Childhood Friend of the Zenith Chapter 58

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༺ The Fall of Plum Blossom Dragon (1) ༻
  “Right now?”

  Yung Pung nodded upon hearing my question as my brows furrowed.
  I could understand him being a little disappointed at us not being able to finish our duel earlier, but no matter how I looked at it, he didn’t seem to have pure intentions any longer.
  He’s really bad at lying, huh.
  Due to how direct he was and how honest he was with his emotions, I felt like I should call him innocent.
  「Nah, he just hasn’t matured yet.」
  I let out a cough at Elder Shin’s words.
  It surprised me that he of all people could say those words.
  Should a man who used to be the Lord of Mount Hua really talk bad about his own people?
  「Now you treat me as the real Divine Sword?」
  Elder Shin laughed at my words.
  「Being honest with one’s emotions doesn’t help anyone in this world. You may be young, but I believe that you understand a little about what I mean.」
  ‘A little’?
  I related to Elder Shin’s words more than anyone possibly could.
  Then again, that fact wasn’t hard to realize by anyone who has lived in this martial world.
  And because of that, I knew Yung Pung had most likely been spoiled from childhood. 
  「It’s not always right to hide things from a child. Plus, they should’ve been stricter with a kid with so much talent.」 
  It was unexpected, to see Elder Shin feeling so disappointed.
  I assumed that he had a much more aggressive outlook on raising children compared to the current generation because he’d been through war himself. 
  「Of course, with one as beautiful as she is, anyone would be charmed no matter how hard they trained.」 
  I looked at Namgung Bi-ah after hearing Elder Shin’s remarks.
  Her white hair with blue tints glimmered even more in the moonlight.
  And because of the campfire that was in front of her, her face was charmingly illuminated.
  She was truly beautiful.
  Unlike Wi Seol-Ah who still hadn’t lost her baby fat, Namgung Bi-ah had already grown up. She made me wonder if a human could really be this beautiful. 
  Like I’d thought in my past life, with her beauty alone, it shouldn’t have been strange for her to be famous throughout not just Anhui, but the whole world. 
  And yet, the opposite was the case; even when one factored in her monstrous talent.
  Was this also the Namgung Clan’s doing?
  Either way, I could understand Yung Pung’s actions to an extent.
  「I’m more astounded by the fact you feel nothing about the fact that she is your fiancée.」
  I smirked at Elder Shin’s words, after all…
  I was no different. 
  Namgung Bi-ah was definitely beautiful right now, but her beauty was lacking compared to her days as the ‘Demonic Sword Queen’. 
  The icy aura surrounding the Demon Sword exuded a dreamy atmosphere. 
  Even other demonic humans that had lost their sanity would stop when they laid their eyes upon the Demon Sword.
  But even then… there was a reason why I felt uncomfortable with her.
  The Demon Sword was especially known for being violent even amongst other demonic humans. 
  Even the Demon Blade who relished in violence avoided the ‘Demonic Sword Queen’.
  When she fought her own clan,
  When she fought in many wars,
  And when she even fought other demonic humans.
  The Demon Sword from my memories had shown to harbor extreme hatred for humankind.
  Her way of fighting was extremely violent.
  She didn’t just aim to kill but tried to deliver death in the most painful way possible. 
  To give an example, I’d seen her cutting off one’s genitals during a battle. 
  And it wasn’t just one time I saw her doing that.
  It got to the point that the Heavenly Demon itself told her to tone it down a notch.
  Not that she listened to those words anyways.
  But, like, what kind of demonic human didn’t even bother to listen to the words that came directly from the Heavenly Demon itself? 
  That lunatic…
  What was even scarier was the fact that, no matter what she did, she never, ever showed killing intent.
  Was there anything dreadful than that? 
  I was reminded of how she would cause trouble wherever she went, and the fact that I had to clean up after her always gave me headaches.
  「…What kind of thoughts are you having for me to feel so uncomfortable?」
  Nothing much.
  However, if I had to point out something, it would be that the Namgung Bi-ah in this life was a completely different person than the Demon Sword from my memories. 
  At least, that was what I tried to tell myself. 
  Namgung Bi-ah lifted her head up and looked into my eyes after noticing my gaze upon her.
  She looked so similar to the Demon Sword and yet had such a completely different aura.
  It was almost like they were two different people. 
  The Namgung Bi-ah before me looked empty and dull.
  I wonder what happened for her to have become so reckless in my past life.
  And just like that, I found myself curious about something I’d been constantly avoiding.
  “Young Master.”

  I woke up at Yung Pung’s call. 
  Why was he— oh, right; the duel. 
  I looked at Yung Pung and asked,
  “It looked like you injured your back earlier, will you be fine with it?”
  “An injury like this is nothing to me.”
  I understood that he had a firm will, but it looked like he’d let his emotions take control. 
  The people from Mount Hua who had been watching us from afar started walking towards us upon noticing Yung Pung’s disappointing behavior. 
  I stared at Yung Pung for a while and then uttered.
  “Let’s do it.”

  Not just Elder Shin, everyone around us seemed to be surprised at my answer.
  Was it really that shocking?
  「You were thinking of denying the duel up until now, what made you change your mind?」
  …It’s nothing much really.
  It wasn’t anything big that changed my mind.
  Like Elder Shin said, I’d had no intention of accepting the duel at first, but looking at Yung Pung made me feel a little bad for him. 
  Then Elder Shin laughed.
  「You try your best to hide it, but you really aren’t good at lying.」
  Can you just let it pass, please?
  「I will, since it’s not my place to stop you. I’m just curious about why a guy like you who seems younger than that kid over there feels so guilty towards Mount Hua.」
  I couldn’t let Elder Shin know the reason why.
  Because I actually accepted Yung Pung’s duel, the Mount Hua crew who’d been walking towards us with the intent of scolding Yung Pung were forced to come to an awkward stop. 
  Well, considering the flames burning in Shinhyun’s eyes, Yung Pung’s scolding seemed inevitable.
  As I stood up to follow Yung Pung, someone firmly grabbed my wrist.
  It was Namgung Bi-ah.
  I tried to escape her grasp, but her grip was deceptively tight…
  “Lady Namgung, what are you doing?”
  “You are… going to duel?”

  “…Yes, as you can see.”
  Namgung Bi-ah’s eyes widened at my response.
  It was the first time I’d seen her eyes widen in shock. 
  She then spoke.
  “…What about me?”

  Namgung Bi-ah’s voice showed that she felt a bit betrayed.
  Was this really a big deal for her?
  “…Do you want to fight Yung Pung instead?”
  I had a goal when I accepted Yung Pung’s duel. 
  But now that I looked at it, it would be fine too if Namgung Bi-ah did it instead.
  For some reason, Yung Pung looked more excited when I made that offer.
  “I wouldn’t mind that either!”

  Namgung Bi-ah’s swift response was like a splash of cold water on Yung Pung’s enthusiasm, and the chilly tone she used in her response was surprising to me.
  Because of that, Yung Pung turned pale in an instant, as if her rejection had somehow given him an internal wound.
  A person that goes crazy over skilled swordsmen rejected a duel with the Dragon Sword…?
  I don’t even use swords.
  I felt something strange when Namgung Bi-ah slightly turned her head away.
  Is she sulking?
  Is she actually…?
  She’s really sulking because I didn’t fight with her? 
  「You really are a son of a bitch.」
  Elder Shin cursed at me as if he’d been waiting for that moment.
  It was the second worst thing he’d called me, coming right after ‘mantis’. 
  Can a taoist really use such words…?
  「I’m already dead so who cares. You should also get rid of that stereotypical way of thinking.」
  So it’s my fault now?
  「Yes, I’ll have you know that a certain monk almost got kicked out of the clan because he was secretly stealing meat, so what’s the problem with a taoist cursing a little?」
  I really didn’t need to know that…
  The dark past of someone who went down in history…
  It was even more absurd because these words came directly from the ghost of Mount Hua’s former lord.
  I didn’t want to think about it any further, so I returned my focus to Yung Pung.
  “Young Master, will you be able to fight?”
  The lights in Yung Pung’s eyes came back just a little when I asked him. 
  “Yeah, of course I can. I will.”
  For some reason, he looked more heated than before. This guy was more of a hassle than I thought.
  「Once you are blinded by jealousy, you can’t see anything.」
  I didn’t disagree with Elder Shin’s words.
  It was the most relatable thing he’d said in a while.
  I heard a crunching sound; I’d stepped on an old branch. 
  The weather wasn’t the best as we were currently in the midst of summer, but since it was after nightfall, I didn’t feel hot thanks to the night breeze.
  We stood on opposite sides at a reasonable distance, and in the middle stood Shinhyun. Just as we’d done before.
  Shinhyun had his anger towards Yung Pung written all over his face but I wasn’t sure Yung Pung could notic-
  Oh, never mind, he was aware and was avoiding Shinhyun’s gaze on purpose. I guessed that he knew that once the duel came to an end, Shinhyun’s anger would descend on him in all of its fury.
  We looked at each other for a while, and I noticed that Yung Pung’s expressions were now a little different from the one he had earlier.
  “…I apologize for my actions,” said Yung Pung.
  His voice was quiet like a mouse squeaking, much unlike before.
  Upon hearing Yung Pung’s words I got curious.
  “Why all of sudden?”
  “…Well, I was told not to let my emotion control my actions, but I’ve embarrassed myself again.”
  Did he wake up thanks to the cold breeze? Even then, it was surprising that he realized it so quickly.
  「At least he’s not the worst kind.」
  You think so?
  「He can see and judge himself objectively, and that’s something that is necessary for a martial artist.」
  He did indeed live up to his roots originating from a taoist clan. 
  Although I could still see Yung Pung peeking at Namgung Bi-ah from time to time.
  Wait, where did Wi Seol-Ah go? I had assumed she would be next to Namgung Bi-ah, but she wasn’t there.
  She’s probably playing around somewhere else.
  Was what I decided to think. 
  「It’s understandable he is weak to the charm of a woman considering his young age.」
  You’ve started defending him all of sudden, if that’s the case I’m younger than Yung Pung.
  「Ahem… I have to defend my own family. Plus, no matter how I look at it, you may look younger physically, but your mental age doesn’t seem to be that of a child.」
  I didn’t respond to Elder Shin.
  I would feel morally wrong if I lied to him about my real age. 
  After stretching, Shinhyun spoke.
  I was expecting Yung Pung to charge right at me as soon as the duel began, but instead, he was observing me.
  「He felt something back then.」
  Before he was sent flying by Namgung Bi-ah, he got to experience my movements as well in that brief instance.
  「Great observation by him. If he continues to grow like this, the future of Mount Hua will be in his hands.」
  Elder Shin complimented.
  I initially thought that maybe he was biased because he was also from Mount Hua, but then I realized that perhaps he was able to clearly detect Yung Pung’s intent because he was from Mount Hua.
– Rustle.
  Something fell close to Yung Pung.
  The thing that fell and crumbled away as soon as it hit the ground looked like a plum blossom. 
  And suddenly, plum blossoms rapidly surrounded Yung Pung and began swirling about as if they were caught in a breeze. 
  To make your sword blossom and to manifest the Qi of plum blossoms.
  That was the dream of Mount Hua’s martial artists and the first goal to achieve as a martial artist that hailed from that clan.
  The plum blossom sword art.
  It was the first time I’d seen Yung Pung like that.
  「…To have such mastery over the art of plum blossoms at that age, such monstrous talent.」
  Elder Shin spoke heatedly with a surprised tone.
  While I was just looking at Yung Pung, Elder Shin continued.
  「Want some tips on how to beat him?」
  I almost smirked at his absurd words.
  I thought you said you have to support your side earlier?
  「At this rate you are just going to get beat up and collapse, and you won’t be able to achieve the reason why you accepted the duel.」
  That was his intention huh…
  Elder Shin.
  「What’s up?」
  How far can you see?
  I asked what he felt when he looked at both myself and Yung Pung. 
  Elder Shin became quiet for a moment.
  Could he see what we were fully capable of?
  「I can’t really feel much with the current state I’m in.」
  It seemed like he couldn’t read that much into it.
  I nodded slightly to Elder Shin’s words as that was a good thing;
  It would be a little bit of a hassle if he really could see everything. 
  The plum blossom Qi that Yung Pung was emanating engulfed the whole area around me.
  It seemed beautiful and warm on the outside, but the sharp Qi felt like myriad swords were drawn against me.
  It was already impressive that he could produce this much Qi, but to put so much of his willpower into it was another impressive feat.
  He really lived up to the name of Mount Hua’s best. 
  “I shall start, Young Master.”

  “Not going to give a weaker opponent a chance to attack first?”
  “I did not once think that you were a weaker opponent.”


  He was different from those other guys.
  I was honestly sorry for comparing him to guys like Gu Jeolyub and Namgung Cheonjun. 
  “I’ll be starti-…?”
  Yung Pung stopped his movements when he was about to start.
  I felt his emotions as his eyes widened and his breathing roughened. 
  「W-What’s this?」
  I heard Elder Shin as well.
  He even stuttered because of how shocked he was.
– Blaze-!
  My destructive flame arts saw me release a crazy amount of Qi from my body and I didn’t try to focus it into one place, instead letting it flow everywhere.
  The heat gradually devoured the area around us. 
  And the raging heat that had no intention of cooling down, swallowed down the plum blossom Qi that was lingering in the air. 
  The plum flower leaves started to burn away because of my blazing Qi. 
  Once it’d burnt away all of his Qi, the blazing Qi started swirling around my body.
  I can even do stuff like this now that my Qi has increased.
  I couldn’t dare to even try to do something like this previously because I couldn’t afford to. 
  Yet now I was able to do it so easily.
  The ‘Blazing Wheel’.
  It wasn’t necessarily a hard skill to use.
  It was a simple skill that let me form a flame wheel around my body.
  However, it was a skill that consumed a ton of my Qi, so it wasn’t a skill that I used a lot. 
  I was doing a good job controlling it now, but I wouldn’t be able to use it for a long time.
  「…I failed to realize that a real monster was right in front of my eyes.」
  He was overpraising me. 
  Although Elder Shin’s compliment initially brought me joy, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted.
  I honestly didn’t expect myself to go this far, but I was a bit excited as it’d been a while. 
  Yung Pung, who was standing before me was visibly shocked at the sight of his plum flowers burning away one by one.
  And Shinhyun who was watching from the side showed a similar surprise.
  “Young Master Yung Pung.”
  He flinched at my call, it seemed like I’d woken him from his own thoughts.
  “Here I come.”
  I didn’t wait for his response as I leaped towards him with flames swirling around me,
  As a huge fire engulfed Yung Pung instantly. 
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