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For the Downfall of My Beloved

5

Chapter 5

1

Gion, mustering the last reserves of his strength, staggered out of White Dragon Castle. His limbs trembled with weakness, barely supporting his weight as he struggled to move forward.

He had to see with his own eyes that Rohwa’s words were not true.

White Flower Kingdom, true to its name, was always a kingdom where white flowers blossomed in abundance.

The royal family, revered as descendants of the White Dragon, resided within the White Dragon Castle, the heart of the White Flower Kingdom’s defenses. In this realm, perpetual springtime graced the land, a gift attributed to the benevolence of the White Dragon. The populace honored this majestic creature, attributing to it the uninterrupted joy of eternal spring and the tranquility of their everyday lives. Such was the essence of the White Flower Kingdom.

A celestial paradise so cherished by the heavens that not a single raindrop or snowflake dared to disturb its serenity.

Gion’s gaze swept over the capital, absorbing its familiar sights. The White Flower Kingdom remained ensconced in perpetual spring, unchanged from a century past when he last beheld it. Sunlight bathed the shimmering stone pathways and sturdy homes, standing steadfast against time. Mundang, the educational institution where children once studied, was nestled amidst lush back mountains, its essence preserved with unwavering fidelity. Yet, as Gion surveyed each scene, a chill gripped his heart, signaling an unsettling truth lurking beneath the surface.

Why isn’t anyone around?

It was peculiar. So peculiar that the overwhelming tranquility felt unsettling. No, could this even be labeled as tranquility? The usual laughter of children at play, the bustling market sounds, the rhythmic footsteps of passersby basking in the sunlight—all were absent. The streets of the capital stood deserted, with only Gion’s solitary figure breaking the silence. In the fields, farmers should had been toiling over their harvests. In nearby Mundang, the joyous laughter of young scholars should have filled the air. Across the street, the market should have been alive with the vibrant energy of its patrons. Yet, no one was found in any of these places. Instead, entities that defied existence now roamed the vacant streets, their presence a chilling anomaly amidst the eerie stillness.

Gion took a step towards them. His footsteps echoed across the desolate, silent field, the dry sand beneath his feet feeling unbearably abrasive. Though his leg muscles had all but atrophied, an involuntary surge of strength coursed through them. Gion struggled to drag his burning legs forward, yet amidst the physical torment, an icy chill crept over his insides, enveloping him in a freezing embrace.

“Huh? What’s that?”

The beings, their elongated shadows stretching across the brilliant sunlight, shifted their attention towards Gion. Meeting their gaze head-on, Gion spoke to himself in a hushed tone. “Why are these demons here?”

It almost sounded like a genuinely curious inquiry, delivered in a tone devoid of intonation changes, utterly emotionless. It resembled the curious gaze of children pondering an unsolved problem at Mundang, a look of innocent curiosity. A Juvenile Demon, with its disproportionately large head and diminutive body, blinked its fist-sized eyes at Gion.

“Wow…”

It was but a fleeting moment. Curiosity momentarily flickered in the Juvenile Demon’s eyes, swiftly transforming into a bubbling anticipation and excitement.

“Is that a human?”

The Juvenile Demon chattered and hopped around excitedly, but without a word, Gion continued forward with a heavy gait, each step weighed down by an unseen burden.

The huge head quickly turned to Gion. “Play with me. It’s so boring during the day.”

While one Juvenile Demon spoke, another beside it chuckled and echoed its words mockingly. “No, me first, me first,” it chimed in eagerly.

The Juvenile Demon swung its massive fist, each blow powerful enough to knock down a grown man. But.

“…Huh?”

“Since when have you creatures been here?” Gion stood unwavering. He held the Juvenile Demon’s fist in his hand, having withstood its assault. “Have you been lurking here for a hundred years?”

Before he knew it, Gion was holding a small dagger. The white jade bead of the trinket Rohwa favored shimmered in the sunlight. The dagger, once capable of shearing Rohwa’s hair with ease, now bore signs of rust, its edge dulled.

“…What?”

The diminutive dagger, appearing more ornate than utilitarian, boasted intricate engravings captivating enough to divert attention from its blunted blade.

Unfazed by fear yet not entirely prepared, the Juvenile Demon scratched its head and sighed.

“This is boring.”

The Juvenile Demon’s body began emanating dark energy—pitch black. An absolute darkness that couldn’t be denied. The darkness slipped through the falling white snow, making comrades spill their blood.

Dark energy was now swirling around the city. Just as the dark energy attempted to entangle Gion, the rusted dagger was plunged into the Juvenile Demon’s throat.

The Juvenile Demon, its neck bone crushed by the force of the dagger, immediately fell to its knees. It wore garments resembling those of the townsfolk, and its straw shoes were woven to fit its diminutive form.

Silently, Gion reached out and ensnared the Juvenile Demon’s ankle, slicing it off.

“This lowly human…!” Another Juvenile Demon grumbled, charging at Gion.

Gion thrust his fist into the Juvenile Demon’s eye.

“Ahahhh…!” it cried out.

The Juvenile Demon began to roll around, feeling the agony of its eyeball being gouged.

With the dagger still firmly lodged in the Juvenile Demon’s throat, Gion seized hold of it and continued his stride.

A dark crimson trail stretched across the desolate field.

Unable to say anything with blood pouring from its mouth, Gion dragged the Juvenile Demon by with an unyielding grasp.

Standing before the villagers’ homes, Gion directed his gaze down at the demon. The creature’s eyes flickered nervously at the abrupt change in tone.

“Confess your sins,” he said to the beast.

“What?” it said hoarsely.

Gion stepped on the severed end of the demon’s ankle and said, “Beg for forgiveness.”

“Argh!”

“Your friends are too terrified to come out, aren’t they?” Gion slowly raised his head, looking at the warm sunlight streaming down from the sky. “What a pity that on such a beautiful day, no one comes out…”

“What did I do wrong? I was just bored!” the creature cried out.

Gion applied more pressure to the end of the ankle with his boot. “Didn’t I tell you to confess your sins?”

“Argh!!”

“No sins, you say?”

The demon’s remaining ankle rolled on the ground, and the dagger sliced its sturdy ribs cleanly, like tender meat.

“The sin of you creatures daring to claim this place.” Gion spat.

He cut across the demon’s eye with his blade. “That’s your sin.”

The demon trembled, quivering its lips. “Y-yes. I-I’m sorry! It’s my f-f-fault…”

“That’s right,” Gion said, severing the demon’s head with the blade.

“Still, they won’t come out…” he grumbled to himself.

Gion, his muscles quivering from exhaustion, approached another demon. He seized its neck, positioning himself in front of the villagers’ homes. “Beg for forgiveness. Only then might your friends come out, right?”

The demon shivered, its cries echoing to the other demons, all stupefied by the slaughter.

“Kill him! He’s just a skinny guy with a dagger!” a demon yelled.

Finally, one of the demons charged at Gion, but it was futile. While slicing and stabbing them with the dagger, Gion diverted his attention. He focused solely on the demon beneath him.

“Apologize properly.”

At that moment, Gion was poised to draw the dagger.

“Stop it!” A vigorous young voice reverberated. He emerged from one of the houses. “It’s because of you that everyone is too terrified to come out.”

Having spilled much blood, Gion dropped the dying demon and slowly approached the child.  “Just tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“What must be done for you and others like you to come out to the city and live peacefully again?”

Gion’s expression was one where no muscle other than his lips moved. His eyes were without a ripple of emotion. “Say anything. Shall I clear these creatures from the city’s streets? Or hang their corpses at the city gate?”

The child gasped at Gion’s seemingly indifferent demeanor.

“Or if not that, I could slaughter them all.”

“N-no, we don’t need any of that.” The child stuttered but firmly finished his sentence. “We just want to live here peacefully and safely. That’s all.”

Gion was so close to the child he could see his reflection in his shaking eyes. Covered in dark red blood, gripping the dagger tightly, he resembled nothing short of a murderer.

Slowly, Gion surveyed his surroundings. The city ground was strewn with corpses, and droplets of blood fell from his blade. The stone paths, once bustling with people, were now scattered with the remains of the Juvenile Demons. Gion attempted to wipe the blood from his face, but his sleeve was saturated, only smearing more blood across his skin.

Can this be called peace? No, it cannot.

At this moment, Gion was no different from the demons who had broken the peace. He had committed another indelible sin.

The child’s eyes were filled with terror. Gion had made the child this way. Without approaching him, Gion bowed his body. “I’m sorry.”

***

“What are you planning to do?” the child screamed. He urgently chased after Gion, heading towards the city gate.

“Get out of the way quickly! You’ll die if you stay!” Standing at the city gate, Gion looked back at the child following him. “I can’t guarantee that the people of the city can live peacefully from this moment on.”

At that moment.

“It’s him!”

Outside the city, a multitude of demons were congregating, their numbers swelling as they rapidly closed in.

Gion immediately hid the child behind his back. “I’ll certainly restore the glory of White Flower Kingdom, but to do that, I can’t avoid a bloody battle.”

It was impossible to see the end of the countless demons approaching.

Gion stepped out beyond the city gate. “But such a bloody battle would disrupt the people’s peace. So, I’m still committing a sin.”

The demons in the front row fell to Gion’s sword strikes.

The child huddled up but not sitting down, asked. “What are you talking about?”

Without looking back, Gion stabbed the demon rushing towards the child.

“I’ll make a promise.”

“What promise…”

“Demons will never enter this city again.”

Before there was even time to be surprised by Gion’s words, demon blood was splattered. Gion used his robe to shield the child from the blood.

“From this moment, demons will never set foot here. Because if they do, I’ll stake everything to chase them down and cut off their breath.”

It was a sound never heard before. It was like ripples dancing across a pond or the gentle breeze carrying the fragrance of flowers.

The child looked at Gion. Like a mighty tree standing tall after being struck by lightning, there was not the slightest tremble in Gion.

“What is this…”

Brilliant white light was undulating around Gion. The energy seemed to respond to his will, sharpening its edge.

“From this point forward, this area is a restricted area for monsters.”

Too fast for the eyes to follow, Gion swung the white energy with his blade as soon as he finished speaking.

A long red line, infused with light, was drawn between Gion and the demons.

“For a thousand years, you shall never cross this line.”

Caught off guard by Gion’s swift action, the demons, who had not positioned themselves at the forefront to protect themselves, now found themselves trapped, unable to advance or retreat. Frustration twisted their faces as they realized their predicament.

“If anyone is curious about what happens if they cross, come on over.”

Gion stood on the long-drawn line. It appeared to be a precarious tightrope walk, yet even in the face of impending dark energy, Gion did not flinch.

“I will show you the consequences if you choose to cross the line.”

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