Chapter Thirty Four- The Settlers
The people of Eondoeg Mun had been witnessing a strange occurrence.
It had started with a little boy, whose family lived near Seo Guk, in the Western region.
Countless times, his parents had warned him to stay away from the ominous black mountain, but he had deemed it a perfect location to practice his archery.
That morning, the boy had run home almost immediately after he had left for the mountain.
“Appa! Omma! Plants are growing on the black hill! I also saw small animals running about!” He breathlessly reported.
This should not have been news, but it was. Nothing lived, and nothing grew on the black mountain.
The boy’s alarm had made the villagers, who had been sceptical, go and confirm his tale.
They had been amazed to see plants and trees growing with unnatural speed! Word had spread to Seo Guk.
This, of course, made the town Magistrate come out with his men to witness it for themselves.
In the three other regions, three other similar ‘cursed’ and ‘ominous’ mountains, one in each, seemed to be sprouting vegetation after years of being completely lifeless!
The vegetation on the mountains grew so fast that, by the third day after it was noticed, the mountains were like a dense and rich forest.
The rumours, which had begun from the first day, spread rapidly, so naturally, the King had heard.
Jang Tae Min, King of Eondoeg Mun, had no idea what it meant, and he wrote it off almost at once.
“I don’t have time to be bothered with useless things like this!”
The Prime Minister, Sang Yoo Jin, greeted it with extreme anger, and he immediately arranged an emergency meeting with his inner circle.
Most of them had been involved a hundred and fifty years ago and had been reborn.
They knew the implications, especially since he had told them the deities had been reborn…
The previous King, Jang Tae Yong, greeted it with slight amusement and some mixed feelings.
This meant he might have to make a hard decision…
Another being was reacting differently.
The shadow beneath the Kingdom, the unknown entity, did not need to hear such things.
It had always known and felt the slow awakening of that child, the white deity.
From the shadows, it had tried to kill her once, before she was born, but it had failed.
Several times it had tried to destroy the white deity, or at least, the black deity, but all for nothing.
No. It wasn’t an ‘It’.
He was a ‘he’.
Yes… A long forgotten entity.
It was he who had secretly led Sang Yoo Jin, his past servant and ally, to a high point of greed.
This was to trigger the events to kill the Grand Prince, the black deity, eleven years ago.
But he had been thwarted.
It was he who had awoken the white deity during the assassination attempt on the black deity.
It had all gone according to plan, but then Joo Chung Jae had not been able to strike the killing blow.
So another effort had been wasted.
Every time he spent years gathering his strength to act from the shadows, something intervened.
But now, there was an ironic ray of light.
As the deities slowly awakened, he slowly became stronger. He could act more efficiently from the shadows now.
Yes. He and the deities had come from the same source…
The Origin of the kingdom and the deities
Thousands of years ago…
The settlers worked from morning till night, trying to toil the hard and unfriendly ground.
Some of the women brought food and water to the men, but most of them farmed as well.
Several of the men and some women, mostly the archers, went around hunting for prey.
The years had been hard on the settlers.
They had moved from their original land, a quiet peaceful region, when foreigners had invaded, destroying lives and property.
Since then, they had journeyed from place to place, land to land, looking for a safe haven to live.
But just when they began to thrive in a particular place, another kingdom would invade and bring more chaos.
That, or their children fell prey to dark sorcerers, who thought they were easy targets.
Now, they had settled in the quiet mountain region which they had only found the previous spring.
They had learned, the hard way, to never build anything too quickly, so they still lived out of big tents.
They were tired, battle worn and basically hopeless.
They wondered how long it would be before invaders struck again.
The Chief of the Settlers, Hwang Joon, gathered the elders and the clan leaders of the people.
They and their clans had followed his father and grandfather for many years, and now, they had followed him for years as well.
He called them to organize their usual cleansing and prayer ritual.
Whenever they settled in a new place, they waited four seasons, then prayed to the heavens for blessings and guidance.
He really hoped they would not have to move again.
Every single person contributed to the ritual. They each prayed for themselves, and for the good of the small settling.
This prayers were said over little bits of flat wood, one for each family.
The plaques were gathered after three days of prayer, and burnt.
The ashes were mixed into oil, and the oil was used to decorate intricate wooden lanterns.
Then the lanterns were lit and carried out to the chosen edges of the land by the young unmarried maidens of each clan, a lantern for each maiden.
There, the lamps sat until they were burned out.
It was during this last part that, Han Joo Hae, daughter of the Chief’s best archer, had come across a strange sight on her first lantern trip.
Since the new land had a lot of mountains, the girls had had to climb, going in groups with a guard for safety.
Han Joo Hae, being far from her family for the first time, had broken away from her group, lantern in hand.
While exploring, she had come to an odd cave.
It had strange markings and rustic drawings.
“Ah, so people have lived here before.” She said to herself.
Wondering where they had all gone, or more importantly, WHY they had left, she ventured in, hoping it was not because of anything serious.
Everyone hoped this was the land where they could finally live for a long time.
The soil was hard and unyielding, the air was dry and water was scarce, but she and her people were more interested in their safety at this point.
But, as she ventured in, her hopes were dashed.
Joo Hae was just fourteen, but she clearly recognized the signs of dark magic when she saw it.
On the walls, there were flat brown strips of leather with strange symbols, which were drawn with a reddish colour that looked suspiciously like dried blood.
These peeked out through the largest amount of cobwebs that Joo Hae had ever seen.
Also embedded in the walls and cobwebs were white candles, which had grayed over time, and here and there, she would see animal skulls or bones.
Joo Hae was getting goose pimples just by being in here.
She knew they could never stay here.
That this type of place had gone unnoticed for more than a year, was a wonder.
Dark magic was one of the things her people feared, and the children, from an early age, where taught to recognize it.
She turned away, intending to go back and raise alarm, when she heard the voice.
“…me…” She spun around in fear.
“Who is it?” She called out in fear, backing away.
The voice had raised the hairs on the back of her neck.
“Who is there?” She asked again, preparing to run.
“Save me…” The voice came again, and Joo Hae debated on her options.
It sounded like someone needed help, but she was not willing to go further into the cave.
Besides, who would be in a place like this, and how did the person get here?
“Who is there?” She asked, louder this time, taking a tentative step forward.
Air rushed out at her, and she jumped back in fear, but the voice came again.
“Please… Help me…” She spent a few minutes battling within herself, and she considered quietly leaving the cave.
But she knew she could not ignore the desperate cry for help.
She called up all the courage within her and ventured in slowly, holding the lantern in front of her.
Joo Hae tried to ignore the scary feel of the cave, but she felt a dark presence bearing down on her.
She rounded a corner and screamed out loud, dropping the lantern, which clattered to the ground and went out.
Joo Hae’s hands covered her mouth, preventing another scream.
She had come to some sort of rocky chamber, and though it should have been dark, since her lantern had been extinguished, the chamber was adequately lit.
Bright, whitish rocks glimmered from the walls, which bore even more symbols on bigger stretches of leather.
The reddish stains, which she was certain was blood, seemed to be splattered everywhere.
Joo Hae’s attention was at the center of the cave, where a natural pillar stood. At it’s base, someone was tied to it; a man.
He lifted his head weakly staring at her.
He was gaunt.
“Wh- wh- who are you?” She grabbed a wooden edge of her fallen lantern and held it in front of her like a weapon.
“How did you get to a place like this? Who placed you here?”
She looked around her, as if scared the culprits might come back, then hurriedly back at him.
The strange man’s hair covered almost his entire face, but she could have sworn the corners of his mouth tilted up in amusement.
His eyes were full of hope.
“Han Joo Hae, daughter of Han Kyung. I thought your people ran away at the first sight of dark magic. I almost thought my cry for help will be in vain. You are pretty brave for a young girl.”
“Wh- who are you?” She repeated, backing away. “H- how do you know such things?”
“There are beings like that.” He said simply, looking around him. “Unfortunately, there are also humans that have power and use it for very evil things. I came to confront such a person and got trapped here like this.”
“Th- th- this person, where is he?” She was glancing around again.
“Don’t be so afraid. He is probably long dead.” He scoffed, then looked away. “You see, I have been here for a very long time. There was a dark priest here a long time ago. He could not kill me, so he trapped me here to die slowly.”
He turned back to face her, and he suddenly looked very miserable.
Joo Hae subconsciously lowered the stick.
She did not feel threatened by this person.
She studied the ropes that bound him, but she could not see where it begun or ended.
They looked very dense, something even a strong man would not be able to break through.
She looked around for something sharp, but found nothing.
“How am I supposed to free you?” She found herself asking, taking a few steps toward him.
He followed her eye, looking at the ropes.
“Ah, these ropes are not the thing keeping me here. Over there.” He used his head to gesture toward three particularly ugly leather strips on the wall.
Even at a glance, Joo Hae could tell they were different.
The middle strip was the widest, the other two slanting inward, toward it. The red symbols on them seemed to glow, and compared to everything else in the cave, they looked clean and untouched by age.
“What- what is that?” She asked, instinctively stepping away from it.
“That is a seal. Seals are used for casting spells. In this case, it is a binding seal. The spell will be broken if you remove any one of them.”
Joo Hae looked back at him, and he looked at her.
His face was not showing any emotion, but his eyes were.
He had the most miserable, pleading eyes she had ever seen.
She was not sure what made her decide to do it so easily, but before she knew it, she was right in front of the seals.
She lifted a shaky hand, shut her eyes, then ripped off the wide strip in the middle…