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


On the morning of the entrance exam, a massive crowd gathered around the Azure Dragon Academy. In keeping with the festive atmosphere, a large number of pop-up stalls had also been set up.

“Rice cakes! Get your rice cakes! Freshly made rice cakes for good luck!”

“Good luck charms for the exam! Small enough to carry in your pocket!”

“Attention, young warriors! Come and have a hearty bowl of soup before taking your test!”

Needless to say, the shrewd merchants would never pass up such an opportunity to profit from the applicants, even if it meant that they had to start work much earlier than usual.

“Look over there! It’s Shaolin!”

“Idiot, just because he’s bald doesn’t mean he’s from Shaolin.”

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“Whatever… never mind.”

“Sir! Are you from Wudang Sect?”

“Ahem, I’m just a lay disciple…”

All over the city, bright-eyed children could be heard squealing excitedly, eager to see young martial artists only a few years older than themselves. Normally, the martial artists would frown at such rude questions, but today they just smiled and let it go. After all, these kids didn’t know anything about the murim, and it wouldn’t do them any good to raise their voices in front of the Azure Dragon Academy on such an important day.

The gates of Azure Dragon Academy had not yet opened. In front of the gate, the applicants who were waiting to take the exam, along with their families, friends, and acquaintances, were saying their farewells. There were solemn, tearful, and even embarrassing scenes everywhere.

“My son, you must pass the exam!”

“Father, I will pass and bring back the Azure Dragon Emblem!”

“Yes, you must pass! Think of all the money we spent sending you to a martial arts academy… Oww! Honey!”

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“What are you thinking mentioning such things in front of our child?!”

Parents warmly hugged their children.

“Orabeoni,1 what will I do if you leave for the Azure Dragon Academy…?”

“Don’t cry, Yeon-Mae. It’s not like we’re parting forever.”

“I’m worried you’ll fall for a female student at the Azure Dragon Academy…”

“Why would you worry about such a thing? I already have you, my dear…”

“If you ever cheat on me, I’ll personally come and tear you apart.”

“Ahem, that’s one of the reasons I fell for you, Yeon-Mae.”

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Naive lovers declared their eternal love for each other.

“Disciple, don’t be nervous and just show half your skills. You won’t be able to fail even if you tried.”

“Yes! I’ll be back, Master!”

Masters patted their disciples on the shoulder in encouragement.

At an inn known for its exorbitant rates, a young man looked down at the Azure Dragon Academy from the top floor. “Hoho, what a nice atmosphere,” he remarked.

Another young man sitting across from him asked, “What’s so nice about it?”

“Isn’t it heartwarming to see the faces of young martial artists chasing their dreams? I wonder what kind of talented kids will show up this year?” the young man replied like an elder, despite his youthful appearance.

If there were others in the inn, they would have found this scene strange, but since the two men had rented out the entire floor, no one was around to notice.

The second man said matter-of-factly, “Half of them will have to pack up today, and the other half will go home tomorrow. In the end, only a handful will be left.”

“You’ve always lacked romanticism. Isn’t it too early to talk about hard truths?”

“We have more applicants this year than ever before. However, the only reason this is happening is because we have lowered the application requirements to an unbelievably low level, to the point where anyone can take the exam.”

“Mmhmm.”

“But this year will be different. I am going to change the Azure Dragon Academy.”

“Yes, you should.” The young man who had been looking out of the window smiled faintly and turned to look at the man sitting across from him. For a moment, his gaze was cold as ice. “Or rather… you must.”

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“…Yes.” Namgoong Su lowered his head, not daring to meet the young man’s eyes directly.

RUMBLE!

Finally, the gates of Azure Dragon Academy opened wide. Mae Geuklyom, the gatekeeper for the day, demanded that the applicants remain calm and orderly as they entered.

The young man stood up. “Let’s go. If we’re late, that annoying geezer Noh Goonsang will nag me.”

“Yes, Uncle.”2

The young man left the inn with his hands behind his back, and Namgoong Su politely followed one step behind him.

“By the way, aren’t those kids under your tutelage also taking part in the entrance exam? One of them is a member of the main family, if memory serves.”

“Yes, you won’t be disappointed.”

“Hoho, I hope you’re right.”

Namgoong Su looked at the sword swinging at the young man’s waist and bowed his head. On the sheath of the sword, the characters “Blue Sky” (蒼天) were clearly engraved.

Only one martial artist in the murim could possess this sword.

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sep

“First and foremost, I would like to thank all of you for applying to our academy.” Noh Goonsang, standing on the podium, surveyed the applicants filling the school’s arena. Their eyes sparkled with excitement, fear, the desire to become stronger, and dreams for the future. The sight filled him with satisfaction, but he did not intend to ignore reality.

“Our critics often claim that the Azure Dragon Academy is the worst of the Five Great Academies. Indeed, we haven’t risen above the bottom ranks of the Heavenly Martial Festival in ten years.”

[P-Principal! What are you saying?] The Vice Principal sent a telepathic message to Noh Goonsang, urging him to stop before he demoralized the applicants.

True enough, the applicants were already beginning to look shaken.

Nevertheless, Noh Goonsang continued. “Well, this is our current situation. I’m sure some of you had your sights on the White Tiger Academy or the Vermilion Phoenix Academy, but applied here for practical reasons.”

Noh Goonsang scanned the crowd. There were more applicants this year than ever before, but it wasn’t because the academy was popular or prestigious. People just thought it was easier to pass their exams than those of the other academies.

“But…this year will be different.”

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BOOM!

Suddenly, a powerful wave of energy spread out from Noh Goonsang as he stamped his foot. The hairs on the backs of the applicants’ necks immediately stood on end, and they swallowed nervously.

“The Azure Dragon Academy is not a fallback for those who can’t get into the White Tiger Academy or the Vermilion Phoenix Academy. If you came here with such a complacent attitude, you’ll regret it.”

Noh Goonsang looked fiercely at the applicants in the grandstand. Most of them couldn’t meet his gaze and looked away, but a few stared right back at him.

Oh my, this year might be worth looking forward to. I guess having more applicants has its advantages. I wonder how many raw gems there are among them? Noh Goonsang smiled, then turned toward the instructors and locked eyes with Baek Suryong.

“In the name of the Thousand-Armed Bodhisattva, Noh Goonsang, I swear thus: This year, we will achieve much better results at the Heavenly Martial Festival!”

“W-What?”

“Why is he saying that all of a sudden?”

All but one of the instructors were stunned. Why on earth did the principal make such a bold declaration? He was even swearing by his alias, the Thousand-Armed Bodhisattva of the murim’s Hundred Grandmasters!

Only Baek Suryong grinned and gave Noh Goonsang a thumbs up as if to say ‘well done’.

Noh Goonsang chuckled. Hoho, even though I didn’t dare say that we would win for fear that no one would believe me. Well, I have no particular attachment to the alias ‘Thousand-Armed Bodhisattva’ anyway. As long as I can inspire the students and instructors, I don’t mind being embarrassed later.

Noh Goonsang looked around again. “I hope that everyone here will do their best. Anyone who underestimates the Azure Dragon Academy entrance exam will soon have to pack their bags!”

“Yes!”

“Understood.”

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“Got it!”

Noh Goonsang smiled. Fortunately, his message seemed to have gotten through. The faces of the applicants now burned with determination.

There was still one last part to his speech, though.

“Ahem! Before we begin the Azure Dragon Academy entrance exam, allow me to introduce a distinguished guest. He will serve as a special examiner today.”

A special examiner? Puzzled, the applicants exchanged glances with each other.

Their confusion did not last long. Noh Goonsang stepped back from the podium, and a young man who had been sitting in the back stepped forward with his hands behind his back. “I really enjoyed the Thousand-Armed Bodhisattva’s speech. I haven’t seen him so lively in a long time,” he said.

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”???”

The young man appeared to be in his mid-twenties at most. Given the huge age difference between him and Noh Goonsang, it was unthinkable for him to talk to the septuagenarian as an equal.

No, there was only one way such a thing was possible.

“Could it be…?”

“That person is…”

Those who caught on quickly stared at the young man and then at Namgoong Su, who stood respectfully behind him, in shock. Although their facial features were different, their auras were very similar.

Such a thing was only possible if both men were masters of the same martial arts school.

“My name is Namgoong Jaehak, otherwise known as the ‘Blue Sky Sword King (蒼天劍王)’,” the young man introduced himself.

The arena immediately erupted into chaos.

“The Blue Sky Sword King!”

“It’s the Ten Kings!”

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“My goodness…”

The Blue Sky Sword King, Namgoong Jaehak, was one of the Ten Kings (十尊), the ten strongest martial artists in the murim. Not only was he famous for his swordsmanship, he was also a hero who played a major role in overthrowing the Blood Cult fifty years ago.

That Blue Sky Sword King had come to the Azure Dragon Academy as a special examiner!

“Hoho, I’m not sure how to handle such a warm welcome. However, I didn’t come here to cause a ruckus, so please calm down a little,” Namgoong Jaehak said softly, though his voice carried a compelling charisma that made it hard to oppose him.

The chattering youths quickly fell silent and straightened their backs. The Namgoong Clan, the finest family of swordsmen in the world, had produced many instructors for the Five Great Academies over the generations, and Namgoong Jaehak stood at the pinnacle of that legacy. Currently, as an honorary instructor at the Heavenly Martial Academy, his lectures were so popular that students would duel just for the chance to attend.

He was the Star Instructor of Star Instructors. They needed to listen closely to his every word.

“Today, I have come here at the Azure Dragon Academy’s behest to serve as a special examiner. I wish you all the best of luck. Give it everything you’ve got and leave with no regrets,” Namgoong Jaehak concluded with a gentle smile.

The arena erupted in applause as the applicants’ spirits soared to unprecedented heights.

sep

“You’re astonishingly popular. If I had known that earlier, I would have made you come forward right at the very beginning,” Noh Goonsang remarked, shooting envious stares at Namgoong Jaehak.

“Hoho, they’re just kids. I think they’re more excited because I’m one of the Ten Kings than because of my personal fame,” Namgoong Jaehak replied with a hearty laugh.

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The two martial artists had been friends since their youth, often meeting for duels and drinks. Although they couldn’t meet as often now, their bond remained strong.

“Even though I invited you, I didn’t really expect you to come. Aren’t you busy with things at the Heavenly Martial Academy?” Noh Goonsang asked.

Namgoong Jaehak waved away Noh Goonsang’s concern. “Not at all, the younger generation is in charge of everything now. Anyway, I’ve long wanted to visit the Azure Dragon Academy, so everything worked out perfectly.”

“Thank you. Because of you, those kids are more motivated than ever.”

The two old men turned toward the arena. The first round of selections was underway.

“Haaap!”

“Urachacha!”

After being divided into twelve groups, the applicants were now being tested in the outer arts, the inner arts, and physical fitness under the watchful eye of the instructors.

Hearing the vigorous shouts echoing from all around, Noh Goonsang smiled contentedly. “This year’s Azure Dragon Academy will be different. You’ll be surprised.”

“Oho! I certainly hope so,” Namgoong Jaehak replied leisurely, raising an eyebrow.

“You look skeptical. Want to make a bet? I bet you’ll be surprised,” Noh Goonsang suggested.

“I don’t know what makes you so confident, but sure. What’s the stake?”

“At our age, what else but a drink?”

Namgoong Jaehak laughed heartily and nodded. Having gotten used to the high standards of the Heavenly Martial Academy, he found the skills of the Azure Dragon Academy’s applicants painfully lacking.

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Judging by the level of these applicants, I highly doubt that the Azure Dragon Academy’s performance at the Heavenly Martial Festival will be any better than before. Even the top applicant here would be mediocre there, he thought, but he kept his opinion to himself so as not to hurt Noh Goonsang’s pride.

“Group 12, number 85!” an examiner called.

“Yes! I’m here!” an old man replied, stepping forward confidently. Wearing a snow-white martial arts uniform and a headband tied tightly around his forehead, he stood out strikingly from the crowd of young children.

Hmm…? Have I seen him somewhere before? Namgoong Jaehak wondered.

“I am Gongson Su, a pioneer graduate of the White Dragon Manor. I look forward to your guidance!”

“W-WHY IS THAT PERSON HERE!?” Namgoong Jaehak shouted, jumping to his feet.

It was the first time the Blue Sky Sword King had lost a bet before it even commenced.


Footnotes:

  1. Orabeoni: Female honorific for elder brother, the archaic/extra-respectful form of “Oppa”. A quick reminder, for males: “elder brother” = “hyung”, “elder sister” = “noona/noonim”, and for females: “elder brother” = “oppa/orabeoni”, elder sister = “unnie”. 

  2. Uncle: 백부(伯父) is an archaic term referring specifically to one’s eldest uncle. 

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