Chapter Fifty Six- Baduk 2
The Eve before…
The deities sat around, knowing what was coming. A little earlier on, they had each felt the seals near their individual gates activate…
It wouldn’t be long before they faced their deaths.
The plans had been made, some even carried out.
A few would still be put in place the next day, but for now, they all sat around, each of them depressed, each of them attempting to hide the fact.
Da Yeong played the gayageum, the lovely strings transporting them all to the blissful past, before they ever had to worry about Jang Yoo Jin and his plot.
Hye Yeon sat beside her, as she always did, stringing flowers.
Tae Jun and Chun Hwa played baduk as usual, a book in his lap.
It was almost as if they had indeed returned to the past…
Except for two glaring differences.
None of them had decided to dress like they once used to, each of them defying their roles and donning several colours, particularly Hye Yeon, who had chosen to die dressed as a gisaeng…
The design of her hanbok was anything but ladylike!
The only other difference was Chin Suh’s presence…
He studied them from afar, torn between determination and uncertainty. He was certain he could temporarily bring them back…
“Doesn’t your plan involve human sacrifices?” Da Yeong had asked him earlier that day, she and Chun Hwa being the only deities around (Chun Hwa had returned after taking Hye Yeon to the Capital, talking to his father, as Tae Jun had ordered).
Da Yeong continued.
“Whatever you’re planning should require the death of four living humans… The laws of magical balance. I will not support the murder of innocent people.” Da Yeong had added, but Chin Suh merely scoffed.
“You can’t stop me, even if you wanted to. The Black Deity’s powers have always been tinged with darkness, probably because I stained my hands with dark magic, while I was still a heavenly being.” He had walked over to her.
“However, black magic started all this, so I wouldn’t go near it. There’s another way…”
He intended to give them out of his life force…
At present, he wondered if he would be bringing them back for nothing.
After all, he was completely uncertain about his victory against the Shadow…
He turned away, leaving them to their false merriment… Any moment now, the four of them would die, and he would step in…
“Chun Hwa-ah. Are we making the right move?” Tae Jun asked, back in the pagoda, where they all sat actually drinking wine for the first time in a long while.
Chun Hwa was a bit bothered by this, but he said nothing.
More than anyone else, he knew Tae Jun was not comfortable with gambling their lives away.
As leader, the thought that they were all about to die weighed down heavily on his shoulders…
His drinking genuinely, rather than pretending as usual, was the only way he was expressing himself.
Tae Jun continued.
“Should we go, even now, to defend the gates? Or give up our powers as planned? You’re the wise one, so tell me.” He downed the contents of the small bowl, reaching over to fill it again, but Chun Hwa caught his hand over the wine jar.
Da Yeong stopped playing.
Hye Yeon looked up.
Chun Hwa merely filled his own bowl, then gulped it down at once.
“I may be the clever one with most things. I recognise the foolishness in life and in the actions of men…
“For example, you are playing baduk with me, instead of spending what might be our last moments, taking a quiet walk with the primary person on your mind.”
He ignored the look Tae Jun shot him and faced Hye Yeon, who had giggled.
“The same goes for you… Min So Yeon and Lee Ju Won are in the armory, right?” She gazed down and he turned his attention back to Tae Jun.
“Ye. When it comes to understanding normal life situations and behavior, I’m knowledgeable.
“If you want us to go to the gates right now, give the order, and we will.” He filled Tae Jun’s bowl, then held it out to him. “However, for situations like this, Hyeong has always made, and will always make the best moves. That’s why you have never lost at baduk.”
There was a brief silence.
Then, Tae Jun took the bowl from him, downing the contents.
Then he filled it back up and handed it back to Chun Hwa, who drank it.
“I lost at baduk today.” Tae Jun said into the silence, then without a word, he stood up and walked over to Da Yeong, who had turned an unbelievable shade of red.
He leaned down, taking her hand.
Then pulled her up, dragging her away from the pagoda…
Hye Yeon didn’t hesitate to follow, heading straight for the armory.
Chun Hwa dropped the bowl he still held, picking up the book in his lap.
“Hmm, ye. They listen to advise really well…”
Late that night…
The Shadow beneath the Kingdom, Hwang Chul, stirred, as the first gate was opened…
The second opened.
The third opened.
The fourth, the hardest of all, opened finally.
The deities are indeed weaker, he observed, as the huge gate that bound him, sunk into the ground.
His chains melted away, and he was free!
Hwang Chul walked a little distance, stretching, surprised that his body had been returned to him.
He felt every bit as powerful as in the past… Young, vibrant…
However, his flesh began to fade away after a few moments.
“So this is why the corrupt human is necessary.” He observed to himself, then without hesitation, he abandoned his body, appearing in the Capital, where his willing host was waiting…
The Present Night…
The Central Palace, Gwang Guk…
The Moon Palace…
It was shameful for a King to live in the Moon Palace, but Sang Yoo Jin was too clever to remain in the Sky Palace.
He knew his enemies were coming for him…
He constantly heard whispers.
The whispers warned him of what was to come.
Sang Yoo Jin felt more powerful than he had ever felt. At the moment the four gates had opened the previous evening, he had felt an unbelievable power surge through him.
The power behind the fifth gate had finally entered him, and now he could wield a bit of the power.
Still, it wasn’t complete.
It would take sometime for the powers to become his.
He was content with hiding till then.
Let them come. He would destroy anyone.
He could sense their intent, predict their moves, so he would counter all of them.
This night was going to be entertaining, and he would emerge the victor!
The four cloaked figures made their way to the Sky Palace silently, taking care to hide within the shadows. However, they had barely reached the Sky Palace when the cry went up.
Numerous soldiers surrounded them in no time, swords and spears pointed at them from every angle.
The four hooded figures stood back to back, making no move.
“Drop your weapons!”
The four figures gave up their weapons, rather unwillingly, as the men searched them. They were tied up and forced to their knees before their leader.
“Yongam. We’ve caught four of the expected intruders.”
“Really?” He stroked the tip of his goatee. “Take off their hoods!”
The men complied, revealing the faces of four defiant, but scared looking young men.
“Hehehehe. Jeonha mobilized the army to go against incompetent people like this?” He kicked the nearest one, who gave a pained grunt, but held his ground.
“Yongam. Should we take them before Jeonha, as ordered.”
“Hmmm. Forget it. These must be the small fry. Throw them in prison for now and assign guards over them… Mobilize the remaining soldiers and fall back into place.”
The two shadows crouched still atop a nearby hanok, watching the four men being led away to the prisons.
“Tch! They are always predictable. Assuming we will attack directly. Right?” Lee Ju Won asked
“Shhh. Let’s go.” Min So Yeon replied and they stealthily continued to the Sky Palace.
But another surprise awaited them.
“Aish! Did Sang Yoo Jin place the whole army in the Palace?” Ju Won whispered furiously, observing the hundreds of men that milled around. “Such a cowar-.” Min So Yeon had raised a hand.
There was a brief silence, then…
There was a big explosion.
“Intruders!” Cries went up everywhere, and explosions shook the ground from the direction of the prisons. Most of the soldiers ran in coordination, toward the source of the chaos, leaving only a few.
“Tsk tsk tsk…. Daegun said the soldiers would be reduced if they heard the explosions. But most left.” Ju Won observed, while So Yeon strung a bow.
“Ani. This was Daegun’s plan. Sang Yoo Jin is definitely not in the Sky Palace. If he was, more than half would remain.” He shot a flaming arrow skyward, a blue fabric flapping from its tail. “Let’s go before they come and investigate…”
The four men who had deliberately allowed their capture and acted scared, were actually Lord Kim’s men.
Well three of them were.
The fourth, and their leader, was Joo Chung Jae.
When they were being untied to be thrown into their cells, they had turned on their attackers, spectacularly defeating fifteen soldiers and eight prison guards.
“Okay. Don’t waste time. Find the stashed weapons and explosive powder.” Chung Jae ordered them and they began searching, eventually uncovering several barrels.
About five barrels were full of katanas, daggers, bows and arrows, and axes. More than a dozen spears were hidden beside the barrels. Yet more barrels were full of explosive powder…
The day before…
The previous day, while Tae Jun talked with his father, Hye Yeon had her own role to play.
The King was not eating or drinking anything, and he was receiving no guests.
The soldiers, however, were bored at suddenly being locked up in the Palace, so they requested a few gisaeng to come and entertain them.
The men were thrilled, especially with the sword dance, performed by two beautiful gisaeng and the head of the gyobang herself.
They didn’t notice the few gisaeng that slipped away, of course led by Sang Hye Yeon.
The plan was simple.
By the next hour, the prison guards were asleep from poisoned wine, and Hye Yeon and the other girls had hidden weapons and explosive powder in the prison.
The act was made easy, as Hye Yeon used her powers to create vines, which carried everything.
If she was going to lose her powers by nightfall, she might as well enjoy them now…
Chung Jae inspected the barrels quietly, the men helping themselves to weapons of choice.
“Wah! Daegun outdid himself. How did he smuggle these into the Palace?”
“You underestimate Daegun and Taesangwang’s connections.” Chung Jae replied, grabbing a katana. “It’s time to create a diversion…”
And they did, beginning with the explosion So Yeon and Ju Won had heard.
The Jade Palace…
Chun Hwa and one of Lord Kim’s men crouched in the shadows, watching the soldiers reaction to the explosions coming from the prisons.
As he had guessed, more than a third of the soldiers headed toward the prisons.
“Ah. Hyeong was right. Sang Yoo Jin is not here.” Chun Hwa observed. Then he raised a finger, and the young soldier with him shot another flaming arrow skyward, with the same blue fabric flapping from its tail.
“Will only four men be able to hold down the prisons? All the soldiers are heading there.” The soldier pointed out to him as they quickly left, but Chun Hwa just smirked.
“They aren’t just four…”
The day before…
The previous day, Tae Jun had lost at baduk for the first time in his life. Of course his father had laughed smugly, as the two discussed…
“It was a narrow victory, but do you know why you lost?” He asked Tae Jun, who simply bowed his head. “We played for hours and I realized you were better, except in one regard.
“I believed you will win, so I played freely without the pressure of losing. But you knew you were better, because you have never lost. You were too intent on winning, so you were being too careful. Do you now understand why I suggested this game?”
Tae Jun scoffed.
“Appa Mama is truly wise. You didn’t want me to make the same mistake with Sang Yoo Jin. I should accept the possibility of losing, and embrace any opportunity to defeat him.”
“Exactly! Sang Yoo Jin’s greatest weakness is that he disregards certain enemies and he will pay for that mistake.” He gestured toward Eunuch Eun, who slid the doors open. “Allow me to introduce my surprise visitor…”
Tae Jun stared in surprise, as Sang Hye Su, daughter of Sang Yoo Jin, and previous Queen of Eondoeg Mun walked into the hall and bowed fully to his father.
“Appa Mama!” Tae Jun protested her presence.
“I know what you suspect, Daegun.” Hye Su interrupted him. She bowed to him as well. “I’m sure Daegun remembers my ambitions and how I followed you around when you were ‘Seja Jeoha’. That ambition led me to hold my father’s hand with trust, and cling to Daegun’s elder brother, who was the new ‘Seja Jeoha’.
“Those ambitions have died. Now I am content with living simply with Jeo-.” She caught herself. “With my husband.”
She took a deep breath, then continued.
“My ambitions were not right, still I will not forgive that father of mine, who killed those ambitions and betrayed me and Jeon-.” She caught herself again. “Me and my husband.”
Tae Jun studied her for a moment, then turned back to his father, who continued.
“Your brother has finally admitted the role he played in your failed assassination and your mother’s murder.” He paused briefly, both of them remembering that awful night.
“However, he is currently using the same move against Sang Yoo Jin. Planting enemies amidst soldiers is something he is good at.”
The soldiers charged at the prisons vigorously, but most of them were taken by surprise when their own comrades turned on them, fully defeating them.
Soon, a temporary battle camp had been set up in the prisons…
The previous day…
“But, if this was Sang Yoo Jin’s idea, won’t he be expecting it?” Tae Jun had asked, skeptically. “They will be extra careful before letting any soldiers into the Palace.”
“Sang Yoo Jin might anticipate that move, but that is where I came in.” Jang Tae Yong had replied. “The troops who were sent here to monitor us, have ‘decided’ to come over to our side. It was easy to arrange after that…”
Jang Tae Min had returned to his side before Sang Yoo Jin had summoned the soldiers to the Palace, or even before the two troops had arrived in Nam Guk.
Tae Min’s wife didn’t know it, but he had secretly contacted his father, Jang Tae Yong, almost immediately after his banishment.
With the aid of the the two troop heads, who Jang Tae Yong had ‘convinced’ to join him, he had sent Tae Min to the Head of Military, who had always been on his side.
Rather than replace members of the military, they had simply won them over, while carefully planning their placement within the Palace.
They were the same men who had smuggled the weapons and gunpowder out of the Palace weaponry, leaving it close to the kitchens, where Hye Yeon had gone to find them…
Jang Tae Yong continued.
“The current Head of Military is dangerous to Sang Yoo Jin, because unlike his predecessor, Kim Dae Hyeon, he has never openly shown me any loyalty, so Sang Yoo Jin has no solid suspicion regarding him.
Then there is the fact that Sang Yoo Jin underestimates the lengths Tae Min will go for revenge…
“Our troops are few, compared to the whole army, but they will help.” He relaxed into his throne.
The battle had finally begun.