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For the Downfall of My Beloved

22

Chapter 22

1

In a life-or-death showdown, what is the most crucial element? Strength, weight, speed, power, momentum… Many think of these factors. Indeed, during training, warriors ponder how to subdue an opponent or deliver a decisive blow quickly.

While all these are important, one thing should not be overlooked: the enemy’s true nature. One must discern it out of the chaos of factors.

“Finally, our swords will clash.”

Mad excitement filled the demon’s face. He said, “I’ve been curious for a hundred years. I wondered who was the strongest on the battlefield.”

As if death was of no concern, the sheer thrill of facing Gion exhilarated him. He was Jahun, who had been appointed as the Grand Marshal a hundred years ago.

A dreadful sound filled the air. Jahun emitted dark energy, engulfing the surroundings in darkness. Spikes emerged from the dark energy, and like the long branches of a willow tree, their points rapidly enveloped Gion.

Gion gripped his Chunhwa sword tightly, swinging.

His opponent’s skin tore apart, resembling wet paper, as blood spread. And the spikes flew towards Gion, and despite the excruciating pain, his wounds were almost unnoticeable.

The encroaching dark energy made finding a safe space to dodge the attacks challenging.

Power, physical endurance, stature, environment… Gion was outmatched.

Jahun charged ferociously. This demon was on a different level from those Gion had faced before. It wasn’t easy to fend him off while cutting through the black spikes.

Apart from the opponent, the hostile environment also played a crucial role in the showdown.

Gion slashed at Jahun’s waist. As soon as the blade touched him, Jahun quickly pivoted himself. Despite his size, his movements were agile.

The Chunhwa sword began to flicker with an emerald green light, sensing the crisis.

With swords locked, the larger Jahun pressed down on Gion with his weight. Gion managed to evade by kicking off the ground, but his Chunhwa sword was nearly damaged. Jahun smiled as if delighted.

Yes, this was the kind of demon he was.

In Biryu, Jahun, the Grand Marshal, had a talent for manipulation rather than leadership. He would alter conditions if the opponent didn’t move as he desired. Instead of overpowering them with fear, he would tempt them, making them reluctant to leave his control. Trapped in the compulsion to be the strongest and wanting to control everything, he was obsessed with proving his dominance over others.

Even if transformed into a demon, one’s true nature remained unchanged. Dark energy always constrains and contaminates such creatures.

Gion charged directly at Jahun. Facing an opponent with a significant size advantage, head-on might have been a suicide attempt for other opponents.

Jahun smirked at this seemingly final, desperate determination.

“This is the end,” Jahun uttered.

Jahun, his body covered in wounds, held a black sword in his hand and pointed it at Gion’s neck—the two swords, black and white, crossed. The distance between them closed.

At that moment, Gion swiftly changed direction, cutting down the willow tree.

Jahun’s blade dug into Gion’s shoulder, but the severed tree fell onto Jahun’s head.

Jahun’s blade cut deeper into his shoulder. Gion grasped it tightly. The sword in Jahun’s hand was now in Gion’s.

He struck Gion’s abdomen with his giant fist. Gion immediately changed direction. The long, leaf-laden branch obstructed Jahun’s view.

Jahun’s very nature was an opportunity for Gion. The arrogance of someone who desires to control others blinded Jahun. There was a slight difference in the range of vision. And that range would determine the outcome of the battle.

For someone who only understood control as a means of aggression, the moment they experience the absence of that control becomes crucial.

That fleeting moment of agitation was all that was needed. This was the only way to win. Gion ruptured the surrounding dark energy, causing the situation to spiral out of control. Restlessness filled Jahun’s eyes as he swung his fist with even greater force. The decisive blow grazed Gion’s ribs, resulting in a cracking sound and bending his waist. However, as Jahun’s fist collided with the dark energy, it shattered into pieces. Amid the vibrating space, Gion swiftly drove his sword into the nape of Jahun’s neck.

“I… I have… lost…” Jahun stammered, his gait trembling as he struggled to comprehend the unfolding events. “But… it’s not over yet.”

Gion dismissed Jahun’s words, his sword ensuring that Jahun’s sturdy neck bone was completely crushed.

Kneeling, Jahun bowed his head, the echoes of their intense duel reverberating in his ears. And despite the intensity of the battle, Seosan remained eerily silent as if nothing had transpired.

***

Gion had a clear mission: to gather information about the events in White Flower Kingdom over the past one hundred years and rectify distorted history. To uncover the veiled truth by discovering the accurate history.

However, he disclosed this to nobody. It was merely a single purpose Gion had set for himself.

Gion sat cross-legged on the stump of the severed willow tree. With his ribs broken, he couldn’t straighten his waist, and blood continuously flowed from his shoulder where the black sword was embedded.

His one eye struggled to open because of the blood streaming down. His entire body lacked strength, to the point where his muscles couldn’t even twitch.

His injuries, compounded without a moment of recovery, would have been enough to make an ordinary person comatose.

Breathing was difficult, but that wasn’t important to Gion right now.

“This is strange…”

Something became certain when Gion faced Jahun, who had turned into a demon. Gion’s location was being continuously revealed. And that was not all. Haram came to give Gion the light crystal, and those who had been with him on the battlefield in Biryu came looking for him. As if they knew precisely what Gion was up to.

Blood spurted from his shoulder. He pulled out the blade, and drops of blood fell on the densely packed rings of the tree stump.

The life rings, intricately entwined, appeared to detach as they became stained with a deep crimson hue.

Every cause has its roots. This interconnected chain of life could never be severed. However, when the cause remains unclear... it is possible that one’s perception is obstructed, like life rings breaking away from trees, concealed beneath droplets of blood.

“Hey! Have you lost your mind?”

Hwaran had emerged from the Chunhwa sword and stood before Gion. In the form of a young child, she yelped, pressing down on Gion’s shoulder with her tiny hands.

“Having faced countless sword strikes on the battlefield, shouldn’t you know better? Apply pressure to stop the bleeding instead of worsening your condition by pulling out the blade. As a Chunhwa sword master, injuring yourself in combat raises questions about your skill. Recklessly removing the blade won’t grant you an advantage.”

While continuously berating Gion, Hwaran lost her concentration. So, she forgot to apply pressure to his shoulder. Blood flowed down his armor.

A gentle breeze enveloped Gion’s shoulder. A warm sensation spread throughout his body, but Gion remained stoical, his expression unmoving.

“You were losing your mind, killing everything in sight. I just watched silently, but this can’t go on! Go take some rest.”

A strange noise came from the Chunhwa sword. “What are you doing?” the sword asked.

A chilling wind swept through Seosan, causing animals to retreat into the mountains hastily. And with good reason.

Gion pointed his sword at Hwaran, realizing he should have thought of this earlier. True to Hwaran’s words, she had not initially commented on Gion’s actions. Despite the suspiciousness of everything and the difficulty in predicting the near future, she offered no advice, meddling, or involvement. Not even a question.

“Hwaran,” Gion said, his gaze piercing as he stared at her. “Should I have killed you, too?”

***

“You’ve finally lost your mind.”

Sihwan clenched his fist tightly, glaring at Rohwa. It seemed like he could crush her tiny head at any moment.

Rohwa, indifferent, peered into the depths of the dark and seemingly endless Hyunhwa Cave.

Sihwan’s voice trembled with anger. “Why did you break the promise?” The wooden token he was holding distorted and creaked.

Rohwa asked back without any change in expression. “So?”

“What?”

“You’re saying I broke the promise, but what can you do to me?”

Sihwan grabbed Rohwa by the collar. “Curious about what I can do?”

Sihwan’s grip tightened around Rohwa’s neck, and the skin began to chafe.  Even as her skin reddened, Rohwa calmly stared at Sihwan.

“What can you do?” she said.

No, Rohwa’s eyes showed no hint of fear whatsoever. It was as if she was merely observing a passing ant, her expression void of emotion.

Sihwan gritted his teeth. “I dislike those eyes of yours. That expression, as if you’re not afraid of anything, makes me wonder how much you could truly endure.”

He pushed her aside, taking a moment to straighten his disarranged clothes.

Rohwa said, “Can you endure this?”

Sihwan looked down, feeling a chilling sensation passing through his dantian. A long sword had pierced through his chest.

“You might not be able to do anything to me, but there are things I can do to you.” Rohwa’s voice calmly settled.

Sihwan slowly shifted his gaze to the blade. The hand holding the sword had no blood. As Sihwan looked up, he saw Rohwa’s face splattered with blood. “You… you…”

Rohwa glanced at the shattered token Sihwan had thrown. The token was so fragmented that it was impossible to discern any original drawing on it. She said, “Even with such divination, it seems you couldn’t foresee your own death.”

Blood sprayed everywhere as Sihwan collapsed. Rohwa casually wiped her face with her sleeve and handed back the sword to the person at her side.

Doa, emerging from the shadows, took back the sword. With a look of devastation in her eyes, Doa barely managed to speak as she had witnessed the scene unfold. “…Now that it has come to this…”

Rohwa’s head turned slowly to face Doa as she said, “Wasn’t this man conspiring with Gion? All I did was eliminate someone who could jeopardize our cause.”

At these words, Doa simply nodded.

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