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For the Downfall of My Beloved

3

Chapter 3

1

The ability to read someone’s heart just by looking into their eyes was both a blessing and a curse.

Rohwa’s eyes openly conveyed her inner tumult—confusion, yearning, and profound distress. If only her gaze had been less revealing and less candid when it rested upon Gion. Perhaps the pain of looking into those depths would have been more bearable.

Gion saw in her the child of the enemy who killed his family, the last descendant of the royal family he vowed to destroy. Yet, when Rohwa looked at him with such eyes, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Gion felt an inexplicable disgust at this sensation.

Gion’s body shielded the king’s lifeless form, yet the stark pool of blood on the floor lay bare the gruesome truth.

“Gion? What is this…”

He knew that Rohwa, with her delicate constitution, was ill-equipped to confront such stark brutality.

She wasn’t resilient but fragile, often breaking easily. And Gion’s prediction was right. Rohwa, with trembling lips, forced a smile and slowly approached Gion.

“I must have missed you too much. To the extent of dreaming such a dream. Right?”

“…Rohwa.”

It was a single call. Rohwa shivered at the sorrow in her name but didn’t stop. Despite her faltering steps, she approached Gion with desperate determination.

“Why is my body reacting like this? You never visit my dreams, and now this…”

Rohwa’s hand reached for Gion’s head. Only then did Gion feel the cold of his long, frozen hair. Chills ran down his spine as his hair brushed against his back. It was a painful, cutting sensation. If her delicate bare skin touched it, it would surely freeze instantly.

“Don’t come any closer.”

Gion stepped back from Rohwa. The sound of splashing echoed as the warm blood soaked his feet. The sensation made his body stiffen. It felt like the spirits of countless people were grabbing his ankles, pulling him down. If only, as Rohwa said, this was a dream.

To pretend it was a dream and ask Rohwa to brush his hair back, using her fragility as a shield. But every sense was vivid. The screams of his comrades and the demons reveling in them. It couldn’t possibly be a dream.

“You know this isn’t a dream,” Gion said.

Rohwa, stunned by Gion’s cold tone, looked around. Her beheaded mother, her father consumed by demons, the blood-stained path, and Gion’s icy gaze.

Rohwa’s face, always glowing with a rosy hue, turned pale. “Gion. Do you realize what you’ve done?”

“…Yes.”

Rohwa slowly approached the king, who had a black sword embedded inside of him. But Gion firmly stood his ground, preventing her from getting closer. The already demon-possessed, blackened body showed no movement.

Just another host-seeking shadow flickering.

She cried out to her father, “Don’t die! If you die…!”

As the sinister mix of the king’s blood and the demonic shadow nearly grazed Rohwa’s feet, Gion’s face contorted with disgust. He swiftly embraced her, willing to endure her rebukes indefinitely but unable to stomach the loathsome demon so much as touching her, even if it meant overstepping boundaries with the princess. Even if it resulted in his execution. Gion’s tight grip on Rohwa prompted her to scream.

“Let go of me!”

She continuously struck Gion’s shoulders with her fists, her gaze on the king unbroken. A crushing pain surged through his haphazardly aligned shoulder bones. But Gion did not let her go. His hair, tied back but disheveled, brushed against Rohwa as little as possible while he pulled her with him. They walked towards the royal throne.

Gion seated Rohwa on the throne. “This is now your place.”

“What?”

The throne, made of white jade and adorned with precious gems, cushions, and backrests of fine silk, seemed too much for the now frail Rohwa. She looked gaunt, dressed in simple clothes, a stark contrast to her former regal appearance. This was the seat once occupied by Rohwa’s father. Her already pale complexion turned ghostly white as she realized where she was sitting.

“How dare you sit me here. By what right…!”

“I like you here.”

“Do you even understand what it means to have killed my parents? Even if I tried to defend you. You’re a dead man now! Are you planning to flee from White Flower Kingdom?”

“…Rohwa.”

“You may have seen them as corrupt royalty, but they were my parents! No matter who they were, they were my parents, Gion!”

Rohwa began to struggle from Gion’s grip, trying to rise from her seat. Gion firmly grasped the armrests of the throne, leaning forward while keeping her down. Rohwa hesitated for a moment as their faces drew close. Gion stared quietly at her.

“Princess,” he said, almost chanting the word.

Rohwa was smart but didn’t understand the situation as well as Gion, who had traversed the Snow Valley.

The king only used the White Qi to extend his own life, enjoying prolonged wealth and honor, never teaching Rohwa how to inherit it. However, the White Flag began to fade, and the demons of Snow Valley, realizing this, hoped for the blood of the royal heir and a chance to escape the valley.

The problem was that all this would result from Rohwa’s death, and Gion was the only one aware of this. The only way for Rohwa and White Flower Kingdom to survive was for her to inherit the White Qi, a secret Gion discovered in the Snow Valley.

First, the White Qi could only be inherited if the current holder died or renounced it.

Second, at will, it could choose a new holder who is strong enough.

The first condition was met, but the second depended on Rohwa. To become strong, she needed to rise above her wounds, fiercer and more intense, like forging iron.

The one who could inflict the greatest wound on Rohwa was none other than Gion. They had both crossed a point of no return, and Gion was acutely aware of this.

If it meant becoming the target of Rohwa’s hatred, he was willing to accept it. If being despised by Gion strengthened her resolve, then he would willingly bear that burden.

Gion took a deep breath and tried to steady his trembling voice. “Listen carefully to what I say.”

He prayed Rohwa wouldn’t unravel his true emotions this time. Gion found himself haunted by the beauty of her eyes; they seemed to pierce through him despite his vastly changed self. Somehow, he yearned for the abyss that had consumed him for the past six years to come to his rescue, to engulf the icy blue gaze of the princess.

Gion said, “Don’t act like a child.”

He deliberately chose words that would hurt Rohwa the most, the cruel words he had spat out before going to battle. Each word was meant to be as cold as frost, freezing in her heart, never melting, leaving a permanent mark. Like a callous on sensitive skin, he hoped his words would strengthen her in moments of weakness. Rohwa’s expression started to contort.

“Your father lived off the blood of White Flower Kingdom’s people. He deserved to die.”

“Gion!”

“Now you are the king of White Flower Kingdom. No one will indulge your whims.”

“How dare you!”

Rohwa, in a fit of rage, drew the dagger from Gion’s waist and held it to his throat. It was the same dagger she had used to threaten him not to leave for battle.

Rohwa bit her lip, holding back tears until it bled. “I will kill you myself…”

Her voice shook with the shock of betrayal. Yet, she pointed the blade she held at Gion under his chin, not at the jugular or any critical area.

There was no king in the White Flower Kingdom. Rohwa, the royal heir, had the sole authority to occupy the throne.

If Rohwa failed to manifest the White Qi, the White Flower Kingdom and Rohwa's life would face true destruction. Gion would have liked to inherit the White Qi and restore White Flower Kingdom’s glory for Rohwa and her people if possible. But that was impossible, as the White Flag only manifested in the royal bloodline.

Rohwa had to manifest the White Qi.

Gion gritted his teeth and grabbed Rohwa’s wrist, holding the knife. “Do it!” He made a cut into himself, but Rohwa pulled it away. But blood spurted onto her face. Gion collapsed onto her lap.

Rohwa was speechless, holding the bloody dagger. Gion gasped for breath. There was no sign of the White Qi manifesting in Rohwa.

It wasn’t enough. She needed to become more desperate, more miserable. Only then would the White Dragon protect her. Only then could he close his eyes in peace.

She needed to see with her own eyes the last person she had was gone. That was the only way she could become stronger.

Or survive.

Gion began to pour heartless words onto Rohwa. “Twelve years ago, that day... I regret ever catching your eye.”

If I could go back to that time, knowing the end, I would still gladly return.

“Returning alive from the Snow Valley and being able to annihilate your family was a blessing bestowed by heaven.”

I am glad to see you like this, even in this way.

“It would be a final regret that the last face I see in this world is yours.”

I wish the last of my life could be a shield for your survival.

“If there is a next life, I never want to encounter you again.”

If I am granted another life, then I wish to be with you longer.

Tears streaming, Rohwa attempted to staunch the flow of blood from Gion’s neck with both hands.

“How can you leave like this? How can I uphold White Flower Kingdom without anyone by my side?”

Her voice, initially pleading, quickly became tainted with hatred and confusion.

“No! Not now! You... Yes, you must witness the downfall of White Flower Kingdom and die in agony. You must suffer and die witnessing the destruction of White Flower Kingdom, which you cherished so much!”

At that moment, a chilling sensation enveloped Rohwa and Gion.

…Ah.

Gion clung to his blurring vision. Clear White Qi fluttered around Rohwa’s form. It was pure white, the essence of the White Qi, enveloping Rohwa gently and emitting a bright light.

There was no other way to describe it but brilliant.

A wave of relief washed over him. He felt as light as if he had thrown off a heavy sandbag he had been carrying on his back.

What happens to White Flower Kingdom now? Will it move forward for the glory of everyone as before? With the protection of the White Dragon, and since Rohwa is the one receiving this protection, it must be different.

Gion quietly closed his eyes as Rohwa intoned, “Oh, it’s beautiful…”

***

Engulfed in impenetrable darkness, Gion felt as if he were submerged in unknown depths. Was this the realm beyond life? If so, could he reunite with his fallen comrades and family? Even the torments of hell seemed a worthy price for such a reunion. With resignation, Gion allowed the darkness to envelop him.

Then, suddenly, he heard a familiar voice.

“Gion.”

A familiar, heart-wrenching voice. Just hearing his name made his heart ache. Gion opened his eyes. “Father?”

But what he saw was the day his father left for battle. A young Gion, not even ten years old, begged his father not to go, fearing he would lose his father.

“Why must Father bear the glory of White Flower Kingdom? There are others who can go in your place. Why must it be you?”

He clung to his father’s hem, crying. And his father’s words still echoed clearly in his mind.

“In the grandeur of White Flower Kingdom, safeguarding our family is paramount. Who questions sacrifice when it is to save a loved one? Our collective efforts are for the people’s welfare and the kingdom’s glory. My role is to ensure the safe return of as many fighters as possible. Gion, when you hold someone dear, you’ll understand.”

“Father, you are right. Not a single word of yours is wrong.”

Unlike father, I’ve faltered in my duties, unable to reunite a single soul with their loved ones, be it family, comrades, our nation’s glory, or a cherished one. I couldn’t shield them. If only I were wiser, stronger. Could I have preserved even one life?

With this fleeting thought, Gion ceased his contemplation.

How dare I entertain such a fantasy?

Gion, a powerless and incompetent general, carried the weight of his failures. He bore the guilt of not rescuing his comrades in the Snow Valley and the shame of barely preserving his own life. The only purpose he found for his existence was attempting to assassinate the king, further tarnishing his legacy with the grievous wounds inflicted upon Rohwa. In the end, death proved to be the only fitting conclusion.

I am no different from the king.

Gion closed his eyes. Memories of Rohwa flashed through his mind.

Rohwa, who always ran to him with a bright smile. Rohwa, who taught him new emotions and feelings. Rohwa, who would tenderly stroke his hair despite her awkward and sharp words. Rohwa who insisted on coming to the training ground on hot days, only to succumb to a heatstroke.

There wasn’t a single moment he could let go of. He missed her terribly.

As the scenes of his life passed by, a warm voice emerged from somewhere.

He had never heard it before, but it was gentle yet solemn...

“In the land spread with the dark qi of demons, the beloved White Dragon of the heavens will descend.”

…What?

Even with his eyes closed, Gion could see light seeping into his body.

Finally, the darkness will clear, and the White Flowers will bloom in full.”

***

“Gasp!”

Gion opened his eyes to a cold sensation.

…What is this?

Surely, Gion had died. He had cut his own throat with Rohwa’s dagger, undoubtedly. The sensation was still vivid, yet Gion was breathing.

Where am I?

Then came a voice, painful even in dreams.

Rohwa, sitting on the throne in White Hall, was looking down at Gion. She uttered solemnly, “It took a hundred years.”

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