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For the Downfall of My Beloved

20

Chapter 20

1

Gion stepped out of Hyunhwa Cave and quietly observed the forest. In less than half a day, numerous events had taken place. Nevertheless, the world kept moving, and the forest remained peaceful as if nothing had happened.

The ground started to crack as though from an earthquake, followed by aftershocks. Gradually, a surge of sinister energy began to shroud the surroundings. Overwhelming darkness now swallowed the once sun-drenched forest. In a flurry of wings, countless birds took flight in panic.

Walking over the shattered remains of rocks, someone approached Gion.

Stained with blood, Gion muttered, “…Great General.”

“It would be wise to stop here,” the Great General simply said. His calm voice carried an overwhelming presence that even the dead could feel.

The Great General was once an officer who performed brilliant military strategies. Now, he was a demon before Gion. Though not having faced Gion as a general in the Biryu battles, he had survived many wars. He still had the long white hair and beard he was last seen with. And though his eyes were wrinkled, his physique could still rival young men’s.

And the chilling aura he emitted was unmistakably that of a demon.

Gion, who had made a name for himself as a general in Biryu, recognized it instantly. The Great General’s aura was stronger than that of the five guardians. The fact that he could instantly envelop Sihwan’s domain of Hyunhwa Cave in dark energy was proof.

Gion approached the Great General. The dark energy seeped into the ground, making squelching sounds that could be heard.

Despite the gentle fluctuation of the dark energy, the Chunhwa Sword seemed to sense danger and started flashing green.

But without any change in expression, Gion continued to step towards the Great General and asked, “What? Are you suggesting I stop?” His black eyes were void of expression.

The Great General was well aware of the meaning behind those eyes. It was a look he had often witnessed in soldiers during the grueling five-year-long war. These were people who had become exhausted, casting aside all that was unnecessary and focusing solely on their purpose. Their emptiness was evident.

“How much longer do you plan on living like this?” the Great General inquired.

“A century has elapsed. Demons have infiltrated White Flower Kingdom to an extent that surpasses your imagination, and it extends far beyond the involvement of just the five guardians.”

“You can’t do anything now.” The Great General spoke, but Gion did not respond and only gripped his sword.

“Step aside.” Even as Gion approached, sword in hand, the Great General solidified the dark energy. “If you stop here, I’ll give you what you want.”

“What do I want?” Gion asked. “Do I look like someone who wants something?” His words cracked as he spoke, his face filled with streaks of dry blood.

The blood from Gion’s wounds was now turning brown and seeping into his body while red drops fell from the Chunhwa Sword.

The Great General observed Gion and said, “There was a child who was particularly fond of you. That child is still alive.”

Gion remained silent.

“I can arrange for you to meet that child,” the Great General continued, glancing at the shattered rocks. “I will make it as if none of this ever happened—your killing of the guards, your disturbance in Hyunhwa Cave.”

After saying this, the Great General shifted his gaze to Gion, who had just snickered.

“Great General,” Gion said, his expression hazy as if he had just woken up. “Do you think I am someone who would just stop here?”

Gion sliced through the Great General’s dark energy, creating a gap through which sunlight poured.

“Because if that were the case, I wouldn’t have saved you back then,” Gion added.

The Great General offered to let Gion meet his child but also threatened that he would never see his child again if Gion did not stop. However, Gion remained unfazed and said softly, “That child might understand me.”

The Great General gazed at the radiant White Qi enveloping Gion and questioned, “Are you implying that the splendor of White Flower Kingdom holds greater significance than your cherished loved ones?”

Gion responded, “Is this not the existence that those who fought by your side yearned for during countless battles?”

A profound silence fell upon the Great General.

Gion continued, “Are you willing to obliterate everything, solely clinging to the uncertain realization of the glory of White Flower Kingdom, and thus bring an end to this very life?”

The Great General continued to remain silent.

Gion bowed and calmly said, “That’s what’s keeping me alive.”

Despite humans’ natural wish for a better life, Gion did not seem to have much desire for it. Gion’s assertion silenced the Great General.

Laughter escaped from Gion’s parched lips. “Ha. Do I truly appear alive to you, existing after losing everything dear to me? Do I resemble someone who yearns for a better life?”

Gion, his laughter tinged with mockery, abruptly ceased, and he let out a sigh.

“What else could I possibly crave?”

***

“Sir Sihwan…”

A young boy among the tribesmen approached Sihwan hesitantly. “The people… they will all die at this rate…”

Sihwan gave no response. He just stared silently at the cracked statue, gripping his fist tightly. “Don’t give them a single drop of water until it’s finished.”

Numerous workers climbed up and down ladders, rushing to repair the cracked statue.

The clanging noise was deafening. The boy watched those who tirelessly continued the repair work without rest. Exhaustion was evident on everyone’s faces. Some were so exhausted that they got sick and passed out.

“But with Sir Sihwan’s powers, the statue could be repaired immediately—” But the boy abruptly stopped speaking, leaving his words unfinished.

Sihwan passed by the boy, casting a chilling glance. “Do you suggest I squander the power of the Black Tortoise now?”

The boy said nothing but kept his head bowed.

Sihwan approached a worker. Despite sweating profusely and gasping for breath, the worker showed no change in expression, continuing his work.

“Gion is alive.”

Sihwan’s words stopped the man’s movements. But soon, the man resumed his work.

“That guy shattered the rocks blocking the entrance and the statues of Hyunhwa Cave with just a single piece of light. He tore through the guards and demons to invade this place.” Sihwan grabbed the worker’s shoulder and asked, “If you know something, you must speak now.”

The man set down his sandpaper and palette knife and replied, “If it’s about the general, it makes sense.”

Sihwan furrowed his brow and retorted, “Even for Gion, it’s impossible to shatter Hyunhwa Cave’s rocks with just one piece of light. Are you taking his side because you served him?”

“Don’t you remember that time?”

“What time?” As Sihwan removed his hand from the worker’s shoulder, the man resumed sanding the statue.

“Why do you think he was chosen over many others to become a general and lead the army?”

Sihwan laughed in disbelief. “Are you referring to that incident?”

There was a time when Gion went to battle, not as a general but as a common soldier. It was his first deployment, and everyone hoped Gion would return safely.

Gion decapitated a commander who was the enemy’s defense tactician. Gion was only twenty years old. Reports went up to the king that Gion had made the kill, but people didn’t believe it then.

As a soldier, Gion was neither the inventor of sword techniques nor specialized in defense strategies.

Engulfed in flames and smoke, the battlefield was chaotic, so few believed Gion could behead the commander.

“Did you really just say that the incident was true?” Sihwan asked the worker. The man responded firmly, without any hesitation. “Yes, I am.”

“But you weren’t even present at the scene when it happened.”

“That’s correct.”

“Then why do you believe it?”

“The general himself confirmed its authenticity.”

“You have such unwavering faith in him, almost as if he were a deity.”

The worker wiped his blistered hands and glanced at the statue. “You know very well that he is not the type to fabricate events for personal gain.”

“But it doesn’t matter. That man is destined to die regardless.”

“Is there anyone capable of killing the general now?”

Sihwan replied, “Do you think I’m the only one who desires to end his life on the battlefield of Biryu?”

Upon hearing this, the worker looked at Sihwan. Sihwan, holding a divination piece in his hand, added, “If we summon them, even Gion might find it challenging.”

***

“How did it go with what I asked you to find out?”

Gion stood in front of Jeokmungwan, quietly observing the Fifth Chime.

A beautiful full moon adorned the night sky in front of Seosan’s Jeokmungwan. Its gentle moonlight peacefully illuminated the surroundings.

The Fifth Chime frowned.

Gion had given the Fifth Chime three days. On the third night, he came to Seosan to meet them. Even though he knew the Fourth Chime was looking for him, Gion willingly entered the Red Gate Library.

The Fifth Chime grinded his teeth. “Did you think I would follow your words? I am not your follower, but the Fourth Chime’s—”

The Fifth Chime couldn’t finish his sentence when Gion swiftly slit his mouth.

Wielding the Chunhwa Sword, Gion imbued it with dark energy. He said, “It seems you thought I was someone who needed to repeat myself.”

The Fifth Chime spat out blood and shouted, “This is Seosan! The Fourth Chime will not let you—”

Gion drove the blade deep into the solar plexus of the Fifth Chime, causing a cry of pain to escape his lips. Gion began to shatter the Fifth Chime’s bones with a twisting motion. The Fifth Chime’s fear was palpable as they looked into Gion’s unsettlingly indifferent expression. It didn’t matter to Gion that this was Seosan. What mattered was that the Fifth Chime could feel the chilling aura emanating from his fearless demeanor.

“Wait, just wait! Three days were too short! Give me a little more time!”

At that moment, Gion hesitated and then sheathed his sword. Unlike before, when he swung his sword without uttering a word. Was he considering listening? As Gion prepared to speak, a flicker of hope appeared in the Fifth Chime’s eyes.

“It’s been a while,” Gion said, his gaze fixed on the emptiness.

The moonlit Seosan revealed no signs of a passing squirrel, yet something unseen captivated Gion. Almost instantly, shadows began to emerge, one by one. Leaves rustled violently, fluttering and falling. The shadows expanded as if engulfing Jeokmungwan, causing even the Fifth Chime to hold his breath. These shadows, cast in the moonlight, were pure black, devoid of any color.

“Just hold on a little longer. I have something to take care of.”

The Fifth Chime’s neck was swiftly cut, and his head severed. His lifeless body slumped to the ground. Unable to even scream, the Fifth Chime slowly faded away.

Gion threw the head to the ground and advanced towards the approaching shadows.

“You must have something to discuss with me.”

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