121 A Pompous Fool Pt.2

    Jimin braced himself as one of the burly man's punches landed straight for his solar plexus. He toppled over, the air in his lungs knocked straight out of him. Saliva mixed with blood escaped his dry mouth as he crashed to the floor. Finally, the burly man's companion released his arms, allowing Jimin to curl into the foetal position with what little energy he had left. Despite the numerous blows he sustained, he could no longer feel pain. His body had gone numb along with his other senses.

    Gyuri... I hope you are safe.

    From the ground, Jimin could hardly tell what was happening all around him. Swollen eyes prevented him from seeing clearly while punches directed at the side of his jaw had distorted his hearing. But even though he should be worrying about himself, all he could think about was whether Gyuri was safe and how badly he wanted to see her.

    Gyuri... He inclined his head as much as his body would allow. Gyuri... where are you?

    "You're still moving, eh?" The burly man walked over to Jimin, his stocky profile blocking the sunlight. "You're a persistent one, dog boy." He crouched down to inspect his handiwork, allowing Jimin to see his bruised knuckles slick with blood. His blood. "How does it feel to be the one grovelling at another's feet?" he taunted.

    Jimin glared at him.

    "Now you know what it's like for us poor folk every day." The burly man abruptly stood up to address the crowd. "See this?" he declared, "Take this as an example of what we can achieve despite our station." He continued to shout, "Every day, we, the working class, are mistreated by the nobility. From their extravagant abodes, they look down on us, dismiss us, treat us like we are no better than the insects that crawl on the ground." He waved his arms to emphasise his disdain. "While the emperor lavishes in abundance, our kinsmen toil the land under the merciless sun. He is not kind, he is not benevolent-he is just a pompous fool."

    The crowd gasped in unison while some protested.

    "Anyone who believes in him is too blind to see that he has forsaken his people." He surveyed the crowd which had grown agitated by his claims. "What has the emperor done to alleviate our suffering?" He turned to face every person present. "Nothing! The emperor doesn't care about us! None of them do!"

    Loud shouts from the crowd contested the burly man's claim, riling those that agreed with him.

    "The world is unkind to us born with no status" the burly man resumed. "To survive we have to force our way to rise." He glared down at Jimin. "People like him are what stops us from rising. They are the ones that keep us poor while they enjoy all the riches our kingdom has to offer." The burly man raised his closed fist as he chanted, "Down with the Jade Lotus! Down with the people who protect it!"

    The burly man's companion let out a passionate battle cry which persuaded others to join in. Dissatisfied and resentful of their individual situations, the crowd's cheer grew stronger as one by one, the onlookers saw the validity behind the burly man's claims. For while plenty admired and adored their emperor, they had had enough. Many no longer wished to be at the bottom of the social ladder: it was time for them to climb.

    The burly man smirked as he listened to the energetic chants of the people. Soon, the market street was teeming with curious bystanders and he preyed on their naivety. Oh, how ignorance is power! He crouched down so that he was towering over Jimin again. "You see, you shouldn't have become the emperor's dog." He grabbed Jimin's collar, forcing Jimin to face him. "Because once the hunt is over, the hound is boiled for supper."

    Jimin winced as the burly man abruptly released him and he fell to the ground with a thud. With his good eye, he watched the burly man pace over to his fallen sabre. He picked it up. "I made you a promise..." The tip of his sword dragged against the gravel as he walked back to Jimin, a smirk playing on his lips. Once he was nearby, he aimed it at his throat. Jimin gulped. "I promised you that I'll cut you up well." He raised his sword and the blade glinted in the sunlight. "And that is a promise I intend to keep..." The burly man swiftly swung his sabre down in full force.

    With his life seemingly flashing before him, Jimin shut his eyes as he prepared for the worse. But instead of meeting flesh, the burly man's sabre clashed against another sword. Jimin heard a familiar voice shout, "Leave him alone!" Immediately, his eyes flew open and a mixture of relief and fear overcame him when he discovered who it was.

    "You!" the burly man exclaimed as he scrutinised the woman's features. "What are you doing free?"

    Gyuri furrowed her brows as she gritted out, "I won't let you harm him any more than this." Her arms shook against his strong grip as the burly man pushed his sabre against hers.

    He cackled when her sword tilted to the side. "Out of my way." The burly man batted the sword to the side, knocking Gyuri along with it. She tumbled next to Jimin.


    At the sound of Jimin's voice, Gyuri turned to the beaten man and quickly scooted over to him. "Chim Chim..." Her eyes trailed down his bruised and bloodied face. Seeing his injuries up close overwhelmed her with guilt. "Chim Chim... I'm so sorry."

    "You... mad wench" he croaked. "I told you... to stay back."

    "And let you die?" she retorted. "Never."

    But just as Jimin was about to reprimand her, the burly man suddenly let out another cackle. "How pathetic" he sneered. "Are you that weak that a wench must come and rescue you?"

    Gyuri raised Jimin's sword as she positioned herself in front of him. "Stay back!" Her hands trembled as she aimed the sword at the burly man. "Don't come any closer or I'll-"

    The burly man lazily swung his sabre to the side, batting Gyuri's away. "Or you'll what?" he leered. "Cut me?"

    Gyuri fumbled to straighten her sword, but before she could, the burly man immediately swatted it away with full force, disarming her completely.

    "I was going to deal with you later," the burly man said as he loomed over both Gyuri and Jimin. "But clearly you want to die first."

    Gyuri drew closer to Jimin as if to shield him.

    "If that's the case" the burly man resumed, "then I'll make sure to send both of you off!" He raised his sword again to deal with the final blow.

    Immediately, Gyuri flung herself above Jimin, covering his body with hers. It was like her body had a mind of its own. Despite every fibre of her being screaming for her to run, leave Jimin behind, her urge to protect him overrode her instincts to flee. She squeezed him tightly and Jimin grimaced. I'll protect you this time, Chim Chim! But as she waited for the sharpness of the blade to strike her back, an abrupt strangled grunt came instead.

    Gyuri dared to look up.

    There, before her, stood the burly man, frozen in disbelief. His arms dropped to his side as if drained of all its strength. Gyuri followed the burly man's gaze as he stared down at his chest.


    His mouth was ajar as he tried to process why there was so much of it on his filthy garments. This isn't mine, was the first thought that flitted across his mind. But in a split second, his blurred vision finally managed to focus on the sharp tip of a blade protruding through his chest-a sword stained in scarlet.

    All too quickly, the blade retreated, taking with it, the remainder of his energy. And as if the world suddenly slowed down, Gyuri watched as the burly man collapsed to the floor. Blood leaked from his open wound as his face remained frozen in the same expression of disbelief. His eyes glossed over as the rage that burned within was extinguished like a naked flame. In shock, Gyuri trailed her eyes upward and watched as droplets of blood dripped from the assailant's long blade. When she finally met eyes with their saviour, her eyes rounded.


    There in front of her stood Zeren with a face as dark as thunder. His chest heaved up and down as he panted, his eyes wild and feral. Zeren lowered his sword as he shifted his attention from the burly man to Gyuri and then to Jimin. His features hardened when he spotted the state of his friend.

    "Chim..." Zeren's voice was barely audible. He was about to approach the pair when shouts from the burly man's companions distracted him. As quick as lightning, Zeren drew his sword as the brawny men attacked him from both sides. Zeren skilfully avoided their blades with nimble steps. Like Jimin, he dodged their advances with ease. But unlike his friend, Zeren wasn't hesitant with his sword.

    With a fierce thrust, Zeren lunged his weapon straight through one of the men, rendering him immobile. An agonised grunt escaped his lips as Zeren yanked his sword back, a crimson fountain following behind.

    Gyuri was horrified by the sight.

    As Zeren continued to trade blows with the last of the trio, Gyuri's eyes inevitably landed on the corpses. Pools of red spilled from their fallen bodies, triggering Gyuri's memories of the night of the attack. The sound of clanging metal morphed into the explosion of fireworks; the scent of dry earth mirrored the smell of gunpowder. Paralysed, Gyuri's breathing became sharp and shallow as her heart drummed wildly against her chest.

    It was all coming back to her.

    But just as she was about to witness Zeren fatally injure the beefy man, a hand reached out to Gyuri, tearing her eyes away from the brutal slaughter.

    "Do not look," Jimin croaked as he ignored the stinging of his wounds. He pulled Gyuri into a tight embrace. "You do not need to see this."

    "Chim Chim-"

    "You really are a mad wench" Jimin interrupted as he buried his chin near the crook of her neck. Gyuri shivered as his warm breath tickled her skin. "Do not ever scare me like that again."
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