Among the few honor flower disciples, Dam Hyun—
He’s the same age as Jin Ri-yeon.
However, his rank among the disciples was much higher than Jin Ri-yeon, just below Yeop Su-nam. This meant he performed exceptionally well during the first-flower promotion exams.
He was relatively young at that time, but his talent was extraordinary. Moreover, being chosen as an honor flower disciple, a rarity in the Azure Forest, he could certainly be considered a prodigy.
But the story of a prodigy’s downfall was all too common.
Now, regarding Dam Hyun, who ended up confined in the Repentance Cave, Yu Su-rin and Jin Ri-yeon shared various anecdotes.
“His personality is terrible. No, it’s not just terrible; he’s practically a misanthrope. No, he is a misanthrope,” Yu Su-rin said to Yi-gang, clutching her fist tightly and trembling.
Yi-gang’s eyes widened slightly in surprise.
“Yes, utterly arrogant. Except for a few people he acknowledges, he’s insufferably arrogant. He remained so proud even after being punished by the Disciplinary Hall Head with a metal rod. He even spoke rudely to Senior Jin Mu.”
Yu Su-rin spoke as if venting her anger. Her words suggested contempt for Dam Hyun, but Yi-gang didn’t point that out.
“He once plucked the beard of Sage Do Seon and stole herbs from the Grass Flower Hall.”
Yi-gang laughed unintentionally.
Yu Su-rin wore a shocked expression. She couldn’t believe someone could laugh after hearing such things.
“It’s not just that. He stabbed dad, no, the Grand Library Master. His own master!”
Jin Ri-yeon calmed the excited Yu Su-rin and continued the story,
“The situation regarding that incident is a bit complicated. It’s said that Dam Hyun voluntarily entered the Repentance Cave.”
“There’s no way he would do that.”
Yu Su-rin pouted in response to the seemingly sympathetic words about Dam Hyun but didn’t argue further.
Yi-gang had already heard the details from Yu Jeong-shin. Due to an accident involving a Treasure, dark energy had infested Dam Hyun’s mind. That’s why he lost his sanity and chose to lock himself in the Repentance Cave.
Since both Dam Hyun and Yu Jeong-shin kept the details secret, Yi-gang saw no need to explain further.
“It can’t be helped. We need Dam Hyun now.”
Hearing Yi-gang say this, Yu Su-rin nodded.
They were unaware of the existence of the Immortal Divine Sword or the process of the ritual.
However, they understood that Dam Hyun was necessary to prevent Yi-gang’s untimely demise.
Their current accompaniment to the Repentance Cave was to help Yi-gang bring back Dam Hyun.
Dam Hyun was the only person currently confined in the Repentance Cave. There was no risk of escape, so there was no need for a constant guard.
Walking down the quiet corridor of the Repentance Cave, they soon came upon a dark, rusty iron door.
Jin Ri-yeon recognized the door and spoke, “Dam Hyun is waiting inside there.”
Yi-gang nodded and reached for the door.
But then, she hastily said, “Ah, I have the key, just a moment…”
However, Yi-gang pushed the door open without a thought.
He didn’t realize the bolt was lodged inside the door. But Yi-gang opened it with sheer physical strength.
The broken bolt clattered to the floor.
“…You’ve become very strong.”
“Weren’t you unable to use internal energy…?”
Jin Ri-yeon and Yu Su-rin looked at Yi-gang in surprise.
Yi-gang coughed and opened and closed his right hand. He still had trouble controlling his strength.
Golden Needle Phantom and Yu Jeong-shin tried to heal Yi-gang’s body using the spiritual energy of the Immortal Divine Sword. The plan was to connect the major meridian from the palm of the right hand to the dantian’s Qihai point.
Ultimately, it failed because the enlightenment of the Immortal Divine Sword was interrupted midway.
However, the spiritual energy Yi-gang had absorbed hadn’t disappeared. As a result, the strength of his right arm and hand had temporarily become absurdly strong, as if his internal energy had grown immensely profound.
‘It’s like I’ve become a martial master,’ Yi-gang thought absentmindedly.
But there was no response. The Immortal Divine Sword was no longer with him.
Lost in thought, Yi-gang was brought back to the present by Jin Ri-yeon.
“Let’s go in.”
Yi-gang led the way into the stone chamber beyond the door.
And there, Dam Hyun was waiting.
Jin Ri-yeon and Yu Su-rin.
It had been about two, no, three years since they last saw Dam Hyun. Back then, Dam Hyun, still a teenager, had a boyish appearance.
Even now, after three years, Dam Hyun’s appearance seemed untouched by time, still youthful.
Pale skin from lack of sunlight. Sharp eyes.
Lips and an expression that seemed ready to sneer, full of cynicism.
Yu Su-rin suddenly remembered.
‘He somewhat resembles Yi-gang.’
In the way they didn’t quite seem like martial artists, Dam Hyun and Yi-gang were similar. Especially their pale skin and eyes. They also shared a lack of a gentle or sociable nature.
But Yu Su-rin shook her head.
‘Yi-gang is a hundred times better.’
Still, Yi-gang had a kind side. Like when he protected her from the enraged Jun Myung who had been bitten by a rage insect, and when he gave her the Red Cave Fruit in Spirit Spring Valley.
While Yu Su-rin was thinking this, her eyes met Dam Hyun’s.
She reluctantly paid her respects to the senior.
“Senior Dam Hyun.”
Dam Hyun also opened his mouth in recognition.
“It’s been a long time, loser.”
“…You jerk! Urk.”
Jin Ri-yeon covered Yu Su-rin’s mouth. Yu Su-rin trembled with anger, but Dam Hyun didn’t bat an eye.
“The last time I saw you, you were crying too. Going to cry again? Still a loser, I see.”
“Senior Brother, you’re going too far.”
Jin Ri-yeon spoke in a reproaching tone.
The last time Yu Su-rin and Dam Hyun met was after her father, Yu Jeong-shin, had been struck down by a sword.
Dam Hyun sneered but kept his mouth shut.
“It’s been a long time, Ri-yeon.”
That was the end of their conversation. Dam Hyun despised most people, but Jin Ri-yeon and Yu Su-rin were among the few he did not.
Jin Ri-yeon knew this, while Yu Su-rin did not. That was why they had accompanied Yi-gang to help.
Dam Hyun’s gaze turned to Yi-gang.
“This is our first meeting. My name is Baek Yi-gang.”
Yi-gang greeted with a flawless bow.
Dam Hyun quietly glared at Yi-gang.
After a long silence, Dam Hyun spat out, “You have an unlikable face.”
Yi-gang lifted his head to meet Dam Hyun’s eyes.
The eyes were not clear but cloudy. It seemed to upset Dam Hyun that Yi-gang looked at him so confidently.
“Master used the Heavenly God Candlestick to do something… You have meridian blockage disease?”
“Yes, it’s the Great Yin Meridian Blockage.”
“Then you’re about to die, aren’t you? Even using the Heavenly God Candlestick won’t cure meridian blockage. You’re like an idiot.”
It seemed he hadn’t heard about the existence of the Immortal Divine Sword and the method of using its spiritual energy.
Yi-gang furrowed his brows at Dam Hyun’s rude remarks.
“Hey, you scum of humanity!”
At that moment, Jin Ri-yeon and Yu Su-rin shouted simultaneously.
They glared at Dam Hyun with faces full of anger.
“Wh-what is this?”
Startled, Dam Hyun looked back and forth between Jin Ri-yeon and Yu Su-rin. He seemed surprised that they were defending Yi-gang so vehemently.
Yi-gang intervened before a fight could break out.
“The Grand Library Master will explain the details. I need Senior Brother Dam Hyun’s help.”
It was a concession from Yi-gang’s side.
Seeing Yi-gang yield, Dam Hyun seemed even more displeased, but surprisingly, he nodded easily.
“Fine, but first let me see your hand.”
When Yi-gang just looked at him, Dam Hyun got annoyed.
“I need to see your condition first before deciding whether to help you or not.”
With Jin Ri-yeon and Yu Su-rin watching intently, it seemed unlikely that Dam Hyun would do anything rash.
When Yi-gang extended his right hand, Dam Hyun took it.
“The calluses suggest you use a sword.”
He felt Yi-gang’s pulse like a physician, then grinned, “With the Great Yin Meridian Blockage, you’re a loser who can’t even use internal energy. Why bother learning the sword?”
Another unnecessary provocation. Yi-gang simply ignored Dam Hyun’s words.
“…Not going to answer?”
“I learned the sword because I have one.”
“Speaking as it suits you.”
He bared his teeth, showing hostility.
Jin Ri-yeon took a step forward from behind Yi-gang.
“Let me ask you one thing.”
“What method did you use?”
“What do you mean?”
“What evil method did you use to deceive Master and those children…”
A flash of madness sparkled in Dam Hyun’s eyes.
“Are you bewitched…!”
Then, Dam Hyun pressed hard on the Yangxi point on Yi-gang’s wrist. Even though restriction was placed on his dantian, preventing the use of internal energy, pressing this point had an immediate effect.
Pressing the Yangxi point stimulated the nerves from the wrist to the shoulder all at once. It causes extreme pain, like being electrocuted, spreading sharply.
“…What are you doing?”
However, Yi-gang remained expressionless.
Had he hit the wrong pressure point? But checking it, it was clear he had pressed exactly on the Yangxi point.
“You how are you…”
Dam Hyun didn’t realize that Yi-gang was simply the type of person who only frowned in response to the pain of having his Yangxi point pressed.
Dam Hyun made a serious move. He tried to exert his power to twist Yi-gang’s wrist and bring him down.
But even when he pulled the arm, Yi-gang didn’t budge, even though Dam Hyun used his internal energy.
Thanks to the temporary strength granted by the spiritual energy of the Immortal Divine Sword, Yi-gang’s physical strength surpassed that of Dam Hyun, who was under a restriction on his internal energy.
“This guy, I thought he couldn’t use internal energy… Aagh!”
At this point, it was a do-or-die situation. Yi-gang simply twisted Dam Hyun’s fingers.
“L-let go of my hand! Aagh!”
Eventually, Dam Hyun was forced to kneel. His fingers were twisted by Yi-gang, rendering him unable to move.
It was an anticlimactic situation, considering he had provoked and attacked Yi-gang first.
But even though he had been locked up in the Repentance Cave, he was still a distinguished disciple. It was unlikely he didn’t have a hidden move up his sleeve.
“Try dodging this!”
Just as he raised his leg to attack Yi-gang, Jin Ri-yeon, who had been watching from behind, intervened.
“Enough, Senior Brother!”
Her fingers swiftly pressed several of Dam Hyun’s pressure points.
Dam Hyun collapsed, unable to move. He had been immobilized by acupuncture point sealing.
“Jin Ri-yeon, how dare you do this to your senior brother!”
“Keep your mouth shut.”
With a cold look, Jin Ri-yeon silenced Dam Hyun, who looked as if the sky had fallen.
He glanced at Yi-gang, then closed his eyes and shouted, “I won’t help you! I’m going back to the Repentance Cave!”
He calculated that Yi-gang’s party would soon apologize and beg for forgiveness, regretting their mistake.
However, the reaction Dam Hyun was expecting did not come immediately.
When he sneakily opened his eyes, he realized that Yi-gang and his group were looking down at the ground.
Dam Hyun’s face turned pale.
At the end of their gaze was a fox doll rolling on the floor. It was something Dam Hyun had dropped from his pocket when he fell after being immobilized.
Dam Hyun wanted to quickly pick it up and put it back in his pocket, but he couldn’t move due to the pressure point sealing.
Jin Ri-yeon and Yu Su-rin wore bewildered expressions.
“Senior Brother… you’ve been carrying a doll in your pocket?”
“It’s so shabby… Is it a dog doll?”
The doll was decidedly unimpressive. However, it was an object imbued with Dam Hyun’s near-obsessive affection.
“This loser! Cheongho is not a dog!”
Yu Su-rin wore an incredulous expression.
“Cheongho, you even named it. Ugh, disgusting.”
Jin Ri-yeon covered Yu Su-rin’s mouth again, but Dam Hyun was already deeply shocked. His pale face had turned as red as a beet.
That’s when Yi-gang, who had been quiet, murmured.
He wasn’t mocking. Instead, he looked at the doll with a fascinated expression, turning it this way and that.
“So your name is Cheongho.”
Yi-gang saw it.
In the old wooden doll resided the spirit of a blue fox. The very same fox he had seen in Spirit Spring Valley.
Dam Hyun was astonished.
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