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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
The Iron Brigade sat down at the table next to Jin Mu-Won and Kwak Moon-Jung. As Kwak Moon-Jung looked at them, his face turned red and his eyes flashed with envy.
Ahh, this kid… It seems that he still hasn’t gotten the tales of the mercenaries’ adventures out of his mind…
Jin Mu-Won’s gaze shifted toward the other group that had entered the inn. There were three people in total: a teenage boy about the same age as Kwak Moon-Jung, and two middle-aged men dressed in Taoist robes.
Just then, he heard someone whisper to him, “Judging by the green bamboo embroidery on their sleeves, they’re Taoist priests from the Kongtong Sect. The green bamboo is a symbol of steadfastness, like bamboo in the wind.”
Jin Mu-Won turned to face the speaker, Jongri Mu-Hwan, who smiled back at him and continued, “I don’t think that boy is an ordinary disciple. The Kongtong Sect never allows disciples that age to leave the sect unless they’re a first-generation disciple, or their martial arts have reached a certain level.”
“In that case, that boy has to be one of the two, if not both.”
“That’s right. However, if he truly managed to become a first-generation disciple at that young age, then he’s probably a genius.”
“I see,” replied Jin Mu-Won, lowering his head to avoid being noticed.
As if confirming Jongri Mu-Hwan’s suspicions, he’d noticed that the boy had very well-developed muscles, as well as a fierce, arrogant attitude.
Like Jin Mu-Won, Kwak Moon-Jung was also quietly observing the Taoists.
Jin Mu-Won asked, “Are you jealous of him?”
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“No, not at all.”
Surprised, Jin Mu-Won asked again, “Really? He’s a disciple of a large sect, and has access to all sorts of powerful martial arts.”
“I know that, but my dream is to be an armed escort.”
“Father once told me that although escorts are people who work for money, it is a job he takes pride in doing. We are those who protect the lives of others, as well as the things important to them. We could die anytime, but even so, we choose to live cleanly and use our martial skills to help people rather than extort or rob them. As a man, could there be a more honorable job than this?”
Kwak Moon-Jung had always looked up to his father, Kwak Yi-Soo. Two years ago, one of the White Dragon Merchant Association’s ships was attacked by pirates while traveling along the Yangtze River. Because everyone was stuck on a ship, there was no escaping from the pirates. In that kind of situation, Kwak Yi-Soo had defended against the pirates to the last, protecting the ship’s crew as they made their escape. Until the moment he died, he had never let go of his sword.
He was a man who had sacrificed his life to protect others; a real hero who took pride in his job as an escort.
Kwak Moon-Jung aimed to become a man as great as his father. He wanted to be a “true armed escort”, a hero who protected others.
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Jin Mu-Won bowed his head in respect and said, “Your father is an admirable man.”
“Heh heh!” Kwak Moon-Jung scratched his head, embarrassed.
Im Jin-Yeop, who was nearby, overheard the two’s conversation and laughed, “Hahaha! Tell you what, I propose a toast, in honor of your father! What say you? Don’t be shy!”
“But I’m still in the middle of work!”
“Hmm, in that case, we’ll have drinks tonight instead. Remember to come over to my place, okay?”
“Sure!” Kwak Moon-Jung accepted Im Jin-Yeop’s offer enthusiastically.
The tense and awkward atmosphere caused by Jin Mu-Won and Jongri Mu-Hwan immediately became more relaxed, to the relief of the other members of the Iron Brigade. They looked at Kwak Moon-Jung gratefully.
Just then, the young waitress ambled over to the tables, carrying a large plate of food. She placed the plate down on Jin Mu-Won’s table and, in a loud and clear voice, announced, “The famous fried pork of the South Sea Inn makes its grand entrance!”
“Pfft!” Kwak Moon-Jung couldn’t hold back his laughter.
The waitress placed her hands on her hips and glared daggers at Kwak Moon-Jung.
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His face immediately reddened as he apologized, “I-I’m sorry!”
“This is my dad’s fried pork. If it tastes bad, we won’t charge you a cent for it.”
“That’s not why I laughed…I’m sorry.” Kwak Moon-Jung scratched his head, at his wit’s end.
Suddenly, the girl grinned, saying, “Apology accepted. This time, anyway.”
“My name is Seo-Ryung. Ham Seo-Ryung. What’s yours, Oppa?” 1
“I’m Kwak Moon-Jung.”
“Oppa, are you an armed escort?”
“That’s so cool! Hee hee!”
Kwak Moon-Jung’s face quickly turned even redder.
Seeing the boy’s embarrassed expression, Im Jin-Yeop crudely exclaimed, “Oh my! Congratulations, youngster! How on earth did you attract the attention of such a pretty young lady? I can tell that in a few years, she’ll become a legendary beauty who will capture the heart of every man. I’m so envious of you!”
Kwak Moon-Jung was completely dumbfounded by Im Jin-Yeop’s sudden outburst. On the other hand, Ham Seo-Ryung stared at Kwak Moon-Jung quietly, completely unruffled.
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Jin Mu-Won smiled amusingly as he watched this whole situation unfold. This girl is not normal, either. Her eyes are intelligent and she shows maturity beyond her years.
Kwak Moon-Jung was ambitious and determined, but he knew that at his current strength, calling himself an escort was probably pushing it. He stuttered, “A-About that, I-I’m probably more of an escort-in-training…”
As if she could sense Kwak Moon-Jung’s sincerity, Ham Seo-Ryung cheerfully said, “Ah, so you’re still an apprentice?”
“Kind of. But…even so, I’m still an escort!” Kwak Moon-Jung thumped his chest confidently.
Ham Seo-Ryung smiled, saying, “Then, if I ever need a protector, could I hire you from the White Dragon Merchant Association?”
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“Hee hee! Can I take that as a promise?”
“Yes!” Kwak Moon-Jung nodded vigorously.
Ham Seo-Ryung smiled at him again, then turned around and returned to the kitchen in a hurry. Kwak Moon-Jung watched her go, his face as red as a beetroot.
“Wow! That little girl is quite the fox!”
“She has him completely wrapped around her little finger. Are children nowadays all like that?”
The mercenaries of the Iron Brigade broke into a loud discussion, shocked by Ham Seo-Ryung’s forwardness. However, their happy expressions revealed that they weren’t complaining because they were upset, but because they were genuinely thrilled for Kwak Moon-Jung.
Even the normally stern Chae Yak-Ran wore a faint smile on her face. Ham Seo-Ryung’s spunk and boldness reminded her of herself in her youth.
“Come on, let’s tuck in.”
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Kwak Moon-Jung picked up his chopsticks and tasted the fried pork. It was just as tasty as Ham Seo-Ryung had said it would be. Being able to eat such good food in a run-down inn could only be said to be a stroke of luck.
Jin Mu-Won and Kwak Moon-Jung wolfed down their food. In the meantime, Ham Seo-Ryung took orders from both the Iron Brigade mercenaries and the Kongtong Sect Taoists.
“After our mission is complete, shall we come here again?” asked Jin Mu-Won.
“Mmhmm,” Kwak Moon-Jung’s mouth was full, so he nodded eagerly in response.
A little while later, the mercenaries’ food was also served. Like Jin Mu-Won, the Iron Brigade couldn’t help but praise the delicious cooking.
“Woah! It’s hard to find food this good even in the provincial capitals.”
“Yeah, the chef is really skilled.”
The mercenaries ordered one jug of wine after another to make the food taste even more satisfying. However, just when Jin Mu-Won and the mercenaries were in the middle of enjoying their meal, a man sharply snapped, “Who’s the chef of this inn?”
Jin Mu-Won turned to see the Kongtong Sect Taoists put down their chopsticks. The older among the two middle-aged Taoists slammed his fist on the table and angrily hollered, “Oi, Chef! Are you deaf? Come out, now!”
The old Taoist’s voice was so loud that it reverberated through all the objects in the inn, causing the mercenaries’ faces to darken in displeasure. Kwak Moon-Jung’s face paled, as he had the weakest qi among those present and was the most adversely affected person.
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“Did someone call for me?” asked a middle-aged man who looked to be Ham Seo-Ryung’s father, running out of the kitchen. He desperately wiped his oily hands on his apron to clean them, but the instant he saw the Taoists, the color drained from his face and his movements froze.
“Hmph! I knew it was you, Ham Ji-Pyung!”
“Senior Brother, why are you here…?” said Ham Ji-Pyung, visibly confused.
The Taoist glared at Ham Ji-Pyung coldly, saying, “So the rumors were true. I heard that you were working as a chef here.”
“I have already cut all my ties to the Kongtong Sect. You’re the one who should know that best, right? Senior Brother?”
Ham Ji-Pyung’s rude reply seemed to only make the Taoist angrier. He growled, “Okay, let’s say I take your word for it and what just happened has nothing to do with you being excommunicated from the sect. If that’s the case, then how are you going to explain this?”
The Taoist pointed at the young man next to him, who spat something out into his hand. It was the fragments of a broken tooth, covered in saliva. The Taoist continued, “While eating the food you cooked, Seol-Goong’s tooth broke when he bit into a rock. Although he’s just a first-class disciple right now, he’s a genius who was chosen for personal training by Grandmaster Uncle.2 In other words, he’s the person who is entrusted with the future of the Kongtong Sect. Such a person broke their tooth while eating the food you cooked. How are you going to take responsibility for this, huh?”
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“W-What…?” Ham Ji-Pyung’s shoulders trembled.
All the ingredients used in the dishes of the South Sea Inn had been specially selected, prepared, and cooked by him. He knew that he always checked the quality of the food before serving it to customers. That was the reason he had gained the trust of the locals despite only working at the inn for a year. And now, this man was telling him that there were rocks in his cooking? That was impossible!
“Senior Brother!” Ham Ji-Pyung looked at the middle-aged Taoist with sorrow in his eyes.
The Taoist’s name was Mu-Hae,3 and Ham Ji-Pyung had once trained together with him as a fellow disciple of the Kongtong Sect. If his qi center hadn’t been destroyed, ruining his martial arts and leading to his excommunication, then he would definitely have become a first-class disciple of the sect as well.
“Are you still hung up on the events of that day? Is that why you’re doing this to me now?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Senior Brother, that day, I lost the ability to use martial arts forever. On the other hand, all you lost was some dignity. Did you really have to go this far?”
Mu-Hae’s eyes flashed with killing intent as he bellowed, “You sound like you’re accusing me of framing you. Look, old fool, Seol-Goong’s tooth is broken, and that’s a fact you can’t deny!”
Fifteen years ago, Mu-Hae had been one of the top disciples of the Kongtong Sect. However, there was always one man above him: Ham Ji-Pyung.
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As long as Ham Ji-Pyung existed, Mu-Hae would always be number two. Back then, Ham Ji-Pyung had carried the expectations and envy of the entire sect on his shoulders. Mu-Hae knew that Ham Ji-Pyung disliked the attention, and felt that it was a burden, but to him, that didn’t change anything.
Every three years, the Kongtong Sect would invite their civilian disciples4 and financial supporters to a friendly martial arts tournament. The purpose of such an event was to foster and reinforce relationships and also serve as a test for the disciples’ martial arts skills.
The winner of the tournament would be awarded the title of “Elite of Kongtong (崆峒一秀)”, meaning that they were the most promising disciple of the Kongtong Sect.
In the past, Mu-Hae had fought his way through the tournament and challenged Ham Ji-Pyung in the finals for that very title. However, he lost that battle in a very embarrassing way, right in front of everyone in the Kongtong Sect.
That experience had left a terrible scar in his heart. To rid himself of his inner demons, Mu-Hae planned on challenging Ham Ji-Pyung again in the tournament three years later, but unfortunately for him, that was not meant to be.
Just a few months after winning the tournament, Ham Ji-Pyung somehow got himself involved in something unsavory. As punishment, his qi center was destroyed and he was excommunicated from Kongtong Sect. Everyone in the gangho had been curious as to why he was punished so severely, but the higher-ups in the sect had adamantly refused to explain the reasons for their decision.
As time passed, the man called Ham Ji-Pyung was forgotten by the world. However, there was one person who still remembered him.
And now, Mu-Hae had found him as well. The him who had become nothing more than an ordinary cook.
Seol-Goong stood to the side and watched the drama unfold with relish, as if it had nothing to do with him. He was the rising star of the Kongtong Sect, like Ham Ji-Pyung once was.
No, he was even better. He had been raised to the position of a first-class disciple at the tender age of fifteen, and the Sage of Red Snow (紅雪眞人), his Grandmaster Uncle as well as the strongest swordsman in the sect, had declared that he would personally train him.
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Although he still hadn’t received his Taoist name and was using the name his parents gave him, he could tell how much the Kongtong Sect treasured his genius.
Huhuhu! This is getting interesting! Seol-Goong grinned to himself.
The truth was, he didn’t give a crap about Mu-Hae’s hatred toward Ham Ji-Pyung. He was only using the older man to fulfill his ambition. He didn’t plan to remain a mere first-class disciple forever, so he had to start building his political network as early as possible.
As long as he helped Mu-Hae with his revenge, he’d be able to obtain his recommendation and support to become the next Sect Leader of Kongtong. From there, he’d work toward becoming one of the next “Nine Skies”.
Seol-Goong was familiar with the internal politics of the Kongtong Sect, and understood that without Mu-Hae’s recommendation, it’d be impossible for him to become the official successor. Thus, he approached Mu-Hae and offered his help. He figured that one tooth was a small price to pay for obtaining Mu-Hae’s undivided support, and with Mu-Hae’s influence, he’d also be able to get most of the other first-class disciples on his side.
Now that his part in the play was over, all he had left to do was watch the show.
Ham Ji-Pyung locked gazes with Mu-Hae and asked, “Did he really break his tooth while eating the food I made?”
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“The proof is right here.” Seol-Goong held out his hand, showing Ham Ji-Pyung the broken fragments of his tooth.
“Is that what really happened?”
“Are you calling me a liar?” snapped Seol-Goong fiercely, furrowing his brows.
Ham Ji-Pyung sighed, saying, “Haa…To think that the genius chosen by Grandmaster Uncle would lie without batting an eyelid. The future of Kongtong Sect is bleak.”
Mu-Hae immediately roared, “What was that!? How dare you insult the Kongtong Sect?”
Before he could even scream, Ham Ji-Pyung was sent flying into a wall.
Oppa: Honorific for “older brother”, used by females. Less formal and more endearing than “Orabeoni”, but they mean the same thing. ↩
Grandmaster Uncle: The junior brother of one’s master’s master…It’s complicated. ↩
Mu-Hae: This dude’s name sounds the same as “harmless (無害)”, ROFL. Though I’m guessing it actually means “martial sea (武海)”. Methinks it’s an intentional pun. ↩
Civilian Disciples: Disciples of a religious sect (Taoism/Buddhism) who have chosen not to enter the priesthood/monkhood and return to regular civilian life, for example Yoon Seo-In of the White Dragon Merchant Association. Unlike regular disciples, civilian disciples are free to eat meat and get married, but they will not be allowed to learn the strongest martial arts or have any official position within the sect. ↩
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