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    Bi Ryu-yeon’s action was done with no ill intent, a pure and innocent gesture. However, for Ho Cheon-sang, it was an unbearable insult that turned his stomach inside out. Even in the eyes of the common people, Bi Ryu-yeon’s absurd behavior was no different from digging his own grave. Ho Cheon-sang’s fierce tiger-like eyes flickered with rage. His teeth ground together. He must have thought that this green, young lad had humiliated him.

    However, he had no idea that Blazing Blade, one of the top Five Bladesmen under the Heavens, had been defeated by Bi Ryu-yeon, who appeared to be nothing more than a novice, and had fallen to become his disciple. Unless he was a god, how could he know of such hidden secrets of the martial world? If he had known, he would not have harbored such rash thoughts of thoroughly punishing Bi Ryu-yeon. Ho Cheon-sang ground his teeth inwardly. ‘If I don’t discipline that bastard, I’m not a man,’ he steeled his resolve.

    “In that case, it seems I must hold your side responsible?”

    The meaning was clear: Since your side had disciplined our child, we will also discipline and punish your side with the same value. His voice clearly carried the will to pay back the debt with interest. Hearing that, Blazing Blade chuckled. It was a sneer that implied, ‘As if the likes of you could.’ No matter how careless he had been, what could Ho Cheon-sang possibly do against a monster that even Blazing Blade himself couldn’t handle?

    Ho Cheon-sang had no idea that the one digging his own grave was not Bi Ryu-yeon, but himself. Of course, Blazing Blade was not the kind of person to kindly point out such facts one by one to Ho Cheon-sang. He knew well that if such an unsightly scene was revealed, all that would come back to him would be a barrage of ridicule and contempt. But in the unlikely event that Bi Ryu-yeon was crushed by Ho Cheon-sang, there was nothing to lose, no, rather, he would gain tremendously. He could eliminate this tiresome fellow without lifting a finger. But then, Blazing Blade suddenly did something unexpected. He stepped forward to stop Ho Cheon-sang’s actions.

    “Oh? If you can do it, go ahead and try. But you’ll have to defeat me first.”

    Ho Cheon-sang flinched at Blazing Blade’s remark. To think that Blazing Blade himself would step up for the sake of a seemingly worthless novice. His surprise at this Blazing Blade, who was completely different from the rumors, was only natural. Blazing Blade, who hated those who bothered him and such actions the most, had volunteered to bear the trouble of wielding his sword.

    At that age, was there anyone who could move Blazing Blade? Even looking over Bi Ryu-yeon again, Ho Cheon-sang couldn’t fathom it at all. However, despite the suddenly serious atmosphere in the hall, Bi Ryu-yeon still maintained a playful smile, as if he was enjoying this. It was the leisure of life that only chosen people could possess. Had Bi Ryu-yeon already reached such a state of nothingness at a young age? Or was it simply due to his foolishly optimistic personality? It has not yet been confirmed.

    “You’re going to handle it personally?”

    Bi Ryu-yeon whispered softly in Blazing Blade’s ear. His eyes were filled with sparkling anticipation, like countless stars. Saying he would resolve it himself without troubling Bi Ryu-yeon. Finally, he had surrendered even in his heart, Bi Ryu-yeon made a ridiculous assumption and immersed himself in a feeling of satisfaction, not thinking about the person who would give him rice cakes.

    “I’ll do it… me!”

    Blazing Blade himself stepped forward to face Ho Cheon-sang’s challenge. Without causing any trouble for Bi Ryu-yeon, he himself would handle it. Bi Ryu-yeon was truly pleased. Blazing Blade pushed Bi Ryu-yeon aside with his large pot-lid-sized hand and took a step forward. Bi Ryu-yeon stood beside him and clapped enthusiastically. It seemed to be a cheer to encourage him. Well, it didn’t seem to have much effect anyway.

    However, Blazing Blade taking on this duel was never for Bi Ryu-yeon’s sake. Surrender from the heart? A passing dog would laugh at that. Rather, it was the opposite. Blazing Blade accepted this fight with the intention of releasing, even if just a little, the countless mental and physical resentments he had knowingly or unknowingly received since becoming Bi Ryu-yeon’s disciple. In other words, it would be a shocking fact if Ho Cheon-sang knew, but he was nothing more than a simple target for Blazing Blade to vent the resentment that had accumulated in his heart. Moreover, Blazing Blade had been dissatisfied with Tiger Fang Manor’s level, barely claiming to be a renowned house of the sword. Naturally, Ho Cheon-sang, the owner of Tiger Fang Manor, standing in an awkward stance, was quite an eyesore.

    There was one more reason for this. From the moment he crossed the threshold of Tiger Fang Manor, a lingering, suspicious feeling continued to stimulate his nerves, making them extremely sensitive and worsening his impression of Tiger Fang Manor and its owner, Ho Cheon-sang. Currently, Blazing Blade’s mood was completely foul. So, along with releasing his resentment, he decided to thoroughly teach him a lesson this time. He resolved to let him know that there is a sky above the sky, a world beyond the world.

    Of course, although he was despised and belittled by Blazing Blade, Ho Cheon-sang was also the rightful owner of a renowned martial arts school. He was not an opponent to be taken lightly. Both the way they held their swords and their energy were extraordinary, befitting supreme warriors who had experienced the depths of martial arts. If the two clashed, it would definitely not end as a simple, trivial fight.

    However, Ho Cheon-sang still seemed to be lacking in many ways. Whether in terms of spirit or experience, it was impossible to shake off the feeling that he was still insufficient to be Blazing Blade’s match. Blazing Blade also regarded Ho Cheon-sang as nothing more than a simple target to vent his anger. A target that might show a slight reaction. Of course, Ho Cheon-sang also belatedly sensed this, and it further fueled his anger. However, contrary to his intense rage and boiling fighting spirit, his beloved sword, the Roaring Tiger Blade, trembled finely in his grip. A considerable amount of time had passed since he grasped the sword’s hilt, but the subtle trembling had not subsided, and cold sweat covered his hands. It was an inevitable expression of his inherent instincts. However, his current situation was a thorough last stand; there was no place left to retreat.

    “I willingly accept your teachings.”

    Ho Cheon-sang spoke with proper etiquette, as was customary. However, the way he spat out the words, it seemed he had not the slightest intention of learning. Rather, he had the air of someone who would teach the other a lesson. At least his spirit was commendable. Blazing Blade nodded his head slightly. It meant to come at him whenever he was ready.

    Without waiting for the other, the two simultaneously drew their sword and saber. Taking the initiative, Blazing Blade stood still as if he had taken root. Naturally, Ho Cheon-sang leaped forward first, swinging his sword down towards Blazing Blade with terrifying force. The strong sword of the warrior’s way that valued power and destruction! It was truly a fearsome energy. In an instant, the sword and saber clashed.

    “Kwang!”

    An ear-splitting roar erupted along with an explosion. The sword and saber had collided, but instead of the sound of metal, an explosive noise rang out. The powerful impact of the clash sent dust and gravel flying, and a fierce wind surrounded the area, whipping the hair of the observing publics and fiercely fluttering their long robes. A tingling shudder ran through the bodies of the publics. They could all directly feel the clash of energy and its aftermath. It was the first collision.

    The dust cloud caused by the collision obscured the two men’s vision, but as Blazing Blade swung his hand once, amazingly, a gust of wind blew away the thick dust, and soon, the two figures were revealed before people’s eyes.

    ‘Oh no! This is…!’

    Ho Cheon-sang was inwardly shocked. While his opponent, Blazing Blade, stood as if glued to the spot, not moving an inch, what about himself? Leaving deep and clear footprints on the ground, kicking up dust, he had retreated eight steps back. The deep and clear footprints vividly revealed the defeat he had suffered. The distinct footprints imprinted on the ground were clear evidence of his body’s desperate movements to disperse the force, equal to the degree of defeat he had suffered from a single exchange.

    It was just a single exchange of offense and defense, but the superiority of martial arts resulting from this one contest was evident. Not only the footprints left solely on Ho Cheon-sang’s side but also his blackened face, his curly hair damaged by the heat, and his blackened and disheveled clothing starkly explained the difference in their abilities without filters.

    When clashing swords with Blazing Blade, Ho Cheon-sang nearly had his grip torn apart by the fierce impact, like an explosion of gunpowder. Along with the explosion, scorching heat surged, and a whirlwind of searing temperatures roughly engulfed his entire body. He was barely able to dodge. In a state where he struggled to steady his own body, the thought of counterattacking was out of the question.

    Indeed, this was Blazing Blade’s specialty, the legendary ultimate technique known as ‘Explosive Flame Qi Sword Strike[1],’ shortened to ‘Flame Qi Strike[2].’ When he had heard the rumors, he thought they were exaggerated, but facing it directly, it surpassed the rumors. The thought of clashing swords again struck fear in him first. He began to doubt his own martial arts, which he had been so confident in, wondering if his skills were only at this level. It was a complete defeat.

    Ho Cheon-sang knew. He knew that Blazing Blade had deliberately slowed his hand the moment their weapons collided. Even after holding back, Blazing Blade had inflicted this much defeat upon him. Ho Cheon-sang was the first to draw his sword. A single strike launched simultaneously with the sword’s unsheathing. But Blazing Blade, as if looking down on him or pretending to yield the first move, stood still without budging. Then, after clearly observing and confirming Ho Cheon-sang’s offensive, Blazing Blade drew his own saber to defend. A perfect later-move-wins-the-edge. And a perfect difference in skill. In speed, strength, internal energy, he was no match for Blazing Blade in any aspect.

    With a single exchange of swords, a single shift of offense and defense, Ho Cheon-sang’s foundation had been completely shattered. He was so ashamed that he wanted to hide in a mouse hole. But even if he were to die, he couldn’t back down like this for the sake of his dignity. Retreating now would be too miserable and pitiful. Ho Cheon-sang steeled his resolve to fight to the death. It could be described as his final struggle. It was a man’s pride.

    At that very moment, a voice of salvation came to rescue him.

    “Stop!”

    It was a light of hope descending from the heavens.

    ***

    Archenemy Encountered on a Log Bridge

     

    Just as Ho Cheon-sang was about to charge at Blazing Blade

    like a moth flying into the flames,

    a voice rang out from inside the pavilion.

    Although not loud,

    it was a dignified voice that clearly reached the ears of the publics

    amidst the chaotic hall without any distortion.

     

    Judging from the respectful and heroic tone infused with true energy, it was clear that the speaker was an extraordinary supreme master. Only the voice of such a person could penetrate the collective consciousness of the publics in this way, refreshing the atmosphere and invigorating the surroundings. It was easy to guess that a highly advanced internal energy cultivation technique was being used.

    The moment he heard that voice, Blazing Blade stopped the hand that was preparing to crush Ho Cheon-sang. Like a person thrown into frozen time, he stopped all his actions and behaviors. Blazing Blade doubted his own ears. It was a voice he could never forget, a voice that would never leave his mind, a voice he would carry to the grave, no, a voice that would follow him to the underworld. It was the voice of the person who had left a fatally wounded imprint on his heart. How could he forget that voice, deeply engraved in a corner of his heart?

    A suspicion billowed in a corner of Blazing Blade’s mind. Could it be? He thought. His fist, which seemed like it would never tremble, shook finely. What should he do if it was that bastard? His gaze slowly fixed on the pavilion, the source of the voice. Soon, the door of the pavilion opened, and an elegant and noble middle-aged man revealed himself.

    With light blue-gray hair, blue whiskers, and blue eyebrows, the middle-aged man was entirely blue, in contrast to Blazing Blade’s red. It was not a deep blue like the sea, but a transparent, light silver-blue that evoked the coldness of ice. Seeing him, Blazing Blade’s eyes changed like those of a startled rabbit. His eyes were wide open, as if witnessing an unbelievable mystery. The blood vessels in his bulging eyes rose like a network of red and thin branches. A roaring lion’s roar burst out from deep within his lungs.

    “Cheol-su!”

    It was a terrifying lion’s roar with a majestic presence that seemed to make the mountains, rivers, and trees tremble like an aspen. Everyone was startled by the loud shout that shook the atmosphere. However, the person who heard the shout, Frozen Sword Gwan Cheol-su himself, did not seem very surprised. Whether he was deliberately not showing it or simply not feeling any particular emotion, no fluctuation of his heart could be read from his face. Without revealing any disturbance of his mind, he maintained a tranquil composure like a lake. He was, in a word, a man as cold and icy as the northern sea. His frozen lips cracked open, and a voice colder than a snowstorm escaped.

    “We meet again, Hee (Lady) (姬)!”

    Hee (姬) is a Chinese character meaning princess. Of course, Blazing Blade’s name was not Princess Hee (姬) but Joyful Hee (嬉), but in the past, Frozen Sword had mockingly called him Hee (姬).

    “You bastard! Don’t call me that!”

    Blazing Blade let out another loud shout. He was trembling all over with intense anger. His body was shivering.

    Why hadn’t he noticed earlier? He thought he would be able to sense that bastard’s presence even from a thousand miles away… It was only natural that his beloved saber, Crimson Flame, was crying so desperately. The beloved sword possessed by that guy, Icy Tears[3]. The transparent blue blade, which exuded a chilling cold light, was a sword of extreme yin energy that could freeze even the moonlight.

    Icy Tears, a sword with the exact same length as his beloved saber Crimson Flame, without a single inch of discrepancy, and the exact same weight, without a single ounce of difference. They were twin swords of Crimson Flame, born as a yin-yang pair separated from the Taiji (supreme ultimate) at the beginning of creation. Twin swords tend to call out to each other and attract their counterpart. As the two gradually approached each other, it was only natural for them to resonate so desperately.

    “So it was you? It was you, bastard! Frozen Sword Gwan, Cheol, Su!”

    Blazing Blade’s loud shout was resounding enough to shake the hall. It was a voice of immense anger exploding. Blazing Blade acted as if he had encountered his mortal enemy. What had happened for Blazing Blade to treat him like that? It was unknown. It must be something only the two of them knew. They were truly contrasting. Their energy, aura, personality, appearance, color, and everything else about them was contrasting. They seemed like the opposition of extremes that could never coexist. Extremes that could never mix. A mismatch that could not create harmony. There was no other way to describe them except with such words.

    1. 劍擊 暴炎氣 (검격 폭염기) []
    2. 劍焰氣 (검염기)[]
    3. 氷淚[]
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