becoming all too common. They were all going stir crazy locked up in here. Even Kai was surprised by how long they’d been shut up here, and he knew the Elders’ tendency to overtalk every little thing. He’d thought Kyungsoo’s father coming to talk with them would expedite the process more. But after three more days had passed, this became evident that this was not the case.
Kai closed his eyes, resting his head against Kyungsoo’s. Kyungsoo was sleeping, drooling on the shoulder of Kai’s tunic. He let the sounds of the bickering wash over him, relegating it to background noise, feeling himself begin to drift off too.
The sound of rustling from the bed made him blink them open again, heavily. Luhan was sitting up, hair tousled, his slack face suggesting he was still half asleep. “Someone’s coming,” he mumbled. “Several someones.”
That caught the attention of everyone who was actually awake.
“Maybe they’ve come to finally execute us,” Chen said. No one paid him any mind.
“Who is it?” Suho asked sharply, face turned to Luhan. “Guards?”
Luhan frowned at him. “I can’t tell you that, I can’t see through the walls.”
“Wake them up,” Suho said, motioning to the bed. “We don’t know what they’ve come for and we should be on our toes just -- just in case.”
Kai leaned down, his hand going to Kyungsoo’s wrist. “Wake up, Princess,” he murmured into Kyungsoo’s ear, jostling him with his shoulder. Kyungsoo woke up, his eyes sleep heavy, and he looked at Kai like he didn’t know where he was. “It looks like they’ve finally decided to do something with us.”
“Are they going to behead us? Finally?” Kyungsoo murmured. It was a testament to how bored they’d been recently that he didn’t seem the least bit concerned.
“They might try,” Kai said, smiling gently. “But I won’t let them hurt you.”
“Save me second,” Luhan said, as he scrambled off the bed. Chanyeol had bent over Baekhyun, gently shaking him awake, and as usual Baekhyun didn’t seem happy at the prospect. He turned over and buried himself into Tao.
Kris sighed and rolled his eyes, grabbed the back of Tao’s tunic, and yanked him clean off the bed. Tao yelped, flailing uselessly.
In the meanwhile, Suho poked his head out of the room, calling over whoever was out there. It was four guards, Kai saw when Suho opened the door fully. Not enough of a number to be alarming. Although judging by the expressions on their face, they were more than alarmed at the sight of them all in the same room together.
None of them said anything for a moment, the twelve of them waiting, and finally one of the guards cleared his throat. “The Elders,” he said, somewhat squeakily, “have come to a decision about your fate.”
Kris raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound very reassuring.”
The guard shuffled his feet, and Kris blinked. Kai got the feeling that he wasn’t quite used to inducing genuine fear in people, rather than disdain. It got old quickly.
“We are not privy to their conversations, sir,” the guard said slowly, “but from what little has trickled down to us, we are of a mind that if they wanted to execute you, they’d have done so already.”
“I am so reassured,” Chen grumbled. He sat up, toppling Yixing off his back.
“Please, come with us,” the guard said. “We’re here to escort you to the Elders.”
They all stood, not entirely sure of what was happening, darting glances across at each other. The guards were so scared of them that Kai found that reassuring. It seemed to point to the fact that even if the Elders wanted to, there was no one among any of the soldiers who would be able to be strong enough to carry out any sort of punishment.
As if to prove that point, Chanyeol followed Suho out of the door and as he passed one of the guards, the man flattened himself against the wall to avoid touching him, as if merely brushing past him would set Chanyeol off. Chanyeol didn’t seem to notice.
Kai helped Kyungsoo to his feet, his leg stiff after being on the floor, and his eyes still half-asleep. Kai led him through the doorway, and one by one the others followed. Chen seemed like he wasn’t going to move, but a well aimed (rather gentler than Kai felt he deserved) kick to his side from Yixing had him groaning and getting up. By now, Kai knew the way to the council chambers, but two of the guards still led them through the white halls, the other two bringing up the rear. They walked along in silence, even their footsteps seeming muffled.
The giant doors of the council chamber were closed, but as they approached two attendants leapt forward to drag the doors open. They seemed just as nervous as the guards. As the doors opened, Kai tightened his hold on Kyungsoo’s wrist, ready to pull him out of there the second there seemed to be trouble.
The council chamber was full, nearly overflowing. Usually the only people who bothered coming were the handful of nobles and generals who had to, but today it was brimming with everyone from the Elders to the lower nobles. It made Kai anxious. Large crowds like this didn’t convene for nothing. Maybe they were being condemned to death after all.
“Urgh,” Luhan said, flinching in the wake of all the auras.
“What?” Kris hissed as they were led forward. “Are they going to stab us?”
“I am not a mind reader!” Luhan hissed back. He pinched Kris’s arm for good measure.
“Urgh!” Tao said, unwittingly echoing Luhan. His eyes were fixed on the raised platform that the Elders were seated at. Beside them on one end was Kyungsoo’s father, looking serene as usual, and standing on the other end was a man dressed in the Head Air Shifter outfit, tall and just as intimidating as Tao. Kai knew his face in a vague sort of way but didn’t know his name. “Not that guy, he can’t do anything right.”
“I know,” Kris said, patting his shoulder sympathetically.
“Seriously, you’d be more qualified.”
Kris withdrew his hand. “Thanks,” he said grumpily.
Their flimsy escort peeled away from them to stand beside the doors, and the twelve of them went to the center of the room and stopped there, staring up. Kai caught movement at the corner of his eyes and jerked, but it was just Luhan waving enthusiastically to someone who, after Kai scanned the crowd, saw was Taewoong.
“You’re squeezing my wrist,” Kyungsoo whispered, and Kai loosened his hold a little. It took all his self control not to pull Kyungsoo close and tuck him into his side, under the protection of his arm. But it wouldn’t do for any of them to look weak right now. Plus, he knew Kyungsoo wouldn’t thank him for it.
There was a pause, the Elders taking their time. Chanyeol stepped forward, looking up at the line of them imperiously. They looked down at him uncomfortably. “We were told that you wished to talk to us?” he said.
“Well, yes,” said the Head Elder, shuffling some papers in front of him to give his hands something to do. “We’ve come to a decision regarding your... crimes.”
“We have been waiting patiently,” Chanyeol said. He seemed fearless and proud, but Kai could see the slight tremor in his clenched hands.
Standing here, Kai felt overwhelmed and young all over again, but with the others around him, he was finally realizing exactly how little power these men held over them. If there was any trouble, they’d be able to fight their way out with little problem. The Elders could boss them around if they wanted, but that didn’t mean that they had to follow their orders if they didn’t want to. They had let themselves be locked up as a demonstration, and he wondered if the Elders had acknowledged that even to themselves.
The Head Elder kept shuffling, coughing a bit. “Well,” he started, then cleared his throat. Kai realized he wasn’t dragging this out for effect, but rather because he was nervous. Kai felt his mouth stretch into a smirk, and some ladies off to the side tittered nervously. “Well,” the Head Elder began again, “the King of the Earth Nation proposed a plan, one that would allow you to aid us in the war as well as prove your loyalty, and redeem you from any wrongdoings.”
“Oh, he did, did he,” Kyungsoo mumbled, just loud enough that only Kai could hear him. He swiped his thumb over the bony part of Kyungsoo’s wrist in a soothing motion.
“We will be sending you to the Fire Nation capitol in five ships, provided most generously by the Water Nation,” Kyungsoo’s father said in a bored tone.
Suho shot a glance to his generals, his posture screaming gratefulness, and one of the generals smiled at him. “The fleet isn’t getting much use here.”
“We’d give more, but there wouldn’t be much point,” another added.
Suho understood their meaning. “How many men will be on these ships?” he asked.
“Five hundred soldiers,” the Head Elder said, and the council chamber erupted in a burst of whispering. Some people seemed to think it was too many, others too little. The Head Elder thwacked his hand on the table to silence them. “It was all we could spare.”
“It’s more than we can spare,” the Elder sitting beside the new Head Air Shifter grumbled.
Kai gnawed on his bottom lip. Taking the Fire Nation capitol with five hundred men? The idea was almost laughable, yet here they were, apparently with all preamble done and finished. This was the only option left open to them, which was terrifying, really.
“It is a daunting task, yes,” a third Elder piped up, “but, if you really are the Twelve, it should be manageable, yes?”
“Absolutely,” Kyungsoo’s father said, “but to ease the task a little, I will be adding one hundred men of my own to their ranks.”
The Head Elder’s head whipped around so fast, Kai was surprised they couldn’t hear his neck crick. “Pardon, your majesty?” he asked.
Kyungsoo’s father rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “I am sure the Twelve can handle the task, but it never hurts to be safe. I brought an entourage of one hundred soldiers with me when I arrived here as a security detail, one quarter of them are Shifters. I will give Kyungsoo their command and allow him to take them on this quest.”
Kyungsoo blinked. “Father,” he said slowly, “I appreciate such a generous move, but is it wise to leave yourself undefended?”
The Elders spluttered, as if he’d insulted them, but Kyungsoo’s father was level, almost terrifyingly so, as he said, “I am sure I am safe here, as safe as I can be in a nation under attack. One hundred men guarding me will not make a terrible difference if the Fire Nation’s armies reach us before my own troops get here, but they might do much to help you.” He turned to the Head Elder, smiling slightly. “And the Air Nation are our allies, I am sure they will not harm me. Once this meeting is through I will be sending word for our troops to mobilize, and march down from the mountains to aid in the fighting.” His smile widened. “So like I said, we’re allies.”
Kai felt a shiver go up his spine. The Head Elder visibly swallowed. “Yes, your Majesty has proven most generous to our cause, and we are thankful.”
“So generous,” Kyungsoo mumbled.
“That is your plan, then?” Suho asked. “Send us down to the capitol with men and ships in the hopes that we will be able to take the city and secure the royal family, while the Earth Nation troops descend down the mountain to attack the Fire Nation troops that are here from behind, giving them nowhere to go?”
There was a pause, everyone taking in just how flimsy the plan seemed to be. “Yes,” the Head Elder said eventually. Suho sighed heavily, resigned.
“If the Earth Nation troops decimate the Fire Nation’s army, or, the large faction of the army that is here,” Tao said slowly, “is it really necessary to take the capitol? Once the army within our borders has been destroyed, we could all march down in force to the capitol--”
“No,” the new Head Air Shifter said. Tao fell silent and glared at him so hard Kai was surprised the man’s head didn’t fly from his neck in a blast of wind.
“Sending you to the Fire Nation capitol is not just a tactical move,” the Head Elder explained, frowning down at Tao like he’d personally disappointed him. “It is a means of proving irrevocably to the world that you are the Twelve, and a way for you to make amends for what you’ve done, and escape punishment.”
“If you do not cleanse yourself of your sins, we will be forced to punish you,” another Elder said.
“Hands!” cried the oldest Elder. “Take their hands!”
“They’re not actually going to take my hand,” Kyungsoo muttered, and Kai loosened his hold again sheepishly.
“If you do fail at this task,” the Head Elder spoke smoothly over his comrades, “then the world will know you for frauds, and we will do as Zitao said, and march down to take the capitol ourselves once the Fire Nation army falls.”
“If it falls,” Chen muttered. But they’d been over this, done the numbers a hundred times. Kyungsoo’s plan was flimsy but it was also fairly smart. The odds were not entirely in their favor, they would still be somewhat outnumbered, even with the addition of the Earth Nation’s troops, but the wave of new warriors could plausibly tip the scales in their favor.
Kai wasn’t sure them taking the capitol, even with the aid of six hundred men, was at all as plausible as it had seemed in the coziness of their rooms, but it appeared they had to try.
Suho took a deep breath, puffing himself up. “We’ll do it.” Beside him, Chanyeol solemnly nodded his head.
The Head Elder sat back, satisfied. “You will leave the day after the morrow.”