༺ Fourth Chapter – Anhui (1) ༻
Mok Riwon awoke a day later in a village that was half a day’s horse ride away from the exit of Blood Valley, unable to delay the schedule, Tang Hwa-seo had carried him there.
“Have you awakened?”
At the sharp voice piercing his ears, Mok Riwon looked around.
An unfamiliar ceiling and the touch of a soft blanket.
Staring at him in a room filled with warm was–
–Tang Hwa-seo with an angry expression.
Mok Riwon blinked.
Tang Hwa-seo who had been glaring at him coldly, opened her mouth.
“Do you think you’re destined for good fortune?”
She uttered those words abruptly, but Mok Riwon sensed that something was seriously wrong through the sharpness of her voice.
His mind quickly woke up.
Mok Riwon shivered as he remembered everything that had happened before he awoke. The sensations he felt in his dazed stated flooded into his head all at once.
‘I’m in big trouble!’
Thinking that he would definitely be scolded, he broke out into a cold sweat.
Though, contrary to his expectations, Tang Hwa-seo simply sighed and reached out to touch his forehead.
“How do you feel?”
Tang Hwa-seo’s hands were cold.
Upon closer inspection, she had dark circles under her eyes, as if she hadn’t slept.
He could easily tell what had happened from that.
The one who had carried him here was Tang Hwa-seo and the reason she had looked so tired was because she had been taking care of him, losing sleep in the process.
His shoulders shrunk as he replied.
“I-I’m fine… I’m sorry for causing trouble…”
“Do you even know what you’re sorry about?”
As Tang Hwa-seo glared, Mok Riwon tightly pressed his lips together.
“Why did you do that?”
“You should have told me earlier if there was no more blood poison pills left. Then I would have searched for another solution.”
“Don’t even think I’ll let you off with just words.”
Were the burning flames in her eyes an illusion?
What followed was a lesson Mok Riwon would remember forever.
“Listen carefully. It’s courtesy to tell those you are with when you are sick, and not doing so is a violation of the chivalry that you, Young Hero, must live and die by. I really do not understand what the hell you were thinking, but I won’t ask, because that’s in the past now. But! If something like this ever happens again…”
Mok Riwon came to a realization on this day.
If he rushed head-first without thinking things through, Tang Hwa-seo would lecture him for hours on end.
After awakening, he recovered swiftly.
It wasn’t his physical body in the first place that had suffered, but rather his internal injuries that had been severe enough for him to collapse. Thanks to Tang Hwa-seo’s relentless efforts to suck out the poison, those injuries were not as damaging as they would have been.
Even still, that wasn’t the end of it.
It seemed that luck truly was on his side.
Mok Riwon currently possessed the inner core of the Man-faced Spider. That very thing was the natural earth qi gathered by the spirit beast during its lifetime, condensed into the form of a pill.
There couldn’t have been a better situation to expel the poison qi and restore his damaged inner qi.
Mok Riwon consumed the inner core that Tang Hwa-seo had prepared in advance for him, and assumed lotus position to circulate his inner qi.
The inner qi of the inner core was being added to the internal force from the Star God Technique, which had reached three stars and caused his cultivation to increase significantly.
Three stars faintly glowed within the landscape in his mind.
The translucent path connecting those stars now exhibited a different aspect than before.
The path, which could only be observed with intense concentration, was now so clear that he could understand the flow with a glance.
The completion of the path was within his reach.
It represented one of the crucial stages in the principle of the Star God, the linking from one star to another.
‘I’m on the verge of a full cycle.’
A cycle which was equivalent to sixty years of inner qi was right around the corner.
It would only take about five more years of cultivation to achieve it.
–The Star God is not a martial arts that can be mastered through reckless growth. It requires the unity of mind, qi, and body. Its magnificence can only be fully achieved through the balanced development of each element. Thus, Won, you should not hastily increase your inner qi.
Mok Seon-oh continued his warning.
‘The third star takes one cycle.’
The fifth star required two additional cycles. Thus, each star required one cycle from the fifth to the eighth star.
As for what came after the eight star, that was still a distant concern.
In his current state, Mok Riwon was now on the verge of completing the third star of the Star God.
‘The achievement of the third star signifies the attainment of the Peak Realm.’
It was the moment that would elevate him from the foundational stage to the full realization of the Peak Realm, signifying the end of the introductory phase of the Star God Technique.
Mok Riwon gathered his inner qi and opened his eyes.
Greeting him was Tang Hwa-seo, sitting on the bed with her legs crossed.
“Are you finished?”
“Thank you for your protection!”
“What protection? I was just sitting in the room.”
Tang Hwa-seo let out a small chuckle seeing Mok Riwon fully revitalized again.
Even though he could be frustrating at times, something about his smile just effortlessly brightened her mood. He was truly sly even when not trying to be.
“We will stay here tonight and leave after. The sun is setting, so let’s finish our meal and return to bed again.”
As he said that and was about to get up, Mok Riwon suddenly froze.
A thought flashed through his mind.
He was in a room they shared so she could care for him, and after removing all of the poison qi, he was completely healed.
Meaning that tonight, he would have to sleep with Tang Hwa-seo with a fully conscious and clear mind.
Mok Riwon’s face reddened.
His eyes were spinning from his imagination going out of control.
It was said that a boy and girl over seven years shouldn’t sleep together, so how could a young man and woman spend the night in the same room?!
Or, maybe this was a clever scheme by the Mistress…
His train of thought was interrupted by a flick to the forehead by Tang Hwa-seo.
“Put away those inappropriate thoughts. You’re so young and already wish to spend the night.”
“Wh-what are you talking about…!”
“Your eyes look devious.”
Mok Riwon shrank back immediately.
Tang Hwa-seo laughed at that sight.
‘How can I leave him alone like this?’
Such obvious thoughts, and he couldn’t even tell a lie.
And with those thoughts on the level of a child, to Tang Hwa-seo, he was more like a younger brother she needed to care for than a man.
Thinking about it.
If he, with his pretty face, were to smile carelessly and be dragged away by some absurd seductress, there would be nothing more frustrating than that.
Really, if such a thing were to happen, she might just get a headache from the stress and die.
“Pull yourself together and let’s go. I’ll buy that bamboo leaf liquor in somen noodles you like so much.”
“Huh? Oh oh!”
Mok Riwon immediately perked up and followed closely behind her.
“Don’t be noisy when drinking the soup.”
It would attract attention, wouldn’t it?
“Wouldn’t you bother the others eating?”
How could he be so innocent?
Tang Hwa-seo found herself unknowingly smiling at the sight of Mok RIwon humming all excitedly.
As she descended the stars, Tang Hwa-seo hadn’t realized yet, that she was subconsciously on guard against the unwanted attention directed toward him.
The inn was crowded.
It was a lively city with many people, including martial artists with swords hanging from their waists.
As always, Mok Riwon slurped up somen noodles and said to Tang Hwa-seo.
“Mistress! There sure are a lot of…”
“Swallow before speaking.”
“There sure are a lot of people!”
“Of course, since we’re right by Anhui.”
“So many martial artists too!”
“Yes, with the Dragon Phoenix Tournament coming, there will be plenty flocking here.”
Mok Riwon tilted his head.
“Isn’t the Dragon Phoenix Tournament only for those who are invited?”
“The venue is, but not the surrounding area. When the Dragon Phoenix Tournament is held, there are those who come to see the children of distinguished families that will lead the next generation, and those who want to compete with the gathered individuals fill up the neighborhood.”
Mok Riwon’s face was filled with anticipation.
“That sounds so interesting! I’d like to compete against them too…”
“Young Hero Mok, you are supposed to participate in the tournament with me.”
Mok Riwon scratched the back of his head roughly.
Tang Hwa-seo, with a chuckle, said to him.
“It’ll be very interesting to see. They would say things like, my family is better than yours, or we’ll be the champions of the Azure Dragon Competition this year. It’s quite delightful to watch them fight amongst themselves.”
Her smirk seemed somewhat dangerous.
Mok Riwon gulped and looked away from Tang Hwa-seo’s chilling smile.
“S-So, Mistress Tang likes watching fights…!’
It was new information.
“Anyways, we might meet him this year.”
“Hm? Who are you talking about?”
There were question marks popping up on Mok Riwon’s.
Then she realized that he was ignorant of rumors in the martial world, and made an ‘Ah’ before continuing.
“He is the Young Head of the Namgung Family, known by the name, ‘Sword Dragon,’ and what people say about him is…”
At Tang Hwa-seo’s words, Mok Riwon’s eyes began to sparkle.
As he eagerly leaned forward, waiting for the story to continue…
“Hey, have you heard the rumors? A new young martial arts master has appeared at Suyang County in Jiangxi.”
Their bodies stiffened simultaneously upon hearing that.
They momentarily looked at each other and then toward their heads in the direction of the voice.
There, a martial artist who looked like a vagabond was tilting his cup of liquor and telling a story to the person across from him.
“Huh? Really, a young martial arts master?”
“Yes! A master at the Peak Realm, no less! From what I’ve heard, he’s probably only in his early twenties. Can you believe he single-handedly stormed into the Unorthodox Path and eradicated them?”
As the vagabond’s tale continued, Tang Hwa-seo’s face grew increasingly blank.
The story was unmistakably about Mok Riwon.
Leaving aside how the rumors had spread so quickly, she focused her attention on one thing the moment she heard the tale.
Mok Riwon’s eyes shined with such intensity that it was as if he could see straight through the vagabond.
The expression on his face was too obvious.
He couldn’t help but feel excited when he heard his own story come out of another person’s mouth.
“What in the world? To have reached the Peak Realm at such a young age? Sounds like bullshit…”
“Hey! Ah, this guy! Look, there’s several who saw it happen, why would I tell you some fake rumors!”
“T-Then that means…!”
“His origins are unknown. Those who saw him there say he might be the successor of some secluded and mysterious sect!”
Mok Riwon’s body trembled.
Tang Hwa-seo’s eyes narrowed as she watched Mok Riwon’s reaction.
‘Is it true?’
From his panicking appearance, they might not be entirely wrong.
As she thought about this.
“Well, it seems that this martial artist has already been given a nickname.”
A word that couldn’t be ignored had been made.
Even Tang Hwa-seo turned towards the vagabond this time.
Mok Riwon’s wide-open eyes stared intensely at him.
The vagabond, with his face red from the alcohol, continued to speak, oblivious to their intense gazes.
“They say his sword qi looked as if it was painted with black ink, hence the name.”
Back in their inn room, Tang Hwa-seo looked at Mok Riwon questioningly.
It was because his face had become too sullen.
“Young Hero Mok?”
“…Why are you calling me?”
Mok Riwon was sitting with his arms crossed and his eyebrows deeply furrowed. He was frowning so much that it seemed like his brows might pop out at any moment.
It was absurd that he still looked beautiful even while pouting.
‘Why is he acting like that?’
He had received a title like he longed for, hadn’t he?
Moreover, ‘Ink Sword’ was a pretty stylish and intuitive nickname, nothing to be ashamed of.
So why did he seem to be in such a bad mood now?
With that thought in mind, Tang Hwa-seo asked.
“It’s nothing in particular, but you’ve received a nickname and don’t seem too happy about it. Aren’t you pleased?”
Mok Riwon’s head turned around.
Finally, the change in expression suggested he had a lot to say.
“Exactly! I got one, right?! But that’s the problem! Isn’t it Ink Sword?!”
“What’s the problem with Ink Sword? It’s quite decent…”
Mok Riwon suddenly stood up from his seat.
“It sounds too much like it belongs to the Unorthodox Faction!”
The expression disappeared from Tang Hwa-seo’s face.
“They call me Ink Sword! Because my sword qi is black, they call me Ink Sword! Isn’t it just like the title of a master from the Unorthodox Faction in Tales of the Martial Heroes?! I am a hero!”
With both fists clenched passionately making his point, Tang Hwa-seo’s face began to resemble a doll.
“There are much better names! Like, Ink Sword Hero, Chivalrous Heroic Sword, or Virtuous Heroic Sword!”
Ah. That was why.
The name had to include ‘Hero’.
That was the issue.
When Mok Riwon’s voice grew louder, Tang Hwa-seo made an emotionless smile.
“Young Hero Mok.”
A chilling tone.
Mok Riwon’s body flinched, realizing that something was off about her mood.
Tang Hwa-seo quietly raised her hand and pointed towards the bed.
“Just go and get some sleep.”
Tang Hwa-seo thought to herself.
‘While I’m not certain about other things, Mok Riwon seems to definitely have no talent for naming.’
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