༺ Only Three Times (2) ༻
Tang Soyeol had always been unique compared to others; this uniqueness was particularly glaring when one looked at her early life.
While other children chased after cute dogs and kittens, she looked for reptiles like snakes and lizards.
As she grew older, she went from chasing after snakes and lizards to chasing after beasts like tigers.
Her sharp visage, which resembled that of a fierce animal, made her seem like a natural predator to weak animals.
That was why, in the past, when the idea of a marriage between the Namgung and Tang clans was proposed, she harshly opposed the idea.
Tang Soyeol had never really liked Namgung Cheonjun.
Everyone said that he was handsome, but-
‘He looks like a playboy.’
She felt disgusted every time she looked at him.
She had never fallen for Namgung Cheonjun’s looks, and she even felt a bit creeped out by the aura he gave off.
She had always found him… odd.
To her, his kindness had always seemed laced with hidden motives.
She couldn’t understand why everyone else lost their minds whene face with Namgung Cheonjun’s appearance.
In comparison, Namgung Bi-ah was a much better person.
Although she was quiet and unexpressive, Tang Soyeol felt that she was genuine. Namgung Bi-ah had always accepted Tang Soyeol, even when she had treated her harshly.
Tang Soyeol liked Namgung Bi-ah, who accepted her despite her difficult personality.
She was touched when Namgung Bi-ah kept her promise about her coming to the next Military Exhibition of Tang,
But she wondered why Namgung Cheonjun had also come along.
Wherever Namgung Bi-ah went, Namgung Cheonjun was never far behind.
Whenever she looked at them, Tang Soyeol got the feeling that Namgung Bi-ah didn’t like Namgung Cheonjun all that much.
However, her impassive expression made it difficult to figure out how she really felt, and Tang Soyeol didn’t feel like she was in a position to ask Namgung Bi-ah about it.
A huge wolf with black fur, it was one of Tang Soyeol’s pets.
Tang Soyeol softly sighed as she pet her pet.
“You’re so adorable… I wish all men in the world were like you.”
While she wished that were the case, Tang Soyeol knew that such a thing wasn’t possible.
Namgung Cheonjun, the guy from Moyong, and the Peng clan’s Peng Woojin all had soft, kind-looking faces.
Why do all of them look so much like playboys?
Plus, the guys from the Namgung and Moyong clans made her feel uneasy whenever she was with them. As for the last one…
‘Peng Woojin is just a weirdo.’
Tang Soyeol felt a creeping headache as she remembered the scenes of Tang Jooyeok and Peng Woojin causing trouble together.
‘It’s no wonder that I and Peng Ah-hee became close friends on our first meeting—we both have weird older brothers…
‘I think the last time I met her was when her engagement was annulled.’
‘I forget what clan she was going to marry into; then again, I don’t think she actually told me.’
All Tang Soyeol remembered was Peng Ah-hee saying that he was a piece of shit, and that she was happy that the engagement was cut off.
“…Are there any cool men anywhere?”
Tang Soyeol, who was currently going through puberty, yearned for a romantic encounter.
On the night of Namgung Bi-ah’s arrival, Tang Soyeol invited her to see their lake.
The Lotus Flower Lake was a masterpiece of the Tang clan and was restricted to outsiders – no one was allowed in without permission.
The lotus flower that floated above the water was, after all, a valuable sacred herb.
Apart from the lotus itself, the lake and the fish that inhabited it were all luxuries.
According to Tang Jooyeok, the lake was made too extravagantly by the professionals.
Tang Soyeol honestly agreed with that statement.
It looked super pretty… But other than that, it had nothing going for it.
While they were slowly walking through the night, Tang Soyeol asked Namgung Bi-ah.
“Bi-ah, how was your trip here?”
“…Yes, though I did get lost…”
“…You got lost again.”
Namgung Bi-ah was abnormally talented at getting lost.
One moment she was going the right way, and then suddenly she would go off in the wrong direction by herself.
‘Maybe it’s her emotionless personality,’ Tang Soyeol thought.
“Well, at least you made it here… I was nervous.”
“I had a companion.”
Is she talking about the people of a different clan that they had come along with?
Tang Soyeol had heard that they were called the Gu Clan or something along those lines. She honestly didn’t really know them.
All she knew about the Gu Clan was that it was the home of the famous Tiger Warrior, that the Sword Phoenix came from that clan, and that they were the mightiest clan of Shanxi.
They were a clan that didn’t do many outside activities, so Tang Soyeol didn’t know much about them aside from those three facts.
A descendant from the Gu Clan coming to this year’s Military Exhibition of Tang was also unprecedented.
Maybe Tang Jooyeok knows about them since he’s the young lord?
“You mean that Gu Clan?”
For a second, Tang Soyeol thought that she had seen a smile on Namgung Bi-ah’s face.
She had never seen Namgung Bi-ah smile, ever.
They continued their walk through the night with a cool breeze blowing around them.
It seemed like Namgung Bi-ah didn’t really want to go back after all.
Then they came to a stop.
They felt a presence ahead of them.
“…It’s not my brother.”
It was actually two people.
Their faces weren’t visible due to the shadows, but they weren’t from the Tang clan.
“Who are you?”
Tang Soyeol asked.
They seemed to be surprised by the voice.
It didn’t look like they were enemies, so they were probably guests who came here without knowing that the lake was a restricted area.
“This place is prohibited for outsiders.”
The moonlight slowly revealed their faces.
Tang Soyeol stopped after catching a glimpse of their faces—particularly after looking at the boy’s face.
No, perhaps it would be better to say that time as a whole stopped for her at that moment.
She felt her heart thumping like crazy, as if it was on the verge of exploding.
The boy had jet-black hair, sharp eyes and an expression that seemed slightly irritated. It resembled the face of a fierce animal.
“I-If you aren’t going to respond, I’ll call-“
‘My voice is shaking… I stuttered a bit, did he notice?’ Tang Soyeol didn’t understand why she was suddenly nervous.
Namgung Bi-ah, who was quietly next to Tang Soyeol, whispered to her about his identity.
He was from the Gu Clan.
– I am Gu Jeolyub.
Said the boy.
‘Gu Jeolyub… Even his name is cool…’
‘Wait, what am I doing? What was I saying!?’
What he had said and how she responded-
She couldn’t remember any of it.
She just wished that the crazy thumping of her heart would stop.
Tang Soyeol realized at that moment that she was in big trouble.
‘This isn’t good; I need to get out of here right now!’
The boy left before she could gather her thoughts, and Tang Soyeol pretended that she was calm and spent the night that way,
But in truth, she couldn’t get a wink of sleep.
The next day, Tang Jooyeok said that he had invited every young person that had been invited to the event to an early meal.
Tang Soyeol felt instantly energized when she heard his words, even after not being able to sleep through the night.
‘Calm down, please…’
She told her heart to stop, but the thumping continued regardless of her wishes.
What if he comes?
What if he doesn’t come?
So what if he doesn’t come!?
Tang Soyeol couldn’t understand her own thought process, and as she debated with herself while seated next to her brother-
The boy arrived.
For some reason, he had his hand around Namgung Cheonjun’s shoulder.
Were they friends? The atmosphere between them proved otherwise, though…
The meal had begun a while ago, but Tang Soyeol couldn’t even tell if the food was going in through her nose or her mouth.
Her eyes were only on the boy.
‘Those sharp eyes… They’re so cool…’
‘Aww, he can’t handle the spice.’
‘Ah, he’s coughing, so cute.’
After some mindless thoughts about him, she suddenly found that she was sitting next to the boy.
‘Am I crazy…? What am I doing and why do I feel so experienced at this!?’
Her moving to sit next to him—consciously done or not—was a good move, but the problem came afterwards in the form of her small voice.
Tang Soyeol was going crazy looking at the face of the boy, who frowned a bit because he couldn’t understand her intention.
Some servants had once told her that if a person felt too good then they would start fidgeting, and at this moment, Tang Soyeol finally understood what they had meant.
‘I feel like I should say something. But what should I ask him…?
‘Is there any poison you like? I’m good with daggers, so would you like to have a duel?
‘…Maybe not these questions.’
Favorite food? Yeah, let’s ask something normal.
“Y-Young Master Gu, do you… perhaps have anyone you like-“
– Brother Tang, is that the training area down there?
The words that had finally come out of Tang Soyeol’s mouth were buried by Namgung Cheonjun’s voice.
“Lady Tang, what were you saying?”
The boy had asked her kindly, but Tang Soyeol couldn’t repeat the question after saying it once.
She just told herself that she would one day put poison in Namgung Cheonjun’s tea.
That guy even interfered in the training area.
All of a sudden, he wanted to have spar with the boy.
Tang Soyeol unknowingly shouted, opposing the idea.
What did she mean by ‘no’?
Well, there was the gap in experience, and there would definitely be a difference in skill.
‘The face… What if his face gets hurt!?’
That was the main thought Tang Soyeol had.
What if that precious face of his got scarred or something like that happened?
If that visage of a beast looking down on everything got scarred…
Tang Soyeol felt like she would do anything to ruin Namgung Cheonjun.
Despite Tang Soyeol’s objection, the boy accepted Namgung Cheonjun’s challenge.
Namgung Cheonjun had said that he wouldn’t use his qi and one of his feet,
But he was still the Lightning Sword.
Tang Soyeol wondered if she could even touch Namgung Cheonjun’s clothes if they fought without using their qi.
That was his reputation as a martial artist.
Perhaps the only person that stood a chance against him was the Sword Phoenix.
During that moment, Tang Soyeol was only able to watch nervously.
Should I interfere if he’s about to get hurt? But on what grounds?
‘Huh, yeah, what right do I even have…?’
While she struggled with her thoughts on what to do, Tang Soyeol looked at Namgung Bi-ah…
Namgung Bi-ah’s expression was the same as always, but she was holding onto the handle of her sword with her hand.
Her face seemed a little different than usual, and her breathing seemed a bit faster too.
Was it because of her little brother’s duel?
But it looked like she wasn’t really looking at him.
Suddenly, Namgung Bi-ah’s eyes widened. Tang Soyeol wondered what had happened, so she immediately turned her head to look.
Tang Soyeol couldn’t understand what she was seeing.
The wooden sword that was rolling on the floor, and Namgung Cheonjun, who was on his knees,
And then there was the boy who was looking down on Namgung Cheonjun.
She didn’t know what it was,
But she felt tingly.
She unknowingly let out a hot breath of air while feeling tingly.
The beast that she had dreamt of.
‘So what if he’s weak, that face of his is perfect.’
That was what Tang Soyeol had thought at first, but now those thoughts had changed.
The boy asked Namgung Cheonjun while looking at him.
“Are you not going to pick that up?”
With those words, the boy took a step towards Namgung Cheonjun.
And Tang Soyeol instantly dropped to her knees.
‘I can’t understand.’
That was the sole thought running through Namgung Cheonjun’s mind.
‘Why did I let go of the sword…?
‘After I attacked his shoulder, I was going to attack his leg.’
He had been thinking of how he would bully the guy, and had already been having fun just from the thought of it, so…
‘Why… Why did I let go of the sword?’
His arm was aching from the pain.
His wrist was turning red.
‘I let go of the sword in that short moment? But then… why didn’t I notice?’
Namgung Cheonjun lifted his head at the voice.
The guy who had come closer to Namgung Cheonjun was now looking down at him.
“Geniuses always have some thoughts or other during duels. If this was a real fight, you would have probably died three times already, you know that?”
Namgung Cheonjun was about to respond but quickly moved away.
It was because of the incoming fist.
He was successful in dodging it, but because of his broken posture, he couldn’t dodge the next attack.
The kick landed on Namgung Cheonjun’s chest and made him roll on the floor with a groan.
While he was struggling to breathe, the wooden sword was dropped into his hands.
“Pick that up. You said this would be a learning experience for me.”
The boy then clapped his hands immediately after.
“Oh, or maybe I’m the one teaching you? That, I’m pretty confident about.”
The taunt that came from the boy’s smiling face made Namgung Cheonjun breathe roughly.
Then Namgung Cheonjun lifted his body up, picking up his sword.
“I let my guard-“
“You’re not going to say you let your guard down, right? There’s no excuse more pathetic than that for a martial artist.”
Namgung Cheonjun shut his mouth at the boy’s words.
Even he knew that it was a pathetic excuse.
He instead quietly fixed his posture.
‘…He has some talent in him after all.’
He had underestimated him too much.
He should’ve known that he had something considering he was the younger brother of the Sword Phoenix.
Namgung Cheonjun took a small step forward and positioned his sword to face his opponent.
He was getting serious.
He drew a half circle, then did a stabbing motion, retrieved the sword, and continued to repeat the process.
It was a movement that he had trained for many years.
Thanks to his training, he was able to be flawless in his movements while also being firm.
He knew that one day he would represent the fast sword art of the Namgung.
It was the name that belonged to the Sword Emperor during this time, but Namgung Cheonjun was sure that he would one day be the one to inherit that title.
‘I’ve been told that I have more talent with the sword than even the Lord of the clan.’
So he was sure of it.
‘Because I am a genius.’
But then why…
‘Why can’t I touch him!?’
How many swings had it been? How many attacks had he made?
Namgung Cheonjun’s sword was definitely fast.
There was no flaw in his movements, and the continuous attacks had no mid-point.
As his breathing roughened due to his anger, Namgung Cheonjun retrieved his sword.
There was no reason for him to be losing against this guy.
But then why?
‘How does he know, every time, where I will swing?’
The boy kept dodging his attacks by a narrow margin.
The sword would skim his clothes and his hair.
But it had never landed directly on him.
He was using the least amount of movement possible to dodge the attacks, which meant he wasn’t getting tired as well.
There was no way this was possible unless he was actually better than Namgung Cheonjun.
So what was the answer, then?
‘This piece of shit… Is stronger than me?’
Namgung Cheonjun’s thoughts started to darken as he felt his pride crumbling apart.
‘…I want to kill him.’
The piece of shit that was getting attention from his perfect sister.
The piece of shit that was dodging his sword like it was nothing.
‘I want to kill him.’
As Namgung Cheonjun lost control of his desire to kill, he channeled a bit of Qi into his sword.
Just enough that no one would notice.
Namgung Cheonjun then put his all into his next attack, aiming for the boy’s head.
Namgung Cheonjun shook and dropped to his knees.
Then the boy slapped Namgung Cheonjun’s face.
With a sharp ‘Pa!’, Namgung Cheonjun collapsed.
The boy, Gu Yangcheon, walked closer to Namgung Cheonjun and shouted.
His voice was filled with anger.
“I was going to let you off the hook, but you, piece of shit, dared to use Qi in your attack? Why? Did you want to kill me?”
Namgung Cheonjun couldn’t focus as blood flowed down his head.
“Wow, what a shitty feeling this is. Honestly, didn’t I hold my anger more than three times already?”
As Gu Yangcheon talked to what seemed to be an unknown person,
He kicked the crotch of Namgung Cheonjun, who was crawling away.
Tang Jooyeok, who had been watching all this time, flinched without realizing it.
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