Childhood Friend of the Zenith Chapter 93

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༺ Preparation (2) ༻
  It had already been 10 days since I came to Shaanxi.
  I was residing in the Mount Hua Sect for much longer than I had initially planned. 
  It’s primarily due to all those problems that popped out of nowhere.
  ‘It’ll be fall by the time I return to the clan.’
  Owing to the extremely long distance between the two locations, it will really take me till fall to reach home. 
  Time was really moving faster than I could give it credit for. 
  It would soon be a full year since I had resurrected into the past. 
  I didn’t even feel like I had done much of anything, but time still passed by at such a rapid pace. 
  ‘I do feel that I have changed quite a bit… but didn’t at the same time.’ 
  My attainments in the Destructive Flame Arts had already reached the 4th realm in a little less than a year. 
  It was understandable since I was just climbing through the ranks that I had already attained in my past life, however, it still felt a bit too fast no matter how much I thought. 
  The phenomenon was possible probably due to all the new energies that I had no idea I would be absorbing in this life. 
  I was still far away from reaching the 5th realm of the flame arts, but at the same time, it didn’t feel that far away either. It was a very ambiguous feeling.
  However, by the time I do reach the realm, I needed to set a goal for myself. 
  It was funny that even though I hadn’t reached the 5th realm, I was thinking of setting up my goals for the future. 
– Blaze!
– Slam!
  Yung Pung flew out of the raucous flames, that covered the surroundings, and rolled on the ground in the end. 
  Simultaneously, I suppressed the flames that had engulfed the area in their scathing heat. 
  Letting out a breath, I could immediately notice heat and steam leaking out of my mouth. 
  I told Yung Pung.
  I was being truthful when I said those words.
  How long had it been since my first duel against Yung Pung? 
  Ten days at most, perhaps? 
  However, Yung Pung had changed drastically in that short amount of time. 
  His plum blossom sword which felt light not long ago, now became faster and heavier than ever before. 
  Moreover, his physical body, supporting his sword arts and acting as its foundation, had become much firmer than what it previously was. 
  It was almost as if he had been training for years to achieve such growth. 
  “Geniuses I swear…”
  I was able to further realize just how talented Yung Pung was, so I couldn’t help but smirk. 
  The growth of his physique and aspects related to it were understandable since it relied more on effort rather than talent itself.
  However, there was something fundamentally different about Yung Pung’s sword strikes. 
  It wasn’t just sharper and faster, but it was also changed in a way that practically all of his attacks now targeted the enemy’s weak points and gave them virtually no openings or chance for counterattacks. 
  A change of this level would take a long time to integrate even with the presence of a mentor. 
  However, Yung Pung was learning this on his lonesome, and that too at a rapid rate. 
  ‘Of course, he probably does have a mentor.’
  However, his mentor was unlikely to only focus on teaching Yung Pung.
  Yung Pung, sprawled about on the ground, coughed violently before speaking, conveying the absurdity he felt in my words. 
  “…Who’s calling me a genius now?”
  It looked like Yung Pung was saying “How could you be the one saying that to me right now” with the face he was making currently. 
  Of course, from Yung Pung’s perspective, a kid who looked much younger than him was beating him up like it was nothing, so it was understandable that he felt that way.
  ‘Comparing yourself to me is a bit much though.’
  You should try regressing too then.
  ‘Not that I can actually say this line…’
  Anyway, the rate of Yung Pung’s progression in his growth was gradually becoming faster and faster. 
  ‘It seems like he won’t have a problem with overcoming his wall with his current mindset.’
  Unlike the Yung Pung from my past who had given up after being stuck in front of that seemingly unsurmountable wall— the current Yung Pung gave me the feeling that he would be successful this time around. 
  That was my estimation, but Yung Pung, due to not being privy to the thoughts churning in my head, just showed me a bitter smile. 
  “I thought I worked rather hard, but I can’t beat Young Master Gu in the end, huh…”
  I was thinking of speaking in response to that statement, however, in the end, I chose to keep my silence. 
  I believed that keeping this silence was the best choice I could make for him at the moment. 
  “I got to work harder then.”
  And… as expected, even without saying anything, he was able to fire himself up. 
  Not only does he have monstrous talent, but he also has a passion that rivals that talent of his. 
  He also had plenty of time as he was still in his youth. 
  As long as nothing bad happened to him from now on, Yung Pung would likely become a martial artist who could rival the Heavenly Venerables in power in the near future.
  At least that seemed to be the case in my eyes. 
  ‘So long as the demonic cult doesn’t appear that is.’
– Clench.
  I clenched my fist in anger. 
  But I immediately calmed down my nerves on the next second. 
  Hiding my inner emotions, I asked Yung Pung. 
  “Do you want to continue?”
  “Ah, no. It will be troublesome for you if we spar anymore, so I shall go train by myself from now on.”
  I had come here to duel with Yung Pung according to his past request. 
  It was me who had come to him, not the other way around. 
  I did that because of his request, but I could still vividly recall his bright smile, seemingly touched that I came to him first. 
  Does he like duels that much…?
  After the duel ended, I asked him another question. 
  “Master Yung Pung.” 
  “I heard that the tournament starts in two days, is that right?”
  “Ah, yes. Lord Celestial Plum Blossom informed us about that after returning from the Plum Blossom Cemetery.” 
  The Plum Blossom Cemetery.
  It was a place for the martyrs who had died for the Mount Hua Sect. 
  I didn’t have much knowledge about it as I was not from the Mount Hua Sect, but I still remember hearing that only the Lords of the sect were allowed to enter that place. 
  ‘He finally returned huh.’
  I heard that the Celestial Plum Blossom went there not long after my talk with him after waking up, so it would mean that he was there for at least a few days.
  ‘No wonder it was so noisy…’ 
  The people in the streets were talking vigorously about the tournament. 
  That’s why I asked Yung Pung about it since I was able to hear about that from all the way up here. 
  It seemed like it was time for me to soon return to my clan since the tournament was about to begin. 
  “What are you planning on doing now? If you don’t have any plans, how about we train toget—”
  “Oh, I have something to do in the afternoon.”
  “…That’s disappointing.”
  He really seemed disappointed by my answer.
  I also wanted to train since I had already increased the difficulty and my training hours, but I still needed to return to the lodge for now. 
  After departing from Yung Pung’s place, I arrived back at the lodge.
  I looked around, searching for Wi Seol-Ah, but it seemed like she still wasn’t here which felt unnatural to me. 
  ‘What was she up to these days… so much so that I can’t even see her around these parts anymore?’ 
  I didn’t know.
  For the past few days, I was only able to see Wi Seol-Ah during mealtimes. It was hard to get ahold of her sight anytime else. 
  When I asked Hongwa, she informed me that she was still performing all the work assigned to her quite diligently. 
  Is she perhaps avoiding me then?
  Such a thought bothered me a bit. 
  I even had the thoughts of bringing up this matter, of her avoiding me, if that really was to be the case. 
  ‘Should I try to appease her with some yakgwa…?’
  I felt like that would be more effective than any complaints I could make to her. 
  When I opened the door with these pointless thoughts in mind, I was greeted with the sight of Namgung Bi-ah.
  “Why is she sleeping here now?”
  She was taking a nap, covered in a blanket, on the floor of my room. 
  Moreover, the blanket was mine. 
  I heard that Namgung Bi-ah was taking naps inside my room recently. 
  Wait, why isn’t anyone stopping her even while knowing that?
  “…Should I just wake her up?”
  It would not be problematic to wake her up since this was my room, after all, however, I still felt conflicted in doing something like that since she looked very comfortable while taking a nap like that. 
  In the end, I just allowed her to sleep inside and exited my room. 
  I had originally planned to change my clothes inside, but I just ordered a servant to bring me a new set of clothes while I sat on the floor outside. 
  While I closed my eyes, basking in the sunshine, I uttered some words. 
  “Why did you come again?”
  I spoke to Gu Ryunghwa who had been busy stealthily watching me from behind a wall. 
  I already knew that Gu Ryunghwa was present in my lodgings since I had heard about her arrival from Hongwa. 
  “Does your master have something to say to me?”
  “Then what?”
  Gu Ryunghwa’s lips fidgeted silently while she kept looking into my eyes. 
  I waited patiently as it looked like she had something to say to me. 
  “…I didn’t come to see you, brother… I just came here to see sis… N… No, I indeed came here to see you, brother.”
  What is she saying…?
  It looked like she was having an inner battle against herself right now.
  “Why are you calling me brother all of a sudden?”
  “…Then are you my sister?”
  What she spoke was quite similar to what I had told her the last time. 
  I didn’t expect her to use it against me right now… 
  “Anyway, so you came to see me then?”
  It was unexpected.
  Gu Ryunghwa probably felt uncomfortable being around me, so I wondered the reason behind her coming here to see me. 
  I looked at Gu Ryunghwa in utter shock after I heard what she said.
  The first thing she does after coming here is thank me? 
  Furthermore, I felt more dumbfounded as it was none other than Gu Ryunghwa who was thanking me right now.
  Did her master tell her to do that?
  “…For what… all of a sudden?”
  “You saved my master… so thank you.”
  “I already got the thanks from your master.”
  Moreover, she even offered to help me with anything I asked of her, so that was already more than enough for me.
  I was already planning on getting the Sword Master’s assistance on a matter that I needed to discuss with the Celestial Plum Blossom. 
  So Gu Ryunghwa didn’t need to— 
  “…You did it for me, didn’t you?”
  I became completely silent after hearing Gu Ryunghwa’s words.
  Why? Why is she thinking that way?
  “Your face says it all brother.”
  “So you came here to say that…?”
  She came all the way here just to thank me then?
  While I was pondering over those thoughts, Gu Ryunghwa continued speaking… 
  “…I’m scared of you brother.”
  The sudden heart-stabbing words almost made me lose my breath. 
  “I’m confused right now because it feels like you returned to your past self, but I’m scared that you would hit or curse at me again, so I’m just really feeling scared and confused and… lost.”
  Fear underlay in her tone as she spoke. 
  This was definitely my fault.
  I shouldn’t have done such things.
  “I’m sorry.”
  Those words were the only response I could give. 
  If I tried to say something else, it would only come off as sordid excuses. 
  Gu Ryunghwa didn’t speak when I apologized to her.
  Nor did she accept my apology or get angry for uttering those words. 
  I also chose to remain silent, just keeping my gaze on her. 
  Hesitating for some time, Gu Ryunghwa spoke again. 
  “…Can we be like before?”
  Was my immediate and blunt response to her question. 
  I may have regressed, but it was still too late for us.
  It would be difficult for us to return to our past relationship due to the elements I couldn’t revert about myself. 
  Which was exactly why I needed to be strict and blunt in my tone while conveying my response to her. 
  “It would be tough to go back to those times.”
  Since we already lost a dear individual to us both, the key person that would let us return to those times. 
  Gu Ryunghwa also nodded, more or less expecting my response. 
  She didn’t say anything further.
  After a period of gloomy silence, Gu Ryunghwa brought up a different subject.
  “I decided to go back to the clan.”
  This suddenly?
  “I thought you said you didn’t want to go.”
  “Yeah, I don’t want to go back to that nasty place. But master said that she’ll go with me.”
  What is she saying now? The Sword Master is actually going with her?
  “…The Sword Master is going to come along with you?” 
  “She told me that she has some business with our family.”
  “I mean… Why is she deciding to go with you when she just started to recover.”
  This is the first time I’ve heard such a thing.
  The Sword Master really has some business with the Gu Clan…?
  “She said that she’ll inform you about her decision and the pertaining details the next time she sees you, but I’m just telling you now since I’m here already.” 
  After saying those words, Gu Ryunghwa turned around. 
  As she reached the entrance of my lodge, Gu Ryunghwa spoke up again. 
  “Once again, thank you for saving my master, brother.”
  There were no traces of resentment in those words.
  However, it was highly likely that she hadn’t forgiven me either. 
  Which was good since she should never forgive someone like me.
– …Dad… killed Mom…?
  I was reminded of Gu Ryunghwa who had been bawling her eyes out while hiding her face in between her knees. 
– I’m scared… Mommmm…
  I couldn’t do anything while looking at my little sister as she cried and wailed. 
  Father didn’t kill mom.
  If mother really died.
  Then I would be the one who killed her.
– Be quiet.
– …Brotthherrr…
– Don’t say a word, just live like you don’t even exist.
  I didn’t know how to protect anyone at those times. 
  Not that I would have found a way to protect someone even if I had returned to that moment. 
  I would have just stayed silent. 
  I felt that to be the most appropriate outcome. 
  I had also taken half a step into insanity at that time, so it was understandable that I couldn’t come up with a better way to deal with that situation. 
  ‘But what about now?’
  Can a seed bloom into a flower in soil that had already dried up?
  Wouldn’t it just rot and become a part of the sickening soil?
  That was the analogy I would use to describe the relationship between me and Gu Ryunghwa. 
  Just like how it was between father and me— I felt the same be the case for me and my little sister. 
– …Can we be like before?
  Gu Ryunghwa’s words still echoed in my head.
  “…Why is it so hard, everything I come across.”
– Tap.
  While I was trapped in my thoughts while sitting on the floor, I felt something being placed on top of my shoulder.
  When I looked at the thing, wondering what it was, I was surprised to see that it was Namgung Bi-ah, putting her chin on my shoulder with a sleepy look on her face. 
  “…What are you doing?”
  When did she wake up? She was sleeping so comfortably earlier.
  “At least open your eyes… Have you gone to sleep already?” 
  Surprisingly, I thought that Namgung Bi-ah had woken up already, but it seemed like she had fallen asleep again with her chin on my shoulder.
  What is this?
  I couldn’t help but chuckle at this strange situation.
  It felt like the dark conflicted thoughts that were churning inside me until now went away just because of this small gesture of hers. 
  I wondered if Namgung Bi-ah did this on purpose, knowing that it would work, but that seemed highly unlikely. 
  I carefully brushed Namgung Bi-ah’s hair with my hands.
  ‘I should go touring the streets with her and Wi Seol-Ah.’
  I wasn’t thinking of going down because I had something to do there. 
  I didn’t really have any business down there, however, I just felt like going there with them. 
  I wondered in my mind why I felt that way, but— I just did. 
  I just want to.
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