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For the Downfall of My Beloved

6

Chapter 6

1

“Is it truly safe to venture out…?” the people inquired, their faces hidden behind closed windows. The people resembled turtles, hesitant to leave the sanctuary of their shells, fearful of the unknown beyond.

A child stepped forward to offer reassurance. “It’s perfectly fine to explore! It’s been five days, and there’s been no sign of danger.”

The child strode onto the castle grounds with conviction, prompting the hesitant crowd to reconsider.

The child was an example to the rest. The young voices copied the sentiment of the brave boy. “Mom, I want to go outside, too.”

The able-bodied adults contemplated to themselves. They questioned, “After five days, perhaps it’s truly safe now?”

So, one by one, the people began unlocking their doors, fortified by newfound confidence.

A woman cautiously took her first step outside. She trembled as if standing on thin ice, but…

Her heart pounded as she ventured further, but her tension eased under the sun. She stopped and stood there, seemingly absorbed in enjoying the moment. It was a profound silence.

How much time had passed?

The woman’s braveness displayed the people’s wish to live their lives unhindered by fear. And, one by one, the people started coming out. They quietly shed tears, mourning the fear of their previous lives.

Regardless of age or gender, everyone slowly surrounded the castle like toddlers taking their first steps. Even those who at first had been too apprehensive to venture out came out and gradually began to wear bright, beaming smiles.

From his vantage point at the castle gate, Gion observed the heartwarming scene unfold: children chased butterflies in the courtyard. Students shed tears in the embrace of a teacher they hadn’t seen in a long time. Women made crowns of flowers and placed them on each other’s heads. A girl and a boy trod barefoot on the grass. Parents reminisced with memories of their children. Elders enjoyed their leisure time, feeling as if they had resolved their long-held grudges.

Gion silently observed the vitality coursing through the castle brought by the multitude of people.

A child approached Gion and asked, “Why are you here alone? You should stand up and join the fun, too.”

Seated cross-legged, Gion shook his head. “I’m alright. Don’t concern yourself with me. Go on and play with the other children.”

The boy looked at Gion, who remained seated upon the fragile thread that gracefully connected the bustling life within the castle to the serene expanse outside, suffused in a soft radiance.

The child sat next to Gion and murmured. “My name is Junghyun.”

A sharp smell momentarily grazed Gion’s nose. He attempted to move away, but Junghyun did not distance himself from Gion. Instead, he took out something wrapped in leaves.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Junghyun asked.

A large rice ball, too big for his tiny hands, appeared. It was so tightly packed that the rice seemed hard. Carefully ensuring his hands didn’t touch the rice, Junghyun offered it to Gion.

“Have you not eaten anything for five days?”

Gion stared off into the distance, seemingly not paying attention.

“There’s water, too,” Junghyun said. “You mustn’t die of thirst, sir.”

A fragment of memory flitted through Gion’s mind. The voice said, “Health comes first. You should eat while training.”

Gion accepted the rice ball and took a bite. Even though the rice grains had become hard and cold, there was a tender warmth within. He smiled and said, “It’s delicious.”

Only after Gion swallowed the rice did Junghyun breathe a sigh of relief and smile. “Lord Gion? May I ask a question?”

Gion put down the rice ball and turned towards Junghyun. “You know me?”

Junghyun asked, “Do you know Doa, the chief of the Black Sand tribe?”

Gion couldn’t possibly know her. But he said, “I do.”

At Gion’s words, Junghyun knelt down. “I thought you might. I debated whether to speak or not, but it seems right to tell you.”

Sitting next to Gion, Junghyun said, “I am her descendant.”

***

“Father, look at this!” Gion said.

Gion’s father organized a family outing at least once every fortnight. None in the family ever voiced opposition, but it gradually evolved into an unspoken tradition that tightly bound the four of them together. Gion spent his entire childhood eagerly anticipating each full moon.

“Alright, what’s on the agenda this time?” Gion’s father asked.

Their secret signal was straightforward: ‘Come, let’s go for a walk.’ Gion’s father had developed a keen sensitivity to his son’s facial expressions.

“Are you still eyeing swords even when we’re out for a leisurely walk in the castle?” his father asked.

“Are you planning to get me one? I aspire to become a great general like you, so naturally, you will, won’t you?”

Asked in jest, the father would stifle his laughter and feign deep contemplation. The brief pause, accompanied by a thoughtful stroke of his chin, was the father’s way of teasing, and Gion recognized it as an expression of love.

“Alright, I’ll get you one.”

Despite his pretense of careful consideration, the father always indulged Gion’s requests.

With a bright smile spreading across his face, the younger sibling would rush forward and embrace their father from behind. “What about me? Father, don’t forget about me!”

As the younger sibling clung to his father, the gentle mother approached at her own pace.

Merchants, enchanted by Gion’s family’s warmth, would offer grateful smiles and often extend discounts or gifts, such as delicate silk garments at reduced prices and treats for Gion and his siblings. Though it was a memory from over a hundred years ago, it remained imprinted in his mind deeper than any scar.

A young child making a flower ring approached a woman and hugged her. “Mother! Look at this! I made it!”

Gion found himself lost in the beauty of his surroundings and the depths of memory while Junghyun stared at him blankly.

“Lord Gion, please stand up.”

“Why all of a sudden?”

“Just stand up once. The ground is uncomfortable to sit on.”

Guided by Junghyun’s hand, Gion rose to his feet. It was his first time stepping into the line.

“Yuna! Come here!” a woman called out to her daughter.

“Father!” a child exclaimed upon spotting his father.

Upon seeing Gion, young children clung to their parents in fear. Those without weapons hastily retreated into their homes.

“Why is everyone…” Junghyun halted, bewildered, but it was already too late.

Farmers resting in the fields recoiled, their hands trembling as they gripped their hoes. A man, bearing scars as if from a demon’s attack, clasped his head and prayed for deliverance.

The once bustling castle now lay beneath a heavy shroud of silence.

Junghyun’s voice quivered faintly. “Why is everyone reacting like this?”

He addressed those observing the situation from behind their windows. They did not hear him. Junghyun cried out, “Thanks to this man, we could lie on the grass and gaze at the sky. It’s all thanks to him that we could venture outside.”

Junghyun shouted, “How can those who received help know? Well, you all saw this person fend off the demons!”

“Junghyun…” It was Gion who caught Junghyun’s words, filled with bitterness. “I’m alright.”

Junghyun looked up at Gion. It was then that Junghyun realized why everyone was acting this way. Gion, covered in blood and scars, smiled with weary eyes. Dried blood covered his clothes, and dark red blood stained the dagger in his hand

Just as Junghyun said, everyone must have seen Gion dealing with the demons. Would everyone feel gratitude for that sight?

No.

In the eyes of others, Gion appeared no different than a murderous demon. His voice trembled as he spoke, “I’m sorry. It was my fault... Let’s go inside.”

Unconsciously, he tightened his grip on the hem of the robe he held. Stepping back from Junghyun, Gion knelt down and uttered, “No, it’s not your fault.”

His gaze fell upon the crushed flower ring, and he whispered, “This is the treatment I deserve.”

***

“Princess!”

Rohwa was often clumsy, losing her footing while watching a bird on a branch, feeling the breeze, or gazing at the sunset.

Usually, Gion would catch her, but when he was training, Rohwa would walk alone and often get hurt. In such times, Doa’s voice would shout from afar, and upon hearing that, Gion would rush towards where Rohwa was. When he arrived, he would see Doa scolding Rohwa.

“You must be careful! You’re the only princess who makes me this worried!”

The only person who could probably scold the princess like that was Doa. Her silhouette, with her long hair tied up high and radiating a purple hue, looked warmer than anyone else.

Perhaps that was why Rohwa always had a bright smile, even when scolded. “Doa, I’m sorry. Don’t be mad.”

Doa fussed for a while. “You’re bleeding.” She quickly treated Rohwa’s wound.

Even though it was Rohwa who was injured, Doa acted as if she had been mortally wounded. She was a very emotional person, and she would often get teary-eyed when she saw someone she cared about hurt.

Rohwa would put her favorite candy in Doa’s mouth. “You’ll take care of me forever, right, Doa?”

“Just don’t get hurt!”

“Huh? Gion!”

Doa said, “Stop changing the subject to Gion!”

Watching the two bicker would make the usually serious Gion crack a smile. But those days would never return.

Junghyun asked while brewing herbs. “What are you thinking about?”

Gion looked around Junghyun’s apothecary. “Nothing.”

The place was filled with numerous herbs, no different from Doa’s pharmacy, which made him realize that Junghyun was, indeed, a descendant of the Black Sand tribe.

Junghyun sat in front of Gion with herbs, warm water, and a clean cloth. “Give me your hand. You must have gotten hurt wielding that dagger so fiercely.”

“It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

Junghyun rolled up Gion’s sleeve with tiny hands. “If this is fine, then what is not? The wound is deep!” His face crumpled in anger. “Gion! Saying you’re fine isn’t for times like this! You’re in pain!”

Junghyun’s frown reminded Gion of Doa. He quietly entrusted his wound to Junghyun’s care. Only then did Junghyun seem slightly relieved, and he began to treat the wound swiftly.

The boy’s young hands were full of calluses. Despite the deep wound that could make one feel sick, Junghyun’s eyes did not waver, and his hands stayed steady. In a situation where any child would be terrified and run away from Gion, this child stood firm.

As if not just a child. He had grown up too fast. A child was a child, and an adult was an adult. But Junghyun proved himself to be quite a mature boy.

“…It must have been tough for you too.”

There was so much to ask about Doa and what had happened in White Flower Kingdom over the past hundred years. There was a mountain of things to know, but he felt he couldn’t ask this child.

No, he didn’t have the right to ask.

Junghyun smiled gently at Gion, who was looking down.

Gion said, “If you have questions, feel free to ask.”

“No. There’s nothing you need to tell me. From now on, I’ll figure things out on my own.”

“You don’t have to think that you’re causing me pain.”

Junghyun skillfully cleaned the scab while speaking. “Then I’ll start with what I’m curious about.”

“What is it?”

“Is it possible to return?” The hands trembled as they wrung the wet cloth, conveying a delicate uncertainty. “Can we truly restore the White Flower Kingdom to the peaceful realm it was a century ago? Because if that’s the case, I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

The young child’s resolute gaze left Gion with no choice but to respond: “Once again, you needn’t do anything for my sake. Just immerse yourself in studying the herbs you’re passionate about and enjoying outings. Before you know it, things will revert to how they once were.”

Junghyun paused briefly before delivering his message. “Lord Gion, for that to become a reality, there’s something you must understand.”

After completing Gion’s treatment and adjusting his posture to ensure comfort, Junghyun continued. “The current ruler of the White Flower Kingdom isn’t Princess Rohwa, but the Demon King.”

A sharp pang of pain shot through the recently treated wound. Gion’s voice faltered, “What do you mean?”

“This is far from over.”

Could there be a revelation even more staggering than this?

The sovereign of the White Flower Kingdom wasn’t a descendant of the White Dragon but rather their adversary, the Demon King.

“Doa… she is currently staying in the White Dragon Castle with Princess Rohwa. Is that right?”

Gion had hoped this foreboding feeling would be wrong this time. But his hopes were in vain, and Junghyun’s words proved Gion’s fears true.

So, was Doa siding with Rohwa? Or with the Demon King?

Before Gion could sort out his thoughts, Junghyun brought a book from the shelf. “It would be better for you to read this book than to listen to my story. There are words in it that only you can read.”

Truth is always cruel, yet it must be confronted. A child, claiming to do anything to restore White Flower Kingdom, offered this information. Without a word, Gion accepted the book.

The first page of the book was blank. Gion calmly flipped through the pages. Doa’s familiar handwriting was densely packed in the last pages.

Could it be…

If there were words that only Gion could read, it implied that something unique to Gion must be utilized to decipher it. But what could be so important that it had to be hidden this deeply? The feeling that there was a truth greater than any story heard before was overwhelming.

Gion swept his palm, tinged with white energy, across the first page.

To the noble soul blessed by the White Dragon, Gion. After you finish reading this book…

The white energy gradually seeped into the paper, revealing the last words.

Put an end to the life of Princess Rohwa, who holds the heart of the Demon King.

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