༺ Let’s Make a Bet (3) ༻
Once the conversation between our parents began, Namgung Bi-ah and I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable by the current atmosphere.
Usually, both sides of the family would show formality to each other and have a respectful conversation during moments like these, however, the atmosphere permeating the air made me feel that I was in the middle of a battlefield.
“How have you been?”
A subtle greeting was made at the start of the conversation. Up to this point, it was still fine.
Everyone greets each other, right?
But the problem came soon afterward.
“Well, I’m glad then. I was wondering if you had a problem judging by the look on your face, but I must have been mistaken.”
I gasped in my mind upon hearing my father’s words. The words themselves didn’t seem to have any meaning behind them, but judging by father’s expression and the tone of voice, I knew for certain that he hadn’t spoken those words out of the kindness in his heart because he was worried about Namgung Jin.
Instead, he just straight-up bashed Namgung Jin’s face. To those provocative words of his, Namgung Jin just fired back, seemingly unfazed.
“I was also worried that something must have happened to you judging by those eyes of yours, but come to think of it, your eyes have always been like that. I’m glad that you’re doing well.”
Thorns. There were literal thorns inlaid in the words of both men. Furthermore, they were basically being blatant about the bad blood between them with no intention of hiding it.
One would think that he would be holding back those emotions at a place like this but…
Moreover, this was the first time I saw my father speaking to someone with such a demeanor. I could’ve sworn that his personality was not like this.
Namgung Jin continued, seemingly not done with his retorts.
“And if that’s not your normal face, then maybe there is something that is bothering you after all?”
“What are you trying to mean by saying something is bothering me?”
“You know, it could be a problem with your child or something of the sort.”
While Namgung Jin was bashing on father, he used me as bait to rouse my father up.
It was understandable since the only damned person that caused trouble in the Gu Clan was none other than me. The first child— Gu Huibi also had a shitty personality and everyone knew about it, but she at least had the talent and skills to justify her behavior. And due to that, it made everyone accept that nasty part of hers as something like a charming side of a potent martial artist.
But then what about me?
I had never spread my name out there in the world, nor did I try to spread it even after reaching the level that I had currently attained. For that reason, I was still an unknown individual in the martial world.
Of course, this was intentional on my part. However, I was just unable to believe that he was using this as advantageous material to shit-talk my father.
Father slightly lifted up his eyebrows after hearing Namgung Jin’s words, then calmly took a sip of his tea. Is he getting angry?
‘I don’t think that’s the case.’
Father’s mouth, sipping the tea from the cup, lifted up ever so slightly. This image wasn’t visible from the front as it was covered up by the teacup, but I was able to see it from my position.
That wasn’t the smile of a loser. Father spoke after gulping down the tea he drank from the cup.
“I guess it would be correct to say that is indeed a problem.”
Namgung Jin smiled slightly after hearing father’s words, but his expression couldn’t help but rot after hearing the following words that came out of father’s lips.
“My boorish son is still young and immature, which led to him harming the Lightning Dragon not long before. I sincerely apologize for his conduct.”
I let out a silent interjection at those words. I wasn’t aware of the fact that my father was able to hit back like that.
What my father truly meant— it was something like… ‘My son is way younger than your son, but he was still able to beat the shit out of him anyways.’
Basically, father called Namgung Jin’s son a joke.
“I heard that the Lightning Dragon is a prominent martial artist since he takes a lot after his father, so I’m worried that this incident may have hurt you in any way.”
Just like you.
Was probably what he meant with those words.
As expected, I could immediately hear a cracking noise coming off from the table Namgung Jin was currently seated at. It seemed like we would have to get that table replaced tomorrow.
The work of the servants just increased unnecessarily this way.
“You… are… still the same as ever, Lord Gu.”
“I thank you for your kind words. I’m glad that you also seem to be the same, Lord Namgung.”
I had the feeling that I had seen an electric current flowing between the two adults.
｢I always wondered just where that shitty form of speech that you have came from, but I guess that’s the origin of it all, huh…｣
I couldn’t argue against Elder Shin’s words. However, there was no way what he said could be true.
I never was close to my father for me to learn anything from him, nor did we have a close relationship. In my past life especially— father and I almost never talked to each other.
I did hear a lot that I looked like a carbon copy of my father, but I never heard that my personality was similar to his.
The only thing I heard countless times was… was that I should have at least been even half of what my father was.
It was also one of the major factors why I changed for the worse.
‘Though that is just an excuse, in the end.’
I made all those decisions of my own volition. Thus, only I was responsible for every action that I committed.
I made a vow to live this life by keeping that thought in mind.
Anyway, both my father and Namgung Jin didn’t seem to have any intention of stopping this war of nerves, so they continued on with their pointless banter.
I felt like the situation was taking a weird turn, hence, when I found an opening, I readily jumped into their conversation. I felt like the conversation would never end at this rate.
“Uh… Are you not going to talk about the engagement?”
After hearing my clear and concise words, silence descended between the two. Not long after, Namgung Jin leaked out a fake cough and then smoothly changed the topic.
“…When do you think is the right time?”
“Is there a time that you would prefer?”
As if the scene of the two roaring at each other was just an act all along, they instantly started to talk about the engagement plan. I guess they know that there was a time and place for everything after all?
｢But didn’t they already have a go at each other for you think like that…?｣
Anyway, I wonder if they had finally gotten serious by now. Surely, being the lord of a clan themselves, they wouldn’t continue that pointless back and forth of theirs, right?
“To start, I don’t really mind regarding the exact time and date of the ceremony. But I would prefer it if the wedding doesn’t happen too late. As you can see, my daughter is already at the age to be wed.”
I almost trembled involuntarily after hearing the word ‘wedding’ come out of Namgung Jin’s mouth. Namgung Bi-ah’s marriage was taking place later compared to other noble clans. However, it wasn’t really that late if compared to other martial artists in general.
And considering the level Namgung Bi-ah had currently reached, she would age very slow compared to normal people. Moreover, if we were to look at her talent alone, it wouldn’t really matter how late her marriage was held, or… it wouldn’t really matter if she didn’t marry at all.
‘There is no way he doesn’t know that.’
There was no way that Namgung Jin, at his level, wasn’t aware of the talent that Namgung Bi-ah possessed on the path of the sword. However, despite that knowledge, Namgung Jin looked like he was in a hurry to wed her off.
‘Is there a reason for him to push the marriage early?’
Does Namgung Clan have a problem or something?
Father nodded at Namgung Jin’s words. He then asked while looking toward me.
– Do you want it?
I had to keep my eyes from getting as round as saucers at those words. Why was he talking telepathically all of a sudden?
Did he not even consider that I might not be capable of conversing telepathically?
After wondering how I should react to this situation, I decided to respond— it seemed like he already knew about everything anyway.
– I think it’s still too early.
– I see.
Him asking for my opinion was far more surprising to me than the event of him asking me that question telepathically.
Something like this was practically unprecedented. Well, there’s that, but was it really okay for me to answer as such?
“For the marriage part, I would prefer it if it happens after my son becomes the successor.”
“…That means it’s already decided that he will become the successor?”
Father responded back to Namgung Jin, who was in shock as if it was nothing. Acquiring the position of the young lord was tantamount to the person being the next in line to become the lord of the clan.
Hence, those words could not be easily spoken until the person actually became the young lord, but father still spoke them without a care in the world.
I guess that differentiates our clan from others.
“Then when is that?”
“I think it’s best that it happens after he reaches the age of twenty.”
“Then the time…!”
Namgung Jin immediately shut his mouth while trying to talk back. He knew himself that he wouldn’t get a good response no matter how much time he spent talking here.
Seemingly, there was a reason behind his current trail of conduct, but he was not willing to get out of his way to achieve that. He probably knew that arguing right now would only do him more harm than good.
There was also the possibility that Namgung Jin was acting like this because he already knew that the position would be handed over to me in the near future.
Namgung Jin spoke after letting out a deep sigh.
“…Sigh. Understood. Then when do you think is a good time for the ceremony?”
“Since you said you don’t mind about the time and date, I think spring next year would be a good time.”
“Understood. I will send you a letter on this matter after talking with the elders.”
“I hope for a good outcome.”
They were practically roaring at each other endlessly when they were talking smack… however, the conversation finished almost instantly when it came to the serious discussion part.
Food was soon brought in and alcohol rolled out for the lords, however, only Namgung Bi-ah touched the food among us.
I didn’t really have the appetite to eat in this dreary atmosphere and my father also drank the tea, not touching anything else.
Namgung Jin more or less said something along the lines of ‘I don’t have any hobby of drinking with a bothersome individual.’
So the only one working hard on devouring the food with chopsticks in hand was Namgung Bi-ah alone.
‘…You can eat even at a time like this?’
She did have a personality that seemed to be uncaring of others. Although I had to say that she was eating with a modesty that was ten times better than her usual self. However, I was still unable to believe she was able to eat in such a setting.
‘Is it because she’s been with Wi Seol-Ah lately?’
Something like that was definitely a possibility for sure.
“Then I will take it that the ceremony will take place in spring next year, and I’ll now be leaving with my daughter.”
Namgung Bi-ah’s chopsticks stopped moving after hearing Namgung Jin’s words. Namgung Jin seemed to have noticed that action of hers as he looked at her with sharpness in her eyes.
“I have no intention of letting you wander around like this any longer. I would’ve originally given you a punishment due to your misconduct, but I gave you a pass because of the current situation we are in. You know this yourself, correct?”
Namgung Bi-ah stopped eating altogether. It seemed to me that her appetite had dropped since she was eating just fine before the talks of her return. Of course, something like this was bound to happen as she had practically run away from her home and ended up traveling with me without any permission whatsoever.
However… I couldn’t help but be bothered by that sad expression of hers.
｢Sad…? She looks the same to me, so what makes you say that?｣
Elder Shin asked me without understanding the reason behind my thought, but there was definitely a change in the emotions that were brimming within her eyes. Whether it was due to the tiny movement of her mouth or the small stir in her eyes, I was able to discern her emotions.
She had also relaid to me her desire to participate in the Tournament of Dragons and Phoenixes with me and Tang Soyeol, but I guess Namgung Bi-ah can’t really do anything about that now.
While I stared at the saddened Namgung Bi-ah, Elder Shin spoke.
｢What are you going to do?｣
He responded playfully, as though he had a smirk on his face while relaying his next set of words.
｢Don’t try to hide it from me. Don’t you already have a plan in mind for this situation?｣
I did think up something as Elder Shin had mentioned, but it wasn’t something grand enough for it to be called a plan or anything like that.
Observing the situation up until now, I surmised that I had reached a point where father would give me a pass even if I caused a bit of trouble.
｢What trouble will you cause?｣
‘It’s nothing much.’
I just thought of doing what I was best at.
‘I’m just going to try to fire him up.’
The conversation thus ended. The talk about the engagement plans was rather simple. The engagement ceremony is planned for spring next year, and the date of marriage was yet to be decided.
However, Namgung Jin couldn’t give a response in regard to the date of marriage as he said that he would have to talk with the elders about this matter.
And something I learned from that was…
‘The Lord doesn’t have that much power in the clan.’
That the power that Namgung Jin held in the clan wasn’t too prominent.
Completely unlike the title of the Azure Heavenly Sword that he wielded.
It was quite strange how he didn’t have much of a say in the engagement between his daughter— Namgung Bi-ah and me.
‘Is it because of the Lord of Heaven?’
The man was hailed to be one of the three Heavenly Venerables and arguably the strongest out of them who also currently owned the palace of the Namgung Clan. I was immediately reminded of the man that couldn’t stop the destruction of the Namgung Clan and had been killed by the Heavenly Demon in the process.
‘Not that I have to care that deeply about this.’
With the meal coming to an end, Namgung Bi-ah stood up along with Namgung Jin.
Her gaze was directed toward me.
An expression of disappointment was held within that gaze of hers. Or was it something like an apologetic expression?
What’s she feeling sorry for?
That she couldn’t come with me to the tournament even though she had told me she would? Or that she was leaving my side?
We hardly spend enough time together to warrant that apologetic expression of hers.
She was probably just feeling disappointed. I didn’t exactly know why she felt like that… Whether it was due to the affection she felt for me or the freedom that she finally experienced, I really had no idea…
However, the way she looked at me was what was important.
I indeed felt sorry for her,
I had no intention of sending her away at this point.
Elder Shin asked me with a smile on his face.
｢But what about the times you pushed her away back then?｣
‘I know right.’
I wonder how it came down to this. A human’s mind was truly selfish like no other.
I avoided it as I didn’t want to read it, but after it came into my hands, I didn’t want to let it go.
Isn’t it all insolent, selfish, and crude?
‘Though I do know it myself.’
After my father got up from his seat, I grabbed a dumpling in front of me and ate it in one go. That was my first meal of the day.
I muttered softly while chewing on the dumpling that filled my mouth.
“I’m going to try to be a little greedy.”
Elder Shin didn’t say a word in response.
This was just my presumption, but I guess he was saying something along the lines of— do as you please.
* * * *
After the conversation ended and night dawned upon these lands after some time,
Namgung Jin returned to the guesthouse after finishing his work and getting a report from one of the martial artists.
His face was all crumpled up and looked quite fierce right now. And along with that, the famed Lightning Qi of the Namgung Clan which had taken the form of his current emotions, leaked out of his body.
‘…This little brat.’
Namgung Jin was holding himself back since he was aware of the owner of the land that he was currently residing in.
He held himself back in that pointless conversation and also showed proper patience and restraint when the young prodigy of the Gu Clan was going wild at him.
Since… even the arrogant and ruthless Namgung Jin had some semblance of gratitude for the Gu Clan which was carrying a burden for their sake.
However… even so,
He has crossed the line.
Slamming the entrance open, Namgung Jin entered through the gate that led to his guesthouse.
He didn’t even arrive at his destination, but he could feel a distinct heat, accompanying the breeze from a faraway land, pass by his nose.
Namgung Jin couldn’t help but open his eyes wide due to the scenery that was before his eyes.
Many martial artists of the Namgung Clan were sprawled on the ground, unconscious and out for the count, outside of the guesthouse. The remaining ones that had some semblance of consciousness left in them were vomiting out the contents of their stomach while barely holding onto their waning mind.
The man, responsible for this brutal sight, entered Namgung Jin’s vision. The owner of the heat that had conquered the guesthouse.
And the red eyes that were looking at Namgung Jin while standing in the midst of the ring of flames surrounding his body.
Namgung Jin involuntarily flinched when he saw that ever-familiar appearance.
No, that wasn’t Gu Cheolun. But it was someone similar to that man.
Not to the Tiger Warrior that had already lost its fangs but to the Flame Demon that Gu Cheolun used to be called back in the days of old.
The owner of the encircling vortex of flames spoke to Namgung Jin.
“You came, Honorable Lord of Namgung.”
It was a thin voice. A voice of a young teenager that still didn’t seem to have gone through the voice change that occurred during puberty.
He already knew who it was as he had heard this voice before. However, Namgung Jin didn’t want to believe it.
The fact that such a monstrous existence was born into the Gu Clan.
“I’m not sure if I should speak to you like this in this strange situation…”
The flames soon went out.
‘…No, it’s not withering away.’
All of the horrifying and destructive flames, lingering around the boy, were going back inside of his body along with that scathing heat.
With the heat disappearing, as if a lie, only the presence of the boy remained in the compound.
The black hair that he had seen during the day seemed like a lie as flaming red hair and eyes took its place… just like Gu Cheolun.
“How about we make a bet?”
Gu Yangcheon smiled ferociously as he looked at Namgung Jin.
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