༺ The Iron Maiden (2) ༻
A sickening sound could be heard as I stepped on the deep puddles of blood that appeared at random spots in the area.
The sight of corpses stacked on top of each other wasn’t anything new any longer.
Not a single fresh spot could be seen on any of the rotten corpses, and the smell that lingered in the air was unmistakably the smell of poison.
This had once been a land that was brimming with life. Now, rotten poison had sunk deep into the fissuring ground.
I wondered how long it would take for a land of this magnitude to get back to its normal state.
A few centuries? Even that long might not be enough.
I concentrated Qi around my body to protect myself from the poison in the air as I walked.
Sichuan, once a lively and bright land, had become a cursed land.
No humans would be able to live here anymore.
After walking for some time, I finally came across the person responsible for poisoning this land. She was laying on the ground, seemingly quite calmly.
Her eye sockets, which once harbored bright green eyes, now had nothing within them. Instead, blood could be seen welling up in each of them, with streams of the bright-red liquid flowing down from each socket.
『It’s over, Poison Queen.』
The Poison Queen, Tang Soyeol, who had been looking down with her hollow gaze, turned up at my voice.
Her spirited voice was gone, and what was left was a tired one, laced through and through with a sense of defeat.
『It’s quite amusing seeing you staying here, even though your own family ran away a while ago… Did you think that anything would change if you tried protecting this place by yourself?』
『Nothing will change.』
Tang Soyeol covered her mouth with her sleeve and smiled.
『Then how come you came here?』
『That is a stupid question. Isn’t it obvious? I came here to take your last breath away from you.』
I walked slowly toward Tang Soyeol. And as I walked closer, the poisonous Qi strangely got fainter.
Tang Soyeol stayed here so that the rest of the Tang Clan could move safely to the Shaolin Sect, and there they began making plans in regard to what would happen in the future.
Then… what about Tang Soyeol?
What was left of the woman who stayed behind all by herself?
Perhaps if the Orthodox Factions won the war, she would be remembered in history with one line.
—With the sacrifice of Tang Soyeol, we were able to ensure a peaceful future for the world.
Something along those lines would be left behind.
Two days. Forty-eight hours.
That was the time Tang Soyeol spent fighting against demons in Sichuan all by herself.
Both of her eyes had been gouged out, the land of Tang was now filled with poisonous Qi, and in that amount of time, a countless number of demons had been killed.
But in the end? It was all pointless.
The war wouldn’t end as long as the Heavenly Demon remained alive.
As I arrived before her, Tang Soyeol opened her mouth.
『…I am sorry.』
I frowned upon hearing her ridiculous words.
『Apologizing to a demonic human? You’ve lost your mind, Poison Queen.』
『Yes, perhaps I’ve finally lost my mind… I wish I could have lost it quicker… I’m only now able to see the things I couldn’t before after losing my eyes.』
『Your nonsense stops here. Are those your last words?』
I slowly grabbed her neck. It felt like if I put even a little strength into it, it would break instantly.
『I’m in no position to ask for this, but if there is time left in the world』
While her body was shaking, she was speaking with emotion that I could not understand.
Maybe it was her grudge, or the regret she felt for being the sacrifice.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t something I needed to be concerned about.
『I hope you…』
Tang Soyeol tried to utter something, but I could not make out what she said as her voice didn’t come out.
Without hesitation, I put strength into my hands.
With the sound of something breaking, Tang Soyeol’s head drooped downward.
When I let go, Tang Soyeol’s body collapsed to the ground in a fashion similar to a puppet whose strings had been cut.
The blood puddles were already contaminated with poison Qi.
Even if she had been immune to all kinds of poison while she was alive, with this lifeless body of hers, which had no Qi, she would quickly rot and melt away.
She couldn’t even save a single limb of her body, even with all this sacrifice.
However, that was what being a sacrifice meant.
I then turned around and moved my steps to get out of the land of Sichuan.
Was it because of the poison ki? I felt sick just standing there.
And I as well.
“Are you not going to respond?”
My reminiscence ended.
I hated how I would only remember things at times like these. My eyes met Tang Soyeol’s.
Only one of her eyes glowed in green, as her immunity to poison hadn’t been perfected yet.
But in a few years, both her eyes would emanate that green radiance.
The Poison Queen Tang Soyeol, no, she’s probably only known as the ‘Poison Phoenix’ by now.
“If you won’t respond, I’ll call a person-“
Tang Soyeol was speaking, but Namgung Bi-ah whispered to her.
Upon hearing Namgung Bi-ah’s words, Tang Soyeol let go of her cringed expression.
Then she moved closer to me and showed respect.
“I am Tang Soyeol of the Tang Clan, I apologize for being rude to our guest.”
That was a fast decision, made without any hesitation.
“…I am Gu Jeolyub.”
I responded in kind, but I obviously used Gu Jeolyub’s name.
I seriously need to stop this… Maybe I should just reveal it now?
This wouldn’t even have worked in the first place if my name had been spread out even a little bit, but how come no one cared about my name?
Well, if this was my past life, then, in a year, my name would come to be known as the piece of shit of Shanxi.
Tang Soyeol spoke while I was trapped in my thoughts.
“I see. Young Master Gu, this place is prohibited for outsiders.”
“…Isn’t the lady of Namgung next to you also an outsider?”
“It’s fine since our family allowed her in.”
So basically, she was telling me to piss off as I hadn’t been given permission to be here.
How unfair, honestly… Then again, I was about to leave, so it didn’t matter either way.
It was also hard to deal with Tang Soyeol’s sharp glare.
Why is she giving me such a death stare? Did she really hate me that much just for coming here?
“Then I’ll be taking my leave.”
I moved along with Wi Seol-ah after ending the conversation there.
After we left, Namgung Bi-ah asked Tang Soyeol while looking at her.
“Why did you stare at him so fiercely?”
“…I don’t like how he didn’t apologize even though I told him outsiders aren’t allowed here.”
“Does he think that being handsome fixes everything? I always hate guys that think that way.”
The boy’s face suddenly came to mind as Namgung Bi-ah heard Tang Soyeol’s remark.
With his sharp eyes, no, he could be said to have a sharp face in general.
Sharp eyes, a sharp nose, and a sharp mouth—when combined, they formed a frightening rather than a handsome face.
It definitely wasn’t ugly, but handsome was a little far-fetched…
However, it was a wonder that she could remember the details of his face so perfectly, as Namgung Bi-ah was a person who could forget almost anything.
“…Sigh, I prefer a person that’s nice and kind even if they are on the uglier side.”
Tang Soyeol mumbled words like ‘Handsome guys’ as she started walking forward. Meanwhile, Namgung Bi-ah slowly trailed behind her.
As she walked, however, the question mark floating above Namgung Bi-ah’s head did not disappear.
* * * *
A night had passed after we arrived at the Tang Clan, and it was now morning.
When I opened the door to my room, still in a drowsy state, I saw two faces that I did not want to see.
Namgung Bi-ah and Namgung Cheonjun.
The two Namgung siblings in blue attire were in front of me.
…Why are they always coming to me and getting on my nerves?
Can’t we just act like we don’t know each other since we’ve reached the Tang Clan?
I opened my mouth at that shitty sight.
“…What brings you here again?”
There was no way Namgung Cheonjun wanted to visit, so I spoke while looking at Namgung Bi-ah.
It was most probable that this son of Namgung was just following her like a dog.
Namgung Bi-ah answered my question while looking at me.
“We have to go eat food.”
“…Yes, you may.”
Why come and report to me if you are hungry? Just go eat.
Namgung Cheonjun, who seemed to be frustrated with the conversation, specified.
“The Tang Clan invited us to a meal, but my sister said that it’d be nice for Young Master Gu to come along with us, which is why we came here.”
“I see; thank you for letting me know. I’ll pass, so enjoy your meal.”
I disliked it even more now that I heard the explanation. No way am I eating with the two of you.
Namgung Cheonjun frowned, as if he did not expect me to decline their offer.
I could see his true emotions leaking out, ‘How dare you’, it was visible on his visage.
Of course, he fixed his expression right away.
“I don’t have a good appetite right now.”
“You can enhance your relationship with the people of the Orthodox Factions, Young Master Gu.”
“I’m shy with people, and I would like to eat in a comfortable atmosphere.”
“You are… shy?”
The last sentence was from Namgung Bi-ah.
I gave her a sharp stare, to which Namgung Bi-ah quickly avoided my eye contact.
“Anyways, I won’t be going, so enjoy your food.”
The Military Exhibition of Tang would be starting around afternoon time tomorrow.
I was planning on eating whatever I could and focusing on training in the meantime.
If I were to eat alongside them, I didn’t think I would be able to maintain a normal stomach.
After my rejection, however, Namgung Cheonjun came closer to me with an expression that showed his true feelings.
“How about you come along with us?”
Namgung Cheonjun grabbed my arm while he spoke.
Rather strongly too.
It was out of Namgung Bi-ah’s sight, so he didn’t bother managing his facial expression.
The face Namgung Cheonjun had as he stared at me was one that was filled with hatred and annoyance.
He put more strength into the hand that was grabbing my arm.
He was going to bring me by force if I kept refusing him.
What an annoying hassle.
Why does everyone keep giving me bullshit?
I’m trying to leave quietly, but things just keep coming at me.
I could already feel his desire to kill me, regardless of how he tried to hide it.
I had been hoping for him to be at least a little bit of a help in the future, even though he was crazy in my eyes and just a psycho in general.
And I was constantly trying to restrain myself since he bore the name of Namgung, but he kept doing things that made me want to just go all out and fuck the consequences.
After the events of my past life, I had also developed my own killing intent. But I always made sure to keep it under wraps.
Unfortunately for Namgung Cheonjun, I involuntarily released a small part of it.
He backed up immediately with a shocked expression on his face.
…Sigh, this was a genuine mistake.
I quickly calmed my mind and fixed the atmosphere around me, but Namgung Cheonjun was already looking at me with widened eyes.
Because of the young body I had, it wasn’t easy to control my emotions and the air around me.
Thankfully though, the killing intent didn’t reach Namgung Bi-ah, so she simply tilted her head in confusion, wondering what was going on.
I awkwardly smiled while looking at Namgung Cheonjun. I felt like I had to go now.
“Since you are offering so much, I can’t decline, can I? Let’s go.”
I put my arms around Namgung Cheonjun’s shoulder. It was really uncomfortable as he was taller than me.
Namgung Cheonjun looked like his pride had taken a hit when he backed off against me, so his surprise quickly gave way to a sudden surge of anger.
He seemed like he was about to throw me off, so I put some strength into my arm and whispered to him.
‘Get a better grip of your face; your precious sister is looking at you.’
With his anger doubling at my mention of Namgung Bi-ah, he audibly clenched his teeth.
I held back my laughter at the sight of his actions.
However, he seemed to take my advice as he fixed his expression some seconds later, the mask of a kind smile manifesting over his face once again.
“Thank you for coming along, Young Master Gu.”
“It’s nothing at all, I can’t refuse you if you are asking with this dedication.”
We both laughed while hiding our true thoughts.
I didn’t care about his hatred towards me, as we wouldn’t be seeing each other once we part ways.
And even if we did see each other, it would only be at meetings of the Orthodox Faction.
So, let’s just end it here.
He won’t try to do anything as there are eyes watching anyway.
But even so, he is the son of the Namgung clan, so he must have some thoughts, right…?
I then quickly realized.
‘This guy doesn’t think…’
And so, in the upcoming afternoon, Namgung Cheonjun spoke to me.
“Young Master Gu, would you like to spar with me?”
…This Gu Jeolyub-like piece of shit.
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