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For the Downfall of My Beloved

11

Chapter 11

1

“Do we really need to go this far?”

At Hoyeong’s words, Gion stopped in his tracks.

“What do you mean?”

Gion’s eyes smarted from the ash being blown by the wind. The swirling dust hovered in the air and appeared to contain traces of someone’s essence, existence, and spirit.

Hoyeong quietly observed the drifting presence of death and continued speaking: “Juya has already lost so much. You are the one who intended to kill the Seventh Chime, even at the cost of deceiving Juya. One who knows love well knows resentment just as well. Are you ready to bear the burden of such resentment?”

“I hoped you would feel what I felt, and I spent a hundred years doing so.”

Because of genuine love, another, aside from Juya, nursed a deep-seated resentment. Rohwa’s words, reciting her animosity, suddenly crossed his mind.

From a distance, he could see Juya’s slumped figure.

She lived with resentment, too…

Is that really what mattered now? Gion was ready to bear any karmic retribution.

“Are you prepared for what I’ve mentioned?” Hoyeong’s question dispersed into the air, unanswered, like dust. He nodded bitterly. “Because I’m prepared.”

“Alright.”

Gion resumed his halted steps. Beneath his feet, the ash yielded with fragile ease, crumbling into nothingness. It was light—too quickly shattered—yet this ethereal weightlessness lent an unexpected weight to his stride. But the sensation of burnt material scraping under his shoe felt chilling.

Juya once said, “There might be something better than love you’ll discover someday. But it’s not valuable enough that I’d prefer to live knowing it.”

Gion looked at his shoes, now dirty with the powdery residue of burnt substances. The things Juya dearly loved clung to him like dust and wouldn’t shake off.

His steps were heavy, far from light. They naturally slowed down. But still. Gion didn’t just stand there motionless but quickened his pace and moved towards the Seventh Chime. Despite the oppressive sensation, he kept himself upright.

“No need for greetings,” Gion said.

But despite Gion’s words, the Seventh Chime didn’t take his eyes off Juya.

“Do you think you can kill me?” the Seventh Chime said faintly. It sounded like he was talking to Gion—or could it have been to Juya?

“Juya,” the Seventh Chime said. “What are you relying on, bringing such a man before me? Someone swayed by deceit without even possessing the Crystal of Light? Have you forgotten? I am the Seventh Chime. I am not just a young demon whimpering for life while covered with wounds.”

Only with those words did the Seventh Chime finally direct his attention toward Gion. A murderous intent arose in his dry eyes, a smirk on his lips. “This is a fool who can’t control his own power. But I can eliminate even a phoenix from its tribe—”

The Seventh Chime’s words were cut short.

“You talk too much,” Gion said, drawing his sword from its sheath. The blade’s motion caused ripples to form in the puddle.

The Seventh Chime unsheathed his sword in a heartbeat and charged at Gion.

The clashing of their blades filled the air with whistling and metallic clanking.

The truth was undeniable. The demon Gion had mistakenly slain, believing it to be the Seventh Chime, was significantly weaker. Even a single exchange of blows made it clear: it was going to be a brutal duel. As Gion swung his sword, the recoil threw back both him and the Seventh Chime.

As the mixture of ash and water soaked their shoes, Gion quickly leaped towards the Seventh Chime. “I thought you’d be more prepared than this,” Gion shouted.

With a speed hard to follow with the eyes, the Seventh Chime fiercely swung his sword. Gion instinctively dodged the attack, but not before the attacker drew a fresh wound on his arm. The injury would undoubtedly have been on his throat if he had been even slightly slower.

The ash swirled even before gathering into a pool, causing the ground beneath them to undergo a remarkable transformation, becoming soggy and treacherous. The suspended dust added a deceptive weight to every step, making each movement a struggle against the entangling swamp.

With his black aura infused with the energy of water, the Seventh Chime relentlessly charged at his rival, wielding his sword ferociously. This moment was the culmination of six years of strenuous training—if Gion hadn't experienced those times, that blade would have torn him apart.

Both rivals bore wounds, their blood flowing ceaselessly and gathering in the puddle, creating ripples that were carried away by the wind. Gripping their sword hilts, they endured the relentless barrage of attacks, leaving no room to register the pain.

The splashing water slipped the opponents’ footing, causing their bodies to wobble.

“Why aren’t you using the White Qi?”

Contrary to the Seventh Chime’s sword, which flickered with darkness, Gion’s blade was merely swirling with a grey hue.

The puddle turned murky as their blood mixed with it. The water’s surface began to rise while the black aura surrounding the Seventh Chime’s blade grew even darker. Despite this, Gion did not transform. He continued to slash, stab, and swing relentlessly, acquiring more wounds across his body, yet there was no trace of the White Qi.

He had bled so much that his vision was blurring.

“Gion. Three inches below. Look.”

Amidst the clanging symphony of their duel, these softly uttered words resonated with a chill more piercing than any blade. The Seventh Chime momentarily turned his head down at Juya.

Sitting quietly above the puddle, Juya looked up at them.

“Juya?”

Gion’s blade precisely struck the area Juya had mentioned—between the ribs.

“Ugh…”

As the blade slipped into his side, the Seventh Chime coughed up blood. Staggering, he retreated while facing his enemy.

One step. Two steps. He took five steps back.

“Five steps back, and there’s an opening in the left thigh,” Juya said precisely.

The Seventh Chime tried to steady his wavering stance, but it was too late. In a breath, Gion bridged the gap, driving his sword into the Seventh Chime’s thigh.

“Juya, you’re to blame!” the Seventh Chime shouted, looking resentfully at Juya. They knew each other too well. Being so close for so long made it impossible not to know each other thoroughly. That meant they also knew each other’s vulnerabilities best.

The Seventh Chime’s attention remained on Juya. His resentful outcry echoed through the western hills. “How dare you!”

Juya remained motionless, her unwavering gaze fixed on the Seventh Chime. He stood alone, guarding his position above the blood-filled puddle, just like that fateful day when he was abandoned in the burning tribe. Gritting his teeth with enough force to draw blood, a surge of hatred and bewilderment fueled the Seventh Chime’s resolve. He momentarily shifted his blade, intending to lunge at Juya, but abruptly redirected his attack towards Gion.

The Seventh Chime’s blade grew fiery, brimming with resentment and confusion. While he attacked Gion, he didn't direct his emotions—his resentment—toward Gion. Who was its true target? Perhaps Juya—or maybe even himself, the Seventh Chime.

Ignoring the bitterness of the Seventh Chime, Gion aimed for a vital spot. Despite being undoubtedly weakened, the Seventh Chime remained standing. Unaware of the agony he was enduring, the Seventh Chime’s strikes became even more forceful despite the fatal wound.

With a crunching sound, Gion’s collarbone shattered. The Seventh Chime’s blade coldly grazed the neck, leaving a burning sensation on the shoulder. Also, Gion’s ankle, twisted for too long, throbbed with the vivid feeling of torn muscles.

After getting soaked, Juya got up and looked intently at the Seventh Chime and his wound, saying, “That’s the Seventh Chime’s deadly point.”

***

Teetering on the precipice between life and death, the Seventh Chime lay, each cough a struggle, as blood flecked his lips. Drenched and defeated, the form of the Seventh Chime sprawled in the shallow water.

Juya stepped over the water, mingled with the Seventh Chime’s blood, and approached him. With empty eyes focused solely on him, Juya gazed down at his impending end.

Silence.

It was a chilling silence directed at Juya. The Seventh Chime said, “I’ll let you end it with your own hands.”

Gion handed the sword, dripping with the Seventh Chime’s blood, to Juya. She immediately understood the implication of Gion’s gesture. She said to Gion, “You are truly cruel. I know what you’re implying. If I don’t kill this man with my own hands, I will become a human on the side of the demons.”

A human who loved a demon. A human adversary of humans.

To reclaim his place as the chieftain of the five guardian tribes, to evade the scorn of both humans and demons, the Seventh Chime’s demise had to be by Juya’s hand. Because Juya’s love had caused the death of the Phoenix tribe members and the hiding populace, this was the last opportunity for Juya to return to a time before loving the Seventh Chime.

Gion held out the sword without withdrawing, adding, “The choice is yours.” After that, he said nothing more. He just waited for Juya’s response.

“How much time has passed?” Juya asked as she grabbed Gion’s sword. The Seventh Chime’s eyes blinked faintly. She asked, “Does it hurt?”

Juya didn’t plunge the long sword into the Seventh Chime’s body but placed it beside her knee. She then asked, “Do you hate me now?” But the Seventh Chime remained silent.

Juya continued, “Can I be selfish just this once?” Without waiting for a response, Juya cradled the lifeless Seventh Chime in her arms.

Despite the open wounds and cut flesh bleeding in the water, the Seventh Chime did not resist Juya’s touch. Even as the blood mixed with pus covered Juya’s skin, she held the Seventh Chime even tighter. “Talking to you always hurts my heart. Even when I smile, I hold back what I truly want to say. I questioned whether I should feel happy. I feel like you would suffer less if you stopped breathing now, but I still want to talk, just a little longer. Perhaps I’m being selfish.”

Like someone desperately trying to hold onto a fleeting moment, Juya poured out countless words filled with anxiety. After all, this might be her last opportunity to speak with the one she loved.

“I’m sorry. The day I first saw you, I should have just treated you and sent you back. My superficial sympathy trapped you and entangled you with me…”

She started with an apology.

“It hurts, doesn’t it? A lot, I’m sure. I asked him not to use the White Qi. It hastens our parting, leaving us no time for conversation... That’s why I wanted to talk. We can hold each other in our gazes this way.”

Her words morphed into a heartfelt confession.

“Why did you do it? Why did you make me burn everything precious with my own hands? Was it necessary? Because I abandoned you? What does that even mean? It was you who left me.”

She poured out her bottomless resentments.

“No, that’s not it. It can’t be. How can I abandon what I never possessed? It wasn’t petty possession. It was true love. It was just you and I. It was us.”

As Juya whispered to him for a long time, her love and resentment became tightly entwined. She harbored bitterness towards the Seventh Chime, the demons, the White Flower Kingdom, the world, and even the gods. Eventually, her anger turned inward, directed at herself.

As Juya held him closer, she called the Seventh Chime by his true name, Gon. Demons were nameless, but she continued to murmur his real name.

Gon clung to Juya’s body. Desperately, she tried to stem the blood flow with her hands, determined not to let even one more drop of it fall to the ground. The stench of death seeped into Juya’s senses, more potent and nauseating than she had anticipated, but she refused to leave Gon’s side.

After Juya could say no more, the Seventh Chime finally spoke.

“I hate you.” Gon, having taken in every name Juya murmured, said it clearly, even while coughing up blood. “If there’s a next life, I hope never to encounter you again.”

Juya knew what love was, and Gon couldn’t be unaware of the true meaning hidden in those words.

Gon expressed, “Regretfully, seeing your face as the last face of my life is something I will carry with me forever. I sincerely hope that you will carry on living after my passing. However, if there is a next life, I do not wish to cross paths with you again.”

Gion understood these sentiments all too well, as he had spoken those very words to Rohwa in his final moments.

A brief silence hung in the air, yet Juya remained steadfast, refusing to let go of Gon. With a nod, she softly uttered, “Nevertheless, I will continue to stand by your side.”

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