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Soojung walked to the back where the water pump was. She pushed on the rod and watched as the water violently flowed into the pot. “Damn!” She looked at the water in dismay.
“What is it?” Yejun asked as his wife stormed through the back door. He examined the pot. “Oh no.”
“It’s getting worse.”
They looked at the water sprinkled with thick flakes. The flakes dissolved at the bottom of the pot, turning the water a murky purple.
“Is there even any point in boiling it?”
“I don’t know.” Soojung looked closely at the water. “We need to notify the Council.”
“They haven’t done anything since the first child died,” Yejun said, turning away. “And villagers keep getting sick.”
Soojung walked over to the crib where Ji-su slept quietly. The infant’s peaceful breathing made her mother smile.
Yejun made for the bedroom and returned with an old dagger in hand. “Maybe there’s something I can do,” he said. He fastened the dagger around his waist.
Soojung said, “It’s forbidden.”
“I know.” He tightened the belt, securing the dagger in place. “What else can we do?”
“Going into the woods won’t save her.” She placed her hand on his chest.
Yejun placed his hand upon hers. “I don’t want to see anyone else get sick.” He looked his wife in her eyes. “Maybe at least I can figure out what’s wrong with the river.”
Yejun kicked down the temple door. He entered a long corridor. An aged red rug led to a large spiral staircase. Forgotten portraits lined the walls, depicting older bearded men in robes. Each of them eyed Yejun as he walked past them towards the staircase, a look of anguish painted into their wrinkled faces.
The wind picked up outside. Yejun could hear the purple river crashing onto the shore.
The staircase groaned as he set foot upon it. The walls were grimy, the railing seasoned with flakes of dust. Half-way up the stench of old beer invaded his nostrils and he heard loud coughing. The top of the staircase was littered with discarded beer, wine and whiskey bottles. Yejun kicked a few bottles aside.
The room was desolate and dirty. Cobwebs stretched along the cracked walls. A greasy window filtered the dim evening light. The coughing resumed from the far corner.
Yejun observed a wingback chair fashioned from an animal’s hide. He eased in closer. Slumped on the chair, coughing as he clutched a liquor bottle, sat the Pastor. The man was ferociously withered. Despite his thick black robes, he was clearly underweight. Thinning white hair adorned a bruised scalp.
“What do you want?” the Pastor asked.
“Answers,” Yejun said after a pause.
The old man coughed. “The river?”
Yejun nodded. “People in my village are sick. Children have died.”
The Pastor dropped his bottle. “I never meant for this.” He stood up. Yejun placed his hand on his dagger.
“Oh please, boy, do I look like I’m going to hurt you?”
The Pastor walked to the window. He looked at the river, sighing. “I have travelled far and wide, spreading the will of the gods. I built this temple seven years ago, looking to earn converts in the surrounding villages. You come from beyond the fence, yes?”
“I assumed as much given your leather armour. Your people passed on my offer.”
“So this is our punishment?”
The Pastor turned to Yejun, offended. “No, of course not. I ventured to other places, preaching the gospel.” He turned back to the river. “It was west, three towns away, when I found it.”
“Like the ones in the forest?”
“No,” the old man said, annoyed. “Far more intricate and beautiful. I found it as I was exploring a cave. It beckoned to me.”