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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!
Life in the Tang Hill Village was very laid back. Maybe it was because they were Tang Gi-Mun’s guests, but nobody treated Jin Mu-Won and Ha Jin-Wol with disrespect or rudeness. They were genuinely kind to both of them.
Still, Jin Mu-Won couldn’t help but sense an invisible barrier between them, a line they couldn’t cross despite sharing the same space. It made him uneasy.
Ha Jin-Wol let out a loud snort. “That’s the pride of a prestigious family. They’ll be as friendly as they can because you’re a guest, but they won’t let you into their hearts because you’re not one of them. Even if it seems pointless from the outside, to them, this is actually a chance to reinforce their unity.”
“On the bright side, the Tang Clan is more accepting of outsiders than the other Five Great Clans. The Anhui Namgoong Clan, the Hebei Peng Clan, and the Shandong Jaegal and Hwangbo Clans are notorious for their belligerence. They never forget a grudge and always seek revenge, which is why many people avoid dealing with them.”
“A clan is a martial faction that is bound together by blood. That leaves no room for outsiders. To make things worse, they’re part of the gangho establishment. They discriminate against newcomers, but whenever someone overcomes the odds, they absorb them into the clan through marriage. This results in a vicious cycle,” Ha Jin-Wol said.
Taken aback by the unexpected lecture, Jin Mu-Won quietly walked away to digest Ha Jin-Wol’s words.
Ha Jin-Wol watched as he left and mumbled to himself, “Now is the time for reflection. Your struggles will be the fuel for your growth. Even if I give you a wealth of knowledge, it will all be in vain if you don’t learn to think for yourself. You must keep thinking, keep searching for answers. That’s how you become a real person instead of a living weapon.”
Jin Mu-Won continued to walk, lost in thought. After a while, he looked up and found himself in an unfamiliar setting: an open clearing surrounded by tall trees, where every gust of wind sent colorful leaves dancing in the air. It was mesmerizing.
Suddenly, an odd sensation washed over him. There was a tingling on his skin, like ants were crawling beneath it.
Is that killing intent? It was so subtle that only those with keen senses or advanced martial arts could detect it, but it was definitely there.
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Jin Mu-Won tightened his grip on Snow Flower and unleashed his All-Encompassing Cognizance. In an instant, a thirty-foot radius around him became his domain, allowing him to sense the slightest movement and sound. However, he still couldn’t pinpoint the source of the killing intent.
An absolute master or a stealth expert. Jin Mu-Won’s eyes narrowed. The Tang Hill Village was home to the Tang Clan’s martial artists, masters of hidden weapons and poison. It was nearly impossible for an outsider to infiltrate such a place.
Someone from the Tang Clan, then? Jin Mu-Won wondered, but regardless, he wasn’t going to stand idly by.
He closed his eyes and concentrated. The All-Encompassing Cognizance guided him toward a faint warmth in the distance. It was body heat. Someone’s there, forty feet to my right.
Jin Mu-Won sensed a change in the stranger’s breathing the moment he detected their presence. It was clear that the unknown adversary had realized that their cover was blown, but neither made a move. Instead, an eerie stillness dominated the scene as they gauged each other through the atmosphere, the wind, and their breaths.
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Suddenly, however, the wind ceased to blow, everything turned white, and the leaves suspended in mid-air descended like rain.
Is this his first move? Jin Mu-Won thought as leaves swirled precisely around him like a vortex, each ordinary-looking leaf brimming with an ominous killing intent.
Those leaves are filled with qi. Jin Mu-Won’s eyes hardened, his mind raced, and his blood ran cold. His opponent was immensely skilled.
Without pausing, the leaves ascended into the sky, obscuring the sunlight, and then…
SHWAA SHWAA SHWAA!!
Thousands of leaves turned into a torrential rain, pelting Jin Mu-Won relentlessly, but even though it seemed as if he had resigned himself to his fate, he stood firm.
Now! Jin Mu-Won waited for the leaf storm to dwindle before finally making his move.
Snow Flower sliced a vacuum in the wind, splitting the leaf storm in half and creating an opening. Without hesitation, Jin Mu-Won darted through it, even though his clothes were torn and his skin was riddled with cuts. Then, undaunted by the injuries, he remained vigilant, seeking signs of his hidden adversary.
The rain of leaves descended once more, but this time, Jin Mu-Won was prepared. An intangible sword wall appeared as he swung Snow Flower and executed the second technique of the Shadow Blade of Destruction, Northern Heavenly Wall (北天壁).
Right after that, he swung Snow Flower at a large tree thirty feet away.
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The tree was instantly felled, revealing a black-clad, seemingly ordinary villager in his sixties. “Wow. You’re the first person to neutralize my White Night Leaf Storm (白夜散葉) so effortlessly,” he chuckled, pinching a fallen leaf between his fingers.
“Who are you?” Jin Mu-Won demanded.
“I’m kind of like the village chief.”
“You’re the Myriad Poison Emperor?”
“That’s right, I’m Tang Kwan-Ho.”
So he’s the Myriad Poison Emperor Tang Kwan-Ho, Clan Head of the Tang Clan and the world’s top authority on poisons.
A gleam of admiration shone in Tang Kwan-Ho’s eyes. “The White Night Leaf Storm is a formidable hidden weapon skill that only a select few in the Tang Clan can master. Since you overcame it so easily, I see that Gi-Mun was right about you.”
Now that they had met, Jin Mu-Won realized that Tang Kwan-Ho hadn’t given the fight his all, but neither had he.
“Your breathing and demeanor haven’t changed. For someone who just dismantled the White Night Leaf Storm, you’re way too calm,” Tang Kwan-Ho remarked lightheartedly, even though he really was taken aback by Jin Mu-Won’s composure. “Anyway, Gi-Mun’s story from last night piqued my curiosity.”
“So you attacked me?”
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“Sneak attacks are in the Tang Clan’s blood. After all, most of our martial arts have their roots in hidden weapons techniques.”
Tang Kwan-Ho’s response was so nonchalant that Jin Mu-Won was left speechless. Now that the tense atmosphere had been diffused, he no longer felt like fighting, so he sheathed Snow Flower.
Tang Kwan-Ho smiled and tossed a fallen leaf into the air. Instead of plummeting to the ground immediately, the leaves hovered and then scattered.
“Let’s take a walk,” Tang Kwan-Ho suggested, leading the way. His demeanor was as carefree as ever, as if the intense fight had never happened.
Jin Mu-Won quietly followed him.
“Your name is Jin Mu-Won, right?”
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“Are you the last Sect Leader of the Northern Army?”
Jin Mu-Won halted in his tracks. “Did Master Tang share that much with you?”
“Gi-Mun doesn’t keep any secrets from me, but don’t worry, I’m not going to reveal this to anyone else.”
Coming from the Clan Head of the Tang Clan, those words were worth their weight in gold. Jin Mu-Won couldn’t help but trust him.
“You know, ever since I heard your story, I couldn’t help thinking about it over and over again.” Tang Kwan-Ho said, his gaze fixed on the distant horizon.
Jin Mu-Won looked at Tang Kwan-Ho with respect, not only because of his martial prowess, but because of the wisdom and grace that came with years as a leader in the harsh gangho.
With a voice that carried the unbearable weight of time, Tang Kwan-Ho said, “I’ve always felt indebted to the Northern Army… and guilty that I didn’t offer my help when it fell apart ten years ago. I’m sorry. Back then, I just stood by and watched the Northern Army crumble. It’s a poor excuse, but at that time, my duty as the head of the Tang Clan took precedence over everything else.”
“Was the Tang Clan also threatened back then?”
“As much as it pains me to say it, yes. It was a time when stubbornness and insanity reigned supreme, and if we had supported the Northern Army back then, the Tang Clan would have been swept away along with it.”
Tang Kwan-Ho smiled wryly. Such was the madness of groups; those intoxicated by madness seldom tolerated dissenting voices. As such, to protect the Tang Clan, he had made the decision to remain neutral.
“That was my sin, and the height of my cowardice. Since the day I learned of your father’s untimely death, I’ve deeply regretted it. Would you believe me if I said that the weight of my cowardice still hangs over my heart? That’s why, when you appeared, I found myself at another crossroads.”
“Because I am the current Sect Leader of the Northern Army?”
“Yes,” Tang Kwan-Ho confirmed with certainty. Despite his young age, Jin Mu-Won’s strength was already comparable to his own. This meant that he was one of the strongest martial artists in his age group, if not the strongest. What was even more shocking was that Jin Mu-Won had achieved all of this without the support of any sect, relying solely on his hard work, talent, and determination. It was unprecedented.
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“A man like you never rests on his laurels, and even if you wanted to, the times won’t allow it. Sooner or later, you’ll find that many lives will be shaped by your choices. Many will perish due to your decisions. Are you prepared for such a heavy responsibility?” he asked.
Jin Mu-Won closed his eyes for a while, then opened them and replied, “As you said, I don’t know what kind of tough times and decisions await me, but I won’t let fear stop me from facing it head-on. I don’t know what lies at the end of the path I’ve chosen, but since I’ve started, I’ll see it through to the end.”
“I see.” Tang Kwan-Ho nodded. For Tang Kwan-Ho, Jin Mu-Won’s determination was proof enough that a new era was dawning, a turbulent era, different from his own. An era he did not belong to.
Suddenly, he said, “By the way, I sent a message to Heaven’s Summit.”
“Gi-Mun wants to talk to them. He believes that there is more to the Yuxi Massacre than meets the eye and wishes to investigate. Who am I to defy his unwavering resolve?”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I hope that you can escort him to Heaven’s Summit.”
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“It’ll be dangerous.”
“Do you know what he told me the other night? He said that he didn’t want to betray the core principles of the Tang Clan, ‘justice’ and ‘chivalry’. Hahaha!” Tang Kwan-Ho laughed wryly.
<Justice and Chivalry>- that was a faded banner from a bygone era, but every day, when he saw those words, he was painfully reminded of how he had put the safety of the Tang Clan ahead of the common good.
Tang Kwan-Ho turned to Jin Mu-Won and bowed his head. “I swear that no matter the outcome, the Tang Clan will stand by you in your endeavors. Please accept this as our apology for our sins.”
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