༺ Way Back (2) ༻
The rain cascading from the sky was a tempestuous and forceful shower.
The moon was hidden behind dark clouds, and the droplets that fell from the sky felt heavy to touch.
We ran like crazy through the forest engulfed in darkness.
Even though I’d empowered myself with Qi, my feet still felt heavy.
I thought to myself after running for so long,
How much did I run for?
How long has it been?
How long… how long…
How long did I survive…?
My legs that had been scraped and were screaming in agony.
Telling me to stop running, to rest, but I didn’t stop.
I couldn’t stop.
Something trickled down my hands.
Was it the rain?
I was trying to be optimistic with my thinking, but of course I was wrong.
The liquids flowing down my hands were too warm to be rain droplets.
I clenched my teeth. I couldn’t afford to stop.
I shouted, but there was no response from behind me.
Because of that, I used even more Qi to boost my speed.
I was running out of time. I felt like more and more blood was flowing down my hands.
｢f*ck… Wake up!｣
I shouted again, but the response remained the same.
So I held onto her more tightly.
To never let her go.
What the hell am I wasting so much energy for?
I thought to myself.
How come I wasn’t able to just leave this girl?
I knew that she would only be a burden, so why did I carry her all the way here?
And why was I still doing the same while running as if I was dying?
I didn’t have an answer.
So I kept running.
My eyes had started to bleed.
I felt a pain from my lower abdomen, and my body was signaling me that I used up all of my qi.
My heart was beating like crazy.
Then I felt something else escaping my body.
Because I’d run out of qi, I was burning my life energy. The feeling of it escaping me made my lips quiver.
The breathing behind me was getting lighter and lighter.
My heart was only beating faster, the complete opposite of what was happening behind me.
The presence that was chasing me was gone, but I couldn’t stop running.
I wasn’t sure if I’d really escaped that monster.
Where is this? How far did I run?
My trembling legs had already gone numb a while ago.
Suddenly, a cave in the forest entered my sights.
I couldn’t even see where I was.
But I had no other choice.
As I went deeper into the cave, the sound of the rain got further away, leaving the quiet stillness of the cave.
Struggling with my exhausted body, I managed to arrive at a wider part of the cave.
The instant I released my qi, I almost collapsed on the ground.
All my bones were screaming in pain, but I first carefully laid down the person I was carrying.
The straight scar on her chest was bleeding profusely.
She was still breathing, but it was faint.
I placed my trembling hand near her injury and channeled my Qi around it.
As I was practically out of Qi, I was using my life force, but that didn’t affect my actions.
｢Shit… Why isn’t the blood stopping…｣
However, even after all my efforts, she kept bleeding.
I suddenly wobbled.
I’d used too much Qi in a short amount of time.
｢Why, just why…｣
Someone lightly grabbed the hands that were trying to stop the bleeding.
｢S… t… o… p…｣
The voice was almost out of life.
I shouted in frustration.
｢What do you mean by stop!? Just shut it!｣
｢…At this rate… you will die… I… m… oka…-｣
｢Shut up, so why did you do such a thing when I never asked you to!? This all happened because of you, so I’m gonna do whatever the f*ck I want!｣
So please just shut up and think about living.
I couldn’t say that last line, because she had already fainted once again.
She must live.
She can’t die in a place like this.
She had to live.
I could not let her die in a place like this.
｢But then what am I supposed to do… God dammit…｣
Using more energy meant that I would also faint.
And she would inevitably die.
I clenched my teeth and pushed myself further to continue, but my heart wasn’t listening.
I was desperate.
This shitty world had never given me anything good in life.
And it was the same right now, we’d been pushed to the edge of a cliff.
｢Just once… Just once you can help me. Can’t you help me just once…?.｣
You’ve been so cruel up until now, so surely you can help me just this once.
I get that I’m unlucky, but not even helping me once?
It was a futile thought, complaining to heavens didn’t get me an answer.
Since they weren’t even on my side in the first place.
How long has it been? And how much life do I have left in me?
Just as my life force was about to be extinguished.
My Qi froze.
Not because of my own will, but someone else’s.
The voice that came from behind me left my body frozen.
There was only one entrance to the cave.
Even if I was using my Qi on something else, it should’ve been impossible for me not to notice the intrusion.
｢…It wasn’t all that fun. I’m not really a fan of hide-and-seek after all.｣
I struggled to breathe.
Just because of it being nearby, all my muscles had started to scream in pain; it felt like all the air in the world had disappeared.
Shivering, I turned my neck, and looked at him.
Despair stood where I looked.
｢There is nothing more pathetic than a human chasing for a meaningless hope.｣
｢You, what are you…｣
｢You are better at running your mouth than I expected…｣
It was a monster. There was no other way to put it.
The thing looked at us, and smiled.
No, to be precise, it was smiling at me.
I couldn’t tell what it looked like, nor could I make out its voice, but I was weirdly able to see that it was smiling.
｢How amusing, that even while you are in your current situation, you can still show your fangs.｣
The cave that was filled with darkness suddenly brightened.
No… It wasn’t actually lighting up.
The already prevalent darkness was simply swallowed by an even stronger darkness, and now it didn’t exist.
I accidentally cursed out.
I tried to resist it, but the feeling that was slowly invading my body was definitely fear.
This wasn’t something that should’ve been possible for humans to do.
The thing spoke to me while watching me shiver in fear.
｢You asked who I was.｣
In the cave whose space had begun to narrow in size, a strong current of raven winds suddenly kicked up.
That wind swallowed the little hope I had left.
And completely destroyed the little courage I had left inside me.
After only one step, I was able to know.
That if that thing wanted to, it could take everything away from me with just one finger.
But that it was just being generous because it thought it was entertaining.
I thought my heart had stopped to the slow voice.
My spirit that had been barely holding up finally started to darken.
I think it was around then…
｢The Heavenly Demon.｣
That the world around me stopped.
* * * *
I think it’d been around two hours since I started running while carrying Wi Seol-Ah.
Thanks to the increased amount of Qi, I was able to run at great speed even while carrying someone.
“It’s a bit fast, you alright?”
I asked Wi Seol-Ah who buried her face in my back.
There was no response.
“…Did you not hear me?’
I asked again as I thought she didn’t hear me the first time, but there was no response again.
I thought something was weird, so I stopped running.
I thought that she couldn’t hear me because of all the wind.
“What do you think, is it too fast or-”
On stopping, I heard a weird noise from behind me.
When I looked back, Wi Seol-Ah was sleeping while snoring blissfully.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t hear me, she’d just been too busy sleeping.
“…You must have been that comfortable, huh?”
I said it in a teasing voice, but Wi Seol-Ah didn’t answer as she was busy snoring.
I felt a twinge of spite and thought about waking her up, but eventually I smiled it off and continued my run.
Even after running for so long, I was still full of Qi.
The rate at which my qi recharged was even faster than the speed at which I was spending it, which was surprising.
I had heard that the Doe clan was known for having clean but dense qi,
And I felt that this kind of qi really didn’t fit someone like me.
Not that I’m complaining.
I honestly didn’t mind anything so long as it wasn’t demonic Qi.
As long as it wasn’t the qi that slowly turned humans insane, I was probably fine with anything.
I increased my speed.
I had already passed by the Tang clan.
Since I had achieved what I came here for, I prioritized reaching my destination.
Oh… I should probably have at least introduced myself to the Lord of the Tang Clan who would appear on the day of the Military Exhibition of Tang.
The fact that I only remembered his appearance now that I’d put a considerable distance between us…
I would definitely be getting a scolding from the General for this.
But at least I got what I came here for.
I was successful in stopping the Gaecheon clan from acquiring the secret vault.
Now that I had time and thought about it, the item that the Lord of the Gaecheon clan got was probably the marble that the snake spat out.
I wasn’t exactly sure if the Qi that the marble held was enough to make the lord of Gaecheon reach the fusion rank.
But it seemed most likely to be the case.
And I guessed that it was probably quite impressive of me to even absorb that much energy from the marble, even though I wasn’t able to extract it all.
I guess it’s better than not absorbing anything.
But the moonlight marbles on the other hand… Sigh, let’s just not think about that.
My Qi had shook for a second due to my thinking about the moonlight marbles and I felt like I would rage if I thought about them any longer.
Sometime later, I saw a town afars.
I felt like I should start to walk from here, so I stopped and put Wi Seol-Ah on the ground.
“Wake up, we’re here.”
Wi Seol-Ah rubbed her eyes, struggling to keep them open.
I wanted to wake her up quicker, so I bonked her head.
Thanks to the surprise attack, Wi Seol-Ah’s eyes quickly opened.
“A servant that sleeps on their master’s back, and even worse; snores while doing it!?”
Wi Seol-Ah stood in shock following my comment about her snoring.
I smiled after looking at her.
“Yeah, you were really good at it too. I thought that it was a tiger for a moment.”
“I swear to heaven that I’m being serious.”
Not the part about her sounding like a tiger of course.
Wi Seol-Ah put on a sad face after I told her I swore to the heaven.
I heard her mumble the words of ‘No way… no way…’ while she followed behind me.
I wasn’t the one who asked to be carried in the first place.
We entered the town while Wi Seol-Ah was still in shock.
We had to find the people from the Gu clan in this town.
It wasn’t a hard task to accomplish.
Thanks to the increased amount of my Qi, my range for detecting presence had also widened.
All I had to do was just find Muyeon’s Qi.
And what do you know, it was closer than I thought. Even better, it seemed to be getting closer.
From far away, someone dressed in the iconic clothing of the Gu clan was running towards us.
I don’t know how he knew, but it was Muyeon.
Muyeon ran up to us. His relieved expression harbored a tint of grudge.
“Wh… Where were you for the past few days-”
Muyeon suddenly stopped talking; he seemed to have noticed my changes.
He then asked confusedly,
“…Did something happen?”
To Muyeon’s words, I responded while scratching my cheek.
“I guess I could say that, uhh… How do I put this…”
He wasn’t the only one that was surprised.
I was now able to know better.
That Muyeon was a very skilled martial artist.
‘…What the hell, he’s at the peak of first rate at that age?’
I think Muyeon just barely reached the age of 20.
It was strange.
To see that such a martial artist never spread his name even till the day I died.
And it was even stranger that I wasn’t aware even though he was a part of the Gu Clan.
I wondered what was up with that.
“Sorry, I had something to do.”
“B-But even so, you should’ve just taken me with you. What would happen if something were to happen to the Young Master, do you know how much I was worried about you!?”
“Sorry… but hey, nothing happened right?”
This was certainly true, as nothing did happen to us; whether on our way to or back from the secret vault.
However, the fact that I ran away for three days without saying anything was still my fault in the end.
Now, putting that aside, there remained one question I needed to ask Muyeon.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Yes… What do you want to know?”
“Why are there two more useless presences here?”
In the place that I’d picked for us to reunite, I could feel two presences that weren’t welcomed at all.
Muyeon stood silently for a second, seemingly confused as to what I was talking about.
“I thought that the Young Master called them…?”
“You thought I called those thing- those guests?”
“That’s what they told me, so I…”
I massaged my forehead upon hearing that.
From far away, I was able to feel two familiar presences in the guest rooms.
Those guests were Namgung Bi-ah and Tang Soyeol.
Chdildhood Friend of the Zenith
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༺ Way Back (2) ༻