“Ahh… I drank too much.”
Jo Gul lifted his head and looked up at the sky.
It was late into the night, so the sun would soon rise.
The feast hosted by the Beast Palace Lord went on until late in the morning. To be precise, it was the betting match between the Palace Lord and Chung Myung that extended until dawn.
‘How can I even know?’
Unwilling to drink anymore, the rest of the disciples left the two of them and went back to the rooms. The disciples of Mount Hua decided to unpack their luggage in the rooms assigned by the Beast Palace attendants, who were leading their wary bodies.
“Kuak. It would be better if you didn’t wake me up till lunchtime.”
He must’ve had a lot to drink. After washing his face at the well and wiping it off, Jo Gul staggered to his room.
Inside, Yoon Jong was cleaning his bed and then proceeded to open the window and look out the room.
“Won’t you sleep, sahyung?”
Yoon Jong turned away from Jo Gul after a light reply.
“…do you have any concerns?”
“Rather than concerns…”
Yoon Jong smiled.
It was ridiculous to even ask if he had any concerns after coming all this way to Yunnan and entering the Nanman Beast Palace.
No matter how much they were welcomed, this was a place where they couldn’t relax. However, Yoon Jong knew why Jo Gul was asking him this question.
“I am sorry. It is because of me.”
“What are you talking about? Sahyung!”
Jo Gul was shocked.
“Aren’t we past all that?”
“The things we went through before… everyone would have died because of me.”
Yoon Jong’s face went stiff.
“If something had really gone wrong, Chung Myung would have solved it.”
“That is the problem.”
Yoon Jong shook his head.
“Because Chung Myung was there, we got out of that situation. We might have thought it all worked out. We should be of help to him, not a burden. But in the end, I became a burden, right?”
“I was stupid. I will never do that again. I’m sorry.”
Jo Gul sighed. His heart knew that no matter what he said, Yoon Jong wouldn’t feel right.
“But… why did you do that? It was my first time seeing sahyung like that.”
Yoon Jong bit his lip.
He looked like he was deeply thinking about something and took a deep breath.
“Did you know that I was an orphan?”
“Yes, I’ve heard about it.”
“Then you know I was a beggar, right?”
Jo Gul was shocked.
Yoon Jong looked at him and calmly continued.
“Since I could remember, it had been just my mother and me. I had no relatives or acquaintances. So, after my mother died, I had no choice but to become a beggar.”
“It’s still pretty vivid to me. On that cold winter day, when I was dying on the street with no one to help me… What is funnier was that at that time, I suffered more from hunger than the cold. I hadn’t eaten for more than 10 days, so I would’ve even killed people for food. If it wasn’t for me being a kid, I would have turned into a thief or maybe even a murderer.”
Jo Gul went silent. This was his first time hearing about Yoon Jong’s past.
And it was his first time listening to Yoon Jong speak this freely instead of following the duty of a sahyung.
“If an elder passing by hadn’t saved me, I would have died on that road. Mount Hua is my benefactor. I was raised from a young beggar who was dying on the street to the man I am today by Mount Hua.”
Yoon Jong shut his eyes.
It was unclear whether he was trying to remember the past or organize his thoughts. Jo Gul didn’t interfere and waited for Yoon Jong to speak.
“Since then, whenever I see people starving, it reminds me of my past. Maybe it is because I know how hard and painful it is… I cannot help myself. The feeling of pain from the hunger that threatens to kill you…”
“I understand sahyung.”
“You understand, even if my actions brought you so close to death?”
“Would you have been able to tell me that you understood if we had met after our deaths?”
Yoon Jong spoke firmly.
“It was a stupid thing to do. Helping people who I knew nothing about, especially when the safety of my sasuks and sajaes was dependent on me.”
There was deep regret on Yoon Jong’s face. Because of him, things had gone wrong, and he felt that he couldn’t face them at all. Yoon Jong licked his lips.
“As soon as I get back to Mount Hua, I will ask the elders to punish me. I will get back the plum blossom sword again… but what excuses can I make after what I have done?”
Jo Gul heard the man speak with a dreadful voice and waved his hand.
“Sahyung. Even if I didn’t know what you were talking about, I’m sure that they wouldn’t punish you for selling the sword.”
“Well, the Plum blossom sword is the sword of Mount Hua, but it isn’t a holy object of Mount Hua.”
Jo Gul cleared his voice.
“If Chung Myung heard you, he would have said something like this, ‘What? Punishment? Depressed? If you think the sword is a holy thing, then the robes with plum blossom should be holy things too, right? If we put plum blossoms on an alcohol bottle, would that be a holy thing as well?’”
Jo Gul looked at Yoon Jong and smiled.
“None of those things matter. What is important is how sahyung thinks about Mount Hua.”
Yoon Jong smiled bitterly.
It wasn’t because he was convinced by Jo Gul’s words but because he understood what he was trying to say.
“Wouldn’t Chung Myung say that? It isn’t about us making mistakes, but our ability to learn from them. And hasn’t sahyung learned anything?”
“… yes. I’ve learned.”
“Then it all worked out, right?”
Yoon Jong sighed and closed his eyes.
-Are you okay? Open your eyes.
He remembered the sight of Hyun Sang holding him. He remembered the warmth he felt.
“Stop thinking about it and just sleep. There is a lot of work to do. Just think about finding the grass and returning back to Mount Hua.”
Yoon Jong nodded his head. He lay on the bed, closed his eyes, and tried to sleep. But it wasn’t easy.
Suddenly, he heard a voice.
“What sahyung did was wrong.”
“I like sahyung because you are such a person.”
The room turned quiet.
Yoon Jong shut his eyes tightly. But he couldn’t \sleep until the morning.
“…seems to be dead?”
“No, he seems to be breathing.”
The disciples of Mount Hua gathered around Chung Myung and watched him sleep. Jo Gul stabbed him with a stick he had picked up earlier.
“Must have died. If he was alive after having this much, he wouldn’t be human.”
“There is a limit to how much food and alcohol a person’s stomach can fit inside it. Does it make sense for a single person to eat and drink so much? I heard that the man was saving it for a wedding!”
As Jo Gul stabbed Chung Myung again, he wobbled in his sleep.
“He is alive!”
“He never follows the path of the Tao and even took the Palace Lord down with him.”
“So, who won?”
It was then.
A terrible groan came from the mouth of Chung Myung, who was lying face down.
“I… I won…”
“Sleep. You did well.”
“Right… yes. You can die now that you’ve won.”
“Ack! I’m not dead!”
Chung Myung got up very slowly and sat straight.
“Our sect has to be top class. A sasuk offering a sajil water?”
Baek Cheon held out the cold water he had prepared in advance, and Chung Myung drank it without saying another word. Then, he grabbed his head.
“uhhh…. my head….”
“…at this point, just burn away the toxins. You’ve done that before.”
“If that is the case, then why drink alcohol?”
“Right… right. You said the same thing before.”
A sigh escaped from Baek Cheon’s mouth.
There was no way he could scold this man when he was looking this gloomy.
‘You did a good job.’
The best way to build a friendship was through drinking. And the position of the Palace Lord was absolute in Yunnan.
‘I do not know if he drank with that intention or if it was purely for the purpose of enjoying it, but… in any case, it is certain Chung Myung was now friends with the Palace Lord.’
“Ah, it hurts.”
Chung Myung shook his head a couple times, and a guard of the palace rushed inside.
“Are you awake?”
It was a completely different attitude from yesterday. The guard was polite and bowing to them. It was natural, now that they were guests who had been recognized by the Lord.
“The Lord is looking for you.”
Chung Myung asked.
“Already so alert? Weren’t you drunk a moment ago?”
Baek Cheon’s lips twitched.
“I think Chung Myung lost.”
“…it-it couldn’t be?”
Baek Cheon smiled and followed the man.
He had lived this long and could now witness Chung Myung lose. Life looked a little fun for Bark Cheon now.
‘…it cannot be.’
Baek Cheon’s happy eyes changed in a fraction of a second when he saw the Palace Lord. Sitting in front of them in a giant chair and with a tiger skin draped around his body was the vigilant Palace Lord…
No, he wasn’t vigilant anymore.
‘How much did those too drink!’
The man looked like he would need the heavens themselves to come down and support him if he wanted to walk. His eyes looked dark and emotionless, and his cheeks looked like he had a disease that sucked them in.
He groaned and managed to speak.
“…A-are you fine?”
“Haha. I am fine. Today too, I will drink… uk! Drink… uhk!’
The disciples of Mount Hua rushed to Chung Myung and covered his mouth.
“Don’t puke, you idiot!”
“Where do you think this is? Hold back!”
“Bucket! Get us a bucket!”
The Palace Lord looked at that and smiled.
“Right. You cannot be fine after all that… wack!”
“Uhhh! Palace Lord! You cannot puke again!”
It was a mess. Unable to bear it any longer, one guard shouted.
“If you feel unwell, control your body!”
“What! You idiot! If that is the case, why would I drink alcohol?’
Baek Cheon, who heard it, smiled.
“…I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere. Am I mistaken?”
“Has to be it, sasuk.”
Both participants of the bet were struggling to even move. They wiped their lips as they looked up at each other.
“If this is the case…”
The match between the two last night had been settled because they had run out of alcohol. They decided that they would have to reach a conclusion the next day, because neither of them wanted to lose to the other.
“…that is great.”
The disciples of Mount Hua laughed as they saw the two dreadful-looking men giving each other a thumbs up.
‘They get along well.’
‘There seems to be something in common between them.’
‘This is horrible.’
Those were their thoughts. The life of the Palace Lord couldn’t have been very happy either. Seeing that the Lord was also similar to their brat, they felt a kind of sympathy and compassion for the scary man.
“But why summon us in the morning?’
The Palace Lord set the bucket aside and said.
“The grass you were asking about.”
“It seems that the guy I asked to help had inquired about it to the merchants, and one of them has come through with some information.”
“Ah, that was quick.”
“Huhuhu. The people of Yunnan are quick and accurate.”
Watching the two of them laugh, the disciples sighed again.
Anyone who saw the scene would think that the two of them had known each other for 20 years.
Fortunately, after a while, the door opened, and a merchant came in.
“I greet the Lord, the Sun of Yunnan.”
“Get rid of all that pretentiousness! You know of the Purple wood grass?”
The man didn’t even give the merchant time to speak. The merchant, who was already familiar with the Lord’s behavior, immediately brought up the topic in question.
“The Purple Wood Grass is what it is called in the Central Plains. In Yunnan, we call it the Divine Spirit Grass.”
His voice was loud.
“Did you say the Divine Spirit Grass?”
“You said they are here to find the Divine Spirit Grass?”
The Palace Lord’s eyes widened. The force his voice had lacked returned right away.
‘No, what is this…’
“…is that something amazing?”
Chung Myung, not liking the Lord’s reaction, asked.
“…No, it isn’t amazing.”
‘Hadn’t they said that it was an item that used to reach the Central Plains in the past? If it was a great item, then such a trade wouldn’t have happened.’
But the palace lord had a troubled face. He scratched his head and said.
“Uh. What does this mean…”
“Is there some problem?”
At Chung Myung’s question, the palace lord sighed.
“Do things have to get this messed up… first of all, the purple wood grass you spoke of definitely exists in Yunnan. But…”
The Palace Lord shook his head.
“No. Simply saying this wouldn’t help you. Follow me. I will guide you to the place where the Divine Spirit Grass is.”
The Lord jumped up from his seat.
Seeing that large man move gave them trust…
“Follow me… Wuk! Wukk! Bucket! Bucket! Wuak!”
…and that trust disappeared right away.
In no time.
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