Showing the sickle on my waist to Geum Chul-yong, I say.
"I shed some blood in the Plum Blossom Pavilion."
"Goodness, how many did you kill?"
"None of them died."
Geum Chul-yong tilts his head.
"I'm glad, but did you master any martial arts?"
"I did. That's why the noodle soup tasted terrible."
"Fair enough. Your grandfather lived a decent life cooking chicken noodle soup, so that's not unusual. If the Cho brothers keep messing with you, I'll make them stop. It's getting worse here by the day. If they refuse to stop, I'll protect you here. There's no need to make things worse. No matter how insistent those bastards are, they can't do anything as long as this Geum Chul-yong is still in the Dragon Head Smithy."
'Did Mister Geum always have this side to him? How unexpected. Why didn't he intervene in my previous life?'
Looking back through my memories, Geum Chul-yong was the first to meet his downfall, although the timing was slightly different then. This man indeed tried to keep his word.
I answer Geum Chul-yong's kindness with a smile.
"Thank you for your kindness."
I then continue with a serious tone.
"I'm going to establish a federation of affiliated sects here in Ilyang Prefecture. The first sect to be created will be called the Rebirth Sect and focus on workers from the Pavilions. Mister Geum, instead of a smithy, you should establish a sect and join me. Of course, I will be the union leader."
"We're already strong enough as a smithy, so why join a faction?"
"Gather all the blacksmiths in the area and build the Steel Dragon Sect (鐵龍門). Anything else won't be enough. If the Cho brothers establish a union, the dues they charge will increase. I will create a union in Ilyang Prefecture strong enough so that the neighboring Unorthodox faction sects can't bother us."
"What's a union?"
"Those in the Plum Blossom Pavilion will belong to the Rebirth Sect. Blacksmiths will unite under the Steel Dragon Sect. Architects will be in the Architectural Sect (築門). I will rally the rest of the forces under their specialities and create more sects accordingly. This is not meant as a means to dictate others."
Geum Chul-yong listens to me with a stern look.
"There's no dues. No sect will be superior to one another. The union atmosphere will be a mess, but that doesn't matter. All I care about is not having our hard-earned money taken away. The forces of the union will randomly increase in power. The union will start small and then extend throughout Kangho. If this union makes someone less likely to bully the weak, the merchants or errand boys, then my intentions are fulfilled. It's a union where the weak can come together and protect their hard-earned money."
Geum Chul-yong reflects on my words for quite some time before replying.
"What a sloppy and grand plan. What's the name of the union?"
I answer back while making eye contact with Geum Chul-yong.
"The Low-Down Sect (下汚門)."
Geum Chul-yong looks at me for a long time with folded arms.
"The Low-Down Sect…"
Low place (下); far end, nasty, dirty (汚).
This combination of meanings refers to those of low status and the weak.
However, the Low-Down Sect also uses Sect (門), which symbolizes power, giving the name a contradictory charm.
When Geum Cheol-yong remains silent, the whole Dragon Head Smithy also follows suit. After long contemplation, Geum Cheol-yong replies to me.
"It's interesting to hear an errand boy speak about creating a faction. Are you sure you can survive against the Cho brothers?"
Geum Chul-yong says to vice master Yong-gae.
"Give him the weapons."
Kwak Yong-gae asks with a shocked look.
"What? Not even loaning them to him?"
Geum Chul-yong stares at Kwak Yong-gae with a frown.
"Is that how you respond to your boss?"
Kwak Yong-gae lowers his head and replies.
As expected, there's a quirky side to Geum Chul-yong's bravado.
Maintaining his stern look, Geum Chul-yong addresses me.
"We'll continue this talk if you survive."
"Tell me if you need any help."
"The weapons with exaggerated handles will do."
"Is that an insult or a compliment?"
After having a staring contest with Geum Chul-yong for a while, I leave the Dragon Head Smithy with a bundle of weapons.
A buzz of conversation begins inside the Dragon Head Smithy once the man who got free weapons leaves.
"Ya think he's gonna make it out alive?"
"The errand boy has it all planned out. He'll make it right?"
"Who knew a guy who can't even make noodles properly would do this. How unexpected."
"I know right. He said he was concentrating on training in martial arts. That's why the noodles tasted like shit."
"That's true. It was awful, and the inn will go out of business sooner or later since he's so bad at it."
"I guess the inn closing down was also part of the plan."
"Should I have let him pay for the weapons? I have some regrets now."
"I gave him weapons that don't sell well anyway. They were too flashy."
Geum Chul-yong smiles pleasantly.
"Good job. We got rid of unwanted stock and earned his trust. So it wasn't a total loss."
"That's right. So he's going to be the union leader?"
"Once he survives anyway, until then he's still an errand boy."
Suddenly, laughter erupts from the Dragon Head Smithy.
"You're too loud."
The laughter stops abruptly.
Kwak Yong-gae asks Geum Chul-yong.
"Boss, what are you thinking so deeply about?"
Geum Cheol-yong strokes his chin and says.
"Steel Dragon Sect."
Immersed in his imagination, Geum Chul-yong murmurs once again.
"Steel Dragon Sect Leader, Geum Chul-yong."
Placing the bloody sickle and weapons from the Dragon Head Smithy on the table, I put the dagger on my waistband.
There's no need to train with swords and whips, but I have to get used to the weight and grip.
After familiarizing the weapons with my hands and eyes, I enter the small room in the back. It was quite possible that the Cho brothers would arrive soon. I close my eyes and focus on breathing without using the Qi breathing technique.
After two hours, I hear an exhausted voice from the entrance of the inn..
As I walk outside I see Cho Yi-gyul, the second brother of the Cho brothers, sitting in a chair, and men with black masks waiting with shovels and bags.
Sitting there with an annoyed expression on his face, Cho Yi-gyul is thinner than I remembered. I used to think he hated making eye contact with people, but now it's simply absurd.
He arrived late after hearing from Cha Sung-tae, but he looked like he had too much to drink.
As I come out, Cho Yi-gyul orders his men.
"Dig a hole. A deep one."
"Yes, my lord."
When I approach, Cho Yi-gyul takes a dagger, stabs it on the table, and says,
Stabbing a dagger on the table is a common fighting method to solve a dispute between two parties.
It's a matter of life and death.
I also stab the Sky Dragon Dagger on the table and sit across from him.
The rules are straightforward.
When someone grabs the dagger during the talk, the fight begins.
Whether they get killed or injured, this fight is between two people, and family members or colleagues can not interfere. Cho Yi-gyul, who has fast hands, has beaten many of his opponents in Ilyang Prefecture in this way.
While his men continue their digging, Cho Yi-gyul stares at me and say,
"I got permission from Black Rabbit Union."
"A union will soon be established in Ilyang Prefecture. It's been a while since the three of us were mocked by members of the Unorthodox faction for running pavilions, but now we can save face."
With a cold look on my face, I deliberately choose to reply respectfully.
Cho Yi-gyul nods and continues.
"Yes, it's worth celebrating. What does that make me then if you cause a scene at the pavilion on the day it was decided? Consider yourself lucky that it didn't reach Black Rabbit Union's ears, you damn scumbag."
Cho Yi-gyul then says as he points to his digging underlings.
"Do you know what that hole is for?"
Cho Yi-gyul nods.
"Glad you're aware. Tell me three reasons why I should keep you alive before they finish digging. Like you'll be the gatekeeper of the upcoming sect. Or follow me around to change my shoes. If you're going to be a dog or a horse, I'll change my mind. Zaha, we grew up in the same town. Isn't it too heartless to kill someone just because they caused some trouble?"
I think to myself.
'Are you going to kill me or not? Just choose. Bastard.'
However, what Cho Yi-gyul is doing is amusing, so I choose to play along.
Looking at the sword and whip on the table, Cho Yi-gyul says.
"Oh. Would you look at that, you pathetic bastard."
Cho Yi-gyul sighs and calls my name again.
I sigh and reply.
"Sounds like my name. What's up?"
"What's — up? What's… up?"
Killing intent radiates from Cho Yi-gyul's body. He is impatient, and I know precisely what Cho Yi-gyul will do.
"What, you bastard? Spit it out."
Cho Yi-gyul pulls out his dagger and heads straight for my neck. A metallic sound fills the air before the dagger's tip could reach my Adam's apple.
The Sky Dragon Dagger that I picked up from the table blocks Cho Yi-gyul's dagger; his dagger's point stopped by my dagger's broadside.
I push the dagger away slowly and look at Cho Yi-gyul.
"Ah, you scared me. I almost got stabbed."
Only then did Cho Yi-gyul look at me with surprise..
I stab my dagger on the table and say.
"Is there a reason why I should spare you? Tell me one reason why. If I kill you, I will also have to kill your brothers. If I want to kill you, all of you must die; if I want to save you, I will save all three. Life or death? Jeez, how dare an idiot who can't throw a punch threaten me. You bastard, try talking shit again."
Cho Yi-gyul stabs the dagger on the table and folds his arms like me.
Cho Yi-gyul then says with a bitter face.
"Looks like you gained enlightenment somewhere. Congratulations."
Then, the underlings who are still digging stupidly ask Cho Yi-gyul.
"Boss, we're almost done digging."
Cho Yi-gyul replies.
Cho Yi-gyul didn't want to show his shameful state to his underlings.
When I grab the Sky Dragon Dagger again, I beckon him to try and stop me.
As soon as I finish my sentence, Cho Yi-gyul grabs his dagger. However, I had already stabbed the Sky Dragon Dagger through his shoulder and pulled it back out.
As if it wanted to see the outside world, blood spills out along with my dagger.
While grabbing his dagger, Cho Yi-gyul was looking at his shoulder. Only then did he realize the severe difference in our speed.
Watching Cho Yi-gyul turn pale, I say.
"Why are you so slow? You lived like a king here in Ilyang Prefecture. How does it feel to get stabbed by an errand boy? Our beloved pavilion master that loves digging graves."
Ilyang Prefecture men do not back down from this.
Cho Yi-gyul clenches his teeth tightly and pulls out the dagger to stab me in the shoulder.
This time, I can clearly see Cho Yi-gyul's technique.
It is a trick to aim for the shoulder, and the following attack is the one that contained killing intent.
I grab Cho Yi-gyul's wrist with my left hand and extend Sky Dragon Dagger toward the palm of Cho Yi-gyul's incoming hand.
Cho Yi-gyul hurriedly retrieves his injured palm with his face twisting in pain. The table below begins to be soaked with blood.
Then, as tradition, our respective daggers are stabbed on the table again.
It's time for the weak to shut his mouth, so I say.
"Forget my feelings. Is there a reason why I should keep you alive? Not only did you take part in human trafficking, but you've also killed a number of my childhood friends. And the union? Fucking bullshit. Didn't Black Rabbit Union allow it so they can extort money?"
"Shut up. You'll start extorting merchants for protection money. If angry merchants resist and fight back, the Black Rabbit Union will come and deal with it. The young people from the blacksmiths and the shops will fight to the death. This works to Black Rabbit Union's advantage. If bloodshed takes place, Ilyang Prefecture won't be able to even squeak and be forced to pay up."
The Black Rabbit Union needs a justification because other Unorthodox faction forces are also targeting Ilyang Prefecture.
Uniquely enough, Ilyang Prefecture was heavily targeted in the past and was temporarily excluded as an area of dispute. The three Cho brothers were the ones who took advantage of that situation.
This led to the blood of the men of Ilyang Prefecture being spilled and the profits reaped by the Black Rabbit Union and the Cho brothers.
That's the future I knew.
Cho Yi-gyul answers.
"There are a lot of passionate youths in Ilyang Prefecture. First, I'll build a sect, increase our strength, and fight the Black Rabbit Union with my brothers."
"With that kind of skill level? Who will take responsibility for the merchants and craftsmen who will be broken by then? The Black Rabbit Union is intimidating because of their Sect Leader's status. Can you even handle it?"
"How do you know that?"
"Sometimes news travels faster to me than to the Murim Alliance."
Cho Yi-gyul then reaches out his bloody hand and says.
"…The more reason we should work together. I don't know how you've become strong, but it doesn't matter. Zaha, you'll never be able to deal with Black Rabbit Union alone."
I click my tongue and point my finger at Cho Yi-gyul's men. They were still digging enthusiastically.
"What was that for again?"
A natural reply flows out of my mouth.
"It's okay. Now it's your grave."
I give Cho Yi-gyul a smile as I stare into his eyes.
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