Looking at the stairs leading up to the stage, Lee Song-Baek took a deep breath.
The stairs were nothing, but the one waiting on the stage, Chung Myung, gave him pause.
‘The stairs are fine.’
You climb, and you move up. In return for a little physical effort, you definitely move upwards. But unlike the stairs in other places, the stairs to martial arts don’t always pay reliable effort back in full.
Even if his sword was swung again and again, and his conviction was right, the path only became more obscured.
When one thought about it that way, maybe Lee Song-Baek could be considered lucky.
Because he was.
Someone made sure he was put back on the right path.
Tak. Tak. Tak.
Lee Song-Baek, who climbed the stairs with firm steps, looked at the man on the other end of the stage.
A face with no tension, as if he had just come out for a walk.
He had long hair tied up, but even that was messy, falling around his face. There was the expression of being dragged here.
Lee Song-Baek knew no man that would have that look.
But he knew that this man was a lot stronger than Baek Cheon and Jin Geum-Ryong.
“We meet again, Mount Hua’s Divine Dragon.”
“… just call me Chung Myung.”
“Then I will do that, Disciple Chung Myung.”
Lee Song-Baek looked at Chung Myung with a new expression.
‘What a strange person.’
When he first met Chung Myung, he had no fame attached to his name. Mount Hua was a failing sect that had nothing to protect, and Chung Myung was their youngest disciple.
Between then and now, it could be said that enough things came to pass, enough to fill in the void between heaven and Earth.
The current Chung Myung was the greatest among the candidates for the ‘Best in the World’ position, who came like a storm from Mount Hua and was someone who was proudly acknowledged by most.
“Are you smiling?”
Lee Song-Baek covered his lips,
“It just made me smile that Disciple Chung Myung hasn’t changed at all.”
Chung Myung tilted his head,
“And why smile for that?”
“I don’t know either. I just thought it was interesting.”
“… well, you can think whatever you want.”
Chung Myung smiled,
‘It is only natural for things to not change.’
If Chung Myung had really been a young child, maybe he would have tried to stand as tall as Mount Hua; he would have been blinded by his own strength.
But in reality, he was an old man who had gone through many kinds of battles in life and gained a much greater name and wider recognition before being reborn here.
If such a person was recognized as just your average ‘Best in the World,’ could he really be able to be proud of that? It was weird to take pride in that.
Chung Myung looked at Lee Song-Baek.
After confirming that his expression was calm, Chung Myung smiled,
“Ah, the Southern Edge Sect seems to be ruined?”
“Rather, it exploded down here.”
Lee Song-Baek’s shoulders trembled at this.
‘That mouth really hasn’t changed!’
It was like throwing salt in his wounds.
“… there is hope.”
“Ah. I don’t think there is any hope though? If you can find hope there, it is like thinking you will find gold oysters. Well, you know that, right? A gold one might come if you go after the oysters in the right way?”
How could he be sarcastic at this moment?
Lee Song-Baek was a bit irritated.
Never get into a verbal fight with this person. He had learned that lesson in the past and decided never to get caught up in it.
And Chung Myung smiled,
“How about moving into Mount Hua?”
Lee Song-Baek was shocked at this. It wasn’t because he was tempted, but he was surprised,
“I am a disciple of the Southern Edge Sect.”
Chung Myung put his finger in his ear and said,
“But what about that? The Southern Edge sect will take a year to clean up its teachings and start back from new waters. Um…. No. It would be half a year for you.”
“Isn’t it better to move into a good sect than to hold onto a ruined sect?”
A bitter laugh escaped from Lee Song-Baek.
The Southern Edge Sect might have said such things to Chung Myung three years ago. If they knew what kind of existence Chung Myung was, they would have done anything to have him join their Southern Edge Sect.
But now, Chung Myung was doing that to Lee Song-Baek.
“To be honest, I am a little happy that you offered that.”
“I will have to decline.”
Chung Myung looked like he was interested in his response.
“Simple, I am a disciple of the Southern Edge Sect.”
Lee Song-Baek drew his sword,
“And you didn’t abandon Mount Hua when it was falling, I will not abandon mine either.”
“Even if all that is left is ashes?”
A calm reply followed,
“I will become the embers to start a new fire.”
Lee Song-Baek spoke in a firm manner. It wasn’t a matter of looking strong or weak.
He was announcing that he was a swordsman who would stick to the path he had chosen, and this made Chung Myung smile,
“Can you be the embers?”
“I am here to find out.”
As Chung Myung said this, he nodded his head and touched the sword around his waist.
“Is that so?”
And he pulled out his sword, still wrapped in its sheath.
“Then let’s check it out?”
As Chung Myung pointed his sword, Lee Song-Baek frowned,
“You will not draw your sword?”
“I will when I feel I need to.”
Lee Song-Baek nodded his head. He understood the difference between him and Chung Myung. So he wasn’t brave enough to ask the guy to draw his sword.
‘Do not be shaken.’
What he had to do here was check himself, not build up some unneeded pride.
Lee Song-Baek took a deep breath and bowed his head.
‘Pour out everything right here!’
And finally, with the will to simply check something, he lifted his head.
At that moment, Chung Myung rushed for Lee Song-Baek and slammed the sheathed sword at his head!
Lee Song-Baek’s eyes widened like they would pop out.
Silence fell around.
Lee Song-Baek, who looked stiff like a log, fell forward.
“How dare you look down?”
In front of him, Chung Myung squatted with a smirk.
Baek Cheon, who watched this, applauded without realizing it.
“He is dead.”
“Ah. That hit must take him to the doors of death.”
Mount Hua’s disciples were all expressing their feelings.
“But didn’t he call that young one from the Southern Edge Sect their new hope?”
“Look at him saying that and then burying that guy in the dirt.”
“Very Chung Myung-like. Giving hope and cutting down their necks. As expected, that guy does things that no human would think of. Amazing. For real, man.”
However, no matter their sentiments, Chung Myung didn’t seem to hear them. And he stabbed the poor guy in the shoulder, who was face down.
“Doesn’t look like it.”
“Eh. Get up. You cannot fall down after just this. You said you wanted to revive Southern Edge? How will the guy who falls down in one hit do that? Get up quickly.”
Everyone, including Baek Cheon, who watched this, smiled.
“There is no other Asura around. He wants to take down the opponent he threw down by raising them up again.”
“Amazing. Wonderful. He can probably get a job down in hell too. He might even get treated like the brother of the King of Fire1.”
“… from today, before going to bed, I will bow down twice to that hyung on stage and then sleep.”
“Isn’t that something you do for the dead?”
Jo Gul was aghast. This man wasn’t normal.
The one refereeing this spar was also shocked that he raised his hand late,
“This match is won by Mount Hua’s Chung…”
At Chung Myung’s cry, the man went silent, and then Lee Song-Baek groaned,
Lee Song-Baek managed to stand up with trembling hands. And after barely getting up, he staggered a little before raising his sword again.
“I-I am fine. I will continue…”
The referee went up to him and asked with a worried face,
“Are you really fine?”
“I-I can continue. I was just a bit… careless.”
“… it must have been shocking.”
“No. I was careless.”
Lee Song-Baek denied this, and the referee nodded his head.
“Then be careful.”
When the referee stepped back, Lee Song-Baek looked at Chung Myung and apologized,
“I am sorry. I was a bit too excited. I am fine I can…”
A line of blood flowed from the head of Lee Song-Baek.
“… you don’t look good.”
“I am fine.”
“It feels like you will die here?”
“I-I am fine. O-One minute.”
He ripped his clothes, wrapped them around his head, and nodded, looking at Chung Myung after stopping the bleeding,
“Thank you for waiting.”
Wiping off the blood on his face made him look better, but it was still a bit pitiful.
The audience all began to shout and cheer for Lee Song-Baek, who wanted to continue.
“Cheer up Lee Song-Baek!”
“Kill that demon!”
“What a cowardly move!”
Hearing that, Chung Myung rubbed his ears,
It’s the fault of the guy looking down after coming up on the stage.
Because this was a stage, a sparring one at that, and he only broke his head. If this were a battlefield, then his head would have been cut off.
Unlike the audience, Lee Song-Baek spoke with a sorry face,
“I know it is pointless, but can I request a fight again?”
Chung Myung scratched his cheek,
“You are dead.”
“… kind of guessed that.”
Lee Song-Baek sighed with a disappointed face,
“But… even if you die once, there is a chance.”
“Ah, well. This isn’t something that you can understand.”
Chung Myung smiled, raised his sheathed sword, and aimed it at Lee Song-Baek,
“Let’s do it again.”
Lee Song-Baek raised his sword and looked at Chung Myung with determined eyes.
‘I died once before.’
His sword was a sword of defense.
However, he couldn’t stop the attack of his opponent. It was a mistake that could have killed him.
And the excuse that he had made a mistake wouldn’t have worked if his opponent was someone other than Chung Myung.
But now, his opponent was Chung Myung,
‘So there is nothing to be afraid of.’
His tensed body relaxed, and it felt like bleeding actually helped him calm down.
His complicated mind, which felt like it would explode, calmed. Lee Song-Baek’s thoughts became clear.
Except for himself and Chung Myung, it felt like everyone around had faded away.
Seeing his formidable concentration, Chung Myung smiled.
He knew it.
This child was an interesting one. So shouldn’t he check him out properly?
Was he worthy of walking down the path he chose?
Chung Myung took his stance.
A form in which his feet and shoulders were wide apart and his sword was gently held.
The basic form any swordsman was taught and the root of Mount Hua. It is a form that was the standard for the Equilibrium of Six Swords.
“Looking for perfection?”
“… might be difficult, but yes.”
Chung Myung’s voice was low,
“Is that so?”
Saying that, Chung Myung took a step forward and swung downward with his sword.
And Lee Song-Baek saw it.
It was just one step, but Chung Myung felt so much closer.
‘What is this…’
Soon Chung Myung’s sword fell down on Lee Song-Baek.
In an instant, dust rose from all directions on the stage, and a wave of dust covered the crowd.
Blood could be seen in the eyes of Lee Song-Baek.
A simple small drop.
A simple knockdown. But by just blocking it, the hands of Lee Song-Baek twisted as if they would break, and his legs and waist were screaming for the force to be lifted.
The eyes of Chung Myung, who saw this, shone coldly.
“It is good to see it. The path you are going to take from now on.”
A cold voice with an overwhelming sense of intimidation.
Cold sweat began to trickle down the back of Lee Song-Baek.
TL/N: Since the underworld in Korean culture is known to be a fiery pit ↩️
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