Chapter 253 - Growth (3)

After that day, they grew as busy as the rest of the Tower. Boo continued to build the dungeon, Brahm continued healing Ananta and restoring the Outer Space. Shanon and Hanryeong continued focusing on the Monkey King’s legacy, and Rebecca concentrated on recovering her holy power.

They all agreed with Yeon-woo’s words, and the war with Red Dragon had made them realize one thing: ‘We’re still weak.’

They had all contributed a lot in the war, but they’d mostly only taken advantage of a chaotic situation. They hardly accomplished anything based on strength alone, and they realized how limited their perspectives had been.

Even though Hanryeong had been the Saber God, he realized that even at his peak, he hadn’t been worth anything after watching the Martial King and the Summer Queen battle.  

Yeon-woo had also revealed too much of himself to the world, and no one would be dismissing him as a rookie anymore. He was now a threat. It would be more difficult for them to pull off the same kinds of tactics now that a lot of people had their eyes on them. If they wanted to protect Yeon-woo, they had to grow stronger first.

Everyone focused on their individual training, and no one said anything about climbing the Tower. They could do that any time, but it was rare to have a moment to just train. Yeon-woo did the same thing. He assessed his skills and powers again and worked hard to completely master the third step of the awakening. His desire to improve his swordsmanship grew greater.

He’d continued to train on the twentieth floor after learning Aura, but he hadn’t made much progress. Shanon and Hanryeong gave him advice. 

「Most people think that they’ve reached the end of martial arts once they learn to create Aura. That’s a ridiculous thought.」

「Aura isn’t the destination. It’s the beginning of learning the meaning of the sword. If you’re already proud of what you have at this point, you won’t grow.」

The two had walked different paths, but they both said the same thing. Yeon-woo was only at the beginning of his path, and he still needed to expand his knowledge and incorporate it into his body. 

“Then what should I do to learn its meaning?”

「Extend your Consciousness onto the sword.」

「It’s not just focusing on your sword; you have to become one with it. Then, you’ll be able to complete the body that you want.」

Yeon-woo understood the gist. Even the One-horned tribe called it “the body and sword as one”. From then, Yeon-woo began to train in the sword again, and Vigrid trembled as though it were happy to see him each time. Yeon-woo did his best to focus his Consciousness on the blade.

A few months passed in this way. 

* * *

[Time Difference]

[Extrasensory Perception]

With time slowed down, Yeon-woo swung his sword again for the millionth time. The world of his Consciousness ran ten times slower, and he’d already grown accustomed to the movement. His sword had absorbed all of his Consciousness, and Aura occasionally sparked along it. 

Aura had various forms, which were all called Aura blades. Most sword users only focused on refining their Auras and didn’t think beyond that. However, the One-horned tribe split it into three types of energies: Sword Energy, Strong Energy, and Formless Strong Energy. Formless Strong Energy was also called Consciousness Strong Energy, and it was still a far-off goal for Yeon-woo.

However, Strong Energy was different. Yeon-woo’s painstaking efforts meant that he could use Sword Energy easily, and he was working on moving onto the next step. Strong Energy entailed concentrating on a magic circle and fixing it with Consciousness.

With his Strong Energy, the Martial King had used the Palgwae and the Martial Extremes against the Summer Queen. Yeon-woo could picture the entire fight with his eyes closed. The Martial King truly deserved his name. If Yeon-woo could even have a thumb’s worth of the Martial King’s knowledge, he would already escape his limits.  

The Strong Energy that gathered at his blade lost its form, and time returned to normal. The pain of entering regular time made Yeon-woo let go of his sword. He staggered back. “It’s still not working.” He clucked his tongue at his bleeding right hand. Dragon’s Blood circulated and quickly healed his wound with his Regeneration skill. 

The past few months had been torture to Yeon-woo. He had strained himself just as much on the Five Mountains of Penances, but the limitations placed on him had helped him grow quickly. This time, it was different. He had to push himself to his limits and focus on mastering them, which was a long, boring process.

He could only make one movement over and over: slashing his sword down. Although he sent his Consciousness through it each time, repeating the same movement thousands of times made him feel like he would go crazy.

However, Yeon-woo wasn’t just training in the sword and was busy working on other things as well, such as the Demonic Draconic Body with the Draconic Factors and the Demonic Factors, the Philosopher’s Stone in his Cores, and the third step of the awakening that he’d forced open on the twenty-first floor.

Although his physical abilities had grown quickly, his Consciousness hadn’t kept pace, and he didn’t know where his limits were nor what his potential was. Therefore, he used Time Difference to push himself to the extreme. At first, it had been effective, and he would occasionally awaken his powers and break through his limits.

He did it because he trusted in the ability of the Regeneration skill, and he gained a lot from the bloodline magic that Brahm advised him on. Of course, he only learned the basics and used it with his rune magic. He didn’t even think about learning the more difficult aspects and left it to Boo. Still, even with that basic knowledge, Yeon-woo changed noticeably.

However, after some time passed, he encountered an insurmountable wall, and his magic growth paused. Even his body stopped changing, and the only thing he had left was the sword. He had reached his final limit. The wall was so high that he didn’t even make a little progress. He swung his sword against it again and again, but he failed each time. Each attempt was futile. Yeon-woo wasn’t strong enough to aim for the Palgwae or the Martial Extremes. However, he was at the beginning. 

He could begin to learn it through developing Strong Energy. However, he failed in that, too. He had enough magic power, his body was strong enough, and his level was high enough. He also poured enough of his Consciousness into it. He just seemed to be missing something, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He went to the Martial King for advice, but he only received a vague reply.

“It’s not your path.”

Yeon-woo didn’t understand what that meant. “What do you mean, sir?”

“Figure it out on your own.” The Martial King didn’t give him a solution and just smirked. 

Yeon-woo sighed. It wasn’t the only time he’d ever felt that the Martial King’s teachings were all like this. Whenever he asked a question, the Martial King always seemed to try to get rid of him with vague answers. Yeon-woo knew he needed to make his own path, but it would help if the Martial King tried to be nicer, although that day would likely never come.

However, he knew that he would gain more from these vague answers, so he couldn’t complain. When he thought about it, the Martial King’s answers were always to the point. ‘He’s not saying that the sword doesn’t suit me since he wouldn’t have tried to teach me the Yin Sword if that were the case. Then what is it? Is he saying Strong Energy isn’t right for me? That’s probably not it either. Palgwae? The Martial Extremes? Or am I just doing it wrong?’

Yeon-woo was frustrated. He had used all kinds of hidden pieces to get where he was and forced Time Difference to improve himself. He didn’t have as many obstacles as when he’d learned Aura, and he was struggling just as hard now. The lack of progress was frightening to Yeon-woo since he didn’t know what he could do.

It wasn’t like he could absorb additional Draconic Factors or Demonic Factors. His body was in the right condition and balance for the third step of the awakening. If this balance were broken, it might destroy his body. He also wanted to ask Shanon and Hanryeong, for advice, but they had been silent for a while as they focused on their individual training deep inside his shadow. 

Without knowing what to do, he decided that it was time for him to sit and organize his thoughts. He felt extremely dejected.

* * *

At that point, he met Galliard by coincidence. Galliard was going to the forest, holding a basket filled to the brim.

“What are you doing here? You looked so depressed.”

“What are you doing here? What’s that in your hand?” Yeon-woo’s voice faded. He realized that ever since he’d entered the village, he had only spoken to Brahm and Sesha. He hadn’t even seen Galliard recently and had no idea what he was up to. Galliard probably felt the same.

Yeon-woo quickly answered with a smile so Galliard didn’t feel upset. “I wasn’t making any progress with my training and I’m trying to figure some things out. You’re…”

“Oh, this? Sesha has been really picky these past few days. I’ve been studying how to make vegetables tasty.” Galliard grinned as he looked at the fruits and vegetables in his basket. It was impossible to find anyone who paid more attention to Sesha than Galliard. Brahm was busy with Ananta, and Yeon-woo focused on his training and he’d been spending less time with Sesha.

Instead, Galliard was busy taking care of Sesha’s meals and all kinds of other things. She was around the age of his daughter before she died, and so he indulged her a lot. His greatest passion was to find a way around Sesha’s pickiness when it came to food.  

Since Galliard was an Elf, he was vegetarian, and Brahm didn’t eat meat often, either. However, Sesha couldn’t get enough of it, and of course, the food that the adults ate held no interest to her.

“Try mixing bean paste inside the meat. Last time I snuck it in there and she liked it.”

“Hm? Bean paste? What’s that?”

“You can grind beans into a paste to resemble meat. It even tastes somewhat like meat, and with some sauce on it, you won’t even notice the smell of beans.”

“Oh! Is that so? Can you teach me how to make bean paste?”

Since Yeon-woo needed some distraction from his troubles, he nodded. It wasn’t too difficult to make, and he followed Galliard into Brahm’s house. Sesha ran over to him. “Uncle!!”

“Aw, our cute little puppy. Were you reading?” Yeon-woo lifted Sesha, noticing a book in her right hand the size of her head with the title Qualities of Bloodlines Split by Rune Magic. It was one of the books they’d taken from the Summer Queen. 

“Yeah! I’m reading it well! I’m a good girl! But uncle...”

“Yes?”

“Hehe. Are you here to play with me today?”

Yeon-woo smiled wryly as Sesha’s eyes sparkled. He’d been ignoring her too much lately, and her happiness at seeing him swept away his frustrations. She missed Ananta so much, but she couldn’t even speak to her. He should have come to visit more often. “Yeah. I came to play with you.”

“Are you going to eat here, too?”

“Yeah.”

“Whew! That’s a relief.” Sesha put her tiny hand on her chest and breathed out in relief. She was so cute that Yeon-woo laughed. 

“Why?”

“You always make yummy food! The food that Galliard makes is so yucky!”

Galliard gripped his heart with a hurt expression on his face. Sesha just smiled, not caring about his reaction. Yeon-woo stroked Sesha’s head, and her tail wagged. She was as lovable as a puppy. 

* * *

“Thanks for the tip! Haha.” Galliard lightly stroked Sesha’s head and chuckled. She had fallen asleep right after eating. She hadn’t noticed that about a third of the stir-fried pork she’d eaten was made of bean paste.

“She might notice it later, so you have to adjust the amount carefully.”

“Got it. It seems like I’ll have to use the sauce well too. It was a nice meal, and the texture was good, too.”

Yeon-woo nodded and pinched Sesha’s cheek. Her chubby cheeks rose and fell as she held onto Yeon-woo’s finger tightly in her sleep. Yeon-woo always smiled whenever he looked at her, and he pressed her other cheek with a finger. Sesha made a small sound and frowned in her sleep. She was such an angel. 

“It’s interesting each time I see it.”

“What is?” As he continued teasing Sesha playfully, Yeon-woo looked up at Galliard.

“You. You seem to have more emotions now. You used to be so cold, but it seems you have a caring side, too.”

Yeon-woo smiled wryly. “I think it’s because of Sesha.”

“Because of Sesha?”

“Yes. I can’t always be grim around her.”

“I suppose so. Sesha is pretty cute, after all. I heard all the boys in the village have a crush on her.”

“Is that so?” No uncle would be mad hearing about his niece’s popularity, but Yeon-woo felt a bit of anxiety. What if some fool captured Sesha’s heart? Yeon-woo frowned as he considered what he could do to make that potential suitor suffer. Then, he caught himself and laughed gently.

Galliard was right. He’d never had any thoughts like this in the Tutorial. Right now, he only had one wish: for Ananta to regain her senses so she could hug Sesha. He wanted her face to brighten again, to have the same expression he and Galliard had as they looked at her. At her age, children needed to feel the love of the people around them.

“Do you know that you’ve changed a lot, too?”

“Me?”

“Yes.”

Galliard smiled wryly, not denying it. He had found happiness in Sesha that he hadn’t been able to find for a long time. His lonely days as a hunter chasing Akasha’s Snake were over. He was the only one among them—including Phante, Edora, Brahm, Shanon, Hanryeong, Rebecca, and Boo—who was relaxed. 

Galliard wanted to say that this was all because of Yeon-woo and Jeong-woo, but he changed the subject because he felt shy about bringing it up. “Why were you sitting in the forest by yourself like that? You looked concerned about something.”

“It’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t seem like that to me. I’m not one to interfere in others’ business, but if you have something bothering you, you can tell me. I may not be able to solve it, but I’m a good listener. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Yeon-woo smiled bitterly and hesitated. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed, but he didn’t know where to start. His words all seemed to be jumbled up, and it was only after some time that he began to speak about the wall that hindered his growth, the Aura that disappeared, and his evaporating Consciousness.

He felt a lot better after telling Galliard all this. 

“Hm.” Galliard didn’t say anything. He seemed deep in thought. Yeon-woo looked at him in surprise.  

Galliard suddenly said, “Since Sesha’s sleeping, why don’t you follow me to the backyard?”

Yeon-woo didn’t know what Galliard was thinking, but he nodded and followed him out of the cottage. In the backyard, Galliard plucked a thin branch as long as his arm from a persimmon tree. It looked fragile, like it would break with just a single touch. 

What was he trying to do? Yeon-woo watched Galliard swing the branch around. Galliard nodded in satisfaction, and pointed to Yeon-woo with the branch. “Attack me.”

Yeon-woo’s eyes widened. “What are you…”

“I said to attack me. Let’s return to the first time we met in the Tutorial, but this time, I’ll fight back. I won’t use Aura but you can, although you should keep it to the basics.”

What did Galliard want to do? Yeon-woo couldn’t read his mind. He understood that Galliard wanted to teach him something, but he couldn’t even guess what the branch had to do with it. This kind of fight didn’t make sense. Yeon-woo was already stronger than most rankers. If he used his powers on top of that, he was confident he could fight high rankers, too. 

On the other hand, Galliard hadn’t changed much from when Yeon-woo had met him in the Tutorial, and he was still at the level of a ranker. There was no way he could fight Yeon-woo without using Aura. 

However, Galliard waved the branch at Yeon-woo to provoke him in direct contrast to his usual calm and quiet self. Yeon-woo pulled out his Magic Bayonet. As he took a step forward, he aimed at Galliard’s stomach, using an Effect of the Eight Extreme Fists to keep the sword flexible enough to dart into any direction in reaction to his opponent’s defensive moves.

However, just as Yeon-woo was about to counter the branch swinging down onto the Magic Bayonet, the branch suddenly wrapped around the Magic Bayonet as though it were made of rubber. ‘Huh?’ The branch lashed Yeon-woo’s legs. Pak!

Yeon-woo fell forward from the intense pain, which was followed by numbness. Everything had happened so fast. What was the thing that twisted space, and how did the branch stretch out to hit him? Although there wasn’t any magic power in it, his right leg throbbed from the pain.  

However, what shocked Yeon-woo the most was the branch’s speed. ‘How is that possible?’ He had followed its movements with his Draconic Eyes and Extrasensory Perception, and the branch was incomprehensibly fast. It simply wasn’t possible. ‘It’s like the branch isn’t only a branch.’

As he made all kinds of guesses, Galliard rested the branch on his shoulder and smiled faintly. “Shall we go another round?”

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