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For the Downfall of My Beloved

24

Chapter 24

1

Looking back, it was indeed a fine play. The play, which was said to encapsulate the horrors of war, featured actors risking their lives over many scenes.

Desperately grappling and struggling. Overpowering and being overpowered. Bodies piling on top of one another, rolling, tangling…

Killing someone to live, living to kill…

The Demon King felt alive with the pounding in his ears. As the play reached its climax, the banging drum grew louder.

An unsightly scene unfolded.

“That… uh… that…”

One actor faltered amid a crucial scene as the opposing actor flubbed their lines. The stupidity of the two actors quickly dampened the thrill the Demon King was feeling. Seeing them stutter and ruin the play, his face contorted with disgust. He looked at the flustered actors, and his interest waned. Now, what should he do?

He could slash the actor’s throat or quietly leave to have a smoke. But since he made an effort to come to see the play, perhaps killing would be more amusing. Ruining the climax of the play, it seems fitting they should die.

Yes, that’s right. They ought to die!

So, just as he was about to unleash his dark energy, the trembling actor’s shoulders and clenched fist caught his eye.

Desperately pathetic. Even with a mask on, it was clear what the expression underneath would betray his weakness. He must be feeling flustered. His eyes were blurry, and his mouth was probably dry.

He might be angry because the other performer ruined the play, which had high stakes riding on it. Or maybe he was holding back tears and biting his lip. Seeing that expression would be far more amusing than the ruined play.

Imagining such ridiculous expressions, the Demon King couldn’t help but burst into laughter. His laughter, unexpected in the silence, resonated louder than anticipated. He could see the actors freeze, fingertips trembling, restless legs.

Ah… really. This was too amusing.

Laughing so hard it felt like the Demon King’s heart might burst out. His straight gait crooked involuntarily. He felt a sharp pain as the core felt like it was rupturing, but he couldn’t stop laughing.

How much time had passed?

The resounding drumming sound, which had momentarily ceased, began reverberating again, encouraging the actor to continue. In response, the actor regained their composure and continued with the play.

“Hahahaha! Huh?”

The Demon King’s laughter abruptly ceased, and his expression hardened. He pressed his fingers against his lips and rose from his seat. Determined to bring forth a more intense and profound performance in reality rather than trivial ones, he became angered by the interference ruining his play.

“You killed them.”

Gion, having unsheathed his sword, looked squarely at the Demon King. The Demon King looked around. Everyone wore stunned expressions at Gion’s words. Like the two actors who ruined the play and wasted time, his performance was worse.

In this situation, facing a climax, faces were frozen in stupidity. And amidst that, only Gion calmly looked at the Demon King.

The Demon King’s face hardened instantly, and a massive shadow engulfed the hall.

There was a sound never heard before. It seemed as if all the world’s crevices were opening, and the very air was torn apart. The Demon King stood still, arms crossed, lost in thought. The sound reached a crescendo and felt like the eardrums would burst when the Demon King said, “I suppose I should just kill you, too.”

But there was no weight in the Demon King’s words. The Demon King's words carried no weight, as if a spectator was leaving their seat out of boredom with the play.

At that moment: “Stop this.” Rohwa, with her bright red eyes, looked intently at the Demon King. “It’s not the right time. Don’t let a moment’s emotion ruin everything.”

Silence fell over the hall instantly. Like an audience confused by a halted play, the Chimes looked around, trying to gauge the situation.

In the meantime, there was Gion, who sat calmly on the porch, observing them.

The Demon King slowly looked around and then fixed his gaze on Rohwa. Like someone incessantly gawking, he wanted to see the true face behind the actor’s mask. He let out a small laugh and smirked. “Yes. You’re right, Rohwa. My interest has waned, so let’s end it here for today.”

At the Demon King’s gesture, the Chimes immediately followed him to leave.

The Demon King, who had turned away, suddenly stopped. “Rohwa?”

She contorted her face at the sound of her name.

He didn’t regret watching that play that day. But there was one thing he regretted: not having seen behind the masks of those two actors.

“Why did you kill Sihwan?” Rohwa asked.

The Demon King chuckled and shrugged.

Rohwa quickly hardened her expression and said, “Because he sided with Gion?”

Gion shifted his gaze to Rohwa, but Rohwa didn’t look back at him. She just stood her ground, gazing at the Demon King.

“He was a traitor, so I disposed of him,” the Demon King said.

A tension-filled silence lingered briefly. The Demon King glanced at Gion. But Gion, without moving, said, “You tell an interesting story.”

The Demon King barely suppressed laughter. He said, “Sihwan went to meet you that day, and Gayang saw it. You knew that, right?”

Rohwa furrowed her brow slightly. With her hands behind her back, she lifted her chin in haughtiness, retorting, “So what?”

The Demon King moved his feet lightly as if excited. “So what? Let’s leave it at that for now.”

A bright white light blocked the Chimes who were following the Demon King.

“The game may have been disrupted, but let’s finish what we started.”

Gion rose from his seat and approached the Chimes. He had no intention of wasting time confronting the Chimes. Why invest anything in such beings? The most efficient way to eliminate the Chimes was simpler than one might think.

“Since it’s bothersome for us to find each other, let’s meet here again in a week.”

“Huh?”

“A week should give you enough time to prepare, shouldn’t it?” Gion spoke calmly as if he was setting a lunch date.

At Gion’s words, the Fourth Chime burst into laughter. “You must be insane. Do you think we will make an appointment with you?”

The Second Chime emitted dark energy, looked at the Fourth Chime with a gentle smile, and said, “You should listen to what people say until the end.”

The Fourth Chime shivered and hesitated to step back. The Second Chime then spread his wings and landed softly before Gion. He said, “Just because you survived today, there’s no guarantee you’ll be alive a week from now.”

The Second Chime’s expression remained eerily fixed. Gion, however, said to him, “It doesn’t matter. After all, you want to kill me, right? We do not need to waste time searching for each other.” Gion’s gaze wasn’t on the Second Chime in front of him, but then he looked at the Demon King and Rohwa, standing at a distance in Seosan.

The Demon King seemed amused by the situation, while Rohwa as if seething with anger, bit her lip and clenched her fist.

“We’ll meet here in a week then.”

Gion turned his back on them and walked away.

***

“How did you come here?” said a boy armed with an axe on guard.

Gion quietly observed the boy. It was natural for the boy to react this way. Gion had found his way to the forge hidden by the energy of the Ji’s clan.

Standing in a nearly collapsing forge, the boy thrust his axe forward without blinking or stepping back.

Gion sat down as if returning to his childhood home, comfortably settling in. “Is Zhouwen alive?”

The boy blinked but did not lower his axe as he spoke. “Well… I’m the owner now, but he is still alive… But how do you know my father?”

“I want you to pass a message to him,” Gion said, quietly looking into the flames burning in the forge. “Tell him Gion came looking for him.”

***

“Gion!”

Zhouwen hurried over, his face flushed from alcohol, staggering on his short legs with a sense of urgency. “It’s been a long time.”

As Gion smiled faintly, Zhouwen’s lips trembled, and tears welled in his eyes. This was an emotional moment.

The Ji clan. Despite their small stature, this tiny clan was renowned for their incredible bravery. Though not strong enough to participate in battles as soldiers, the Ji clan was prominent as blacksmiths. The swords wielded by the warriors of White Dragon Castle were all crafted by them. All acknowledged their skill in their craft.

Gion, too, had gone into battles armed with weapons and shields made by Zhouwen, always returning victorious.

Lost in memories, Zhouwen gazed at Gion, speaking somberly to him before abruptly rubbing his eyes. He said, “Seeing you in that state, you must have some business.”

Gion nodded, and Zhouwen, swallowing whatever more he wanted to say, sat down.

“If these weapons can be ready in three days, that would be great.”

Zhouwen took the paper Gion handed him and widened his eyes in shock. “Why would you need something like this? You already possess the Chunhwa sword. You never requested this much, even for your campaigns.”

Gion remained silent, just waiting for an answer. Zhouwen exhaled softly. “Though it’s possible I can fulfill your requirement.”

Zhouwen knew Gion well. Gion didn’t answer Zhouwen’s question because he didn’t want him to worry unnecessarily. Swallowing numerous questions, Zhouwen continued. “Fine. Come back in three days. I’ll have everything ready by then.”

“Thank you.” Gion patted Zhouwen’s shoulder with his rough hand and stood up. “See you in three days.”

Zhouwen stayed in his spot even after Gion had left. His mind wandered as he lost himself in thoughts.

***

Three days passed in a flash.

Gion picked up an irregular sword, its blade thick and pointy as a dragon’s claw. The Qingchun sword, also known as the Predator Sword, had a large blade and was notoriously challenging for blacksmiths to fashion because of the amount of metal used. Making it light would make the blade too thin, but making it heavy would require too much strength to wield.

But Zhouwen wasn’t the chief of the Ji clan for nothing, so he got to work.

The final product felt light as air. Despite the heavy force of the weapon slicing the air, it didn’t strain the shoulder. When it swung, the silence of the sword suggested its perfect fit for lightning-fast combat. Gion’s strike effortlessly cut through a tree branch, causing a bone-chilling sound reverberating through the mountains.

And that wasn’t all.

Gion picked up a mace. The mace heads were the size of human heads on both ends connected by chains. The heads, studded with large spikes, could easily crush skulls or bones.

The earth crumbled when swung, forming a pit on the ground. The mace’s intuitive usage and remarkable destructive power were truly impressive. Gion tightened his grip and then loosened his hand, marveling at the craftsmanship.

Nice. Classic Zhouwen. Only the best.

Its handle and chain absorbed both the recoil and impact effortlessly. Usually, swinging such a heavy mace would cause the body to stagger, but Gion didn’t feel anything.

Gion set the mace down and checked the remaining weapons.

Ah, the Huaguang bow: it shot flames like arrows. And the Yongge spear that became sturdier with each strike it absorbed…

Gion held, swung, lifted, and threw more than ten different weapons.

Zhouwen watched the scene, feeling a chill down his spine. He had welcomed Gion in a drunken state, but now the heat from the alcohol had dissipated entirely. Someone’s in for a tough time.

Being the maker of the weapons, Zhouwen understood something profound: the intent of the person wielding the weapons. Just by observing the stance and attack, one can discern whether the weapon was meant to subdue someone, protect oneself, or swiftly end a life.

Unequivocally…

Those who faced Gion’s attack would not meet a peaceful end. Even merely inspecting the weapons, the chill Zhouwen felt a hundred years ago in Biryu was revived. The sensation made his body shudder. Yet, Zhouwen’s fear lay elsewhere. The fear that Gion, who had returned alive after a hundred years, might perish once more…

The weapons Gion examined had no defensive purpose.

It was clearly a life-or-death struggle. Desperate, dire, and brutal, such would be the nature of this battle. The level of preparation alone was telling. In such a battle, there could never be a favorable ending. Nobody won.

Death leaves remnants. Even if the deceased were gone, those who remembered them remain. Those left behind would remember the dead, and in those memories, Gion, the cause of those deaths, persisted. Even if Gion survived the battle, those who remember the fallen harbored resentment towards him.

When that happened, the future became more perilous.

Just like a hundred years ago, being a general who always heralded victory meant being killed the most and consequently garnered the most resentment.

After returning from the war, Gion continued to sleep with his sword, just like he did at the frontline. Enemies constantly threatened him, and his life was always at risk.

Gion said, “There’s still much to do.” This meant he simply could not afford to die.

Zhouwen gave a bitter smile. That meant, of course, Gion wouldn’t stop.

“I have some aged liquor that’s been sitting for a while. It’s already been a hundred years since I brewed it.”

Zhouwen stood up, beginning to tidy up so that Gion could comfortably gather his weapons.

“Come back and have a drink. It’s too lonely to drink that delicious liquor alone.”

Gion nodded silently without saying a word.

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