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Title: In The Land Between
Rating: PG
Pairing: Seulgi/Irene
Summary: Hearts know nothing of man-made walls.

In The Land Between | Part I

Sirens wailed loud and raucous. They ripped through the towns and into the woods, rumbling in Seulgi’s chest where her heart hammered as rapid as the rotating propellers of the warplanes above.

It didn’t matter what side of the wall you lived on. When the sirens sounded, you were to take shelter. The teachers in school taught them to duck under their desks with their hands wrapped behind their necks to protect themselves. Her parents - now only her mother since her father left to fight in the war - told her to get into the tightest and safest place she could find and ball up to shield her stomach from flying debris when the bombs hit.

Their neighbor’s girl, a small one by the name of Yerim, told Seulgi she’d heard from a boy in the market selling heads of lettuce for quarter of a note that his daddy stood in the middle of the street watching the planes of both sides fire at one another and got not a scratch on him. He said,

“It’s only the scared ones that get hit. Me and my daddy, we ain’t scared.”

Two days later, the market was bombed to rubble. He and his daddy were never found and Seulgi learned that there was truly no place to run for safety.

The ground beneath her rumbled. Planes roared like the angry monsters in her nightmares that woke her up to sheets doused in sweat. They hadn’t stopped haunting her since the war started when she was eleven. She was sixteen now and she missed the ignorance she had as a child.

Debris flew up as a bomb hit the woods. Seulgi immediately fell to her stomach, arms wrapped around her face pressed into the dirt to shield her eyes as another strike hit. Peeking out, she saw nothing but the hazy smog of dirt and smoke of bombs fire. In the distance, the town buzzed with voices of hollering men, crying children, and frantic women clashing in a cacophony she could not make sense of. But she knew the sound of fear. It was the same tune that her veins sang as she began to bear crawl toward a trench.

Reaching the trench’s edge, she slid down, rolling until she smacked-

She willed herself not to scream. A gaping, open mouth of rotted teeth and blacked lips bore up at her. Lifeless eyes, drawn up to the sky, stared their curse of death to the heavens. Body after body stacked one on top of each other filled up the trench in nothing but naked, maggot-eaten flesh.

These were the dead from Farside, tossed away like spoiled meat into trench graves.

“The enemy gets not a proper burial,” her mother said once as they watched the billows of smoke from a burning trench not but a week ago.

She’d been scolded for losing her appetite - food was too scarce to let it waste nowadays. But she couldn’t bring herself to down another spoon of stew when the stench of carnage was in the air.

Another bomb shook the earth. Seulgi closed her eyes. She had no other choice but to wait out the air raid with the smell of death in her nose.

-/-/-/-

And then...everything was still.

Seulgi uncurled herself from the tangles of rotting flesh and crawled from the trench to level ground. She waited, ears straining for any gunfire. When there was none, she grabbed up her satchel and slung it back over her shoulder. Smoke still clung to the air with the scent of gunfire wafting on the wind. Seulgi took her steps quickly, boots crunching beneath her as she hurried down the path toward Town. A flash of something flickered in the corner of her eye and she panicked.

Darting behind a tree, she pressed her body up against the bark. The woods weren’t safe. Especially after a raid. They often brought soldiers from Farside who’d snuck across the wall, or lumps of bodies dropped when planes were hit.

Seulgi took in deep, long breaths to steady her heart but it did nothing to stop the scared tremors in her body as she peeked around the tree. Just across the way was a lump of a person curled up at the base of a trunk in a ball of periwinkle and white.

Seulgi gasped.

It was a girl.

She stepped away from hiding and stalked over. The girl’s cries grew louder the closer she got and Seulgi’s chest clenched. Why was she out here? Why was she not in Town with the others who’d run to shelters?

“Hello?” Seulgi called. “Are you hurt?”

The girl lifted her head from knees that were drawn tight against her chest. Her eyes were wide and curious. She was no one Seulgi had seen before, and by the workings on the pretty, stained dressed she wore and the pendant on her collar, she did not belong here. She did not belong to Otherside.

Seulgi went cold. The law said that any sighting of anyone from Farside was to be immediately reported. No one from Farside was spared. Men, women, and children were hauled down to Row. Seulgi heard whispers of what happened in Row that resided on the back most end of the towns away from civilians. All she knew was that anyone taken down to Row never came back.

Seulgi didn’t want to be responsible for sending a living being to Row. She turned to go.

“Wait!” the girl pleaded.

Seulgi hesitated. She peered back over her shoulder. Those wide eyes grew into terror and her face washed white. Seulgi felt a pang of envy. She had the face of an aristocrat: pale cheeks clear enough to see the natural blush in them and smooth skin that never knew a blemish.

Seulgi had been taught that the aristocrats of Farside were of the worst kind. Even worse than the nobles on Otherside. But Seulgi had seen many of the noble's houses crumble to rubble and their jewels looted by the townspeople who always despised them. She was taught to always turn her eyes down in the face of a noble. Same as she was taught to spit in the faces of the kind from Farside. But she couldn't find it in herself to do either. Not to this girl. Being this close, breathing the same polluted air, she could see they shared the same horror and the same desire to live another day. Just one more day.

“Is it over?” asked the girl.

Seulgi nodded, keeping her head down. She wouldn’t look at the girl again. Maybe then she’d forget her. Maybe then her screaming conscience of law versus self would not eat at her so.

“Are you going to kill me?”

Seulgi shrugged. Because if she didn’t someone else would.

The girl whimpered. Water rolled from her pretty eyes and she dropped her face back into her knees, arms wrapped tightly around her legs. She reminded Seulgi so much of her little brother who would come into her room and curl up against her, shaking with fear when gunfire sounded in the distance in the dead of night.

Seulgi’s chest tightened when she heard the girl sniffle. Her cries should mean nothing to her. Her life should mean nothing to her, but-

“You need to go back.”

The girl looked back up. “I can’t.”

“You have to,” she bit.

“I…” She stopped, face contorting into one that told of something tragic that she didn’t want to say. “I can’t go back.”

Seulgi blinked over to her. She noticed things she hadn’t before. The mud smudge on her face, on her dress, under her nails. Her hair was a mess, littered with dead leaves and there was a snag in her white stockings. She noticed how young she was. Maybe only a few years older than Seulgi. Just like some of her friends back in Town. And, this girl, she must have friends, too. She must have a family waiting for her across the wall, wondering where she’d gone - why she was missing.

“You-”

A rustle from far off echoed through the trees. Seulgi and the girl both snapped their necks toward it.

“What was that?” she asked.

Seulgi squinted through the thicket. It was probably patrollers from Town, sent out to scan the areas closest to the wall for Farside soldiers and runners. If they were found, the girl would surely be shot on the spot and Seulgi would be taken in for questions of what else or who else she saw.

“You have to go.”

“What?”

“You have to go.” Seulgi whirled around on her. “Now!”

The girl jumped up. “Where?”

“That way.” Seulgi pointed off the path. The sound of footsteps in the distance drew closer. “Two leaps and over the sunken footbridge. You’ll find a grove of flowers. There’s a den you can hide. Now go.”

“But-”

“Go!”

The girl ran off. Seulgi waited until the tail of her dress disappeared in the brush before sprinting toward home.

-/-/-/-

Town was in ruins. Most was unrecognizable. It was only from memory that she knew Mr. Song’s bookshop was there beside the candy store run by Lady Shin who always let Seulgi have a piece of peach hard candy when they’d come by to bring a jar of thick, sweet red tea her mother made.

Seulgi’s boots cracked right over the splintered wooden sign that used to hang above the candy store. Not far behind it, smoke seeped into the air like chimneys. Her heart raced the further she went, weaving past the frantic townspeople and the men shouting orders to,

“Hurry! Dig! Get them out!”

Worry turned her pace into a run. She cut along the dirt road that led to the bloc that held their dwelling.

But there was hardly any dwellings left.

She stood in front of the one she once called home, staring with mouth agape and lungs heaving. Half of the structure was gone. The side that held her and her younger brother’s quarters was completely obliterated. Their neighbor’s home was nothing but rubble.

Seulgi’s lip trembled. How would they come back from this?

“Seulgi!”

She turned to see Kim Jongin jogging her way. His face was rugged and smeared with dirt same as his clothes. A healing cut on his chin shined red. He had a slight limp in his left foot but he didn't seem to notice or care.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

Relief softened the worry in his brow and Seulgi offered a smile knowing he was okay himself.

They weren’t close but he lived nearby. His father was a builder who bought most his wood from the Woodshop her father used to work. They’d sometimes share jerky on the Woodshop porch while their fathers discussed business in the back over a cigar and a shared flask during a break.

Jongin was strong, loyal, and smart. He was a first pick to be drafted into the war but his expertise in building held him back. With his father, now too old to do as much as he used to, they did their part in the war by helping the townspeople when the worst came their way together.

“Where have you been?” he asked. He was winded, dark hair tossed about and flaked with dust.

"I was in the woods when the sirens went off. Where's my family?”

"We got most away before the bombings hit. The attack was the worst I’ve seen.”

"Did they go?"

Jongin’s face grew sorry. “I saw them running with Yerim and her mother. I stayed back with my father to help evacuate.”

“Do you know which way?”

He shook his head. “A lot went to the mills. That’s where they’re holding many of the wounded.”

A loud crack sounded through the air. Seulgi stared in horror as the last remaining wall of a house caved in. Her throat tightened. “I’ll go there.”

“Let me know if you find them.” Jongin darted off to help a group of men struggling to move aside a rooftop.

Seulgi rushed the other way.

-/-/-/-

The sewing mills were on the other side of town. Her mother worked there for two notes an hour four days a week. The other days she spent helping in the Infirmaries that were never empty since the war began.

A crowd had already formed around the mills. People rushed out of the large, wooden buildings while others moved in closer. Arms slung around necks in reunion while others hid faces behind handkerchiefs and eyes on the ground when their loved one was not found. Seulgi pushed through the masses, weaving herself closer to where the people filtered out when a familiar face appeared.

"Yerim!”

"Seulgi?"

They collided in a hug. Yerim’s frame was tiny and fragile. It almost felt like she was hugging bones. Hugging a corpse. Seulgi shuddered remembering the trench. She felt as if the scent of death clung to her clothes. To her skin. She let go of Yerim, face pale and stomach fallen.

"Where is your mother?" asked Seulgi.

“She left with Youngsoo.”

The mention of her brother struck her. “Where'd they go?”

“Back home. Your mother didn't want him to see what's here.”

“I was just there. Our bloc is…”

Yerim’s lips drew into a line. “I heard they’ve directed many others to the shelters.”

From all the destruction, many of the shelters had already been filled with others who lost their homes. Parentless children joined them as the orphanages swelled up with those too young to fend for themselves or too young to work for three mints in labor camps as means to rebuild the town in its devastation. Those not so lucky, Seulgi saw along the streets, crowded on the outskirts near the road that led to Row. She knew of some - mostly older generations given up - walk to Row and never return like the prisoners of Farside.

“War wasn’t made for us all.” That’s what her mother said about them. It appeased her younger brother, but Seulgi still got knots in her stomach thinking about it.

“Where were you headed?” asked Seulgi.

“Your mother asked me to fetch some things but-”

“Where is she?”

“Inside. I stayed to help her with the wounded.”

Medicines always interested Yerim. When Seulgi’s mother began her physician's training at the start of the war, Yerim would come by and borrow her books to read between school studies. At that time, they didn’t let anyone younger than thirteen to have a part in anything outside of studies. As years went on, fewer children went to school and more joined the workforce. Seulgi herself abandoned teachings to become a skilled woodcutter like her father.

“Take me to her.”

Yerim led the way, squeezing them into the frenzy within the mill. Bodies hurried about while others lay splayed on the ground on cots forged from blankets and coats and clothes for those wounded. Groans and cries and voices rose up in the vaulted ceiling. Seulgi tried to ignore them. They reminded her of the bodies in the trench. Had they screamed in the same agony when they were gunned down?

Suddenly Seulgi wondered about the girl she’d left in the woods. What stories did she hold? Were they the same as Seulgi’s? How could someone from Farside share in the troubles they had here?

“There.” Yerim pointed toward the back.

Seulgi’s spirits lifted. “Mama!” She rushed to her.

Hands holding strips of ripped cloth wrapped around her. Seulgi pulled back to see relief on her mother’s smudged face. A hand pressed to her cheek. “You're okay?”

She nodded, smile faltering. “Mama, our bloc...It was hit.”

Her face went gray. She turned to Yerim. “They didn’t return?”

“I only made it out the doors when I saw Seulgi.”

“They weren’t in the bloc,” said Seulgi. Her heart began to race. She was worried for both Yerim’s mother and her brother. “Where do you think they went?”

“Maybe a shelter,” suggested Yerim.

“Can you find them?”

“But-”

Her mother took her face again. Seulgi leaned into her touch. Her hands were unlike her father’s. They were gentle though still held a subtle roughness from her labor. In her mother’s hands, Seulgi felt warmth and safety.

Seulgi softened. “I could help.”

She shook her head. Seulgi was no good at medicines but she was nervous to leave her mother’s side. What if another raid struck the mills? Worse. What if another raid flattened the places they'd made shelters.

“We’ll be fine here. Find Youngsoo.”

Seulgi didn’t protest again. Reaching into her satchel she took a bundle of moss rose that she’d picked from the woods. Her mother took it with a tight smile. She wouldn’t scold Seulgi then for running off into the woods alone like that for something as trivial as flowers. The fact her daughter was alive trumped any irritation.

“Thank you, these will be useful.” A kiss touched Seulgi’s cheek. “We will find you come dusk.”

“Check at Anvil’s Peak,” said Yerim.

Seulgi nodded and left.

-/-/-/-

Seulgi checked at the blocs again first. She stayed along the edges, drowning out the tears of other bloc members who’d just seen the wreckage of their homes. Yerim’s mother and Youngsoo weren’t amongst them.

Leaving the bloc, she rushed toward the fishery bloc on Creek Lake. Anvil’s Peak was a tavern there. It was one of the few places left standing after the bombs in the second year of the war-wrecked much of the market and the food district. Yerim's father and a fisherman owned the place before being drafted. His life was taken soon after.

The tavern was boarded up now. Seulgi came up on with little confidence when a rustle sounded through the boards.

A harsh,“shh!” came right after.

Seulgi paused. “Youngsoo?”

Silence.

“Youngie?” she stepped closer. “It’s Seul.”

A face peeked through one of the slats and brightened. “Seulgi!” Rushing out the door, he ran for her. Small hands and tiny arms wrapped around her neck as Seulgi swept him up.

Yerim’s mother slipped from her hiding place to come outside. “The others?”

“Still at the mill.”

Yerim’s mother let out a calming breath. “We won't expect them until dusk then. Come inside. I'll make some tea.”

Youngsoo clung to her as she ducked through the entrance into rich, candlelight. The tavern was a small place but it was cozy. The smells of food erased the stench of war from the air and the deep, mahogany walls reminded her of home.

“We can stay here until the bloc gets back in order,” said Yerim’s mother. “The bartenders used to use this place as a sort of bunker in case anything bad happened. We’re stocked enough to keep warm and fed for a while. Here.”

“Thank you.” Seulgi accepted a tin of tea and took a sip. Blowing on it, she offered a taste to Youngsoo who stayed close to her.

Yerim and her mother came just when the stars made their first shine. Yerim’s mother gave them both a bowl of porridge and tea. They ate around one of the small, bar tables, talking in hushed voices about the mills, the blocs, and what the forces were planning to do to repair things once again.

Seulgi stood by one of the boarded windows where Youngsoo slept bundled in a blanket on one of the wooden benches. She stared out toward the tree tops, watching the leaves rustle in the chilly wind.

“There’s enough to have a half more bowl,” said her mother.

Seulgi declined and kept her eyes trained on the distance. Her palms itched, antsy to leave and wander back out there. The reports in the morning would tell of the soldier's findings in the woods.

She hoped the girl wasn’t one of them.

She didn’t want to wait until morning to know for sure.

-/-/-/-

Night was brisk and alive. Sneaking from the tavern, Seulgi stayed in the shadows to evade the eyes of patrollers and soldiers running about. The woods brought better cover and she stopped to light a small lantern she’d taken from the tavern.

The flame was dim, but it was enough to guide her along familiar paths. She passed the Wishing Tree and hurried through the Onion Patch. A leap over the old, dried creek put her onto the unmarked trail she’d taken in secret many, many times. Only she and her father knew of this trail. They discovered it themselves.

The lantern swung as Seulgi trotted her way, the smell of flowers growing ever stronger the deeper she went until they surrounded her in soft, pretty colors of pink, orange, and yellow that looked dull and gray in the darkness. A pang touched the center of her chest. This was her and her father’s spot. Where they’d sneak off to and eat lunches after a long morning of chopping in the yards. She missed him, and this place served as a place of solace and escape in his absence and in the destruction of the current world.

“Hello?” Seulgi hissed into the quiet, crossing the grove to where the earth swelled up creating a dense hollow. Seulgi crouched at the mouth of the den. “Is anyone there?”

She waited, seconds ticking by in rhythm with her beating heart. She was too late. Seulgi lowered her lantern.

“Hello?” a voice echoed back at her.

Sparks of relief erupted in her chest. “It’s me.” She ducked back down, squinting inside. “We met in the woods.”

A head of black hair emerged from the den, eyes glossy with happy tears across a dusty face. Baby pink lips split into a smile and Seulgi thought nothing other than that this girl was very pretty. Very pretty and very pure to the sight.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” She stepped out from the hollow. Seulgi stumbled backward, keeping her distance. The girl’s smile wavered. “I’m Joohyun.”

“My name is Seulgi.”

Joohyun’s smile returned and Seulgi almost forgot-

“I- uh-” She fumbled in her satchel for the container of the leftover porridge she took and offered it with a canteen of fresh water. “I brought this.” Joohyun only stared at it unsure. Seulgi frowned. “It’s food. It’s okay.”

Joohyun gave a soft smile and reached for it. “Thank you.”

Seulgi nodded. She didn’t know what else to do. She didn’t know what she was doing. This was wrong. Out here, helping a girl from Farside, was wrong. She'd never broken the law before, and here she was, doing so willingly. She shouldn’t be here.

“I have to go back.”

“Can’t you stay?” Joohyun’s hands tightened around the container, knuckles whitening as pale as her face. “I...I never liked the dark and I keep hearing voices.”

Seulgi opened her mouth to protest but she didn’t. She had already subjected herself to severe punishment in the event she was caught. She'd already turned into a traitor. She could spare a few more minutes.

“Okay,” she agreed. “Inside.”

Ducking down, Joohyun crawled into the den. Seulgi followed after. The space was cramped but it was comfortable. Seulgi remembered times she’d taken naps in there on days she just needed to get away from the bleak atmosphere of home. She’d doze off with the sweet scent of flowers and the warm memories she’d made there.

Seulgi placed her lantern in the center so it lit up the place. There was an old blanket, a dusty soldier's uniform balled into a pillow, a helmet, a compass, a dented pan, and a set of tools Joohyun must’ve gathered from the woods. Seulgi started to wonder how long Joohyun had really been out here. Had she just arrived during the raids or had she been hiding in the woods for much longer? And if so, how did she get here?

“Thank you for showing me this place,” said Joohyun, distracting Seulgi from a bounded notebook beside the blanket she had laid out.

“You shouldn’t be here. If they find you…” She didn’t want to say it aloud. But she didn’t have to. Joohyun had asked if she was going to kill her in the moment they met. She already knew.

“I’ve heard stories of Otherside….” said Joohyun. All the color suddenly drained from her face. “I don’t want to die.”

Seulgi kept it to herself that those chances were slim. “How did you get over the wall?”

“There are soft spots.”

That must be how soldiers got into Otherside. “Can’t you go back that way?”

Joohyun shook her head. “I don’t remember where it is.”

And the patrollers probably would’ve found it and any others by now. Maybe Joohyun was stuck here forever. Seulgi didn’t want to think about that or what that meant for Joohyun as time passed.

“I have to go,” she said. “The patrols come from the east every morning at first light and right after dusk. Don’t be seen. I can return with food in the morning but I don’t think I can do more than that.”

Joohyun’s face warmed at her generosity. “You’ve spared me. That was already more than enough.”

She nodded. “Keep the lantern.”

Crawling out the entrance, Seulgi returned to the darkness of night.

Part II
 
Date: 2017-02-15 08:11 am (UTC)

From: [identity profile] djboomcat.livejournal.com
You're going to break my heart with this story, and im okay with that.
Date: 2017-02-17 01:05 am (UTC)

From: [identity profile] boxxsaltz.livejournal.com
Since I have your permission, I will absolutely break your heart <3
Date: 2017-02-16 10:07 am (UTC)

From: (Anonymous)
hfsjhfjhjs i love reading your red velvet stories and now that you've started a new one with such a compelling plot...really can't wait <4
Date: 2017-02-17 01:06 am (UTC)

From: [identity profile] boxxsaltz.livejournal.com
Back to the Velvet! It'll be a fun, deep, one. Can't wait for everyone to see it unfold :D
Date: 2017-02-18 07:55 pm (UTC)

From: (Anonymous)
Seulgi opened her mouth to protest but she didn’t. She had already subjected herself to severe punishment in the event she was caught. She'd already turned into a traitor. She could spare a few more minutes.

lool i laughed here. was the humour intentional?

<3
Date: 2017-02-20 04:52 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] boxxsaltz.livejournal.com
Hahaha it wasn't intended to be humorous but I can see how it is now I'll forever see it that way.
Date: 2017-03-07 07:20 pm (UTC)

YAAAS!!

From: (Anonymous)
BOXXXXXXXXX!!! I'm late to the party, but I am here and ready to hunker down and enjoy your next great story!

ATMOSPHERE
It's intriguing and bleak. It reminds me of the Blitzkrieg bombings of London in WWII meets the Berlin wall division, but with a fantasy element. I feel the angsttttttt, but beneath it, it feels hopeful somehow. (Is this going to be a story where everyone dies -- Don't do it, BOXX ;P! jk jk I'm ready for the ride whatever it may be).

SEULRENE
I'm diggin' it. It's like Juliet and Juliet. Hopefully it will end in not-death, tho? Haha XD. But there's something about Irene that reads "shady"... like I don't fully trust her for some reason.

Anyways, just wanted to leave my random thoughts on part 1. Thank you for sharing this fic. Onwards to part 2!



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