Chanyeol dreams about drowning sometimes. Of the salt water bloating his lungs and the darkness surrounding him. The desperation of not knowing which way to the surface, to open air. He dreams about how heavy it is to move his limbs, and the way the tide sucks him down, further away from the sky.
When consciousness slowly trickles back to him, the air around him smells salty, a lot more saltier than what he’s used to. He panics, thinking that he’s drowning but relaxes when he realises that he can breathe properly, and that he is very dry and on land.
But his heart seizes again when he realises that he can’t move his arms, or his legs. His eyes fly open instantly, and is momentarily disoriented after being unconscious for a while. He tries to move his arms; they are bind behind his back in a strong knot, and he tugs on it a few times, but his efforts are futile. His legs are tied around the ankles, and he looks around as much as he can to find that he’s leaning against some crates.
Chanyeol wriggles in his bindings, terrified for his life as the events prior trickles back to him. The man, Baekhyun, had said that killing him would raise suspicion but he didn’t say that he wouldn’t either. Luhan must be really worried by now, Chanyeol thinks, cursing loudly at the ropes digging into his wrists.
The door at the far corner opens suddenly, and Chanyeol jumps. In walks a tall boy with messy brown hair and dark skin, his eyes hooded but alert. The way he slouches into the room is lazy, almost sleepy, and when he greets Chanyeol with a “How you doin’,” Chanyeol recognises him as the one who brought him here with Baekhyun, Jongin.
“Let me go,” Chanyeol says slowly, body tense. “Let me go and I swear I wouldn’t utter a single word.”
“We have no guarantee, though.”
It’s Baekhyun, striding into the room with purpose. He’s as handsome as the night Chanyeol met him at the party, albeit more tired, and his expression is no longer friendly, but cold. It irks Chanyeol to see it there.
“I promise,” Chanyeol says, very very seriously. He doesn’t want to beg, but what else can he do?
Baekhyun crosses his arms, raises his eyebrows, and cocks his hip to the side, as if saying Really? Chanyeol finds it endearing, which surprises him, because he’s in a life and death situation. Jongin snorts disbelievingly, but Chanyeol ignores him, focusing instead on Baekhyun. Finally he mutters, “We’ll decide about what to do with you later.”
He starts to turn around and Chanyeol panics; he doesn’t want to stay in this dark, damp room a second longer. It smells like dead fish and salt and the air is too humid, heavy on his lungs.
“No, wait!” he shouts, and Baekhyun stops, looking back at Chanyeol again. “Tell me... tell me where I am.”
“You don’t need to know --” Jongin growls, but Baekhyun shushes him.
“We’re outside Achilles’ Fort,” Baekhyun answers, staring at Chanyeol’s face intently, like he’s waiting for a reaction. Chanyeol gulps, and remembers what they had said about those living beyond The Fort, the poor living conditions, the poverty. “Are you bothered by that?”
“No, I just...” What should he say to convince them to let him out? “Is it true, what you said to that kid in Demeter’s Fields about the conditions here?”
Jongin snorts again, and Chanyeol turns to him, wanting to punch his damn face in irritation. Except he can't, because he's tied up and even if he's not, Jongin had taken out the revolver tucked in his belt and is twirling it between his fingers. “Of course it’s damn true, what else do you think we’re fighting for?”
Baekhyun is silent, once again biting his bottom lip and looking like he’s considering his options. Chanyeol stays silent, afraid Baekhyun will find him annoying if he talks too much and leave. While he waits for Baekhyun to say whatever it is he wants to say, his eyes rake over Baekhyun’s form, appreciating the white shirt that clings to his torso, his small waist, and how his slacks are tighter today, flattering the shape of his thighs and calves. There’s a cigar sticking out of Baekhyun’s breast pocket, and Chanyeol imagines how it would look like held between Baekhyun’s dainty fingers. There is attraction Chanyeol has felt since their first meeting, and if they had been in a different situation, Chanyeol might have tried his luck with him.
He almost forgets that he’s practically at gunpoint, so wrapped he is in his own fantasies that he startles when Baekhyun’s expression clears and asks, “Do you want to see for yourself?”
The question obviously surprises Jongin as much as it surprises Chanyeol. He stops spinning his gun and it nearly falls out of his hands as he whips his head to Baekhyun and shouts, “What!?”
Baekhyun is already crouched by Chanyeol’s legs, cutting open the ropes around his ankles with a knife he took out of his back pocket. The bindings fall away one by one as Jongin continues to sputter for words nearby; Chanyeol can’t even say anything in surprise. He didn’t think it would be this easy to get out. He had expected to be kept inside for a few days at the very least, and even though he knows they’ll probably return him to this room afterwards, he doesn’t really mind being away from this place for a while.
Jongin finally finds his voice. “But Minseok-hyung--”
“I’ll deal with Minseok-hyung myself,” Baekhyun snaps, as the last of the ropes are cut. Chanyeol wriggles his feet experimentally, trying to get feeling back into them, and flashes a grateful smile at Baekhyun. “But Chanyeol, you must promise to not run away. Not that you can anyway, no one can get through The Fort without our help.”
Chanyeol nods, eager to be out as quick as possible. “I promise!”
Chanyeol finds out that Baekhyun’s fingers are warm and soft when they skim against his skin as he cuts Chanyeol’s hands free. He sighs as he rubs his wrists and gets up, grinning wider at Baekhyun. Baekhyun still keeps his indifferent face on, but anyone could tell he’s suppressing a smile of his own, the corner of his lips twitching just ever so slightly. Chanyeol knows he has that kind of effect on people, that his smiles are infectious.
“Hyung, this is a really, really, bad idea,” Jongin hisses to Baekhyun who is beckoning Chanyeol towards the door with a crooked finger.
“Go do something useful, Jongin. Or whatever, just go away, I can handle this. Go find Yixing, see if he needs help on anything.”
Jongin’s reaction amuses Chanyeol. He freezes, and then his head hangs low, a slight blush forming on his cheeks. He huffs and pulls his cap lower, stomping out of the room before either Chanyeol or Baekhyun could take another step. Chanyeol sees Baekhyun shake his head fondly and whisper, ‘Such a kid,’ before heading out as well.
They come out to a dim corridor, lit only by a handful of lamps placed here and there. It still smells horrible outside, but it’s not as bad as inside the room. There are wooden crates stacked every few paces and unused, broken pipes litter the place. The walls are mouldy, paint is peeling on the doors that line the corridor and Chanyeol wonders faintly what could possibly be inside. Baekhyun walks briskly, not even turning around to check if Chanyeol is following him. He wonders if he can make a dash for it but then remembers the giant wall, and shakes his head at himself.
When the corridor ends, Baekhyun bumps to another man turning the corner, and Chanyeol reaches out to grab Baekhyun’s arm to steady him. But the other person is faster, fingers gripping Baekhyun’s upper arm firmly before he can fall down.
The new person is tall as well, as tall as Chanyeol himself, give or take a few centimeters. His jet black hair sits messy on top of his head, and his body is lean, all muscles and sharp angles and quiet strength. He studies Chanyeol with his piercing gaze, eyes narrowed slightly, and Chanyeol wonders if he has slept at all recently; there are dark shadows under his eyes, or maybe they are a part of his features.
“Zitao,” Baekhyun says, putting his palm over the person’s hand on his arm briefly, before both their hands drop to their sides simultaneously.
“Hyung,” he replies, voice soft, turning his gaze to Baekhyun. “I was just looking for you. Is this him?”
He gestures to Chanyeol and Baekhyun nods in affirmation, beginning to walk briskly again. Chanyeol struggles to keep up as he falls behind, despite the fact that his legs are longer. The other man -- Zitao -- matches his steps easily, fitting to the space next to Baekhyun as though they’ve always walked together.
“I’m showing him around,” Baekhyun explains, and Zitao nods, not once questioning why, or if they can trust Chanyeol to stay by them.
The place where Chanyeol was held seems to be what used to be a fishery, judging by the dead neon sign over the entrance. It had the air of being neglected for a while, but not unused, perhaps it now serves as a storage place. Chanyeol gets quite a shock when he sees that the streets outside are unpaved; hell, they’re not even proper streets. Just uneven dirt tracks, made by feet and wheels that pass through often. Even the lowest level in Capitolium had paved streets that are smooth and easy to walk on; here, there’s too much rocks that can make one trip.
Chanyeol feels his chest constrict as he takes in his surroundings. Baekhyun and Jongin weren't exaggerating; the buildings he sees are rickety and poorly built, there's the constant danger of it collapsing in on people inside. Some of them are not even proper buildings, they are just huts with damp, rotting wooden planks for walls and rusty corrugated steel for roofs. There is no trace of the glamour and life like in Capitolium, there is no music he can hear, no bright, neon lights advertising businesses.
The people milling about are frightfully thin and pale, shabby coats wrapped tight around their bodies and it's only then that Chanyeol realizes it's a lot colder down here than it is in Capitolium. Their deep-set, sad eyes rove curiously over Chanyeol's healthy complexion and body, and he feels bad. But they smile and murmur words of encouragement to Baekhyun and Zitao, who smile back and bow their heads respectfully.
Baekhyun and Zitao leads him further into the slums, where poverty stricken kids chase each other with innocent laughter spilling from their mouths, skinny, bare feet stirring up the dust in the ground. Chanyeol's heart aches in his chest; he didn't think he'd see this kind of thing anymore after he arrives in Olympus. This is supposed to exist only in the surface. Olympus is supposed to be the start of a new era, a city of dreams.
He thinks his emotions must have shown in his face, because Baekhyun, who had slowed down to walk next to him, touches Chanyeol's hand briefly and offers a sympathetic smile. He finds comfort in the gesture.
"I want to help you," Chanyeol says, very suddenly as he stops in his tracks. Baekhyun startles to a stop too, while Zitao ceases his steps gracefully despite the lack of warning. Baekhyun looks confused but Chanyeol looks into his eyes, trying to show him that he means what he says.
"I want to help you. Your cause and this -- this rebellion. I want to help."
Baekhyun seems taken aback, and he turns to Zitao briefly who also sports the same uncertain expression. They're hesitant, he knows. He's a stranger from Capitolium, and they don't know if they can trust him. But Chanyeol knows they could do with more people on their side; they can't hope to overthrow the city with these sickly people.
"Let's take him to Minseok-hyung," Zitao finally says, and Baekhyun readily agrees. They lead him back to where they came from, but instead of going back into the old fishery, they turn right, into an ominous-looking building built from black stone. This building looks sturdier than the ones Chanyeol has seen here, but still it's far worse than the buildings inside Achilles' Fort. Two tall, muscled men stand guard by the door; they bow their heads to Baekhyun and Zitao, and eye Chanyeol suspiciously, but lets them pass without a word.
"We call this place the den," Baekhyun explains. "It's our headquarters, I suppose. This is where we plan most of the stuff we do, take new recruits, et cetera..."
It's dim inside, like a dark, heavy blanket has been settled over the whole place. Chanyeol is ushered up a rickety staircase, climbing two flights of stairs before they stop in front of an open doorway. Baekhyun tells him to wait, and peeks inside. But before he can pop his head in, someone rushes out, almost crashing into Baekhyun.
"Oh, hello Baekhyun! Zitao!" the new person says, brushing away fluffy brown hair that had fallen into his eyes. He then notices Chanyeol, standing awkwardly in the background, and his eyebrows rise. "And who is this?"
"This is Chanyeol," Baekhyun introduces, trying to peer inside the room once more. "Yixing, have you seen Hyung?"
"Minseok-hyung is downstairs, looking through the planning for the next attack," he says, just as Jongin emerges from the room. He looks sleepy and not threatening at all, unlike the times Chanyeol has seen him before. When he sees Chanyeol though, Jongin seems to wake up and glares at him, shifting his posture so he's standing just slightly in front of Yixing. But Yixing doesn't seem to notice, already drifting away and dragging Jongin with him. "See you later, you three. I have business to attend to. Come, Jongin."
They watch Yixing and Jongin disappear down the stairs, Jongin almost tripping in his haste to follow him, and Baekhyun sighs fondly at them.
"Jongin's crush is really obvious." Zitao sounds amused, and Baekhyun chuckles in agreement. Then he seems to remember that Chanyeol is with them, and proceeds to pull his wrist down the stairs again.
They go down to the basement this time, and the corridor is so dark and damp, not unlike the room Chanyeol was held in. They pass some people who greet Baekhyun and Zitao politely, and Chanyeol guesses they must be someone important in the organisation. Baekhyun tells Chanyeol to stop in front of a closed black door at the end of the corridor, and Chanyeol hears murmuring from inside, hasty voices and hushed, but heated debates. He motions for Zitao to go inside first and the boy slips in without knocking, and closes the door behind him.
The whispers stops for a while, while Chanyeol and Baekhyun waits outside. Chanyeol fidgets nervously, wringing his hands behind his back but Baekhyun seems content with the silence, quietly humming a tune. He wants to strike up a conversation though; he's never one for silence, so he tries to do just that.
"So, um," Chanyeol begins, clearing his throat. Baekhyun's eyes flickered towards him briefly, but he doesn't stop humming. "You've been here a long time?"
"I've spent most of my life here in the slums, actually," Baekhyun answers, and Chanyeol didn't think he'd disclose information so easily. "My parents helped build the city."
"Where are they now?"
"Dead." The way Baekhyun says it is almost flippant, surprising Chanyeol. "They starved themselves so they could feed me. There's not much food here, you see."
Chanyeol's chest tightens uncomfortably. This is not how he wanted the conversation to turn out. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright." He shrugs, just as the door opens again, and Zitao's head pops out. He gestures for them to come in, and Baekhyun pushes him in first.
It's not as dark as it is outside, but it's still rather dim and the feeling inside the room is pretty grim. There's a round table in the middle, and a couple of men sitting around it, looking like they were in the middle of a discussion before the interruption. A large, hastily rolled piece of paper lay in the middle of it, and Chanyeol supposes it's the outline of the plan that they had been working on. Most of the people inside the room wears guarded expressions and distrust all over their faces, but the man on the far corner who is the only one standing up has a kind smile on his face.
"Hello, Chanyeol," he greets pleasantly. He has a rather boyish face, although Chanyeol could see that he's tired by the weary lines around his mouth and forehead. He's probably not as young as he seems, though there is nothing but fierce determination in his eyes. "I'm Minseok, it's very nice to meet you."
"Hello," Chanyeol says quietly, because he doesn't know what to say, and bows his head a little. "Thank you for... having me here, I suppose."
Minseok laughs, and Baekhyun cracks a smile, but some of the men glance at him worriedly. "So I heard you want to help us?"
Chanyeol is surprised by the sudden jump into the main problem. He had guessed that Minseok is the group's leader, but he never thought he'd be this straightforward; leaders usually aren't. "Yes," he replies, choosing his words carefully. "I'm horrified by what I've seen down here. I can't just walk away and continue to live in Capitolium knowing that people are dying who could be helped."
Minseok considers him for a moment. He looks straight at Chanyeol's eyes, blinking slowly only when he needs too. His face is smoothed to a blank, betraying no emotions. Chanyeol gulps nervously, but holds his gaze.
Finally Minseok straightens up and his expression is serious. "You know that what we're doing is dangerous, right? That once you join you've put your life on the line?"
"I understand," Chanyeol answers firmly. He's never been so sure in all his life before. Beside him, Baekhyun lowers his head to hide his smile, but Chanyeol sees it in his peripheral vision anyway, and his chest constricts strangely.
A grin forms in Minseok's face, and he practically shouts, "Welcome to the group, Chanyeol!"
Chanyeol's jaw drops. He hadn't expecting this to be so easy, but he's glad. There are sounds of protests and outrage from the people sitting around the table, and Baekhyun touches his hand briefly, perhaps meant to comfort. Minseok hushes them all firmly, glaring at them all even though most of the people present seems to be older than him.
"Hush, you all. You know I'm an excellent judge of character." They all quiet down, albeit begrudgingly, and Minseok turns to Chanyeol again. "But you have to prove yourself, you understand? Everyone who joins, must work hard. We've got a long way to go," Chanyeol nods at Minseok's words, and he seems pleased, turning to Baekhyun and Zitao. "Find him a room, will you? Help him get settled."
They nod and ushers him out quickly, down the stairs, and outside again. Chanyeol wants to ask them so many questions, who Minseok is, why he's doing this, why he's willing to trust Chanyeol so quickly, and how does he know. But Baekhyun and Zitao has already lead him to a different building behind the headquarter, where men are lounging by doorways, on the corridors, just talking to each other in casual clothes. Some of them look to be in their forties, some looked as young as sixteen.
"This is where most of us sleep," Baekhyun explains, casually leading Chanyeol further into the building. "Those who have homes and families don't sleep here, of course. This... dorm, is for the homeless, the orphans, et cetera."
They climb up a flight of stairs with paint flaking off the railings. Chanyeol can't help but say, "And you're the latter?"
Baekhyun hums in affirmation, and nudges Zitao with an elbow. "Zitao is too."
Zitao bops Baekhyun on the head lightly with a smile and Baekhyun makes a noise like an angry cat, slapping Zitao's arm hard. "Respect me, you brat!" he shouts.
As they bicker Chanyeol can't help but feel jealous of their closeness. He feels like a complete outsider, and he is, but he wishes he had found these people first. The people up in Capitolium were a nice bunch, yes, but here, everyone seems like they're a family. The closest he had ever come to having something like that is Luhan. But Luhan is up there, and it doesn't look like he's going back anytime soon. He misses Luhan, and he's pretty sure Luhan is worried, but he knows he has to stay.
"Most people here usually room together with a friend," Baekhyun begins again, yanking him out of his thoughts. He's stopped arguing with Zitao after he delivers a particularly firm slap to his chest, and Zitao had lowered his head and scrunched his shoulder, admitting defeat. Chanyeol perks up at that, seeing his chance.
"Can I room with you?" he asks hopefully, but Baekhyun shakes his head, smiling in apology.
"I'm sorry, but I room with this kid here." He nudges Zitao again. "We've got an empty room, though, so you can have a room all to yourself!"
The empty room, it turns out, is a tiny space in the attic, just enough to fit a bed, a closet, and a small cabinet. Even though the room is bare it's actually rather nice, and he has a skylight that lets light pour into the wooden floor. But Chanyeol is still sour from finding out that the roommate he wanted isn't available, and taken by Zitao too, that he doesn't notice much of his surroundings.
They seem to notice Chanyeol's inner turmoil, but it's too early in their acquaintance to ask him what's bothering him, so they excuse themselves out, telling him that there'll be someone to deliver bedsheets and clothes soon.
Baekhyun hesitates at the doorway after he says that he and Zitao has 'something important' to do. He looks back at Chanyeol, and offers a smile, which Chanyeol returns easily, to his own surprise.
"I... hope you like it here, Chanyeol," he says quietly, not giving a chance for Chanyeol to reply before walking out and closing the door behind him.
Living beyond the wall is hard, Chanyeol quickly realises. He has to wake up early to help out with whatever needs to be done that day, food is rationed and is mostly gross, soggy fish, and there isn't a place like Demeter's Fields here, so the air is always stagnant and humid. He doesn't get to participate in the rebel group's guerrilla attacks into Capitolium; he wishes he does, he wants to see Luhan if only just a few minutes, to assure him that he's okay.
Chanyeol is fascinated by the weapons the rebels uses. They are mostly hand-crafted, made up of whatever material they could find. But they are surprisingly effective and dangerous, despite the weapons' shabby outer appearance. Some of the more advanced ones are those stolen from the Capitolium during their raids: gun turrets, light-weight machine guns, sniper rifles. All of them are made by a friend of The Janus, a man who goes by the name of Chen, was what the people explained. He, too, sits among The Archaia and is the city's weapons master.
Chanyeol now spends his days in the weaponry warehouse, bent over a desk and examining a stolen weapon or crafting one himself. He thinks his fascination stems from the fact that he liked tinkering with electronics in the surface.
On the fourth day of Chanyeol's third week, Baekhyun saunters into the warehouse, and when Chanyeol spots him, his heart thuds faster. He hasn't seen -- or to be exact, talked to -- Baekhyun since that first day. He sees him sometimes, walking in and out of The Den and strolling through the streets with Zitao, but never close enough for them to strike up a conversation. He doesn't seem to sleep in the building Chanyeol sleeps in as well, in fact, none of the people Chanyeol met that first day -- Jongin, Yixing, Minseok, Baekhyun and Zitao -- sleeps in that building. They must be very special.
He wonders what Baekhyun is doing here. Overseeing the weapons production? Delivering a message? Looking for someone? He quickly snuffs out the hope that it'll be him who Baekhyun's looking for, but when they lock eyes, Baekhyun brightens, and walks towards him.
Oh shit, Chanyeol thinks. He's coming towards me and I'm all messy and sweaty and I've got oil all over my hands and --
"Hello, Chanyeol." Baekhyun sounds a little breathless himself. Chanyeol doesn't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
"Hi," he replies. His palms are beginning to sweat. Dammit. "It's... been a while."
Baekhyun makes a face, as if he doesn't like the fact either. It's a cute, scrunchy-nosed kind of expression, and Chanyeol stores it away in his mind to pull out later. "Yeah, it has. I was busy, everyone was busy. There's been some sort of... build up in Capitolium these past few weeks. People are getting restless. Some of it thanks to us, but some of them because people are starting to realize that life in Olympus isn't what was promised to them. The Archaia are trying to smooth out the rough edges, but the fire's started."
Chanyeol nods in understanding. It should be good for them, to be getting more supporters, to be gaining attention and recognition from The Archaia. "I suppose all your plans are working well?"
Baekhyun beams, and nods eagerly. "It's great to know that our hard work aren't going to waste." His smile is soft as he says it, fingers tracing the components of a shotgun Chanyeol had been working on before he came, and Chanyeol's heart palpitates wildly in his chest. "This is a great job, and you've learned so much so quickly, but now Minseok-hyung wants you."
Chanyeol is rather reluctant to leave his work behind, because he's easily forgetful, and knows that there's a high chance of him forgetting what he had been doing with the shotgun when he comes back. But he follows Baekhyun out of the warehouse, and into The Den.
They climb up to the room on the topmost floor that they visited that first day, and Baekhyun knocks twice on the door before letting himself in and motioning for Chanyeol to follow. Inside are Jongin, Yixing, Zitao, standing in a sort of semi circle with Minseok in the middle, half sitting, half leaning against the table in the middle. His smile is wide and kind when Chanyeol enters, almost excited. Chanyeol wonders what it means.
"Nice to see you again, Chanyeol," Minseok greets cheerfully, pushing himself off the table to stand with his full height. Chanyeol is a lot taller than he is, but somehow Minseok seems bigger, more intimidating.
"Hyung," he replies, bowing his head. "Baekhyun said you wanted to see me?"
"I do," Minseok nods, and Chanyeol can sense that he's going to jump into the main problem straight away, like he did last time. "I want you to join our group."
There was a collective silence as the words takes its time to sink in to everyone in the room. Chanyeol frowns; he doesn't understand, what is Minseok asking of him? He's in the group already, isn't he? He's already stayed with them for three weeks now, helped them, worked for them. Or is there supposed to be some kind of ceremony?
But the other seems to understand it in a different way. Jongin and Yixing jerk into motion and begins questioning Minseok with confused expressions, obviously they had not been told about this earlier. Zitao stays frozen in shock, but then Baekhyun slips his hand into Zitao's and the boy visibly relaxes. He turns to Baekhyun briefly, silently asking with his eyes, and Baekhyun nods.
"Hyung, are you absolutely, positively, sure --"
"Hush, Jongin," Minseok says and Jongin falls silent at once. His eyes still hasn't left Chanyeol, his smile is one of amusement. "I have never been so sure about this since we found you and did the surgery to you five years ago. Actually, I've been sure since that first time Chanyeol walked into that room, three weeks ago; I knew that he's someone we could trust."
Surgery? Now he's even more confused. "Um, sorry -- did I miss something?"
"Sit down, Chanyeol," Minseok says as he walks around his desk to sit on his own seat, and motions for the others to do so as well. "I've got a long story to tell."
What Chanyeol finds out that unexpected afternoon is quite shocking. Minseok begins by asking him what he knows about Olympus, and Chanyeol answers with everything Luhan told him. That The Janus started building it after the first World War, after seeing the horrors of a governing body, and that he wanted to create a society with complete liberty, and one hundred percent security, and that the only place he could build a city like that is somewhere exclusive, unreachable. And so Olympus was built in the belly of the South Pacific.
"Ah, yes, that is the mere extent that the public knows." Minseok nods gravely. "What they don't know, however, is that the people who birthed the idea of Olympus, or The Janus, if you prefer to call them that, was two people."
Chanyeol blinks. "What?"
"The Janus used to be two people," Minseok says twiddling his thumbs in his desk. "Until I left it."
Chanyeol blinks again. He waits for Minseok to crack a smile and say it was a joke, waits for any of them to do it, but he realizes that they are all serious. "Wait, wait, wait, so you founded Olympus? And now you want to overthrow it?"
Minseok frowns. "I just want to return it to its original goal," he says defensively. "I'm glad that I built this city, but I feel awful for the people living down here. I'm trying to repent for not preventing this from happening."
And so Minseok's story unfolds. He tells Chanyeol about his dreams of the city, of years of painstaking research and building, and then the divide between the two founders when Minseok's partner became too authoritative, too discriminative, drunk on power and money. That was when Minseok decided he couldn't do this anymore and left.
"Did you know that Achilles' Fort wasn't part of the masterplan for the city? It was built right after I left. In anger, I suppose." Minseok heaves a sigh, looking morose, but quickly straightened up again.
Chanyeol is still trying to digest all the information that had just been thrown at him. After he thinks he's sorted it out in his brain, he asks the most obvious question. "Who was the other one? Your partner?"
Minseok chuckles. "That's for another time. It's not what I brought you here for."
And he launches into another long story about a scientist called Yifan, who had conducted researches to support life in Olympus. He was the one who came up with most of the technology used on Demeter's Fields and genetic alterations to the animals and livestock brought down so they produce greater yields, but lesser waste. It was from this that he had the idea of altering humans' genetic codes for other powers.
He never finished his work, though. Minseok tells him that Yifan did most of the experiments on himself, until his body finally couldn't take it anymore. It was an utter shame, he had had a brilliant mind. Somebody else then took over the research, and once it was perfected, The Janus had it done on himself and The Archaia.
Chanyeol doesn't realize he had been holding his breath. When Minseok pauses, he lets it out, and it whooshes out of his lungs shakily. It all seems too much like a movie, so surreal. But he figures that if an underwater city can exist, so can anything.
"So -- so you're saying that The Archaia have superhuman powers?"
Minseok nods gravely. But then he brightens up, a wide grin forming on his face. "But no worries! We do too! Before I left, I also took some of Yifan's research papers with me, and continued by myself, with the help of Yixing. Guys, show them what you can do!"
Chanyeol isn't ready for it when Jongin traces the air with a finger in a downward motion, and a tear opens up. He doesn't get to see what's inside it, mostly just pitch black, before Jongin steps inside, and the tear disappears with him. Chanyeol's jaw drops, not quite believing that Kai just disappeared to thin air, before he feels someone poke him from behind. He shouts and jumps around to see that Kai is right behind him, grinning playfully.
"What the fuck --"
Suddenly Yixing is upon him, holding his right arm and a knife against his skin. And with practiced agility, he slices Chanyeol's shoulder open.
Chanyeol howls in pain and shock, unable to move as blood starts to gush from the wound. His terrified eyes search for Yixing's asking him silently why he's doing this, but Yixing is looking at the open wound, torn muscles, and damaged tissues of Chanyeol's right shoulder. He waves a hand over it, and miraculously, it begins to heal. The muscles joined, fits together under the newly repaired skin; even the blood that had dripped down Chanyeol's arm and into the floor seeps back up again, and into the quickly closing wound.
It all happened in the span of about less than half a minute, and Chanyeol stands there, dumbfounded, looking at the smooth skin of his shoulder. He then looks up at Yixing, who is smiling as though nothing happened.
"Don't do that again," he whispers, terrified, and Yixing laughs. He pats Chanyeol's cheek fondly before stepping back into the half circle formation. Chanyeol then shrinks back from Minseok, who is next. He smiles as he picks up the glass of water sitting on his desk, but does nothing with it except throw its contents at Chanyeol's direction.
Chanyeol is not a quick or graceful person by any means, so he stares, wide eyed, as the water comes nearer and nearer towards him. But it never splashes him.
Instead it turns into a block of ice just a hair's breadth away from Chanyeol's face, and thuds to the ground at his feet.
He stares at the ice incredulously, perfectly frozen in its splashed shape, and when he's finally able to tear his eyes away, Minseok is smiling and bowing as if he had just put on a spectacular show. And he has, really. Chanyeol then turns to Baekhyun, but before he can fully register the grin on his face, the lights go out.
He startles, wondering if someone is playing a prank or if the electricity is really down. But then a small sliver of light appears, and Chanyeol turns his head towards it automatically. What's curious is that Baekhyun seems to be holding the little ball of light. Chanyeol watches, mesmerised, as Baekhyun moves it from one hand to the other, as easily as if he's juggling an apple or a ball. He then flicks it away and it returns to the hanging light above, and the room is flooded with light again.
"It might not look like much," Baekhyun admits sheepishly. "But that's because we're in a confined space, and this is top secret. I don't just take light, I can make it as well; bend it, use it however I please. I could blind you all if I want to."
Chanyeol feels a grin form on his face, and he tries to keep it in check so it doesn't look too creepy. "I think your power is my favorite. At least you didn't try to kill or surprise me, plus it's beautiful," he says. Baekhyun smiles, pleased, and hangs his head bashfully.
"You haven't seen mine," says a quiet voice from Chanyeol's right, and Zitao is looking at him with a smile.
Chanyeol doesn't know what it is about Zitao that bothers him so much, but ever since he first set eyes on him, Zitao's mere presence always makes Chanyeol feel uncomfortable. He doesn't know if it's a gut feeling or something that his mind made up (or perhaps the fact that he's so close to Baekhyun), but he dislikes the boy. He seems too quiet, too reserved, to be taking up so much of the attention the whole time.
"Zitao's power is still quite... unstable," Minseok explains as Zitao steps forward. "He manipulates time, and he can also pinpoint which areas he want to alter the time in. He can stop time, but you wouldn't know, for obvious reasons."
"So I'm going to show you something I've been working on, if that's okay," Zitao says, flexing his fingers. Chanyeol frowns.
"Is it safe?"
"Don't worry, Chanyeol." It's Baekhyun this time, and Chanyeol quietens immediately. Zitao takes a breath, looking straight into Chanyeol's eyes, and something in the air shifts.
He doesn't know what it is, doesn't even know if it's real or just his imagination --
"You haven't seen mine," says a quiet voice from Chanyeol's right, and Zitao is looking at him with a smile.
"Zitao's power is quite... unstable," Minseok explains.
"But I have been working on it, and I think it'll be perfect soon."
That's when something in Chanyeol's head throbs painfully, like he's just been hit with something very hard. He remembers this conversation, but it's not supposed to go this way. Minseok is the one who's supposed to speak, tell him that he can manipulate time and stop it, not Zitao. The memory is so vivid and real, but this is happening too, and Chanyeol's head throbs again. The others also looked confused for a while, but their expressions clears very quickly, and none of it makes sense to Chanyeol.
"That's Zitao's power," Minseok says coolly. "Do you feel like you've had this conversation before, but it's not going the same way? The memory is so vivid that you can't decide which one is the real one, this one, or that one? Zitao can turn back time and rewrite events, but only he knows that he has turn back time. No one else will know, and will carry on what they did before except if he interferes."
Chanyeol sits in shock for a second, mouth agape. He turns to Zitao with newfound amazement and respect. The boy hangs his head, but Chanyeol could see a pleased smile forming on his face.
"And this is what I ask of you, Chanyeol," Minseok begins again, drawing Chanyeol's attention back to him. His eyes are very serious, and he leans to the front as he says it.
"I want you to join us."
The Janus calls this surgery Apotheosis, apparently. But Minseok doesn't want to give it a name; naming it seems to make it real, and he only needs it for this cause, and to let it disappear after he succeeds. After all, humans aren't supposed to have superpowers. After the Apotheosis, each person's power will develop according to their personalities, physical capabilities, and so on. Apparently the only ones who have the powers are The Archaia, Minseok, Baekhyun, Yixing, Zitao, Jongin, and soon, Chanyeol. When he asks Minseok how many people are in The Archaia, Minseok just smiles and shakes his head.
"Not a lot. The Janus doesn't trust anyone, and the surgery is very complicated and costly. But those few who do have powers are very strong, so just watch out."
Chanyeol also moves to where Minseok and the other four live, a separate building that's not so far from The Den. It's to make sure that everyone keeps their powers in check, to make sure that no one finds out about this except the select few, because The Janus has spies everywhere.
He still doesn't get to room with Baekhyun, sadly. The other man has been nothing but nice to him, and Chanyeol can't help but feel even more attracted to him, but still he sticks around Zitao most. He also notices that they always get sent out on missions together, whether the small, trivial ones around the place or more important ones up to Capitolium, while Chanyeol gets prepared for his Apotheosis. They click seamlessly together, perfect compliments, sometimes it makes Chanyeol burn to see them.
The only one who seems to notice his feelings is Yixing, who sidles next to him on the bench outside one afternoon as Chanyeol fiddles with a gun turret component, eyes sometimes flicking up to watch Baekhyun laugh and fall over as Zitao teaches him martial arts.
"Baekhyun and Zitao are very close to each other. They've been together the longest," Yixing begins, and Chanyeol doesn't even bother denying the fact that he likes Baekhyun, and that it's what's Yixing is implying. Seems like Yixing isn't as scatterbrained as he thought. "Their parents died when they were very young, and they found each other, and promised to stay together to avenge their parents' death. They grew up, and realised it's not about revenge anymore, but stayed together anyway. They're not blood brothers, but they are closer than any brothers I've seen in my life. That is all. Nothing more, nothing less."
And with that Yixing gets up and leaves, leaving Chanyeol to ponder on his words alone. A few moments after that, Baekhyun spots Chanyeol sitting by himself on the bench, and skips over to him. He asks Chanyeol why he's got his funeral face on, and Chanyeol says that he's just nervous for the Apotheosis tomorrow while Zitao hovers awkwardly nearby.
"It's going to be fine," Baekhyun says with a smile, ruffling his hair affectionately. Chanyeol finds himself believing him.
Three days later, he plays with fire from his fingers.
It takes a while to get used to, this strange power he now possesses. One night, he's dreaming about drowning again, and when he wakes up, it's to burnt sheets because he's gripped it too hard and lost control. He has to learn to control his temper, because when he gets angry or irritated, anything he happens to be touching or holding heats up. If he doesn't catch himself quick enough, they burn or melt in his hands in the span of a minute.
Everyone's been nothing but helpful though. Sometimes when they pass each other on their way to the dining room or the bathroom they'd throw Chanyeol tips on controlling his power, and it seems unconsciously done. It draws them closer together, and Chanyeol even finds himself warming up to Jongin, whom he had found annoying at first.
And then there's Baekhyun.
Ever since they started living together under one roof and seeing more of each other, Baekhyun would give out these little hints that Chanyeol doesn't know means anything or not. Sometimes he'd come to Chanyeol's room to sit on his bed and do nothing but watch him fiddle with guns, sometimes when they pass he'd put his hand briefly on Chanyeol's arm, and say nothing about it. There's also one time where Chanyeol looks up from his long speech about machine guns and catch Baekhyun staring at him, with a soft expression that makes Chanyeol's stomach churn.
Once Chanyeol gets a firm rein on his powers, Minseok starts sending him out on missions to Capitolium. He's ecstatic when he gets the news, maybe he can see Luhan again, and he's even more so when Minseok tells him to choose his own partner, someone he can trust.
"Baekhyun," he says decisively, and Baekhyun grins as he steps up to him. He sees Zitao grab Baekhyun's arm before he could take a step further though, and the sight makes the tips of Chanyeol's fingers tingle with warmth. He forces himself to calm down as Baekhyun removes Zitao's hand from his arm and assure him that he'll be fine, and walks to Chanyeol's side.
It's a simple mission, no raiding or destroying things this time, to Chanyeol's dismay. One of Minseok's spies tipped him off that a few men in the seventh level of Capitolium are starting to question the credibility of The Archaia, and everything else on how the city is run. Their mission is to convince them to join the rebellion group, not unlike what Chanyeol saw Baekhyun and Jongin do a few weeks ago.
"Seventh level..." Chanyeol mutters under his breath. That's where Luhan lives. He's about to ask Minseok if he can see Luhan, but decides against it. Even if he can trust Luhan, the others don't know him, and might forbid Chanyeol from seeing him. He's got to do this secretly.
Some years back, after Achilles' Fort was built, Minseok looked for ways to get into Capitolium without being known. It took him and some friends half a year to dig a tunnel and drill through the foundations of the wall, and then another month to make sure the passage was safe for access, and completely unknown to anyone but the group. It's heavily guarded on both sides, and going through it without authorization is practically impossible.
Chanyeol and Baekhyun walk side by side on said passage in silence, Baekhyun holding a ball of light in his hands to light the way. Baekhyun seems to be at ease, but Chanyeol never like silence, and he's about to start a conversation but Baekhyun beats him to it.
"Are you nervous?"
Chanyeol shrugs. "Not really, no."
"Hmm," Baekhyun hums absentmindedly. "Strange. Most of us were nervous on our first mission to Capitolium."
"I'm just a confident person, I suppose!" Chanyeol grins, and Baekhyun smiles. But Chanyeol can see that Baekhyun's mind isn't entirely on their conversation, or the mission ahead, for that matter. His eyes holds a faraway look, and he keeps chewing on his bottom lip, as if he's debating whether to say something or not. He doesn't like seeing Baekhyun worried like this, the expression doesn't suit him. "Hey, what's wrong?" he asks softly.
Baekhyun seems to struggle with himself, before finally he sighs, shoulders slumping. "It's just that... Zitao's been working on his power really hard lately. He hardly rests and he's been getting sick."
Chanyeol wants to huff. Of course it'd be something to do with Zitao. "Baek, I'm sure he'll be okay --"
"No, that's not the root of my worries," Baekhyun sighs again. "It's... the reason why he's been working so hard, everyone has been working harder is that there's this feeling of something big coming, you know? Like -- like a hunch, a gut feeling. I asked everyone and they said they felt the same thing. I'm not sure if we'll like whatever it is that's going to happen, so we're taking precautionary measures. Sort of. I don't know."
They lapse to silence again. Chanyeol had realized that everyone changed recently; they're more harried, more distracted around their surroundings but terribly focused on whatever it is they're thinking.
"I guess that's why Minseok-hyung was so eager to have you on the team," Baekhyun continues. "He believes in you, you know. Wholeheartedly. He's really convinced that you'll really help us win this battle."
Chanyeol gulps at the amount of expectation placed upon his shoulders. He's not used to this. He wants to help, he really does want this rebellion to succeed, but he's not sure if he can be the trump card in this game. "But what if I --"
"You'll be great," Baekhyun says, squeezing his hand reassuringly. "Look, we're here."
They exit the tunnel slowly, waiting for the go-ahead from one of Minseok's men who is secretly guarding the passage. Chanyeol and Baekhyun straighten their suit and tie, and head to the elevator buildings. They take an elevator for themselves, and Baekhyun hacks it so it'll go up for them, and Chanyeol can't help but feel nervous now. It is his first mission after all.
As the brass grills of the elevator slides shut, Baekhyun turns to him, seeming to notice his nervousness now as well. He smiles and reaches up to smooth out Chanyeol's lapels, even though they are perfectly straight already, and whispers again, "You'll be great."