༺ Tournament (2) ༻
Shinhyun, the second-generation disciple from the Mount Hua Sect, had gotten acquainted with Gu Ryunghwa for the first time around two to three years ago.
It was around the time when winter had come to an end and the first vestiges of Spring were starting to bud. The Celestial Plum Blossom— Dohwa, brought a newcomer along with him, introducing her as the youngest member of our group.
She was introduced as their senior— being the disciple of the most famous sword maiden in the world, the Plum Blossom Sword.
At that time the new third-generation disciples were being picked amongst the applicants. And due to that, there had been a bit of opposition from the disciples since she became a second-generation disciple right away.
From the perspective of the third-generation disciples, the addition of a new girl becoming their direct senior was distasteful, to say the least,
On the other hand, the second-generation disciples found it quite a bit problematic as to how they should treat Gu Ryunghwa since they had to be considerate of the third-generation disciples as well.
However, there was nothing they could do about this situation as the matter regarding Gu Ryunghwa’s admission had been decided by the lord and the elders of the sect already.
The Lord’s decisions were absolute. If he decided it was correct then it must be correct,
And it would be wrong if he decided otherwise.
That was the place the Lord of the sect had in the heart of the disciples.
A few days later, news about Gu Ryunghwa’s arrival to the sect reached Shinhyun’s ears.
However, as he had to talk about some matters with the elders, he was unable to visit her right away.
By the time Shinhyun returned to the lodgings of the second-generation disciples, he was greeted with the sight of his juniors flocking around something or someone.
He was able to notice them immediately since all of them wielded ginormous physiques.
‘…They are honestly a bit too big.’
They had been informed that their bodies would return to their normal shape once they reached a higher realm in the sect’s martial arts. However, the news oddly sparked looks of disappointment in some of the disciples.
– My wide shoulders and biceps will go away…? Senior… I think I’ll have to stop training in the clan’s art from today onwards!
– Yeah…! How can I give up on these rock-hard thighs!
– …Please stop talking while flexing your chest. It makes me want to vomit while looking at those grotesque things.
Those guys were really fucked in the head…
The juniors were oblivious to Shinhyun’s arrival, so he had no choice but to cough to announce his presence.
Usually, the coughing would have been enough to make them aware of his presence. However, the method did not work this time for some reason,
Leaving Shinhyun with no choice but to pass through the crowd of muscular men forcefully.
In the middle of the crowd of behemoths lay a small child.
Whether due to being cold or maybe the fear she felt, the child looked to be trembling incessantly.
In the arms of a female disciple, a rare sight among this horde of monstrous giants lay a girl who looked at her surroundings with trembling eyes and red ears.
“Stand back a little…! Can’t you see that she’s scared!”
The female disciple, Shinmil, shouted out toward the crowd of ignorant behemoths.
And with that shout, the group of men immediately backed away little by little.
Even with them backing off, the girl looked as though she was going to cry any second now.
The crowd of men was confused, not understanding what they may have done wrong here. However, the little girl’s reactions were understandable— as she had been suddenly surrounded by tens of men with hulking physiques that must have come off as terrifying to the little girl.
However, the men were not aware of that simple knowledge.
“Why is she scared…? We didn’t do anything.”
“Shouldn’t she feel safe when surrounded by us with biceps the size of a boulder?”
“Yeah, she should feel that we are here to protect her… but she may not know as she’s just a child.”
Just how did they become so ignorant and stupid?
They weren’t like this when they were still third-generation disciples.
Shinhyun let out a sigh of dejection as he watched the shameful display of his juniors.
And in the next moment, he slowly walked toward the little girl and lowered his head to her eye level.
He recalled the words of his mother, telling him that children felt more at ease when they spoke with others at the same eye level as theirs.
“Nice to meet you. So you are Ryunghwa, right? My name is Shinhyun.”
But for reasons that he was unable to comprehend, as soon as he talked to her, she hid herself further in Shinmil’s arms.
Is this not it…?
“Uh… I just…”
Shinhyun lifted his hand, trying his best to convey to her that he wasn’t a bad guy, but the little girl just flinched and started trembling further due to his actions.
Soon, even tears started flowing down her large eyes.
“Woah… Eldest Senior Brother made her cry.”
“Wow… and he told us to back off. I swear he’s the worst out of us all.”
“W-What did I do…!”
In the first place, Shinhyun wasn’t even the one who had instructed the disciples to back off.
He was feeling frustrated inside, however, his frustration wasn’t the important matter here— the child had already started crying.
In the end, Shinhyun never really got the chance to greet her, and the whole day was spent calming the little girl down.
Of course, it was not done by the men. The other female disciples, like Shinmil, had to step up to the task.
Shinhyun still wasn’t able to hold a proper conversation with Ryunghwa even after a full day.
He even wondered if she was able to sleep well since her eyes had become so swollen from all the crying.
Did she cry all night?
Shinhyun thought further…
‘…Why hasn’t she come here yet?’
Usually, the direct disciple of a sole master received the privilege of being personally trained by them. However, for some reason, the Sword Master just never came.
The Lord hadn’t spoken much about this matter either,
Merely ordering them to take good care of the child.
The problem now was how they would be able to do that…
They tried their best to work together and figure out a good way to do it, but it wasn’t easy.
One day, one of the juniors spoke while watching Gu Ryunghwa train.
“…Big senior, about Gu Ryunghwa…”
“What about her?”
The junior spoke to him while donning a nervous expression on his face. From his expressions, it felt like he was conveying that he was conveying his inability to do something any longer.
“…I don’t think I can do this anymore. I feel like she would break if I even touched her…!”
At first, he wondered just what the hell this junior of his was spouting.
However, just one glance at Gu Ryunghwa’s small and fragile body was enough for him to understand. Indeed, it really felt that she would die if she got hit with even the tiniest sliver of strength put into the strike.
Moreover, even the act of getting closer to her was enough to make her cry…
“Yes! Move your feet just like that! Yes, you’re doing good!”
“Woah! She picked up a sword! She picked up a sword, I tell you!”
“Jeez, what do we do!? Maybe she’s a genius?”
The juniors still seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Well, their enthusiasm and behavior more or less made sense to him since there were no girls that had been picked this time around while choosing the new third-generation disciples. Moreover, each and every second-generation female disciple acted more like a male than a female.
Especially in the case of Shinmil, she was so strong that Shinhyun had to wonder if he, the Eldest Senior Brother of the second-generation disciples, was even capable of beating her in a duel any longer.
Genders didn’t matter in the realm of martial artists.
Hence, their behaviors were understandable since the little girl had been so soft, so delicate, and so full of girly personality traits,
However, does their attitude really help in her training?
‘They are demons when training other juniors, so what am I even watching right now?’
Even though he was rebuking them for their behavior, behind their backs, right now, Shinhyun himself had a hard time in dealing with Gu Ryunghwa.
At this rate, he was even wondering if they would even be able to train her properly.
Even though it was good that they all liked the newcomer girl, she would not be able to improve if she kept getting spoiled by them.
And due to that reason, he chose to train her with the third-generation disciples.
He believed that it’d be beneficial for her to train with other disciples her age rather than these old and muscular men.
The Lord had also informed him to choose the path he felt to be the best, so Shinhyun tried to take the route that would be the most helpful for her overall.
He thought that it was okay since Gu Ryunghwa despite being afraid and tearing up, tried her best to make the proper movements in her training.
It was not long before a problem arose.
On the 4th day since Gu Ryunghwa’s training along with the third-generation disciples started,
Someone came running toward him with desperation in their stride and shouted while he was still in the midst of training.
“Eldest Senior Brother!”
There had been some guys among the second-generation disciples that were adamant about watching over Gu Ryunghwa’s training along with the third-generation disciples.
Even though Shinhyun had scolded them severely for their irrational conduct, they did not give up, not even for a single instance. And thus he had no choice but to leave them be.
One of the juniors, among that group, panted before speaking to him in a desperate voice…
“G-Gu Ryunghwa fainted.”
An unexpected problem occurred during Gu Ryunghwa’s training.
Thankfully, she woke up not too long after the fainting incident. However, the way she curled up with a look of fear on her face was disheartening.
Shinhyun had no choice but to question the third-generation disciples after seeing her acting like that.
He had to get to the crux of this matter.
At his question, the juniors were only able to reply with sadness and frustration on their faces.
They pleaded their innocence, responding that they had done nothing to her. They had only tried to get closer to her in order to teach her but were unable to do that since she started crying and screaming once they did that.
And when one of the juniors accidentally touched her for a split second, she fainted then and there.
The healers of the Mount Hua Sect explained that there was no problem with her body.
It was rather her mind that was going through some issues…
Shinhyun was a famous individual, renowned for his swordsmanship in the martial world, but he was still weak and lost about matters such as these…
Just what is the problem here?
Just what is it that was making that small child feel that way?
She may have been a child who had just joined their sect recently, but Shinhyun already considered her as one of their own.
The Lord of the sect had declared those words and they, as his followers, wholeheartedly agreed to that statement. That child was already their dear family.
“Eldest Senior Brother, what do we do…?”
“It’d be worse for us to hastily do something at this period of time, so let’s let time figure things out.”
The healers strictly informed them that it would be worse if they tried to get closer to her for now.
And so, time passed on amidst these uncertainties.
If there was one thing that Shinhyun learned about the little girl after all this time,
Then it was the fact that Gu Ryunghwa was not just afraid of strangers, but people in general.
Moreover, the fear exponentially increased in magnitude if that male was of a young age.
‘Is that really fear?’
This was what Shinhyun wondered at first, but after being with Gu Ryunghwa for such a long time, he came to learn that her emotions were not just limited to mere fear.
Her eyes held a myriad of emotions as they looked at others.
Noticeably fear, resentment, despair, and an amalgam of other negative emotions blended into one and shimmering in those exhausted eyes of hers.
He was also able to capture a trace of yearning in the middle of that storm of negative emotions.
Thus, he was unable to just chalk it off as mere fear.
Due to those reasons, he couldn’t afford to leave her with the third-generation disciples. Plus, since she looked to be uncomfortable with males, there was no choice other than to pair her up with other female disciples for training.
After that incident, time gradually passed away as the seasons changed a few times.
Gu Ryunghwa had turned into a young lady over the years, however, the line between her heart and other people still remained— a line that she was not willing to let others cross.
She seemingly got better, yet she still had a hard time getting along with the male disciples.
Thankfully, she looked to be happy on some occasions at least.
‘I assume it’s because she’s going to see her master.’
Shinhyun heard that her master’s residence was located somewhere up in the mountains. Yet, Gu Ryunghwa still traveled to her residence whenever she got the time even though it would only end up making her more tired.
The other disciples were forbidden to visit that place, so a few conversations inevitably ensued surrounding this topic.
Most of them were just talked about the possibility that the Sword Master might be sick,
However, none were willing to continue the conversation for long as it would only incite disaster if rumors surrounding this topic were to find their way out to the outside world.
And it was around this time— some incidents occurred which led them to go outside the sect to scout out the surrounding areas.
And it was then— some of the swordsmen of the started disappearing.
They quickly scouted the nearby areas, but no traces could be found of the missing swordsmen, not even a single clue.
Hence, they were left with no choice but to return to the clan with disappointment coloring their expressions. It was at that moment when Yung Pung, scouting the areas along with them, spoke about feeling something in the distance and trailed off toward the origin of that feeling.
Yung Pung was prone to letting his instincts dictate his actions, so Shinhyun could only heave a tired sigh and follow the brat.
Something like this hadn’t happened once or twice, after all.
When they arrived at the location where he ran off, Shinhyun met Gu Yangcheon.
The boy was unconscious when he arrived, leading Shinhyun to believe that Yung Pung must have done something to him. He had almost passed out at that thought.
Thankfully, nothing like that happened. It was only his misunderstanding.
Talking to Gu Yangcheon after he woke up, he learned that he was Gu Ryunghwa’s sibling.
When Gu Yangcheon informed him that he had come here to bring Gu Ryunghwa back with him, Shinhyun felt a sense of relief wash over his mind.
He didn’t know the exact reason, but Gu Ryunghwa seemed to be a bit too desperate these days. And due to that, he just wanted her to take some time off from her lifestyle at the sect and relax for some days.
The same thought was likely to be going on in the minds of the other disciples as well…
Shinhyun did not have much knowledge of the Gu Clan, but he was still aware that the famous prodigy— Sword Phoenix was from that clan.
Not to mention the Tiger Warrior.
The Sword Phoenix was someone that surpassed even Yung Pung, despite the monstrous talent that the boy had.
Shinhyun was never able to properly see her for himself, but it was hard to imagine how such a thing came about.
It was not easy for him to believe that someone was able to surpass Yung Pung who was able to make his sword blossom with plum flowers when he hadn’t even reached the age of twenty yet.
The problem was that something much more shocking occurred in front of Shinhyun.
When Yung Pung dueled with Gu Yangcheon out of nowhere— it ended in his loss.
‘…Yung Pung… lost?’
He couldn’t help but feel extremely shocked when he saw Yung Pung roll on the floor and vomit out blood while Gu Yangcheon just stood there and watched this scene with an impassive expression.
He was just not able to bring himself to believe that this boy was able to burn those blooming flowers and disintegrate them into ashes.
‘…Flowers burning in those flames, just what the hell is this?’
The sight of those beautiful plum flowers filling up the whole area… and the subsequent scenes of them burning away into ashes by the flames leaking out of that small boy’s body,
Those disbelieving scenes left Shinhyun utterly speechless as he had putten all his loyalty and passion to the Mount Hua Sect.
It was then that Shinhyun assured himself of a fact,
‘…He would be the one to become the Heavenly Dragon in the future.’
It was possible that Gu Yangcheon hadn’t become famous due to his young age,
However, he thought it was more likely due to the boy having never participated in the meeting of the young prodigies— ‘the Clash of the Dragon and Phoenix.’
Since the day Peng Woojin had given up his spot as the Heavenly Dragon due to becoming the Young Lord of his clan, the spot was handed over to the Sword Phoenix— as she was the greatest prodigy of the world at that time.
After some time passed, he believed that it was inevitable for Yung Pung to inherit that spot once Sword Phoenix left the seat.
Or at least that had been the thoughts of Shinhyun till now, till he had seen the monster that was Gu Yangcheon. He had no choice but to change his mind once he witnessed Gu Yangcheon’s prowess.
‘…I have nothing to say, he’s a true monster.’
He was able to read the situation and move accordingly with no hesitation whatsoever.
Not only did he have the reserves of Qi and destructive strength to back up all of his movements, but he also had the speed to complement that monstrous strength and power.
It was hard for anyone to believe he was so young after seeing the sight of him fully manipulating all those wild and unruly flames with utter calmness.
Gu Yangcheon had the power that one was only able to gain after going through numerous battles.
His talent was truly monstrous.
‘…Just what kind of place is the Gu Clan?’
He just knew of it to be a noble clan famous in the regions of Shanxi. However, for them to not only raise the Sword Phoenix, but that monstrous boy as well…
After some point, he started to care more about Gu Yangcheon than the treasure he brought with him to deliver to the sect…
Those strangely hollow and lifeless eyes that were unable to complement his sharp and fierce features were also another reason that he was fascinated with the boy.
He treated his servants well without looking down at them. Moreover, a long trip like this should’ve been enough to make a boy his age tired and frustrated…
But even then, he never stopped his training which led Shinhyun to believe that he was a well-taught boy with a good temper.
‘I assume he has been a good brother to Gu Ryunghwa as well.’
Shinhyun thought sometimes that Gu Ryunghwa became like that because something may have happened in her clan.
But he also remembered the sight of Gu Ryunghwa crying in Shinmil’s arms while looking for her brother.
However, a few years ago, that yearning appearance of her completely disappeared when she last visited her clan.
Shinhyun thought that it was helpful for Gu Ryunghwa as it seemed to have led her to make up her mind about something.
Of course, that still didn’t lessen the distance between her and the other disciples… but he still had hopes since she became even a little bit better than her past self.
Shinhyun was able to notice the change in Gu Ryunghwa after Gu Yangcheon came to the Mount Hua Sect.
After Gu Yangcheon came, Shinhyun noticed that Gu Ryunghwa was making the same expressions that she once did when she first visited the clan. That complex expression mixed with myriads of emotions when she was still young and fearful.
Resentment, fear, despair, sadness, and yearning.
Shinhyun instantly noticed that the emotions Gu Ryunghwa felt were for none other than her brother— Gu Yangcheon.
‘Are my eyes seeing the truth?’
He decided to think that Gu Yangcheon was not someone who would do such things to his own family.
And that made everything harder for him as he had a keen sight when it came to identifying a person’s true self.
He still didn’t believe he was a bad person, but he couldn’t help but have doubts.
Shinhyun never liked being hesitant in anything. As a martial artist of the great Mount Hua Sect, he had never learned the meaning of hesitation.
And that’s why he desperately desired to figure this matter out.
He directly asked Gu Yangcheon.
Finally, he asked the boy after hesitating for a long long time.
The boy responded right away without any hesitation in his voice.
“Yes, it’s my fault.”
His response was firm… almost too firm.
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