Childhood Friend of the Zenith Chapter 106

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༺ Double-Faced ༻
  After I came back to the lodge I wrapped the flower in cloth and put it in a box.
  Now was probably a good time to consume it, but I felt that it was too risky for me to eat up some mysterious flower right after I had reached a new level.
  「When do you think you’ll try it?」
  “After my body gets fully used to the new realm I just stepped into.”
  I was able to reach the peak realm thanks to Elder Shin’s help, but it would be an exaggeration to say that my physique was also at that level. 
  Just by looking at my physique alone, I could conclude that Mount Hua’s second-generation martial artists, or Yung Pung had physiques that were in better shape than mine.
  ‘Guys from Mount Hua may be monsters, but my point still stands.’
  Thankfully though, the flower didn’t seem to lose its power even after some time had passed.
  I checked it from time to time, but it was still fine, and it would remain so for at least another week.
  ‘I should first go see the Celestial Plum Blossom.’
  I felt like that was the right choice as I didn’t have any reason to delay that plan any further, so I made my way outside in order to see him.
  As soon as I went out, I noticed the Sword Emperor’s gaze on me. The man was cleaning the outdoors with a broom. 
  He slightly reacted when his gaze met mine.
  ‘…It seems like he noticed.’
  Since it was the Sword Emperor, he probably noticed that I had reached the peak realm.
  Vision had become clearer and both my senses and perception were comparatively sharper, but I still couldn’t feel any Qi from the Sword Emperor. 
  ‘I wonder how much difference there is between us.’
  I didn’t have many memories of the Sword Emperor in my past life. Because of that, I didn’t really have a good idea of the old man’s strength.
  I recall hearing from the Heavenly Demon: that he is the strongest of the Heavenly Venerables. 
  My Qis weren’t completely stable since I had just reached the peak realm, but it was still shocking that I wasn’t able to feel anything from the Sword Emperor.
  「Is that man right there the strongest swordsman of this era?」
  Elder Shin seemed to have finally noticed the Sword Emperor’s true strength due to him seeing my memories. 
  I had no reason to deny.
  「How disappointing…」
  ‘About what?’
  「That I can’t feel that man’s strength because I don’t have a physical body myself.」
  I reckoned I heard the man say that he couldn’t feel others’ power after becoming a spirit.
  But his reaction made me wonder who was the stronger of the two between the Sword Emperor or Elder Shin.
  「You rotting piece of… Your mind is still as childish as ever.」
  ‘…I was just curious.’
  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Divine Sword of Mount Hua was the strongest swordsman of his generation, though I wasn’t certain because I didn’t know much about that era.
  The Sword Emperor lowered his head after he saw me. I still felt awkward every time I saw him, so I quickly greeted him back and escaped.
  It was just past noon, but I felt that it was strangely quiet.
  I supposed it was because I didn’t see Wi Seol-Ah or Namgung Bi-ah anywhere.
  For me to say it felt empty without those two around… I really must have changed a lot.
  Though I didn’t know if it was for the better.
  ‘Where did they go?’
  Wi Seol-Ah was usually easy to find as she always ran at me whenever I came back to the lodge, and I thought that Namgung Bi-ah would just be sleeping in the room.
  Wherever the two had gone, I couldn’t find them.
  Hongwa just happened to pass by me during work, so I stopped her and asked, “Oh… Seol-ah and Lady Namgung left earlier saying that they’d be going out to watch the tournament.”
  “The tournament?”
  “Yes, the youngest lady of the house came earlier asking them to come with her as the tournament would be held today as well…”
  It seemed like Gu Ryunghwa had come here earlier and had taken them with her.
  ‘I guess they decided to let the tournament continue.’
  I wonder which of the two ideas from the night before had come to fruition. 
  I was hoping that it was the first option, if possible, but for some reason I felt that things wouldn’t turn out that well. 
  ‘I wonder how many are hiding within the Murim Alliance.’
  It was pretty common for spies from not only the Black Palace, but the Unorthodox Faction in general to be sent to the Murim Alliance.
  When I heard that things had been wrapped up right after I left Nachal there, I felt that it all happened way too soon.
  Thus, I started to think that rather than the Black Palace being destroyed by the Murim Alliance, they only pretended to be destroyed.
  「Are you concerned?」
  “Yeah, I do believe they have some relations after all.”
  I wondered if they had direct ties to the Heavenly Demon, but the important thing was that there was a whole different thing happening behind the scenes that I’ve not ever heard of during my past life.
  The Black Palace trying to capture the Immortal Healer was a part of it.
  And the fact that they captured a bunch of Mount Hua’s swordsmen and sucked their blood out to grow their flower was another.
  「What do you plan to do then?」
  “You already know it, don’t you?”
  Since I had made up my mind to stop the Heavenly Demon, my task was quite simple, if the Black Palace had relations to the Heavenly Demon. 
  If the Black Palace had some sort of ties to the appearance of the Heavenly Demon…
  “I’ll have to rip them apart.”
  That would be my first step.
  Since I thought that the Celestial Plum Blossom would be busy with the tournament right now, I decided to go see the Plum Blossom Sword.
  “I apologize for coming here so suddenly.”
  Thankfully, the Sword Master was in her hut. 
  ‘She looks much younger than before.’
  Her hair was shining black, and I noticed that her skin didn’t have a single wrinkle. 
  At most, she looked the age of 30. The Sword Master looked at me for a bit, then spoke with shock.
  “…It seems like something has happened.”
  “I had a small enlightenment.”
  “Even so… for you to reach that realm at your age, it seems like the heavens have blessed the Gu Clan in this generation.”
  “That’s too much of a praise for someone like me, senior…”
  「…Of course it’s too much, the world should know how trash you are!」
  I was automatically sensing the Sword Master’s strength now that I was a peak realm martial artist.
  Since she still was a martial artist that was still much stronger than me, I wasn’t able to properly assess it, but I was able to tell the strength she held in her body was no joke. 
  ‘She’s not called a Sword Master for nothing, huh?’
  Instead of being given a new title, the highly skilled figures inherited the titles that already existed. 
  The Sword Master for example, or the sword king.
  The Sword Master smiled when she noticed me staring at her.
  “Not much to see, right?”
  Only after hearing the Sword Master did I realize that what I was doing was disrespectful, so I apologized, “I apologize… I’m still not able to control it fully.”
  “It’s fine. It also showed me that I have a long way to go before I’m fully recovered if you were able to perceive my strength with your eyes.”
  After the Sword Master finished talking, she handed me a cup of tea. It smelled the same as the green plum tea that the Celestial Plum Blossom had brewed for me.
  “The leader often comes to give me this.”
  “Oh,, that’s why…”
  No wonder it smelled the same. As I was sipping the tea, the Sword Master continued talking.
  “I wanted to thank you once more, so I’m glad that you came here.”
  “Thank me for…?”
  “Ryunghwa seems to have changed a lot when she came last night.”
  The Sword Master seemed very happy whilst saying those words.
  “She was smiling.”
  “I didn’t know that Ryunghwa could smile that brightly, and she couldn’t be any cuter.”
  It seemed like the Sword Master also noticed the change in Gu Ryunghwa after the tournament. 
  However, I didn’t really like how she thought that it was all thanks to me.
  “If that’s what you are thanking me for, I didn’t do anything…”
  Wasn’t I the one that was blocking Gu Ryunghwa from breaking through her limits all this time?
  To actually ask that was pointless, as I was already certain of it.
  ‘Gu Ryunghwa is truly impressive to have fought through that by herself and proudly smile afterward.’
  The Sword Master only continued to smile; it seemed like she didn’t believe my words.
  “Oh, Ryunghwa said earlier that she was going down to go see her brother, but it seems like you guys didn’t get to meet up judging from your reaction.”
  “She wanted to meet me?”
  I heard that she had come to the lodge to watch the tournament with Wi Seol-Ah and Namgung Bi-ah.
  ‘Did she come for me, then? I didn’t expect her to come see me.’
  ‘I should go see her later.’
  I didn’t know why she had been looking for me, but all I had to do was just meet up with her later.
  After a brief sip of tea, the Sword Master continued.
  “When do you plan to go back to your clan?”
  “I believe we should head back tomorrow since we’ve finished most of our business here.”
  “…Hmm, that’s rather earlier than I expected.”
  “I wanted to leave early since I felt that I stayed here much longer than I should have.”
  “Did you inform the Immortal Healer?”
  “Oh… I’ll give him the news later.”
  ‘Right, I forgot about that.’
  The Sword Master smiled with a muffled chuckle when she noticed my surprise. I let out an awkward cough in response.
  “…I’m sorry. I totally forgot about that.”
  “No. It’s just that you resemble your mother so much that I smiled by accident. I’m sorry.”
  The Sword Master always seemed to smile whenever she talked about my mother. 
  Were they that close? I had never heard about the Sword Master from my mother to believe that.
  ‘Though I may just not remember it because of how young I was back then.’
  I suddenly got curious about how my mother and the Sword Master had met and how they had become friends.
  I still felt uncomfortable talking about my mother, so I didn’t ask.
  I fixed my breath, and brought up the reason I had come to see her.
  “Do you remember when I said I would have a request to make of you soon?”
  “Yes, I didn’t forget. Is there anything you need?”
  “Yes, but it’s nothing big.”
  ‘Tomorrow, I’m going to go see the Celestial Plum Blossom before I leave. I want to go see him with the Sword Master.’
  The request I had to make of her was pretty simple.
  “I need you to take my side.”
  Just that much was enough.
  After finishing my talk with the Sword Master, I was slowly making my way down to see Gu Ryunghwa.
  Due to the chill breeze that I felt, I realized that summer was about to end.
  “Time is going way too fast.”
  I experienced many changes thus far, but I still felt that my progress was slow compared to the passage of time.
  While reaching the peak realm in not even a year was fast, it would be pointless for me to be proud of that if I thought about the calamity that would befall the world soon.
  At most I would be at around the level of a top young prodigy, and just that much.
  「You seem desperate.」
  “It’s necessary for me to feel at least this much desperation.’
  「…I can’t really argue with that one.」
  “I’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t turn into poison.”
  Though it wouldn’t be easy.
  When I reached the bottom of the mountain, I saw a familiar face.
  Because I showed too much presence, a boy with long hair that was covering his face up until his nose noticed me. He was the grandson of the Immortal Healer, Zhuge Hyuk. 
  ‘What is he doing?’
  The young man was carrying around a basket that seemed to be at least half his size.
  I noticed that there were some mushrooms inside.
  I was thinking of just ignoring him, but I walked up to him and struck up a conversation.
  “What are you doing here?”
  Zhuge Hyuk looked at me after picking up another mushroom and putting it in the basket.
  He gestured that he was planning to eat mushrooms, so it seemed like he was gathering some ingredients for food.
  “Do you even know if those mushrooms are safe to eat…?”
  They didn’t really seem fit for consumption judging from their vibrant colors…
  Zhuge Hyuk was trying to answer with his hand but paused.
  Then, he picked up a branch from the ground and started to write on the ground.
  – It’s fine. They are safe.
  I felt strange when I saw his writing on the ground. I never actually had a proper conversation with this young man.
  “…How can you be certain?”
  – It’s written in my grandfather’s book.
  “Immortal Healer’s book?”
  Zhuge Hyuk nodded. ‘He has a book like that?’
  “What are you going to do with these?”
  – I’m going to fry it. And make a stew too.
  As I had expected, he was gathering them to make food.
  The Zhuge Hyuk I had seen the first time acted completely ordinary, and he had that absent, stale expression. But for some reason, it seemed like he was in a good mood right now. Because of that, I started to talk to him without realizing it.
  “Do you like cooking?”
  Zhuge Hyuk’s eyes widened slightly after hearing my question. Then, he nodded vigorously.
  – How did you know?
  I fell silent seeing Zhuge Hyuk’s question.
  I still felt a bit uneasy being with him, but I kept telling myself that this world was different.
  “Just a hunch.”
  I was just reminded of something from my past.
  – I want to open a restaurant. A small elegant restaurant. Cooking has always been fun for me.
  The pointless words he uttered on the verge of death.
  He looked like he couldn’t even speak with all the blood that was gushing out his body, but he still managed to utter those words clearly.
  All of that was irrelevant now. Whatever Zhuge Hyuk had said in my past life, they were mostly lies.
  The only time he spoke honestly was when he was giving orders to demonic human armies after being told by the Heavenly Demon to do so.
  He was a man that lied even in his death, so I didn’t really have much trust in him.
  – I was an orphan in my youth. I had no family.
  That was a lie. He had the Immortal Healer as his family.
  – But I was still healthy. I had a lot of friends.
  This too was also a lie.
  – Do you know? We could’ve probably become good friends if we weren’t in this situation.
  Every time he spoke, a lie was woven in. The last part especially was hard for me to believe.
  – Lord, do you resent me?
  I said “yes” to that question. I even said that I wanted to rip him apart and kill him.
  He chuckled. Every time he laughed, blood came out of his mouth and stained his clothes.
  – Seeing this as my last moment is not bad.
  His clear voice ended after that. I wonder how much of what he said was the truth.
  I at least thought that he wouldn’t lie about his past, but funnily enough, everything he said was filled with lies.
  Now that I thought about it, there may not have been any shred of truth within his words.
  I stared at Zhuge Hyuk. I wonder what happened to this kid for him to become a demonic human.
  If he had been captured with the Immortal Healer, would that have been the beginning of his transformation?
  If I changed that part of history, would that make Zhuge Hyuk not want to become a demonic human?
  It was a short moment, but many thoughts were passing through my mind.
  While I was about to get dizzy from all these thoughts, Zhuge Hyuk suddenly took out some mysterious pouch and gave it to me. 
  “…What’s this?”
  I was dumbfounded because it happened suddenly, but when I opened the pouch, I saw that it was filled with mushrooms.
  When I stared at him asking him what this was for, Zhuge Hyuk started to write something on the ground again.
  – I’ll pick a lot and give some to you, these are delicious.
  After writing those words down, he smiled brightly. I thought momentarily that this smile of his was also a lie, then I carefully put the pouch of mushrooms in my pocket.
  “…Right, thanks.”
  I hoped that, at least now, he wasn’t lying.
  Zhuge Hyuk started to wander around again as he seemed to have more things to gather, so I let him be and got up.
  When I came back to the lodge, I noticed that the girls that had gone to watch the tournament hadn’t returned yet.
  Since I heard that Gu Ryunghwa came here looking for me, I thought that it’d be right to go look for her.
  I handed the mushrooms to Hongwa before I started to leave.
  “…Young Master, what is this…?”
  She looked at me with a very dumbfounded expression, so I responded awkwardly.
  “I just got them as a gift. You can use them to cook something if there aren’t any problems with them.”
  “Oh… Okay. Uh, young master?”
  “Are you leaving to get Wi Seol-Ah?”
  “No, not really.”
  Although they were all together, I was mainly looking for Gu Ryunghwa, thus my half-true response.
  Hongwa let out a sigh.
  “What’s wrong?”
  “…Seol-Ah left without doing her work. It seems like she left without knowing she had work to do, but I’ll still have to scold her once she comes back.”
  It seemed like she was holding in her anger as she was in front of me, but I was still able to notice it.
  「Her hand is shaking.」
  Judging by her fist shaking, it seemed like she was quite angry.
  ‘Good luck.’
  I cheered Wi Seol-Ah on since she would probably be caught by Hongwa and punished soon.
  * * * *
  The main branch of the Murim Alliance, and the residence of Alliance’s leader.
  The current leader of the Alliance, the Harmonic Sword Jang Cheon, was carefully reading the letter that had been sent by the Sword Emperor. 
  He read the letter many times already, but he kept at it, again and again, in fear he missed something.
  ‘…Granddaughter huh.’
  Many things were written in the letter, but the one that caught his attention the most was about the Sword Emperor’s granddaughter.
  “How strange…”
  The Sword Emperor never had a family. The only blood family he had was his daughter, but he knew that she had already passed away.
  He knew it because the corpse of the daughter was given to the Sword Emperor by none other than himself.
  Then, who’s this granddaughter?
  What happened in these years he disappeared…
  He had heard that Wudang and Shaolin sects were looking for the Sword Emperor. They also asked the leader himself where the Sword Emperor was located,
  He didn’t tell them, as he didn’t know himself.
  ‘What do I do about this situation?’
  The leader felt that things had gotten rather problematic. To accept the Sword Emperor’s request that was written in his letter would mean that he would have to turn the Ten Sect Alliance into an enemy. 
  But to refuse his request was also tough as Jang Cheon had gotten a lot of help from the Sword Emperor in the past.
  While Jang Cheon was deep in his thoughts…
– Knock knock.
  He felt a presence outside. He carefully folded up the letter and put it in his pocket.
  – Father. It’s Seon-yeon.
  “Come in.”
  With Jang Cheon’s approval, the door opened and a person came in.
  It was a mysterious figure with a calm expression.
  “What brings you here?”
  “I came here to greet you as soon as I was informed of your return.”
  “I told you it isn’t necessary. You should be busy training…”
  “No, how could I do that?”
  Jang Cheon smiled after hearing his son’s words.
  Clearly, the young man had been properly taught. No matter where they were, Jang Cheon was always proud of his son, and never felt any embarrassment due to his presence. 
  Furthermore, he heard that the young man was progressing at a scary rate with frequent bouts of enlightenment, which made Jang Cheon think that his son would end up as one of the Five Dragons. 
  “Haha, right, right, father can’t be happier with those words alone.”   
  Jang Cheon laughed out loud.
  Jang Seon-yeon followed suit, also letting out a deep chuckle.
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