Chapter 2

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The morning sun was just rising over the tips of the conifers erasing the shadows of the night. Milky clouds painted on the blue sky and the tranquil meadows had yet to weak up. The silence was only disturbed by the sound of the blade hitting wood over and over again. Jia had been training all morning and little was left of the practice dummy. The poorly constructed mannequin was now nothing more than a wooden cross with some hay loosely tied to it. Her eyes pinned to her lifeless opponent, she attacked again. A war could have broken out around her and she wouldn't even have noticed it. With a final strike, the lumber splintered into two. She lowered her sword, heavily panting. Sweat ran down her forehead and a few strains of her jet black hair were sticking to her face. It was only then that she looked up. Her eyes widened and her blade dropped to the floor.

Suddenly her exhaustion seemed to disappear and she rushed over to Moo-Myung, hugging him tightly. It had been only two days but it felt like months passed since the two left. She didn't want to let go again. So the young woman held on to him for a while, taking in his warmth, as her muscles relaxed again. When she realized how he wasn't saying anything, she let go. She had probably crushed his chest with her embrace. Quickly she took a step back, giving him enough space to breathe again, and brushed the wet strands of hair out of her face.

He looked different. His clothes were new, clean, and so was his hair. The dark red fabric of his robes wasn't extravagant but definitely unusual in a place like this. It made him look a bit older, more serious. But that wasn't it. There was a dark shadow over his eyes she hadn't noticed before and he was trying to avoid making eye contact. Just like that, her excitement turned into worry. "You are back already? Did you find her?"

No response. "Where...where is Mak-Moon?" Her throat felt dry and her chest clenched as if it was buried under a rock.

"He is dead" he stated, his voice slightly cracking.

Her legs became weak and her vision blurry even though no tears welled up in her eyes. She just felt numb. Unable to form a response, she sat down and so did he.

She hated that she didn't cry. Mak-Moon had been her friend, her brother since she was a little girl and now that he was gone she couldn't even shed a tear for him. He deserved better than this. He deserved to live a long life in the capital city as he had dreamed. He deserved to reunite with the sister he had been missing so much for half his life. And he deserved to be cried over.

None of them said anything for what felt like hours before she forced herself to ask a question she was afraid to ask. She feared the answer would make all of this more real. "How did he die?"

"I don't know why this happened. But we were attacked by a man on his horse but he was no soldier. He cut him down and-" He paused for a second, trying to figure out how he should continue. "Mak-Moon saved my life. But I couldn't save him..."

"Did you see his face?"

He shook his head. "I couldn't see much. I only remember this...this bracelet. Two dragons, gold, holding a ring in their mouths... I know it's not much but it's the only hint I have", he sighed.

She froze. A shiver when down her spine and her stomach turned. He couldn't be right, could he? She prayed to the gods he was wrong because if he wasn't, this just became an impossible conflict for her.
"You will go back, won't you? And find the one responsible for this"

It was more of a statement than a question. He nodded slowly but without hesitation. "I have to find out who killed him"
And kill him. It didn't need to be said out loud but it was painfully clear that he wouldn't rest until Mak-Moon's death was avenged. So the only question remained what she should do. But if he was right, how could she support him in his quest? As much as she wanted to, she couldn't run away from the conflict nor could she convince him to stay. And despite her decision to stay to protect them, Mak-Moon got killed. She couldn't lose him as well.

"I'll come with you. Together we can survive this place", she said, her voice without a trace of doubt, surprising herself. He didn't object, somehow managing to smile a bit. In that moment she realized that he hoped she'd accompany him. He was probably was just as scared and lost without Mak-Moon as she was.

She entered the cabin, probably for the last time for a long time. The smell of old wood and cooked rice embraced her, so familiar. She walked across the single room the house was made up of and knelt next to the wooden chest behind her sleeping mat and wiped away the dust that had piled up on its surface over the years. She slowly opened the chest. She hadn't opened it in years, making her somewhat nervous. She had never shown anyone what was in it, saying it was the last she had left from her parents and Mak-Moon and Moo-Myung had always accepted it. And it wasn't even a lie. It was filled with things she had brought from the palace like the little horse carved out of wood she used to play with as a child, a garment of proper clothes, and some papers permitting her to re-enter the capital. She placed them into a bag.

On the bottom of the wooden chest, a shining metal object caught her attention. She hesitated before she took the dagger out and placed it in her palms. It used to feel huge in her tiny children's hands but now it was just a narrow silver blade, about the length of her hand. It fit perfectly into the grip of her hand, so familiar. She realized that even if she dared to take it out of the box, she couldn't have used it out here. It looked too expensive, the handle being ornamented and decorated with blue gems. All of that beauty was an overly useless trait for a weapon. Maybe rich people just never intended to use the weapons they purchased? Maybe that was the only difference between this one and every other accessory dagger. It had been used before. And maybe her eyes were fooling her but it looked like there were some pale stains of old blood on it. She had to force herself to tear her eyes away from the cursed dagger but instead of putting it down, she replaced the wooden pin in her hair with it. At least no one would be able to tell the difference between the decorative blade and a regular hairpin.

Instead, she put on the gown, blue and lilac, she had found in there. She brushed over the tightly woven fabric, feeling the soft cloth on her fair skin. Familiar and strange at the same time. But it fitted perfectly around her slender body as if whoever made this knew the exact measures she would have at this age. But that was ridiculous, of course. It had was made a long time ago when she was nothing more than a child for the day she would have to return to the capital. Of course, they had anticipated she would rerun at her mother's command and at a time that suited her plans. But plans change and who should tell her that the time was right anyway without the guard by her side? For the first time in years, she made an effort to properly comb her hair and wash the dirt and sweat off her face. If she saw herself in a mirror right now, the person she would see would feel like a stranger.

Outside the door, Moo-Myung was already waiting. When he saw her, he looked puzzled. He was probably wondering where she got clothes like that but he restrained himself from asking about it. Instead, he smiled lightly. "We will be back soon"

She nodded and tried to smile as well. "You're right. We'll come back", she agreed, hoping they weren't fooling themselves.

She looked back one last time, engraving the picture of the village of Makmangchon in her memory. There was so much she wanted to forget, ban from her memory but this place wasn't one of those things. Then they walked away. Forget the pain, forget the fear. Move forward, step by step, and don't give up. And so they walked on the path to the place she had been avoiding half of her life.

~•~•~

Good news: I have some kind of  'upload schedule' now so I'm trying to upload once a week, every Sunday. I hope that this will help me to get a bit more organized and consistent cuz while I plan a lot for the stories I write, the actual writing process rather follows a random burst of creativity than a well calculated schedule. We'll see how that goes XD
Since this is the first time I publish a story/write it for someone to read I've been wondering how I could improve my writing style and plotting. Any advice? Should I try to get a beta-reader or something?
Anyway, thanks for reading again. Stay healthy! ^^

Silent night || HwarangWhere stories live. Discover now