A dream. No, he didn’t know if it was a dream or a memory or a hallucination as he danced on the edge of death. He didn’t know if he was already dead, dying, or still alive.
All he could see was the past.
Childhood memories: his appearance from when he first entered the Mount Hua Sect; the scenes of training with Sahyung; the time he’d fled the strict sect rules and gone to see the world.
“Before a warrior, you are a practitioner. You must realize that power without ethics is just violence.”
It bored him. While he was a disciple of Mount Hua Sect, he didn’t fully follow the teaching. Despite his natural talent, which earned him the title of “Plum Blossom Sword Saint”, he was but a mere beginner in the Mount Hua Sect.
Why didn’t he realize earlier? Even when the teachings didn’t make sense, even when he felt out of place… everything that made him him he owed solely to the Mount Hua Sect. That was why he admired the sect so much.
He realized too late. Too late for regrets.
If only he’d paid a little more attention to the teachings, if only he was a little bit stronger, he might have been able to change that bitter ending. If only he…
“Do you regret your decisions?” Chung Myung heard the soft voice of Sahyung Jang Mun. His father, his older brother, his family—this man was Chung Myung’s goal. He wanted to follow him until the very end, but it was too late for that too.
Yes, I regret it. I regret it so, so much, Sahyung.
“There is no need for regret.” His voice exuded warmth. “It is the Mount Hua Sect after all.”
…Sahyung. It seemed to Chung Myung that Sahyung was chuckling. Forever warm and benevolent.
“Because it is the Mount Hua Sect.”
“Aggggggggggggghhh!” It hurts! My head! I don’t get it! What kind of pain is this? Is this what it feels like when your limbs are cut off?
“H-Heavenly Demon?” Is that bastard not dead yet? Chung Myung instinctively raised his hand to protect his head. If he wasn’t dead yet, these attacks would finish him off for good.
“Heavenly Demon?” But the voice that answered him wasn’t the Heavenly Demon, but a thick, sniveling voice he didn’t recognize.
“Huh?” When he opened his eyes, the face was equally unfamiliar.
A beggar? Beggar. A beginner—judging by the knot tied around his waist, he’d just started. A beggar among beggars.
The beggar with the grumpy, scruffy face eyed Chung Myung.
What is it? He couldn’t understand what was happening.
“‘Heavenly Demon’ – yeah right!” The beggar’s face flushed red with irritation. “You lazy bum, still sleep talking! Everyone else has gone off to beg, but you’re still here sleeping like you did something great! Yah! Do I make you laugh, huh?” The beggar hefted his bamboo stick.
Hold on… Is this kid threatening me right now? So that’s how it is.
“Huh?” The beggar was startled by Chung Myung’s sudden smirk.
It was an odd situation, but he didn’t feel like he needed to bother with context. Just who was Chung Myung, after all? He handily ranked among the top three of all the numerous swordsmen in the world. People praised his sword style as the true essence of Mount Hua Sect and dubbed him the Plum Blossom Sword Saint – the two other Great Swordsmen weren’t worthy of being his opponents. Even the Heavenly Demon, in his final moments, acknowledged Chung Myung’s swordsmanship. Disciples and sect leaders alike bowed before him.
But this beggar was making a threat? A threaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?
“Huh? Ungh? Are you laughing now?”
“Look here, kid.”
“I’m struggling to understand the situation, but for starters you can put that thing down.”
“Ha. Hahahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha!” The beggar could only laugh.
Chung Myung scowled. How dare he react to him like this?
And then the beggar smacked Chung Myung with his bamboo stick.
Huh. Chung Myung was dumbfounded. How dare a mere beggar do something like this, knowing who Chung Myung was? No matter what happened, he was going to fix this beggar’s attitude before the day was up.
First, he had to stop that baton! Chung Myung raised his right arm…
Slow? Why were his arms so slow?
The baton was fast, but why were his arms reaching for it so slowly? It made no sense—with his speed, he should already be holding that stick.
Ah! Maybe it was because of his injuries? Then all he had to do was move on to his guts…
Uh? What’s that? On the edge of his vision, he saw a small hand appear, moving towards the baton at a snail’s pace.
Too slow and…
Huh? Hands that small couldn’t stop it! This wasn’t going to work!
The stick landed squarely on Chung Myung’s head.
Chung Myung collapsed to the ground, convulsing. All of his thoughts were driven away by the skull-splitting pain.
“Kuaaaaaa!” Chung Myung clutched his head and rolled over. Even his arm being ripped off hadn’t hurt like this!
“You bastard!” The beggar laid into him in earnest. “Situation? Understand the situation? I’ll do that! But I’ll make sure you understand the situation first! If you go crazy, you go crazy! Stupid bastard! Did the heat rot your brain? The medicine for heat is getting hit, you bastard!”
“Ack! Ack! Ack! You crazy beggar! Stop right now, if not… ack!”
“Ah—it hurts! Ack!” Chung Myung’s cries changed little by little as he was beaten.
“—You bastard! I won’t let this go! I’ll make sure to rip you—”
“—Stop! Stop it now, please, you jerk!”
“—Ack! Accckk! Why are you hitting me! Ack!”
“You– beggar– ah, ack! Sorry!”
The whipping continued with no remorse.
As if to tell him there were no free second chances, Chung Myung was immediately beaten to a pulp.
“...Ack. He hurt my pride.” Chung Myung pulled out the piece of cloth he’d jammed into his nose.
“Ah, ahhh.” The moment he saw the red stains, Chung Myung’s face fell.
A nosebleed! Not even a nosebleed from internal injuries, but a nosebleed from being beaten! How did that even make sense? It wasn’t just the nosebleed—nothing had made sense since he’d opened his eyes.
To say nothing of his bruised eyelids, it felt like nowhere on his body was left untouched; beating someone that thoroughly had to be something of an art form. If someone hadn’t stopped him, he would have just kept goin!
Had he ever been hit like this in his entire life? Despite all the pranks he’d pulled off in the famously strict Mount Hua Sect, he had never been beaten this badly.
To suffer such humiliation for the first time at the hands of a beggar…!
“I am going to mess him up… That bastard! I’ll tear him down.” The anger and irritation roiled inside him.
Chung Myung laid on the ground. If he acted on a whim, he would only hurt his battered body.
“No, rather than that…” Chung Myung heaved himself up and stared into the river.
An unfamiliar young face greeted him. When Chung Myung contorted his face, the young man did too; when Chung Myung sighed, the young man did too.
“...How did this happen?” Why was there a different kid’s face in the water?
No, it was a nice face. The change in his face didn’t bother him—after all, the younger the better no? But it was too young. Although, better younger than older.
Besides, no matter how much he compared them, this face was a lot more charming and handsome than the old Chung Myung. He had no complaints about this new face.
But he was dissatisfied with the fact that his body was younger too.
Short. The limbs were short – not because he was naturally short or something, but because he was a child. Even worse, he was all skin and bones. Even now, he was too tired and hungry to lift a hand.
“This means I’m alive.”
Maybe “I” wasn’t appropriate. No matter how hard he looked, this kid looked nothing like the Plum Blossom Sword Saint, Chung Myung. The Sword Saint was gone: his soul, and all of his memories, now resided in the body of a child beggar.
“This must be a devil’s work.”
Or maybe it was Buddhist reincarnation? Had he known this beforehand, he would have joined the Shaolin instead of the Mount Hua Sect.
He wondered if the Heavenly Demon had used some kind of disgusting magic on him. But if he could perform such feats, he would already be ruling the entire world.
Chung Myung didn’t really care what had happened, but he had to admit that everything around him was real. This was neither dream nor fantasy. His entire body throbbed with pain – the more he thought about it, the angrier he became.
“Nothing will change if I keep sitting around and thinking about it. First, I need to figure out what's happening, and what exactly happened. Chung Myung hopped up and ran to the beggars tent.
Or he tried to run, at least.
“Kuk!” Within a couple of steps, he fell.
“You beat me hard, you bastard!” Chung Myung’s eyes rolled angrily. “No matter what happens, I’ll make sure to pay you back for this.”
Death wasn’t about to fix his dirty personality.
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