༺ The Fall of Plum Blossom Dragon (4) ༻
I stepped hard onto the grass-covered ground with my feet.
Slowly, I focused my strength on my lower limbs. Starting from the soles of my feet, trailing upwards to my ankles, then legs, thighs, and finally my hips.
I gradually gave strength to each and every part of my lower extremities.
Whether it may be a sword wielder, a fist fighter, or even an archer, for that matter, focusing all your might on one’s lower extremities was the most important aspect of martial arts.
After all, it was the very core of a martial artist.
Satisfied with prepping up my lower body, slowly, I mustered up my Qi…
Flames arose from the ground up, flowing upwards along my body.
When the unruly flames showed signs of going wild, forcefully, I suppressed the wild nature of the raucous flames.
Too much power might as well be an unnecessary amount of power that was better off not existing at all.
Slowly, I invoked the flame arts to flow inside my body.
Corresponding to my invocation, a seething ring of fire formed around my body.
Paying heed to Elder Shin’s words, I brought forth even more Qi out of my body, increasing the rotation speed of the flame ring, as a result.
I felt my Qi leaving my body at a rapid rate.
However, I also felt the ring of fire getting hotter accordingly.
Although the fire surrounding me was becoming progressively stronger, I also had to pay heed to control the intensity of the fire so that the space surrounding me doesn’t get destroyed in the process.
I was sure that training this way would help me to control my flames – whether to just adjust the intensity or even put it out if need be – in a real fight.
After using my Qi in this way for a while, the Qi flowing inside me tapped somewhere inside my body.
It was near the place where my heart was located.
‘…I reached it already.’
I was also dumbfounded by this realization.
Destructive martial arts were able to generate explosive amounts of power, but as a caveat, reaching even the boundary of the next realm was much harder. If I hadn’t absorbed all that power from the treasure of the Mount Hua Sect, I was sure it would’ve been impossible for me to reach the 4th realm of flame arts due to that trait.
However, my Qi had already reached my heart.
I nodded to Elder Shin’s words.
I just did what he told me to do.
I couldn’t be reckless and impatiently try to open it yet.
I heard Elder Shin smirking as he was equally dumbfounded as me at seeing me reach this state.
｢…Truly, for your Qi to reach the heart already… Such monstrous talent is enough to give me goosebumps all over.｣
Talent? In Elder Shin’s eyes, my current state might seem possible due to my talent, but only I knew that what I achieved was possible only due to the experiences of my past life.
In order for martial artists to reach the Peak realm, they needed to open their hearts, so that Qi may flow within, and subsequently be able to sense the Qi that flowed within their hearts.
They won’t be able to open their hearts up if they lacked the amount of Qi needed for that step and even if they were lucky enough to open their hearts to let the Qi flow within, if they were unable to withstand the feeling of the Qi within their hearts then it would only lead to their body exploding due to the backlash.
Hence, even if one were to be prepared for the procedure, they first needed to have the Qi reserves necessary to proceed to the next step.
On the other hand, if they had the Qi reserves necessary for the next step, they needed to become mentally prepared for what was to come.
The flame ring surrounding me had now reached the level that I had used during my duel against Yung Pung last night.
The start of the 4th realm.
At this point, it was hard for me to control the intensity of my heat to a degree that it didn’t damage the area surrounding me.
As I began to wonder how long I needed to keep this up,
I instantly retrieved all the Qi back to my body at Elder Shin’s signal.
I stopped my Qi flow, but due to the remnant heat of the flame Qi, steam began to leak out of my body.
“How is it?”
｢This is your limit for now.｣
Hmm, this much, huh?
What am I doing, you wonder?
I was testing the amount of Qi in my body that I could tap into since Elder Shin informed me that there was something in my body that kept rampaging whenever I expended vast quantities of my Qi.
From what I could see, I was only able to use the Qi that I could gather in my arms but any more than that would be too much for me for now.
No matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t find a solution to this problem.
Will I be able to find a solution after reaching the Mount Hua Sect? I wasn’t really sure about that.
But it wasn’t like I had any other choices left for me now, was it? So, I just had to reach that place and see for myself.
｢You still have so much worry for no reason, just go there and see if you can find something to tackle this.｣
Elder Shin was right.
I knew that just worrying about it wouldn’t solve a thing.
It was just an old habit of mine to overthink things; due to all the messes I would run into wherever I went.
I brushed away the dust covering my clothes and thought about doing some light training.
However, I felt a presence coming from behind me at that moment.
I checked to see who it was and thankfully it was a familiar face.
“Young Master, did you have a good night’s sleep?”
It was Yung Pung, coming from behind with a refreshing smile etched on his face.
Exclaimed Elder Shin in surprise.
My reaction was no different from his.
I had thought that perhaps he would be unable to overcome the loss he faced last night…
However, Yung Pung was feeling comfortable enough to greet me as though nothing had happened between us last night.
Did he overcome the feeling of defeat already? Or did he not care about it in the first place?
｢What do you think?｣
I couldn’t help but put on a sour expression on my face at Elder Shin’s rhetorical question.
He and I both knew the answer already. Yung Pung had already finished organizing his thoughts in just one night.
It didn’t seem like he had figured everything out, but I could feel that both his aura and expression had become much more serene than before.
‘This is why I dislike geniuses…’
I hate every single one of them without exception.
Whether he knew about my thoughts or not, Yung Pung just bowed his head toward me.
“Master Yung Pung…?”
“What do you mean all of a sudden?”
He could only give a somewhat awkward smile at that question.
“I already know that you tried to give me a lesson even though I don’t know what I did to deserve it.”
I’d prefer it if you could just stay quiet right now.
My sour expression was about to turn into a frown at this point.
Confused at the change in my expression, Yung Pung called out to me, but I wasn’t feeling much better.
To be honest, I did try to help him out, but I didn’t expect him to change this much in just the span of one night.
Moreover, he had no hesitation whatsoever in bowing his head down to a person younger than him.
Also, the sincerity I could feel in his feelings of gratitude toward me only made things more uncomfortable for me.
Of course, there was still no guarantee that Yung Pung will be able to overcome the wall he would face in the future just because of this one enlightenment,
But he certainly had a higher chance of passing it than before.
I was sure of that fact.
My stomach ached.
It ached a lot.
Someone here is working their ass off day and night… trying to earn it after having died once.
But this guy here chances upon an awakening just because he was beaten up in a duel? And in just one night at that? I couldn’t help but get angry inside.
｢You seem really hollow inside, so you should stop…｣
I spoke to Yung Pung, burying my inner thoughts.
“That wasn’t my intention… but I’m glad that you got something out of it.”
Yung Pung smiled back at my words.
If Namgung Cheonjun gave off a dark aura, making me feel goosebumps all over, then the aura surrounding Yung Pung could only be described as ‘refreshing.’
Not only does he have talent, but he also has the looks and a good personality to complement that…
…Yeah, I definitely don’t like this dude.
“…I embarrassingly thought that I was the greatest prodigy in the world, but after a duel with you, I was able to realize that the world is bigger than I had ever imagined it to be.”
Yung Pung wasn’t exactly wrong.
Gu Huibi is called the greatest prodigy of the current times, but since there was an age gap between them, it was understandable why Yung Pung thought that he was the greatest instead.
“You have probably put in so much effort that I can’t even imagine it.”
He, for some reason, came to a weird conclusion of his own. I, however, wasn’t in a position to say anything in that regard.
I can’t just say that it was all thanks to my regression now, can I…?
So I just let him think whatever he wanted.
“I can’t just thank you with words… So if you have any request you can make of me, I will do anything to fulfill it.”
Something I could request from Mount Hua Sect’s greatest prodigy— The Sword Dragon…
One thing came to mind at Yung Pung’s offer.
I happened to have something I needed to ask of him, so this was good timing.
“Oh, then Master Yung Pung, can I ask you something?”
“Oh…? Sure, you can ask me anything. Anything besides the sect’s art…”
“No, it’s nothing that big…”
The sect’s art my ass… Where would I even use a useless thing like that?
｢Useleeessss? You little brat…! The Sword of Mount Hua is-｣
“Master Yung Pung, I wanted to ask,”
“…Which generation is the current lord of your sect from?”
“I was curious about that…”
I remembered Elder Shin asking me about the generation that the current lord of Mount Hua belonged to.
I forgot about it since I didn’t have the chance to just grab someone and ask them directly, but since I was given the chance…
Yung Pung acted as though something had cracked inside of him.
He reiterated the question, making sure that he didn’t mishear anything.
“…That’s… your request?”
“Yeah, it is.”
Yung Pung made a hollow face as if his soul had escaped from his body.
What’s with him?
Isn’t this an easy request?
‘Did I ask something weird?’
I asked Elder Shin since Yung Pung was looking rather strange right now.
After a long silence, Elder Shin finally replied.
｢Don’t talk to me since you are just embarrassing me.｣
In the end, Yung Pung fulfilled my request although he did so with a dumbfounded expression on his face.
The current lord was from the 16th generation.
And Yung Pung also mentioned that he wasn’t going to count this as fulfilling a request and urged me to ask anything the next time.
I readily agreed as that was a plus for me.
* * * *
If I had to list one thing that bothered me after finishing the duel with the Sword Dragon, it would be the gazes full of intrigue I was drawing from the crew members from the Mount Hua Sect.
Sure, before becoming the Sword Dragon, Yung Pung was still an inexperienced martial artist. However, that didn’t negate the fact that he was still a Plum Blossom Swordsman.
However, he was still beaten to a pulp and lost in the duel against me…
A boy who still had so much room to grow.
I had already expected this to happen, but their gazes were more intense than I had expected them to be.
“Yung Pung was brought to the ground? By that boy?”
“I still can’t believe it. He was completely destroyed in their duel.”
“I heard he broke his arm.”
“I believe he also broke his legs as well.”
“But I saw Yung Pung walking just fine earlier…?”
“Then never mind.”
“…You didn’t watch the fight, did you?”
Weird rumors began to circulate, but I believed that they would soon fade away as it was merely a simple spar. Nothing more.
I was told that we would start making our way toward Shaanxi again after we finished having lunch.
Thanks to that, I had a good amount of time to test a few things out, so it wasn’t all bad.
I saw the servants of the Gu Clan preparing our meal from far away.
Since it was going to be a long trip, they didn’t prepare anything grandiose.
However, as long as it was enough to fill my stomach, I didn’t care about anything else.
But as I got closer and closer, I felt something strange.
I could see Namgung Bi-ah naturally fit herself into our crew.
And I could see Wi Seol-Ah nibbling on some food while sitting next to her.
I understood that there were times when she would be eating ahead of me like that,
But that wasn’t the important part here.
The most important and astonishing thing was the fact that… Wi Seol-Ah was ‘nibbling’ on her food.
‘…Is she sick?’
Is she feeling super sick or something?
Namgung Bi-ah also gazed at her with quivering eyes since she had also noticed something weird about her.
But she wasn’t really able to speak to her, so she continued eating quietly.
When Namgung Bi-ah’s chopsticks were about to grab one of the foods,
Wi Seol-Ah would snatch it away out of nowhere…
Uh… perhaps she isn’t feeling sick, after all?
I was thankful for that, but it still didn’t change the problem that whenever Namgung Bi-ah tried to grab something to eat, Wi Seol-Ah would just snatch it away from her.
After the same thing being repeated for some time, a question mark appeared on top of Namgung Bi-ah’s head.
She tilted her head, wondering what this kid was up to.
Namgung Bi-ah just stood still, thinking for a bit before nodding her head. Then, she grabbed the food in front with her chopsticks at an instantaneous speed.
Wi Seol-Ah was too late to act this time.
She looked utterly shocked at the fact that she wasn’t able to steal her food.
However, Namgung Bi-ah just brought the food she had grabbed toward Wi Seol-Ah’s mouth instead of eating it herself.
“You want to eat it…?”
Uh, no matter how I look at it, it doesn’t seem like she’s acting this way because she wants to eat it, though…
Namgung Bi-ah didn’t seem to have any thoughts about Wi Seol-Ah’s actions.
Seeing her act like this, Wi Seol-Ah started to tear up.
“Y-You are so dumb! Sis!”
After shouting that line, she ran off somewhere.
But she couldn’t go far as she was caught by Hongwa saying that she needed to do the laundry.
I felt like I just saw a scene straight out of a drama.
While still holding the chopsticks in that position, Namgung Bi-ah glanced in the direction Wi Seol-Ah ran toward before turning her head in my direction.
It looked like she wanted me to explain just what happened here, but it’s not like I knew anything either…
“…Don’t look at me like that, I don’t know what happened either.”
I thought long and hard about why she acted like that, but nothing came to mind.
Oh, maybe… puberty?
｢Sigh, you idiot.｣
I heard Elder Shin’s voice dissing me in my head, but I just ignored it as I was used to it already.
Later, when we were on our way to Shaanxi,
It became a bit of a hassle to deal with Wi Seol-Ah as she was sticking closer to me than usual, for some reason.
…But I had to stay quiet because I felt like she would actually become mad at me if I pushed her away today.
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