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He knew he’d seen something. He clutched at the bank as he steadied his breathing. He could hear footsteps, the sound of men marching. The village guard. Soojung must have informed them.
“I’m not dead yet, babe,” he said aloud.
He had one more chance before the guards arrived. He glanced at his hand as he held onto the bank. His skin was starting to change, mimicking the colour of the river.
Yejun dove back down. He surged through the water like a dolphin. A few feet in and he could see it, the light. Glowing white with a purple tint. Yejun swam close, fighting the current which suddenly started to push him back. He felt like he was in a boxing match with the toxic water.
The beam of light grew bigger in the hot depths. It took on a form, the form of something long and pointed, a shard. Yejun could feel his air giving in. He grabbed the shard. Hot, scalding almost, it did not want to be found. It wanted to continue devouring life from the river.
Yejun burst upwards from the water, his hand sizzling from the burn of the mysterious crystal. He was dizzy. The forest started to spin and blur.
“There he is!”
Yejun kept firm hold of the shard. He didn’t care if it burned his hand, not if it meant the river would return to normal.
“He’s waking up.” Soojung was sitting by his bedside.
Yejun sprang up, uncertain where he was.
“You’re home, Yejun. You’re home.” She ran her hand along his cheek.
Yejun saw his wife come into focus. His right hand was bandaged. His forearms were purple. His head felt heavy. “What happened?”
“The guards pulled you out of the river.”
“Currently in my lab.” A tall older woman with braided hair entered the room, stirring a glass of clear fluid.
Yejun knew her — Yan, the village chemist. She handed him the glass. “This will ease your head pain and skin discolouration.”
Yejun drank the medicine. “The river?” he asked.
“It’s starting to clear up,” Soojung said.
“The Council is opening it up for inspection,” Yan added. “This shard, I’ve read about similar materials. Poisoned gems. I thought they were stories of legend.”
“Ji-su,” Yejun said.
“Her fever is easing,” said Soojung.
“Remedies for children are a lot easier when dealing with poison gems,” said Yan.
Yejun examined his arms. “How much time do I have?”
“Beyond our village in the Viridi Mountains, there are gems that can remedy what you have,” Yan said.
“These gems can cure the rest of the village?”
“If found, yes. The Council is sending a team tomorrow.”
“Now all of a sudden the Council wants to help?” Yejun stood up. “I need to be certain of their supposedly noble intentions. Tomorrow I’ll be going with them.”
“Yejun,” Soojung said.
“I don’t want anybody to suffer through this ever again,” he said. He took his wife’s hands in his own. “I promise I’ll come back.”
Yejun went to Ji-su’s crib. He wanted to hold and kiss her but was afraid he might make her sick again.
He looked out the window in surprise. Soojung and Yan joined him. A crowd of people had gathered out front, cheering when they laid eyes on Yejun.
Yejun turned to Yan. “They're going to the Viridi Mountains?”
The chemist nodded.
Soojung placed her hand on his cheek. “Come back safe and with the cure.”
“I will my love.”