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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
What is the meaning of peace? If there are no wars, then would the world automatically become peaceful? Can we call a world where it is impossible to pick a fight, one that is peaceful? An era of peace… Is that equivalent to an era where everyone is helpless to resist the destinies they were born with? A world without freedom?
Since times long past, Lanzhou City has been a major trade hub connecting the Western Nations to the Central Plains. Goods from the Central Plains would be traded to the West, and similarly, exotic merchandise from the West would be sold to the Central Plains.
The constant flow of merchandise and money transformed Lanzhou into a city that never slept. Although the buildings weren’t as pretty as the architectural wonders in the Central Plains, the liveliness of the city more than made up for what it lacked in appearance.
Throngs of people flooded the streets, and merchants stood outside their shops advertising their goods to potential customers. Several merchants were shouting at the tops of their voices as they haggled prices with their customers, while others grinned and shook hands with the clientele, pleased with the deal they had just struck.
In particular, there was one street lined with inns and brothels, known as the “Revisit Street”. The street’s name originated from the untold numbers of people who had revisited the street after spending one night there.
The Dark Moon Inn was a small inn situated on the north side of Lanzhou, a few dozen steps away from the headquarters of the White Dragon Merchant Association, one of the Ten Great Companies. Because of its close proximity to the Association, business was good despite its small size.
“Why is it so quiet today?” mumbled Mah Bok, stretching lazily. He was an errand boy at the Dark Moon Inn, and just the day before, he had been so busy that he felt like dying. However, today, the inn was so quiet and empty that he had nothing to do.
I much prefer lazy days like these, anyway.
When business was booming, the owner would be able to earn a lot of money, but as an employee, he received a fixed salary regardless of how many customers he served. Therefore, having no customers was good as he’d get paid even though he wasn’t doing any work.
Suddenly, the door to the Dark Moon Inn was opened, and a man entered. Perhaps because he had been traveling for a long time, his hair and clothes were covered in a thick layer of dust.
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Mah Bok happily greeted the man, saying, “Welcome to the Dark Moon Inn!”
“I’m tired, do you have a room available?”
“Of course we do! How large a room do you need?”
“A room for one is good enough, preferably with an attached bathroom.”
Mah Bok looked at his new customer closely. The man hadn’t shaved in ages, and god knows when the last time he bathed was. He was so dirty and messy that Mah Bok couldn’t guess his age.
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Oh boy, he looks like he’s rolled around in mud! I wonder how many times I’ll have to change his bath water before he’s clean.
As if he could read Mah Bok’s mind, the man smiled and flicked a finger. For a moment, something sparkled in the air, then landed squarely on Mah Bok’s outstretched hand. It was a silver tael.
“You can keep the change.”
“Woah! Dear customer, this is a little too much!” exclaimed Mah Bok, grinning from ear to ear. One silver tael was enough to pay for the best room and food in the inn, and he’d still get to pocket around thirty copper coins as a tip. Even working from early morning till late at night, he’d usually earn at most ten copper coins a day. That meant that just the tip from this man was equivalent to three days of his salary.
“This way please. I will show you to our best room. From there, you’ll be able to take in the best sights in Lanzhou, including the headquarters of the White Dragon Merchant Association!”
“I want to take a bath first.”
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“Certainly! I’ll prepare it immediately after showing you to your lodgings.” replied Mah Bok, feeling like he had just met the God of Money.
Mah Bok led the man to one of the standalone buildings on the inn’s grounds. It was placed on higher ground than the other buildings, allowing one to see the White Dragon Merchant Association as well as the streets of Lanzhou from the windows.
“This is your room. Please wait while I heat up the bathwater!”
“You’re welcome! Then…please excuse me for a moment!”
When Mah Bok had left, the man placed his luggage down in the room. Calling it “luggage” was a bit of a stretch though, since the man’s only belongings were a long rod wrapped in cloth and a small traveling bag.
“Phew!” sighed the man, sitting on a chair. He pushed his messy hair back, revealing his face. He had thick eyebrows, deep black eyes, a high nose bridge, and pursed lips, typical of a person from Hunan.
The man, Jin Mu-Won, mumbled to himself, “Has it already been ten days?”
It had taken him ten days to travel from Mount Cinnabar to Lanzhou. If he hadn’t gotten lost, he would probably have reached Lanzhou sooner, but considering the fact that he traveled all that way on foot, he had already made better time than he expected.
In truth, this was his first time leaving the Northern Army Fortress and Mount Cinnabar. He never intended for it to be this way, but what with him being so monitored closely at the fortress for most of his teenage life, and his childhood with the Northern Army, that was just the way things had turned out for him. The fact that it had taken an idiot in geography like him only ten days to travel from Xinjiang to Lanzhou was nothing short of a miracle.
Jin Mu-Won looked at the main doors of the White Dragon Merchant Association, where a long caravan was currently making its way through.
This is the place where Uncle Hwang works; where he earned the money that he used to raise me.
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As Jin Mu-Won stared blankly at the Association, lost in thought, he was suddenly interrupted by the errand boy, Mah Bok.
“Honored guest, I have already finished the preparations for your bath. Right this way, please.”
Jin Mu-Won stood up and walked towards the back of the building, where Mah Bok was pointing. There, he saw a room with a large bathtub.
“This is the bathroom. If you need the water changed, feel free to call me anytime.”
“Then, I will inform the cooks to start preparing dinner.”
When Mah Bok left, Jin Mu-Won took off his clothes and entered the bath. Naturally, since he had been traveling non-stop for ten days without rest, the clear water instantly turned murky.
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Jin Mu-Won closed his eyes and submerged himself to his neck.
Three months ago, when Hwang Cheol failed to show up in Mount Cinnabar, his sixth sense had already told him that something had gone horribly wrong. Hwang Cheol was not the kind of person who would break a promise, or betray him like the Four Northern Pillars did.
This whole time, I’ve been taking him for granted. I should have cared for him more. I should have made an effort to learn more about him.
Even though Hwang Cheol had visited him regularly over the last ten years, Jin Mu-Won had never questioned him about his personal life before. All he knew about Hwang Cheol was that he worked for the White Dragon Merchant Association in Lanzhou City.
Even if I was focused on learning martial arts, I was far too apathetic towards Uncle Hwang. I never truly appreciated what I had until it was gone…!
Jin Mu-Won bit his lip.
I pray that I’m not too late. Uncle Hwang, as long as you’re alive, I swear that I’ll bring you back no matter what it takes!
After his father’s passing, the only person who remained by his side was Hwang Cheol. To him, Hwang Cheol was the godfather he could trust in and depend on wholeheartedly. That was why Hwang Cheol was the one person he could never forsake.
Jin Mu-Won finished his bath, then pulled out a small knife and began to shave off his beard.
Although he had never done this before, he moved the knife deftly and swiftly, shaving off the beard without leaving a single nick on his face.
“Phew…” he let go of the breath he had been holding and stroked his chin. The smooth feeling of his clean-shaven chin was foreign to him. Jin Mu-Won thought about it for a while, then decided to give himself a haircut as well.
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When he was done with his personal grooming, he returned to his room and opened his traveling bag. Inside it, was a neatly folded red and brown martial artist’s outfit.
The outfit had been a gift from Hwang Cheol.
‘Red and brown are the colors of the Northern Army. Red represents the blood of our enemies, and brown the earth where our enemies’ blood will flow. As the Lord of the Northern Army, Young Master should dress in red and brown.’ – Hwang Cheol
Jin Mu-Won put on the outfit that Hwang Cheol had given him. It was a perfect fit. He was once again reminded of how much care and attention Hwang Cheol had put into everything regarding himself.
After he had gotten dressed, he noticed a string for tying hair included with the clothes. He picked it up and tied his hair loosely with it, then walked outside.
When Mah Bok, who was waiting outside the room, saw Jin Mu-Won, his jaw dropped in shock. Because of the beard, he had thought that Jin Mu-Won would be pretty old, but the man in front of him was not only young, he was also extremely good-looking.
“Wow! I almost didn’t recognize you! You look amazingly handsome and dignified!”
“You don’t need to flatter me. Also, I’m hungry, could you serve the food now?”
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“That was the truth, not flatter!” Mah Bok said and made a puppy-dog face, like he had been misunderstood.
“Pfft!” Jin Mu-Won laughed. He didn’t dislike Mah Bok’s excessively exaggerated expressions. Rather, he found it very amusing.
Mah Bok grinned. “Even if you didn’t ask, the food should be ready around now. Please take a seat in the restaurant while I bring it over.”
Mah Bok went to the kitchen and brought out the dishes. There was fried pork, steamed fish, stir-fried bamboo…all sorts of mouth-watering delicacies were placed on the table.
“Heh heh! I’ve also brought out a jug of our Dark Moon Inn’s best Shaoxing wine for you,” said Mah Bok, smiling broadly and placing a small jug on the table.
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Even through the sealed lid of the jug, Jin Mu-Won could smell the powerful fragrance of the wine.
“It smells amazing!”
“I guarantee you that it’s good! Please, enjoy!”
Jin Mu-Won nodded and removed the lid of the wine jug. The fragrance instantly became many times stronger, spreading out all over the room.
Hmm? This wine smells familiar… It kind of reminds me of the one Uncle Hwang brought with him last time?
Jin Mu-Won took a sip of the wine.
This flavor…it’s exactly the same.
The memory of that drinking bout he had with Hwang Cheol last winter was still fresh in his mind.
Jin Mu-Won looked up at Mah Bok and asked, “Do you know a warrior by the name of Hwang Cheol?”
“Hwang Cheol? Do you mean, Escort Hwang?” Mah Bok’s eyes widened in surprise.
I knew it!
Jin Mu-Won replied, “Yes. He is my uncle.”
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“In that case, are you Mister Jin Mu-Won?”
“How did you know my name?”
“Oh my! How could I not know? Every time Escort Hwang gets drunk, all he would talk about is you, Mister. He said that you were a hero who would revitalize his clan and that he was very proud of you. I remember him boasting about you like it was only yesterday.”
According to Mah Bok, Hwang Cheol was a regular at the inn restaurant. Whenever he returned from a mission, he would come here for a drink.
“Now that I think about it, Escort Hwang always sits at the exact same spot Mister is sitting in now. What a coincidence!”
When he heard Mah Bok’s words, Jin Mu-Won unconsciously touched the table.
This is the place Uncle Hwang sits down for a drink. Right now, I’m seeing the same view he always sees.
Jin Mu-Won looked out of the window. It was the one facing the White Dragon Merchant Association. Even after finishing a tough mission, Hwang Cheol still hovered around near the Association.
I think I finally understand how much Uncle Hwang treasures the White Dragon Merchant Association.
As he listened to the errand boy Mah Bok’s constant chattering, Jin Mu-Won strengthened his resolve.
Uncle Hwang, I will definitely find you.
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