Chapter 66 - The Tower (8)

Phante’s appearance was the last thing Yeon-woo expected. Thankfully, the shattered wall was soon repaired by an automatic restoration magic circle installed by Night Watch. However, Henova's shattered mind wasn’t so easily restored. Night Watch’s harassment and Phante’s intrusion had both happened within two days. Henova wondered what had he done to deserve this as he puffed blankly at his pipe to control his temper. Several deep furrows looked like they’d been plowed over his eyebrows.

Clang! Clang! Despite Henova’s agony, Yeon-woo continued hammering. His interest in blacksmithing had blossomed after his first successful creation. However, the sound of hammering, which used to be music to Henova’s ears, now seemed jarring and dissonant. "Are you going to leave him like that?"

Yeon-woo looked back at Phante, who crouched in a corner of the smithy, rubbing a bruised eye with an egg as he stared at Yeon-woo. When their eyes met, they were struck dumb and Yeon-woo immediately turned away and continued hammering. Clang! Clang!

"Hey!" Feeling snubbed, Phante sprang up and yelled in a fit of anger, but Yeon-woo didn’t give him a second glance.

Clang! Clang!

"I was caught off guard, so that doesn’t count!"

Clang! Clang!

"Let’s go at it again. I’ll crush you this time!"

Clang! Clang!

"Come on, step outside with me. Fight man to man! Warrior to warrior! Let’s get it over with."

Clang! Clang!

"Fucking hell! Listen to me when I talk to you!" Phante blew his top as Yeon-woo ignored every single word he said. For a moment, he agonized deeply about punching Yeon-woo in the face, but picking a fight with someone who didn't have the will to fight would tarnish his reputation as a proud warrior of the One-horned tribe, and he did not want that to happen.

"Of course, fighting someone innocent is a big disgrace. But it seems like destroying an innocent person’s smithy isn’t much of a disgrace. Hmm...I'll have to ask the Martial King about this later,” Henova muttered in a low but audible voice.

Phante flinched at his words. When he’d heard Yeon-woo’s voice outside the smithy, he’d instantly broken in without a second thought. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine it would not only be the smithy of a blacksmith who had supplied several weapons to his tribe before, but even worse, also be his father’s acquaintance. Phante decided that the only way to get over his embarrassment was to ignore Henova and keep glaring at Yeon-woo. "Fight with me!"

The wrinkles on Henova’s forehead deepened. He debated with himself several times whether or not he ought to bring out the halberd that he’d left in storage for the past ten years. The only reason that he hadn’t done so yet was Edora.

"Please, have a drink of this and calm yourself." Edora smiled brightly and handed a cup of hot quince tea to Henova. As Henova took the cup, his eyes lingered on the sword she carried. "Your sword looks familiar."

Edora smiled shyly. "Do you remember? This is the sword you forged for me when I was very young."

"Oh, right. Now I remember. You’re the stubborn little daughter of the Martial King. Have you grown this much already?" Henova chuckled as he remembered her cute round eyes as she pulled on his trousers, asking him to make a sword for her. “Come to think of it, there was also a little boy who was a real troublemaker.” He made the connection to Phante right away. Things clearly hadn’t changed much. "By the way, are you going to stop him?" Henova pointed at Phante, who was still pestering Yeon-woo, with his chin.

"There’s not much I can do when he’s like that. He’s that kind of person," Edora said as if she was already resigned to Phante’s behavior.

"Hmm." Henova groaned.  

*   *   *

From that day on, two more people started to visit Henova’s smithy every day.

"Are you going to fight me today? Come on, be a man!"

Clang! Clang! Of course, Yeon-woo ignored him, but Phante didn’t give up and continued nagging. "A warrior must accept a challenge to a duel!"

As Yeon-woo hammered: "Fight me if you’re a true warrior!"

As Yeon-woo ate his meal: "Let’s fight!"

Even when Yeon-woo went to the bathroom to do his business: "Come on!"

However, Yeon-woo acted as if he didn’t hear Phante at all.

Finally, Phante’s threats (“Stop acting like you don’t hear me! I’m gonna hit you in the face.”) turned into requests (“Please, I really want to fight you.”) which turned into pleas ("I’m begging you…”), and in the end, Phante was close to tears. Any other person would at least pay attention, but Yeon-woo stubbornly kept on hammering without giving him a single glance. Clang! Clang!

"Pleeease..."

Eventually, Henova’s patience ran out and he ended up bursting out, "Just fight him and get it over with!"

"Yeah! What he said!" Phante chimed in.

Henova glared at Phante. "You, shut the hell up!"

Phante looked at Yeon-woo with his lips sealed. Henova also stared at Yeon-woo. Edora, who had been quietly reading a book in a corner, also raised her head and looked at Yeon-woo. All eyes were suddenly focused on him.

In the end, Yeon-woo lowered his hammer and looked at Phante with annoyed eyes. "Why do I have to fight you?"

"You can test your skills against mine as a warrior!"

"But I don’t care. You can call it a win. Didn't we talk about this already?"

"But…it doesn’t work like that!"

"What good is it to me if we fight?"

"What kind of warrior talks about good or bad when fighting?"

"Me." Yeon-woo’s emphatic answer left Phante dumbfounded. Because of his upbringing as a warrior, Phante couldn’t understand anything about Yeon-woo.

"Or we can make a bet." Yeon-woo said with an impish smile. "Forget about fighting if you don’t want to bet." He turned his head back to the anvil.

"The loser will serve the winner and call him hyung!" Phante shouted urgently.

Yeon-woo turned to look at him again with a suspicious expression. "Would you even listen to a hyung?"

"Of course, I would!"  Phante bragged as he pounded on his chest with his fist.

Yeon-woo released his grip on the hammer. "All right. Let's do it."

*   *   *

After a minute or two, there was a loud thud outside the smithy. Creak! Yeon-woo soon returned inside the smithy, shaking his head a few times. Phante followed after him with drooping shoulders. He had two black eyes that made him look like a panda.

It was obvious to Henova who had won the fight, and now that it was over, there was nothing left to bother him while he worked. But as he picked up his hammer, a sudden thought made him tilt his head. 'Hmm? Hold on. Isn’t Phante the son of the Martial King?' Henova turned to Yeon-woo with slightly shocked eyes. ‘Hasn’t only a minute passed since they started fighting?’

Edora also looked at Yeon-woo with glittering eyes. Phante and Yeon-woo had been closely matched when they fought in the Tutorial, but now, it barely took Yeon-woo any time to defeat Phante. ‘He’s become even stronger!’ He had grown at an incredible pace.

Yeon-woo stood in front of the anvil and picked up his hammer despite all the eyes fixed on him. "He’ll finally be quiet now."

Phante sat beside Yeon-woo and watched him hammer the metal without a word, looking as pitiful as a puppy in the rain. He had spent his whole life honing his skills as a warrior, only to end up with two black eyes. Phante sat with a blank look for a long time, then he carefully opened his mouth. "Yo, hyu...ng, why did you come to the Outer District instead of the Tower?" Phante deliberately mumbled the word “hyung” as he asked, his eyes full of curiosity. Yeon-woo’s skills were beyond a place like this, but he’d postponed climbing the Tower.

Yeon-woo lowered his hammer and looked back at Phante with an impassive expression. "‘Yo’?"

Phante flinched. "I mean, ‘pardon me’.”

Yeon-woo went back to hammering again. Clang! Clang!

Phante continued speaking in a hurry. "I waited for you for so long in the Tower…" The whole time he was in the Tower, he couldn’t appease his anger, no matter what he did. He’d wanted to battle Yeon-woo so badly. He and Edora remained in the lower floors to wait for Yeon-woo since going to the Tower after the Tutorial was the commonly accepted path. In fact, the clans trying to recruit Yeon-woo also searched for him among the lower floors, but none could find him.  

And after about half a month of waiting for Yeon-woo to show up, Edora suggested that he might be in the Outer District if he weren’t in the Tower. Phante had laughed, saying that it was impossible, but Edora persuaded him that there was no harm in checking, and so they left the Tower. That was when they heard what had happened between Yeon-woo and Night Watch.

In the end, they managed to find Yeon-woo, only the result was a total defeat for Phante. Phante had a strong sense of pride in his skills and ability. He believed that no one his age was a match for him, and that even if he climbed the Tower, he wouldn’t find any rival on the lower floors.

Kahn, the Blood Sword? Doyle, the Foxy Tail? Vyram, the Marcusian swordsman? Those players were supposed to be his peers, but Phante never considered them to be his equals. And yet an expert like him had been knocked down instantly by Yeon-woo. He simply couldn’t understand why someone like him was staying in the Outer District.

"Phante."

"Ah…yes?"

Yeon-woo said in an irritated tone, "Can you please be quiet? I can’t concentrate if you keep blabbering like that."

Yeon-woo sealed Phante’s mouth tightly with his authority as a hyung and focused on hammering again. Clang! Clang!

*   *   *

Yeon-woo was aware that Phante was still looking at him with wretched eyes, but he simply ignored him. However, a faint smile with a lot of meaning had appeared on his lips behind his mask. 'Why am I here? There are plenty of reasons.’

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