The three sit across me and naturally shower me with taunts and threats.
"Mr. Zaha, I think that's your last glass. So hurry up and drink."
"This guy sure is a real man. He came in here proudly, drank alcohol, and even called for Chae-hyang like a man. Wow, if I knew this guy was a real man, I would have beaten him harder. I regret it now."
"If you regret it, just beat him properly this time. He's already made a fool of Dong-gwak. It would only be fair to get beaten up again. Ain't that right, Zaha?
I hold out the liquor bottle as the three continue with their threats.
"You want a drink?"
However, the three did not raise a glass, suspecting that I might have poisoned the drink.
Too bad, but I end up drinking alone.
One of the men then urges.
"If you're done, let's go outside."
"Hey, get up."
I keep drinking without replying. And occasionally, I look at their faces in turn.
Silence is an effective way to set the tone.
Now the three of them aren't saying much either. The current situation must have felt off.
A simple errand boy would not be able to drink so calmly in front of such blatant hostility.
All they see is a man without a shred of fear.
There isn't much alcohol left to begin with, so I finish up the last glass, grab the sickle, and say.
"My old friends, am I that big of a joke to you?"
I wonder if I was this petty in the past, but I know I was definitely a pathetic wretch then.
"Aren't you supposed to be?"
The three men pull out hidden knives, each longer than a dagger.
"You could've ended it with just a beating, but here you are making things worse."
"Brothers, since he beat up Dong-gwak like that, this is only a fair response."
While I smirk like a madman, the corners of their mouths also start to rise until the four of us end up laughing together like old drinking friends.
When I suddenly raise the sickle, all three throw their knives in surprise.
At that moment, I flip the table over with a little forceful push using my thumb.
In an instant, three knives strike the table.
Thud, thud, thud!
As the blades strike the table, I stand up and kick the table away with my right foot.
All three fall backwards as the table crashes into them, and I aim my sickle toward their lower bodies.
Three pairs of feet wriggle uncontrollably, doing whatever they could to push the table away, reminding me of snake heads as I swing the sickle.
After the Zaha Inn was burned down, one of the things I did to make a living was guard cemeteries.
I spent all year round cutting the lush grass around the cemetery with a sickle.
It was a sickeningly long and tedious time.
At some point, I reached enlightenment with the sickle.
I'm probably the only man in Kangho to gain enlightenment when using a tool to cut grass. A sickle is basically a single blade tool, so it is closer to a Knife (刀) than Sword (劍). The blade was in the reverse direction, so you had to be careful when it swung outwards. All of these things became imprinted in my memory.
In short, I'm a sickle expert.
My scythe left none of their exposed legs untouched, stabbing and cutting at their knees, toes, ankles, and calves. Their arms, exposed from behind the table, were also not spared.
"You beat me up with your stupid limbs, didn't you?"
The screams of the three overlap each other.
The room instantly fills with their voices.
I then kick the table at the right moment and crush their faces. A single kick yields three pleasantly thumping blows.
It is an efficient and one-sided assault.
When the eloquent yet rude woman opens the door again, they have utterly lost their fighting spirit.
The room is a complete mess, alcohol, and blood covering it all.
Still holding the bloody sickle, I say to the woman.
"Ahjumma, bring me more of that third-rate liquor."
The woman glares at me.
Pointing the sickle at the woman's mouth, I say.
"I don't usually hit women, but you better think before you open that mouth of yours. Bring in the liquor first, and bring in more of these morons. I'll rip your mouth off if you open that big mouth again."
My personal code was not to touch women who don't know martial arts unless there is a particular reason. This also applies to Chae-hyang and that rude woman.
But I also made a hobby of making threats.
When the woman disappears, I remove the smashed pieces of the table and look at the three men. Their wrecked state, covered with spilled food, is nice to see.
I say with a smile.
"Smile, you fuckers. Why aren't you laughing in front of a funny guy?"
They can't laugh now, but I can.
"Congratulations on your ruined legs. You'll need to take a long time to heal, so is there any part of you still intact?"
The three are silent in the face of this merciful errand boy.
Then I speak in a different tone, as if turning into a madman.
"Hey, you bastards, shouldn't you start begging if you want me to spare you? Should I kill you all?"
"Let's end it here. We didn't mean to kill you."
I nod my head.
The speed and accuracy of their words is like watching a well-rehearsed choir.
I pull out a knife from the table and hold it in my left hand.
"You guys synchronize well with your mouths. Tch… more of them are here."
This time, dozens of people are coming from the hallway. Perhaps all the fighters the pavilion could mobilize are coming. In the uproar, I can hear the voice of Cha Sung-tae, who was the only one who had welcomed me.
The hallway becomes quiet instantly, and Cha Sung-tae appears and looks around the room.
Cha Sung-tae is a man with slit eyes, his eyes become straight when he smiles or frowns, and that's the case right now.
Cha Sung-tae tells me with a bewildered look.
"Zaha-ya, you're going to die at this rate."
"I'm going to die?"
Watching Cha Sung-tae's ugly eyes, I put some force into my left hand and sent the knife flying.
The knife I threw arrived before Cha Sung-tae's hand could reach his face, hitting him handle-first on the eye.
Cha Sung-tae fell flat on his back with a groan.
Holding out the bloody sickle to the guys behind me, I say.
"An eye for an eye. Anyone else?"
Cha Sung-tae, who gingerly stands back up, calmly orders.
"Report to the Plum Blossom Pavilion owner. The rest of you guard outside. Don't let him get out."
Grimacing at the side of his bleeding eye, Cha Sung-tae pulls out a straight sword from his waist in one swift movement.
After Cha Sung-tae pulls out the sword, I bite back with his own words.
"Sung tae-ah, think before you act. Or else you'll die."
"What's with the most quick-witted man of Ilyang Prefecture? Do you think the state of your eye was just luck? No, it's not. Do you think these three were just unlucky enough to end up covered in food and drinks? No, they weren't, so think before you act."
While Cha Sung-tae stands there in indecision, I move to address the guys blocking the hallway.
"Cha Sung-tae ended up like this in one blow. Do you think the order to stop me makes sense? Let's do this. If you guys continue staying in my way, Cha Sung-tae will die first. Here we go."
Though not effective on his subordinates, this threat is effective on Cha Sung-tae.
The quick-witted Cha Sung-tae speaks hurriedly to his subordinates.
"Everyone, go down and wait. Zaha, I think we need to meet the owner. Didn't you come here for an apology? Or were you planning to leave after drinking? Let's hear the answer."
I nod at Cha Sung-tae.
"That Cho guy has to come."
"Then I'll call the owner first. He'll be here soon, so let's wait together."
Cha Sung-tae looks at his palm while speaking and sees it covered in blood.
"Did you lose your eyesight?"
Cha Sung-tae blinks while wiping the blood around his eyes and replies.
"I don't think it's that severe. I can see."
"That's a relief. Bring me some alcohol. Let's have a drink while we wait for the owner."
Cha Sung-tae tells the trembling woman standing at the end of the hallway.
"Bring us some booze. No need for snacks. We'll move to the next room. Zaha, let's move rooms. If you're not going to kill these guys, let us treat them. Isn't it too much to kill your fellow townspeople?"
When I look back, the three are already on the verge of losing consciousness.
Certainly, Cha Sung-tae has a different way of dealing with his subordinates.
Even if he is bleeding from one eye, he still wraps up the situation neatly.
The talkative woman comes up with short strides and points politely at the next room with both hands.
I said I would tear her mouth open if she spoke, so she remained silent until the end.
The survival instincts of bottom feeders are exquisitely fine.
Walking into the empty room, I put down the bright red sickle on the table and sit down.
After a while, Cha Sung-tae, who had wiped the blood away with a cloth, sits across from me and lets out a long sigh.
"Did you get lucky or something? What the hell is this mess? It happened so suddenly."
As soon as Cha Sung-tae's words end, a young woman's voice is heard outside.
"The drinks are here."
"Come on in."
Looking at the alcohol being served, I laugh. It is indeed Dukuang liquor, but the sealing condition is completely different from the one given to me. In short, it is a more luxurious type of Dukuang liquor.
"Is this top-quality Dukuang liquor?"
Cha Sung-tae nods.
"Ah, are the third rates sold out? Oh, I'm sorry. You should only sell those to common people to make a profit. This is the real Dukuang liquor. Let me pour you a drink."
"I was one of those common people then?"
"Not anymore. I'm sorry."
I take the liquor bottle from Cha Sung-tae's hand. After tearing off the seal, I stare at Cha Sung-tae and sniff at the bottle.
"If it's poisoned, I'll pour it all in your nostrils."
Cha Sung-tae touches his nose by reflex.
"I'm going to drink it too, why would I poison it? Mrs. Son, it's not poisoned, is it?"
Mrs. Son, waiting in the hallway, sticks her head in and shakes her head toward Cha Sung-tae.
When Mrs. Son moves her lips without any sound, Cha Sung-tae askes back with a confused look.
"Are you mute? Why aren't you talking? I asked if it's poisoned?"
Then Mrs. Son crosses her fingers over her mouth. A sign that she can't speak.
"I said I'd rip her mouth open if she talked."
Then Cha Sung-tae nods and says to Mrs. Son.
"Then keep your mouth shut. If you don't want your mouth ripped off."
Mrs. Son bows her head toward Cha Sung-tae and me before disappearing into the hallway to wait for any other commands.
Even Cha Sung-tae doesn't know when the owner is coming.
"Mrs. Son's words do carry some sting to them."
Cha Sung-tae then says to Mrs. Son, a thought evidently on his mind.
"Mrs. Son, go and get Chae-hyang. Tell her to serve us a drink."
Mrs. Son's footsteps are heard in the hallway.
This time, Cha Sung-tae speaks again while pouring Dukuang liquor into the glass.
"I'll drink first. It's been so chaotic recently."
I drink after watching Cha Sung-tae drink. Cha Sung-tae then asks a question, the alcohol seemingly giving him back some sense.
"Were you always that good at fighting? I've never heard about it."
"I held myself back because my grandfather told me not to fight."
"That kind of lie won't work on me. First of all, I apologize for what happened earlier. I fully understand that you are doing this because you were humiliated by my men."
"Thank you, you rascal. For being understanding. That's considerate of you."
Cha Sung-tae is buying time by making all kinds of small talk.
I roll up my sleeves and say.
"But now that I think about it, I'm getting annoyed. Sung-tae, you son of a bitch. Is this how you apologize? Should I break a few bones to change that?"
Cha Sung-tae quickly kneels down as he sees me grab my sickle.
"I'm sorry. I sincerely apologize. I've never knelt before in my life. I'm sorry."
Cha Sung-tae's attitude change is swift and accurate, as if he were mimicking the tactical changes of absolute martial masters.
Cha Sung-tae bows his head deeply as he kneels on his knees.
Chae-hyang arrives at the door. As soon as she sees Cha Sung-tae kneeling, Chae-hyang's pupil starts shaking.
Cha Sung-tae turns his head and says to Chae-hyang with an intimidating gaze.
"Stop staring and serve the booze. I told you to control your emotions."
When Chae-hyang naturally heads to Cha Sung-tae's side with a frozen expression, Cha Sung-tae squeaks.
"Are you crazy? Get a grip and sit over there. Who asked you to serve me?"
Chae-hyang's face becomes pale.
I look at Chae-hyang sitting next to me with a pale face and say.
"Oh, you're here?"
There are always two kinds of people.
Those who hold grudges and those who don't hold grudges.
In my case…
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