༺ A Bit of a Scratch (2) ༻
Gu Ryunghwa’s day starts at dawn.
Just like any other martial artists of the Mount Hua Sect, instead of waking up with the advent of sunrise.
She woke up a bit before that and waited for it to rise beyond the horizon.
Putting on her uniform, she would be careful while going outside so that her movements don’t hamper her master’s sleep.
Usually, her mornings consisted of either going out to the forest to train or doing some chores,
But today, she had to leave for the market.
The Immortal Healer had instructed her to do that.
She had been tasked with buying some medicinal ingredients, so she started going on her way to the market with the silver coin that was given to her.
Usually, if a kid tried to purchase medicinal ingredients, they would often give them low-quality ingredients or just not give them anything at all.
But that was not bound to happen as she wore the uniform of the Mount Hua Sect.
It would be more likely for the stores to give her more than the required quantity as no one in Huayin City dared to do any dirty acts against anyone belonging to the Mount Hua Sect, located directly above them.
The Immortal Healer likely took advantage of that face.
Gu Ryunghwa looked at the paper that listed the things she needed to buy. The paper list had been given to her by the Immortal Healer and she swiftly purchased everything that was written on it.
‘…It smells so bitter.’
She left the medicine store with the box that contained the ingredients inside it.
When she went out of the medicinal store, she saw many stalls that were selling a variety of different foods that aroused her temptation.
She slowed down, compelled to do so by the delicious smell of food, but it wasn’t enough to completely stop her in her tracks.
Her master was more important to her than the mere temptation of food.
“Time to return…!”
Did Master wake up yet?
She noticed that her master started to sleep more and more as she was slowly getting weaker.
So she was worried that she was still asleep.
She idly wondered if the meal would be prepared by the time she arrived at the hut.
Gu Ryunghwa was feeling quite a bit bothered as she had been forced to spend most of her day alongside the Immortal Healer’s grandson due to various circumstances,
However, a surprising thing to note was that… the little boy was extremely skilled in cooking.
She didn’t know what kind of person the boy was, but he seemed smart and took care of chores quickly… which was rather impressive in her opinion.
‘…I need to be like that too.’
She thought as such because she wanted to be more helpful to her master by knowing different kinds of skills.
As she thought along those lines, she was forced to stop her steps…
– She wouldn’t make it past this year.
The Immortal Healer’s comment suddenly echoed throughout Gu Ryunghwa’s head.
Quickly, she wiped off the tears that had unknowingly streamed down her cheeks.
She didn’t want to make her master worried… as she had her ways of always knowing whenever she cried. It didn’t matter whatever method she used to try and hide it… she could never hide it for long from her master.
But even so, it wasn’t easy for her to stop her tears.
As tears that had already broken out, like coming out of a broken dam, could never be stopped easily.
That’s why Gu Ryunghwa hated crying.
She continued wiping off the tears that were flowing down her cheeks and thought inside her mind,
‘…If Master passes away…’
She wondered what she would have left in her life once her master dies.
Nothing… She would have nothing left.
Gu Ryunghwa was certain of that.
‘I hate that word…’
As the mere mention of that word was enough for her to curl up in deep fear.
Even to this day, Gu Ryunghwa was able to clearly make out that dark horrifying night.
It was both a foggy and clear memory… something that she could never forget.
The day when there was no light in sight,
Her mother’s cries paired with the cold unfeeling look of her father as he looked down.
And the sight of Gu Yangheon, kneeling on the ground…
Gu Ryunghwa could never forget that memory.
Since those were the very last moments of her mother… the day that ruined everything in her life.
But then, what about the Mount Hua Sect?
She could only shake her head as she wasn’t sure what to think about it.
She would always growl whenever someone tried to approach her.
Furthermore, Gu Ryunghwa was a student that had joined later but still somehow became a second-generation student, so she wasn’t really able to get along with the third-generation students.
So she wondered if the Mount Hua Sect would let her stay there once her Master died.
And even if they did, she wondered absentmindedly if she could even handle it.
Gu Ryunghwa continued to wipe the tears that showed no signs of stopping.
Eventually, she arrived at the vicinity of the hut.
She reminded herself to keep herself together and look as normal as possible.
As she believed that to be the least she could do as a disciple.
Having prepared herself mentally, she took a step forward… and immediately disappeared altogether…
Almost akin to smoke that instantly blends into the atmosphere…
Due to that phenomenon.
Some men that were watching Gu Ryunghwa quietly had no choice but to speak out with confused expressions on their faces…
“…Where did she go?”
“Maybe she noticed us?”
“You think we’d be found out by a girl that barely seems like she’s a second-rate martial artist? It’d be more believable to say that the Celestial Plum Blossom himself transformed into that girl.”
“Just shut up and start searching for her, I think we finally found something.”
A small man, wearing a black bandana on his head, started the search on the area around which Gu Ryunghwa had disappeared.
It didn’t seem like there was anything special there, but he felt something off about the area.
Was it perhaps… Space Manipulation Arts?
He wondered why anyone would set up something like that in the middle of a mountain, so he reached his arm out toward the area the girl had vanished,
However, he found his hand bouncing off as it came into contact with some sort of invisible wall.
It was extremely harsh as well.
The man thought to himself while massaging his hand that had gotten numb.
‘Not locational magic huh.’
It seemed like some bits of locational magic were put into it to make it invisible, but this was more of a barrier.
A barrier that had a ton of Qi put into it at that.
“…Did the Celestial Plum Blossom do this?”
It could be possible that it was done by someone else, but the only person that came into his mind, who was capable of putting up such a barrier around this place, was the Celestial Plum Blossom.
As not even his monster of a branch manager was capable to set up such a barrier.
“It seems like I did find something…”
He wondered if the person he was looking for was really inside this barrier.
‘I should first inform about this to the branch manager.’
He was not capable enough to break through this barrier and would be caught by the personnel of the Mount Hua Sect if he tried anything reckless here.
“We’re going back.”
The man had just delivered those words and immediately there was a disappointed tone coming out of a man beside him that couldn’t help but ask,
“We are really going back…?”
The voice was accompanied by the grinding noises of teeth sliding against teeth, showing his disappointment and displeasure with that decision.
The man wearing the bandana was certain that this pig of a crew member of his was just disappointed because of the girl that had disappeared into the empty space not long ago.
“What’s the problem, Dusum?”
“…The girl that we just saw. She was pretty, so can we go back after we get a little taste of her, boss?”
The man wearing the bandana visibly cringed after hearing the words coming out of Dusum’s mouth.
“Please, for fucks sake, I told you not to cause a scene here. Are you actually being serious right now?”
Even with the scolding that the bandana-wearing man gave him, Dusum just slurped his tongue disappointedly, not paying heed to the man’s words.
“…But, it’s been so long since I’ve got a taste of someone… and wouldn’t it be nice for boss as well?”
“Stop saying disgusting things like that. You’re saying that we’ll have a good time when the girl has barely even grown-up god dammit, wake the fuck up, you fucking idiot!”
“But, she was wearing the uniform of the Mount Hua Sect, so wouldn’t the branch manager boss like it if we brought her to him?”
“She’s a goddamn child so what could we even get out of her…! Fuck, just leave the children alone!”
“Right, leave the children.”
“Okay, then let’s go back to business now—”
The man had to stop his words short.
At the same time, all of the men that were roaming in the vicinity of the barrier also had to stop their movements.
As they heard a completely new and unique voice enter the conversation.
He didn’t hesitate for even a second.
The bandana-wearing man quickly pulled out his sword and swung it in the direction of the origin of that new voice.
He swung it with full force, but it only cut through air.
He definitely felt a presence there, he was sure of it.
The sounds of breaking bones were accompanied by Dusum’s groaning noises.
The man couldn’t help but look at Dusum and was immediately able to see his gigantic body collapsing onto the ground.
He wasn’t as big as the branch manager, but he was still almost as big as him.
The giant of a man soon fell and made a huge rumbling noise that echoed in the silent forest.
His neck had been twisted to the point that anyone looking at him could tell that he was dead.
“You… Who are you?”
The bandana-wearing man asked.
He could see a boy standing behind Dusum’s fallen body.
A very slight tint of red could be seen at the ends of his black hair… but his eyes were as red as freshly drawn blood.
It was obvious that he was a martial artist with the red uniform he was wearing while keeping a firm posture.
The boy soon looked at the man.
And answered in a murderous tone.
“What will you do even if I tell you, you scumbags?”
Curses followed by a destructive flame bursting out from the boy’s body that instantly engulfed everything in its path.
* * * *
The quiet and peaceful forest had instantly turned into a battleground.
Almost instantly, the wild and unruly flames spread throughout the whole area.
The man, Baechong, couldn’t understand what was happening.
Who is that crazy monster of a boy that suddenly came out of nowhere?
He had only come out to scout this area, so he could never expect something like this to happen.
He believed that he had done his best to not get caught by the forces of the Mount Hua Sect… but he had unexpectedly ran into this monstrous boy.
He couldn’t help but glance at Dusum’s corpse.
Aside from his neck, twisted in a grotesque shape, he could find no other wounds on his dead body.
However, it was obvious that it all happened instantly.
‘He had no hesitation in killing someone.’
There was no way that a boy his age could do something like that.
Furthermore, it would have been much harder for him since he was only using his bare hands.
So how the hell is this boy able to do that when he doesn’t even look like he reached the age of 20 yet?
The man barely managed to dodge the onslaught of the raging flames by blocking it with his sword.
He wondered just what in hell this crazy flame was.
‘Flame arts…? There should be no one in Shaanxi who can use flame arts like this though…!’
The man also noticed something within the wild and unruly flames.
Just one look was enough for Baechong to tell that the boy had full control of the unruly and all-devouring flames.
That was enough for him to know that the boy had already reached a level most people would never be able to reach in their lifetimes.
This only meant that Baechong, who had already surpassed the realms of an ordinary first-rate martial artist, was helpless to do anything about the boy.
‘Is that a monster in human skin?’
As Baechong clenched his fists while thinking like that,
One of his crew members was caught by the hair with the boy’s hand.
The monstrous boy soon enveloped his hands in flames which in turn burned the crew member alive.
The scream of a man being burned alive echoed inside the forest, but the boy’s emotionless eyes never changed since he stepped in this place.
“I made a small mistake.”
The boy spoke slowly.
Hearing his voice, Baechong could only feel goosebumps crawling all over his skin.
An abyss so deep that there was nothing he could feel.
That was the place Baechong felt he was now in.
“I should have killed that pig by burning his insides first, but I made a mistake because it’s been a while since I’ve killed someone.”
How can such a small boy look like he was so used to doing such things?
Furthermore, those cruel words and actions he spoke of somehow suited his looks.
Baechong could only ask, trying his best to hide the cold sweat that was drenching his skin.
“…Ju-Just what the hell are you?”
“Did you not hear me before? I asked what you will do even if I tell you that?”
“Do you even know who we are…”
“It’s obvious that you are flies that belong to the Black Palace’s leader.”
Hearing those words coming out of the boy’s mouth, Baechong instantly froze on the spot.
“How did you…”
The boy smiled while inching closer to Baechong.
The flames never lost their blistering heat and the boy, marching toward him, killed another man on the way.
The sound of a man’s harrowing screams echoed again.
“Let me also ask you something.”
To Baechong, the boy that was slowly walking toward him looked more like an embodiment of flames than a human.
The living embodiment of flames slowly inched closer and closer to him and asked,
“I didn’t know much about you guys, but I found something interesting.”
Baechong felt like the world around him was slowly but surely melting away.
How can a person look like that?
He felt a whole new sense of fear which was different from the fear he felt from the branch manager.
Even though the term fear applied in both cases, their levels were entirely different.
Baechong wondered in his head what the hell he was going against right now.
Then the flames that were lingering around him grabbed one of Baechong’s arms.
He couldn’t scream even while he watched his arm burn away into ashes due to the all-encompassing fear he felt.
He could only try to take a step back and run away from this malevolent force of fear and despair.
Then the flames continued talking while nailing Baechong down with his gaze.
“Why do you guys…”
His sharp eyes were shining in a deep shade of blood red.
“Have the demonic Qi inside of you?”
The boy’s question was accompanied by a severely burnt smell,
However, Baechong was unable to give an answer.
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