༺ Cold in the Midst of Summer (2) ༻
What was that stench?
Namgung Bi-ah had wondered about that ever since she was young.
She wondered why she was the only one able to smell the horrible stench while the others couldn’t.
It felt like she was living in an endless hell.
A life of endless suffering where she couldn’t even comfortably eat, talk, or even sleep.
Is it even possible to escape?
Namgung Bi-ah lived a life constantly enveloped by the thick putrid stench, seemingly lost inside a thick and heavy mist.
But thankfully, even inside the horrible stench that covered her existence, there was one thing that kept her going.
Swinging her sword gave her a sense of freedom.
Because of that, Namgung Bi-ah became obsessed with the sword.
By swinging her sword, she was able to pretend that there was nothing bad around her.
So she swung her sword every day.
Yet every time her training ended, the stench kept coming back, and the stench her spectators emitted became stronger and stronger.
Namgung Bi-ah wondered since the stench went away whenever she swung her sword, would it go away completely if she reached the ideal peak of her swordplay?
As a result, she made it her mission to constantly seek out sword wielders stronger than her, challenging them one by one, while dedicating the rest of her time training herself.
As she grew older, the putrid stench in her home grew stronger as well,
And her aversion to talking to people caused her to become increasingly withdrawn from reality.
The jealousy, greed, and desire of people could all be felt amidst that stench.
Maybe that’s the cause of the stench?
Namgung Bi-ah wasn’t certain about that.
She felt like there was something more to it than just that.
As the days went on, she eventually lost the ability to express her emotions.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had smiled.
Perhaps, the day her mother died and she lost her for all eternity was the day she also lost her smile.
She was getting tired of the stench she could feel, even while blocking her nose with her hands.
She wanted to live alone on a mountain, but her clan wouldn’t let her be.
As the days passed, the foul smell of the people surrounding her only became increasingly worse, her brother, especially, was changing more and more.
He was getting more aggressive as the days went on and his eyes held many disgusting emotions.
Namgung Bi-ah was struggling to keep herself going because of everything.
She idly wondered if she would really be able to find peace once she reached the ideal peak of her sword arts.
If there would be peace at the end of her path if she just lived on.
She wondered whether she was merely grasping onto thin strands of hope.
While she was living a life where she felt like she was constantly standing at the edge of a cliff.
She met him.
It was the first time for her.
The very first time in her life when the rotten stench that tormented her all throughout her life had completely vanished.
As though the mist and fog that covered her existence were being blown somewhere far away… only peace and tranquility remained when she was around him.
The person who had sharp eyes, an annoyed tone of voice, and who constantly told her to stay away from him.
Namgung Bi-ah found comfort in his presence, free from the stench that plagued her life.
He didn’t have the greed and desire that she would often spot in others, instead, he would just look at her with guilt and a hint of desperation.
She wanted to ask the man a question as he kept looking at her seemingly thinking of someone else.
Who was he searching for?
What was he thinking, for him to look at her that way?
But she couldn’t ask, in the end, so Namgung Bi-ah was still unaware of the intention behind that gaze.
It kept reminding her of the question she was asked by Tang Soyeol recently.
“Do you perhaps like Young Master Gu?”
Namgung Bi-ah, at the time, really thought that she didn’t.
It certainly wasn’t love she felt towards him at that time.
‘What about now?’
Was it any different now?
She asked herself that question, but no answer came back.
It was a question that was harder to comprehend than the identity of the stench. Harder dilemma than the stench.
While she was swinging her sword in the mountain her eyes gaze with the eyes of the guy she had been thinking of.
The first thing she noticed was his hand which seemed to be wounded.
Startled by the sight, she rushed towards him.
But as she did, she noticed a slight bit of stench coming from him at that moment.
It was slight, but it was certainly the stench she knew all too well.
Namgung Bi-ah felt like the world was crumbling around her at that moment.
She kept telling herself that it wasn’t true and grabbed him and smelled him.
Begging in her mind for it to not be true.
He was the only one who could provide her comfort in this world.
She was able to eat comfortably,
And she didn’t have nightmares when she was next to him.
She was even able to be around people when he was by her side.
She was finally learning how to become a proper human,
…So she couldn’t afford to lose him.
The slight bit of stench she had felt on him was no more, assuring her that it was just her mistake.
When she was assured that her peace wouldn’t go away, her legs lost strength, and she collapsed onto the ground.
He came closer to her and carefully wiped away the cold sweat that was flowing down her face.
She grabbed his arm and pulled it towards her nose.
She was worried that she would lose her peace once again, which made her do that subconscious action.
So that’s what despair felt like.
The peace she experienced had taught her the fear of losing something she adored.
She told herself.
That she could never let him go.
To Namgung Bi-ah, the title ‘fiancé’ that was seemingly meaningless before, now appeared to be a blessing she probably won’t ever find again in her life.
She imagined her life without him.
A life filled with that horrible stench that she was forced to live in.
Could she really return to that life?
Namgung Bi-ah held his hand more firmly after imagining a life she despised with her very being.
* * * *
Namgung Bi-ah seemed a bit off, so I had no choice but to go back to the lodge with her.
Why is she sweating so much?
I heard that not even dogs would catch a cold in the summer… Did she get a flu?
‘A flu for a martial artist huh…’
It was very hard to get a flu if a person had Qi inside their body.
Especially for a person like Namgung Bi-ah who was a high-level martial artist.
I was wondering if it was something other than a flu, so I told her to go see a doctor, but she shook her head and just went to go wash herself.
“Young Master, Young Master!”
When the time to eat dinner came, Wi Seol-Ah stubbornly stuck by my side.
I had to go through the trouble of calming her down because she was about to cry when she saw my wounded hand.
Wi Seol-Ah also looked like she was really into cooking lately, because she kept bringing me food.
Even though the Mount Hua Sect gave us food already.
Of course, it wasn’t some grand meal being served to us because it was a Taoist clan, but I didn’t care as long as I got to fill my stomach.
‘…I think it’s been a while since I had a dumpling.’
It felt like it’s been a few days since I’d eaten them.
I should buy some when I go to the market.
‘Though I don’t think I’ll be going there for a while.’
Because of Mount Hua’s location, it was a hassle to go down the mountain and then climb back up.
I took a bite of this nameless mysterious food Wi Seol-Ah brought me.
It was very uncomfortable for me as she was looking at me so excitedly.
As soon as I had eaten the food, I had to spit it out.
Just because of one word, tears welled up in the corner of her eyes.
I knew she worked hard on the food, so I patted her head and revealed that I was just joking.
“I’m kidding, it’s tasty.”
“Hey… You’re so cruel for joking all the time…!”
“I can’t help it because your reactions are always so funny.”
I now didn’t have a problem with touching her hair anymore.
Did I become less hesitant?
Wi Seol-Ah, who was leaning her head into my hand, was looking at me with round puppy eyes.
“…Woah, it even stretches!”
What sensation is this? Now I know why Gu Huibi was so surprised when she touched her cheeks.
So this is what it feels like.
Wi Seol-Ah was glaring at me while rubbing her cheeks; I might have stretched it a bit too hard.
I then asked her.
“Where is Elder Wi?”
I assumed that Wi Seol-Ah didn’t come back to Mount Hua by herself.
I expected that the Sword Emperor would come with her, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.
Wi Seol-Ah responded while rubbing her cheeks which had turned red.
“Grandpa said he’ll come back after he takes care of something!”
“…Takes care of something, huh.”
What did the Sword Emperor have to do in Shaanxi for him to leave Wi Seol-Ah alone?
I wasn’t worried about him or anything but I was curious.
Why did the Sword Emperor come to Shaanxi, and why is the Immortal Healer here?
And about Zhuge Hyuk being the grandson of the Immortal Healer.
“…Why are there so many?”
The disappearance of the Mount Hua Sect’s people, and the state of the Plum Blossom Sword.
Each incident would already shake the world on its own, but now they had combined into one and resulted in the creation of a huge problem.
I felt like there was one thing that was involved with all the problems.
“Your face turned ugly again…”
“…What did you say?”
It’s been a while since I was insulted for my looks.
But it wasn’t too damaging because I had already been called a mantis before.
“Don’t go around saying that to people.”
“…Because real ugly people would get hurt by it.”
“But you do become ugly when you make that face…”
I felt like I was getting stabbed in the heart because of her words.
Pretty girls, I swear.
She probably said that because I was frowning while thinking about all the complicated things, so I should make some time in the future and educate her on the ways of speaking to others.
｢…I think she said that because you really do look ugly…｣
‘Please stay quiet.’
My heart is already hurt enough and yet you are still adding more salt to the wound…
I ate some more greens and finished the dinner.
I told Wi Seol-Ah to take care of Namgung Bi-ah because she didn’t come out to eat, apparently, she wasn’t feeling well.
I was looking around thinking about taking a walk,
– Mind your legs!
– Your arms have been neglected!
I heard the third-generation students training outside.
I believe that it was due to the upcoming event that concerned them.
I guess it’s a tournament that the students of the Mount Hua Sect will be participating in.
And I believe that I will go back to my clan around the time that event ends.
I asked Yung Pung and he said that it lasts around one to two days, so it wasn’t that long.
I prayed in my heart that nothing bad would happen during those days.
‘The problem is the demonic Qi I had felt earlier.’
The flies that belonged to the Black Palace.
But to call it a demonic Qi felt like their inside was too nasty.
To be more specific, it was low quality and felt imperfect.
It felt like a cheap version of the demonic Qi I felt from the demonic cult.
So I believed that it wasn’t related to the Heavenly Demon.
｢Are you thinking of those guys from earlier?｣
“…Yes, something about them is bothering me.”
｢Are they famous?｣
“I wouldn’t say that they are famous, but they aren’t too secretive either.”
The leader of the Black Palace was one of the masters that represented the Unorthodox Faction.
Even when the Black Dragon had been slain by the Sword Emperor, the Lord of the Black Palace remained calm.
‘Was I too careless?’
It was because I knew they would be destroyed by the Murim Alliance a few years later, but now I feel conflicted after learning that the Black Palace could’ve been the origin of demonic Qi when I believed that it was the Heavenly Demon.
“I’m not going to just ignore this since I did let one of them get away.”
｢They probably know that this was informed to the sect leader of Mount Hua, so they wouldn’t act recklessly.｣
I knew that they had received heavy casualties, but I still believed that they wouldn’t just take this lying down.
‘The Celestial Plum Blossom would take care of the rest in this area.’
I had many other things to think about besides this shitty situation.
It was impossible to find some information about the Black Palace in Shaanxi.
While I was making my way back to the lodge, putting aside my complicated thoughts, someone from afar ran toward me.
“Young Master Gu!”
It was Yung Pung covered in sweat from head to toe.
What the hell…?
“Master Yung Pung…?”
“Are you going out for some training after dinner?”
“The air tonight is quite fresh. I think that you would feel refreshed if you trained tonight!”
“…Oh, I see.”
Did this guy train non-stop from morning until night?
｢I like him the most out of the group, with his talent and efforts, the strongest martial artist of the Mount Hua Sect in the near future will definitely be him.｣
As Elder Shin had pointed out enthusiastically,
Yung Pung would come to represent the Mount Hua Sect in the future as long as history doesn’t change.
As long as some crazy maniac doesn’t annihilate Mount Hua all by themselves, that is.
“Huh? Did you say something, Young Master Gu?”
“No, it’s nothing, really.”
“Oh… I see. If you are free, how about you do some after-dinner training?”
Even with that intense training he had conducted in the morning, he still looked refreshed while asking for more training.
I wanted to just lay down back at my place because of the many troublesome things that took place today,
But seeing Yung Pung like that stimulated me.
“Let’s go, then.”
Yeah, a little bit of training wouldn’t hurt anyone because I would just go to sleep anyways.
…I regretted that after only a few minutes.
* * * *
The Mount Hua Sect is a crazy place indeed.
The after-dinner training I joined as I had gotten tempted by Yung Pung’s words ended in me running away from it not even halfway in.
Putting aside the absurd training regimen, what kind of crazy maniac carries a boulder on their back and climbs a cliff?
And yet, there were other equally grueling exercises that I had to endure repeatedly.
My muscles were dying while screaming in pain, but Yung Pung looked like he was enjoying himself.
How could a guy like that face a wall that he couldn’t overcome?
Did something happen to him?
｢Are you sure it’s not because you stimulated him?｣
“What kind of person changes that much just because of one duel?”
｢You don’t know that.｣
Did the duel we have really change him that much?
If that was the case, I was relieved since he had changed for the better, but it was also scary how he changed that much over such a short period of time.
When I told him that I couldn’t take it anymore and that I was leaving, Yung Pung looked disappointed and said that he’ll train a little more and then return to his quarters.
I barely listened to him and quickly came down the mountain.
My body was at its limit because of everything that happened in the daytime, plus the dinner training I did with an already exhausted body.
I went back to the lodge, washed myself with cold water, and changed into clean clothes.
I wanted to sleep immediately.
Because I didn’t get much sleep last night, I felt like I’ll be able to have a deep sleep tonight.
Was my thought before I opened my door,
– Slide, Tap—
I quickly closed the door without noticing myself.
I could’ve sworn I saw Namgung Bi-ah and Wi Seol-Ah inside…
It was just a hallucination, right…?
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