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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
As the saying goes: There is Heaven above, and Su-Hang on Earth (上有天堂, 下有蘇杭).1
Suzhou and Hangzhou were widely considered the most picturesque and comfortable places to live in the Central Plains. Due to their proximity to the sea, food was plentiful and greenery was lush. Every prominent merchant in the Central Plains owned a mansion in either Suzhou or Hangzhou. People were drawn to the beautiful scenery, and wherever people gathered, trade flourished.
The faces of the people on the streets shone with health and happiness, while the poets and writers who dined in the many famous restaurants left behind countless masterpieces. As a result, the people of Suzhou took great pride in their hometown.
The Cloud Administrator’s Garden (雲政園)2 was a beautiful garden located in the West Lake District of Suzhou. The waters of the West Lake3 were diverted into the garden to create a large lotus pond, with an artificial hill and a magnificent pavilion built right next to it. The garden blossomed in spring and turned red in autumn, creating a stunning landscape.
The name of the pavilion was the Cloud’s Fragrance Villa (雲香閣),4 and it was usually off-limits to the public. However, for the first time in months, several people entered it.
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The first was a handsome man who appeared to be in his mid to late twenties. His features were unusually sharp and his skin was pale, making his red lips and piercing eyes stand out even more. He naturally exuded a sense of authority, which matched his arrogant expression very well.
He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, looking relaxed and uninterested as he admired the view of the mountain and pond. For the longest time, he stared blankly without moving, as if he were a stone statue.
Suddenly, a middle-aged man who appeared to be a servant jogged to the foot of the pavilion, bowed his head and politely said, “Young Master, one of your guests has arrived.”
“Show them here.”
“Yes, Young Master!” the middle-aged servant replied, then scurried off.
A moment later, the man heard the sound of another’s footsteps. He unclasped his hands and turned around to greet the new arrival.
A woman as charming as a water lily at the break of dawn climbed up the steps to the pavilion. Her eyes were mysteriously moist, as if they contained all the wisdom in the world.
The man broke into a smile upon seeing her. “Long time no see,” he said.
“It’s been two years, Mister Shim,” the woman replied, smiling back at him.
The man’s name was Shim Won-Ui, and he was the Young Master of Judgement Heaven as well as a member of the Seven Junior Skies. With his prominent background and strength, he was considered one of the rising stars of the current generation.
The woman was Seomoon Hye-Ryung, one of the world’s most brilliant minds and a fellow member of the Seven Junior Skies.
“Where are the others?” Shim Won-Ui asked.
“They should be here soon.”
“Is that so?”
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The Cloud’s Fragrance Villa belonged to Judgment Heaven and was used by Shim Won-Ui as a vacation home. He had never let anyone else inside before, so the fact that he was hosting guests there proved the importance of the day’s event: the meeting of the Azure Dragon Society (蒼龍會), a group of young martial artists that he and Seomoon Hye-Ryung had recruited over the years.
“Is Soo-Cheon coming today?”
“No, he hasn’t finished his closed-door training yet.”
“He said that he had a revelation and won’t come out until he gets what he wants.”
“I’m looking forward to his growth.”
As the only man who could unite all the young martial artists of the murim with his charisma alone, Dam Soo-Cheon was the undisputed Chairman of the Azure Dragon Society. Despite being one of the founding executives, Shim Won-Ui simply did not have enough recognition to replace him.
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That was why, the stronger Dam Soo-Cheon was, the more powerful and influential the Azure Dragon Society would be, and the closer Shim Won-Ui would get to fulfilling his dream.
“I’m sure he will become terrifyingly strong. His obsession with martial arts sends shivers down my spine,” Seomoon Hye-Ryung lamented.
“That incident seven years ago had a great impact on him, after all.”
Seomoon Hye-Ryung smiled bitterly. Seven years ago, they had all made a desperate escape from the Northern Army Fortress after being utterly humiliated. Since then, Dam Soo-Cheon’s life had been consumed by martial arts, even ignoring his best friends Seomoon Hye-Ryung and Shim Won-Ui.
Seeing the expression on Seomoon Hye-Ryung’s face, Shim Won-Ui remarked, “Him growing stronger is good news for us. The stronger our leader, the more we can accomplish.”
“What ambition. I expected no less from you, Mister Shim.”
“The world order is about to be turned on its head, and while the changes so far have been small, time is definitely on our side.”
“Are you referring to the Yuxi Massacre and the return of the Silent Night? Certainly, these events have increased the likelihood that our plans will be accelerated.”
“You were aware of it too? As expected of Miss Seomoon, one of the brightest minds in the universe.”
“I’m flattered,” Seomoon Hye-Ryung replied, smiling knowingly.
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“The return of the Silent Night will plunge the world into chaos, and ambitious people who have been holding back because of Heaven’s Summit will rise up one by one. Isn’t that exactly what we’ve been waiting for?”
“Many people will die, though.”
“The sacrifice of a few for the greater good is inevitable, and in this regard, I am grateful to those who died in the Yuxi Massacre, for their sacrifice marks the beginning of the end.”
The Chaotic Era had always marked the end of an established order and the beginning of a new one. Taking advantage of the chaos to become the rulers of the new era was the goal of Shim Won-Ui and the Azure Dragon Society.
“By the way, did you hear the rumors about ‘him’?” Seomoon Hye-Ryung suddenly asked.
“Who are you talking about?”
“The man who put an end to the Yuxi Massacre. The Northern Blade.”
“Oh, the Northern Blade.”
Although Shim Won-Ui pretended to know the name, in reality, he hadn’t paid much attention to the “Northern Blade”. Rumors were always exaggerated, and he didn’t think this one would be any different.
Seomoon Hye-Ryung sighed inwardly. She could tell that her friend was being flippant, as he often looked down on those who did not meet his exacting standards.
“His name is Jin Mu-Won.”
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“Doesn’t it ring a bell?”
“Does it?” Shim Won-Ui thought the name felt vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t remember where he’d heard it.
“Seven years ago, at the Northern Army Fortress.”
“Ah! Jin Mu-Won was the name of the heir to the Northern Army!” Shim Won-Ui exclaimed, his memory refreshed. “So, is this Northern Blade the same Jin Mu-Won as the one from the Northern Army?” he continued.
“According to our sources, it’s another person with the same name. However, I can’t help but feel a little uneasy…”
“Another person with the same name… I guess it’s possible, since it’s not an uncommon name. Why do you let it bother you so much? Didn’t the investigation conducted by Heaven’s Summit conclude that he was dead?”
The events of seven years ago had shaken Heaven’s Summit to the core. They had mobilized an unimaginable amount of manpower to investigate the incident, and in the end, they concluded that Jin Mu-Won, the last Lord of the Northern Army, was dead.
“I know that, but…”
“Now is the time to focus on the future, not fixate on ghosts of the past.”
Despite Shim Won-Ui’s words, Seomoon Hye-Ryung did not relax. No, she couldn’t. Like tiny thorns under her fingernails, a foreboding feeling tugged at her nerves, but she didn’t insist on the matter. She knew all too well that such talk would fall on deaf ears at this moment.
Even so, I should confirm it personally. Mister Shim seems confident, but if that person is really alive, then the rightful heir of the Northern Army is not someone I can just ignore.
“Young Master, your other guests have arrived,” a servant suddenly announced, interrupting the conversation.
As soon as he finished speaking, a dozen young martial artists noisily barged into the pavilion. Their powerful auras, perfectly controlled movements, and bright eyes were a testament to their superiority over their peers.
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“Long time no see, Miss Seomoon.”
The youths quickly greeted Shim Won-Ui and Seomoon Hye-Ryung. Although Dam Soo-Cheon was the Chairman of the Azure Dragon Society, the two of them were the ones who actually ran things, so the young martial artists treated them with deference.
“Long time no see, how has everyone been?”
“Haha! I was so excited about the meeting that I got a little jumpy and was scolded for it,” one of the youths said. His name was Jwa Moon-Ho, and he was the successor to Shandong Province’s famed Three Rings Sword Sect (三環劍門).
In fact, there wasn’t a single person in the pavilion who wasn’t a disciple of a prestigious faction or hadn’t been called a genius at some point in their lives. Because of this, they all exuded an aura of confidence and self-assurance.
After a brief exchange of greetings, the meeting began. The main topic of conversation was the soon-to-be-formed Demon Hunters.
Seomoon Hye-Ryung began, “The members of the Demon Hunters will be given great authority, even though they are few in number. They’ll have the power to convene, command, and oversee entire sects, especially during times of conflict. It’s a golden opportunity for the Azure Dragon Society to rise to power, and we must take full advantage of it.”
The fact that the Demon Hunters could command the sects placed them in a unique position within the gangho. If the Azure Dragon Society could make good use of this power, even the leaders of the great sects would envy them.
“The Demon Hunters… I didn’t expect those old fogeys to relinquish some of their authority in this fashion.”
“That either means they’re afraid of the Silent Night, or they want to minimize their own losses while bleeding the younger generation dry. As for why they’re targeting us, it’s probably because there are no easier pawns than rash youngsters blinded by their desire for glory.”
“Still, we have no choice but to seize this opportunity. If we miss it now, the Azure Dragon Society might never have another chance as good as this,” Seomoon Hye-Ryung concluded.
For a moment, there was silence as everyone frowned slightly at their lack of choices.
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“The Demon Hunter selection exam will be held soon. Until then, all of you should do your best to prepare yourselves, and if you find anyone trustworthy and promising, scout them.”
Finally, Seomoon Hye-Ryung turned toward Shim Won-Ui. “Mister Shim, I need you to personally meet and recruit a certain person,” she requested.
“Me?” Shim Won-Ui’s eyes burned with curiosity. If he had to go out of his way to scout someone, it meant they were important.
“Who is it?”
“The Triune Scholar, Ha Jin-Wol.”
“I’ve never heard of him before.”
“He’s from Yunnan, so you may not know him, but we absolutely must recruit him.”
“He’s the only person in the world with intelligence comparable to mine.”
Shim Won-Ui’s eyes lit up. Although Seomoon Hye-Ryung appeared humble on the surface, she was a very proud person. Yet, here she was admitting that someone was her equal.
“Unfortunately, during our meeting five years ago, he was so shocked that he became traumatized.”
Seomoon Hye-Ryung recalled her first encounter with Ha Jin-Wol. It was at the sixtieth birthday party of Seok Dae, a famous scholar. The two of them had coincidentally sat down at the same table and debated about everything from astronomy to politics and even war strategies. However, their personalities were polar opposites, and their views of people and philosophies differed greatly.
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The only thing they recognized was each other’s genius. In particular, Seomoon Hye-Ryung realized that if she left Ha Jin-Wol alone, there was a good chance that he would soon threaten her position in the gangho.
Thus, she had showed him her family’s ultimate formation, the Nine Continents Myriad Patterns Formation (九州萬形大陣), a masterpiece that her family had developed and improved over hundreds of years. Overwhelmed by the immense knowledge contained within, Ha Jin-Wol had immediately become traumatized.
“If he really is a genius though, he might have overcome his trauma by now.”
“Now I really want to meet him. What should I do if he refuses to join us?”
“Eliminate him. A precious pearl like that should only belong to the Azure Dragon. We cannot allow it to wind up in the hands of another dragon.”
Translator’s Note: Yet another geography lesson and more work for me googling all this stuff up…
There is Heaven above, and Su-Hang on Earth (上有天堂, 下有蘇杭): This chinese proverb implies that the beauty of Suzhou and Hangzhou is comparable to heaven. Suzhou is known as the “Venice of the East” for it’s waterways surrounded by colorful gardens, and Hangzhou is famous for its clear, mirror-like lakes. ↩
Cloud Administrator’s Garden (雲政園): Based on the real life Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政園), a scenic garden in Suzhou. The Humble Administrator’s Garden is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous of the gardens of Suzhou. It is anything but humble. ↩
West Lake: The real West Lake is in Hangzhou, not Suzhou. The West Lake here refers to the Yangcheng West Lake in the northeast of Suzhou. ↩
Cloud’s Fragrance Villa (雲香閣): Based on the real Yuanxiang Hall (Distant Fragrance Hall, 遠香堂) located in the middle of the Humble Administrator’s Garden. ↩
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