༺ Not Ugly ༻
I heard a sobbing voice coming out of my lips while basking under the warm sunlight, unlike the foggy mist that usually was the norm for cold seasons.
This was a memory from my childhood.
In the woods near our house,
I toddled my way forward.
I was the seeker in this game of hide and seek.
I preferred being the seeker because it was scary to hide by myself.
Brother said that he was confident in hiding himself, so he told me not to worry about only me being the seeker in this little game of ours.
｢Brother… where are you?｣
I continued to walk forward, shifting through the branches of the trees.
Brother wasn’t very good at hiding like he boasted himself to be.
He would always be found out by me in the end without exception.
This time too, I noticed a small part of his clothing poking out from behind a tree not far away.
My sobbing face soon turned bright and cheerful right away.
I found you!
I poked my head toward him quickly to give him a scare.
But unexpectedly, my brother wasn’t there.
There was only his clothing, the clothing of the Gu clan, stuck in that place.
｢Brother where are—｣
I screamed out loud and collapsed onto the ground after being surprised from behind.
I was so scared that even tears began coming out of my eyes.
When I turned around, I was greeted with the sight of my brother laughing at me.
He had sharp and fierce eyes, but when he smiled, he looked very kind and warm.
｢Did I scare ya?｣
｢I… I was so scared…｣
｢I knew this would work.｣
I felt annoyed at how proud he looked for scaring me like that.
Because of the annoyance I felt, I punched my brother’s shoulders a few times with my small fists.
But my brother kept laughing as though my attacks were not able to hurt him at all.
After laughing for a while, he reached his hand out toward me, telling me to grab onto it.
I put a puzzled look on my face but grabbed his hand nonetheless.
｢Let’s go back, Mom is probably waiting for us.｣
｢Yeah, we’ll get in trouble if we stay here longer, you know.｣
That was not possible.
None of us ever saw Mom getting angry.
However, I just nodded my head anyways as I liked listening to my brother.
The hand I grabbed, belonging to him, was filled with endless warmth.
The clothing he used to scare me was put on me before I could even notice.
He did it because it was rather cold today.
It was cold, but I was still able to handle it since there were two of us here.
｢…Sister Yeonseo bullied me again earlier.｣
｢Yeah… She glared at me saying that it was her mom, even though mom is ours…｣
Brother patted my head with that warm hand of his after hearing my words.
I felt like my heart was melting with pleasure when he patted me like that.
｢Since sister is also one of us, she can also say that, right?｣
｢…Yeah, I guess.｣
The way brother looked at me always felt so warm and comforting.
I liked that about him.
I didn’t like father’s cold sharp eyes, but brother’s and mom’s eyes always felt warm and I loved that about them.
That was all I needed in this life.
That was what Gu Ryunghwa thought back then.
｢What should we eat for today?｣
｢I want to eat fish today!｣
｢Fish? Okay, let’s go and ask.｣
After walking a bit together with my brother, we arrived at our home.
Since it was almost nighttime, the lights had already been turned on, and I could see Mom waving her hand toward us from far away.
I powerfully waved my hand toward her.
I then quickly ran towards Mom and hugged her tightly.
Mom’s hands were cold because of waiting outside for us for so long…
But I still loved those cold hands of hers…
Soon, Mom patted my brother’s head who came after me.
It was the season of cold but I was still able to feel endless warmth due to the people I had with me.
That was all I needed in this life.
I thought that I would be happy as long as I got to keep such a wonderful life.
That was the small dream that I had at that young age of mine.
However, the Heavens didn’t exactly want that to happen.
A week later,
Everything was ruined and Gu Ryunghwa’s life also hit rock bottom.
* * * * *
Every summer, the Mount Hua Sect usually hosted a tournament for the students enrolled in it.
It was a simple tournament that consisted of the students of the Mount Hua Sect participating in it to decide a winner, however, it was also a process for the sect to choose new swordsmen of Mount Hua.
The second-generation students of the Mount Hua Sect that hadn’t already become the swordsmen of Mount Hua were required to participate in the tournament, while it was optional for the third-generation students to participate.
Due to that rule, Gu Ryunghwa was technically required to participate in the tournament as she was a second-generation student of the sect, but she was given an exception by the elders and the first-generation students because of her circumstance and was thus allowed to fight the third-generation students instead.
But Gu Ryunghwa rejected that offer.
She didn’t want to fight the third-generation students and she felt that she couldn’t back down from the tournament for preserving the honor of her Master.
– Swish—! Swoosh—!
The wooden sword swung heavily by me without stopping for a single instant…
I swung the sword countless times ever since I had joined the Mount Hua Sect.
I couldn’t yet reach a level where I would be able to use the Plum Blossom Sword Arts and there were also other skills of Mount Hua that I needed to learn as well that I hadn’t been able to do yet.
I was getting desperate at this point.
Even I knew that I was running out of time.
On the contrary, my Master told me to relax and take my time…
Saying that I had lots of opportunities awaiting me since I was still young…
Even if I do become an exemplary person in the future.
Did that accomplishment have any meaning without my Master by my side?
Gu Ryunghwa bit her lips at that thought.
The end of her Master’s lifespan, the end of this year, that the Immortal Healer mentioned was slowly creeping nearer and nearer.
There was still so much I had to accomplish before I could even start making my sword blossom with plum blossoms.
Even so, I wanted to show my Master the sight of my sword blossoming with those ethereal plum flowers.
‘If I had talent like… that person.’
The person that was essentially the youngest among the third-generation students,
And the person that was being hailed as the future of the Mount Hua Sect.
The Sword Dragon, Yung Pung.
If I had his talents, then maybe I wouldn’t have been feeling so desperate right now.
And just like that, before I could even notice it, I had started feeling jealous of Yung Pung.
And I knew for a fact that there was no way for me to be like him… which didn’t help in calming me either…
Because of that,
I had the feeling that I wasn’t able to swing the sword in the correct way.
My hand was stinging due to swinging the sword for so long.
Even so, only the thought of proceeding with my training came to mind.
My Master wasn’t in a state to teach me anything right now.
So I had to teach myself everything.
As I was slowly becoming more and more desperate, nothing seemed to be going well for me.
And today felt especially worse due to the scene I had encountered in the morning.
The scene of Gu Yangcheon and those girls frolicking around him.
The family member I’d seen for the first time in a while looked to be in an even sadder state than before.
The brother in my memories had already died.
He died on the same day as my mother left this world.
At least, that was what I felt.
The kind boy who had infinite warmth in his heart was burnt alive by the smoldering flames of the Gu Clan.
And the only thing that was left in its stead was an evil, vengeful spirit of abomination.
“I… I still had a little bit of hope left.”
The Gu Yangcheon that I had seen for the first time in a long while felt different than before.
He wasn’t necessarily the warm brother from her memories, but he was still different from the repulsive person that he had been the last time I saw him.
He at least looked like he had thrown away all those disgusting desires of his that he used to have in those sharp eyes of his.
Which is why I still had some hope left in me.
That he would return to the brother I once used to know and cherish.
But that was a pointless thought.
I still wasn’t able to throw away my past even though I thought I had given up on it when I run away from everything in fear.
As I had been distracted by these useless thoughts, I decided to just swing my sword some more to drive them away from my mind.
Today was a day when no students of the Mount Hua Sect came to the mountain to train.
It was most likely because of the tournament.
I honestly preferred this environment.
Since it wasn’t easy to train in that uncomfortable atmosphere filled with people.
So, as I started to train once more…
I stopped myself after hearing some distinct sounds.
– Swoosh—! Swish swoosh—!
The sounds of someone swinging a sword.
However, something was different about it.
Unlike the sound that the Mount Hua Sect’s sword arts usually make, this sound was distinctly different from that…
Furthermore, just what was this sharp sensation that I was constantly feeling?
I moved my steps toward the direction that the sound came from. But I still wondered, what if it was one of the martial artists of the Mount Hua Sect?
Even though that thought came to my mind, I wasn’t able to stop my steps.
When I finally arrived at the destination,
My hair started blowing due to the fierce wind generated after each sword strike…
The first thing that entered my eyes was her enchanting beauty…
White hair that flowed along with her beautiful sword art and those alluring blue eyes of hers that only focused on her sword was a truly enchanting sight… and equally annoying for my mind…
Every one of her steps, incorporated into her sword arts, was light and swift, however, I was 100% sure that each of those strikes of her sword was nowhere near light as her footsteps.
How come I was able to see elegance blended in between her fierce movements?
I couldn’t understand.
Was I not even capable of understanding it? Does that mean that she was just that much more skilled in the sword arts than I was?
Many thoughts lingered in my head, but my eyes never left the display of her sword art. They were unable to.
How can she have such fluid movements?
What does she feel when she swings her sword?
I wondered in my mind,
If I could ever become skilled enough to swing a sword like that one day…
At that thought, I could even hear the excited beating of my heart…
I knew I was distracting myself from training with these thoughts and watching her, however, I had a feeling that I would be able to gain something from the showcase of this phenomenal sword art if I could just finish watching it.
As the woman was about to swing her sword, cutting the air once again using her ethereal sword arts…
She suddenly stopped her movements altogether, not even finishing the last swing…
Seeing her stop, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and unsatisfied in my heart.
I felt like I could’ve gained something if I could’ve watched it in full.
However, there was a bigger problem at hand that I had to face other than my disappointment.
It was the fact that I had secretly watched her train.
Furthermore, I even tried to gain something from someone else’s training.
I had watched her training as if possessed, but I still had no excuses for doing something like that.
Maybe I can use the fact that an outsider was training in the mountains of Mount Hua as an excuse?
While I was trapped in my thoughts, the woman’s eyes met with my own.
Now that I took a better look, her face seemed familiar.
She had pale white skin, mirroring her equally white hair, and enchanting blue eyes.
And even though she was covered in sweat right now, that only made her look more seductive rather than just dirty.
It was breathtaking for even a person of the same gender as me to look at her beauty… and…
It was definitely one of the girls that were with Gu Yangcheon.
‘…She was a martial artist?’
I didn’t have the chance to find out before due to the scene I saw in the morning, but I only thought of her as just some beautiful girl following my brother, but to find out that she was a martial artist…
When our gaze met, I began sweating profusely…
Her apathetic face made it impossible for me to know what she was thinking.
She just tilted her head once after looking at me and then nodded once she looked at the wooden sword in my hand.
What does that mean?
I was worried that I would get into trouble for secretly watching her train,
But the words that came out of the woman’s mouth were… unexpected, to say the least.
I frowned thinking that I had misheard her.
* * * * *
And now here I was at the present.
Thankfully, she didn’t seem to have gotten mad at me for secretly watching her train.
She didn’t even seem to have cared about that matter, in fact.
Which only made me wonder as a martial artist myself.
How can she be like that…?
Furthermore, I couldn’t help but be dumbfounded after I had been challenged to a duel by her.
I was wondering in my mind if she was just perhaps trying to teach me a lesson for secretly watching her training, but I soon dismissed that thought.
I accepted the duel though as I felt that chances like these didn’t really come often in a martial artist’s life.
So the duel between us began in earnest.
I repeatedly charged at her for a long, long time, but I was not even able to manage to brush her clothes with my wooden sword.
My uniform had already become stained with dirt as I had to constantly roll around everywhere while attacking her, while my body started trembling nonstop as I was out of energy due to moving around without rest.
I looked up at Namgung Bi-ah with tired eyes and thought,
‘…How can I not even touch her even once?’
It was only by a hair’s breadth every time, which only made me think that Namgung Bi-ah was purposely letting me almost hit her.
Is she trying to teach me?
But then why…?
After breathing heavily for a while, I finally stood up once again to face her.
Namgung Bi-ah who was waiting for me wasn’t even breathing heavily like she did when she was training by herself.
In fact, she even looked quite bored.
At her level, I felt like she would have no problem facing any of the second-generation students.
I didn’t know her age, but she looked to be around 20 years of age or maybe a bit older.
She wasn’t much older than Yung Pung too. There really were so many talented geniuses out there in the world.
I felt like my pride was getting hurt at that thought.
Soon, I spoke out to her after remembering the events of the morning.
“…We saw each other in the morning, right?”
“What’s your relationship with that boy?”
Unexpectedly, my question had hit her hard for some reason. I could tell that since her emotionless face had broken ever so slightly after I had asked her that question.
Her eyes seemed to have gotten a bit bigger while a side of her eyebrows seemed to be contorted into a imperceptible frown.
Namgung Bi-ah spoke after thinking for some time about what to reply…
“…He’s not someone that you should be with.”
“I don’t know what happened for you to be with him, but it’s such a waste for you to be with him… For you to be around that disgusting and ugly guy who never puts effort into anything is just… wasteful.”
“So it’s not too late to—”
I couldn’t finish my words…
As I felt the atmosphere had suddenly shifted drastically…
The woman in front of me still had that apathetic look on her face, but something was different about her.
I held my sword up instantly when I saw her taking a step forward in my direction.
Something had changed about her, but I was unaware as to what.
The person standing across me reminded me of someone at that instant…
The Sword Master.
My very own Master…
Not too long ago, Master had shown me her overpowering presence when she was still in somewhat of a healthy shape.
I was able to slightly feel the same pressure coming from the woman that was walking towards me.
Alarm bells went off in my head and I had no choice but to put the little bit of Qi left in me into my sword to defend myself from the incoming danger…
The woman then spoke out.
“He’s not ugly.”
Is she angry?
Earlier, the way she spoke sounded so weak and faint, but her voice now felt a bit stronger than before…
Judging by the overpowering energy, I now knew.
That she had gone easy on me before, I knew that already but I still didn’t expect her to be so… so powerful…
I tried to look for a solution because there seemed to be a misunderstanding between us, but my body had already frozen on spot due to her overwhelming presence and pressure.
I was scared out of my mind.
“If you say something like that…”
The woman’s footsteps became faster. At the same time, her figure instantly disappeared from my eyes.
“You deserve to be punished…”
With a flash of blue light, a wooden sword appeared right in front of my eyes.
I instantly closed my eyes shut.
Was it my mistake?
Since just before I closed them… I felt like I had seen flames surrounding me from all sides…
You should check out the illustrations on our discord server: discord.com/invite/JnWsEfAGKc
You can rate this series here.