༺ Nightmare (2) ༻
Why were Demonic Arts considered so dangerous?
It was because they could integrate seamlessly with other martial skills.
This also included my flame arts.
The Qi required to practice flame martial arts was rather dangerous because of how it flowed so violently around the body.
The fire Qi would let the user achieve explosive strength, but at the expense of damaging their body in the process.
In its base form, it was an art that would slowly reduce the user’s lifespan.
Of course, that could be prevented with enough understanding and training in it, but nevertheless, it was still a dangerous art.
And attempting to fuse different disciplines, like adding Mount Hua’s Plum Blossom arts to the Gu flame arts, for example, would result in both styles conflicting with one another and shattering the user’s body apart.
It was pretty much the act of biting off far more than one could chew and then choking to death on it.
To put it strictly, the martial artist would at least be half-disabled.
But demonic arts had no penalties like that.
This was the reason why traitors came from both the Orthodox and the Unorthodox factions after the emergence of the Demonic Cult.
Wudang’s water Qi would become far sharper.
Mount Hua’s Plum Blossom arts would be stained with a lethal, elegant black.
And pure destruction would be incorporated into Shaolin Temple’s already strong martial arts.
Demonic arts allowed people to obtain more strength than they ever could have before.
This was all thanks to the power of the Heavenly Demon. Practitioners wouldn’t even need to learn how to use demonic arts.
They would naturally understand it once they became part of the Demonic Cult and swore their lives in service to the Heavenly Demon.
This was the blessing and the curse that the Heavenly Demon gave to its followers.
“Fuck… How is this happening?”
I received only one demonic art from the Heavenly Demon, Demonic Absorption.
I was bestowed this art due to the one desire I had, which was to get stronger.
It was the method of absorbing power from demonic stones.
This art was the only reason why I was able to survive against strong, talented martial artists back then.
However, all of that had only happened in my last life.
In this life, I was not involved with any sort of demonic arts whatsoever. No demonic cultist had even appeared yet, let alone the Heavenly Demon.
‘Then why is this happening…’
When I put a bit of strength into the now-empty demonic stone, it shattered easily in my hands.
It was because of how I absorbed all its energy with Demonic Absorption. I also felt that more Qi was transmitted to my body.
The change was small, but my Qi had definitely increased.
It might have been good that I had increased my Qi reserves, no matter how I had done it.
But the reason why demonic humans were called that was not because they had learned demonic arts.
It was because they had demonic Qi.
This demonic Qi was also why their users’ Qi would turn black, no matter what color they used to possess before.
The fundamental problem was the damage demonic Qi caused to the user’s body.
I knew, more than anyone, what would happen to a demonic martial artist’s body once they became fully possessed by demonic Qi.
“But then how…”
Demonic stones held demonic Qi inside them. And ‘Demonic Absorption’ lets me absorb the Qi from the demonic stone into my own body.
It meant that demonic Qi was entering my body.
I quickly circulated flame Qi around my body in order to search for it, but—
“…Why isn’t it here?”
Alarmingly, I felt no demonic Qi.
It should have been blatantly noticeable once it entered my body.
There was no way I would miss the insidious feeling of that Qi.
But I couldn’t feel any demonic Qi even though I absorbed the entirety of that demonic stone. I checked again, but felt no demonic Qi within my body.
‘Is it because of how weak the demonic stone is?’
It was only a green stone. The stone basically had half a fingernail worth of Qi inside of it.
Muyeon quickly ran over to me when he saw me just standing there in a daze.
“Are you alright, young master? Are you hurt anywhere!?”
“I’m fine. I’m not hurt one bit.”
“I told you to go inside the carriage, yet you recklessly stayed out here and fought them. What would you have done if you got hurt!”
“Sorry, I’ll be careful next time.”
My selfish act was very inconvenient for Muyeon as an escort. I apologized to him for acting on my own stubbornness.
I walked over to the corpse of the green-horned hound. The cut of the exposed horn base told me it was the first beast Muyeon had slain.
Like the last time, I concentrated fire Qi into my arm, stabbed through its body and pulled out a demonic stone.
‘I have to check, even if it feels horrible.’
I wanted to ignore what had just happened.
But demonic Qi entering someone’s body meant that it would slowly come to possess them, no matter how little of an amount had entered initially.
So, if demonic Qi had truly entered my body, then it was already too late.
I felt the same staticky sensation in my palm as before.
The green demonic stone lost its color and became clear. The Qi that had entered my body was the same amount as last time.
Up until this point, it was the same.
However, now that I was paying attention, I felt something different. The feeling of something I hated.
It was definitely the demonic Qi. There was no mistaking it for anything else. The strand of demonic Qi that entered my body wriggled and moved around in order to take over my Qi.
Then, something unexpected happened.
My fire Qi, instead of turning dark due to contamination, flared up and devoured the demonic Qi instead.
I realized why I couldn’t feel the demonic Qi after the first time around.
‘It assimilated the demonic Qi?’
Was “assimilate” the best way to put it?
What I felt was my fire Qi violently devouring the demonic Qi.
It was something that had never happened in my previous life.
I only ever saw demonic Qi consuming the martial artist’s Qi, not the other way around.
Even the greatest of Qi would eventually come to be possessed by demonic Qi, so how come?
I had no idea what was happening.
I didn’t know why things I never experienced before were happening this time around. Was it because I had messed up from the beginning?
In any case, it was a relief to know that there were no demonic Qi inside my body.
This meant that I could possibly purify demonic Qi and absorb it to add to my own Qi.
But the problem was still there.
‘Why can I still use the art given to me by the Heavenly Demon?’
It was something I couldn’t understand.
Was this power cursed to be chained to me, even beyond death?
I couldn’t get into such a mess again after I had just gotten out of it.
‘…Let’s just be satisfied that I’m not infected with any demonic Qi.’
I decided to figure it out later. I had a different matter to attend to for now.
Wi Seol-Ah opened the door of the carriage and ran over to me, grabbing my hand.
“Oh no… it’s all a mess…”
All of the bandages she had wrapped on my hand had unraveled during the battle when I recklessly moved around.
“Are you alright, Young Master…? Are you hurt anywhere…?”
“As you can see…”
“So you are super hurt!”
“…No, it means I’m fine, what part of me says that I’m hurt?”
“What did you say?”
Are you talking smack about my face? You’re calling me ugly just because of how pretty you are, huh?
Wi Seol-Ah carefully touched my cheek.
“Young master, you look really tired. Like my grandpa.”
“Do I really look that old?”
“Young Master looks scary, but you are not an old man!”
“Be honest… you are just talking smack, right?”
The servants who came out of the carriage a bit late were shocked to see Wi Seol-Ah and ran over to separate her from me.
“Seol-Ah! You can’t just touch the Young Master’s face like that!”
Wi Seol-Ah made an ‘ah’ sound as she was pulled away from me.
Muyeon called out to me after Wi Seol-Ah was taken away by the servants.
When I looked back, the corpses of the green-horned hounds were stacked on top of each other.
It was beneficial to take in and process these demons’ corpses, as their leather and bones sold for a good amount of money.
“The Gu swordsmen have arrived.”
Not even two hours had passed since the incident began. Even if they were fast, could they really have come this quickly?
When I looked at them, I saw familiar faces. It was the swordsmen who had attended the Nine Dragons Ceremony.
“I’m Hyuk Jooyum, Deputy of the fourth swordsman squad. Greetings to the Young Master.”
It was one of the squadron deputies who had attended the ceremony.
“The Second Elder sent us here. We came here as fast as we could, but we were still late… I apologize. I am at fault.”
“The Second Elder?”
This was an unexpected answer. I thought he had already returned to the clan, so what was he on about?
Hyuk Jooyum looked at me, confused upon seeing my bewildered expression.
“Did you not hear? That the Second Elder would set off with you…”
“What are you talking about? The Second Elder didn’t come with us…?”
What did the Second Elder do this time?
‘Did he secretly come with us or something? Why?’
If so, why didn’t he help us with the Gate of Demons? It would have been much less of a hassle for us to deal with it then.
One of the swordsmen came over to us.
“Deputy, sir, all the corpses of the hounds seem to be clean. There is nothing to throw away, so what should we do?”
“All 11 corpses are clean?”
“Oh, two of them have holes in their ribs, but it’s not severe.”
…He was talking about the corpses I had stabbed through, so I kept my mouth shut.
“We can’t move everything, so only take out the leather and bones.”
“And the rest…”
Hyuk Jooyum stopped talking. He made eye contact with Muyeon, who was behind me.
Muyeon respectfully bowed his head to Hyuk Jooyum. Hyuk Jooyum let out a small sigh and spoke.
“I was expecting you to be at home resting, and yet here you are with your sword.”
They knew each other?
Muyeon didn’t say anything in response to Hyuk Jooyum’s words. Hyuk Jooyum didn’t really seem to care, either.
“Come back after some time. Our leader also said that it wasn’t your fault.”
Hyuk Jooyum looked at me again after he finished with Muyeon.
“We will take care of the rest. Please be at ease, young master.”
I looked at Muyeon after Hyuk Jooyum left. Muyeon was making an uneasy face, so I let him be and went back inside the carriage.
I was curious, but I figured he would tell me if the need arose.
As soon as I went into the carriage, Wi Seol-Ah tried to rush at me with all the bandages again, so I ordered another servant to hold onto her and settled down.
I felt like problems seemed to be piling up, when even dealing with one of them was already hard enough for me.
“It’s quite difficult to live a good, normal life, huh.”
Perhaps because of the nightmare I had earlier, I felt like I would not be able to sleep for a few days.
* * * *
Gu Yangcheon’s residence.
There stood the Second Elder and the Sword Emperor. The Sword Emperor was holding a broom in his hand, which was slowly becoming a customary sight.
The Sword Emperor spoke to the Second Elder as he idly swept the floor.
“Thanks, Gu Ryoon.”
The Second Elder let out a fake cough upon hearing the Sword Emperor’s words.
“I didn’t do anything, really.”
“Still, you acted for my granddaughter.”
Usually, elders of the clan wouldn’t do much. They weren’t required to participate in organizing the Nine Dragons Ceremony, either.
The reason why the Second Elder acted this time was because of the Sword Emperor’s request.
“All I did was take a small walk to see my kids again.”
The Sword Emperor’s granddaughter, Wi Seol-Ah.
The reason why the Second Elder took part in organizing the Nine Dragons Ceremony was mainly because of his curiosity about her.
“I already have things to thank you for, so this is nothing.”
It was surprising enough that the Sword Emperor was residing with the Gu Clan, but then the Sword Emperor and the Lord Gu had both asked him to take care of Wi Seol-Ah’s safety.
The Second Elder had suggested that she just shouldn’t go, or for the Lord Gu himself to tag along with them.
But then he retracted it after seeing the expression on the Sword Emperor’s face.
The Second Elder had never witnessed that kind of look from the Sword Emperor before, even when he was active in the past.
‘Even the almighty Sword Emperor can be weak sometimes, huh.’
He was active in the same era as the Sword Emperor, so it was a little sad for him to see the current version of the Sword Emperor.
‘Well, it’s not the biggest problem.’
Then, the Second Elder recalled Gu Yangcheon’s figure.
Gu Yangcheon was a descendant of the Gu Clan who lacked a lot.
He bore the name of Gu, but he was lazy and toxic, and he would run away whenever he had to face the Second Elder. Even the Second Elder thought that he lacked the skill and grit for martial arts.
He was a child that everyone would have given up on, if he hadn’t been born as the Lord’s only son.
Even the Second Elder had begun to entertain the notion that it might be time for him to give up on him as well.
But then, the Gu Yangcheon he saw this time around had become completely different.
It wasn’t all that impressive that he had reached the second realm in the Gu flame arts, since Gu Yeonseo had already achieved the third realm by that point.
‘But the efficiency of his Qi was different.’
The Qi inside of Gu Yeonseo’s body was still all over the place.
The flame Qi within a martial artist’s body required constant circulation while practicing the flame arts, even when the Qi wasn’t being actively manipulated.
Gu Yeonseo still lacked in the stability of her Qi circulation. The speed of the flow was still inconsistent. Sometimes it was too strong, and other times it was too weak.
This inconsistent Qi flow also meant that her flame arts would be easily shaken by her emotions.
It didn’t mean that Gu Yeonseo was lacking overall. She was definitely good for her age.
But it was just that her opponent was Gu Yangcheon.
He may have had only a small amount of Qi within his body, but the way he used his Qi differed significantly from Gu Yeonseo.
How shocked the Second Elder was, when he saw the newly transformed Gu Yangcheon.
The flame Qi within Gu Yangcheon’s body was flowing at a rock-steady pace.
Even after Gu Yangcheon was enraged upon hearing what Gu Yeonseo said to him, he still kept his flow of Qi extremely stable.
It meant that he had an excellent understanding and control of his Qi.
The Second Elder had come to a new realization after watching Gu Yangcheon and Gu Yeonseo duel.
‘That child is hiding his strength.’
The Second Elder didn’t know the reason why, but he was certain.
The Sword Emperor spoke to the Second Elder as he finished organizing his thoughts.
“Anyway, Gu Ryoon.”
“I heard that you nearly killed the Peng Clan kid and used your little children to serve as entertainment for the people. Is that going to be alright?”
“I think the rumors have been exaggerated, I didn’t nearly kill him.”
“…So you half-killed him. Will you be fine?”
“Fine from what, sir?”
“It seems like Lord Gu is looking for you.”
The Second Elder quickly ran away.
He planned to avoid the Lord for a few days.
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