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For the Downfall of My Beloved

8

Chapter 8

1

Hate, when it surpasses mere anger, paralyzes a person’s reason. Without a doubt, Rohwa seemed capable of severing the neck of the woman before her right then and there.

“…Princess.”

Rohwa, holding a sword, glared at Doa, who was standing in the middle of the room.

“What are you doing in my chambers?”

Surveying the chamber filled with the dense scent of sleeping incense, Rohwa’s red eyes flashed fiercely. Her soaked body felt like it was sinking, as if it had fallen into a pond. The only sound in the room was the dripping of moisture.

“…It is the King’s order.”

Unlike Rohwa, Doa displayed no emotion as she tidied up the shattered container of sleeping incense, from which smoke continued rising.

Upon hearing Doa’s words about the King, Rohwa snapped out of her trance and summoned a gust of wind with her dark energy, dispersing the smoke that had filled the room. The potency of the sleeping incense was overwhelming, but for Rohwa, the headache it induced was the least of her concerns.

“How long have you been burning the incense?” Rohwa asked.

“You haven’t been sleeping well lately, have you?”

“I asked how long you’ve been burning it.”

Doa noticed the sword Rohwa held—its scabbard flickered with the soul of a demon. It was the same sword Gion had used to kill the King.

“One hour. The incense needs to permeate the chamber.”

With Rohwa’s roar, the wind blew more fiercely. The dark energy Rohwa had sealed the room with started to make a grinding noise.

“No matter how loyal you are to the Demon King, you should not have tampered with this. Not this…”

Rohwa had stored the tranquil scents of peaceful times in her dark energy and brought them to her room. The blossoms that bloomed most beautifully when she walked the White Flower Path, the sand of the training ground where the warriors practiced, the shadow of the tree she rested under when she was tired from walking, the wildflowers in the backyard full of memories…

The sleeping incense overshadowed and erased all those scents.

“Now, it’s all meaningless, isn’t it? Falling out of favor with the Demon King would do you no good, Princess.” In Doa’s words, the emotions that had flown to the past returned to reality.

Rohwa looked around the room covered in dark energy. The emotions that had surged up quickly cooled down.

“…After all, what’s the point?” Rohwa raged for a moment, but soon, her eyes dulled. “Right… It’s all futile, as you said.”

Rohwa stepped over the scattered remnants of her past as she walked toward her bedchamber. “Just throw it all away. My mind is restless.”

As Rohwa buried herself in the bedding, Doa kneeled beside her. “The Demon King said he’ll probably have trouble sleeping tonight, so you should stay by his side until he falls asleep.”

At Doa’s words, Rohwa let out a snort of laughter and muttered, “Speaking as if you care.”

Rohwa knew well how someone with genuine concern would act. The incense Doa burned weakened the power of dark energy. It was called Black Knotweed. It was sleeping incense, but it was closer to knocking someone unconscious. It was not a concern—it was a warning.

This was a warning from the Demon King not to falter, knowing that Gion was alive. The Demon King’s warnings always took away something precious.

“Leave.”

Doa stood up and gazed at Rohwa. “… Princess.”

After being immersed in the pond for a long time, Rohwa had a pale complexion. Her long white hair reached down to her waist, tangled in disarray. The bedding was soaked.

“You should also know how to let go of the past. Water that stays stagnant in one place for too long will eventually become rotten.”

Rohwa closed her eyes and turned away from Doa. “I told you to leave.”

“Then rest, Princess.” Quietly, Doa stood up and left.

As soon as the door closed, Rohwa opened her eyes. It was time to act now that the Demon King had begun to make his move.

Rohwa sat up and brought her hands together. A black bud formed in her palm, and its petals started to unfold. A pistil with a blue aura appeared, and the black flower bloomed fully.

A wind came from the window. Rohwa, still wet, buried herself in the bedding and watched the petals disappear out the window and into the distance.

That night, Rohwa had a hard time falling asleep.

***

The stone path in front of the castle gate, which glittered under the sunlight, was now covered in blood.

Gion was the only one standing upright on the ground. All the numerous demons were scattered around, gradually vanishing. The Seventh Chime, his body ripped and torn all over his body, bones broken, looked at Gion and sneered. A strong wind blew, and in an instant, he stood in front of Gion, who was perched on a tree.

“Shall we play now?”

The Seventh Chime’s expression hardened. He smiled.

It was a swift attack, but Gion, having survived the Snow Valley, should have been able to dodge it without any doubt. Gion was the only human who emerged unscathed from the treacherous Snow Valley.

That was Gion, wasn’t it?

And yet, the hook-like blade of the Seventh Chime had precisely lodged itself in Gion’s shoulder. The blood that flowed down carried a hot sensation, dripping into the Seventh Chime’s hand. However, Gion, standing on a bright white line, remained still.

Without a change in expression, Gion immediately grabbed the Seventh Chime’s hair. Gion took out his sword.

“Aagh!”

The piercing scream of the Seventh Chime echoed through the air, yet Gion remained steadfast, refusing to sheathe his blade. As a master of the wind, the Seventh Chime excelled at creating distance, making it crucial for Gion to stay close. Unfortunately, he had not yet mastered the art of harnessing the White Qi, leaving him disadvantaged in this encounter.

But the situation changed when Gion held the Seventh Chime.

Gion swung his sword again. Barely dodging the blade aimed at his heart, the Seventh Chime received a long gash on his arm.

“This crazy bastard…!”

The Seventh Chime repeatedly slammed his hook into Gion’s body, but Gion held on to the Seventh Chime’s hair even more firmly.

“Die! Just die! Let go! Aaah!”

Amid the ear-splitting screams, a calm voice was heard. “Seems like you’ve forgotten how I fought in the Snow Valley.”

Without any change in expression or even a small moan, Gion took all of the Seventh Chime’s wildly swinging attacks and kept stabbing him. While the Seventh Chime, struggling to avoid the vital spots at least, was being attacked by Gion’s relentless sword.

The air was thick with the sounds of continuous slicing, stabbing, and piercing until…

The Seventh Chime grabbed Gion’s sword with both hands. Gion’s sword flew away instantly and landed on the ground. Bloodied and half-blinded, Gion appeared in the gleam of the sharp blade.

The Seventh Chime, bleeding profusely, managed a smile. “Now you don’t have a sword, what will you—”

Gion fiercely bit into the Seventh Chime’s neck.

“Aaaaah!”

“Who said a life-and-death fight only involved swords?” Gion said.

As the bones in his neck crunched under the pressure, the Seventh Chime screamed, but that only caused the flesh to tear more while he struggled. Blood gushed from the Seventh Chime’s neck. Gion tossed him aside.

“You seem not to understand what a real fight to the death is.”

The Seventh Chime, clutching his throat, lay sprawled on the ground, gasping for air.

Gion spat out the blood in his mouth and approached the Seventh Chime. “I’ll ask you just one thing.”

The sound of the wind accompanied a cool sensation, and a streak of blood ran down Gion’s cheek. Breathless yet defiant, the Seventh Chime fixed a steely gaze on Gion. “Do you presume that I will answer if you just ask?”

In front of the Seventh Chime, Gion dropped to one knee.

“Aaaaah!”

Gion grabbed the bleeding waist of the Seventh Chime, whose whole was in pain. He wrapped his arms around his stomach and bent over.

“You seem to have never been hurt this badly before.” Gion grinned. “If your side wound is deep, avoid clutching your stomach. Instead, turn your body and straighten your waist to alleviate pressure on internal organs, minimizing pain and improving survival chances. But if you’re unaware of this…”

Seventh Chime just gasped and trembled.

“This must be something you never expected to experience,” Gion said.

The fear of a first encounter with death overwhelmed the Seventh Chime.

“There are far worse pains than this. Choose whether you want to die in agony or die comfortably.” Gion stood up and looked down at Seventh Chime. “Yet I have someone I need to meet.”

As the Seventh Chime gasped for air, Gion wiped the splattered blood on his shoes. He asked, “Tell me where I could find this person.”

***

When the White Dragon descended upon the White Flower Kingdom, five guardian deities set foot on the land, protecting the dragon: the White Tiger, the Phoenix, the Black Tortoise, the Black Snake, and the Green Dragon. These five guardians aided the White Dragon, bringing glory to the White Flower Kingdom.

As history progressed, the tribes of these five guardians protected the descendants of the White Dragon, the kings. The White Tiger tribe was the closest guardian to the White Dragon.

The chief of the White Tiger’s tribe, Hoyeong, was in the Northern Mountains.

“How long must we live like this?”

Hoyeong turned his head toward the tribe member who muttered this listlessly. The tribe member was sitting on a stump. His words carried fatigue, devoid of anger or resentment.

Just a little longer. He couldn’t say these words because it had already been a hundred years. The other four guardian tribes had long since disappeared, and the White Tiger tribe had lost many of its members.

Hoyeong looked at his tribespeople. Once, they were proud members of the White Tiger tribe, but now they looked like living corpses. And Hoyeong looked no different. Despite his large stature and height, no part of him was without scars. His golden eyes had long since lost their light, and his silver hair was unkempt and disheveled. For a hundred years, he had faced demons as he protected the capital. This was enough time for a soul to wear thin.

What was there to gain from all this? What was the glory of the White Flower Kingdom, and what was the mission of the guardian tribe that they had to go to such lengths?

The old question was not answered. Yet Hoyeong was the only one among the five guardian tribes still protecting the White Flower Kingdom. Even Hoyeong himself didn’t know why he was doing this.

“Lord Hoyeong…!”

A tribe member hurriedly came up the steep mountain path.

Hoyeong, sighing, drew his sword. “What kind of demon is it this time?”

“No…! It’s not a demon… It’s a person… A person is coming!”

“A person?”

That was impossible. After the White Flower Kingdom became a stronghold of demons, no common folk had ever climbed that mountain.

A shadow fell over the mountain. Hoyeong held his sword tightly.

“Everyone, form up—”

“But Lord Hoyeong…?” The tribe member looked at Hoyeong, who had yet to finish his sentence.

Hoyeong stared blankly at the shadow. As it approached, his expression grew increasingly stern.

“Lord Hoyeong. What’s the matter?”

Hoyeong didn’t answer their calls. He just kept watching the slowly approaching figure. A man, drenched in blood, seemed to drag his legs, walking toward them.

His deep wounds speckled the leaves on the ground with blood. The moonlight shone on the long sword, highlighting the bloodstains that were too stubborn to be wiped away.

“Hoyeong.”

How would they face each other in such a situation?

Gion thought a laugh wouldn’t escape him in these circumstances, but as he faced Hoyeong, memories from a hundred years ago flickered by, and a faint smile emerged.

Hoyeong slowly approached Gion. “What in the world happened? How are you still alive?”

“I don’t know either. When I opened my eyes, here I was. But more importantly, there’s something I want to tell you.”

“What do you want to tell me?”

“A White Qi resides in me.”

In the mountain’s darkness, a sudden flicker of bright light caught Hoyeong’s attention, rendering his expression inscrutable. He shook himself before lowering his head.

“I recall those moments…” he murmured before falling silent.

Gion examined Hoyeong slowly. The numerous scars, the parched face… Gion didn’t know what had happened over the past hundred years, but he could roughly guess what kind of time Hoyeong had been through.

“I won’t ask what happened,” Gion said. “But I will restore everything.”

Hoyeong lifted his head. An ordinary person would have already lost consciousness. But Gion, despite his appearance, stood tall and did not say a single word.

“As a guardian who protected the king, will you teach me how to use the White Qi?” Gion looked squarely at Hoyeong. “That’s all I need.”

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