༺ Friendly Martial Arts Competition (2) ༻
The Qi coursing through my body suddenly jolted, as if it had just experienced a sudden spasm.
Picking a group may have been random for everyone, but they could definitely make their own matchups.
Which was what made it harder for me to understand.
That they went out of their way to make Tang Soyeol and Jang Seonyeon go against each other.
‘Is it really all a coincidence?’
Deep down, I knew it wasn’t, but I clung to a glimmer of hope that it might be.
“My opponent… Is that person from earlier.”
While listening to Tang Soyeol, I checked on her expression.
She didn’t seem too concerned about it.
Fair enough, since I was the only one who knew his true nature.
“Do you think he’s strong? He looks pretty weak from the outside.”
He was strong.
I was able to feel that, back when we shook hands.
“He probably is, as he is the Alliance Leader’s son.”
That was all I could tell her for now.
The chilly weather seemed to seep into my mood.
Tang Soyeol smiled at my words.
Judging by her appearance, rather than being worried…
She looked like she was getting fired up.
‘I don’t think she’s letting her guard down though.’
She remained cautious as she didn’t know what her opponent was capable of.
It was already nerve-racking because she couldn’t fully read her opponent’s power, which meant that he was a formidable foe.
But Tang Soyeol’s eyes remained calm.
Above all else, she embodied the spirit of a martial artist representing her clan with her youth coming second.
Maturity-wise, she was already better than most talented but foolish martial artists.
‘She was also one of the only few who still holds onto her convictions.’
In my memories, that was what the Poison Queen reminded me of.
She faced hundreds of demonic humans alone, sacrificing herself so her blood relatives and clan members could escape.
Because of that, Tang Soyeol was one of the few people I considered a hero.
‘I don’t get it.’
I couldn’t understand.
Why did she make that decision?
And why did she say those words in her last moments?
‘Why doesn’t she resent me?’
That was what I was curious about when it came to her.
As I continued to stare at Tang Soyeol, she turned her head toward me.
“It is going to take a long time till we meet since we are in different groups, right?”
After staring into my eyes for a moment, Tang Soyeol spoke in a soft voice.
“Young Master Gu.”
When I responded, Tang Soyeol spoke with an embarrassed smile on her face.
“If we happen to face each other in the arena, would you do me a favor?”
I was taken aback by her sudden request.
That was way too random of her, right?
“A bit greedy of me, right? After all, I’m asking you for a favor if we meet, but I’m not even sure if I’m going to win.”
“What is it you want to ask?”
“It’s not much, but…”
She let out a fake cough and spoke while avoiding direct eye contact.
“I wish that you… change your tone when talking to me.”
When I wondered what I just heard, Tang Soyeol started to fumble with her words.
“No… It’s…! It’s just that Young Master Gu… speaks to Sis Bi-ah like a friend.”
It sounded like she was giving an excuse.
“And I feel like… I’ve spent a good amount of time with you too.”
It had only been a few months.
And it was even less than that if I considered the time it took for us to be able to communicate face to face.
“You know that I’m younger than you, right…?”
She looked a little hurt by my comment.
Oh, did I mess up?
“…But you still speak comfortably to Sis Bi-ah.”
‘Wait, how do I explain that?’
No, I didn’t really have to explain to her.
After all, I didn’t have any special relationship with Tang Soyeol.
And Tang Soyeol was bringing this up despite knowing that, but…
‘Why does she even like me?’
Unlike Wi Seol-Ah or Namgung Bi-ah, I couldn’t recall a single memory of doing anything special with Tang Soyeol.
But despite that, this girl had feelings for me and I knew that she constantly displayed them.
I couldn’t really do anything back for her,
“…I-Is it not possible after all?”
Tang Soyeol asked me in an anxious voice, worrying that she would be rejected.
Even though she hadn’t shown this level of emotion regarding the upcoming duel, she was now worried about the possibility of rejection.
After staring at Tang Soyeol for a bit, I responded.
“…You really don’t have to make a condition for something like thi- “
I was going to say it was fine, but Tang Soyeol cut me off abruptly.
In a very strict tone at that.
“…That loses its meaning.”
“What are you- “
“It sounds like I lost.”
What was she on about?
I stared at her, utterly puzzled, but Tang Soyeol’s resolute gaze remained unwavering.
However, there was a hint of relief in her expression.
To prove that, Tang Soyeol continued to speak.
“But that means I wasn’t rejected, right?”
I don’t know why everyone was obsessed with the way I spoke to them, but it wasn’t a difficult request after all.
I wondered if I shouldn’t let her, but…
My hesitation made me feel rather uncool.
Tang Soyeol just continued to smile, seemingly oblivious to my inner thoughts.
“Then I’ll definitely win my battles.”
Tang Soyeol’s eyes became more fired up after hearing my response.
However, contrastingly, mine darkened.
In the cold breeze…
I only continued to think about his name.
The Bi Clan of the West Coast and Bi Yeonsum, who was Young Lord of that clan, had a goal here.
To spread his clan’s name no matter what.
He was from a small clan, so nothing much was known about them.
The clan was also facing a decline due to the decreasing population within it.
During that, his father, who was the Lord of the clan, ran away after being in mass debt.
As a result, his grandfather, who had hoped for a quiet retirement, had to step in hastily as the new Lord of the clan.
Then, Bi Yeonsum thought to himself.
That he couldn’t just let this continue.
That he had to restore his clan’s honor.
His clan belonged in a rural area, so the location wasn’t ideal.
And it was rare for anyone remarkable to pass by this location.
As such, he had to make it so that more people would come to his clan.
And that was exactly why Bi Yeonsum came to Hanam.
As stated before, he had to draw more people to his clan.
And in order to do that, he had to make the presence of a remarkable martial artist known.
And the best way to do that was coming to the Dragons and Phoenixes tournament.
‘I’m sorry I left you with such a burden…’
‘No… I’m just happy that I could be of help.’
With a sorrowful expression on his face, his grandfather handed Bi Yeonsum a letter.
A recommendation letter for the Dragons and Phoenixes tournament that he barely managed to get his hands on.
Bi Yeonseon was confident in his own ability.
‘If I can just distinguish myself in the tournament.’
He firmly believed that hard work always paid off. And when he watched some of the earlier duels in the tournament, there wasn’t anyone more talented than him so far.
Even if it was just a friendly duel, the reward from winning had incredible value.
He could show the world that he was the greatest young prodigy of this year’s tournament.
And he would receive a title from the Alliance Leader himself.
Moreover, there were other extraneous rewards.
‘If I just win…!’
Both the reward and title sounded nice, but the most important thing to him was the fame he would get.
And it was all for none other than his clan!
“Third Group, Ninth Seat, ready.”
After hearing the judge’s voice, Bi Yeonsum came into the arena as if he was just waiting for this moment to come.
When he went onto the stage, he realized that it was much larger than it appeared from below.
At the same time, he started to feel excited.
The judge’s emotionless face and the chill in the air added to the atmosphere.
It was only his first fight, and he had a long journey ahead to reach the top.
‘My opponent is…’
Bi Yeonsum nervously glanced at his opponent.
On the other side stood a menacing boy who looked too intimidating to lock eyes with for too long.
‘He’s from the Gu Clan of Shanxi, right?’
The boy who became the talk of the tournament after defeating a blood relative of the Hwangbo Clan with a single blow yesterday.
‘I heard he’s the disciple of the Dishonored Venerable too.’
Such a rumor had undoubtedly spread.
Not only did the Dishonored Venerable give him a recommendation letter, but the content inside mentioned that, as his disciple, he should receive good treatment.
Bi Yeonsum looked at Gu Yangcheon enviously without himself realizing.
Was that boy really the disciple of a Heavenly Venerable?
‘When someone is trying his god damned best to save his dying clan …!’
‘Father has abandoned us, the clan is at its lowest, and I’m dealing with all the clan’s problems at such a young age.’
‘But that young brat is probably just waiting for his bright future to come, unlike me.’
As his jealousy grew, Bi Yeonsum shook his head.
‘…Wake up, that’s not what I came here for.’
‘Whether it is the Dishonored Venerable’s disciple or a blood relative of a noble clan, all I have to do is win.’
Victory would solve everything.
The judge scanned both sides to ensure they were ready.
Bi Yeonsum maintained his calm and stable breathing as he pulled out his sword.
However, his opponent didn’t even get into a combat stance.
‘What is he doing?’
Bi Yeonsum frowned at the appearance of his opponent.
After all, he felt like he was getting looked down upon.
‘You really want to show off that your clan is all that, huh?’
Bi Yeonsum was already in a sour mood because of the blatant discrimination at the Dragons and Phoenixes tournament’s gathering.
But he held himself back, knowing that his grandfather worked hard to get this chance for him.
‘I’ll teach him that living with such arrogance can bring harm to his life.’
He slowly infused his Qi into his sword.
The judge’s eye widened slightly after seeing the faint aura forming around the sword.
After all, this meant that he had gone beyond Second-rate and was now a First-rate martial artist.
When Bi Yeonsum noticed such a reaction, his mouth slightly formed a smile.
But the problem was that, unlike the judge, his opponent remained expressionless.
‘Does he not even understand what this means?’
Bi Yeonsum wasn’t entirely sure what happened yesterday when Gu Yangcheon defeated Hwangbo Cheolwi because he couldn’t see it clearly.
But considering the rumors about him, at the very least, he should know what this indicated.
‘Is he still looking down on me?’
When such a thought passed his mind, Bi Yeonsum clenched his teeth.
To be looked down upon by a young brat like that.
Bi Yeonsum roused more Qi.
He wanted to teach that little brat a lesson, no matter what.
‘It feels like the world is in your hands, right?’
He probably grew up arrogant due to his wealthy clan and prestigious master.
Which was why Bi Yeonsum wanted to teach him a lesson.
To show how pathetic a frog in a well really was.
The judge’s abrupt call was extremely faint.
But it was more than enough for all martial artists as they had enhanced hearing.
Immediately, Bi Yeonsum charged toward the boy.
The basics he had built through relentless training began to shine in this moment.
His legs remained steady and his eyes continued to look for an opening.
But even after getting so close to him, the boy didn’t move.
Did he give up?
‘Well, I feel bad if that’s the case, but…’
‘I have to continue to rise.’
To a higher spot.
‘I’ll make sure I don’t hurt you too much, though.’
Bi Yeonsum’s sword swung towards the boy.
His sword trajectory left a trace of his Qi.
A clean and precise strike.
Bi Yeonsum expected the fight to be over with this blow.
The sword, which had swiftly headed towards the boy, missed him entirely.
The boy didn’t move an inch from where he was.
And Bi Yeonsum’s sword didn’t shake one bit.
‘But why did I miss, then?’
He was in the middle of a duel and he did not have the leisure to get lost in his thoughts.
Bi Yeonsum immediately launched another strike…
But his vision collapsed.
The boy’s eyes appeared to rise in Bi Yeonsum’s perspective, while his own vision descended.
His body wouldn’t listen even when he desperately tried to move it.
As he got closer to the ground, Bi Yeonsum realized.
It wasn’t that the boy rose…
Rather, it was that his own body was collapsing.
Bi Yeonsum lost consciousness and rolled on the arena. But throughout this entire ordeal, Gu Yangcheon never once glanced at Bi Yeonsum.
This dumbfounded voice came from none other than the judge.
Even the judge, who should always remain silent and maintain his demeanor, became shocked at what he had just seen.
It all happened in a blink of an eye.
The duel was over in an instant.
Furthermore, even the judge, who belonged to the Murim Alliance’s swordsmen, couldn’t clearly see how Gu Yangcheon overpowered Bi Yeonsum.
“Can I leave now? I’m kinda in a hurry.”
After hearing Gu Yangcheon’s voice, the judge finally snapped out of his stupor.
“V-Victory goes to Gu Yangcheon!”
As soon as the victor was announced, Gu Yangcheon left the fighting stage without hesitation.
The arena, which should have been filled with heated cheering, was quiet.
It was because many of the spectators, who had watched the fight, were left speechless.
Hundreds of eyes looked at Gu Yangcheon in shock.
However, Gu Yangcheon moved hurriedly, seemingly unfazed by the attention.
His destination was none other than where the second group of the tournament was located.
It wasn’t really hard for him to find his destination.
All he had to do was go to the arena with the largest crowd.
I hoped that nothing bad would happen.
I held onto this hope subconsciously.
Breathless from my sprint, I saw a bluish-white hair in the middle of the crowd.
It seemed like Namgung Bi-ah went to search for Tang Soyeol as well after her duel.
I took a step closer but then came to a halt.
When I reached higher realms, it helped me gain better senses that told me many different things.
It allowed me to hear more things.
And to see things from a distance with greater clarity.
My shaky eyes went toward the arena stage.
Blood was staining the arena floor.
Tang Soyeol was on one knee, blood trickling from her mouth.
She didn’t seem to have any visible injuries, but her Qi flow was disrupted, indicating internal damage.
I swallowed dryly as I thought she was in danger, but…
But Tang Soyeol spat out the blood in her mouth and got up once again.
She faltered midway.
It seemed like her body wasn’t listening to her. But even so, Tang Soyeol didn’t give up.
She wiped away the blood near her mouth with her clothes.
Blood smeared around her mouth as she couldn’t fully wipe it, but Tang Soyeol spoke without seeming to care.
“Thank you for waiting.”
A short thank you from her followed by a question.
“May I go once again?”
Even with her Qi and body refusing to listen to her properly, Tang Soyeol’s voice remained steady from start to finish.
It was the same for her eyes as well.
The way she spoke while looking at her opponent…
Rather than the daughter of a prestigious household…
She looked infinitely closer to a martial artist.
I turned my head to look at Tang Soyeol’s opponent.
I was curious about what he looked like right now.
Was he making an arrogant expression or did he display some remorse?
I assumed it would be one of the two.
However, when I checked that bastard’s face, I couldn’t help but let out a confused noise.
After all, Jang Seonyeon’s expression as he gazed at Tang Soyeol with his sword drawn…
Looked like he was quite shocked.
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༺ Friendly Martial Arts Competition (2) ༻