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For the Downfall of My Beloved

23

Chapter 23

1

Fifty years ago, the day was overshadowed by the gloomy mood created by the sound of spring rain that had started falling from the previous night.

Rohwa watched silently as droplets fell, making a plip-plop sound. She rested her elbows on the windowsill.

Until early morning, the rain continued, and the flower petals fell onto the earth.

Hwaran stood humbly small behind Rohwa. Rohwa asked, “What exactly does ‘human-like’ mean, Hwaran?”

Rohwa’s arms resembled skinny tree branches, fragile and ready to snap. Her shoulders were tense, accentuating her petite frame. Her eyes were swollen from a sleepless night. Leaning against the windowsill, her body seemed on the verge of collapsing. Shabby, frail, and utterly powerless…

Hwaran, taller than the average adult woman, looked down at Rohwa, sweeping back her hair that reached down to her waist. “Is this the time to have such thoughts when White Flower Kingdom is in danger?”

When Rohwa didn’t respond, Hwaran sighed with frustration. She was the queen of spring spirits. She couldn’t define what being ‘human-like’ was herself. Whatever it was, it wasn’t human, but paradoxically, that made it easier for her to answer.

“When it rains, you indulge in melancholic emotions and ponder such things. Isn’t being controlled by emotions and succumbing to depression when the air changes human-like?”

Rohwa should’ve burst into laughter now. As always, laughing heartily, she would say, ‘You’re right, that’s true,’ hiding the signs of struggle and standing up unfazed. She was the only hope of White Flower Kingdom, a descendant of the white dragon with White Qi.

“Does that make me human-like too?”

Contrary to hope, Rohwa murmured this, lazily leaning against the windowsill. Her blood-red eyes were filled with disgust, as if she felt disillusioned with the human condition. She was filled with emptiness. Everything in the world seemed trivial to her. The rain splattered on the windowsill, drenching her. This darkened her mood even more.

A warm breeze wrapped around White Dragon Castle, and the rain subsided. A delicate rainbow emerged on the hills as the sunlight gently caressed the ground. The dewdrops on the blades of grass shimmered, creating a sparkling spectacle.

“Now, get up,” Hwaran ordered.

Rohwa got up and moved away from the window. Only then did Hwaran feel her tense body relaxing. Yet Rohwa’s forlorn expression remained the same. Rohwa had spent many spring nights and days like this.

Those eyes were the problem. Fifty years later, those eyes were unforgettable.

Gion’s eyes looking at Hwaran now were no different from Rohwa’s eyes back then. Eyes filled with emptiness as if everything in the world was meaningless. Eyes full of disgust and fatigue.

“Put away the sword.” Hwaran stood before Gion, not moving an inch despite feeling a chilling sensation wrapping around her neck. “Do you intend to kill the queen of spring spirits with the Chunhwa sword now?”

“It’s not impossible.”

The Chunhwa sword, emitting a gray light, looked colder with dewdrops. Gion, just like Rohwa, would often rest against windowsills. He slouched slightly, but his grip on the Chunhwa sword remained strong.

Once human doubt takes root, it spreads uncontrollably.

Like how a stump remained even when a willow was cut. If it came to this, Gion would kill Hwaran. But to restore the glory of White Flower Kingdom as quickly as possible, the queen of spring spirits was a necessary element.

So, there was only one way: to uproot doubt with honesty.

“Rohwa plans to offer you as a sacrifice to the Demon King when you obtain all the pieces of light and can properly utilize the White Qi. In exchange, White Flower Kingdom will preserve its form.”

A truth so brutally honest, it was horrific. Accepting it was up to Gion.

Blood gushed from Hwaran’s neck as Gion’s sword sliced through the flesh, coinciding with a torrential downpour of heavy rain.

Gion didn’t sheathe his sword and asked, “Did the Princess try to protect White Flower Kingdom?”

“So what?” Hwaran, feeling the cold blade on her neck, merely smirked. “The child’s attempt to protect White Flower Kingdom is not important. What truly matters is that White Flower Kingdom has fallen. Does the intact structure of the castle imply that the kingdom has not fallen? Does the intact structure of the castle imply people are protected merely because they are alive?

Hwaran grinned, her mouth contorting to ghastly proportions. “Being a descendant of the white dragon and passing the White Qi to someone else, avoiding the responsibilities you should have carried. That’s what’s important.”

Hwaran approached Gion, even though she felt the sword cutting her tendons. “Yes, I don’t blame you for not understanding. How could any human endure?” She pointed her finger at Gion. “Yes. Humans are vulnerable, easily influenced by their circumstances and past, and can cause disruptions in the present. Gion must not follow in Rohwa’s footsteps, who crumbled under pressure and caused the sacrifice of many lives. It’s sad, but that’s the harsh reality. I have witnessed how that fragile girl broke down. As a human, can you guarantee you won’t end up the same way?”

Hwaran firmly grasped the Chunhwa sword with her tiny hand. She said, “If you knew this story, Rohwa would undoubtedly sway you. Ultimately, you would think Rohwa made White Flower Kingdom this way to exact revenge on you.”

Even with rainwater from the window entering Hwaran’s eyes, she stared unblinking at Gion. Blood diluted with rainwater pooled together as droplets on her cheeks. “Are you sure your sympathy for that child won’t hinder the glory of White Flower Kingdom?”

A brief silence followed. Gion, drenched in the rain, quietly removed his sword from her neck and lowered it. He spoke without a hint of tremoring in his voice.

“That’s a relief. The princess did what she could to preserve White Flower Kingdom’s form. That means there is a chance for me.”

With a mention of only White Flower Kingdom’s glory, Hwaran blinked her eyes. That was a relief? Is that something that can be said under the circumstances?

More shocked than puzzled, Hwaran said, “Rohwa is planning to offer you as a sacrifice to the Demon King. Ultimately, he will try to kill you.”

But Gion didn’t respond to her words. He sheathed his sword and said, “If our conversation is over, let’s move on.”

***

When you’re drenched in blood, you realize there’s such a thing as gravity in the world. Blood is thicker than water, and when soaked in it, the body feels heavier. Along with a damp, hot sensation, steps become harder to make. Wounds become sticky and quickly harden. And even if the rain washed away the blood soaking the body, the smell of it lingers for quite some time.

But Gion didn’t care how long blood stayed on his body. He would have to be drenched in it again anyway.

As Gion stepped onto the porch of the Jeokmungwan, a strange sound echoed. At that moment, Gion stopped in his tracks. He immediately turned around and swung the Chunhwa sword. A solid, dark force blocked the sword and rippled.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” Gion said.

As he quietly observed the shadow, a woman revealed herself.

“Move aside.”

Rohwa glared at Gion, her face scrunched up. But as if he didn’t hear Rohwa’s words, Gion just calmly observed her, his back still turned to the entrance.

Rohwa must have come to find Seogi and the Fourth Chime, knowing that Gion was working to correct the distorted history. It was a logical step. Hence, questioning each other’s presence there was unnecessary. Rohwa and Gion stood their ground, facing each other before Jeokmungwan.

“You were planning to offer me as a sacrifice to the Demon King?” Gion asked.

“I was. That was the only way White Flower Kingdom could maintain its form,” Rohwa responded.

She smiled faintly and casually tossed her long hair. Approaching Gion slowly, she said, “Did you think I spared you because of some lingering affection amounting to specks of dust?”

A precarious sound came from the ground, bearing Gion’s weight. Gion glanced at the spot but did not move. Still guarding the entrance of Jeokmungwan, he muttered, “Perhaps I thought that a little.”

At Gion’s words, Rohwa’s red eyes momentarily turned away.

The ground appeared to tremble, casting a colossal shadow over Jeokmungwan. A creature, its body cloaked in brown fur, possessed three heads. The left face displayed sadness, the right one showed joy, and the central face radiated anger. From its left mouth, it uttered, “I requested the Fifth Chime to fetch you, yet you arrived on your own accord.”

The Fifth Chime, towering like a bear, muttered, “Why… Why, Princess… even you…”

“Enough.” The central head spoke assertively, causing the left head to pout and fall silent. Addressing Rohwa, the head proclaimed, “The Seogi you seek does not exist.”

The right head sneered at Gion and let out a derisive chuckle.

The Chunhwa sword began to be enveloped by the White Qi. Gion descended from the porch, passing by Rohwa, and he looked up at the Fourth Chime before him.

A shadow swiftly flew down from the sky. A man with massive black wings flapping gently landed. Ice crystals covered the wings as if frosted.

The man who landed gracefully opened his eyes. At his appearance, the Fourth Chime chuckled, saying to Rohwa, “Instead, I intend to give you a different gift.”

Rohwa, with a twitch of her eyebrows, looked at the man. Calmly holding his ground but seemingly displeased, the man let out a small sigh. “Why is the Second Chime here?”

The Second Chime folded his wings with an impassive face. “When you so openly hunt for the Chimes and disrupt White Flower Kingdom...”

The Second Chime glanced at Gion. “Do you expect us just to wait idly?” His tone was polite yet languid but eerily cold. It seemed as if he might attack Gion, yet he also appeared to be observing the situation as if it were merely amusing.

Even with Gion wrapped in the White Qi, the Second Chime bowed to Rohwa. “Will you join us, Princess?”

Rohwa did not acknowledge the Second Chime’s greeting and turned away. “Handle it amongst yourselves.”

The Second Chime smiled broadly, his smile distorting his face.

The dark energy emanated from the two Chimes rippled, obscuring the sun that floated in the sky. Darkness descended upon Seosan in an instant. The visibility was reduced so much that only the silhouettes of the Chimes could be made out.

The Chunhwa sword, imbued with the White Qi, emitted a light green glow that illuminated the surrounding area in a radiant hue.

At that moment: “How beautiful.” The Chunhwa sword began to throb. “Why wasn’t I invited to this intriguing play?”

“Ah… Father…” The Demon King stood by Rohwa’s side, looking at Gion.

The vibration of the Chunhwa sword was so intense that Gion’s wrist was almost sprained.

Before Gion could move, the Demon King was instantly in front of the Fourth Chime. “It’s interesting, but not the play I wanted to see.”

“What do you mean—”

“Do not intervene, Second Chime. The Fourth Chime will fight him alone.”

“What…?”

All three heads of the Fourth Chime, previously showing different expressions, now made the same look: an expression of fear, loathing, and confusion.

The Demon King smiled amusedly at their reaction and said, “Are you planning to defy your father’s words?”

Although the tone was playful, the Fourth Chime stepped back, shaking its head.

Gion gripped the hilt of the Chunhwa sword tightly. The handle, made of white stone, felt hot under his grip.

The Fourth Chime and the Second Chime could join hands to kill Gion. It was natural for them to find a way to kill him as they wreaked havoc in White Flower Kingdom.

The actions of the Demon King were puzzling to Gion. He approached. Why would the Demon King, who held White Flower Kingdom in his grasp, want to take Gion as a sacrifice? The reason was unknown, but two things were certain. First, Gion had no intention of being manipulated by the Demon King. The second reason was that the Demon King, wanting Gion as a sacrifice, might be the key to unlocking the secret Gion sought.

As if reacting to the dark energy enveloping the space, the Chunhwa sword shone brightly white.

The Demon King showed a smile at the spectacle before him. He asked Gion, “What are you doing?”

“Do I need to fight?” Gion sheathed his sword in its scabbard.

Instantly, the White Qi dispersed from Gion’s form. The White Qi sparkled as it scattered, resembling falling snow.

Gion glanced briefly at the Chimes and then addressed the Demon King. “Go. You kill them yourself.”

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