Childhood Friend of the Zenith Chapter 158

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༺ The Thing I Wished To Show You (2) ༻
  When the semifinals bracket was revealed, I didn’t react much. 
  It was because I was expecting this outcome.
  In the semifinals bracket, the Lightning Dragon’s name should’ve been there.
  Or at least that was what everyone else probably thought.
  After all, it was likely that no one expected me to come this far. 
  ‘…Though Namgung Bi-ah’s case is unexpected.’
  I didn’t expect that Jang Seonyeon would be facing Namgung Bi-ah.
  I assumed that I would be the one going up against him first, while Namgung Bi-ah would take on Moyong Hi-ah.
  ‘That’d have been a better story for him too.’
  Did the Murim Alliance do something behind the scenes for this?
  Or did they have a hidden agenda? 
  Because I didn’t have the slightest bit of trust for the Alliance, I had to dig deeper into this. 
  “How are you seeing this bracket?”
  Tang Soyeol asked me.
  What did she mean by that?
  “I’m seeing it with my eyes.”
  Tang Soyeol looked at me as if she was offended by my response.
  She seemed like she wanted a different answer, but I unfortunately didn’t have one. 
  It wasn’t like I could argue saying that the bracket was shit.
  And I didn’t have a good enough reason to argue with them.
  I looked behind me to where Namgung Bi-ah was standing.
  Namgung Bi-ah, who was with me, was also obviously looking at the bracket.
  ‘She seems unfazed about this.’
  She was just looking at it normally.
  And judging by her usual absent-minded expression, she didn’t seem to care that much.
  ‘It would be weirder if her expressions did change, after all.’
  Since Namgung Bi-ah knew nothing about Jang Seonyeon, it made sense for her to be indifferent about this bracket. 
  I stared at her and Namgung Bi-ah looked back at me.
  When our eyes met, Namgung Bi-ah tilted her head.
  She seemed like she couldn’t understand something.
  Then she approached me with light steps. 
  She was close to the point where her hand could have touched me if she reached out.
  “What’s… wrong?”
  It was sudden.
  What did she mean by that?
  “What do you mean?”
  “Your face…”
  My face?
  I touched my own face in response to her comment. 
  Was I making some strange expression or something?
  I didn’t believe I was.
  I even thought that I was wearing a rather emotionless face.
  But perhaps, to Namgung Bi-ah, it didn’t seem that way.
  “Why are you worried about me?”
  Her words left me frozen. 
  What did she mean by that? 
  “When have I ever been worried about you?”
  “Now… you are right now…”
  Namgung Bi-ah’s soft hand brushed past my eye.
  “You’re… worried about me?”
  I didn’t say anything back to her when she spoke to me with her eyes boring into mine. 
  Funnily enough, I couldn’t. 
  All I had to do was just say that I wasn’t worried, but my tongue was completely frozen.
  ‘Was I worried about her?’
  I didn’t even realize it myself.
  And if that was really the case, then what did Namgung Bi-ah see in me to notice that?
  Breaking the silence, Namgung Bi-ah spoke again in a cold tone. 
  “Do you think I’ll lose…?”
  I forced my lips to move, which had been tightly shut. 
  Because of that, my response came out a little late.
  And Namgung Bi-ah had already interpreted it differently. 
  I honestly didn’t think that Namgung Bi-ah would lose.
  Since the only young prodigy who stood a chance against Namgung Bi-ah at the moment was my lunatic of a sister, Gu Huibi.
  But my delayed response had more to do with this uneasy feeling gnawing at me. 
  I didn’t know why I was feeling so uneasy.
  This feeling only fueled my frustration and worsened my mood. 
  Namgung Bi-ah seemed to have noticed my turmoil.
  “…It’s fine.”
  It was a quiet voice.
  So quiet that only I could hear.
  ‘What is she fine about?’
  I swallowed those words down.
  I felt like I shouldn’t say such a thing right now.
  It was strange. 
  It felt as if she was speaking to me, but not at the same time.
  I only continued to gaze into Namgung Bi-ah’s eyes. 
  Only after staring into them for a long time, I began to notice something. 
  ‘Is she nervous?’ 
  Namgung Bi-ah was nervous right now.
  It was harder for me to notice as she wasn’t the type to show such emotion. 
  I then asked her while looking at her.
  “Are you fine?”
  I didn’t get a response.
  I didn’t know what she was feeling nervous about. 
  Because no matter how much I looked at it, it didn’t seem like she was nervous about her fight against Jang Seonyeon.
  After hearing Namgung Bi-ah’s short response, I carefully grabbed her hand.
  It felt like she was asking me to grab it.
  Indeed, as I grasped her hand, Namgung Bi-ah closed her eyes.
  “Are you nervous?”
  I asked, but Namgung Bi-ah slowly shook her head. 
  Namgung Bi-ah, who stood still for a while as if focusing on something, withdrew her hand and stepped back a step. 
  “I’m fine.”
  She already said that three times by now.
  Now I couldn’t help but start to worry. 
  Why did she keep saying that she was fine? What was going on in her mind?
  Her unusual behavior prompted me to speak with a light smile on my face.
  “If you aren’t feeling well, do you want to consider forfeiting?” 
  When I asked her, Namgung Bi-ah shook her head firmly. 
  She sounded so serious that her usual weak way of talking had completely disappeared. 
  Had she been able to control it all along? 
  As I pondered this, Namgung Bi-ah continued.
  “I’m not forfeiting…”
  “I figured. I asked just in case.”
  Forfeiting in a duel was something that young prodigies hated, to the point that they would die over it.
  They might be fine with losing in a duel, but they would never willingly forfeit.
  That was the pride everyone in that age range had. 
  ‘Though I don’t think Namgung Bi-ah cares too much about something like that.’
  From time to time, I wanted to look inside Namgung Bi-ah’s head so that I knew what she was thinking.
  And now was a good example of that.
  I wondered what she was thinking right now.
  What thought did she have right now, for her to make that expression? 
  ‘She looks like she’s preparing for a war…’
  I exaggerated a little, but that was how I perceived her to be.
  Namgung Bi-ah stared at me after releasing my hand, and started to move her lips in a hesitant manner. 
  It seemed like she had more to say,
  Although I grew impatient, I refrained from pressing her. 
  “…I’m fine.”
  Her response was the same as last time.
  But it was also different.
  It sounded like she had something to add this time.
  “So believe in me. Watch me closely…”
  Her habit of talking without giving any context.
  She didn’t explain what she was referring to, yet she still asked me for such things.
  She really didn’t have any intention of making it easy for me. I guessed I had to interpret it myself this time too.
  “When did I ever not believe in you?”
  I might not have openly shown my faith in her, but I didn’t think I had ever doubted her either. 
  I didn’t know what Namgung Bi-ah was thinking. 
  I was equally clueless about what significance this duel held for her, if it had any at all. 
  Wasn’t that understandable, though?
  The Namgung Bi-ah I knew didn’t strike me as someone who aspired to achieve great things in life. 
  “…So that you could believe me…”
  Which was even more of a reason why…
  “I’ll show you.”
  I didn’t know what emotion Namgung Bi-ah had while saying those words to me.
  Right before the semifinals were about to commence, the spectator seats were even more crowded compared to the quarterfinals. 
  It was because more people came to watch the semifinals. 
  And for the finals, even more people would be present, compared to now.
  “Who do you think will win?”
  That was the main question that most of the spectators had before the fight. 
  “Hmm… That’s way too hard of a question.”
  The Lightning Dragon and the Poison Phoenix had already been eliminated. 
  It was hard for people to predict who would win, especially when the two candidates were already eliminated. 
  “The Snow Phoenix probably?”
  It was an unsure reaction.
  The Snow Phoenix of the Moyong Clan still hadn’t been eliminated, but for some reason, not many believed she would win either. 
  “The ones left are the Moyong Clan, the Gu Clan, the Namgung Clan, and the Taeryung Clan?”
  “Only the blood relatives of noble clans remain in this tournament as well. I expected this to happen, but I can’t help feeling a little disappointed.”
  “Oh right, Cheon, didn’t you say your child also participated in this tournament?”
  Upon hearing the man’s question, the person with the surname Cheon let out a fake cough.
   But someone else responded for Cheon.
  “Hey, you senseless idiot! He got eliminated in the first round! Don’t bring that up, Cheon’s going to feel embarrassed…”
  “You said that out loud at such a volume… You’re even worse than him.”
  “Everyone already knew he wouldn’t make it far. He only got in because of all the donations you made to the Alliance.”
  “Are you going to keep poking at my nerves? I’ll return the favor for real.”
  “Hey you lots, stop bickering and talk to me, who do you think is going to win?”
  “Why bother asking? The son of the Harmonic Sword will obviously win.”
  “Huh? Not the Snow Phoenix?”
  “This guy is always slow when it comes to hearing rumors. Information about the Taeryung Clan’s son has already spread everywhere.”
  “Yes, there’s talk of a new star emerging.” 
  Rumors were bound to start wherever,
  But it was the merchants who often spread them. 
  Merchants always had their ears open.
  It was necessary for them to do so, if they wished to know the flow of the world.
  After all, it was what earned them money. 
  Which was why they made donations to not only the Murim Alliance, but also to the Beggar’s Sect, so that they could get information quicker than other people.
  And they seemed to have gotten information early from the Beggar’s Sect as they shared the rumor with others. 
  But for Hanam’s middle-sized merchant, Cheon Moonbi, who ran the Cheon shop…
  When he heard about the rumor, he couldn’t help but wear a troubled expression. 
  Unlike other merchants, Merchant Cheon…
  Had already been closely following earlier duels. 
  He had watched the quarterfinals closely. 
  ‘Which is why they don’t know.’
  Merchant Cheon didn’t really listen to them speaking.
  Just like they said, the son of the Harmonic Sword was a very talented figure.
  Not only did he have a striking resemblance to the Alliance Leader with his kind, handsome appearance… 
  But he also had talent. 
  In the quarterfinals yesterday, the son of the Taeryung clan achieved victory after easily beating his opponent.
  He really lived up to his reputation as the Alliance Leader’s son,
  But for some reason, Merchant Cheon’s thoughts were drawn to a different figure. 
  ‘The blood relative from the Gu Clan if I remember correctly.’
  The young martial artist, who had a scary expression, with black hair glowing in a slight red aura. 
  The boy who won against the Lightning Dragon.
  His performance was way too impactful for anyone to forget about him.
  Not only did his flames heat up the arena, but they also electrified the spectators in their seats. 
  The Lightning Dragon couldn’t even use his full strength and ended up vomiting blood. 
  It was none other than the Lightning Dragon from the great Namgung Clan, who was defeated so humiliatingly like that. 
  So how could anyone think the son of the Harmonic Sword would emerge as the victor? 
  ‘I’m curious why the rumor about that fight didn’t spread that much.’
  Merchant Cheon noticed that rumor about that fight was only starting to spread slowly after the day of the fight. 
  This was unusual, as information typically circulated rapidly when the Beggar’s Sect was involved. 
  And there was no way that a group such as the Beggar’s Sect was slow in spreading information. 
  Because of that, Merchant Cheon couldn’t help but think that something was strange. 
  “Then do you think the Taeryung Clan’s child will win this fight too?”
  The man, who had been speaking this whole time, asked such a question and everyone who was listening to him nodded. 
  “His opponent is from the Namgung Clan, right?”
  “Hmm? I thought the Namgung Clan had already been eliminated.”
  “I heard there was one more member from that clan, I think it’s the older sister of the Lightning Dragon.”
  “Namgung Clan has a female bloodline? That’s the first time I’m hearing about that… How did I not know?”
  “Apparently she’s really strong as well, I heard that she beat her opponent in a single blow in the quarterfinals.”
  Merchant Cheon saw that fight as well.
  There was no lie there. She indeed won in a single blow.
  ‘…Though her opponent seemed rather weird.’
  Even to someone with limited knowledge of martial arts like him, the fight yesterday seemed odd. 
  The guy did something weird with his feet, which led to his defeat. 
  ‘There was no way he tripped though.’
  Of course, there was no way that a martial artist would make such a mistake while preparing for an attack. 
  Maybe it was just a unique art of his own. 
  ‘Hmm…? Now that I think about it, I think he also had the Gu surname.’
  He had the same surname as the boy who won against the Lightning Dragon.
  “Anyway, even if she’s from the Namgung Clan, the victory will go to- “
  The man who had been talking about Taeryung Clan’s child like a fan, suddenly stopped.
  And Merchant Cheon couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. 
  He wouldn’t have cared too much if only the man stopped talking, but everyone around him became silent as well. 
  “What’s- “
  Merchant Cheon was about to question what was happening, but when he looked around and saw the collective silence, he, too, fell into a hushed state. 
  Someone was climbing up the wide arena stage.  
  Her hair flowed beautifully in the wind, resembling expensive silk. 
  But her hair was not the only part of her that was stunning; her white skin and her diamond-like eyes seemed to pierce the fabric of reality due to their splendor.
  It put everyone in awe. 
  How could a person look that beautiful? 
  The woman’s face was so beautiful that it stirred desires in those who weren’t typically desperate. 
  As everyone was in awe staring at her, Merchant Cheon felt that something was strange.
  ‘Why is she different compared to yesterday?’
  Just yesterday, when he watched her fight, she didn’t have that aura.
  While he had thought she was beautiful at the time, it hadn’t been enough to leave a lasting impression. 
  But then, who was that woman standing right there? 
  She looked the same, but the aura she radiated was entirely different. 
  After all, even the resolve of a seasoned merchant, who had dealt with a variety of people over the years, was on the verge of wavering in the face of her beauty. 
  “Namgung has a treasure… If my daughter looked like that, I would’ve hidden her from the world too.”
  When she reached the top of the stage, Namgung Bi-ah put her hair behind her neck basking in the attention of the onlookers. 
  When her neckline was revealed, people started murmuring even louder, but Namgung Bi-ah paid no heed to such reactions. 
  She only calmly took out a hair accessory from her pocket and adorned her hair with it. 
  A moon-shaped hair accessory; it was a gift from the boy. 
  Even amidst the numerous spectators, she didn’t smell any horrendous stench that would’ve stabbed her nose. 
  Which meant that he was watching her from somewhere. 
  This small realization brought her a sense of peace. 
  With her preparations complete, her opponent climbed up the stage as well.
  Jang Seonyeon… was it.
  She didn’t know the reason why, but he was a boy who Gu Yangcheon was constantly wary of. 
  Gu Yangcheon looked like he was trying to hide this fact, but Namgung Bi-ah was able to notice.
  Jang Seonyeon climbed up to the arena with firm steps and walked toward Namgung Bi-ah.
  Namgung Bi-ah didn’t shrink away.
  “Nice to meet you. I am Jang Seonyeon of the Taeryung clan.”
  He started off with a respectful greeting. Namgung Bi-ah took a moment to think before responding. 
  “…Namgung Bi-ah.”
  Oddly enough, Jang Seonyeon was a figure that didn’t emanate a strong stench. 
  It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say he had no scent at all…
  But it was not strong enough to bother her. 
  Surprisingly enough, he was the second most tolerable figure for Namgung Bi-ah to be next to after Gu Yangcheon, as he didn’t have too much of a stench. 
  ‘…I don’t want to be close to him regardless.’
  Even if she couldn’t feel the stench from him, she felt bothered for some reason.
  She didn’t understand why, but being near Jang Seonyeon made Namgung Bi-ah uneasy.  
  “It’s nice to meet you. I had no idea that the Lightning Dragon had such a beautiful sister.”
  Namgung Bi-ah thought that his kind smile made him look handsome…
  But by this point, she preferred fierce eyes over that kind of smile. 
  Not that she had ever been particularly fond of that type of smile. 
  Jang Seonyeon, too, had many thoughts as he stared at Namgung Bi-ah.
  ‘Namgung Clan, huh?’ 
  There was one thing that Jang Seonyeon felt while looking at Namgung Bi-ah.
  ‘Beautiful. Too beautiful.’
  Her beauty was difficult to put into words, 
  Jang Seonyeon even felt like he had to use Qi to not be charmed by her appearance. 
  Though her beauty didn’t reveal how much talent she had.
  ‘I wonder how strong she is.’
  ‘The Lightning Dragon and the Poison Phoenix, who I thought would pose the most significant challenge, were defeated by me. so there is no one left who could potentially threaten me.’ 
  Except for one person.
  ‘Gu Yangcheon.’
  Jang Seonyeon struggled to maintain his composure after being reminded of that name.
  Whenever he was brought up, it got on Jang Seonyeon’s nerves.
  His fishy behavior…
  His hostility toward him…
  And the way he looked at him; all of them bothered Jang Seonyeon.
  – Do you really think that you’ll win? Against that monster?
  Peng Woojin’s words from that day continued to haunt him. 
  ‘Do I think I’ll win? Don’t make me laugh.’
  ‘Of course I’ll win.’
  ‘I am different from him.’
  ‘There was no way that I would lose to a guy who had nothing given to him.’
  ‘Even if he overcame his wall and reached the Peak Realm, it’s all meaningless if he doesn’t have the ‘energy’ within him.’
  ‘The Lightning Dragon may not have been able to use it properly as the energy didn’t fully sink into his body, which was why he lost.’
  ‘But I’m different.’
  Even his arrogance that seemed to reach the heavens… 
  ‘It will collapse when he meets me.’
  That was Jang Seonyeon’s plan.
  After that, the top seat would become his.
  ‘Even if I can’t become the Heavenly Dragon.’
  Jang Seonyeon knew that he couldn’t get the title of Heavenly Dragon since the Alliance made a deal with Shaolin…
  But he was already satisfied with this.
  Starting with this, he would eventually reach the top in the end. 
  He was a person capable of doing such things.
  Jang Seonyeon looked at the woman standing in front of him.
  She was more beautiful than anyone he had ever met in his life.
  And he heard that she was engaged to Gu Yangcheon.
  After being reminded of that, Jang Seonyeon smirked inside. 
  ‘He should know his place.’
  It seemed like Gu Yangcheon had luck with women who didn’t really fit him. 
  After all, she was so beautiful that her beauty alone made Jang Seonyeon desire her. 
  However, unlike her sharp eyes, she had a rather absent-minded expression.
  This made Jang Seonyeon wonder if she truly belonged to the Namgung Clan.
  The aura she put out suggested that she only had one thing on her mind. 
  Jang Seonyeon calmly lifted his sword at the judge’s announcement. 
  He had to break out of his thoughts and focus. 
  ‘I don’t want to use my power too much, so I should end this fast.’
  In Jang Seonyeon’s eyes, Namgung Bi-ah had many openings.
  The way she held her sword even made her look like she already gave up.
  ‘What is she up to? I wonder.’
  If her plan was to let her opponent’s guard down, then she had already failed.
  ‘I never let my guard down.’
  Jang Seonyeon started to charge his Qi and focused on Namgung Bi-ah. 
  “Namgung Clan’s Namgung Bi-ah vs. Taeryung Clan’s Jang Seonyeon.”
  The match was about to begin, but Namgung Bi-ah’s posture remained the same.
  She just stood there with her sword pointing down, gazing at Jang Seonyeon. 
  ‘Perhaps she already gave up.’
  Just as Jang Seonyeon had that thought,
  The match started and Jang Seonyeon, eager to finish the match quickly, wasted no time. 
  As soon as the judge shouted, Jang Seonyeon flowed his Qi and moved. 
  No, he tried to move.
  But Jang Seonyeon couldn’t move as he wanted to.
  Jang Seonyeon’s sword, charged with his Qi, began to tremble. 
  His calm breathing had become disorderly in an instant. 
  And his firm legs remained planted in the same spot, as if they were stuck. 
  “Huff… Huff.”
  He tried to steady his breathing while controlling his Qi, but his sword continued to shake, defying his attempts to calm it down. 
  Then, Jang Seonyeon looked at Namgung Bi-ah with a surprised expression.
  Inside his mouth, a harsh cracking sound came from his teeth.
  Of course.
  He had to endure the oppressive aura if he wanted to overcome it. 
  Cold sweat trickled down his face, and he felt chills on his back.
  The overpowering pressure that held him in place. 
  ‘It’s over there…’
  The place where Jang Seonyeon was looking.
  It was where Namgung Bi-ah stood, her sword pointing downward, just as before. 
  Her aura exuded such overpowering pressure that it caused Jang Seonyeon’s body to seize up. 
  How was such a thing possible?
  He heard a soft whisper, and Jang Seonyeon’s eyes widened. 
  His body became tense as this was not what he expected.
  He wondered what she was about to say to him. 
  Then, Namgung Bi-ah continued speaking, her gaze fixed on Jang Seonyeon. 
  “Aren’t you… coming…?”
  These were the words Gu Yangcheon used to say to his opponents.
  As well as the line that Namgung Bi-ah had always wanted to try for herself. 
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