Jue Viole Grace had failed his latest mission.
He had passed the floor test faster than any Regular in history. On the seventeenth floor, all you needed to do was to be one of the final thirty Regulars standing on the tall platform and push your enemies to the raging waters below. Spilling blood wasn’t necessary at all.
However, passing the test with flying colors wasn’t enough for FUG. Viole’s order was to pass the test and eliminate others taking the test with him.
They wanted their latest Slayer candidate to place seeds of fear into the hearts of other Regulars, to show everyone just how powerful their God was. Viole knew that some of the elders in FUG were still against the idea that his Master was training him. They thought of him as too unreliable to become their saviour and that he didn’t use his full power as an Irregular.
And they were mostly right.
As long as he could pass the tests and satisfy FUG’s requirements, Viole didn’t use more power than necessary. Every night was haunted by nightmares of how his friends learnt what a ruthless monster he had become and turned their backs on him, how they were horrified by the amount of blood Viole had spilt. There was nothing he feared more than those nightmares becoming reality.
So he held back as much as he could.
Yes, he trained until he was covered in blood and sweat. Yes, he took in all lessons and beatings from his Master to achieve his true power. But that power was to protect his friends, not to do FUG’s baseless killings.
At the end of the seventeenth floor’s test, there were forty-seven dead bodies rocking in the harsh waves below Viole, their blood tinting the water pink until another wave came and only left sparkly bubbles behind. With his Shinsu, he could sense two Regulars hiding under the platform to his right, huddling close with most of their bodies in the water.
They wouldn’t pass the test, Viole knew. It was only him standing on the platform, the only one to advance to the eighteenth floor. It had to be enough for FUG. Their Slayer candidate was covered head to toe in blood, the number of dead bodies in the water proof of his power. He had passed this floor’s test as brutally as he had the past sixteen floors. He wanted to save at least the last two innocent Regulars.
So Viole acted as if he didn’t notice the two hiding in the waters behind him and listened to the test administrator announce his passing with troubled golden eyes hidden under his bangs.
He shouldn’t have.
They brought him in the next day during his training with his Master.
Jinsung hadn’t uttered a word about the previous day’s test and started their hand-to-hand combat as soon as Viole appeared in the dimly lit cave. His master’s face was as expressionless as always but after years of knowing him, Viole could pick out the troubled look in the man’s eyes.
Of course, he didn’t mention it. It wasn’t his place. If FUG was mad at Viole’s mistake, he would take on any punishment he deserved for not killing the two Regulars. Suddenly, his thoughts strayed to the other times FUG picked apart his actions to find the smallest mistakes and punish him for it.
Satisfying their requirements in the mission had been enough so far for Viole to protect his friends. But there was always something they weren’t happy with. He was either too slow, or too weak, or too caring to kill enough Regulars.
Maybe they would put him in the dark room without food again, maybe they would have him fight against the wild monsters hiding deep down in FUG’s underground lair, maybe they wouldn’t let him sleep for days until he passed out from training. Whatever they decided, Viole didn’t care. He didn’t care what FUG would do to him, as long as they didn’t take out his mistakes on his friends.
This time, his punishment came in the form of a familiar blue-haired boy.
Viole lifted his head to look at the narrow passageway when he heard footsteps. Soon, a familiar blond Ranker appeared, his Shinsu aura easily detectable when he got close enough to Viole. The boy prepared to turn back to his training without a word. It wasn’t unusual for Yu Hansung to appear randomly to watch Viole’s progress and to remind him once again of the threats over his friend’s head. But the other FUG members who came in after caused him to do a double take.
There was a Regular they were dragging in behind them, barely held upright from his arms, knees scraping against the stone floor as he struggled weakly. His pants were torn, his shirt was covered in so much blood that Viole could barely make out that it used to be pristine white. There were cuts and bruises covering the Regular’s body, some of them still bleeding. His chin was tucked against his chest, eyes facing the ground. But the familiar blue hair was enough for Viole to know who he was.
Horror washed over his body like he was doused in freezing water.
“Khun-ssi?” Viole gasped, voice barely audible, body locked in place. He blinked once. Twice. But the image in front of him didn’t change.
The FUG members threw Khun’s body to the ground. He stayed sprawled on the cold stone for a few seconds, causing Viole to fear the worst, before his shaking hands moved to lift himself onto his knees.
Without a thought, Viole left his Master’s side, running to get to his friend, to protect him from FUG’s hands.
The brunet barely took a few steps before his body collided against something he couldn’t see. He stumbled back and fell onto his butt. Frantic eyes looked around to see what had prevented him from rushing to his best friend’s side.
When the dim light of the cave hit it just right, Viole saw a Shinsu wall spanning across the space in front of him. The dense power barely rippled at the contact, still and clear as if it was a glass wall.
From his place on the ground, Viole noticed Yu Hansung walking towards Khun. He quickly shot up to his feet and concentrated to create the biggest baang he could muster in his palms. He wouldn’t let that coffee addict hurt his precious friend. He couldn’t!
With a grunt, Viole shot the baang towards the wall and Shinsu exploded like fireworks. The sound of explosions echoed through the cave but when his vision cleared, the wall was still there.
He watched with widened eyes as Hansung threw him a smirk before kneeling down in front of Khun. With one hand, he gripped the delicate skin of his chin and tugged Khun’s head up from where it was tucked against his chest. Their mouths were moving, but Viole couldn’t hear any sound coming from the other side of the Shinsu wall.
The Slayer candidate could only watch as his precious person and his tormenter exchanged words. From the corner of his eye he noticed one of Khun’s hands reaching towards his foot. With an unexpected agility and speed from his slumped form, the blue-haired boy pulled out a knife from a strap around his ankle, and jumped towards Hansung.
He slashed his knife in a narrow arch, going for the Ranker’s face. When Hansung’s arms came up to block the weapon, Khun let the knife drop from his hand and grabbed it with the other. He moved quickly to slice against the exposed abdomen, but before he could make contact, Khun’s body was thrown to the near wall with a blast of Shinsu.
A terrified gasp left Viole’s lips at the sight of his friend’s head colliding hard with the stone wall and his body sliding limply to the ground. His fingers curled into tight fists, nails digging into his palms, and a red haze creeped into his vision. Four baangs of swirling Shinsu appeared behind the Slayer candidate, more than he had ever managed to create before, while Hansung kneeled next to Khun again with a smug smile.
His mouth was moving once again but Viole didn’t care about his words, his entire attention on Khun and the slightest twitch of his body. The brunet let the tension build and build until he couldn’t handle the pressure of Shinsu, and then he let it all blast against the wall in front of him.
The wall rippled before turning still again. Light bounced off of Shinsu mockingly.
Viole created baang after baang without wasting a second. He tried to remember all the lessons with his Master to achieve his most powerful Shinsu blasts, but it was hard to concentrate on details when he was seething in fury and drowning in worry.
No matter how much he fought, the Shinsu wall in front of him held. His chest heaved as he struggled to take in deep breaths, his hands on his knees barely keeping him standing. He had to find a weak point. He had to get to the other side. He had to save Khun-ssi.
Viole saw Khun’s mouth open in a pained gasp when Hansung grabbed a fistful of his blue hair and yanked his head to face the Slayer candidate directly. Khun looked ahead with barely-open eyes and even from afar, the glint of azure blue managed to punch Viole’s breath out of him.
Oh, how he had longed to see those blue gems once more.
But there was no recognition in the eyes that Viole yearned for. He doubted Khun was even seeing him, his eyes glazed like he was staring right through Viole’s body.
“Khun-ssi!” he screamed and started punching the Shinsu wall as if he could break it down with his bare fists. He wanted to be near Khun, to pull his hurt body against his side, to protect him with all he got. But no matter what he did, the Shinsu trapping him didn’t waver.
Viole threw punch after punch, blasts of Shinsu exploding every time his knuckles hit the dense wall. His movements got even more frantic after he saw Hansung lift an open palm towards his friend and Khun started choking.
“No! Stop!” Another futile punch. “NO!” Another useless baang. “Don’t hurt him! Please! Stop!”
Viole’s desperate screams echoed around the empty cave, a contrast to the silent scene on the other side of the wall. Khun’s fingers twitched against his throat in vain, his eyes squeezed shut in pain, his mouth open in quiet screams; Viole couldn’t decide if the silence of his torment was a blessing or a curse.
This was never supposed to happen. Khun was never supposed to be here, to get hurt, to pay for Viole’s mistakes. Oh, how he wished he had killed those two Regulars in his final test—how he wished he had enough power to destroy anyone in FUG threatening his friends and hurting his Khun.
The bluenet’s weakened arms slowly dropped to his sides. His legs stopped trashing and his body stopped struggling; the pair of blue gems that used to be so bright dimmed and slipped closed before Viole’s eyes.
“No! Khun-ssi! KHUN-SSI!” Viole choked on his breath. Hot tears dripped down his cheeks, warm blood down his fingers.
Hansung finally cut off his Shinsu and moved away his hand. Khun’s body fell limp to the ground when it was not held up by the Ranker’s power anymore, and started jerking violently.
Viole hoped against hope that this was it, that they would leave Khun alone now. He screamed at Hansung that he had learnt his lesson, swore to not make any more mistakes. Just stop hurting his Khun-ssi. Please. Please, it was enough.
Barely unconscious, Khun was wheezing for breath on the ground when Yu Hansung turned to look at Viole. Without breaking eye contact, the Ranker created a baang in his palm, his power growing threateningly above Khun’s heart.
No. No, no, no! Viole had enough! He learnt his lesson. It was enough. Please! Please, pleasepleaseple-
“STOP!” he roared.
Waves of Shinsu exploded out of him, blasting away anything within his vicinity. The wall in front of him shattered under his overwhelming power, but Viole barely gave it a thought as he ran forward to spill blood.
The FUG members who had been standing by the side quickly moved to block him. The Slayer candidate barely paid any mind to them as he created four baangs and slammed each of them against the wall with another roar.
A dozen new members jumped in from where they were hiding in the dents of the stone structure. It didn’t even take more than a few seconds for Viole to tear them apart limb from limb. More and more members and even some FUG-controlled monsters arrived but he killed ruthlessly anyone who dared to stand between him and his Khun.
Power thrummed in his blood and Shinsu flowed out of him carelessly. Fueled with rage and agony, Viole destroyed everyone in the dark lair until the ground was painted in crimson. Blood dirtied his robes, splattered his face, dripped down the ends of his long hair. Finally, there was no one standing between him and his most precious person.
Viole rushed to Khun’s side, his heart still pounding with adrenaline, his body buzzing with power. With half a mind, he looked around to spot Hansung, the one who had caused all of this. Viole was ready to fight him to death, even though he knew it would be a fight he could only lose. It didn’t matter, as long as he got to protect Khun.
But Yu Hansung was nowhere to be seen.
Viole promised himself to make the man regret everything he had done the next time he saw him. But now… Now he could finally reach for his Khun.
Viole threw himself to his knees next to the boy’s unmoving body. He pulled the bluenet onto his lap and cradled him against his chest, one arm wrapped around the delicate shoulders to shield him with his body. With his other hand, Viole cupped the soft skin of Khun’s cheek, wiping away the blood trickling from his eyebrow with his own just-as-bloody fingers. He noted with worry that Khun’s body was cold, so cold, much colder than anyone could stand. It caused Viole to pull him closer and hope that they could share his warmth.
With his precious friend finally in his arms, Viole felt his body ache and the power that made him feel invincible drain out of his limbs. His shoulders sagged and his fingers against Khun’s cheek started trembling.
“Khun-ssi?” Viole whispered, his voice breaking in the middle. “Khun-ssi. Please, wake up.”
He waited silently for the boy to open his eyes while his fingers swiped over his beautiful features. They moved from his cheek to his forehead, down his nose, tapping on his lips before going over the other side. He smeared blood all over the bluenet’s face without realizing—not that he cared. His Khun was so beautiful, even when painted with crimson.
The azure eyes that Viole had been longing for finally opened a flicker. They were still glazed over, unfocused. Viole gave the boy his time to blink a few more times and concentrate on his face.
“Khun-ssi,” the brunet breathed out in relief.
Khun’s expression barely changed but Viole caught the way his eyes widened only a sliver and the surprise that flashed through his eyes. He kept his fingers gently rubbing the cold cheek while Khun opened and closed his mouth a few times.
It looked like even moving his mouth was seeping out all the energy left in Khun’s body.
“Shh,” Viole muttered, pressing his thumb against Khun’s soft lips. He wiped away the drop of blood trickling down his chin. “It’s okay, Khun-ssi. You don’t have to speak. I’ll protect you.” His arms tightened around the bruised body. “I’ll kill anyone who dares to touch you.”
Despite his words, Khun stubbornly tried to speak. For a second, Viole felt happy to see that that didn’t change about his best friend since the Floor of Tests.
“Ba… B-Bam?” Khun whispered, his voice hoarse and raspy from the screams and shouts Viole hadn’t been able to hear.
“Yes. Yes, it’s me, Khun-ssi. Your Bam.”
Viole lifted his fingers to move the blue fringe that was getting into Khun’s eyes.
“M-my… Bam?” came an unbelieving whisper.
“Yes, yours. Yours. I’m here, I promise.”
Khun’s body, which had been tense since he opened his eyes, finally relaxed in Viole’s arms. He lifted a shaking hand as if to touch Viole’s face and confirm that he was real, but much to the brunet’s horror, his hand fell limp against his side halfway.
Azure eyes slipped closed and Khun’s head lolled to the side as his body finally gave out under exhaustion.
He was still breathing, but it wasn’t enough for Viole to stop panicking. His heartbeat was too weak, his skin too cold, his body too damaged.
“Khun-ssi! Wake up! Please, open your eyes. Please!”
Suddenly, Viole felt a hand land on his shoulder and impulsively, a burst of Shinsu exploded around him. Pieces of chipped off cave stone rained down and when the dust settled, he turned his head to see his Master standing behind him, unaffected by the explosion.
Viole watched on high alert as the man circled him to kneel down in front of them. He knew he was as powerless as an ant against his Master, but the knowledge didn’t falter his protective instincts for Khun.
When the man reached out to touch Khun’s forehead, Viole tucked the boy closer to his chest and a dangerous growl left his lips.
Jinsung pulled his hand back with a sigh and looked at Viole. The brunet stared back with a daring look in his eyes.
He didn’t know what his Master saw on his face. Maybe his determination to protect Khun with his life, or maybe the underlying fear that he was going to lose his friend all over again. Nonetheless, the man got back up with a click of his tongue and pointed at the exit of the training grounds with his head.
“You should take him to your room and treat his injuries,” his Master said with a straight face, but Viole could see a hint of understanding and maybe sadness. He suddenly realized how Jinsung never tried to stand between him and his Khun. “Come on, Viole.”
With that, Jinsung turned and walked towards the exit, knowing Viole would be quick to follow him. True to his thoughts, Viole quickly stood up from the bloodied ground they were sitting on. He held Khun gently with one arm under his shoulders, one under his knees, and tucked the boy’s face safely against his chest.
“Let’s go, Khun-ssi,” he muttered, more to himself than to the bluenet. “I’ll keep you safe from now on.”
Viole walked after his Master with quick yet careful steps, hoping to get to his room as fast as possible to dress up Khun’s wounds and wrap him with the warmest blankets he could find.
That night, Viole held vigil by his bed where the bandaged bluenet lay. His hands were clasped around Khun’s twitching ones and he pressed his lips against the cold skin whenever Khun whimpered quietly from a nightmare. His hair and clothes were still bloodied because he didn’t want to leave the other boy’s side even for a second to shower.
Viole was never going to leave Khun alone from now on; he was never going to let his most precious person get hurt.
Until exhaustion and a restless sleep pulled him into the darkness, Viole promised over and over to protect his Khun with his life.
Behind the closed doors, amused lips curled up into a smile behind a coffee cup, satisfied with the success of a plan.
“Ehh, I wish I could have broken Khun Aguero Agnis apart more,” the blond muttered to himself and took a sip from his instant coffee. “But no matter. With the glimpse of that boy’s true power we got and the new leverage we have in our hands, things will be much easier.”
He put his coffee down before getting up to leave the room. The crack of the shattered cup echoed through the silence like thunder.