༺ Third Chapter – Together to Ghost Valley (4) ༻
The two followed the direction where the girl had vanished.
Traces like footprints were faint, but they pressed on, even as a dense forest loomed before them.
And then, they encounter the Jiangshi.
The creatures hopping about the withered bushes were clearly those who had lived here. Their attire was too shabby and unseemly to be martial artists of the Blood Cult or the Martial Arts Alliance.
“They’re really Jiangshi.”
Mok Riwon laughed bitterly.
He spat out the blood poison pill, and with one hand on his sword, said to Tang Hwa-seo.
“I’m sorry for being stubborn.”
“It’s fine. I didn’t dissuade you to the end because I also saw the reason in your words.”
Tang Hwa-seo said, smiling.
Even though she was proven correct and they ended up facing an enemy again, she wasn’t displeased.
“Still, isn’t it fortunate? There was no lost child here.”
Mok Riwon was moved by her words, and with a smile, he stepped forward and said.
“Please leave this to me. I’ll do it alone.”
“Will you be okay?”
“There’s not as much as I was worried about, and they don’t seem strong either.”
There were fifteen Jiangshi in total.
Their movements were linear and slow to the point that even a second-rate martial artist would likely be able to fight them.
Indeed, just like he had once heard from Mok Seon-oh.
“You are no longer ordinary people. It’s time to rest in peace.”
They were far too weak.
Mok Riwon beheaded the first Jiangshi headed towards him.
It was a simple horizontal slash without fancy techniques or stances, yet it cleanly severed their necks.
When the next attack aimed for his back, Mok Riwon twisted his body with minimal movement and slit its throat.
Mok Riwon’s expression was somber, or perhaps more accurately, sad.
There was one reason.
For the first time since he had learned to wield his sword, and the first time he had fought with his life on the line–
–He felt no killing intent from his opponent.
It wasn’t that they were good at hiding their killing intent, but they literally lacked any will to kill someone.
They just instinctively lunged at anyone who entered their radius, repeating this process as they fell apart.
He didn’t know whose intention it was.
Nor why they were abandoned here.
And that saddened him.
–…Even if they are such pitiable people, the world does not listen to the voices of the weak.
As Mok Seon-oh had said, it was deeply saddening that their screams reached nowhere.
The last Jiangshi’s head fell to the ground.
Mok Riwon caught his breath.
There was such an overwhelming difference in skill he didn’t even break a drop of sweat.
After finishing everything, Mok Riwon sheathed his sword and bowed his head. With his eyes closed, he conveyed an unspoken message.
‘Please rest now.”
It was a silent prayer.
In the forest where there was nothing but silence, Mok Riwon continued his prayer for a long while before reopening his eyes.
‘Master, I think I understand a little now.’
With this realization, he found the answer to the lingering question in the back of his mind – a clear, unwavering answer.
–Why must a hero be a martial artist?
‘Because the voice of the weak does not reach.’
–What is chivalry for?
‘To speak on behalf of those voices.’
And so, his way forward was clear.
‘To ensure there are fewer of those who fall because they lack strength.’
As expected, it was chivalry.
Tang Hwa-seo watched the entire process quietly.
It ended so easily that she couldn’t think of anything to say, so she just waited for him to finish his silent prayer.
Then, amidst the silence.
Mok Riwon collapsed.
Tang Hwa-seo quickly ran to him to check his condition.
His complexion was deathly pale, his breath was ragged, and the tips of his eyebrows were trembling slightly.
What had suddenly happened?
While pondering this, she remembered something she had forgotten.
‘The blood poison pill!’
Since the battle ended, Mok Riwon hadn’t taken the blood poison pill.
She said with reproach, directed both at Mok Riwon for not taking the pill and herself for not realizing sooner.
It was inevitable.
Blood Valley was a land overflowing with poison qi and death qi.
Even for Mok Riwon, a peak realm martial artist, withstanding with his naked body was challenging.
This was an obvious symptom of poisoning.
Tang Hwa-seo’s hand reached for his bundle.
First, she tried to find a new blood poison pill to prevent further poisoning.
However, as she rummaged through his belongings, her expression quickly darkened.
‘It’s not here.’
It seemed that the one he had until just now was the last pill.
‘Did you hide it?’
He had hidden this fact from her.
It wasn’t difficult to figure out the reason.
He must have been stubborn even though he knew it was time to return.
He must have considered this matter more important than the spread of poison in his body.
Fool and stupid, yet a choice that was so like him.
It was the worst choice.
Tang Hwa-seo quickly racked her brain.
‘What should I do…’
She looked around.
This was the heart of Blood Valley.
Even if she ran at full speed using the Light Body Technique, it would take at least half a day to get out of the valley because they were so far from the outskirts.
It was better to run out immediately, but there was no guarantee that he would last until then.
It wasn’t a matter of life or death.
The problem was the aftereffects that would occur if the poison qi penetrated deep into his internal organs.
Tang Hwa-seo gritted her teeth as she reminded herself of what needed to be done.
‘The poison qi inside him, escaping Blood Valley, and then the detoxification.’
The issue of detoxification could be resolved by feeding him the inner core of the Man-faced Spider, so the right choice was to just focus on the poison and escape.
She had to slow down the progression of the poison as much as possible, while carrying Mok Riwon on her back and escaping this place.
Tang Hwa-seo calmly went over what she had to do and then slapped Mok Riwon across his cheek.
“Young Hero Mok! Can you hear me?!”
As his eyelids opened, his half-dilated pupils became visible. His eyes looking towards her suggested that he had not completely lost his senses.
“Listen carefully. From now on, I will suck out the poison qi from you. I will also carry you, so you must focus on one thing.”
Tang Hwa-seo took out a dagger from within her clothes and pricked Mok Riwon’s left index finger.
Droplets of fresh blood began to seep out slowly.
After confirming that, she continued speaking.
“Please push the poison qi towards the wound I’ve made. You must not lose consciousness. If you understand, blink twice!”
To the voice that was borderline shouting, Mok Riwon blinked twice in response.
Tang Hwa-seo nodded and then lifted him up.
She placed one arm around her neck and put his wounded index finger into her mouth.
“Stay with me!”
A faint dark green qi flowed throughout her body and gathered in her legs.
Tang Hwa-seo’s figure shot out rapidly.
The wind was fierce enough to make his face string.
Her soft hair fluttered here and there, relentlessly striking his cheeks.
And then there was the squishy, warm sensation at the tip of his left index finger.
Mok Riwon, with his dazed mind, replayed those sensations.
His eyes were still half-closed.
He felt nauseous, and breathing was difficult.
His headache felt more painful than anything else he had experienced in his life.
‘The poison qi…’
He had to expel the poison qi.
This wasn’t a decision Mok Riwon made on his own, but rather, he remembered Tang Hwa-seo’s instructions in his dazed state.
Having gone as far as lying in his battle with the Jiangshi, he did as she instructed, partly out of concern that ignoring her would lead to being severely punished.
It was fortunate.
Despite the overwhelming poison qi, Mok Riwon’s violent qi was still coursing through his meridians.
Inner qi flowed out from his dantian, surging through his meridians.
It then carried the widespread poison qi in his body through his waist, chest, shoulders, arms, and then converged to the tip of his index finger.
With a prickling sensation, a moist and warm flesh enveloped his index finger.
Though still dazed, Mok Riwon thought to himself.
‘It feels oddly ticklish and nice.’
‘If it weren’t for my poor condition, this would feel so comfortable and warm.’
The soft hair that brushed against his cheeks smelled different from his own, and the feeling of someone embracing him tightly seemed to relax his tension.
A faint smile appeared on Mok Riwon’s lips.
It was during the peak of his comfort that he realized something.
‘The Mistress’s scent.’
The sweet fragrance that always gently lingered around when he was with Tang Hwa-seo.
His smile widened upon realizing this was her scent.
The sound came again, along with the sensation at his fingertips.
That was the last thing he felt.
Feeling gradually more comfortable, he drifted off to sleep.
Beside a stream at the end of Blood Valley was a woman soaked in sweat and a man lying on the ground.
The woman, still unable to catch her breath, checked the man’s complexion.
She scooped water from the stream, letting it flow into his mouth, and wiped the sweat from his face with a piece of cloth. As the tension finally seemed to ease, she stretched her body and relaxed.
Upon steadying her breath, an angry expression emerged on her face.
However, she did not seem to harbor the intention to harm the man.
Lifting her right hand, the woman placed it on the man’s cheek and began to pinch, pulling it strongly.
Her lips moved as if scolding him, but whether he knew it or not, the man continued to smile faintly, lost in sleep.
There was someone watching all of this from afar.
It was the same girl whom Mok Riwon and Tang Hwa-seo had seen earlier in the village of Blood Valley.
“Ku ku, the fellow really sleeps well.”
The laughter sounded like something the elderly would make.
Her shaking shoulders indicated just how pleased she was feeling.
The girl placed her hand over her face and peeled off the skin.
What was unveiled was the face of an attractive old woman.
“Now, take care of this for me.”
The old woman handed the mask made of human skin to the masked individual standing guard beside her. The young man accepted it and then asked the elder a question.
“Is it fine?”
“What are you referring to?”
“Haven’t you lost the Man-faced Spider? And the Jiangshi too…”
“It’s fine. The Man-faced Spider was originally something I raised to strengthen myself, and the Jiangshi was a nuisance I merely left alone. Instead, didn’t I witness something interesting?”
The elderly woman said this while looking fondly towards Mok Riwon in the distance.
“That Mok Family bastard really made someone just like himself.”
The masked man quietly bowed his head at the old woman’s words.
“Yes, it seems the Sword Star has accomplished yet another remarkable feat.”
“Sword Star, what nonsense.”
“He’s just a senseless old man.”
Then she straightened her back with a cracking sound, and turned around with her hands clasped behind her back.
“Let’s go. We’ve done what we came here for.”
“Does that mean…”
“We will not touch him.”
The masked individual looked in Mok Riwon’s direction after hearing those words.
‘Has he passed the test?’
Should he be considered lucky, or was he simply that special?
The masked man knew.
How strict the standards of the old woman walking away with her hands clasped behind her back were.
Although she appeared like an ordinary grandmother one could see anywhere, he was well aware of how fearsome she truly was.
Killing Star, Yeom So-so.
One of the Ten Grand Masters of the Orthodox Faction, distinguished as one of the Four Stars, Six Kings.
A dark star, revered as a hero while living the life of an assassin who punishes the wicked in the darkness of night.
On the day the Bloodied History ended, she was one of the ten who decided the fate of that man born under the Heaven-Slaying Star.
–I will observe this child when he grows up. If I see that he has even a speck of evil in him once he steps into the martial world, I will personally take his life.
Those were the words uttered by Yeom So-so that day.
Seeing her turn around like this must mean that this man named Mok RIwon had caught her eye.
“What are you doing? Why aren’t you coming?”
“I am on my way.”
At her urging, the masked man brushed aside those thoughts and walked after Yeom So-so.
They continued walking.
After a lengthy climb from the entrance of the cave housing the Man-faced Spider, a crevice appeared.
Upon emerging from it and crossing another forest path, a place revealed itself as the fog dissipated.
In the shadows of this martial world, the darkest star once more hid itself in the background of a land filled with poison qi, lying in wait for its next prey.
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