It’s not everyday that a mortal interfered with the plans of the powers that be. If she was going to be honest, the deity of Fate was annoyed and fascinated at the same time.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Fate sighed.
The mortal she was talking to was staring blankly ahead, a woman about thirty years of age with a face that was already looking as tired as a septuagenarian. A sheen of cold sweat glazed her forehead and her skin was almost completely ashen. She was propped up against an old camphor tree looking utterly disheveled, the sleeves of her cotton jacket torn and burnt here and there, with one of her feet missing a shoe.
Fate did not really expect her to be able to respond, as every breath the mortal took was shallow and labored. She pitied her for her current state, but despised her at the same time for what she had done.
“The boy was not supposed to die,” Fate said flatly. “You should have saved him.”
“Was I supposed to?” the mortal asked the god without meeting her gaze, her voice hoarse and almost inaudible.
Fate closed her eyes in frustration and pinched the bridge of her nose. She played the fiasco in her mind for the third time today.
A fire broke out at the residence of a Joseon governor an hour and a half past midnight. Some of the servants woke up and ran out to ask for help from the neighbors, while the others frantically worked together to put out the fire. The mortal woman, who was also living in the same compound, managed to get out of her burning cottage right before the roof collapsed. With her left leg slightly burnt, she struggled to reach the wooden gate of the annex of her in-laws’ residence leading to the woods. Just as she was about to step out, she heard the grandchild of the governor, an eight year-old boy, desperately crying for help. She hesitated, yet she changed her disposition the moment she saw him weeping while trapped in one of the rooms of his parents’ house. She limped back to the burning structures and when she got close enough, she tried to calmly hush the boy. It took her a few minutes to get to the boy and a few tries to move him, as the boy’s leg was caught between two chunks of wood. Nevertheless, she was able to pull him out and prod him to leave the house immediately. Unfortunately, one of the timber frames in the doorway fell and hit her head, causing her to pass out and be engulfed by the fire.
The deity took a deep breath before taking a few steps towards the mortal, the train of her emerald cloak of velvet sweeping against the carpet of fallen leaves, and crouched down in front of her.
Under the moonlight, the god was personified as a woman with an oval face, high cheekbones, and piercing almond eyes. Her sculpted nose was in the air and her lips curved downward into a distinct scowl.
“Yes, Son Eon Jin,” Fate affirmed. “You were supposed to.”
The woman’s eyes slowly betrayed her grim comprehension and her lips trembled with fear. But, just when Fate was so sure she would repent and ask for forgiveness, Eon Jin scoffed and rolled her eyes. The deity was stunned at the audacity of the mortal.
“Are you saying that I” — she sputtered — “should have went back there to save the child?”
The god chose not to answer, as she knew that it wasn’t truly a question. The mortal was testing her benevolence and grace; she was already running out of both at the time.
“Almighty, look here,” Eon Jin said with the clearest voice she can muster, her eyes brimming with angry tears. “I am sorry if I had ruined your plans — I truly am. But, you probably were expecting too much from a mere mortal. You see, if I went back there and saved that child, I would be thrown back to the hell that I was in.”
“Do you intend to say that you feel no remorse knowing that you have the blood of that boy on your hands?” Fate asked, blasé that her voice was already reflecting her growing impatience.
After all, with the impending argument with the god of Death before dawn, it was surely going to be a long night for her so she had to get this conversation done and over with.
“How is there blood in my hands?” Eon Jin asked the god, her tone accusatory. “I did not kill the boy. I just turned my back so I can save myself from that wretched family.”
Fate clenched her teeth, her jaw already tight from keeping her exasperation at bay. She knew it should have been easy and perfect if only she did not have the principle of allowing mortals to act on their own freewill in critical moments, such as Eon Jin’s dilemma a few hours ago. It was unusual, but once in a while mortals surprised her by making decisions which were totally out of their character and consequentially ruining her elaborate designs.
“And besides...” Eon Jin continued. “One life taken out of your plan isn’t truly a loss, is it? You are a deity and we are just mortals, mere pawns in this scheme you call life.”
Fate winced at Eon Jin’s choice words.
The deity could not believe she was hearing this from Eon Jin, whom she knew was as gentle as the flow of the stream by the foot of the mountain behind this town from the moment she was born. She was always tender and compassionate to everyone. All of the people in their village adored her, except her in-laws who treated her like she was a despicable excess baggage. Every waking day since the death of her young groom ten years ago, they nagged that she was a good-for-nothing freeloader although she was basically treated as a servant from the moment she stepped into their house.
It’s a pity that her suffering already took a toll on her, not that it can be helped , the deity thought to herself, mulling the situation over before granting judgment. Even so, such misfortune is not an excuse to cause death to someone — let alone a child — by inaction.
When she saw Eon Jin’s brows furrowed, seemingly lost in thought, Fate asked, “What is it that you’re thinking?”
Eon Jin’s eyes narrowed; she was about to say something, but she pursed her lips. Fate let out a humorless laugh at the sight of her hesitation.
“You have already been too bold for your own good, Son Eon Jin,“ the god said. “Let me have it.”
“It’s not just because a life perished out of schedule,” the mortal mumbled, more like talking to herself than to the deity. “That would be trivial.”
Eon Jin confirmed her assumptions when she saw the slightest twitch in the god’s lips.
And in spite of knowing that she would definitely be punished for her impudence, the mortal became more curious to find out what that boy meant to the god.
“Your displeasure is rooted from something else, isn’t it?” she asked the god, with eyes wide and knowing.
Both of them stared at each other, and the looming unease stretched for what felt like a lifetime.
Then again, the deity caught Eon Jin off guard as she smirked and rose to her feet shortly afterwards.
“Tell me, Son Eon Jin,” Fate asked. “Would you like to try spending an eternity to find out?”
Upon hearing those words, Eon Jin felt all the pain in her body gradually ebb away.