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“The shard,” Yejun said, “it’s in the river?”
The Pastor nodded. He opened the window and a breeze flowed into the room. “I took it. I had to. It was too beautiful to be left alone. When I returned, I examined it beside the river.”
“And you dropped it.”
“It was slippery. It was as if it leaped from my hands by its own will,” the Pastor pleaded. “I didn’t mean for any of this. I swear, I just wanted to do right.”
He removed his robes. Yejun’s eyes widened. The old man’s decrepit body was splotched in purple. His veins were tattooed violet. His toes oozed the same fluid that consumed the river.
“It’s still in the river,” the old man said. He stepped onto the ledge.
“What are you doing?” Yejun eased towards him.
“I tried running, tried to escape my sins by denying them.” He closed his eyes. “But I had to return. I had to try and retrieve it. It’s still down there. I was never much of a swimmer and I can only dive so deep in my old age.” The Pastor surveyed the purple river. “This time I won’t be coming back. It’s my time. This will be my penance.”
“You didn’t tell the villages?”
The old man cringed. “I couldn’t, boy. I’m a servant of the gods, and instead I unleashed the devil. Now I stand, aged, damaged, a failure.” He turned to Yejun. “Forgive me.”
The Pastor leapt into the river. The mauve depths swallowed him whole.
Yejun felt the river calling to himself also, summoning him into its embrace. He stepped away from the window.
It was somewhere in the river, slowly destroying everything that lives. Yejun thought of Ji-su once more. He stepped onto the ledge and stared into the waves. He would not leave until he found the shard.
He took in a deep breath before diving.
He was met with an overwhelming chill as the river stabbed his flesh. He shut his eyes. The water felt thick as he tried to move through its depths. It grew warmer the deeper he swam.
Against his instincts he opened his eyes in an effort to navigate. All he could see was a murky purple obscuring his vision in all directions. Yejun resurfaced and gasped for air. He kept his mouth shut to make sure no water went into his mouth. Light purple dripped from his hair and down his face. It was now that he realized the water emitted a nauseating odour, and he tried not to gag.
“Come on,” Yejun muttered aloud. He tried to focus. He had swum a distance from the temple. The Pastor said he dropped it into the river. The shard has to be close to the bank. He swam towards the closest edge.
The riverbank was long and twisting, with dark purple mud. No living thing inhabited that discoloured earth.
Taking another deep breath, Yejun dove downward, using the bank as a reference point. The purple mud felt like a rotten vegetable mash as Yejun grabbed at it. He was unsure how deep the river went, but at least now he had a lead. He was running short of air. The water began to warm discomfortingly as he sank deeper. Yejun figured he had thirty seconds at best before he needed to go back up. The water was unforgivingly smoggy. He reached for his dagger and stuck it into the mud bank to hold his position there, fighting the urge to return up. He tried looking around. In the corner of his eye, he saw a bead of light. Then the river obscured his vision once again, almost as if it didn’t want him to see. His chest felt like it was going to implode. He pulled his dagger out and torpedoed upwards. He reached the surface and frantically gulped in air.