Repentance Cave was located inside the Disciplinary Hall.
As the name “Repentance Cave” suggests, it was originally a place where the Azure Forest held evil doers or villains captive, making them repent for their sins.
However, that’s a story of the past. Ever since the great expulsion of the Demon Cult, peace had persisted in the martial world.
As the Azure Forest rarely engaged in Jianghu, Repentance Cave had been empty for decades.
But, a few years ago, a disciple started occupying one of its rooms.
His name was Dam Hyun.
A second-generation disciple of the Azure Forest, he was recognized for his talent and became an honor flower disciple.
Despite the grave sin of stabbing his master Yu Jeong-shin, Dam Hyun looked unscathed.
His solitary cell was no different. Instead of a shabby room with a straw mat, it was decent enough for a person to live in.
Dam Hyun stepped onto the old wooden floor.
There was a barred window with iron bars, but his cell had a window through which he could see outside.
He approached the window.
The sunlight shone on Dam Hyun’s hand, body, and face.
His skin was remarkably pale.
If Yi-gang’s pallor was due to frailty, Dam Hyun’s whiteness was from not seeing the sun.
He furrowed his brows but still placed a handful of rice grains on the windowsill.
Soon, a mountain bird flew over and perched on the windowsill. Pecking at the rice grains with its small beak, the bird chirped cheerfully.
A smile appeared on Dam Hyun’s irritable and tired face.
He stroked the back of the mountain bird as if touching something precious. Surprisingly, the bird did not shy away from his touch.
Instead, it rubbed its face against Dam Hyun’s hand like a puppy seeking affection.
“You make it less lonely here.”
There was affection in Dam Hyun’s eyes.
In those warm eyes, never shown to others, a momentary purple glow flickered.
The mountain bird chirped as if singing.
“Has the air in the mountains changed that he lights candles of the Heavenly God Candlestick…?”
Even though there was no scent of candles, Dam Hyun knew it. But that wasn’t all. A tingling sensation of spiritual energy was coming from the direction of the Grand Library.
It was certain that something was happening there. He knew it through his innate sensitive perception, which could only be described as a natural talent.
“Master, what are you scheming?”
A flame-like emotion ignited in Dam Hyun’s eyes. He was someone twisted in some way.
On the wall behind him, there was a painting. Drawn with what seemed to be bright red liquid, pressed with fingers - a wall mural.
People were burning to death, and the painting depicted beasts and mountain birds tearing at them.
Something swiftly climbed up Dam Hyun’s trembling shoulders.
Surprisingly, it was a wooden fox doll.
The wooden doll, moving as if it were alive, wagged its tail as if to comfort Dam Hyun.
With just that, Dam Hyun’s anger seemed to subside as he stroked the fox.
“Yes… I don’t know what Master is trying to do, but it’s bound to fail anyway. I can tell just by the smell.”
The ritual being prepared by Yu Jeong-shin and Golden Needle Phantom.
Amazingly, Dam Hyun was predicting the failure of this ritual from his place in Repentance Cave.
“Now, they will start missing my absence.”
With a twisted smile, Dam Hyun disappeared back into the shadows.
And then, Son Hee-il—
He looked around.
The place he visited every evening was the White Pine Training Ground.
Unlike the bustling Blue Pine Training Ground, always crowded with third-generation disciples, this place was much quieter.
This was because it was a training ground for the second-generation disciples. Especially this area, dense with white pine, was used by no one other than Yi-gang.
Swallowing his envy, Son Hee-il picked up a wooden sword.
When Son Hee-il first received the sentence from the Disciplinary Hall Head to serve Yi-gang and learn manners, he felt like biting his tongue and dying. It was too harsh a punishment for just being ignorant.
But fortunately, Yi-gang didn’t exploit Son Hee-il too much.
Instead, he demanded wooden sword sparring every evening.
It was to perfect the Baek Clan’s swordsmanship.
Putting aside how presumptuous that ambition was, for Son Hee-il, it was a welcome situation.
Because Yi-gang promised to release him if he ever won a match.
Son Hee-il bowed with a dark expression. It had become natural to call the younger Yi-gang “senior.” His gloomy face had another reason.
“Shall we start?”
Yi-gang was also holding a wooden sword.
Son Hee-il cautiously assumed a fighting stance.
He had previously sparred and lost to Yi-gang. But that didn’t completely shatter Hee-il’s pride.
The difference in skill wasn’t that big. If they sparred multiple times, an opportunity to win would come. He would find Yi-gang’s weakness as he got used to his style. That’s how they sparred daily.
And the result was…
Yi-gang took a step forward.
Compared to Yi-gang’s unwavering expression, Son Hee-il’s face grew darker.
On the first day of sparring, they exchanged about three hundred moves. Son Hee-il lost by a hair’s breadth. It was a close call.
The fifth spar ended in just two hundred moves. It wasn’t even close to a narrow defeat. He was knocked out by a new move from Yi-gang’s Heaven’s Shadow Sword Technique that hit his solar plexus.
The fifteenth spar ended in less than a hundred moves.
It was around that time that fear started to take hold in Son Hee-il’s face.
He was definitely getting used to Yi-gang’s sword.
But Yi-gang was changing faster than Son Hee-il could adapt.
“Today, it’s the ninth form of the Heaven’s Shadow Sword Technique.”
Then Yi-gang’s sword rose to the sky.
The eighth form of the Heaven’s Shadow Sword’s latter three forms, Heaven’s Net White Light, began to unfold. The ninth form was a sword technique that intertwined with Heaven’s Net White Light.
Son Hee-il had been previously sent flying in a terrible state by Heaven’s Net White Light.
Yi-gang’s wooden sword vibrated. There was clearly an afterimage. It was unbelievable.
The condition of the spar was not to infuse the sword with energy.
If Yi-gang hadn’t had meridian blockage disease, Hee-il would have thought he was breaking the rules.
The name of the ninth form was definitely…
“Snap out of it, Junior.”
Son Hee-il gritted his teeth and raised his sword to counter.
The afterimage of Yi-gang’s wooden sword suddenly dispersed.
The afterimages of the sword filled his vision, looking as if the heavens were collapsing.
Heaven’s Shadow Sword’s Ninth Form.
Perfected Sword Shattering Heaven.
That was the essence of the Heaven’s Shadow Sword Technique passed down to Yi-gang by the Immortal Divine Sword.
Son Hee-il blocked, blocked, and blocked again.
But like a dragon writhing, Yi-gang’s wooden sword flying from all directions eventually broke through Son Hee-il’s defense.
Yi-gang’s wooden sword struck and passed over all of Son Hee-il’s pressure points.
Hee-il rolled on the ground, eyes turned up.
A battle decided in just two moves. It was a record.
Yi-gang breathed heavily.
For him too, mastering the latter three forms of the Heaven’s Shadow Sword Technique was not easy, especially now that he couldn’t use his internal energy.
However, Yi-gang had completely mastered up to the ninth form of the sword, thanks to the enlightenment gained while manipulating the energy from the topaz.
“Are you okay?”
Son Hee-il seemed to have lost consciousness entirely.
If it hadn’t been for the daily sparring with him, it would have been difficult to acquire the Heaven’s Shadow Sword Technique so quickly.
“Today is the last day. You’ve worked hard.”
Even though Hee-il was unconscious and couldn’t hear, Yi-gang said that anyway.
The Immortal Divine Sword smiled faintly beside him.
‘With this, have I learned all of the forms of the Heaven’s Shadow Sword Technique?’
「Not quite, I also wanted to personally instruct you in the most important aspect of transferring internal energy.」
But that wasn’t possible.
He had heard from the Azure Forest Lord last night. The time had come.
‘I can practice diligently on my own.’
The Immortal Divine Sword must attain Nirvana for Yi-gang to be healed, and only then the true power of the Heaven’s Shadow Sword Technique can be unleashed.
‘It will be peaceful once the ancestor achieves enlightenment.’
「Uh-huh, who knows if I’ll meet someone similar next time.」
The Immortal Divine Sword spoke of “the next time.”
Even if Yi-gang connected the major meridians with the spiritual energy of the Immortal Divine Sword, it wouldn’t be a complete cure.
It might extend his life by a few years, but immense spiritual energy would still be needed to heal his body.
The Azure Forest Lord told Yi-gang that someday, he must find another way to gather spiritual energy. Perhaps, like the Immortal Divine Sword, he might have to help another soul on earth achieve Nirvana.
“How easy would that be.”
「It wouldn’t be.」
But for now, it seemed a distant prospect.
After placing Son Hee-il in a warm spot, Yi-gang sat on a rock.
The Immortal Divine Sword also sat beside him.
It was a particularly warm spring day.
And the next day, Yi-gang headed to the underground of the Grand Library.
The ritual was ready.
Yi-gang raised his head.
He had never known there was such a space beneath the Grand Library.
The underground cave should have been pitch-dark, but it wasn’t. This was because the costly luminous pearls were hanging abundantly from the ceiling.
To the left, Golden Needle Phantom was sterilizing his needles. It was a repetitive process of heating the needles over a hot candle and carefully placing them on a white cloth.
To the right, Yu Jeong-shin was busily doing something in front of a candle stand.
It was said that this object would collect spiritual energy and help the recovery of Yi-gang’s body.
And Yi-gang himself—
“Brr, it’s cold.”
He sat on a cold stone slab, wearing only his underwear. He had to do this as he needed to receive acupuncture all over his body.
“This isn’t quite the romantic farewell I had in mind.”
The Immortal Divine Sword, standing beside him, also laughed and looked down at Yi-gang.
He hadn’t expected a farewell with bright five-colored lights bursting out and saying, “Farewell Yi-gang!” and “Thank you for your hard work, Grandfather!”.
But he hadn’t expected the ritual to proceed like a patient entering an operating room either.
“Are you ready?” asked Yu Jeong-shin as he approached.
His pale complexion suggested that preparing for the ritual had been strenuous.
“Good, I’ll make sure to heal your body.”
Yu Jeong-shin smiled and spoke.
For Yi-gang, it wasn’t immediately clear why Yu Jeong-shin was working so diligently.
He was going to become a disciple, but they were not yet that close.
Golden Needle Phantom intervened, wiping his hands with a towel.
“Healing the body is my job, aren’t you trying to steal my credit? Hehe.”
He examined Yi-gang’s eyes, sniffed his breath, and felt his wrist pulse.
“It seems there are no issues with the body condition. Then, let’s begin. Inform him.”
Yi-gang looked at the Immortal Divine Sword.
Since they couldn’t communicate with the Immortal Divine Sword, it was Yi-gang’s job to do so.
The Immortal Divine Sword walked smilingly towards the center of the cave, where nine candle stands were arranged in a circle, illuminating the area.
In the center of this cave, a formation was laid out.
It was a sophisticated formation based on the principles of Qi Men Dun Jia, drawn with red cinnabar in such a way that the characters, written in Tibetan or Sanskrit, were hard to discern.
“Originally, in Taoism, life and death are taught to be without attachment. The concept of enlightenment is more familiar to the Buddhist monks than to us.”
Blinking, Yi-gang listened to Yu Jeong-shin’s kind explanation.
“That’s why, even in designing this formation, we borrowed their methods. You will soon learn about it too.”
It seemed that the Azure Forest had a tolerant standard for techniques beyond Taoism.
Yi-gang lay down straight and looked at the ceiling.
Yu Jeong-shin spoke softly.
“I will recite the scripture.”
The ritual had begun.
“You have completed a lifetime of hardships; now I assume you have let go of all attachments.”
Yi-gang, lying down, couldn’t see the Immortal Divine Sword.
He could only faintly hear Yu Jeong-shin’s words.
“Repeat after me, xin-shen-dan-yuan.”
His chest tingled. Golden Needle Phantom inserted a long acupuncture needle into his solar plexus. It must have been extremely painful, but Yi-gang did not flinch.
“Having resolved the resentment in your soul, I assume you will ascend to the Pure Land. Ling-wo-tong-zhen.”
Yu Jeong-shin chanted and then whispered to Yi-gang.
“Tell him to recall the joyful moments. The relieving of things that can help him let go of his attachments to the earthly realm.”
Yi-gang conveyed the message.
He wondered what expression the Immortal Divine Sword would have. Would he recall the time when he received forgiveness from his granddaughter Baek Young-ryeong? Or maybe the past when his son was still alive?
“We wish to heal your descendant with the spiritual energy you left on earth. Ling-bao-fu-ming.”
Then, a noticeable change occurred for Yi-gang, who was lying down.
A light, far brighter than the glow of the luminous pearls, burst forth. It was coming from the direction where the Immortal Divine Sword had been.
Now, Yi-gang could also see the Immortal Divine Sword.
He was floating in mid-air. As always when he was attempting enlightenment, he was emitting a brilliant golden light.
The Immortal Divine Sword had an expression of transcending all worldly matters, serene and detached.
Golden Needle Phantom, who had been administering acupuncture to Yi-gang, murmured in surprise.
“Really… There was a spirit there.”
Now, it seemed, he could also see the Immortal Divine Sword.
Was the ritual proceeding successfully?
But then, Yu Jeong-shin exclaimed.
“Oh no, this can’t be…!”
His voice was urgent and panicked.
And Yi-gang felt a tremendous energy surging through his body.
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