Childhood Friend of the Zenith Chapter 102

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༺ Nice to Meet You, Kid (3) ༻
  I rubbed my neck.
  My body was frozen because of the phantom pain I had felt when I thought I was being stabbed.
  ‘Was all that really just a welcome from him?’
  I was an assassin who was always close to death, which was why my senses were extremely sharp when it came to danger. I could not have been mistaken.
  The sensation I felt earlier was definitely “death.”
  In just two steps, I experienced countless deaths.
  Is it just his aura? Am I hallucinating because I’m being overpowered right now?
  ‘I, Nachal, am being pressured by a mere kid?’
  I used to be part of a mercenary group led directly by the greatest assassin—the Shadow King.. 
  I left the Shadow King and I pledged my loyalty to the Black Palace, but my skill was automatically acknowledged just because of the fact that I had been one of Shadow King’s assassins. 
  Unlike in other styles of martial arts, the rank or realm didn’t matter too much for assassinations. 
  Since the art of assassination focused on a quick ambush attack, it didn’t matter what rank the assassin was at. 
  It was similar for the practitioners of poison arts.
  Because of this, I thought that I could kill martial artists whose rank was higher than mine as long as I prepared the location and circumstances to sway in my favor. 
  I was a man skilled enough to back my words with actions.
  ‘What in the world is happening right now?’
  I had to calm my breath after looking at Gu Yangcheon. 
  Even though he had monstrous talent, he was still a first-rate martial artist in the end.
  The true starting point of a martial artist was after they had broken through to the peak realm.
  The peak realm was a state in which the practitioner had broken out of their bowl, opening themselves for endless possibilities and new things. 
  Qi of a peak martial artist was stronger than that of a normal martial artist. Even if the amount was the same, the difference in quality was substantial.
  What that meant was that peak martial artists not only knew different ways to use Qi, they were better at utilizing it too.
  Only after surpassing the peak realm would martial artists talk about being halfway into the fusion realm.
  I was a skilled man that had reached the peak realm despite being an assassin, for whom cultivation was much harder.
  And yet, I was being pushed back by a mere child.
  “What did you do…”
  Gu Yangcheon stood still holding the sword, ignoring my question.
  “I asked you a question!”
  The child remained unperturbed and silent. His eyes, however, were still fixed on me.
  Gu Yangcheon had introduced himself as Shincheol earlier.
  ‘What does that mean?’ 
  I thought for a bit, but no answer came to my mind.
  This, too, was probably another tactic to confuse me.
  According to the information gathered on him, Gu Yangcheon was a bare-fisted fighter, just like the Tiger Warrior.
  I was certain of that, since he had used that fighting style just moments earlier.
  But then, what the hell was he doing right now?
  ‘Is he trying to pretend that he’s actually a sword wielder?’
  Is he trying to trick me into letting my guard down? 
  It was too late for that, he had shown me too much of his fighting style already.
  I obviously knew that the Gu Clan trained in both fist and sword arts, but nothing suggested Gu Yangcheon was skilled in wielding a sword.
  Even if he had talent that reached the sky, there was no way that he could be efficient in two completely different fighting styles.
  The proof of that was his current stance—full of openings.
  When he was only fighting with his fists earlier, his movements were skillful enough to not give me any opening. Now that he was holding a sword, however, I could see so many openings that I felt I could kill him just by randomly stabbing at any spot on his body.
  However… The masters of martial arts who had already broken out of the patterns of basic martial arts would become their martial art. How their movements seemed didn’t matter too much, no matter how unconventional they may have looked.
  The current Lord of the Black Palace was like that, and so was the Shadow King.
  ‘Does that mean that kid is on that level too?’
  How laughable. It’s too absurd to even think about it.
  Even I hadn’t reached that state, so there was no way that a child could reach it, let alone see it. It was a level he shouldn’t even dare to look up to.
  But even if I know that, why can’t I move?
  I flinched upon hearing Gu Yangcheon’s voice.
  “Your posture broke a little because of your fear. You should fix that.”
  I started to boil from rage hearing a child talking to me as if he was my mentor.
  “How dare you… A mere child is trying to teach me right now?”
  “Hehe… There is a meaning even in the smallest leaf. Greenhorn, you already lost every basic thing you should have as a martial artist.”
  “Silence! I observed your cute struggles for a little while, but you don’t know where you stand!”
  It was just a taunt.
  It was a poor taunt that shouldn’t work on a cold-hearted assassin, but funnily enough, I was shaken by it.
  When I realized that I was shaken by his taunts, I flowed my Qi.
  ‘Don’t be shaken by his words. He’s just trying to taunt me.’
  After I calmed down my erratic breath, I channeled my Qi into the dagger I was holding.
  Gu Yangcheon, on the other hand, merely continued to look at me, his face a picture of calm.
  His chest was open, and his heart specifically was where I was aiming for.
  With Qi focused into my feet, my speed should be plenty enough.
  I had to finish my business here before the sunrise.
  As I was about to charge at him, however…
  “There was something I used to say to the kids back in the days.”
  My body froze at Gu Yangcheon’s words.
  I wasn’t frozen due to shock, no, my movement was being forcefully sealed.
  It wasn’t being suppressed by Qi either, so what was it?
  “That one’s mind becomes disordered when engulfed with rage, and an anxious mind reflects in one’s sword.”
  While looking at the corpses of Mount Hua’s swordsmen that were lying on the floor, Gu Yangcheon continued to speak.
  “And if that happens, the plum blossoms that bloomed are sown back into the soil again by the Heavens. It would take them a very long time to bloom again.”
  His eyes seemed hollow. The words he just spoke were mixed with a myriad of emotions.
  “Despite saying that, this old man showed more rage than anyone when fighting against those bloody demons. Isn’t that ironic? For a man to abandon his own teachings, and still have so many regrets in life?” 
  “What… What nonsense are you spouting?”
  Did he go crazy? I couldn’t understand a single word that came from Gu Yangcheon’s mouth.
  “It’s fine if you don’t understand.”
  – Rustle.
  “It’s just a rant of a pathetic old man.”
  Something fell in front of me.
  The ceiling was fully covered in stone, so there was nothing that could fall here.
  I looked at the floor.
  It was a leaf of plum blossom tree.
  The leaf crumbled away as soon as I looked at it.
  “What are you…”
  I looked at Gu Yangcheon again, but when my eyes fell on him, the space where he was supposed to be was… empty.
  – Crack-!
  Am I hallucinating?
  My mind was swept away by confusion; I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I gritted my teeth.
  As soon as that happened, my body which had been frozen was free. There was no longer any hesitation in my movements.
  I couldn’t afford to waste any more time and I had to quickly carry out my mission..
  After I swathed myself in Qi, I charged at Gu Yangcheon like an arrow.
  My target was his heart, just like before. The kid finally moved seeing me charge, but he was slow.
  ‘It was just a bluff after all.’
  I could see the path of Gu Yangcheon’s sword—his movements were slow and poorly executed.
  With his current speed, my dagger would stab through his heart before he could even swing at me.
  Right as I was about to stab through him with my attack, however…
  – Splatter-!
  Along with a disturbing sound, blood splattered everywhere. After being sent flying, something fell onto the ground.
  I screamed and my knees fell to the floor.
  When I looked behind my back with shaky eyes while grabbing my shoulder, I saw my arm that had been holding the dagger rolling on the floor.
  “What the…!”
  I was certain that Gu Yangcheon’s movement was slow and that I was much faster.
  Then how am I the one whose arm is cut off?
  – Rustle
  A sound that tickled my ears appeared again.
  I saw plum flower leaves again. Where… where were they all coming from?
  – Rustle…
  As I looked at the leaves that were falling on the floor one by one,   I realized that something was wrong.
  * * * *
  「What the hell?」
  When I woke up, I found myself in a strange situation.
  I was holding a sword, and that Nachal guy was on the floor with his arm cut off.
  「Perhaps…  I lost my consciousness again just like I did back when I fought Ya Hyeoljeok?」
  ‘You woke up.’
  ‘Did I just hear someone speak?’ I asked the voice that just passed by my mind.
  「Elder Shin…?」
  ‘Right, it’s been a while.’
  「What are you doing right now…?」
  I tried to move my body after I had regained consciousness, but I couldn’t even twitch my finger.
  My body was already taken over.
  ‘Stop struggling, I’ll give it back to you in a bit.’
  「What in the world is happening right now?」
  ‘What do you mean ‘what is happening’, can’t you see that I’m trying to save you?’
  「What do you… I thought you said that you couldn’t possess my body back then.」
  He had certainly told me to calm down and that he wasn’t able to possess my body. But if this was not him doing just that, then what was it?
  Hearing my complaints, Elder Shin responded.
  ‘…I know, I didn’t expect that it would work, but it did.’
  What is this crazy old codger…
  「You crazy-」
  ‘Geez, it seems like I can’t do it for a long time anyway, nor can I do it often, so just stay still for a bit!’
  Clumsily, Nachal stood up and widened the distance between us.
  “Huff… Huff…!”
  “You are tougher than you seem.”
  “…You were hiding your true strength all this time…!”
  “…I can’t believe you are saying that. I’m a bit disappointed…”
  He merely slashed the air with his sword, but I could still feel his movement.
  ‘This should also be a good lesson for you, so make sure you focus on this feeling.’
  I didn’t have to ask what he was referring to. Despite me not being able to control my body, I still had full sensation of how the energy was flowing throughout my body.
  ‘Thanks to that Qi you absorbed from the treasure, I don’t have problems with using the sword.’
  He wasn’t using the Gu Clan flame arts I was familiar with, and I was feeling some unexplainable tickly sensation as he was using only the Taoist Qi from all the different types of Qi I accumulated.
  I looked at a heavily breathing Nachal far away. Elder Shin had overpowered him while using my body and with the little bit of Taoist Qi I had.
  Bare-fisted styles may have had their destructive power, but they didn’t show their splendor until a martial artist reached a certain level. 
  I, too, was only covering up my weakness since I had a lot of Qi to expend.
  I didn’t expect a sword art to be that much better than that…
   Elder Shin said in a frustrated tone, ‘Tsk, you just have a bad habit of using too much Qi in the first place.’ 
  ‘You should be efficient and only use as much as you need. Even if your flame art isn’t the most frugal, you’re still using too much.’
  I needed a lot of Qi in order to summon flames.
  I had always done it that way and I had no answer for this problem.
  ‘Don’t even think anything like ‘I had no choice’. You won’t have the luxury of saying stuff like that when you run into a wall in the future.’
  「…Why are you suddenly giving me a lesson?」
  ‘I’m frustrated, very frustrated! I thought you were just a kid that had a lot of talent, but you’re a man that has reached a respectable level in the future yet you are rotting away right now.’
  ‘What did Elder Shin just say now… Did I hear him correctly?’
  「What did you just…」
  ‘I know that you came from a different time.’
  I felt my heart drop after hearing Elder Shin’s words. 
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