He roughly understood it. If he had two missions, he wouldn’t get the second one right away. Perhaps it meant that he had to make a choice—train here, and then take the mission.
“You, who are you…?” Seokdu pursued his curiosity while Seol-Hwi was lost in thought.
“Ah!” Ju Sohye smiled. “You’re the one who showed us such a great fight just now, aren’t you? I watched it from the back—it was amazing.”
“Ah, yes? Right. Hehehe…”
Seol-Hwi frowned. “Hehehe”? Did he hear that right?
“You’re really cool. I haven’t had a chance to see someone like that in a long time.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m pretty average.”
“Still, you seem better than the swordsmen here…”
“Is that so? Hehehe…”
Seol-Hwi did not mishear. He obviously said “Hehehe.” Seol-Hwi was beginning to understand why Seokdu got harassed so much—watching the blush climb up his cheeks made Seol-Hwi want to slap him, too.
“But, who are you?”
“Oh, sorry for the late introduction. I am Ju Sohye, the granddaughter of the head of the villas housing here. There’s no one who doesn’t know me here, if you’ll let me brag a little.”
“Why would the granddaughter come here?” Seol-Hwi asked.
“Ah, it isn’t anything stange…” Ju Sohye stiffened, but her expression didn’t crack; rather, she crossed her legs and smiled bashfully. “I’m curious about warriors like you. I want to know more about such people.”
“We aren’t as good as you think.”
“The more talented a person is, the more humble they are.”
Such a pretty, good-natured woman. Seol-Hwi was intrigued by her kindness and beauty.
“You don’t seem like someone from around here.” Ju Sohye peeked at him through her eyelashes. “Where are you from?”
“It’s rather far from here.”
“From the clothes and the way you speak, I don’t think it’s Jianghu… are you from Xijiang?”
Xijiang was thousands of li from the southernmost tip of Cheonghae, far, far away from the sect. It seemed she didn’t expect them to be from the sect.
“Something like that. But enough of that,” Seol-Hwi said, changing the subject. “We’ve been wandering for a while, so can you hear me out?”
Seokdu pulled up a chair and sat down. The brawlers and their audience had left the guest house, leaving it silent.
“A request right off the bat. Well, sounds good; shall we hear what you have to say?”
He was trying to deflect her from digging into their origins, but it felt like she was controlling the conversation.
She was definitely an unusual woman. As expected from the wealthy, she was good at dealing with people.
“There is someone we need to catch, but we aren’t familiar with this place. I’m sure a wealthy family like yours has some good connections—would you mind looking into it?”
“Do you have any information about this person?”
“Nothing of that sort—it wouldn’t help much, because he disguises his face with makeup. The thing is, he uses demonic martial arts and he’s crazy about women.”
Her eyes widened, much as expected. Although this place was far from the Demonic sect, its name inspired the same fear.
“He uses demonic martial arts, but he also has the ability to hide it. In fact, you wouldn’t be able to tell until he used them.”
Um Mugi would have been wary of people from the Demonic sect coming after him and taken appropriate precautions.
“No.” Seol-Hwi shook his head. He had no need to give her any hints.
Nothing would change. Seokdu was just a worker who never learned cultivation, and Seol-Hwi had been able to control the demonic energy within him as soon as he reached the Peak level. Only someone stronger than him would be able to tell.
“Alright. What will the warrior do for me?”
“Hehehe.” Seokdu interrupted. “I can do anything the lady wan—”
Seol-Hwi slammed his head against the table.
“If you giggle one more time, I swear.”
“S-Sorry!” Seokdu clapped his hand over his mouth and looked away. At least he listened.
“I think you’re misunderstanding something.”
Ju Sohye nodded.
“You could call it a request, but it’s really a proposal. Think: a devious, evil man is caught by a warrior connected to the lady of the villas. Wouldn’t that be enough?”
The woman’s expression subtly shifted. She must have figured something out, but she just looked cute to Seol-Hwi. Even if he’d barely scraped by as the leader of a half-rate squad, Seol-Hwi had spent most of his life rubbing shoulders with the most atrocious people.
He could read her like a book.
“Well, if you don’t like it, we can ask someone else—”
“I’ll help you.”
Ju Sohye agreed more easily than he expected.
“Then I need two more things,” Seol-Hwi added. “A comfortable place to rest and food to fill our stomachs.”
“Is that all?”
Seol-Hwi gave her a questioning look.
“I’ll give you useful information, a map of the area, places you should keep an eye on—I will spare on effort to support you.” Ju Sohye spoke so boldly that Seol-Hwi was almost a little embarrassed.
“Instead, after you catch him, please stop by my home again.”
She didn’t explain further, but Seol-Hwi could guess why. It probably had to do with the fact that all of the crimes were against women. Still, the request clearly showed that she was no normal woman.
“That’s my condition.”
Seol-Hwi and Seokdu followed Ju Sohye. They passed through the enormous main gate and it still took quite a while to reach the guest room.
A day later, they learned that she really was the richest person here, as Seol-Hwi expected. She already looked the part, but the sprawling manor they arrived at and the horses they rode proved it. Fortunately, the guest room wasn’t too far, so Seol-Hwi and Seokdu were able to rest.
But Seokdu wouldn’t leave him alone.
“What’s the deal with this rice bowl?” Seokdu tilted his head as he examined the porcelain in the cabinet. “Why is it so glamorous?”
Seol-Hwi looked up at the sancai1. They were different from the ones the Supreme Pavilion Lord had in his office.
“Oh! It looks like real leather!”
Seol-Hwi squeezed his eyes shut when Seokdu started rubbing the carpet. He started gathering his energy; if Seokdu said one more thing, Seol-Hwi was going to beat him.
“Is there water coming out of there?”
“What?!” In spite of himself, Seol-Hwi couldn’t ignore that question.
Water coming into the room? It didn’t make any sense.
“Ooh! It is real!” Seol-Hwi stared at it, shocked. As Seokdu had said, there was a fixture in the room that supplied clean water.
Ju Sohye waited in front of the door.
Her grandfather had arrived after a month’s absence. Usually, people would talk about family, but her grandfather only spoke about business—and more unpleasant things.
A servant waved her in.
“I’m coming in.” Ju Sohye braced herself and advanced along the golden carpet leading to the entrance.
The room was as spacious as a palace—a gorgeous ceiling and walls, decorations and precious metals festooned across the room.
In the center was an old man sitting in a rosewood chair, smoking tobacco. He had gray hair and a warm expression.
“My granddaughter is here?”
His name was Ju Wangil, the owner of villas and lodgings in this place. Anywhere he went in Cheonghae, people would stop to greet him.
“Come sit here.”
“Yes, grandfather.” Ju Sohye seated herself in the chair with a dignified posture. The way she was speaking was completely different from how she spoke to Seol-Hwi.
“Right…” Ju Wangil settled into his seat and smiled. “I heard from the people at home that you go in the cities often these days.”
“I enjoy seeing people and talking to them, rather than staying in this cramped place.”
“I understand your feelings—but even so, you need to understand that you cannot bring idiots into your home. There are many things you choose to ignore, but you can’t ignore this.”
It had only been an hour since she’d come back, but it seemed he’d already heard.
“This grandfather has lived this long. He prides himself on not spreading rumors, but people always whisper around us. You need to be cautious of them at all times.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
Ju Wangil let out a puff of smoke. Ju Sohye had a gut feeling that her grandfather was going to talk about something else. That was what he usually did.
“Next year will be your coming of age.”
This was nothing new to her. She knew what to say right away.
“Right. I am still of an age where I need worldly experience.”
“Haha. Wouldn’t a good husband double the experience you get?”
“Orchids grow fine in the open field, even though they’re difficult to raise in a greenhouse. For girls my age, going out and conversing with people is helpful.”
“But a flower like a chrysanthemum needs a human’s care.”
“It is human nature to investigate things. Just like how grandfather knows the taste of alcohol but checks it each time.”
“Hahaha… You.” Ju Wangil smiled. He knew she would try to slip out of the marriage talks—she was his granddaughter, after all. “I’ll be blunt. You ought to be prepared.”
“Young Lord Zhang is descended from a powerful family from Mount Hua. He is upright and faithful. Even you can’t object, right?”
“But I have heard that he has created many issues because he blindly rushes into things. Besides, I haven’t heard that he’s interested in women.”
“Hohoho.” Ju Wangil smiled at his granddaughter’s stiff expression. He let the last of his tobacco burn out and then put the butt on the table. “I don’t want to say this, but a woman cannot have heroic hobbies—only hobbies that do no harm and don’t give us a bad name.”
“But. Did you bring in a warrior, like you said?”
“Well…” Ju Sohye abruptly recalled that she’d gotten into an argument with her family. They insisted that they needed a warrior like Young Lord Zheng in the family. Ju Sohye was only arguing to be rebellious, but she wasn’t able to offer a master or an expert that would take his place. She did say, however, that whoever she brought would be able to subdue Zheng.
“Sohye,” Ju Wangil continued in a serious tone. “Our goal was to continue to stay in Cheonghae, was it not? Your mother’s death was because we had no power.”
Ju Sohye remained silent.
“You need to gather power, more than anyone else. Money is important, but power is more important. Young Lord Zheng may have flaws in his character, but everyone knows how strong he is.”
Zheng was famous for his martial arts, even within the Mount Hua Sect. Despite not being an official disciple, they called him the “Plum Blossom Swordsman.”
“That is why I brought him.”
“Huh? Who…?” He turned to the servant standing at the side. “Where is he?”
“He is resting.”
Ju Wangil ignored her and stood up.
“Come on, let’s go see him.”
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