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TL: FoodieMonster007; ED: TheGreatT20 If you see this, you are at the wrong site!


CLACK!

An old man threw open the window, inviting the crisp morning air into his lungs. Gradually, the fog in his mind dissipated, leaving clarity in its wake.

“Hoo…” Taking deep, deliberate breaths, the old man fixed his gaze on the landscape outside. His vision was blurred from presbyopia, but he could still see well enough to appreciate the sunrise.

“Good.” A broad smile graced his lips as he watched the townspeople embark on their daily journeys. Men and women left their homes, venturing out early to earn a living. The streets echoed with the chatter of children on their way to schools and martial arts academies.

In the few weeks since his return to his hometown, this had quickly become a habit for the old man, and one of his few pleasures.

Suddenly, the window slammed shut of its own accord.

“Old man, it’s not wise to be out in the cold so early,” a voice called from behind him.

The old man clicked his tongue in annoyance and turned around, only to see a stern woman dressed in a black martial arts outfit approaching him. “Don’t you think you’re being rather rude to the elderly by bursting into my room and interrupting me?”

“Your health is more important than your amusement,” the woman replied, her voice surprisingly soft in spite of her severe appearance.

She helped the old man into his robes and placed a steaming decoction on the table beside the bed.

“Open the window, please.”

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“I’ll open it as soon as you’ve taken your medicine.”

“Eh…” The old man grudgingly took a sip of the bitter brew.

Only then did the woman relent and open the window.

“When I get back, I’m going to tell everyone how disobedient you were,” the old man grumbled.

“And I’ll tell them you refused to take your medicine.”

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“Ugh…” The old man groaned, on the verge of an outburst, but he stopped himself. The woman’s words may have been harsh, but her concern for him was undeniable. After all, not only had she accompanied him on this journey, but she had also carried all of his luggage for him, all the while maintaining her stoic facade.

“When I return, I’ll see to it that you’re given more important duties.”

The woman’s face paled. “…I apologize, so please don’t say that.”

The old man chuckled at the sight. The woman had remained impassive even when he threatened her, but when he offered to reward her, she panicked.

He turned back to the window and looked out at the street.

“I lived here until I overstayed my welcome. Then, after decades, I returned. It’s almost funny… how much things have changed.”

“Yes.”

“I thought this was home, but now that I think about it, it never really was. Both my parents passed away when I was a child, and I don’t have many fond memories of this city.”

“Then why did you decide to come here?”

The old man fell silent, a mixture of emotions in his eyes. After a while, he said, “…Because regardless, this is my hometown and the first place that came to mind when they told me I needed to recuperate.”

“I’m sure you’ll recover soon and return to office.”

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“You know, Shadow. I really don’t want to go back to that den of vipers.”

“……” Shadow held her tongue and studied the old man’s back. This was not the time for her to speak. Her job was to ease his mind, look after his health and protect him from danger.

“I’ll go get you something to eat.” Shadow moved to leave the old man’s room.

“Hmm? What’s going on?” the old man suddenly exclaimed.

Shadow stopped in her tracks and turned around. The old man was leaning halfway out of the window, peering intently at a boisterous crowd gathering below.

“Puhahaha, check this out!”

“Tsk tsk, I guess there are all kinds of weirdos in the world…”

“The Azure Dragon Academy’s Future Star Instructor? Who the hell is Baek Suryong?”

“Haven’t you heard the rumors? He’s one of the new instructors…”

“Ah, you mean that braggart who said he’d lead the Azure Dragon Academy to victory in the Heavenly Martial Festival?”

“Guaranteed acceptance? What a fraud!”

“The Azure Dragon Academy must have really fallen from grace for them to hire such a person…”

“What a disgrace to martial artists…!”

The spectacle caught the old man’s attention. “What’s all the fuss about? Some kind of murim conspiracy?”

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Shadow enhanced her hearing with inner qi. “Looks like someone put up a flyer. A martial arts instructor named Baek Suryong is looking for students,” she replied.

“Does this kind of thing usually cause such a commotion?”

“Not really. It’s just not common to see a flyer advertising private martial arts lessons. Most parents prefer to entrust their children to proven and reputable instructors through personal connections.”

Well, if we’re talking about an Azure Dragon Academy instructor, then his skills should be guaranteed, but… this Baek Suryong seems to be quite the attention seeker. Anyway, this has nothing to do with us…

“I wonder what he wrote? Bring me a copy of the flyer,” the old man ordered.

Unfortunately, he seems to think differently…and what’s that strange look in his eyes? Shadow felt a little uneasy, but she had no choice but to obey.

“…Yes,” she said resignedly, before walking out of the room.

A few minutes later, she returned, holding a crumpled piece of paper. “I read through it on the way here, but it’s really nothing worth…”

“Give it to me.” The old man snatched the flyer from Shadow’s grasp and unfolded it.

baekad

“……” Silence hung in the air. The old man read and reread the message, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him.

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“Hehe…” he suddenly broke into laughter. The frivolous tone and exaggerated claims on the flyer were amusing, like the work of someone desperate, broke, and willing to do anything. “This fellow must be pretty hard up, don’t you think? It can’t have been easy for a martial artist to put up such a flyer.”

“……”

Many children fantasized about becoming martial artists, and in his younger days, the old man had been no exception. Every time he walked past the Azure Dragon Academy students on his way to school, he would look at them with envy. The confidence they exuded made him unconsciously bow his head, feeling like he was beneath them.

Even now, when the most accomplished martial masters had to bow before him, that feeling never went away.

“Martial arts lessons… Teehee. Sounds intriguing.”

“Old man, you can’t be serious…” Shadow persuaded. Once he made up his mind, it was difficult to dissuade him, so it was now or never.

The old man smiled kindly, sending shivers down Shadow’s spine.

“I’m going out for a change, so get ready.”

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“What?” Shadow’s eyes wandered to the flyer in the old man’s hand. There was an address on it: the White Dragon Manor, a large estate near the Azure Dragon Academy.

“Don’t worry, I’m just going to check it out,” The old man said, his eyes sparkling with childlike excitement.

Shadow was horrified.

sep

<White Dragon Manor (白龍莊)>

The manor’s sign boasted bold, warrior-like handwriting. The gate stood wide open, inviting anyone who had seen the flyer and sought instruction. However, despite the fact that the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon, no one had shown up all day.

“The only things passing through the gate are flies.”

THWACK!

I smacked Hyonwon Kang’s cheek with the hilt of my sword like I was swatting a fly.

“Ack! Why did you hit me?”

“Stop yapping and straighten up. Your form is slipping,” I said, poking Hyonwon Kang with the scabbard and correcting his stance. He was practicing the Eighteen Strikes of the Viridian Forest, which he had learned surprisingly quickly.

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“Hey, did you really put the fliers up like I told you to?” I asked, eyeing Hyonwon Kang suspiciously.

Hyonwon Kang fumed and jumped in frustration. “What the hell? I ran around like a stray cat at the crack of dawn just to put up a hundred of those embarrassing flyers, and yet you’re accusing me of not doing my job!”

“Me too, I posted them too,” Wiji Cheon added. He was practicing the Unlimited Sword next to Hyonwon Kang and was already drenched in sweat.

I adjusted Wiji Cheon’s posture and nodded. “Okay. I don’t trust this delinquent, but I trust you, Cheon.”

“Why are you discriminating against me…?”

“Are you asking me because you really don’t know? Anyway, I’ll be satisfied as long as you don’t smuggle alcohol into my house.”

“I’ve quit drinking!”

SMACK!

“Did I say you could turn around?”

With a swollen nose, Hyonwon Kang went back to practicing the Eighteen Strikes of the Viridian Forest, and Wiji Cheon methodically went through the moves of the Unlimited Sword.

As I criticized their stances, I looked at the wide-open gate and sighed, “Even though I’ve already applied for time off…”

My colleagues were appalled that I would be taking a leave of absence less than a month after I started working, but it was more important for me to secure a job as a private tutor, as I needed money for elixirs to improve my Heaven Defying Divine Art and to forge my sword.

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“I should be able to get at least three students… so why hasn’t anyone come yet? Did I not advertise enough? Maybe I should have added more oomph…”

“If you did that, you’d be reported to the authorities for false advertising.”

“Suryong-hyung, I mean, Mr. Baek, you’re good at teaching, but not at self-promotion…”

“Since the two of you are criticizing me, does that mean that you’re the experts? Should I leave it to you then, huh?”

“Excuse me, is anyone home?” Suddenly, an elderly man and a woman clad in a black martial arts outfit stepped through the gate.

I instinctively appraised both of them. The old man’s back was straight and his voice authoritative, but his complexion was less than stellar. Someone in a high position. A court official, perhaps?

The woman exuded a powerful presence, was guarded and ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. An extraordinary warrior, stronger than most martial artists. Must be a bodyguard.

Put these two together and they’re not your average folks. Wait, is that the flyer he’s holding?

The old man looked at me and asked, “Is this the White Dragon Manor?”

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“Yes, sir! Welcome! Please have a seat over there.” I put on my best salesman smile.

“I saw your flyer and thought I’d ask…”

“Are you enrolling your grandchildren? It’s too bad they’re not with you today. How old are they?”

The old man grinned playfully. “No, I’m not here for my grandchildren. I’m the one applying for the class.”

“Pardon?”

“Old man!” The woman in black gawked at the old man in disbelief. For some reason, she was even more surprised than I was.

However, the old man ignored her and asked me, “Mr. Baek, do you think it’s possible for an old man like me to pass the Azure Dragon Academy Entrance Examination under your tutelage?”

“Are you serious?”

“Do I look like I’m joking?”

I stared into his unwavering eyes. “No, you’re not.”

“Hoho. Anyway, I hear there’s no upper age limit for the Azure Dragon Academy.”

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He was right. You had to be fifteen to apply to the Academy, but there was no upper age limit. Still, they rarely accepted students in their twenties, let alone the elderly.

“Forgive me for asking this, but how old are you, sir?” I asked.

“Sixty-five.”

You’ve been eligible for admission for fifty years, why are you only applying now? I gave him a skeptical look.

He chuckled and tapped his cane on the floor, “As the saying goes, it’s never too late to learn, right?”

True, age shouldn’t be a barrier to learning, but it matters for results. At his age, it’ll be impossible to reach a high level no matter how hard he trains.

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Martial arts required youthful flexibility and an untainted body. Innate talents or a special constitution might make up for a late start, but not for the elderly.

Also, that bodyguard is glaring at me with beady eyes, as if urging me to hurry up and reject the old man.

“…I’m sorry, sir, but it’ll be difficult,” I squeezed out.

Disappointment immediately clouded the old man’s face, while the woman in black clasped her hands in gratitude.

“What if I paid you ten times as much?”

“What?”

“If you can get me into the Azure Dragon Academy, I’ll pay you ten times more than the amount stated here.”

I hesitated. The standard fee is three hundred silvers. Ten times that is three thousand. If I take him in, then I won’t need another student, but…

“Please give me your hand,” I asked.

When he held it out, I touched his wrist, feeling his pulse and sensing his qi.

After a minute, I opened my eyes. “I’m sorry, but even with ten times the fee, I can’t do it.”

The old man’s face darkened. “I see…” he sighed.

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“Also, I don’t want to discourage you, but if I can’t do it, no one else can.”

“Hehe. Arrogant, but believable. I knew it, it’s ridiculous… Thanks for the advice though.” The old man stood up, his shoulders slumped more than when he entered the White Dragon Manor.

I followed him outside and apologized, “I’m sorry I couldn’t help.”

“No need to apologize. I asked for too much.”

“Ten times… It’s a considerable sum, but with just that amount, it’s impossible.”

“Of course. With just that amount, it’s… Wait. What did you just say?” The old man looked back, noticing my odd phrasing. “If I heard you correctly, then…”

I grinned and nodded. “Give me twenty times and I’ll make you the oldest student at the Azure Dragon Academy.”

The old man’s eyes flickered wildly with joy.

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