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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
Winters in the North were harsh. The merciless dry winds would penetrate right through one’s clothes and sting like blades cutting into flesh.
Two horse-drawn wagons plodded slowly across the plains against the punishing wind. A dozen or so men sat both inside and on the roof of the wagons.
They looked around them, faces pale. They were exhausted from their long journey. They were not in a hurry, so the journey had not been physically tiring, but the countless days spent on the road still pushed their mental resilience to their limits.
The worst thing was that no matter which direction they looked in, all they saw was an endless, flat expanse of snow.
It’s been three days since we left the border, but I haven’t seen a single living soul. It feels like I’ve entered a completely different world, like I’m suffocating in a blanket of white nothingness.
“Do we seriously have to spend three years in this desolate place?” muttered a man sitting on the roof of one of the wagons to himself.
The men around him closed their eyes and shuddered at the thought.
The wagon they were riding on was filled with food and daily necessities that they would need to survive the harsh winter. With this much food, they couldn’t possibly go hungry, but even that was not enough to make them feel better about their situation.
A large fortress appeared in the distance. At first glance, it was grand and imposing, with the soaring towers of a few dozen stately palaces peeking over the colossal walls. On closer inspection though, the eerie fortress showed no signs of human life, like it had been abandoned a long time ago.
This was the place they would be staying in for the next three years. They were approaching their destination, but the men’s motivation was at an all-time low.
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When he saw his dispirited men, the captain of the group stomped his feet angrily, but said nothing more. That was because he was just as depressed as the rest of them.
His name was Jang Pae-San. He was the captain of the Third Company1 of mercenaries affiliated with Heaven’s Summit. The men on the wagons were all his underlings.
As they approached the main gate, Jang Pae-San shouted to his men, “We will soon be taking over custody of the fortress from the Second Company, so buck up! Don’t you dare embarrass me in front of those guys!”
In front of the fierce, bandit-like Jang Pae-San, even the toughest, strongest men would become meek and obedient. Jang Pae-San had an explosive, violent temper that made his men tread carefully around him so as not to trigger the “Volcanic Eruption of Mt. Jang Pae-San”.
The vice-captain Seo Mu-Sang (蘇慕尚)2 stood up on a wagon roof and ordered, “Everyone check your weapons!”
Seo Mu-Sang was a young man in his early twenties, with a calm and rational personality. Due to the fact that he never showed any emotions, the men gossiped about his cold-bloodedness.
Seo Mu-Sang raised his head and looked at the main gate of the fortress. The large plaque that had once stood there and displayed the name of the fortress was nowhere to be seen. The gate itself had fallen into disrepair and was covered in numerous cracks and dents.
Fortunately, the walls were still intact enough to distinguish the interior and exterior of the fortress. There was a strange inscription on the walls, but no one thought much of those.
During the climax of the war with the Silent Night, this fortress had housed more than ten thousand soldiers from all over the Central Plains. There were dozens of identical military barracks, nameless villas and other essential facilities for living. More people lived here in the Northern Army fortress than in an entire county.
In fact, this fortress was so big that even those who had lived here for many years could easily lose their sense of direction within the maze-like fortress and become hopelessly lost. As a result, the Northern Army used to hand out maps to everyone who was visiting for the first time.
However, these once majestic buildings now lay in ruins, reduced to a mere shadow of their former selves.
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“Is this really the Northern Army Fortress?” murmured Seo Mu-Sang.
“This used to be the Northern Army Fortress. It’s also the place where we will be spending the next three years. Fuck this shit!” cursed Jang Pae-San. To him, the fact that this fortress was once the headquarters of the famed Northern Army was not important. He was simply disgusted and enraged by the thought of living in such a godforsaken place for three whole years. On the other hand, Seo Mu-Sang looked at the ruins of the Northern Army Fortress with a sense of reverence.
Even though the Northern Army was no more, joining this army had once been the dream of many young martial artists. The sheer weight of the words “Northern Army” bore down heavily on the hearts of Seo Mu-Sang and the other young warriors.
An ear-piercing screech rang out as the rusted gates were opened. A group of men marched out from the fortress, but unlike the reminiscing young men, these people had sharp eyes and intimidating auras.
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Jang Pae-San saw a familiar face amongst the men and greeted, “Captain Seo.”
“Oh, who is this I see? I guess this makes you my replacement? Captain Jang.”
Captain Seo shook hands with Jang Pae-San.
“Tsk tsk!” Captain Seo clicked his tongue. He had already been stuck here for more than two years. Those years had been utter misery for him and his men. Thus, he had been really looking forward to going home. Today, the day of his departure had finally arrived.
The feelings of the men of the Second and Third Companies were the exact opposite. The former were excited and the latter, depressed. For the Third Company, the gates to hell had just opened and were welcoming them to a long period of suffering and despair.
Captain Seo put a hand on Jang Pae-San’s shoulder and hurried him along.
“Let’s go inside.”
Jang Pae-San and the rest of the Third Company followed Captain Seo, while the Second Company escorted the wagons into the fortress.
From inside, the Northern Army Fortress appeared even shabbier than it did when seen from outside. The main buildings were barely intact, and most of the secondary buildings had completely collapsed. In addition, any pieces of evidence of human civilization were gradually being eroded by the green of nature.
There were only a few usable buildings amongst the ruins. Jang Pae-San noticed a well-maintained mansion in the innermost part of the fortress.
“Is that the one?”
“Yes, that’s the prison.”
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Captain Seo nodded silently. After receiving his confirmation, Jang Pae-San saw the mansion in a completely different light. The Third Company also followed their captain’s gaze and looked toward the mansion.
Suddenly, the door to the mansion opened, accompanied by the creaking of rusted hinges. A scrawny teenage boy about fifteen to sixteen years of age walked out. The boy’s shoulder-length black hair was untied, and long bangs covered his eyes. The only parts of his face that could be seen were his nose, lips, and chin.
Jang Pae-San felt that this boy ought to have a very stubborn personality from his sharp nose and pursed lips. Even if he didn’t look like that, the boy exuded the aura of a lone wolf. That was not an aura that a fifteen, sixteen-year-old boy should have. It fit him unexpectedly well though.
Captain Seo and the Second Company tensed up when they saw the boy. In contrast, Jang Pae-San and the Third Company appeared confused, their eyes showing hints of both pity and wariness.
Captain Seo moved to intercept the boy, saying, “You have to inform us beforehand if you want to go out.”
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The boy stopped in his tracks and looked at the captain. At least, it seemed that he was looking at the captain, as his eyes were hidden under his hair. The captain felt that he could somehow sense the boy’s gaze.
After staring at the captain for a while, the boy finally said, “I’m just taking a walk. I’m not going out today.”
The boy’s voice was very soft, barely more than a whisper. One would think that unless one was paying attention, one would not have heard him. But despite the low volume, the boy’s words could be easily understood.
Everyone, even the men of the Third Company standing far away, could hear the boy, not just Captain Seo who was right in front of him. Even so, no one found this odd. Perhaps that was because of the boy’s unique aura.
“I believe you.”
The boy nodded at Captain Seo’s reply and left. None of the soldiers could take their eyes off his back as he walked away.
Only when the boy had disappeared around a corner did Jang Pae-San ask, “Was that the kid?”
“Yes. He is the last heir of the Northern Army.”
The boy paused for a moment and surveyed his surroundings.
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The fortress that hadn’t been maintained for two years had truly become a ruin. Thankfully, there were still two intact residential buildings left: the mansion that the boy lived in and the barracks where Heaven’s Summit’s affiliate mercenaries lived. All other defensive and military structures had been destroyed, leaving nothing but rubble.
The boy had gotten used to the desolate scenery, but nevertheless, it still pained him every time he saw it. This was the place that his father, grandfather and forefathers had worked hard to protect.
The boy’s name was Jin Mu-Won. Technically, he was the Lord of the Northern Army. Since the Northern Army had been disbanded in disgrace, calling him the Lord was a form of humiliation. After the events of two years ago, none of the former warriors had chosen to remain and had all departed for greener pastures.
Heaven’s Summit, the mastermind behind the Northern Army’s destruction, was flourishing right in the heart of the Central Plains. Many sects that had once been loyal to the Northern Army now pledged their allegiances to the factions led by the Four Pillars of the North. Even martial artists living outside the Four Pillars’ domains knew how lucrative employment there was.
“Where did all of you go? I hope you have enough to eat and are living happily,” laughed Jin Mu-Won self-deprecatingly.
He despised the people who had chosen to leave the Northern Army.
The Northern Army had been created with the help of Heaven’s Summit and had also been annihilated in the hands of the same Heaven’s Summit. His father had been too kind to force all of the Northern Army’s warriors to commit mass suicide with him, and had ordered them to leave instead.
“Even so, I didn’t think that all of you would move so far away.”
Jin Mu-Won scratched his head. He was unable to leave this place. Even if the Northern Army had fallen, he was still its Lord. A Lord cannot forsake his territory.
“Haaah…” Jin Mu-Won sighed.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t help but sigh.
Following the death of Jin Kwan-Ho and the disbandment of the Northern Army, the Northern Army was no longer a threat to Heaven’s Summit. The people who had lost their livelihood felt like they had no choice but to move away. But just because they had given up, did not mean that Jin Mu-Won had given up.
Using keeping a lookout for the Silent Night as an excuse, Heaven’s Summit had sent its affiliate mercenaries to the Northern Army fortress. Officially, he was the landlord and the Second Company were his tenants.
However, no one had seen hide nor hair of the Silent Night for thirty years. The whole world believed that the Silent Night had been completely destroyed and that the Northern Army had been disbanded because there was no longer any need for its existence as the main force defending the front lines.
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The mercenaries’ real job was not to keep an eye on the Silent Night, it was to keep an eye on the last heir to the Northern Army.
Jin Mu-Won wandered aimlessly around the wreckage. After the events of that day, the enemy had not immediately left the fortress. The Four Pillars took the most valuable military supplies. Gold and other valuables were plundered in an instant. Even weapons like swords and dao had been looted. It was all thanks to those thieves that Jin Mu-Won was penniless.
“I don’t know what will happen in the future, but no matter what, I will survive.”
Jin Mu-Won shook his head. He was only fifteen, an age where most would still be depending on their parents, but he had matured so quickly that he felt like an old man.
Jin Mu-Won walked into a tower that still possessed a roof. In the past, this tower was known as the Grand Library. The library had been named after the ten thousand precious scholarly tomes and martial arts manuals that had once been stored here.
This ruined tower could no longer live up to its name as the Grand Library. Most of the precious tomes had been scattered all over the world, leaving only a few worthless ones behind. The hundred or so books left could be classified into two categories: philosophy books and third-rate martial arts manuals (e.g. Six Directions Fist, Three Foundations of Swordsmanship, Cloud Steps). They were all placed on the same bookshelf.
Jin Mu-Won stood in front of the bookshelf and took out the Three Foundations of Swordsmanship manual.
Just as the world is split into the heavens, the earth, and Man,3 so is swordsmanship.
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This line seemed sophisticated, but all the manual contained were the three basics of using a sword. It was so simple that no martial artist worth his salt would call it swordsmanship.
Jin Mu-Won knew the truth about the book. Even so, he read it seriously again and again in order to fully understand the Three Foundations of Swordsmanship. He was so focused that it took him half an hour to finish reading a book with only a few pages.
There was nothing much to do in this barren land, and the mercenaries never interacted with him. Time passed so slowly that each unchanging day felt like a year. Reading was one of the few activities that took up a lot of time, so Jin Mu-Won visited the Grand Library daily and read each book over and over again.
By now he had memorized the contents of all the books, down to every word. Nevertheless, when the next day arrived, he would read a memorized book again. There was nothing else to do anyway.
Heaven’s Summit was afraid that Jin Mu-Won would learn martial arts and take revenge on them, so they dispatched mercenaries to observe him. But after observing Jin Mu-Won closely for two years, Captain Seo and his men concluded: There was no martial art manual left for Jin Mu-Won to learn from.
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“Wow, these people are seriously greedy. They took away everything except the truly worthless trash? I guess being thick-skinned and shameless is also a kind of talent.” said Jin Mu-Won to himself.
Whenever he was alone, Jin Mu-Won would talk to himself. If he didn’t do that, he’d probably never get the opportunity to talk.
Jin Mu-Won put the manual back on the shelf. Normally, he would then take out another book and begin reading, but he didn’t feel like doing that today. He left the Grand Library and headed toward his mansion.
Just then, a powerful gust of wind nearly swept him off his feet.
Winter had begun.
Bringing with it the raging tempests of the North.
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