Chapter 180

“Drink it up… there you go.”

San emptied his glass. Biyeon also emptied her glass as she scrunched her face together. She had already drunk a lot and her head was starting to spin. Her mood started getting better as she started feeling that the world was her oyster.

As her inhibitions melted, she started throwing out all sorts of personal stories and thoughts. It was an open, frank conversation that she hadn’t had in such a long time. As the alcohol continued to go around…

“It tastes similar to soju, right? It took me… a lot of time to make it.”

San looked at Biyeon with slightly reddened eyes.

“Yeah, it sort of does…”

“Shall we start?”

Both of them got up. Their legs wavered a little as they found their bearing. It was now their training time.

The training on today’s menu was a martial arts form based on the principle of ‘Free Thought and Action”. It was something that San had specially put some care into. The alcohol was a step in creating an ‘absence of thought’. Well, this was what San would state as his reason for the alcohol.

Their expressions were filled with playfulness and smiles. They did not plan on letting their enemies easily access their physical bodies. However, they were planning on giving their enemies something. Furthermore, what San and Biyeon would give them would probably benefit the receivers greatly. Actually, it may be the critical information that becomes a foundation for all their future actions. Thus, San and Biyeon started to train.

“Why are those two fighting while drunk at this time of the hour? They’re so noisy.”

At that time, Apollo from the temple murmured while scratching his head.

However, like a dutiful apostle, he started taking notes on their battle form and training. Soon, his expression started becoming more serious and attentive.

‘Their thoughts and actions are moving irrelevant to each other? They’re able to move and react together subconsciously?’

***

D-175

“It’s been a while,” Dongye said brightly as he walked in.

“Phew- You all are in such lofty social places that it’s hard to even make eye contact,” Dongha playfully added while walking next to Dongye. Next to her was Dongyoung. The two, Dongyoung and Dongha, had gotten married not too long ago.

“You’ve been so busy. Have you made some great progress? You two seem happier.”

“If you didn’t invite us, we would have probably sent a special assassination crew to find out what was going on with you two. I almost died from waiting!” Gibin playfully stated as he offered his greetings.

Rain, San, and Biyeon welcomed the incoming visitors with bright smiles. Later, the Doha merchants, Dobel and Doyo, and the Han-Sung Clan Awakened Warriors, Segyum and Seyum, also came in.

Gun, who was formally receiving training from the Han-Sung Clan as the official grandson of the emperor, walked in with a slightly embarrassed expression. Behind him, a few of the previous Essen crew members entered in with their spiffy new Han-Sung Clan member uniforms.

The three were welcoming their guests with smiles and encouraging words. This was a special event that they especially planned.

The location of their meeting was outside the main imperial court buildings, a quiet corner of the imperial estate that had relatively plain-looking buildings, a large pond, and a mountain as a backdrop.

The visitors were those that San and Biyeon considered as important friends. Those who traveled with them through the restricted zone were like blood brothers and sisters, having gone through hardship and trial together.

They sat down to a wonderful feast and fine wine. They talked about their past achievements and spent a pleasant time together. Music started to play, and the singing voices of the bards started ringing in.

It was a calm, relaxing, and enjoyable time, something that San and Biyeon had not experienced in a long time. San and Biyeon had let go of their inhibitions and enjoyed the fellowship with open hearts and minds.

‘We can do this today.’

As she looked around at all the gathered guests, Biyeon let out a happy smile. The alcohol was hitting its mark and loosening everyone’s lips. Even Rain, the empire’s royalty, began to talk faster as she recalled the tribulations that she faced together with the gathered people.

None of the reserved actions and atmosphere that the people gathered in this place usually carried could be seen. Everyone was open to dialogue and free from judgement. For an outside observer, it did not seem like a place where the society’s highest-ranking officials were gathered together. The party’s loud noise continued to get even more raucous.

Since the guests were arranged so that everyone could freely speak with each other, laughter and jokes crisscrossed the tables.

Today was Rain’s birthday. Previously, there was no chance or opportunity to celebrate such a date. Now, most of the complicated issues were resolved, so Biyeon organized a special event to celebrate the meaningful relationships that she made.

Luckily, everyone who received an invitation was more than willing to attend, no matter how far away they were from the event’s location. Actually, there were even those who delayed critical business to be able to attend.

Later, San and Biyeon would hear that the guests were even pressured and scrutinized by their clans or organizations about what they should wear and how they should present themselves to San and Biyeon at the event. However, this was much later in the future.

“How’re your studies?” San asked.

“Nothing to be proud of yet. I’m still working on it,” Gun responded with a nervous laugh. Gun’s personality had drastically changed. After going through a rough trip with San, Gun found the person who he could look up to and consider a hero.

Direct yet approachable. Free in thought. But, above all else, unyielding trust. When San had come to the capital, Gun had sought him out for regular chats. They were now as close as brothers.

“What are you going to do after you graduate?”

“Join the imperial army. Wars are spreading all over the empire’s boundaries.”

“Why such a dangerous place?”

“I can’t just let the citizens of this empire sacrifice their lives, right?”

Momentarily surprised, San glanced over at Gun. Gun gave a knowing smile.

“Can you take care of yourself?”

“By the end of this year, I’ll definitely become a special ranked warrior.”

“Hmm…”

San nodded his head.

“Come see me starting tomorrow.”

“Huh?”

“I’ll teach you some pointers.”

“Pointers?”

“How to survive. Even though I might not look it, I’ve gone through my fair share of life-and-death situations. Actually, I don’t there’s anyone better than me to teach you survival skills.”

“That’s true. Okay.”

“It’ll be tough.”

“That would be for the best.”

“Another shot?”

Gun balled his fist in determination. San smiled brightly as he reached for another canter of alcohol. Gun took a deep breath. Even in the Han-Sung Clan, San and Biyeon’s special classes were the most popular offerings.

Their skills were created over the course of numerous real-life combat situations, so in comparison to the skills taught in the Han-Sung Clan, the students could gleam a greater understanding of the martial arts and the depth of high-level skills.

The economical and efficient yet deadly powerful skills that San and Biyeon employed piqued the curiosity and interest of all the Han-Sung Clan students. The only issue about learning from San and Biyeon was that the Awakened Warriors of the Han-Sung Clan would always fill up the seats, leaving little room for students to observe and learn…

“You’ve become even more beautiful as time has gone by,” Dongye said as he approached Biyeon. He was slightly drunk and tipsy with a bright red face.

“Does that mean I wasn’t very pretty before?”

Biyeon said as she playfully narrowed her eyes. A slight smile seemed to be forming on her lips as if she was starting to chew on something sweet.

“N-No… no way! So, what I meant was…”

Dongye was at a loss for words. As a man in his late forties, he’d come across many women, but in front of Biyeon, he always felt at a loss for words. She had always made his stomach flutter as well.

“Thank you for your kind words. The imperial courts have so many beautiful women that I often get lost in the shuffle. Only one person looks at me with darling, appreciative eyes.”

Biyeon pointed towards San with her chin as she smiled.

Dongye tilted his head. A defeated smile spread across his face. As he was about to speak, another man’s voice rang out from beside him.

“No way… I can’t agree with that sentiment.”

Gibin had plowed into the conversation. Dongye was left speechless by the sudden appearance of this young man. This was the first time he was meeting Gibin.

Disregarding Dongye, Gibin went up to Biyeon and looked closely at her clothing. Biyeon calmly smiled as she let Gibin continue on with his actions.

“I’ve observed these past few days that all the women in this area have been following your fashion trend. Even the trend of everyone carrying around a small handbag. I’m pretty sure you’ve been the cause of this fashion trend sensation, right, Miss Biyeon? I’m right, right?”

“Wow, you really researched such worthless things.”

“Ah! It’s very important. Naturally, I cherish the interests of a fellow martial artist, especially if she’s a woman.”

“Well… since I can’t compete through looks, I need to be more mindful about how I dress. Maybe the others just liked some parts of my clothes’ design,” Biyeon replied with a smile.

“No way. Those in the nobility have very discerning tastes. They do not, never, follow the trends of just anyone. It’s a war in and of itself to look beautiful within that circle. Miss Biyeon is on a different level even amongst those women. Even I, standing in front of you, can’t help my heart from pounding… by the way… do you have some time today?”

Biyeon covered her mouth before a fit of laughter could escape. This friend seemed to be the same. He was always very sharp about what was going on around him and what the general mood was.

“Hmm, she was in the middle of a conversation with me…” Dongye said curtly, cutting off Gibin from continuing with his line of questioning.

“Oh? You’re still here? There’s something that the younger people need to talk about. So, if the elderly crowd could just step aside for a moment…”

“Wait… I’m not part of the elderly…”

“Your dress is so pretty! Regarding the fabric and cut…” Giyoung said as she appeared from behind Biyeon while touching Biyeon’s dress.

“…”

In the end, Dongye was not able to continue his conversation with Biyeon. Biyeon was already being swarmed by the younger crowd.

With a sour expression, he stood in place for a while. He then turned to San, who was speaking with a young woman.

‘The Second Minister… Rain.’

***

“Can you give me another drink?”

Rain stood awkwardly in front of San while holding her glass in both hands. Seeing San alone, she approached him and struck up a conversation.

She was today’s main character, the main person celebrated during the event. She must have already been a little tipsy as her face was flushed red. San filled her glass to the top with the fruit wine he had on hand.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Well, just this and that,” San said while chuckling and scratching his head.

Rain took her glass and sat next to San. She took a sip from her glass and stared at the design of the curved glass in her hand. The luxurious pumpkin-colored wine swirled around her glass.

She had mustered the courage to come over to him, but now that she was next to him, she couldn’t think of anything to say. However, she still felt a sense of calm and safety. Nothing had really changed from before, so…

San had always been this way to her. Rather than enjoy the company of others, he often preferred standing to the side and observing. The others who knew of San’s proclivities had learned to not mind his occasional gazes in their direction.

Rain and San weren’t close nor far. It was as if the relationship existed if they were together and didn’t when they weren’t together… Rain feared that she’d soon be totally forgotten.

‘If San isn’t here anymore, would a lot change?’

Rain closed her eyes. The image she had in her mind shattered like glass. She wanted to picture what life would be like without him, but her heart wasn’t letting her. She took another sip of the wine. It tasted sweet.

“If we could spend every day like today, how nice would that be?”

Rain looked forward as she murmured. It seemed like a question and partly like a self-comment. If San answered then great, if not, that was acceptable as well… it was a very middle-of-the-road, defensive… somewhat emotionally convoluted game.

“Hmm, I think you’ll change your opinion in the next three days. The world changes. People change. Having said that, today’s a happy day. Make sure to enjoy happiness when it’s present.”

San took a sip of his wine.

“Those are wise words. I should keep that in mind, right?”

“Yes.”

Rain played around with the glass cup in her hands. Her moistened lips glistened in the falling sunset’s last rays. She raised her hand to swipe a few strands of hair behind her ears.

She felt a little hot. With the sweet taste lingering in her mouth and her tipsy condition, she felt a sense of vertigo.

“But, I’m still scared. Does the wise San know why I feel this way?”

Her eyes had made their way up to meet his. She had put on a smile. However, tears were welling up in her eyes, ready to come out at any moment. Her tears were gently swaying within her eyes. 

San took another sip before he started to speak.

“Of course, I understand that it’s scary. Happiness is infectious, yet it can disappear like steam in the air. That’s why it’s important to recognize what one has. It might be asking too much to hold onto something that can’t be held on to…”

“…”

San raised his glass to his eyes. The world that he observed through the glass was curved and convoluted. Perhaps he was just drunk…

“Happiness is like fine wine. Like alcohol, it can evaporate at any moment or spread its warmth within one’s being. It brings expectations and suffering, and it leaves a scar in people who feel that they’re not worthy. A truly drunk person… would not feel that happiness once one wakes up from his or her stupor. However, people still love to drink.”

San poured some wine into his cup and handed it over to Rain.

“It’s so easy to grab a glass. One has to just reach for it…”

Rain extended her hand and grabbed the offered glass. She smiled.

“Hmm… I really don’t know who you are. You seem so…”

“Really?”

“Yes, for sure… you’re a very mean person at times.”

San nodded his head as a smile faintly passed by his face. He was speaking with someone who was hurt ever since she was a child. She had carried these feelings with her all this time. There was probably no one who had heard the depths of her sorrows.

“I’m not that mean. Well… I am a bit shy, so I can often be misconstrued.”

Rain let out a chuckle at San’s words. Then she gulped down the entire glass of wine that San had handed to her. The sweet-smelling wine went down her throat, slightly aggravating her insides with its alcoholic content.

Whether it was the strong smell or alcohol, Rain’s tears started coming down from her eyes.

“Did you know? The feeling of a person who has to stand to the side without being able to do anything…?”

“…?”

San couldn’t help but turn away with a dumbfounded expression.

“I practiced what I was going to speak to you about over and over in my head and memorized the lines by heart, but, standing in front of you… I’ve just become another forgettable, passing person… what about this feeling of emptiness? Do you understand this feeling of mine?”

“Well… I guess… you must really feel bad.”

San replied directly. Their eyes soon met. Rain slightly jumped as she met his eyes dead-on. She had never met his gaze so straightforwardly during their entire time together. She soon lowered her eyes.

“I really wanted to ask you. I needed to know.”

“…”

Rain continued, “When are you happy? When do you feel happiness? Are you ever sad? Do you feel hurt sometimes? Have you ever stood in front of someone and felt out of breath? Have you ever had your heart beating so loud that it rings in your ears, or a knot forming in your heart that pains you ceaselessly? Have you ever felt your breathing feel so loud?”

“…”

“All these thoughts and feelings that I have… do you have answers? You’re wise, aren’t you?”

Drop-

The deluge of questions that flooded out of Rain’s mouth caused a tear to drop down from her eyes.

“Oh my… a heartbroken princess.”

Rain felt a warm hand on her face. He gently moved his thumb to clear away the tears that were still on her face. Like a stone buddha, Rain stayed absolutely still as she stared into San’s eyes.

As their eyes met, she could see his other hand extended towards her. She naturally raised her hand and put it atop his extended hand. It seemed like what she should do.

San grabbed ahold of her hand and put it on his left chest. 

“Do you hear it?” San asked.

Rain felt that his expression was mysterious.

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