Childhood Friend of the Zenith Chapter 81

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༺ The Great Demon (1) ༻
  I knew for a fact that there was more than just one store in Huayin that sold demon-related items, but I realized after looking around everywhere in the city that… 
  Searching for a demonic stone to buy right now was equivalent to trying to fish a star from the sky.
  No matter where I asked, I more or less received the same answer, 
  That the appearance of demons had become much less frequent than before,
  Along with the fact none of them collected demonic stones as they held next to no value. 
  So in the end, I had to come back to Mount Hua empty-handed.
  “I guess all I got from that trip was some chicken skewers…”
  “It was tasty, right?”
  “Yeah, it was.”
  By the way, I paid Muyeon back for the chicken skewers once we returned to the lodge. 
  Although all I got in return was a face he made saying something like, ‘That’s so unlike you though.’ which made me think for a second. 
  Just how did I end up being treated like this…
  I should just not pay him back from the next time onwards.
  ‘Do I just have to give up on the demonic stones for now?’
  There would probably be some demons lurking in the mountains of Shaanxi,
  So perhaps it was time to resort to that option? 
  That was pretty much my last-ditch effort if the other options didn’t yield any results. 
  Gazing around the lodge, and noticing that something was lacking here, I couldn’t help but ask. 
  “She’s still not back?”
  I was asking about Namgung Bi-ah.
  When I asked the servants, they just replied that they hadn’t seen her come back to the lodgings. 
  I heard that she had gone out to train quite a bit early in the morning, but it was about to be dinner time soon. 
  I already knew about her love for training, but this still seemed longer than her usual training hours… 
  「Are you worried?」
  ‘…No way.’
  Why would I even worry about her… 
  「You were looking for her because she still hasn’t come back and are curious if she ate anything or not, right? Doesn’t that just mean that you are worried about her?」
  I let out a fake cough at those words.
  I couldn’t just say that Elder Shin was wrong in thinking like that.
  While I was sitting down on the floor and resting for a bit, I saw Wi Seol-Ah approached me from the distance. 
  From her attire, it seemed like she had been cooking dinner till now. 
  “What’s up?”
  “Hongwa sis asked me to ask you what you want to eat!”
  “…What do I want to eat?”
  The first thing that came to mind was dumplings, but it’s not like they could just magically summon some dumplings out of nowhere in this place, so I just told her to make the same food as usual.
  “She said that we also have fish.”
  “Oh, I’ll have that then.”
  She hopped away after our conversation ended.
  Soon, I also got up from the ground… 
  「Where’re you going?」
  Elder Shin sounded like he was donning a cunning smile on his face when he asked me that question.
  I ignored him and just let out some fake coughs before going on my way.
  I just thought that she needed to eat something as she couldn’t just live without food. 
  「So you are going to bring her back here since you don’t want her to starve, right?」
  He’s right, but why is it that I don’t want to admit it?
  Maybe it was due to Elder Shin being the one speaking those lines? 
  I stood up and immediately made my way to the mountain where she usually trained to look for Namgung Bi-ah.
  I still had a bit of time left until sunset.
  It was best for me to bring her back quickly since the meal was about to be ready soon.
  ‘I can’t believe I’m concerned about her.’
  I didn’t know why I was concerned about someone like her when she could just eat grass or whatever she wanted.
  I guess one excuse I could use in this situation was the fact that she looked like someone who would starve to death if I didn’t forcefully feed her food in my previous life.
  That was a valid reason for me to be concerned about her right now,
  ‘…But that’s not the only reason why I am doing this.’
  I couldn’t trick myself into thinking that no matter how hard I tried.
  After climbing the mountain for some time, I arrived at the place Namgung Bi-ah usually trained in.
– Swish-! Swoosh-!
  Expectedly, I was able to hear the sounds of sword swings. 
  And I immediately knew that it was her since I was already familiar with her presence. 
  Although I did notice that there was an additional presence other than Namgung Bi-ah in there while climbing up the mountain towards that location.
  The second presence was also very familiar to me. 
  Like yesterday, they were dueling with each other again.
– Swoosh-!
– Ick…! 
  I heard the sounds of disappointment coming from someone after they noticed their wooden sword had only cut through empty air. 
– Foot… movement was too much… 
– O-One more time, please…
– Okay.
  I walked through the terrain covered in bushes while listening to their voices.
  The scene was similar to the one I had seen yesterday. 
  I could see Gu Ryunghwa stained with dirt from head to toe after having rolled all over the ground for a long time. 
  While Namgung Bi-ah was in a pristine condition, not having even broken a sweat yet. 
  Gu Ryunghwa looked towards me after noticing my presence as I entered the scene. 
  And once she noticed that it was me, she instantly furrowed her brows and frowned. 
  “…Why are you here?”
  How could she even say something like that to a person who just got here?
  “Uh… I was just passing by.”
  “Then keep passing by.”
  “I just stopped because I saw a familiar face.”
  I looked towards Namgung Bi-ah while saying that, demanding an answer from her with my eyes.
  Demanding the reason behind her still being in this place when it was already so late. 
  Instantly, Namgung Bi-ah avoided eye contact with me.
  As she seemed to have not noticed my eye signals, I decided to straight out ask her this time. 
  “Why are you still here when it’s this late, and did you eat yet?”
  She still kept avoiding eye contact with me even now… 
  “Don’t scold sis.”
  I looked towards Gu Ryunghwa who cut me off just now.
  Honestly, what she had spoken just now was more absurd than anything I’ve heard today. 
  Sis…? Siiiis?
  Why is she your sis all of a sudden now?
  Noticing what I was thinking, Gu Ryunghwa’s face immediately dyed in the faint shades of red. 
  “…I just, begged her to train me since she came to me in the morning.”
  “Morning… you went to my little sister this morning?”
  Namgung Bi-ah slowly nodded her head at that question.
  However, Gu Ryunghwa immediately cut off my interrogation again as she did not like what I just said. 
  “Who’s your little sister now?”
  “What are you then, my older sister?”
  What did she even want me to say anyways?
  Namgung Bi-ah was still avoiding eye contact with me while adamantly keeping her mouth shut. 
  “So you were here since the morning?”
  She nodded once more.
  She had been in this place since early morning, starving herself till now, just because Gu Ryunghwa had begged her to teach her. 
  I couldn’t help but leak out a small sigh at that thought and decided to speak up. 
  “Let’s return to the lodge now since the sun is about to set soon.”
  Namgung Bi-ah immediately put her wooden sword away and got ready to leave.
  Gu Ryunghwa seemed like she wasn’t too happy about that, but she couldn’t really do anything about it since Namgung Bi-ah had already consented to leave.
  After they finished tidying themselves up, Gu Ryunghwa deeply bowed her head down towards Namgung Bi-ah.
  “Sis… Thank you for today.”
  “It’s nothing… I also had fun.”
  After Gu Ryunghwa was done talking with Namgung Bi-ah, and cleaned the dirt and grime off her clothes, she started leaving the premise but I stopped her before she could go away. 
  “Where are you going?”
  “Mind your own business.”
  “You probably didn’t eat anything too, so how about you—”
  I was trying to invite her to have a meal with us, but I wasn’t able to finish speaking out all my words. 
  As I could see that Gu Ryunghwa’s shoulder had started trembling once I grabbed it with my hand to stop her. 
– Tap-!
  Strongly, Gu Ryunghwa hit my hand and shook it off her shoulders, and distanced herself from me. 
  “D-Don’t touch me…!”
  After looking at me, her eyes trembling with unknown emotions, she immediately ran off towards the bushes. 
  I couldn’t say anything to her after seeing what just happened.
  ‘…Maybe I was too impatient.’
  I failed to consider Gu Ryunghwa’s feelings about our relationship since the time I spent mulling over the past had been far longer than the time she had spent. 
  A sigh escaped my lips as I spoke to Namgung Bi-ah.
  “Let’s go.”
  Namgung Bi-ah was looking in the direction of where Gu Ryunghwa disappeared when I spoke those words, but she just nodded her head in acknowledgment without speaking anything once she heard me. 
  When we came down the mountains, we could see that the meal had already been prepared, and Wi Seol-Ah looked proud, 
  Saying that she had grilled the fish or whatever.
  “Is that why this one, in particular, is so burnt…?”
  “They said that that’s the most delicious one.”
  No… No matter how I look at it, it seems like the least delicious one though.
  I took a small bite of the fish with nervousness and trepidation in my heart. 
  The appearance of the fish resembled a demon’s but putting that aside, it tasted surprisingly good. 
  With my face morphed in shock, Wi Seol-Ah made an even more proud and haughty expression which irritated me quite a bit. 
  As I continued eating, I decided to speak with Namgung Bi-ah.
  About what happened back there for her to be with my little sister.
  “It’s just…”
  The explanation she gave me was rather simple.
  She was feeling bad for what happened between them yesterday.
  So, when Gu Ryunghwa begged her to duel with her again, she relented to her request. 
  And so they trained together from the wee hours of the morning to this late time of the day.
  I understood Gu Ryunghwa being like that, but Namgung Bi-ah guiding her in her training had shocked me quite a bit. 
  She was someone who had never cared about anyone besides strong sword users in my previous life, after all.
  “Can I go tomorrow too?”
  Namgung Bi-ah asked me with a pleading tone.
  Asking me if she could go to Gu Ryunghwa again tomorrow.
  What for?
  I didn’t believe that she was helping her because she found it fun.
  Since I knew that Gu Ryunghwa wasn’t at a level where she could entertain Namgung Bi-ah.
  You would need someone like Yung Pung or Muyeon for her to have a good time while dueling with them.
  So for her to say that she wanted to go to her again tomorrow meant that she wanted to finish what she had started.
  “…You do you.”
  Namgung Bi-ah took a sip of water with a relieved expression on her face after being given permission by me.
  Seeing her, I whispered with a small and soft tone. 
  “Take care of her please…”
  Namgung Bi-ah’s eyes became big after hearing me speak.
  I just requested her to do what I wasn’t able to do for Gu Ryunghwa, but Namgung Bi-ah just looked at me as if she was shocked that I requested her to do something like that. 
  “Me what.”
  “You… requested me.”
  “Then, I might as well…”
  “Try my best.”
  “No need to do your best.”
  I stopped moving my chopsticks after feeling embarrassed for some reason.
  I couldn’t help but not be embarrassed.
  As Namgung Bi-ah was smiling right now.
  I had already seen her smile before, but it never failed to hit me hard. 
  “Cgh… Cough!”
  Because of the unexpected smile she threw towards me, some food had made its way to my windpipe. 
  I quickly drank down a cup of water to gulp it down.
  I was also getting chills all over my body due to that smile of hers. 
  Which showed how dangerous Namgung Bi-ah’s smile truly was.
  ‘I got somewhat used to Wi Seol-Ah’s smile by now but…’
  I had a gut feeling that this one was going to take me a long while to get used to.
* * * * * 
  Even after the sun had set beyond the horizon, Gu Ryunghwa still had not returned to her place and could be seen continuously swinging her sword in the open. 
– Swish-! Swiswoosh-!
  After swinging her sword in the air for a long time with the fierce wind hitting her body,
  She let go of her wooden sword with a short groan leaking out of her lips.
  Gu Ryunghwa looked at her hand after dropping her sword.
  The hand grabbing the hilt had already ripped and teared, causing it to bleed continuously. 
  “…It hurts…”
  As she had been swinging her sword almost endlessly for the past few days,
  Her sword hand reached its limit.
  But even so, Gu Ryunghwa picked up her wooden sword once again not long after.
  She wrapped her hand around with some pieces of cloth she had brought with her beforehand. Doing so made her feel a lot better. 
  She imagined the movements Namgung Bi-ah had shown her in her mind. 
  To avoid making huge movements,
  To not put too much strength into the strikes,
  While still putting the focus on her swings.
  It was the very basics of sword arts, but they were the most helpful tip she could’ve gotten for her current situation. 
  And thanks to her experiencing those points in a real duel, she felt like she was having an easier time understanding their true meaning. 
  Gu Ryunghwa wondered why Namgung Bi-ah looked so nervous when she came to her in the morning,
  But she soon realized the reason after Namgung Bi-ah accepted whatever request Gu Ryunghwa had made in that moment. 
  For some reason, Namgung Bi-ah was trying to get in her good books. 
  ‘But why…?’
  Gu Ryunghwa wondered why she was acting like that when she was a martial artist of such a high level while having an otherworldly beauty to die for. 
  But after thinking for a while, she was reminded of Gu Yangcheon, her elder brother.
  Gu Ryunghwa didn’t understand why, but she knew for a fact that Namgung Bi-ah had feelings for Gu Yangcheon.
  Which was primarily why she was trying to be nice to his little sister, which was unexpected for Gu Ryunghwa.
  She wondered just why such a cool and talented person was into someone like Gu Yangcheon.
  ‘I don’t get it.’
  She could’ve perhaps make some sense of it if it was the Gu Yangcheon she knew in the past,
  But that wasn’t the case now, which was exactly why Gu Ryunghwa couldn’t wrap her head around her reasons for liking her brother. 
– Don’t go around lifting your face up, just looking at you pisses me off.
– I told you not to call me brother!
– Just shut your mouth… And get out of my sight.
  The words Gu Ryunghwa had heard back then still made her heart wrench in pain even though many years had passed since then. 
  Even just thinking of it made her tremble in fear and pain. 
  After some time, she somehow managed to stop her tears and continued swinging her sword like her life depended on it. 
  ‘Why is he now…’
– Morning… you went to my little sister this morning?
– What are you then, my older sister?
  She ignored the pain that was ravaging her hand and continued swinging on and on. 
  To get rid of Gu Yangcheon’s voice that was echoing in her mind without any signs of stopping anytime soon.
  She felt annoyed.
  Annoyed at how she was shaken by just the word, ‘Sister’ coming out of that hideous boy’s lips, making her run away from him. 
  She hated how she still had hope in her heart that maybe she could go back to the life she once had in the past just because of that short moment.
  ‘Don’t forget Ryunghwa… You need to blossom your own flowers.’
  For her master that took care of her till now.
  And to relieve her with the knowledge that her student was able to blossom her own flowers before she breathed her last, 
  Gu Ryunghwa kept swinging her sword with unsurmountable determination under the illumination of the lonely moonlight. 
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