Chapter Fifty One- The Dead
Lord Choi’s residence, Gwang Guk…
Lord Choi knew something was wrong almost immediately.
The paper lantern that was always lit in his late wife’s hanok was off.
His marriage had not been a love marriage, but he had truly respected his wife…
Older than him by a year, she had seemed to have all the answers.
Confident and never really afraid of anything, except for one fear which always amused him.
She had been afraid of dark places.
She had left the world after birthing their son, so he had arranged for a paper lantern, a new brightly coloured one each night, to always be lit in her chambers.
Its absence was too glaring.
“Who is out there?” He called out, but there was no response.
Another odd sign.
“Who is there?!” He called out once more, but again, he was met with silence.
Lord Choi had never been a fool in his life.
Even in situations that confused most young men, he had always been sure, tackling each situation calmly and correctly.
It was almost as if he had an unnatural ability to read situations and prepare for them.
This is why he was so certain that something was wrong.
Under his King’s orders, he had sealed the document allowing Sang Yoo Jin to become King, but Sang Yoo Jin was no fool.
He must know those of the Ministers that had never given their loyalty to him.
Expecting something like this eventually, was only common sense.
Choi Yung Seon had expected death from the moment Sang Yoo Jin took the throne.
However, that didn’t mean he would die easily.
He intended to die on his own terms.
He dropped the brush gently and stood up, quietly reaching for his sword.
He hadn’t handled a sword seriously in a long while, but he always kept one close.
Now, he felt the familiar comfort as his fingers closed around the hilt…
The men moved swiftly and silently, through the compound.
Dressed in black yungboks, they blended into the shadows, killing the compound guards easily.
Min Seo Jin watched them, perched silently on a wall.
He had been surprised to receive the order asking to eliminate Lord Choi Yung Seon.
He had always respected Lord Choi, but he had his orders and he had no intention of hesitating.
The men had reached Lord Choi’s own chambers, when he raised an arm.
They halted at once.
“Who is out there?” He heard Lord Choi call out.
He called out again, then fell silent.
Min Seo Jin smiled to himself. Lord Choi had not disappointed him…
He knew they were here.
He leapt down gracefully from the wall, coming to stand right in front of the door.
“Choi Daegam. You are a man of pride, so I won’t dishonour you by sending them in. Please come out.” He bowed, then looked up as the doors slid open.
“Jeosonghamnida, Daegam. Jeonha has ordered your death.” He said as Lord Choi stepped out.
Choi Yung Seon looked down at him, sword in hand.
“You are Min Seo Jin. Cousin to Daegun’s personal guard. You and your cousin might serve different masters, but it appears the Min family always produces honourable men.” He held up the sword.
“I will fight with you till I die.”
“That is the way it should be.” Min Seo Jin stated, drawing his own sword.
A heavy silence passed, then he charged at Lord Choi, but he was countered easily.
They crossed swords for a while, Lord Choi usually on the offensive, then in a burst of strength, Lord Choi hit his sword away, then sent him flying with a hard kick to his chest.
The men wanted to interfere, but he raised his arm, struggling to his feet.
He gestured to one of them, and the man tossed his sword at him.
He turned to face Lord Choi again.
“The edge of your sword is still as sharp as ever in your old age.” He observed in admiration.
“Ani. I’m not that old, and my sword is not that sharp. However, you should stop taking me lightly, or going easy on me. Your uncle trained Daegun and Min So Yeon, your cousin. These two are excellent swordsmen, so I know you haven’t shown me your full strength.”
“Your wit is sharp as well.” He said with a bow, then charged with no warning.
Even the men knew their master was now serious.
Lord Choi was managing to defend his attacks well, but he could barely attack and kept being pushed back…
Lord Choi knew the end was close.
He was slowly getting worn out in this battle, and he briefly regretted dropping his sword for an official rank.
Still, he felt no fear.
He had served Eondoeg Mun and her true King well.
He had an impressive son, even though he was impressive as a scholar, and not a swordsman.
His son had impressed even the King!
His life had been a full one, so he had no regrets…
He blocked the next swing of Min Seo Jin, but it was too powerful for him, swinging his weight into an unprotected stance.
He watched as Min Seo Jin’s sword swung closer for a fatal blow, mentally prepared himself for it.
But it never came.
Someone appeared before him, easily blocking the attack and sending Min Seo Jin’s sword flying.
Min Seo Jin hastily leapt away, clutching his sword arm, which ached from the force of the clash.
He looked at the intruder in awe.
He wore a black yungbok as well, a mask covering half of his face.
“Who are y-?”
“Jeosonghamnida, but I can’t answer any questions. Nor can I allow you kill this man.”
“What do you think you are doing?! We are carrying out Jeonha’s orders!”
“I know that. However, you should go back. If you weren’t Min So Yeon’s cousin, you would be dead by now.” He turned to face Lord Choi, lowering his voice.
“Please come with me… Abeoji.”
Instead of simply vanishing, Tae Jun spent his last day as a human studying Nam Guk through new eyes.
After all, the Shadow, was right beneath this place.
He could feel it beneath his feet.
It was stronger…
Strong enough to worry him.
By evening, he was walking away from the Southern Palace, which he had visited for the last time, when he sensed Joo Chung Jae approaching.
“You must want to die, if you are coming to meet me.” Tae Jun said without stopping or turning around.
“Jeosonghamnida, Daegun.” Chung Jae replied, ignoring the instinctive ripple of fear that surged through him.
Lord Geom Jeong stopped, but still didn’t turn back.
Chung Jae continued.
“Jeonha sent me with a message. His exact words were: ‘Blue bird is a valuable asset. Keep him close.'” The statement had surprised Chung Jae, as he had always assumed the Grand Princ- Lord Geom Jeong was Blue bird.
“I’ve received the message, so go back.” Tae Jun said, then vanished.
Tae Jun appeared in Gwang Guk, the Capital, choosing a particularly shadowed area near the Palace. He approached carefully, fully intending to enter the Palace.
However, he wasn’t surprised to find a barrier in place again.
The same strange barrier that had blocked them a hundred and fifty years ago.
This time, it was much stronger.
He doubted he would be able to pass it, even if he became a demon again.
Getting to Jang Yoo Jin wouldn’t be easy.
The Eondoeg Mun Palace…
Seong Su Min stood in the Palace courtyard, the same place where the priests and shamans had been sacrificed a hundred and fifty years ago.
He smiled as the floor beneath his feet trembled slightly.
He could sense the Black Deity outside, knew his intent, but he wasn’t bothered.
He could never come in here.
This time, the deities would not win.
He was stronger, strong enough to face them.
And they were weaker.
He would definitely be released this time.
He stood for a while chanting, then he stuck his staff into the ground.
Dark smoke rose at once, surrounding him. The smoke slowly began to take form, the form of the dead priests and shamans.
He waved an arm and they dispersed.
He turned and inclined his head in a small bow, toward where he knew the King was watching. ‘Mortal fool.’ He thought to himself.
He was no longer Seong Su Min, the priest…
He was Hwang Chul. The first deity.
The Southern Palace, Nam Guk…
Pal Wol ran into the Inner Palace, not waiting for the guards to announce her.
Before she left the Gwang Guk Palace, she had buried a seal in the Palace courtyard.
Now the seal had been activated.
She ran and bowed before Jang Tae Yong.
“Jeonha! Seong Su Min has awoken the dead!”
Jang Tae Yong nearly dropped the document he had been reading.
“So that time has finally come. He intends to find the gates again.”
“It is something similar, Jeonha. However, he chose the same people for a reason. They already know where they are.” She took a deep breath.
“This time, he might be looking for the other two gates. If the deities still retain their memories, then they are weaker than they were in the past. He might be able to open all gates.”
“Hmm, Jang Yoo Jin wouldn’t waste that type of opportunity. We had a similar plan, but the presence of the Grand Priest made that impossible.”
Pal Wol had sensed the silent spirits of the past magical body in the palace courtyard. Spirits that hadn’t left because of their grudge.
Part of Jang Tae Yong’s plan had been to unleash the spirits of Jang Yoo Jin’s unjust victims within the Palace.
Now, with no conscience or remorse, the dead magical body were being used again by their enemy.
It angered him.
“We need to attempt the other plan.”
“Ye, Jeonha. Seong Su Min will prevent any attack on Jang Yoo Jin. However, it is not too late to use the dead against him, especially since he has arrogantly awoken them.”
“Hmmm. We should proceed from our end, and hope the deities are ready…”
The Foggy Mountains…
The Foggy Mountains looked exactly the same.
Tae Jun walked around, memories of his own footsteps leading his path through the large, empty compound.
He came to his bedchamber, the vision from the journal, playing in his head.
The cold sensation of turning into a demon still burned through him, and he instinctively clutched his chest.
Then he felt it.
It was mild, subtle, but it was there.
A strange force that seemed to draw his attention.
He followed it curiously, the presence of something strange in his own home, surprising him. It led him straight to the weaponry.
Tae Jun entered the room, sensing the force growing stronger. He traced it at once, finding a long sleek black wooden box, that he definitely hadn’t left here
It lay in plain sight, atop a table which stood to the far side of the wall.
Tae Jun opened the box to find a sword inside.
The hilt was wrapped with black leather, and the blade was all black.
Dark wispy shadows, probably invisible to human eyes, circled the blade.
He wrapped his fingers around the hilt, and something immediately felt familiar.
He curiously turned the blade and found the Jang Royal family crest on one side of the hilt.
He found an even bigger crest on the scabbard.
Tae Jun realized who had left it here at once.
“Jang Seung Jae.” He looked back at the box and found a bound scroll, which read…
In the end, everything that happened was possible because of me. Many times, I have wished you had not been present to save me as a child. I will bow on this black hill, which is now called a cursed place.
I will bow as an apology for my very blood. The blood of my father.
If you are born again, never save a thing like me. Rather, I will atone with my very life.
I will be the one to atone.
I destroyed the ceremonial weapons, and with them, I forged this sword. The thing that sleeps beneath this Kingdom, came close to being released, and the Kingdom suffers.
If you are born as the Black Deity again, this should be with you.
However, my sincere wish is that you never see this, and that you are born as a normal human with a happy life, surrounded by people.
Jang Seung Jae.
Tae Jun touched the evil looking blade, withdrawing his fingers immediately.
It felt as if the blade had drawn a bit of his energy!
Then again, he reminded himself, this was the only weapon that could hurt a deity.
Such a reaction was expected.
He placed the sword back into its scabbard.
It was a powerful weapon, probably capable of killing the shadow, but he wasn’t sure what to do with it.
If the shadow was ever released, they would be dead already, and if it was not released, there was no way to use it…
“You can’t figure it out, can you?” A sneering voice said behind him, and Tae Jun nearly jumped.
No one ever snuck up on him. Ever!
He turned around in awe, and his eyes widened to find the most unlikely person he could imagine.
It was Chin Suh.