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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
Jin Mu-Won and Kwak Moon-Jung left the inn, the warriors of the Iron Brigade trailing right behind them.
Whenever Jin Mu-Won turned around to look at the Iron Brigade, Yong Mu-Sung would avoid his gaze and whistle innocuously. However, as soon as he resumed walking, Yong Mu-Sung would continue following him.
Eventually, to Yong Mu-Sung’s delight, Jin Mu-Won gave up, sighed, and asked, “How long are you going to follow me?”
“Huh? Me? Following you? Nah, I just happen to be going the same way as you.”
“Then, please go ahead. I do not wish to block your way.”
“No! I’d rather walk behind you… Besides, don’t you need someone to watch your back?”
“……” Chae Yak-Ran and Jongri Mu-Hwan’s faces immediately flushed red with embarrassment at Yong Mu-Sung’s barefaced lie, while the other members of the Iron Brigade burst into laughter.
In the end, Jongri Mu-Hwan stepped forward and said, “Apologies for our rudeness, Master Jin. I know it’s shameless of us, but you’re the only one we can count on right now.”
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“What do you mean?”
“Hoo…” Jongri Mu-Hwan let out a deep sigh and looked at Jin Mu-Won with mixed feelings before continuing, “Master Jin, would you mind sharing the information you have with us?”
As the Tyrant Fist Sect had come under pressure from Heaven’s Summit, the negotiations between them and the Iron Brigade had quickly fallen apart. To the Iron Brigade who had been pinning their hopes on the Tyrant Fist Sect, that had been like a bolt from the blue. The time they had spent there was completely wasted.
Also, for the last several days, they hadn’t obtained any new information. On the other hand, Jin Mu-Won had made much more significant progress in the investigation and even fought with the Silent Night, the culprits behind the missing person cases. As such, Jongri Mu-Hwan figured that if anyone had clues about the missing people’s whereabouts, it was Jin Mu-Won.
Unfortunately, Jin Mu-Won wasn’t someone they could bully or trick into talking. Although Jin Mu-Won had acted like a naive brat when he rescued the Tang Clan members who were being hunted down by the Silent Night, he was capable enough that none of the affairs he’d stuck his nose in had ended badly.
Staying calm and making the most out of a bad situation is not something a child can do. Whether I like it or not, Jin Mu-Won is an amazing warrior who can bring about even more desirable outcomes than me, a strategist. As much as I hate him, I have no choice but to acknowledge his competence as a martial artist. That’s why, no matter how exasperating it is and how much it hurts my pride, I’d still rather obtain his help to complete my mission than fail it.
Besides, people never pay attention to the details of a mission, only the final results. As long as we find and rescue those missing people, the Iron Brigade’s status and reputation will rise by leaps and bounds, Jongri Mu-Hwan reasoned.
Taken aback by Jongri Mu-Hwan’s sudden request, Jin Mu-Won stared at him, trying to read his mind through the window of his eyes, but the strategist avoided meeting his gaze. He turned toward the other Iron Brigade members, but the result was the same. Only Yong Mu-Sung reacted differently.
“Hahaha! Isn’t it better to have more people working together on this? Let’s not be so harsh to each other. If you help us, the Iron Brigade will owe you a huge debt,” Yong Mu-Sung laughed, placing a hand on Jin Mu-Won’s shoulder as if they were friends.
Seeing Yong Mu-Sung’s lousy and desperate act, Kwak Moon-Jung burst out laughing.
He’s right, I stand to gain if the Iron Brigade owes me a debt, Jin Mu-Won thought. I don’t really like them, but as long as I’m a part of the gangho, I may need their help someday. As the saying goes, there are no such things as eternal enemies or allies.
Jin Mu-Won nodded and said, “Fine, we’ll search for the missing people together.”
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“Really? Hehe! That’s a great idea!” Yong Mu-Sung grinned and thumped Jin Mu-Won on the shoulder.
Jongri Mu-Hwan heaved a sigh of relief. Now they could openly, shamelessly follow Jin Mu-Won’s lead.
“Where are you headed, anyway?” Yong Mu-Sung asked.
“I’m going to the Ailao Mountains.”1
““The Ailao Mountains?”” Yong Mu-Sung and the Iron Brigade warriors exclaimed in surprise.
The Ailao Mountains was a mountain range located not far from Yuxi. The mountain peaks pierced the clouds, and the cliffs were sheer and steep. Colossal trees over a hundred years old dotted the slopes, and poisonous snakes and ferocious predators called it their home. It was a magnificent mountain range that stretched for over three hundred miles.
However, it was also notorious for being so difficult to traverse that many people who had lived in Yuxi all their lives never approached the Ailao Mountains. Even so, Jin Mu-Won didn’t have a choice. The Death Valley in the Ailao Mountains was the only clue he had gleaned from Geum Dan-Yeop before his death, and he had to take the risk even if it turned out to be a trap. Still, with the extra manpower from the Iron Brigade, finding the Death Valley within those peaks should be much easier and safer.
After confirming their destination, Yong Mu-Sung gave two horses to Jin Mu-Won and Kwak Moon-Jung. The clock was ticking, and the faster they found the missing persons, the more likely they were to be alive.
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Half a day later, the group arrived at the Ailao Mountains. Now that they were here, the mountains seemed even more insurmountable than the stories.
Jin Mu-Won said to Yong Mu-Sung, “Let’s split up into small groups and search for the Death Valley. Take care not to move alone as it might get dangerous.”
Yong Mu-Sung turned to the Iron Brigade warriors and shouted, “Heard that, boys? Split yourselves up into pairs and search for the Death Valley. If you find it, whistle to signal the rest of us.”
““On it!”” the warriors replied, before scattering in every direction.
Jin Mu-Won partnered with Kwak Moon-Jung and was also about to head off when Chae Yak-Ran, the Vice-Commander of the Iron Brigade, requested to join them.
“I have a feeling that you’ll be the first one to find the Death Valley. Do you mind if I join you?”
“No, I’m fine with it.”
“Thank you. I swear I won’t become a burden to you.”
With that, Chae Yak-Ran joined Jin Mu-Won’s party and searched the Ailao Mountains. However, no matter where they went, they never ran into any hunters or woodcutters.
Chae Yak-Ran shook her head, saying, “The mountains feel haunted. No wonder no one comes here to gather resources.”
If even she, a martial artist, experienced it, then normal folk would only feel worse.
Kwak Moon-Jung rubbed the goosebumps on his arms and agreed, adding, “Yeah, this place is creepy. If any bandits decided to build their base here, I’m sure not even the government would be able to do anything about them.”
All mountains emanated different kinds of energies. Some had yang energy, and some had yin energy. Some were drenched in the water element, while others were enveloped by wind. Depending on the type and strength of the energy, people could either feel refreshed or uncomfortable.
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In particular, yin energy dominated the Ailao Mountains, making it a place where people attracted to such energies, such as bandits and criminals, gathered and flourished.
“You know, Master Jin is a very unique person.”
“Sometimes, he’s really hardheaded and stuffy, but other times, he goes wild and does the unthinkable. We don’t see a person with these two opposing qualities very often.”
Kwak Moon-Jung nodded in agreement. Chae Yak-Ran’s observation was on point. Jin Mu-Won was a person who was kind and generous to those in his inner circle, but treated strangers coldly and kept them at a distance. Although he was polite to everyone, it was painfully clear that he drew a line between the people he knew and those he didn’t.
“It probably won’t be long before you rise to fame, Master Jin. However, the more one stands out, the more they must learn to lower their head and make concessions. There is no place for a stubborn maverick in today’s gangho. I know that you don’t approve of Jongri Mu-Hwan’s ways, but it’s a fact that we’ve survived this long thanks to him. That’s why, I hope that you can look past the surface and get along with him,” Chae Yak-Ran suggested. She had chosen to join Jin Mu-Won’s group just to convey this message to him, but she wasn’t going to force him to accept her view of the world. It was up to Jin Mu-Won what he wanted to do.
“Thank you for your sincere advice, I will keep your words in mind,” Jin Mu-Won replied.
Chae Yak-Ran let out the breath she had been holding. Phew, I’m glad that he’s a man who listens to reason. If a martial artist as powerful as he stays set in his ways, then he’s a danger not only to himself, but everyone else around him.
Suddenly, Jin Mu-Won stopped searching randomly and made a beeline for a deep canyon with smooth, sheer cliffs like someone had sheared it off with a blade.
Did he find something? Chae Yak-Ran diligently followed behind Jin Mu-Won.
As they entered the canyon, a fog so thick that one could barely see an inch ahead of them surrounded the group, and a ghostly ambience filled the air.
“I think we’ve found the Death Valley,” Jin Mu-Won said.
Chae Yak-Ran’s eyes widened in shock. She knew that Jin Mu-Won had good instincts, but he had found the Death Valley so effortlessly that it was uncanny. She quickly came back to her senses, however, and whistled to signal the rest of the Iron Brigade.
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Her whistle echoed across the cliffs and was transmitted a long distance away to the ears of the searching warriors, who quickly made their way to where she was. Yong Mu-Sung, the first person to show up, asked, “Did you find it?”
Jin Mu-Won answered, “The feeling of death here is very strong. This should be it.”
“Really? Then let’s go inside right away. Do you mind taking the lead?” Like Chae Yak-Ran, Yong Mu-Sung did not doubt Jin Mu-Won judgment for a moment.
Jin Mu-Won nodded, then entered the Death Valley and unhesitatingly led the group through the thickening fog and worsening visibility, his All-Encompassing Cognizance helping him pinpoint the way forward.
What’s with this aura of death? The Ailao Mountains may be known for it’s dense yin energy, but this is too extreme. Feeling the humid air stuck to his skin and the increasingly oppressive feeling weighing on his heart, Yong Mu-Sung’s expression hardened. He sent a telepathic message to the Iron Brigade members to remain on high alert and placed a hand on his Dragon Scale Dao, ready to draw it at any moment.
Suddenly, Jin Mu-Won stopped in his tracks.
“What’s wrong?” Yong Mu-Sung asked.
Jin Mu-Won pointed toward the fog ahead of them and replied, “The fog there is unusually concentrated, to the point where it’s tangible.”
“You’re right, it’s like a wall made out of fog.”
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“I think that’s a part of a formation.”
“A formation…?” Yong Mu-Sung muttered, then immediately summoned Jongri Mu-Hwan, the foremost expert on formations in the Iron Brigade. “Can you tell what kind of formation that is?” he asked.
“I think it’s a combination of an illusion formation and a maze formation. I’ll need some time to break it, so please step back and wait for a while.”
Jin Mu-Won and Yong Mu-Sung did as Jongri Mu-Hwan requested, and Jongri Mu-Hwan stepped forward to take the lead. As everyone watched him with bated breaths, he placed a hand on the fog wall, closed his eyes, and mumbled under his breath as he analyzed the formation.
One hour later, Jongri Mu-Hwan finally opened his eyes and concluded, “It’s a combination of the Myriad Disorientation Formation (萬狀迷路陣) and the Mirrored Illusion Formation (銅鏡幻影陣).”
“Can you break it?”
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“I think so. Commander and Master Jin, please stand in the Qian (North) and Kan (East) positions respectively, and prepare to strike the formation using all of your qi. As for the rest of you…”
Jongri Mu-Hwan handed out orders, organizing the Iron Brigade members into different positions to dismantle the formation. Then, when he was satisfied, he shouted, “NOW!”
At Jongri Mu-Hwan’s signal, everyone attacked the formation in tandem, with Jin Mu-Won swinging Snow Flower and Yong Mu-Sung using his Dragon Scale Dao.
The fog wall shuddered like a wounded beast for a moment before finally giving in and dispersing.
Translator’s Note: Happy Lunar New Year!
Ailao Mountains: A mountain range in southwest Yunnan famous for its biodiversity. ↩
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