Childhood Friend of the Zenith Chapter 99

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༺ Tournament (4) ༻
  The tournament that had begun just a little past noon was shaping up to be an event that would be underway for a long time.
  As the third-generation disciples prepared for an extensive period of time for this day, they were all serious about the tournament.
  And since all of them belonged to the same sect, their sword arts were more or less identical to each other.
  They knew each other too well which was why it was taking so long for them to achieve triumph over the other. 
  To some, it may feel a bit lame for a match to go on for so long, but the heat in the crowd didn’t seem to have died off.
  “These reactions are crazy.”
  “They all seem to be enjoying it.”
  Although the crowd was essentially small in size, just their excitement and enthusiasm alone were enough to rival the crowds that watched events that the Murim Alliance usually hosted. 
  I, however, couldn’t help but feel bored. 
  ‘…Is it because I’ve been spending my time with Yung Pung a lot lately?’
  Since I could only compare these martial artists to Yung Pung, their sword arts really seemed extremely poor in my eyes. 
  The flexibility they wielded was severely lacking compared to the real swordsmen of the Mount Hua Sect. Moreover, the flow and reaction time of their Qi usage was far too disappointing as well.
  To put it in a brutally honest way, I could knock these punks out in just one blow.
  Even Yung Pung would be able to do the same, not to even mention someone like Namgung Bi-ah. 
  ‘…I guess that’s why they pitted Yung Pung against the second-generation disciples.’
  Now I was able to fully understand the reason behind that decision. 
  It wasn’t that they were lacking.
  They were martial artists from the Ten Sect Alliance, and on top of that, they were disciples of the prestigious Mount Hua Sect. 
  They were certainly stronger compared to other kids their age…
  However, the reason behind this underwhelming feeling I had of them was simply because the people that I had met recently could easily overpower them. 
  ‘It makes sense since it’s not common for someone who isn’t even at the age of twenty to reach the realm of a first-rate martial artist.’
  Geniuses like Yung Pung and Namgung Bi-ah were extraordinary ones and an outlier to this overview.
  I glanced at Namgung Bi-ah, wondering if I was the only one who found this tournament boring.
  I was unable to see her face clearly since she still had her veil on, but I was able to notice a strange movement just then. 
  I couldn’t help but ask. 
  “You yawned just now, right?”
  Immediately, she flinched due to my question and averted her gaze. 
  Along with the turning of her head, I could see her meticulously tied hair wave. 
  Glancing at the hair accessory she had put on her hair, for some time, I turned toward Wi Seol-Ah.
  Unlike me and Namgung Bi-ah, Wi Seol-Ah was watching the fight with a distinct glint in her eyes. 
  “Is it fun for you?”
  She responded without hiding the emotions she felt about watching the fight. 
  I guess it is different for her since she is not seeing it with a mentality like mine. 
– Woahhh-!
  Shifting my gaze toward the arena as I heard the cheering of the crowd, I immediately noticed that one wooden sword had fallen to the ground. 
  “…I lost.”
  “You did well.”
  The winner gripped the loser’s shoulder as a sign of assurance.
  It seemed like the one to lose had been a disciple that was on the young side compared to his opponent or may have entered the sect later. 
  At that moment, I heard the murmuring of the people around me. 
  “It seems like they improved way more than last year.”
  “To see that they changed this much in just one year, it makes me proud.”
  “This is what the Mount Hua Sect is all about…! Yup!”
  It was certainly different from what I felt about the match. 
  I guess it was just because they were normal individuals and not martial artists.
  ‘Am I different now?’
  Am I thinking that I am in the same realm as them just because I absorbed some Qi after I was given a second chance in life with regression?
  If that were to be the case, then I definitely needed to change my thought process. 
  These thoughts would surely come biting back one day. 
  I had to be extra careful since I’d experienced something similar before.
  While I was organizing my thoughts, Namgung Bi-ah spoke. 
  “…She came out.”
  I had to open my eyes wide at those words. 
  I heard the murmuring of the people surrounding me as well. 
  “What the, there was a girl amongst the disciples?”
  “There wasn’t one last year… is she someone new?”
  “No way, even the richest families tried to put their kids into the Mount Hua Sect, yet they were rejected right away as they weren’t accepting any more disciples right now.”
  A girl was standing in the midst of the arena with a proper posture while wearing the symbolizing white attire of the Mount Hua Sect, holding a wooden sword in her hand.
  Along with the tied black hair, she was calming her breath and taking in her surroundings. 
  Even in the midst of the crowd that surrounded her, the girl remained calm and composed.
  Or was that just her pretending to be calm, it could be possible that she had a lot of thoughts running through her mind right now. 
  I just continued to watch, my gaze affixed on her form.
  Soon, she pulled out the wooden sword and went into a battle stance. 
  Before the duel began, the two opposing disciples spoke of their designations. 
  “…I am Yung Jin— a third-generation disciple of the Mount Hua Sect.”
  “I’m Gu Ryunghwa— a second-generation disciple of the Mount Hua Sect.”
  Their voices weren’t loud, but it was loud enough for people to hear and the content of their speech shocked them to no end. 
  After they were done with their introductions,
  Along with a reverberating shout, enhanced by the usage of Qi, Gu Ryunghwa’s duel began.
* * * *
– What the… a second-generation disciple? How is that possible when she looks so young?
– This is the first time I’ve seen her. Maybe she isn’t even officially part of the sect yet, considering she had just introduced herself today.
  I heard the murmurs of the people again. 
  I tried to ignore them, but their voices still resonated in my head. 
  Gu Ryunghwa tried her utmost to input all her focus on her opponent, standing parallel to her on the other side. 
  An annoyed expression was displayed on his face. 
  It seemed that he was a bit offended by his opponent.
  Probably, the reason wasn’t due to him being pitted against his senior, 
  Since he probably didn’t even acknowledge her as a senior in the first place. 
  It would be more along the lines of him being disappointed by this match-up. As he was unable to have an honorable and worthy duel due to getting matched up against a little girl. 
  The emotions he was displaying were certainly negative in nature. 
  Gu Ryunghwa’s breathing started getting rougher. 
– I would like to participate in the first day of the tournament.
  She really wanted to participate along with the other second-generation disciples, but she still expressed her desire to participate with the juniors, suppressing her greed. 
  It’d only make her seem stubborn and foolish if she didn’t.
  This concerned her pride as a disciple of her master, 
  However, she still chose to give it up, in the end. 
  Shinhyun asked with worry if Gu Ryunghwa was really fine with this decision and she just nodded her head with an astute determination on her face in response. 
  Many meanings were mixed into the question that he had asked her. 
  And she was aware of those meanings. 
  Slowly, she lifted her wooden sword and trained her gaze on her opponent. 
  ‘I’m scared…’
  She was still scared.
  To the point that she wanted to run away here and now. 
  The frown on her opponent’s face and the sharpness of his gaze were equally scary and frightening to her. 
  It became hard for her to breathe as she was reminded of the person that never turned his back even though she had been crying and screaming to him for help. 
  As soon as the match began, her opponent charged at her straight. 
  He swung his sword, intent on finishing this farce of a match quickly. 
  However, there was next to no power in his strike.
  As though he was intent on going easy on her. 
  Gu Ryunghwa clenched her teeth after witnessing that scene. 
  She swung her sword and responded in tandem. 
  All her training, the hard training she did every single day, was for this very moment— for her to blossom. 
  She was not able to keep count of just how many times her hand had ripped apart and bled through the intense training. On top of that, having a nosebleed was just an everyday thing for her. 
  All of this came from her will to make those beautiful plum blossoms blossom in her sword. 
– Smack-!
  Gu Ryunghwa’s opponent, Yung Jin, became shocked after his attack had been blocked by her. 
  He didn’t even consider for a second that his attack would be blocked.
  She was still lacking when it came to pure strength, so she decided to change the direction of her opponent’s attack rather than fully block it head-on.
  As she drew a crescent with her sword, shifting her body in tandem, Yung Jin’s sword strike bounced off in response.
  That provided her with an opening to strike. 
  She swung the sword at the opening that was created, but Yung Jin managed to block her strike. 
  ‘…I was late.’
  She had hesitated for a moment.
  Her fear of using the full extent of her sword strikes had been the problem. 
  Yung Jin regained his posture and composure after seemingly learning something just from that one clash alone.
  It seemed that he won’t be letting down his guard any longer. 
  Her breathing was still trembling ever so slightly. 
  The reason Gu Ryunghwa wished to make her sword blossom with plum blossoms was for her master— the Plum Blossom Sword.
  She wanted to provide peace of mind to her master before her eyes closed forever. 
  That was why she maintained an extremely torturous training regimen while cutting off even her sleep. 
  However, now that she thought about it, it wasn’t possible to make oneself blossom so easily. 
  Furthermore, when the Sword Master woke up and started to regain her health, Gu Ryunghwa seemed to have lost her goal and couldn’t help but feel hollow inside. 
  ‘What reason do I have to learn how to use a sword then?’
  She was happy that the Sword Master became healthy and was able to train together with her once more,
  But Gu Ryunghwa still didn’t know what her goal in life was.
  After noticing this absentminded state of hers, the Sword Master spoke. 
– What you wish to channel in your sword is something that you must find by yourself. 
  To find the meaning of the sword. 
  That was the very first homework that the Sword Master gave to her disciple— Gu Ryunghwa.
  Giving her such important homework— it was a first for the Sword Master, who taught her step by step by not giving her the correct answer right away. 
– Swish!
  Yung Jin’s sword skimmed past Gu Ryunghwa’s hair. 
  Unlike before, his attack had an exemplary amount of power channeled into them and even his swings were firm and heavy. 
  Whether he was being fully serious or not, it at the very least seemed like he was putting a little bit of effort into the duel than before. 
  Gu Ryunghwa maintained her calmness so that she didn’t feel pressured by the sword that was being swung right in front of her eyes.
  If not the blooming plum blossoms, then what must I put into my sword?
  That was the thought that revolved more than a thousand times over in her head. 
  What was etched on her desperation that had been swept away? 
  Was it revenge?
  The desire for revenge she harbored against her family for what they did to her beloved mother.
  And the resentment she felt for her brother who simply discarded her. 
  Was it that intent that she had to channel into her sword then?
  Gu Ryunghwa’s body went through a tremor due to being overpowered by her opponent’s sword strike… as she tried to block Yung Jin’s sword.
  His attacks simply continued becoming harsher and harsher with time. 
  The Sword Master’s way of sword focused on the defensive aspect rather than offense. 
  She said that even when learning the same style of sword art, they could still look different as each person channeled a different meaning or intent into their swords. 
  Don’t be scared, you can simply make it all flow away. 
  Yung Jin spoke, shocked by what he was seeing. 
  The attack he believed to be unblockable had been flowed and redirected to a different path by Gu Ryunghwa. 
  Her rough breaths also started to calm down further and further. 
  ‘I don’t want to put such things in my sword.’
  The painful memories that made her afraid and terrified still remained, but she didn’t wish to simply choose revenge to overcome them.
  She still resented her brother— Gu Yangcheon.
  But even so, even after everything, she still harbored hopes for him once again after seeing the change in him. Once more, her eyes chased after him and all her focus gathered on her brother. 
  She felt foolish.
  Even after going through all that pain, she didn’t change from when she had been tumbling on the floor— crying out for her brother, waiting for him to return and show her affection and console her.
  Then she remembered the words she spoke with desperation lacing her tone without even noticing them before they fully came out. 
– Can we be like before?
  She said with hope and desire in her heart.
  If Gu Yangcheon said yes in response back then.
  It was possible that she would have tried to put those words into action while pretending that nothing happened in the past. 
  It was her way of escaping reality. 
  It was as though… she thought if she lived on while pretending that nothing bad happened, it would make her feel better.
  ‘But would that really make me feel better?’
  She would certainly be able to forget that despairing moment.
  It was possible that she could forget her painful past completely. 
  It would make her feel relief and ensure the feeling of escaping from her past. 
  As though living while pretending to not know about anything. Living while deceiving oneself.
  Even Gu Ryunghwa knew that wasn’t what she desired. 
  Even while deflecting all of the attacks, Gu Ryunghwa’s eyes were affixed to the spectator seats.
  It won’t take her long to find his visage. 
  As there were only so many people out there who wore a red uniform and had sharp, fierce eyes. 
  As expected, she found Gu Yangcheon right away, sitting in the midst of the boisterous crowd. 
  When she looked at him, she had trouble keeping herself from bursting out into laughter. 
  He had spoken with a careless expression on his face that he was just there to watch her perform, but for him to don such a worried expression… 
  She wondered just what happened to her brother in the span of just a year that he changed so much…
  She also knew that her brother felt guilty and apologetic toward her just by taking a glance at the emotions that stirred in the depth of his eyes. 
  She also knew that he didn’t apologize to her even though she wished to. 
  However, Gu Ryunghwa never complained to Gu Yangcheon for not saying those words. 
  They were already far too distant from one another for something like that.
  And she was sure that her brother wouldn’t try to lessen the distance between them either.
  After thinking till there, Gu Ryunghwa felt like she had an inkling of what she wanted to do. 
– Swoosh-!
  An attack that pierced through a careless opening, connected with Yung Jin’s shoulder.
  She had swung her sword lightly, intending to not do any big damage to her opponent. However, the important thing here was the fact that her attack still landed on her opponent. 
  Yung Jin’s face fired up almost immediately.
  His pride had definitely been hurt by that action and her consideration to not hurt him. 
  Even though he was looking at her with such hostility, Gu Ryunghwa chose to remain calm.
  She focused her powers on her feet. 
  The Qi that flowed, starting from her abdominal region— the dantian, spread throughout her whole body and enhanced the strength that she channeled to her legs.
  If there was a distance between them, all she had to do was just close it. 
  She decided that if he won’t be coming close to her, then she’ll just go over to him. 
  If she was unable to return to the life she had before, then she just needed to make a new one with her brother. 
  She would feel resentment and still shout out in anger and vehemence. 
  She would cry due to the deep scar that would probably never wash away from her heart, 
  But she still wished to forgive him for everything. 
  If it wasn’t the plum blossoms she wanted to channel in her sword, then this intent was all she wished to channel within her martial art. 
  Gu Ryunghwa moved fluidly in between Yung Jin’s sword strikes.
  The blooming of a talent transpired just like that. 
  She was disadvantaged when it was a matter of physique and the strength and accumulation of her Qi. 
  However, for some reason that even she was unaware of, Gu Ryunghwa felt no fear— not even for a second. 
  She deflected all the attacks that came her way and inched closer toward him step by step.
  Due to that action of hers, a feeling of shock and bewilderment gradually appeared in Yung Jin’s mind. 
  His thoughts of easily defeating her and participating in a real duel with his next opponent were soon crushed into oblivion. 
  Yung Jin had been serious about this fight from the moment his first strike was deflected. 
  ‘What in the world…’
  To say that something like this was unbelievable, didn’t apply to Yung Jin as he had experienced the same thing once before.
  It was not just in the case of Yung Jin but for each and every third-generation disciple.
  Yung Pung was just like her when he was young.
  He came in much later than the other disciples, but he became an official swordsman of the Mount Hua Sect in just a few years.
  Due to that fact, all of the third-generation disciples felt immense hatred and jealousy for him.
  A sword that contained emotions other than the intent of the swordsman could never be firm. 
  That was also the case for Yung Jin right at this moment.
  When Gu Ryunghwa saw that his movements gradually deteriorated, she didn’t let this opportunity go out of her hands. 
  The duels that she fought against Namgung Bi-ah really helped her in this moment.
  To never let go of that chance, that opportunity. 
  She deflected Yung Jin’s sword away, creating an opening for herself, and struck at his wrist. 
  Along with the scream, his wooden sword rolled on the ground of the arena. 
  At the same time, Gu Ryunghwa’s sword was pointing at Yung Jin’s neck.
  The silent crowd focused on the ongoing duel, broke their silence and started cheering loudly at the scene. 
  As the duel came to a close, Yung Jin, with desperation marring his face, picked up the fallen sword while lowering his head. 
  “…I lo…!”
  Suppressing the frustration and rage he felt, Yung Jin was just about to admit his defeat to Gu Ryunghwa. However, he was unable to speak further when he glanced at her face. 
  Gu Ryunghwa was smiling.
  Unlike the frowning face that she always donned.
  Uncharacteristically, she now had a bright smile blooming on her innocent face. 
  As though conveying that she really had a good time while fighting with Yung Jin.
  She spoke while looking in his direction. 
  “You did well.”
  “Ah… Yes…!”
  With a stutter, he responded back. 
  Soon, she made her way out of the arena. 
  Swiping the sweat off his forehead, Yung Jin kept staring toward Gu Ryunghwa who was walking away from the ground.
  For some reason, he felt like he would remember that smile of hers for the rest of his life; charmed by its innocence and beauty. 
* * * *
  The end of the duel was marked with the boisterous cheers of the crowd. 
  This duel had been too much of a shock for several factors. 
  “…She won.”
  Namgung Bi-ah spoke, sounding like she had been shocked by the outcome.
  I wasn’t able to see her face but I was more or less sure that she felt that way. 
  It was the same for me, after all.
  I could have never even imagined Gu Ryunghwa winning a fight in the tournament.
  ‘What happened?’
  It was way harder for me to figure this out since I had memories of the Gu Ryunghwa from my past life. 
  Gu Ryunghwa hadn’t been a martial artist whose fame had spread throughout the world.
  “…But her appearance just now…”
  Just having a bit of knowledge about martial art was enough to let anyone know of what transpired here.
  Just how much potential Gu Ryunghwa showed with this duel.
  As if to prove that statement, I looked at where the elders of the sect were seated and immediately saw that they were talking about her as well.
  What she showed just now wasn’t possible for someone that had just reached enlightenment in the midst of a fight. 
  ‘It was as if, she released something she had been suppressing till now.’
  As she was walking down the stage our eyes met by chance. 
  She looked in this direction and waved her hand.
  Looking at her like that, I realized that something fundamental had changed in her. 
  When I looked at Gu Ryunghwa who was smiling so brightly, I felt that a rusting part of my inner self seemed to have melted away. 
  Even when I had met her earlier, it seemed like Gu Ryunghwa had been stuck on something that was hindering her psyche. However, it now seemed that she had managed to escape from that hindrance during this duel. 
  ‘While I’m still stuck even after regressing.’
  Unlike me, that young girl found her way out all by herself.
  Unlike her incompetent elder brother.
  I smirked after hearing Namgung Bi-ah’s voice.
  “So suddenly?”
  “…Her smiling face is sooo cute.”
  “Yeah! It’s like how the Young Master smiles!”
  “…I don’t think so.”
  Namgung Bi-ah refuted Wi Seol-Ah’s words in a strict and blunt tone. 
  I mean she wasn’t wrong, but I still feel extremely shitty.
  While nagging at Namgung Bi-ah, I looked toward Gu Ryunghwa and proceeded to wave my hand in response.
  ‘That’s that, but,’
  I thought about Gu Ryunghwa’s opponent.
  I remember that he was staring at her like a death ray after the duel ended.
  “…I got to ask Yung Pung later on what that sucker’s name is.”
  I wasn’t going to do anything severe, but I didn’t like him in the least. 
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