Childhood Friend of the Zenith Chapter 1

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༺ The Little Prince of the Gu Clan (1) ༻
  What’s going on… what’s happening…
  For some reason, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a bustling marketplace.
  I slowly gazed up at the sky. 
  A cloudless sky with only a sun to look at made me squint my eyes.
  The brightness of the sun that I hadn’t seen for a long time was too dazzling for my eyes.  
  As I looked around, I noticed a crowd of townspeople going from stall to stall, as well as the many street vendors that try to stand out to anyone that passes by.
  The stalls were filled with steam as they prepared food for their customers to eat and the air was filled with the scent of steamed dumplings.
  The yelling merchants, who were trying to increase their sales, and the excited chattering of the surrounding crowds started to sound louder as they blended together.
  I remember living in a region with an extremely similar marketplace when I was much younger.
  How long has it been since I’ve seen a lively marketplace such as this? It had to have been at least ten years.
  ‘Could this be a dream?’
  I should have died when my heart shattered.
  If that’s the case, then why is this happening now?
  Am I experiencing a short-lived illusion after dying? Did I miss my peaceful past to that extent?
  I did live quite a depressing life, so maybe I ended up longing for a more ordinary one.
   “What a joke.”
  My eyes widened when the realization that I could speak dawned upon me. However, that should have been impossible as my throat had suffered a severe wound years ago, rendering me mute.
  Even as shocking as that discovery was, there was something else that caught me off guard.
  When I spoke, what came out was an unfamiliar voice that was both thin and high-pitched. It was as if my voice had regressed back to when I was a young boy… After this realization sunk in, I noticed that my hands were clear and free of any of the scars that I remember. 
  There was no way that these tiny hands belonged to my adult body.
  My perspective was also much lower than what I was used to, as if my body had regressed back to my childhood. 
  “Could this be one of my old memories?”
  If that’s the case, then when exactly did this memory take place? I don’t have any recollection of me going around the marketplace when I was this age.
  Knowing this, I started to look around and saw a young man frantically searching for someone.
  According to my childhood memories, that man is most likely my escort.
  Speaking of childhood memories, I believe that the day I met that kid was the day I had secretly snuck out to the bustling marketplace.
  While recklessly exploring the different stalls, I happened to stumble across a random kid. 
  This kid that I had only just met greeted me happily, only for the fact that we appeared to be the same age.
  She then reached into an enormous basket she was carrying that seemed to be bigger than her head and handed me a warm potato, though I have no idea where that potato came from.
  “Want a potato?”

  That same situation happened just now.
  I heard her say something while I was lost in my thoughts.
  It was such a shocking situation that I forgot what to say.
  What did I say to her back then?
  ‘How dare you hand me such a thing!’ 
  It was probably something like that.
  I could have also replied with something worse. Why did I have to answer her so rudely? Whether it was because of her dirty clothes or the potatoes she carried, I didn’t know for sure.
  Back then, I was just an immature and ignorant brat. I didn’t need any other excuse.
  If I had known what that child would become, if I had known what would happen to me in the future, would I have acted differently?
  I honestly can’t say for sure because I was just that much of an ignorant and immature brat. 
  “Erm… uh… Do you not like potatoes?”
  The girl was hesitating to speak since I didn’t react to her at all.
  I don’t know how she lived, but you could clearly see dirt covering her clothes. 
  Not only that, but her messy long hair covered her face from sight.
  If you saw her right now, you would definitely mistake her for a beggar. I scoffed after finally realizing my current situation. 
  “If this memory is the one being shown to me, I guess I regretted it a lot.”
  The child tilted her head in confusion after hearing my mumbles. 
  Would an illusion such as this ever rid me of my regrets? 
  ‘Definitely not.’
  Even if that were the case, I still ended up taking a potato from her basket.
  Her lips bloomed into a bright smile after seeing me take a potato.
  Seeing her missing a tooth made me wonder how she lost it.
  As I watched her smiling face, I said.
“Thank you very much. I’ll gladly eat this.”
  It was a completely different response from what I said before. 
  “Ye-Yes…! That’s from my g-grandpa’s farm!”
  After an enthusiastic response, she picked a potato out of her basket and took a big bite right into it.
  I imitated and proceeded to do the same.
  However, the problem was that it was steaming hot potato. 
  How strange.
  ‘How is it that I can feel that it’s hot even though it’s just a dream?’
  Could this be reality? Or is this dream just that realistic? 
  Meanwhile, I couldn’t take another bite from the potato because of the heat.
  “Ahaha! Your face is red!”
  She was laughing at the sight of me struggling with the potato. 
  Even though her potato was probably just as hot, she was able to eat it just fine.
  After continuing to struggle for a while, I managed to eat the potato while enduring the pain in my mouth.
  “It’s tasty right?”
  “Yes… it’s delicious.”
  That wasn’t a lie. The potato was actually rather delicious.
  I wondered why I was even able to taste it inside a dream, but surprisingly the potato was quite delectable.
  As I was finishing the remaining potato, the man that I remember being my escort approached us.
  “Young master…?”
  The escort frowned as he approached us, staring at the child that was in front of me. 
  Instinctively, he put his left hand on his sword, ready to draw it. 
  “How dare you put your hands on-”
  “You got any yakgwas1One of the most beloved and traditional Korean confections, yakgwa is a fried cookie dipped in honey-ginger syrup that is found everywhere.?”  
  “Do you have any yakgwas.”
  There was a puzzled expression on the escort’s face as I cut him off. 
  Who expects a escort to have any yakgwa? Shockingly enough, he actually did have some. 
  He handed me the yakgwa with a confused expression.
 “You want to try this?”
  I proceeded to offer the yakgwa I got from the guard to the girl. 
  I was still unable to see her face hidden behind her curtain of hair, but I could tell that she was surprised by what was happening now. 
  “R-really? You are really giving me this!?”
  “Even though you gave me such a delicious potato, I can only repay you with this meager offering.”
  This was back when I was practically living with sweets. Perhaps it was because of that, the escort would feed me yakgwa to calm me down whenever I would throw a tantrum. 
  Being forced to carry around yakgwas despite being an escort… he probably didn’t learn martial arts to do this kind of work. 
  ‘I do feel a bit guilty, now that I think about it.’ 
  Unaware of my inner dilemma, the girl jumped in joy after getting her hands on the yakgwa. 
  Every time she jumped, I got nervous that some potatoes would fall out of her basket.
  “Thank you so much! This is the first time I’ve ever been able to eat something like this!” 
  “That so? Hey, you got any more?”
  “I apologize, Young Master, but that was the last one…” 
  I felt disappointed by the fact that I wouldn’t be able to give her any more.
  Meanwhile, the escort kept looking at me strangely because my actions seemed strange to him.
  “Why do you keep staring at me like that?”
  “Oh, it’s nothing, Young Master.” 
  The girl proceeded to take a bite of the yakgwa as she placed her basket of potatoes on the ground, carefully holding the yakgwa all the while to make sure she didn’t accidentally drop it. 
  The moment she took the first bite, her shoulders started to lift upwards.
  “I-it tastes so good…”
  “I apologize. I would like to give you more, but that was the last one.”
  She started shaking her head when she heard what I said. 
  When she shook her head, did that mean she was fine with it, or did it mean that she was disappointed?
  The yakgwa vanished after a few bites, which made sense considering that the one who ate it was a child who was able to eat a potato that was the size of an adult’s fist in a blink of an eye. 
  I noticed some tears welling up in the corner of her eyes as she finished the yakgwa. 
  “This was the first time I ate anything as delicious as this…”
  “I’m glad you found it delicious.”
  She suddenly grabbed a potato from her basket and proceeded to eat it, but she doesn’t seem to be as satisfied compared to when she ate yakgwa. 
  Has her first taste of sweets already changed her palate? 
  The girl hesitated for a moment, then inquired.
  “Thank you, can I have your name?” 
  All of a sudden she became much more shy compared to when she gave me that potato.
  Is asking for a name that embarrassing?
  “Gu Yangcheon. My name is Gu Yangcheon.”
  I told her my name in a clear tone.
  It’s been a while since I’ve said my own name out loud. 
  “Gu Yangcheon…”
  After learning my name, the girl had a shy expression as she started smiling.
  Just as she was about to say something, an old man rushed through the crowd and hugged the girl close to his chest. 
  “Oh, Grandpa!”
  “I told you to not wander around alone without your grandpa!”
  He must have surprised her, but rather than immediately pushing him away, she nestled into the arms of her grandpa, who was embracing her.
  Then she smiled at her grandpa, who was about to start yelling at her. 
  “I’m fine! The potatoes are fine too!” 
  She proudly showed her grandpa the basket that was still full of potatoes.
  Ignoring the fact that the potatoes were somehow still steaming, the old man hugging the girl started to look at me with a quivering gaze. 
  It was as if he was scared of how I would react. 
  My neat clothing that didn’t match the surrounding or the possibility that the girl had offended me might have caused his reaction.
  The old man spoke with a trembling voice, 
  “My little girl doesn’t know much about the world yet… I wonder if my little girl did anything to offend you, Young Master…” 
  I was already aware that he was pretending to be a pitiful and sorrowful old man. 
  This man was one of the Heavenly Venerables towering over countless martial artists. Not even the Leader of the Murim Alliance could mistreat him.
  “Oh, there’s no problem at all, senior. I was rather hungry when this girl graciously gave me one of her delicious potatoes to eat, which I appreciated very much.” 
  The old man gave me a somewhat shocked stare, probably because of my formal tone despite being a child. 
  I wondered if I overdid it a bit, but since it was merely a dream I thought it wouldn’t matter that much anyways.
  “The only thing I could repay her with was a small yakgwa… so instead I should be the one apologizing instead.”
  The old man continued to stare at me in silence.
  Unlike before, he’s now looking at me more seriously. Did I say something wrong?
  A momentary stillness lingered between me and the old man amidst the noisy crowd of people. 
  Not long afterwards, my escort broke our stalemate.
  “…Young master, I believe it’s time to go back.”
  Funnily enough, while my escort might have said so in a calm tone, I still caught sight of his eyes trembling violently, as if he still didn’t understand what was going on. 
  I slowly turned towards him.
  “Yes, if we delay further, we will end up arriving after sunset.”
  “Alright, then we shall now return.”
  When I turned back towards the old man, his expression returned to his usual gloomy state.
  “Senior, it seems that I must take my leave.”
  The old man was about to respond to my farewell, but the girl responded first. 
  “You are leaving already…?”
  The girl in the arms of the old man looked back at me with an extremely disappointed expression, but that was enough. 
  The memories of the past I tried to change, as well as my pitiful life has finally come to an end. 
  ‘It’s time to wake up.’
I have done enough.
If you were to ask me what changed, my reply would be ‘nothing.’
If you were to ask me if I feel relieved, my reply would be ‘not at all.’
  However, even such thoughts would soon come to an end.
  While I hid my inner thoughts, I said to the girl with a smile.
  “If we ever have the chance, let’s meet again. The potato was really good.” 
  I lightly waved my hand while the girl responded with a wide grin as she waved both her hands.
  The old man repeatedly apologized for what had happened, but that only scared me as I already knew his true identity. 
  The apologetic old man then embraced the little girl and vanished into the crowd. 
  “…I was scared to death.”
  The old man’s name is Wi Hyogun. 
  He was the first man to unite this crumbling world. The man who saved the world from getting devoured by the ‘Black Dragon,’ as he stabbed his sword into its heart and engraved the symbol of justice.
  He was a man that once sat as the Leader of the Murim Alliance for the past few decades who struck fear into the hearts of those who dare challenge him. 
  Finally, the other title that he commonly went by was the “Sword Emperor”. 
  He had disappeared as soon as he had passed over the leadership to the successor. 
  That was why I couldn’t fathom the reasons why he was raising a child while acting in such a pitiful manner. 
  In the first place, no one would have suspected that this pitiful old man was one of the three most revered men in the world in the first place. 
  After continuing to stare at the place where the old man disappeared for a while, I also turned around, along with my escort. 
  The issue of whether he was the Sword Emperor or not didn’t matter 
  All I could think of was the little girl that waved to me while being held in the arms of the old man. 
  The girl that handed me a potato with a big smile on her face, the girl that was so happy as if she owned the world after simply getting a mere yakgwa.
  All of that seemed to be the opposite of the woman who had severed the neck of the Heavenly Demon with cold eyes. 
  Celestial Sword Wi Seol-Ah. 
  That little girl was none other than the Celestial Sword herself. 
  And that was when she and I first met. 
  Well, of course, in my original memory, we never shared such a nice farewell. 
  Originally, I had abusively thrown away her basket of potatoes she had offered to me. 
  The young Wi Seol-Ah then began to cry after being hurt. I then laughed at her before eventually leaving. 
  Even though I was an immature brat, my behavior that day crossed the line and was unjustifiable. 
  “…I’ll also take my leave.”
  I don’t know why or how I’m able to watch this even though I’m on the verge of death. 
  Either way, I will no longer have any regrets after remaking the memory in a way that satisfies me.
  I didn’t know for sure, but I hoped it would be like that. 
  “Yes, let’s return.”
  I had a bitter smile upon hearing my escort’s response. He probably thought that I meant I was going to head back home. 
  Instead, I couldn’t even remember the directions to get home. 
  ‘That aside, why am I still not waking up?’
  I’m already done with my work here so aren’t I supposed to wake up from this dream? I’ve never had a dream this long before.
  “Young master? You are going the wrong way.”
  I continued to head in the wrong direction while trying to remember my vague memories. 
  Every time I took a wrong path, my escort would tell me the correct path which I followed to find my way home. 
  ‘Whatever, this’ll all end soon anyways.’
  I began to resent this dream that forced me continue experiencing this illusion despite having already been prepared for death, but there was nothing I could do about it. 
  I ended up just surrendering myself to the flow since I thought that this dream would end not long after. 
  However, a few days later I realized…
  “…Why isn’t this shitty dream ending?”
  That this isn’t a dream.
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