༺ Master (3) ༻
The moon in the sky was a shade of violet.
The stars around it looked normal, but the oddly looking moon looked like it devour the sky whole.
Only the sound of trickling water could be heard amid the endless darkness.
Along with a teacup being placed, a voice could be heard.
｢You are late.｣
No Qi was used to enhance the voice, but my heart shook just from a simple statement.
The purple eyes that shone still gave me chills even after a long time had passed.
｢…I greet the Cult Leader.｣
I walked toward the voice and fell to one knee. There was no hesitation or pause in my movements.
I couldn’t dare to raise my head to the existence that stood in front of me.
The Heavenly Demon. The ruler of the Heavens was in front of me.
They looked down at me and whispered.
｢I heard the news. The Demonic Sword died.｣
My back flinched after hearing the name.
｢Do you feel resentment?｣
I fell into thought after hearing the Heavenly Demon’s question.
Who am I supposed to resent? What did the Heavenly Demon mean? Myself? Or was it Zhuge Hyuk?
Or if that were not the case, did the Heavenly Demon ask if I resent them?
In the end, I didn’t respond to the Heavenly Demon’s question.
Whatever the Cult Leader felt from my reaction, it made them giggle.
｢You are not denying anything.｣
A small cup rolled toward me, and I carefully stopped it.
｢Pick it up.｣
I followed the order and picked up the cup. I only heard a trickling sound, and the cup was completely filled with alcohol.
I raised my head. I noticed the uniform the Heavenly Demon was wearing was black.
The Heavenly Demon’s uniform was clean.
It was almost intense because how the uniform had not even a single speck of dust on it.
It was the same for the Heavenly Demon’s body. There was no blemish, wound, or scar on it.
The Lord of Heaven died, and the Dishonored Venerable was killed by the Heavenly Demon.
‘I heard the Murim Alliance would be joined by Sword Emperor in their fight. Still, the Heavenly Demon didn’t even have a single scar on their body.’
Just by looking at the result, I knew.
The Dishonored Venerable died by getting their heart ripped out off from their body, and the Sword Emperor may have survived, but he couldn’t be in good shape.
Two of the Heavenly Venerables that looked over the sky joined forces, but they weren’t able to even scratch the Heavenly Demon’s uniform.
Would the result have been different if the Lord of Heaven wasn’t dead and all three of them had joined forces?
I wasn’t sure.
｢I kept my promise. The Sword Emperor, I let that old man live twice. This much should be enough.｣
｢This is my generosity toward you.｣
Is the Heavenly Demon trying to tell me I shouldn’t obsess over the Demonic Sword’s death now because of this?
I drank all of the alcohol the Heavenly Demon poured me.
My body had become senseless long ago. No matter how bitter the drink was, I couldn’t feel it.
｢The Man of Heaven, that man was telling me that I should assign you to the Celestial Sword, what’s your opinion on this?｣
｢Even though I can’t see your face, I can tell.｣
The Heavenly Demon had just mentioned Wi Seol-Ah’s title. I felt like a sigh was being forced out of me because of the ominous feeling I felt from my back.
The Heavenly Demon once again filled up the empty cup with alcohol. Like before, I drank all of it.
｢I shall say no more. I didn’t forget our promise.｣
Along with the Heavenly Demon’s words, many cracks formed behind them.
– Czhhhhh-! Kghhhh-!
The sounds those cracks let out gave me the chills. The purple light then gradually expanded in size.
The cracks that formed then devoured each other and turned into a single big hole in the end.
I knew that all of those horrible things happened by the hands of the Heavenly Demon.
– Grrrrr… Crr..!
From the hole, I heard a growling of beasts. The beasts showed fear toward the Heavenly Demon, but they didn’t hide the resentment they felt toward the world.
The Heavenly Demon ignored their overflowing indignation and spoke.
｢You know that I have high hopes for you.｣
｢I let the girl live since you asked, and I gave you power since you wanted it.｣
Then, the huge beasts started to appear from the other side of the portal.
The nasty, horrendous aura they exuded spread throughout the atmosphere.
｢This is why I didn’t say anything about the volatility of Sichuan. Why do you think I let it happen?｣
No more alcohol was poured.
The cup the Heavenly Demon was holding perished in an instant, whatever left of it drifting along with the wind.
｢Like I said, I didn’t do anything to the Celestial Sword due to our promise. However,｣
The Heavenly Demon’s purple gaze fell on me.
｢Know that that will soon end as well.｣
｢Thank you for your generosity.｣
The Heavenly Demon got up after our conversation ended. I could see the black uniform flutter due to the sheer amount of demonic Qi.
While walking toward the Abyss, the Heavenly Demon pulled out a ring off its own finger and tossed it over to me.
I picked up the accessory. As soon as I touched it, I felt a very dense demonic Qi that was enough to give me a headache.
｢This is an order. Bring me the Alliance leader’s head.｣
I didn’t respond to the Heavenly Demon’s order, and only put on the ring that was given to me.
That was my response.
Seeing that, the Heavenly Demon walked closer to the portal.
｢You have four days. That should be enough.｣
The demons followed the Heavenly Demon toward the portal and when they all had entered, the purple hole disappeared.
The Heavenly Demon was gone, but I still couldn’t raise my head.
I didn’t know what kind of emotion I was feeling.
I didn’t know if it was anger I felt against myself, or if it was resentment I had for someone.
While I knew I felt miserable, I knew I couldn’t blame anyone else.
Everything was the result of my own actions.
I quickly washed away the pointless thoughts.
I didn’t have the right to feel self-reproach, and I didn’t have any time to waste.
I got up and strutted toward the black fog.
* * * *
Elder Shin asked me what the Heavenly Demon was. The question made me ponder.
He wasn’t asking me who it was…
…but ‘what’ it was.
I didn’t know how much of my memories Elder Shin had seen, but it was quite bothersome for me.
｢There were lots of things I didn’t get to see. Anything related to that Heavenly Demon thing was mostly covered by some fog, so I couldn’t see it.｣
｢However, even from the slightest glance I could get, I couldn’t help but wonder if that thing is even human.｣
｢I’ll ask again kid, what is that thing?｣
I once again fell into thought hearing Elder Shin’s question.
The existence that tried to stand over the whole sky by itself.
The creature that looked over thousands of demons and the existence that had enough strength on its own to reach the sky’s limit.
I knew that Elder Shin wasn’t wondering if the Heavenly Demon was human or not because of their sheer strength, but that, too, always made me wonder if they were human.
After thinking for a bit, I responded, “I don’t know much about the Heavenly Demon.”
Elder Shin became confused, but this was the truth.
It wasn’t just me. There was no one who knew where the Heavenly Demon came from, or what kind of life they led before becoming such an existence.
It just happened one day.
A True Gate of Demons appeared in the Murim Alliance for the first time in many generations.
It was very sudden, but many didn’t panic.
It happened when the Murim Alliance was hosting a tournament against young prodigies of the world.
The area was filled with young geniuses and the most prominent figures of the noble clans.
Not only were the martial artists of the Murim Alliance present, but every leader of the Four Noble Clans excluding the Peng Clan were also in attendance.
The strongest practitioners of the Ten Sect Alliance were also there.
It would have been a disaster normally, but in that situation, it wasn’t that dangerous, at least that’s what everyone thought.
However, contrary to everyone’s expectations, that day was the beginning of the end.
Everyone expected tens of demons to appear from the gate, but instead, only one person walked out of it with slow, measured steps.
Besides their white skin, the person was fully covered in black, from their toes all the way up to their head.
Everyone pointed their swords toward the mysterious figure who left the gate, but the person remained calm.
“Who are you?”
The person put on a smile after hearing the Alliance leader’s question.
｢Nice to see you all.｣
That was when the calamity began.
｢I am the Heavenly Demon.｣
There was no space for peace.
The Heavenly Demon killed around half of the martial artists in the area and destroyed everything in the vicinity. Following the slaughter, he walked toward the front gate of the Murim Alliance.
The two words, Heavenly Demon, spread out throughout the world at this moment.
Many young prodigies and prominent figures lost their lives that day.
The Heavenly Demon’s name spread far and wide because of their strength, but it didn’t matter to the invader.
Their power alone was charming, and there were many people that succumbed to the Heavenly Demon after witnessing their strength.
The Heavenly Demon didn’t reject those that succumbed.
If they wanted to become demonic humans, then the Heavenly Demon would let them. They may have lost their freedom, but they also got access to immense power and the ability to fly under the Heavenly Demon’s banner. Therefore, many had chosen the path of becoming demonic humans.
What was it that the Heavenly Demon wanted?
What was their goal and what did they dream of for them to appear in this world?
Many demonic humans served the Heavenly Demon, but no one knew the answer.
The Heavenly Demon was simply the Heavenly Demon.
They just wanted to stand above the sky, and since they reached that goal, there was no reason for explanation.
That’s what everyone thought. So did I, funnily enough.
｢Came from a gate, huh?｣
Elder Shin didn’t ask further questions. He didn’t ask why I had done those things, or how I spent my time… Or why I had become a demonic human in the first place.
It was possible that the reason he hadn’t asked me those questions was because he already knew the answers. Regardless, he seemed fixated on the fact that the Heavenly Demon came from a portal.
His silence continued as he was trapped in his thoughts again.
I was honestly surprised that I didn’t hear the questions that I expected to hear from him.
I thought that he would ask about what I had done to Mount Hua in my past life.
Elder Shin’s main focus was on the Heavenly Demon, however.
“Do you know the atrocities I committed to Mount Hua in my past life?”
My mind was telling me to shut up, but I brought it up myself in the end.
It was a confession, but it was too late to run away.
Elder Shin spoke casually. My pupils dilated, my eyes popping out in shock.
“How come you aren’t saying anything about it?”
｢Do you want me to?｣
｢I may be a Taoist, but that still doesn’t mean my anger would go away just because some time has passed.｣
Elder Shin was a hero of his generation that blossomed to save Mount Hua.
Furthermore, he was their leader at some point, so there was no way that he wouldn’t care about Mount Hua.
｢However, whether I despise your actions or not, that’s for the current generation to take care of.｣
Elder Shin paused for a moment and continued to speak.
｢The reason why I’m not resenting you is because plum blossoms weren’t the only things I saw burning away.｣
｢Don’t be mistaken. I haven’t forgiven you. I’m just bearing with it and watching you.｣
｢Don’t hesitate. You yourself know the reason why.｣
I clenched my eyes shut after hearing Elder Shin’s words. The burdens I had to carry felt way too heavy.
｢What do you plan to do from now on?｣
Elder Shin’s question couldn’t be clearer. He was asking if I was going to stop the Heavenly Demon or not.
It was a tough question, and my shut mouth wasn’t opening anytime soon. Noticing my struggles, Elder Shin continued.
｢I know why you are hesitating. I also know that you already answered this question in your heart. Speak for yourself.｣
“Why are you being like this all of a sudden?”
｢I realized something while going through your memories. I think I know why I still exist in this current world.｣
“What are you-“
｢You already have the answer. Is it really that hard to just say it out loud?｣
I felt pressured by Elder Shin’s urging, but since the man wasn’t wrong, I pulled myself together.
‘Originally, I wasn’t planning on doing this.’
My initial plan was to live a peaceful life.
Since I was given a second chance, I wanted to live a casual life without doing much.
I thought that many things would change if I did that… But to be honest, I probably already knew the answer then.
That, too, was me trying to find an excuse to pretend to not know anything.
After letting out a deep sigh, I spoke.
“Yes, I plan to stop the Heavenly Demon.”
I put aside the thoughts of whether it was even possible, or how to do it, or if I could ever dare to… and just decided to do it. I wasn’t trying to become a hero or anything.
I was just trying to atone for the sins of my past life.
It was a rather poor reason, but there was certainly truth in those words.
Elder Shin started to breathe heavily after hearing my response. I wonder what kind of thoughts he was having.
The old man was able to read my thoughts, but it was rather annoying because I couldn’t read his.
｢All right then, that’s enough.｣
Following his simple response, Elder Shin remained silent for a while.
He was done with just one question about the Heavenly Demon.
‘Is this it?’
I was honestly more curious as to why he wasn’t asking me more questions.
It would soon be noon soon, and I had plans to see the Celestial Plum Blossom in a bit.
I had to talk about the reward he would give me, and the Taoist Qi that was inside my body.
While I was going back to the lodge, Elder Shin was lost in thoughts of his own.
The existence called the Heavenly Demon came out of a portal.
The mysterious power of the creature felt familiar for some reason.
｢That shouldn’t be the case…｣
As his thoughts developed, Elder Shin felt more uneasy and doubtful.
The history he knew clearly said…
…that it died.
That the heroes put a stop to it, and that they were able to finally stop the world-ending calamity with their own hands.
｢But then how…｣
Elder Shin wondered why he felt the Blood Fiend from the existence called the Heavenly Demon.
He couldn’t erase the nasty anxiousness he felt.
* * * *
Not long after Gu Yangcheon had left…
A man wearing a uniform of the Murim Alliance was deep in the hideout’s cave.
The man was looking around the place in between the corpses that were strewn around him.
He observed the wall and the floor, his head tilting in confusion.
He found almost no traces of any fight happening here.
It seemed like the corpses around him didn’t put up much of a fight.
The man flipped over one of the corpses on the floor by kicking it with his foot.
The corpse was wearing a black uniform and a black mask—a choice that basically screamed “I’m an assassin.”
That corpse was Nachal, who had died after his heart was stabbed.
‘One of his arms is cut off and all the tendons in his arms and legs have been severed.’
Was it because the attacker didn’t want him to run away? The man wondered if it was even possible to make such precise and deep cuts in the heat of a battle.
It was honestly more believable that these wounds had been inflicted after the assassin’s death.
Judging by the fact that almost no traces of the fight could be found, the fight must have been one-sided, and looking at the cut-off arm and severed tendons, it was clear that the killer was a skilled swordsman.
‘A swordsman, huh…? Did Mount Hua notice something?’
But this thought brought with it only more questions.
There was the question of how the person entered when they weren’t able to activate the device.
‘They shouldn’t be able to open it without the Heavenly Qi.’
The man thought that a martial artist like Nachal wouldn’t be stupid enough to just leave with the entrance open.
He then wondered if there was a traitor within the main palace. Because if that wasn’t it…
The man briefly put aside Nachal’s corpse and walked toward the blood pool.
The flower that was supposed to be growing there wasn’t present. It seemed like it had already been pulled out and taken away.
‘This is a problem.’
No one expected Nachal to fail, including the main palace’s leader.
The man thought to himself that unless the Celestial Plum Blossom noticed himself and took action, everything would have gone well and without any complications.
‘…For us to fail in retrieving the liquid from Mount Hua.’
Although there wasn’t that much of it, the man heard that it wasn’t a small amount either.
Moreover, it seemed like the one responsible for doing this had cleaned up, leaving almost no traces behind.
“The interference of the Gu Clan as well… How do I tell this to the leader?”
The man in the cave heard a few days earlier about a heir from the Gu Clan who killed Ya Hyeoljeok.
He couldn’t help but wonder if those two events were somehow connected.
He remembered that the intel provided stated that the Gu Clan child specialized in bare-fisted close combat, augmented by the use of flames.
Looking at the corpses around him, there was no trace of flames being used.
Who was the one who interfered, then?
The man had also heard that the Black Palace had been lurking around recently, so it was possible that they were the ones responsible for this.
Either way, now there’s even more work to do…
The man wrapped a piece of cloth around his aching head.
Every time things didn’t go according to plan, they would also become more complicated.
Another person appeared from outside the room and addressed the man.
The man immediately fixed his expression and turned around.
“Did you find anything?”
“I think we need to get a professional to take a look at the secret device.”
“Write that down and bring it.”
“Understood. What should we do about this right here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Shouldn’t we inform Mount Hua of this?”
The person looked at the corpses that had had their blood sucked out and frowned.
Judging by their expressions and the blood pool in the middle, it seemed they died quickly. Despite only a few days having passed, their corpses looked like they had been starving for weeks.
The subordinate held in the impulse to vomit and continued.
“What do you think they were trying to do?”
“You think we know what the guys from Unorthodox Faction are thinking? Don’t try to even understand their actions.”
“You have a point.”
The man smiled after hearing the person’s response. The role was tiring for him at this point.
‘I can’t believe I have to put on this act for at least another year.’
Even Ya Hyeoljeok that died to some kid had a place of his own, but here he was, doing work behind the scenes, wasting his time.
Holding in his rage, the man spoke.
“I’ll contact Mount Hua and others myself, so don’t worry about it.”
“All information would go through me anyway, so if you find anything that seems important, let me know first.”
“Good. You can go.”
After sending one of his faction’s members away, the man started to inspect Nachal’s corpse. He had to erase any traces that could be connected to him.
The man noticed something strange while observing the assassin’s corpse.
Nachal still had some Qi in his corpse since it hadn’t been too long since he had died.
Although it may be spread out everywhere, the man was certain there was some Qi left…
‘Why is there not even a hint of Heavenly Qi here?’
The most important Qi wasn’t there.
The ‘Heavenly Qi’ could only be obtained after being approved by the leader.
The man also had the Heavenly Qi just like Nachal, so if there was any, he would have been able to feel it.
Much to his shock, however, he couldn’t feel anything. There was no way that it had all faded away since it hadn’t been that long since the assassin’s death.
Moreover, his abdomen wasn’t cleaved either, so there should be still some remaining.
The man couldn’t understand why he couldn’t feel anything.
It was impossible, and it felt as if someone had purposely sucked it out.
‘I should write this down too.’
Another point was added to the list of information that would be relayed to the main palace.
The man was certain that this detail was the most important part of it all.
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