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For the Downfall of My Beloved

4

Chapter 4

1

Through blurry vision, Gion recognized her unmistakable silhouette—it was Rohwa. He furrowed his brow, straining to focus as her figure slowly sharpened into view. Finally, clarity came, but the Rohwa he yearned for was not the same Rohwa he once knew.

…It’s a dream.

The blue shimmer in Rohwa’s eyes had turned red, like the day when blood was abundant.

Rohwa must be holding a grudge against him. It was natural for her to resent him after such cruelty. That’s why, even in a dream, she appeared this way.

…Is this how Rohwa felt that day?

Rohwa started to understand why Gion had mistaken her for a dream on the day he killed the king. How much did he miss her to dream such a dream? Gion closed his eyes again.

“Gion. This is not a dream.”

Gion shuddered as he heard the weariness in her voice, its lack of vitality chilling him to the core. The smile that faintly graced Rohwa’s lips bore no resemblance to the one he remembered in the moments before his death. It was a smile tinged with an unsettling blend of madness and despair far beyond mere bitterness.

Even though this Rohwa seemed a stranger, Gion yearned to see more of her. This vision felt more real than any scene he had witnessed after death. It was so convincingly Rohwa.

But could it be true that he had been lying there for a hundred years? Gion’s muscles had weakened so much that it was hard even to hold up his head as if he were a newborn baby. He propped himself up on his hands, feeling a damp sensation on his palms.

…What is this?

Gion had been lying in a white coffin covered entirely with white flowers. Gion pressed down the flowers with his hand, crushing them and causing their essence to ooze.

The sensation was vivid, striking enough to raise the fine hairs on his arms.

“… Rohwa?”

Does being resurrected from death even make sense? This must be an illusion, just like the memories of his father he had seen.

However, Rohwa slowly descended the stairs as if to prove she was alive.

“Gion—”

Rohwa’s typically tidy braids now cascaded loosely, stretching down to her waist, while her feet remained bare; she had seemingly abandoned her shoes somewhere along the way. And the fine silk clothes were ill-fitting, with excess fabric hanging loosely around her frame.

Eventually, Rohwa reached Gion. She looked straight at him and said, “You know this isn’t a dream.”

Gion felt his heart sink. With that one sentence from Rohwa, reality engulfed him like a tidal wave.

“How is this possible… I definitely died. It took a hundred years…”

Rohwa knelt before Gion, keeping her head bowed. “Yes, a hundred years…” she murmured.

“Yes, I’ve been alone for a hundred years in the place you put me…”

Rohwa lifted her head to look at Gion. Her calm red eyes mirrored the eerie stillness before a tempest, a stark juxtaposition to Gion’s visibly trembling gaze.

She said, “You wouldn’t know, would you? How I spent all that time.”

Then Gion saw Rohwa’s exposed shoulder and couldn’t help but turn pale. There, on Rohwa’s once pristine skin, was a horrifying scar.

Gion had always guarded Rohwa closely, fearing she might fall or get hurt.

There were scars from being attacked by a demon. They were indescribable to Gion who always feared her safety.

But that was not all. Her hands, once gentle when stroking Gion’s hair, now bore scars from blade cuts. Callouses had formed from wielding a sword too frequently, and her feet, left bare, displayed old, unhealed wounds. Despite this, her hands and feet were comparatively better off. The brutal scars that occasionally peeked through were so extensive it was difficult to discern where they began and ended. These injuries bore the mark of the demons of the Snow Valley.

Gion felt as if all the blood in his body had turned cold. It was a sensation only the living could feel. How could he deny it any longer? Such pain couldn’t belong to the dead.

Gion was alive.

“You said a hundred years have passed.”

Why such scars? What exactly happened over these hundred years? There was so much to ask. But he swallowed the questions that came to his lips.

“What happened to the White Flower Kingdom?”

He knew. He somehow knew that Rohwa would bear such scars.

Gion killed the royal family, sacrificing their lives and his own to trigger the manifestation of the White Qi in Rohwa. No, even when he resolved to do so, he knew. Yet, this was the only way to save both Rohwa and White Flower Kingdom.

The White Dragon’s White Qi absorbs the black Qi of demons. This meant a single ray of light cleared the darkness. If Rohwa possessed the White Qi, she would not die at the hands of demons. Gion risked his life for the glory of the White Flower Kingdom and the safety of Rohwa, who would enjoy that glory. But even so, he had no right to worry about Rohwa.

Just when he hoped she would say something, Rohwa gave a faint smile and spoke. “I knew you would say that. Are you so curious about what happened?”

A brief silence fell between them.

Rohwa said, “Which day of the hundred years should I talk about?”

Those hundred years. A period of time Gion couldn’t even begin to fathom, characterized by enough misery to visibly alter Rohwa.

With a lifeless face showing no vitality, Rohwa sifted through her memories before continuing.

“Should I talk about the day the lone surviving princess of the White Flower Kingdom walked into the Snow Valley with her own feet? Or the day when the demons finally invaded the White Flower Kingdom? Or should I talk about the day resentful citizens stoned me? Or maybe, the day you died and I was left alone in the White Flower Kingdom without a loved one?”

Each memory carried its own weight, burdening Rohwa with grief and sorrow. She cast these fragments of her desolate days at Gion, to which he had no words to say.

“You made me this way, Gion.”

Gion didn’t even know what expression he was making. But Rohwa, as if understanding the meaning of his face, spoke. “Now, do you now understand what you’ve done?”

Gion said, “Even if I could go back, I would make the same choice.”

Death. There is nothing more painful than that. Gion had witnessed countless deaths before his eyes. The death of a young soldier calling out his mother’s name. The death of a father who couldn’t even close his eyes, clutching a photo of his child. The death of a soldier who, despite being prepared, shed tears just before. He had seen them countless times.

No matter what kind of life one leads, no matter how much life is like hell, it is better than death.

It didn’t matter if he was cursed for meddling with her life and death. It didn’t matter if he was resented by Rohwa. He was prepared for such criticism. He couldn’t let Rohwa die.

Rohwa seemed to have read Gion’s thoughts. He said, “Do I look alive to you?”

At a loss for words, Gion struggled to articulate the weight of his emotions. Just as Rohwa had described, she didn’t resemble the living—she was closer to resembling the dead. Like his fallen comrades on the battlefield, their eyes unable to close, brimming with bitterness.

That day, he marched towards White Dragon Castle with the intent to obliterate the royal family.

Gion bit his lip so hard that it bled.

Rohwa stared at him and then smiled with madness. “Yes. If the general of the homeland does not think of the glory of White Flower Kingdom, it would be wrong.”

She had been anticipating this moment, poised to express what she had to say.

“Having lived for a hundred years, I see now. I understand why you did what you did during the five years of war and the year in the Snow Valley. Are you so curious about where the White Qi is?”

At that moment, a cool breeze swept through the inside of White Hall. A sound that was like a scream or a cry echoed in Gion’s ears.

Energy began to swirl around Rohwa.

“I don’t have it.”

A black light flickered and enveloped Rohwa.

She referred to the light of death. The white flower that Gion held in both hands turned black and crumbled.

From Rohwa, radiant with brilliant light, Gion could feel the Black Qi of the demon he so hated.

Before Gion could say anything, Rohwa said, “For the glory of White Flower Kingdom, someone needed to hold the White Qi, right?”

Rohwa pointed at Gion’s hand. “That’s why I gave it to you.”

“What?”

That can’t be. The White Qi only manifests in the prince. There has never been an exception since the founding of White Flower Kingdom.

Gion clenched his fists tightly. “What are you talking about-”

At that moment, the crumbled white flower in Gion’s hand bloomed white. He stared at his hands as if mesmerized. The white flag that should have been with Rohwa was swirling in his hands.

As if trying to vomit out the revulsion, he retched. His mind was in turmoil, his ears ringing.

Why is this happening? Why is the White Qi with me instead of Rohwa?

The White Qi was meant to protect her and the people. But why was it in Gion’s hands?

But as he covered his mouth with the hands where the white flag was swirling, he felt it more clearly.

The White Qi of the White Dragon, a power existing to annihilate demons, unlike the black qi that carries death, holds the power of ‘life.’

Rohwa stroked Gion’s hair. “This is the best gift I could give you.” “I wished you would feel exactly what I felt. I spent a hundred years.”

Then, looking into Gion’s eyes, she said, infusing each word with the same resentment that Gion had harbored. “Your irresponsibility has led to the downfall of White Flower Kingdom.”

She spoke as cold as frost and sharper than any blade.

“That can’t be…” Gion said.

But even as he spoke, the scenery of White Hall spellbound Gion’s gaze.

And he was left frozen.

Right before his death, the White Flower Path that Gion had walked on was in full bloom with white flowers. It was the path of white itself, the one that Rohwa loved the most. But now, the White Flower Path was not just empty. It resembled a desolate wasteland. The mark that was made when Gion dragged the queen to White Hall. Only the black line that split the center of the White Flower Path remained.

The desolation of the White Flower Path in White Dragon Castle meant that the situation outside, where the people lived, was not any better, if not worse.

That was White Flower Kingdom, which Gion had protected for a lifetime.

Could it be that White Flower Kingdom has been without a White Qi for a hundred years?

“Rohwa!”

A coffin appeared. This meant that there was not a single protector of White Flower Kingdom.

On the borders infested with demons, no one protected the people. This made Gion’s blood boil.

He grabbed Rohwa’s shoulders. “Tell me why this happened.”

It was White Flower Kingdom, protected by the blood of countless people. And to hear it had fallen in a hundred years.

What about their deaths? How could the souls who nobly sacrificed their lives watch this from the afterlife?

Gion’s grip tightened on her. But Rohwa did not blink. She just smiled as if she enjoyed it.

“You didn’t even realize that I have the Black Qi. Perhaps your skills have dulled over a hundred years, not realizing the White Qi circulating in your body. I wonder if you can even walk with that body.”

Silence hung heavy between them.

“Your White Qi is merely a speck. On the other hand, how did you see my Black Qi?”

Rohwa’s Black Qi was stronger than any demon Gion had seen in Snow Valley. She had more Black Qi than even the Demon King himself.

“You can’t kill me now.”

But Gion wrapped his other hand around Rohwa’s shoulder, too. But there was no sorrow in Rohwa’s expression. Instead, it was a look of relief.

Gion gritted his teeth. With an unknown strength fueled by rage, Gion overturned the coffin. Whether it was because his muscles were worn out or just that making his arms and legs tremble, he found himself with the strength.

“I will see it with my own eyes.”

Rohwa quietly looked at the scattered white flowers and said, “Do that then.”

Gion took slow, staggering steps, one at a time.

Following the black line that was drawn when he entered White Dragon Castle, Gion headed out of the fortress. Rohwa watched him.

“Rohwa!”

A man’s voice came from behind Rohwa.

Behind the throne, the dark shadows flickered.

Rohwa’s tone, different from when she was talking with Gion, became dry. “I asked you not to call me that. Do you think you are in a position to make requests from me?”

The man revealed himself. He had the same red eyes as Rohwa. He said, “Once a princess, always a princess.”

He brushed back his black hair and stood beside Rohwa.

“Is it alright to let him go? It did not take a hundred years.”

“It’s okay.”

Rohwa kept her gaze fixed on Gion.

“He will soon return.”

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