Chapter 55: Traveling Companions (2)
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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
The Old Matriarch and Yoon Hoo-Myung watched as the twenty-wagon caravan trundled out of the White Dragon Merchant Association. Including both the mercenaries of the Iron Brigade and the armed escorts, there were more than fifty warriors in all.
Normally, a large caravan such as this would be accompanied by several servants. However, taking into consideration the dangers involved, as well as the sheer length of the journey, it was decided that only those who knew martial arts would be allowed to join the search party.
The Old Matriarch stood beside the main door. As the warriors moved past her, she smiled and exchanged gazes with every one of them, starting with Gong Jin-Sung and the escorts, and followed by Jong-Ri Mu-Hwan, Chae Yak-Ran, Im Jin-Yeop, Gong Son-Chang, Dam Jin-Hong, and the rest of the mercenaries. Although most of them had gotten wasted just the night before, none of them appeared hungover and returned her greeting spiritedly.
I pray for all of your safe returns, and that you’ll be able to bring my Ja-Myung home with you.
“Haa…” When she saw her daughter Yoon Seo-In riding on one of the wagons, she sighed. Just like her eldest son Yoon Hoo-Myung, she hadn’t been able to convince her daughter into staying home.
I’m going, and that’s final.
The Old Matriarch could still hear her daughter’s firm voice echoing in her ears.
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Finally, the last wagon rambled past her. The driver was a young man she didn’t recognize. When she saw him, a strange light filled her eyes.
So that child is Escort Hwang’s nephew?
Guilt flooded her heart. She was worried that she’d end up sending not only Hwang Cheol to his death but the escort’s nephew as well.
Suddenly, Jin Mu-Won’s eyes met hers. The instant she saw the profound look in his eyes, she was completely taken aback.
She couldn’t read anything in those eyes. That was unexpected. She had been a merchant for most of her life and had gotten to know countless people, from heroes to politicians, swindlers, and even evil criminals who had threatened the peace of the world.
Because of her vast experience, she believed that she had developed a good eye for people.
Human faces were fascinating things. People who walked the same path in life would often begin to look physically similar after a while. Thus, for her, a few hints here and there were often enough for her to predict a person’s calling and future.
For example, Jong-Ri Mu-Hwan and Chae Yak-Ran, both of whom she had just talked to the day before, were both extremely talented people. Just from the faces, the Old Matriarch knew that they would have a bright future ahead of them as long as nothing particularly untoward or unexpected happened.
However, when she looked at Jin Mu-Won’s face, she couldn’t read a thing. The young man was smiling faintly, but it was as if there was a fog hidden beneath that smile, obscuring his true self.
This was the first time in her life she had met someone like Jin Mu-Won. It was unnerving. Unconsciously, she called out to him, “Hey…”
“Mother, what’s wrong?” asked Yoon Hoo-Myung, looking at her curiously.
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The Old Matriarch was distracted for only a moment, but when her senses returned, Jin Mu-Won had already driven the wagon past the doors and was gradually disappearing off into the distance along with the rest of the caravan. She sighed and said, “Regardless of how much of a hurry I was in, I should have taken the time to meet with him. Ignoring him was a grievous mistake.”
A man like that couldn’t possibly be ordinary. No, even if he was ordinary, she still should have talked to him. Only then could she make a more accurate evaluation of the kind of person he was. She couldn’t bring herself to estimate the price she might have to pay for this blunder.
Her judgment had been clouded by her worry for her children, and it had cost her a precious opportunity. She had forgotten the fact that a merchant must never lose their cool, even when their family members were in danger.
“Perhaps the time has come for me to retire…” she muttered, a dark shadow clouding over her face.
Looking at his mother’s unusual reactions, a confused Yoon Hoo-Myung said, “Mother…?”
In order to reach Yunnan within a month and a half, two months at the latest, the caravan traveled south at a hurried pace. The sooner they reached their destination, the earlier they could begin the search for the missing people, and the higher the chances of finding them still alive.
CLIP CLOP CLIP CLOP!
Every bump and vibration of the wagon wheels on the rough ground was transmitted to Jin Mu-Won’s butt. It was extremely uncomfortable, but he was hardly in the mood to care about something so minor.
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The caravan attracted a lot of attention from passersby. Although Lanzhou City was a center of trade, it was rare to see a large caravan made up of twenty wagons and more than fifty personnel.
Jin Mu-Won knew that those curious gazes were not directed specifically at himself, but he still couldn’t shake off the unsettling fear that he would be recognized. He pulled down the hood of his cloak to hide his face and immediately felt much better.
When Kwak Moon-Jung, who was riding on horseback next to Jin Mu-Won’s wagon, saw the older man’s reaction, he commented, “Hyung, by any chance, are you kind of shy?”
Because of his inexperience, Kwak Moon-Jung had been assigned to the very back of the caravan. His job was to ensure that the rear of the caravan remained in formation and to keep an eye out for ambushes from the back.
“Are you sure you’re not sick?”
“Haha! As you can see, I’m perfectly fine,” replied Kwak Moon-Jung, thumping his chest. He had spent the previous night drinking and partying together with Im Jin-Yeop and the rest of the escorts, but despite his young age, his alcohol tolerance was already very high and he showed no signs of being hungover.
Im Jin-Yeop and Dam Jin-Hong had been completely merciless toward the escorts, partying all night long without rest. Even Kwak Moon-Jung had ended up pulling an all-nighter, mesmerized by the stories of the mercenaries’ adventures.
He was particularly taken in by the story of the mercenaries’ battle against the Three Iron Heart Freaks (鐵心三怪), a trio of kidnappers and rapists. As the mercenaries had talked about the details of their fights, he had imagined himself as the main character of the story and clenched his fists tightly.
In addition, during the party, the mercenaries had encouraged him, saying that as long as he trained as hard as he could, he would one day become a hero of the gangho just like them. The combination of the stories and encouragement had fired him up and fueled his heroic ambitions.
Jin Mu-Won could sense Kwak Moon-Jung’s excitement. For a moment, he felt like bringing the young lad back to reality, but he decided against it in the end. Kwak Moon-Jung was still an immature teenager, and his raging emotions would easily override his rationality. Even if he tried persuading the kid, he wouldn’t listen. The best thing he could do for him right now was to observe him silently and make sure he did not do something reckless.
Im Jin-Yeop, Dam Jin-Hong, and Gong-Son Chang were at the very front of the caravan, and Jin Mu-Won could not see them from his position. That was good. He hoped that things would stay that way until he reached Yunnan. He did not want to risk being noticed.
Back in the Northern Army Fortress, he had lived a life under constant surveillance; his movements and activities were closely monitored every day, twenty-four hours1 a day. He had even been forced to practice martial arts in a basement where no one could see him.
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On the contrary, the current him did not need to constantly be on the watch for spies. Most people in the caravan kept their eyes on the road ahead, and rarely ever bothered to look back.
Kwak Moon-Jung attempted to chat with Jin Mu-Won, but when he realized that the older man was not very keen on conversation, he rode ahead and returned to his work. Only then could Jin Mu-Won finally enjoy the passing scenery in peace.
Shortly after the caravan left Lanzhou, the scenery changed completely. Gone were the residences and shops, replaced by towering mountain ranges. The wagons traveled in single file on a narrow road that meandered between the mountains, such that he could not see the path’s end.
Jin Mu-Won closed his eyes. Even then, as a result of the All-Encompassing Cognizance,2 he could still sense everything in his surroundings.
The All-Encompassing Cognizance was an ability that he had awakened during his battle with Tae Mu-Kang, the Chaos Demon. It allowed him to perceive his immediate environment so clearly that no change, no matter how small, could escape his notice. This perception was so sharp that even when his vision was compromised, he could still create a mental image of the space around him.
…It was also the reason why he could drive a wagon with his eyes shut. He could even divide his consciousness into two, and drive while training in the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows.
As he gradually lost himself in the Art, the world inside his heart showed itself to him. That was a world of darkness and absolute silence, and it was also where Jin Mu-Won felt the most comfortable. One moment, it was as if he had returned to his mother’s womb and curled up into a ball. The next moment, he was spreading his wings like a bird and gliding lazily across the sky.
Besides his inner world, the Art also caused his shadow chi to flow out of his Chi Sea Acupoint (氣海穴)3 and start circulating throughout his body. To others, shadow chi was undetectable and untouchable, but to Jin Mu-Won, its presence was as clear as day.
Suddenly, the shadow chi, which had been circulating smoothly and quietly, began to turn turbulent. Jin Mu-Won frowned, but did not panic and focused on controlling the chi flow.
He forgot about the passage of time and ignored the changing scenery. All he could see was his inner world, and he reveled in the freedom that being inside this world brought to him. He was both the creator and master of this world; a world of his mind that was completely separate from reality.
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…I wonder how long I’ve been meditating?
He could sense the movement of people around him through his All-Encompassing Cognizance. He unified his divided consciousness and opened his eyes.
Gong-Son Chang stood on a clearing beside the caravan and shouted, “It’s getting late, so we’ll be resting here today! Hurry up and set up camp!”
The sun is already setting? How time flies…
Following Gong-Son Chang’s orders, the escorts detached the horses from the wagons, rounded up all the animals, and tied them to trees nearby. They then parked the wagons close together, forming a circle. This circle of wagons would form the “wall” of their encampment. Several escorts would guard the exterior of the “wall”, while others started fires and began cooking inside.
Jin Mu-Won couldn’t help but marvel at their efficiency. He knew that the escorts had been working together and doing this for a long time, but the way they wordlessly did each of their respective jobs without conflict or confusion was admirable. Their coordination was so good, even the mercenaries who were used to traveling couldn’t help but praise them.
Suddenly, one of the older escorts approached Jin Mu-Won and said, “Hey, don’t just stand there gaping like a fish. There must be something you can help with, right?”
“…Huh? Yeah, sure!” Jin Mu-Won replied, flustered.
The old escort then proceeded to drag him toward the fires, where the younger escorts, including Kwak Moon-Jung, were busy preparing dinner.
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Hours: LNB uses ancient units of time, called sijin 시진 (時辰, 1 sijin = 2 hours, 12 sijin a day), but I’m going to use modern units because it’s a pain in the ass to keep reminding people. The same goes for distance units, using imperial units because 1) it matches the ancient era setting, 2) the numbers look nicer than metric after conversion from ancient Chinese units, and 3) tyranny of the majority; Americans make up the largest proportion of readers by country.Proofreader Note: Americans really should switch to metric units. ↩
All-Encompassing Cognizance: See chapter 43. ↩
Chi Sea Acupoint (氣海穴): An acupuncture point, also known as the Lower Dantian Acupoint. It is located roughly two fingers below the belly button. This acupoint is what people usually refer to when they mention the chi center or dantian. I’m leaving this as it is because the author used kihaehyul (氣海穴) instead of danjeon (丹田). ↩
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