A cave found deep within the forest.
The flickering lights of a bonfire lit the cave walls.
“Wow. I might finally live.”
Cho Sung-won, who took off his human skin mask, put on a refreshed expression. The pimples on the face of this guy who hadn’t been able to take off his mask were bulging.
On the other hand, Sima Young had pure jade-like skin. According to her, depending on the skill of the person who made the mask, it was possible for the mask to not stick so tightly to the skin. Looking at it now, Cho Sung-wong must have had a shoddy mask.
“My father made mine.”
She was boasting.
This was the first time I had heard something like this, but apparently one of the Four Great Evils had a deep knowledge of skin mask making. He was notorious and I didn’t think he was the type to walk around with a bare face. So it made sense that he had become skilled in mask making.
“I want to ask that father of yours to make one for me.”
Cho Sung-won spoke like he was envious.
-I want to see how he would ask.
Commented Short Sword.
Right. I wondered if he would be able to make his request after learning who her father was. He would probably be too shocked to speak.
While the two were talking about their masks, I carefully pulled something out of my sleeve and kept it out of sight of the two. The jade was about one-third of the size of my palm.
‘Is this what my mother had when she met him?’
So Ik-heon handed this to me. When I asked him why he was giving it to me, he said that I needed to have this more than him
-Do you not know what this is?
‘I don’t know.’
-You don’t know?’
The pattern on the jade. It looked like a flying crane, but I wasn’t sure it had a meaning. The edges of the jade were round and rough cut.
I was a low-level spy for eight years and I had never seen such a pattern. It was difficult to tell if this was a plaque or an ornament.
‘Hm. Flying crane…’
‘Is there any place in Murim where there is a sect called the Flying Care?’ I asked Iron Sword.
‘Do you know of any such thing?’
-I do not know. My former master was based in Yunnan and moved around it so if I saw a pattern there I would remember it.
Even Iron Sword who knew a lot yet didn’t seem to know either. There were thousands of sects, clans, minor sects, and brotherhoods in Murim. Of course, there were only a hundred or fewer that had properly established themselves, but it was still difficult to know them all.
‘And this means?’
Usually, the crane symbolizes three things
A virtuous sign, because of its longevity, nobility, and spirituality. In fact, warriors didn’t often use the crane as a symbol of their sects. Rather it was used for families. In order to show bravery, Murim sects often used wild animals like tigers and wolves.
‘What could this be?’
Did it have anything to do with my mother’s past? Or maybe my father’s? As I began to unravel the secret of my birth, I became even more curious as to why my mother was wounded when So Ik-heon had found her.
-Does that mean your mother was a member of a sect then?
It was a possibility that couldn’t be ignored. It would be nice if there were clues about my mother, but I didn’t have any.
Short Sword didn’t know anything because my mother had taken her in passing.
“What are you looking at?”
I felt someone watching and suddenly Sima Young turned to me and approached.
It seemed difficult to control her, well, she had inherited the blood of a mad man so she must be pretty skilled.
But why would she try to hide her presence to know what I am doing? I clenched the jade in my fist,
“Miss, do not come over here without permission.”
“I did it only because I was curious about what you were looking at.”
“Do you know what it means to hide and see?”
Sometimes, she looked a bit too innocent. But it was probably due to her lack of interactions. As I tucked the jade into my sleeve, she came up and put her chin on my shoulder
“I didn’t see anything though. Are you angry?”
“Do not put your chin on my should…”
I turned my head slightly and her face was too close. She was surely beautiful. Even the bonfire made her look nice. As her shallow breath touched my cheek, it felt even more strange.
Cho Sung-won coughed, making Sima Young get up from my shoulder and walk back to the bonfire. And then she struck Cho Sung-won in the back of his head.
“No! Why are you hitting me?”
“It is a sign of friendliness.”
“Oh. For real…”
“What? Should we spar? It has been a long time.”
Cho Sung-won scratched his head and smiled at Sima Young’s voice.
“Such things can happen between friends. Hahaha.”
-Sulking in the face of power.
Short Sword clicked her tongue. Cho Sung-won, who was inferior in terms of skills, decided to hold onto his sanity.
But with her beauty, she had almost made me lose my rationality for a second.
-Wonhui. My former master said that a true warrior should always be careful around women with beauty as they always have motives.
-Yes, I can see why your master was alone all his life. Tch.
-… what is that supposed to mean?
The clash between the two was echoing in my head and I looked at Sima Young with a puzzled expression.
When I looked back at her, I could only see an innocent face. The cruelty of raising her sword, the bright smile, the gentle gaze back at me.
I wasn’t sure which face of hers was the real one.
Before moving from Hunan to Hubei, there were things that we needed to do.
After completing our first mission, we needed to head to an internal sect.
There, we were meant to join Song Jwa-baek and Song Woo-hyun, and then as a group, move on to Wuhan which was in the Hubei region.
However, as we had managed to get our job faster than expected, we decided to first stop by Mangok-ri, which was on the way. It was less than half a day away from our pre-planned route, so we decided to stop by.
“Phew. We are here,” mumbled Cho Sung-won as he looked at the people on the street.
To the south of this city was Hunan, which was mostly made of Orthodox Sects, and to the North was where the Forces of Evil lived.
In particular, at the border, there were notorious evil sects such as the Black Dragon Society and more, which was why it wasn’t difficult to see such people in Mangok-ri.
There were warriors who had vicious scars on them. It was easy to tell which people walking on the streets belonged to the Unorthodox Sects.
“Are you really going to stop here?”
“Then you want to go to the Beggars Union?”
Cho Sung-won went silent. He knew that it was too early to find the Beggars Union.
The place we were headed to was Heuk Hyun-jong, the actual ruler of Mangok-ri. This was claimed to be nothing, but I actually knew it was one of the three bases of the Lower District sect.
It might be strange to call it a base as the Lower District sect didn’t have this concept of bases, the Lower District sect only dealt with information and operated these three bases only to facilitate this.
And one of them was Heuk Hyun-jong
Before returning, of course, I was the one who was normally approached. As we approached the entrance to the village, which was just to the north of Mangok-ri, people with swords could be seen.
Unlike ordinary places, this place was black all around and this had to be the Heuk Hyun-jong bar.
Most of the people who were drinking at the table under the canopy were of the Evil Sects.
‘And we have come to this place.’
I was relieved that I didn’t have to come to such a place alone. There were two reasons that I had come to this place which was owned by the Lower District Sect. But now there were three.
[There seem to be quite a few warriors. Will we be fine?]
Cho Sung-won asked, a bit worried. As the guy said, there were quite a number of strong people inside this bar.
As this was an open information place, it was natural for strong people to congregate there.
[S-scared who? I am fine.]
Cho Sung-won pretended to be fine just because I provoked him a little. And I smiled,
Black tables were all around as we entered. As we entered, all eyes focused on us.
This was because we did not look like the unorthodox kind, and we were unfamiliar faces. Upon entering, it was noisy with drunk people talking with one another.
The building itself was large and it seemed that there were hundreds of customers on just the first floor.
A young server who greeted us looked puzzled. His visage was no different from the people outside, and I asked,
The server, who was a bit shocked, smiled softly and asked us to follow.
Apparently, the place we were guided to was the middle of the first floor. Thanks to this, we were surrounded by people.
“Weren’t we given this table on purpose?”
Sima Young asked with glaring eyes. In fact, it wasn’t so uncommon. If they sensed you had martial arts, these things were common.
Sima Young was trying to bring this up when the server returned, but then a woman in a red revealing dress came up to her.
It looked like she was just one of the many prostitutes selling their bodies, but each of them looked to be second-rate warriors.
“Welcome, young ones. Would you like to order?”
Hearing the phrase ‘young ones’ the people around turned to us. This was intentional. We had come into the den of the Unorthodox Sects and the Forces of Evil, so they were bound to be attracted to such words.
I spoke directly to her,
“I want to head to the second floor.”
“I heard brewed sake is known to be delicious.”
At my words, she turned her head and looked somewhere. In addition, the women in red clothes and men in black robes near the wall glanced over. One of the men in black nodded.
“Did you know that only one person can taste the special sake?”
Only the client could head up and knowing that I nodded,
“These two will have the noodles.”
Leaving the two on the first floor, I followed the woman in red. And as I moved up the eyes of those around me turned to me.
It was because they wanted to know the information I came here for. When we went up to the second floor, there seemed to be a meeting hall in the middle and small rooms to the side
In the middle of the meeting hall was a table with an old man in a black hood and ruffled clothes chugging down alcohol.
‘He is different’
The face was different from the man I saw in the memory of the Blue Decree Sword. There were no scars on this old man’s face.
Short Sword asked, puzzled, but then the man said,
“Sweep away sorrow and hatred”
A secret word to confirm the other
The old man grinned at my words and pointed his hand to the seat opposite him. Sitting across from the table I noticed the old man put a glass in front of him.
There were three glasses. On the inside of it were words, higher, middle, and lower. I picked up the bottle and poured it into the one marked lower.
“I have two things. I don’t think that it will be that hard.”
With those words, I took out ten silver coins from my pocket. It referred to the difficulty of the quest being handed out. I chose lower as it could not be difficult for this man.
“Didn’t a customer come about a year and three months ago?”
“They must have come to find the son of the Ikyang So family.”
At those words, the expression of the old man stiffened.
“I cannot reveal the information of my client.”
“You seem to know.”
They couldn’t have not known. My “father” had come here and asked them to find me.
At my words, the old man stroked his beard and asked,
“Can you give me the reason?”
“He is my servant.”
At my words, he narrowed his eyes. He looked at my face clearly and I noticed his throat tremble.
It was like sharing a message with someone, and then he said,
“You are clever. After the servant, the father came looking for the young master, but the fact that the young master who disappeared appears like this looking for their servant is shocking.”
Indeed, this was a base of theirs. Within seconds he managed to find out who I was, and who came for me.
This was intended though. One of the reasons I came here was to intentionally leak information to them. Because So Ik-heon stopped by here and was informed that I had been taken away by the Blood Sect, they might have had information that I was a true member of the sect.
Before participating in the tournament, it was necessary to reduce the variables.
“As the old man knows, the young master is…”
“I was lucky. Without the help of my teacher I wouldn’t have been able to come here or make such a request.”
At my words, he intently stared at me, and then pushed 10 silvers to me and said,
“How about exchanging information about the whereabouts of the teacher of the young master?”
I bit my tongue at this old man’s guts.
Is the information actually being brought from me?
-Will you tell him?
I will have to since he already knows. I smiled and pushed the coins ahead,
“You want to spend money on something you will find out anyway?”
“You will simply let me know?”
“There are two orders.”
It was about the jade in my hand. To find clues about my mother.
Wouldn’t they at least be able to recognize the patterns on the jade and maybe ask around?
Smiling, the old man said,
“I will accept both your requests. Then can I hear about your teacher?”
“His surname is Ho, and he is of the Jong clan.”
“Ho… Jong? Southern Heavenly Swordsman!”
The old man couldn’t hold back his surprise.
Judging from his reaction, what happened in the Ikyang So family hadn’t spread here yet.
The man holding the glass was trembling at the name he just said–
But then something unexpected happened. This guy suddenly grabbed my wrist.
I hurriedly tried to shake off his hand and create distance right then.
“What is this?”
At my words, the old man growled with an angry face,
“You are a disciple of the Southern Heavenly Swordsman?”
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