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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
“Are you really okay?”
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t be okay?” Jin Mu-Won said, grinning.
Eun Han-Seol stared at Jin Mu-Won’s face for a long time with a concerned expression.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I want to see if you’re actually okay.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“Hmm, you seem fine,” replied a confused-sounding Eun Han-Seol, her puffed-up cheeks distorting the shape of her face.
“I’m leaving,” she said, vaulting over the buildings. She had stopped hiding the fact that she was a martial arts practitioner from Jin Mu-Won some time ago.
Jin Mu-Won shook his head as he watched her disappear into the darkness. She was like a wandering stray cat that liked to leap around randomly.
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He went into a shaded alley, then suddenly began to vomit.
Jin Mu-Won kept puking until he had thrown up all the food that Shim Won-Ui had given him and his vomit turned yellow from the gastric juice. He then raised his head, muttering, “Ahh, that feels so much better.”
He stood up straight and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
Jin Mu-Won felt warm even though the weather was rather cold. He walked over to the nearby well, confirmed that no one was around, then proceeded to take off his shirt. Immediately, the freezing wind bit into his skin. He bent over and drew a bucket of water from the well, then poured the water over his head and body.
As the last of his drunkenness was washed away, Jin Mu-Won’s mind cleared up.
“Things will probably get really tiresome from here on.”
The way Shim Won-Ui looked at him made him feel extremely uncomfortable. For the whole duration of the banquet, that man hadn’t taken his eyes off him, not even for an instant. Those eyes that seemed like they were boring right through him had made him acutely conscious of every movement, even while eating.
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He suspects that I know martial arts. It would be one thing if it was just the foundations, but if Shim Won-Ui finds out about the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows, he would definitely utilize all means at his disposal to get rid of me.
Jin Mu-Won dumped another bucket of cold water on himself.
“Be patient, Jin Mu-Won. You must always remember to be patient and tolerant.”
He looked up at the sky and repeated the words “be patient” over and over again.
Dark clouds filled the sky, concealing the light of the stars like a veil.
“They mentioned that Dam Soo-Cheon would be coming here, right?”
Dam Soo-Cheon is undoubtedly the star of the current generation, having embarked on the Hundred Duels Trial. Shim Won-Ui and Seomoon Hye-Ryung came all the way to this place just to meet with him.
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Now, the real problem is, will Dam Soo-Cheon take any interest in me?
…I hope not.
Shim Won-Ui stood on a hill, looking toward the north. As his eyes scanned over the endless expanse of desolate plains, a smile spread across his face.
“This is great.”
He could feel the powerful life force pulsating behind the illusion of bleak plains and barren hills. This was a place where the weak were meat and the strong eat, where the most desperate people survived by ruling over the weak and forcefully taking away what was theirs. These people who had the will to do whatever it took to survive highly intrigued him.
Shim Won-Ui relished in the strength and savagery of the North. He wasn’t sure if this was because he highly approved of the phrase “survival of the fittest”, or if it was because he had been born and raised within the hierarchical confines of the Central Plains and craved freedom.
Just then, Warden Captain Mok Eun-Pyung quietly approached him.
“Young Master, I’ve finally found you. Everyone is worried about you.”
“No need to make such a big fuss. I only came outside to get some fresh air.”
“Still, you must be careful. As the future leader of Judgment Heaven, Young Master must always be aware of your own status.”
“Hah! Who would dare harm me?” sneered Shim Won-Ui.
Mok Eun-Pyung lowered his head. He dared not argue with Shim Won-Ui. Shim Won-Ui turned back to face the northern plains.
“Captain Mok, can you see it?”
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“Do you know why I’ve always wanted to come here? It’s because I want to see the traces left behind by a hundred years of war for myself. From there, I can capture a glimpse of the brutal battles of the past, and immerse myself in that part of history.”
“So…have you seen what you came for?”
“I’ve felt it. The immense ferocity and intensity of that period. In comparison, the Central Plains is too peaceful and quiet.”
“The truth is, the peaceful state of the gangho right now is but an illusion created by those ancient monsters in Heaven’s Summit.”
Shim Won-Ui’s mouth twitched in distaste.
Following the fall of the Northern Army, a new era of peace had begun in the Central Plains. That was because no sect or clan dared to raise any conflicts under the absolute reign of Heaven’s Summit.
Heaven’s Summit simply would not condone any kind of chaos in the new world order it had established. All disputes and feuds would have to be mediated by them, and those who violated this rule would be punished severely.
They were especially intolerant of outlaws and bandits, as these hoodlums were the root cause of most small-scale scuffles within the gangho.
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Of course, the criminals tried to resist. However, they couldn’t trust each other and their teamwork fell apart easily, like sand scattered across the ground. Naturally, they weren’t a match for Heaven’s Summit.
To those who opposed them, Heaven’s Summit was merciless. They captured and punished any dissidents to a point where it could even be called cruelty. The few who survived the purge either retired from the gangho or ended up serving under other factions.
In the end, only the prominent sects, distinguished clans, and factions led by powerhouses such as the Four Pillars were allowed to voice their opinions to Heaven’s Summit.
These powerful factions relied on brute force to interfere in the economy, obtaining huge amounts of capital. They then used the money as funding to make even larger profits.
In a world dominated by martial strength and money, murim-in valued personal gain over freedom. From a certain perspective, the world had become an even more depressing place to live in compared to when the war with the Silent Night was still ongoing.
Everything was as Heaven’s Summit willed it to be.
To put it precisely, the current state of the world was dictated by the Nine Skies, the rulers of Heaven’s Summit.
“The Nine Skies abhor changes and challenges to the doctrine that they’ve put in place. Perhaps, they’re even thinking of pursuing immortality to revel in their wealth and glory forever.
“They’ve created a perfect system which cannot be overturned by any one person; a system where a few privileged people rule over the rest with an iron fist.
“That is the current reality within the Central Plains.”
Shim Won-Ui knew that he himself was one of the privileged who enjoyed a luxurious life under the umbrella that was Judgment Heaven. Since when he was young, he had been fed various strengthening pills and received bodily purification and enhancement. These had allowed him to become an expert martial artist at a very young age.
Also, barring any unforeseen incidents, he would undoubtedly succeed the leadership of Judgment Heaven. However, this wasn’t likely to happen for many years, as his father, Shim Mu-Wae, was still in his prime and would only get stronger as time passed.
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“It might seem odd to you, but my father is the same kind of person as them. He would never give up power and pass his position down to another for as long as he lives, even if that person is his own son.
“Huhuhu! If I don’t do anything about it, it’ll probably be several dozen years before I can take over the leadership of Judgment Heaven. I’m not going to quietly wait until that time comes, though. I choose to challenge his authority, and it will make me strong. Right here, right now, I am creating the foundations that will bring my plan to fruition.”
Shim Won-Ui’s eyes glittered with a cold, malevolent light.
He was young, hot-blooded, and believed in his own strength. Most importantly, he burned with ambition and wasn’t about to resign himself to being merely the successor for a few dozen years.
“Will you join me and help me achieve my goals, Captain Mok?”
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“I am Young Master’s sword. The lord was the one who created me, but my loyalty is to you, Young Master.”
“Is that so?”
Shim Won-Ui made direct eye contact with Mok Eun-Pyung. Although the captain’s own gaze was as sharp as a knife, Shim Won-Ui’s stare made his eyes feel like they were being split open. Even so, he did not look away.
Pleased by Mok Eun-Pyung’s reaction, Shim Won-Ui smiled.
“Use me as you wish, Young Master.”
“Then, shouldn’t you start by changing the way you address me?”
Shim Won-Ui grinned in satisfaction. He already knew that Mok Eun-Pyung was loyal to him, but he still wanted to make use of this opportunity to confirm it.
Suddenly, a black-clothed person appeared at the hilltop with a swoosh sound. It was one of the Wardens, a man named Yeop-Wol.
He called out to Mok Eun-Pyung, saying, “Captain!”
“What’s going on?”
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“One of the mercenaries wishes to speak with Young Master.”
Yeop-Wol pointed at a man standing in the distance. It was Jang Pae-San.
Mok Eun-Pyung looked at Jang Pae-San with disdain.
Jang Pae-San was merely an affiliate mercenary, a position that was considered below even a low-rank member of Heaven’s Summit. His martial arts were so weak that he had been kicked out of the lower ranks during one struggle for promotion. For trash like that to request a conversation with Shim Won-Ui was unthinkable unless the man thought too highly of himself.
However, Shim Won-Ui could think of uses for a man like that.
“Bring him to me.”
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Mok Eun-Pyung looked at Shim Won-Ui, confused.
“Huhu! He might be trash, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has no value. There are some dirty jobs that only people at the very bottom can do. Bring him here.”
Mok Eun-Pyung nodded to Yeop-Wol, who immediately went to fetch Jang Pae-San.
“I heard that you wish to meet me?”
“Yes, Young Master.”
Jang Pae-San knelt down in front of Shim Won-Ui, who responded by giving him a sinister smile.
“So, what did you want to talk about?”
“This insignificant one has always admired Young Master Shim. If Young Master would give me a chance to serve you, I would be willing to do anything for you.”
“I beg of you, please give me just one chance.”
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Jang Pae-San slammed his forehead into the ground repeatedly until blood came spurting out.
“You said that you admired me?”
“Yes, Young Master! I’ve always thought that only Young Master is worthy of leading the future murim. I might not be of much use, but if Young Master is willing to take me in, I swear that I will serve you wholeheartedly.”
“How do you intend to serve me?”
“I am ready to do anything that needs doing. When I return to Heaven’s Summit, I can be your eyes and ears there.”
“You wish to become my eyes and ears in Heaven’s Summit? Do you know just how many eyes and ears I have? Do you honestly think you can compare to any of them?”
“Of course, I’m sure that Young Master has many servants. However, none of them are bottom feeders like me. I am familiar with the ins and outs of the lowest ranks and how to make use of those people.”
Jang Pae-San was betting his life on this plea. He understood all too well that if he continued living life the way he was right now, he would never amount to anything and would simply waste away. The fear that he would never be summoned back to the Central Plains and would have to rot away in this desolate place for many more years gave him the courage to risk his life just this once.
If he could become one of Shim Won-Ui’s trusted underlings and make his way up the ranks of Heaven’s Summit, that would be killing two birds with one stone. Thus, Jang Pae-San prostrated himself on the ground in front of Shim Won-Ui, who in turn seemed rather satisfied with Jang Pae-San’s attitude.
Mok Eun-Pyung looked at the man groveling on the ground with contempt, then whispered in Shim Won-Ui’s ear, saying, “This man isn’t worthy of you, Milord.”
He was a proud man by nature. One glance at Jang Pae-San’s sly eyes had told him everything that he needed to know about the mercenary. He placed a hand on his sword hilt, ready to behead Jang Pae-San the instant Shin Won-Ui gave the order.
Jang Pae-San realized that this was the crucial moment that would decide his ultimate fate. He shivered but did not raise his head.
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To think that I would place my life in the hands of another.
He was hit by a wave of regret, but there was no turning back now. Even though he didn’t know whether he would survive or not, he had no choice but to keep moving forward.
“Hmm, what shall I do with you?” said Shim Won-Ui, grinning naughtily. He was enjoying tormenting Jang Pae-San with his words, but Jang Pae-San forced himself to endure the humiliation and waited for Shim Won-Ui’s final decision, his mouth dry with anxiety.
Shim Won-Ui waited for some time. Then, like a judge slamming down his gavel, he said, “Raise your head.”
Jang Pae-San raised his head only to lock gazes with Shim Won-Ui, who was standing above him and looking down. Looking at the arrogant eyes that were colder than a snake’s and sharper than a knife, Jang Pae-San couldn’t help but swallow his nonexistent saliva.
“Okay, I will take you with me. When I return to the Central Plains, you will be coming with me.”
“T-Thank you, Young Master. No, I mean, Milord.”
“You better not think about betraying me, ever. I also hate it when one of my servants disagrees with me.”
“I am absolutely loyal to you. I would even be willing to jump into the fires of hell at your command.”
“Now, get out of my sight.”
Shim Won-Ui waved his arm dismissively. Jang Pae-San retreated backwards on his knees until he had gotten far enough away.
When Yeop-Wol and Jang Pae-San had disappeared out of sight, Mok Eun-Pyung cautiously asked, “Do you really need him that much?”
“Hmph! Recently I’ve been wondering whether I need a loach1 like that. A pond that is too clean and clear is boring, isn’t it? Sometimes, you just want to savor the pleasure of muddying the water,” said Shim Won-Ui, laughing.
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