Episode 11 (Growing in Solitude (2))

October 21, 2023 • 11 min read • 357 views

Making three and a half loops with its tail, the first snake firmly anchored itself around the Huiyin acupoint.

“Have I passed the first trial?”

Lee Gwak sighed with relief.

He didn’t know it, but the very few martial artists who attempted to master the Yoga Secret Manual were discouraged right at this initial stage.

Creating the first serpent required immense patience and perseverance. Especially, one shouldn’t move while stimulating the unfamiliar Huiyin acupoint to form an aura.

Practitioners of Tianzhu were accustomed to such austere practices, but martial artists of the Central Plains were not. They might endure for a few days, but remaining motionless for three months like Lee Gwak was almost impossible.

If Lee Gwak hadn’t been paralyzed, he wouldn’t have passed even the first stage of the Yoga Secret Manual.

Upon reflection, Lee Gwak realised that fate had not abandoned him.

Then, he felt a tingling sensation at his fingertips.

Lee Gwak’s eyes widened, instinctively understanding what this meant.

“Is my… sense returning?”

His withered fingertips, which looked like dried-up branches, were slowly regaining their colour.

Lee Gwak exerted strength into his fingertips, and they twitched faintly.

It was the moment he had yearned and waited for.

Although the sensation was limited to his fingertips, it wasn’t unrealistic to expect that he could soon move his wrist and eventually the entire arm.

Lee Gwak blankly stared at the Yoga Secret Manual affixed to the ceiling.

The Yoga Secret Manual that he had desperately clung to and practised for the last three months was genuine.

‘I can stand up.’

The once vague hope now seemed tangible.

Filled with renewed determination, Lee Gwak began the process of unlocking the second gate.

“Move.”

Suddenly, the serpent, which had been coiled around the Huiyin acupoint, released its tail and began to move.

Its destination was the second gate near the tailbone.

The first serpent knocked against the gate.

Boom!

A deafening sound erupted within Lee Gwak’s body, inaudible to others.

The gate stood firm.

The first serpent struck again, but the gate didn’t budge. Its steadfast resistance was reminiscent of an impregnable fortress.

Lee Gwak realised that he couldn’t force the gate open.

To unlock the second gate, a different approach was needed.

Lee Gwak lost himself in thought.

Fortunately, he had plenty of time to think, with no one to disturb him.

He paid no attention to the passage of time.

In the interim, Seok Yi Cheon visited twice, but Lee Gwak was so engrossed in his thoughts that he couldn’t respond.

Seok Yi Cheon looked at Lee Gwak with a sympathetic gaze and left.

Then, a realisation struck Lee Gwak.

“Perhaps I’ve been thinking about this the wrong way.”

Until now, he had only thought about forcefully opening the gate using the first serpent, just
like the conventional methods of circulating qi. But the Yoga Secret Manual was a study from the Tianzhu, not the Central Plains. He had to change his approach.

Lee Gwak focused his intent on the second gate at the end of the spine.

He felt something faint.

“The second serpent.”

It was so subtle that he wouldn’t have sensed it without complete concentration.

The gate remained firmly closed, and the second serpent was weak.

Lee Gwak moved the first serpent. This time, it didn’t charge blindly towards the second gate. Instead, it gently caressed it.

Its goal was to stimulate the second serpent behind the gate.

In response to the first serpent’s call, the second serpent began to move with a clarity unlike before.

Time dragged on, but Lee Gwak wasn’t weary.

The response from the second serpent grew stronger.

He delighted in the changes occurring within his body.

The realisation that he could cultivate qi outside the traditional meridians was unbelievable, and its effectiveness surpassed his expectations.

Part of him wondered why martial artists of the Central Plains hadn’t conceived this method. However, after much thought, he pondered if anyone would choose a challenging path when an easier one was available.

The Central Plains had already developed their unique martial techniques, familiar to countless practitioners. With a proven and straightforward method available, there was no reason to choose an unfamiliar path.

Most martial artists in the Jianghu believed that the Yoga Technique only made one’s foundation flexible and sturdy. But Lee Gwak, having personally mastered it, believed it held greater potential.

One reason for this belief was that the creator of the Yoga Secret Manual was a martial artist from the Central Plains. In the prologue, he clearly identified himself as such.

Having mastered the martial arts of the Central Plains, he must’ve viewed the Yoga techniques from a unique perspective, distilling its essence. That’s what Lee Gwak surmised.

“I may not know who created the Yoga Secret Manual or their intent, but I will master its essence,”

Lee Gwak bit his lip in determination.

Suddenly, he thought of Gwang Noh-ya.

The image of that deity-like figure who once dominated the wilderness surged in his mind.

Such immense power, almost otherworldly.

A chill ran down his spine at the mere memory.

Gwang Noh-ya once told Lee Gwak to live not as a domesticated dog but as a wild wolf.

The Yoga Secret Manual would become the fangs of the wolf for him.

Perhaps spurred by his intense focus, the second serpent suddenly thrashed violently, reflecting the ferocity of his thoughts.

At that moment, Lee Gwak had a minor epiphany.

While the first serpent was calm and hefty, the second was wild. By chance, it mirrored Lee Gwak’s current state of mind and disposition.

“Perhaps the serpents dormant within me possess their unique personalities.”

With this realisation, he had no reason to hesitate.

Lee Gwak intensified his aggressive focus. In response, the second serpent became more violent, and, influenced by it, the first serpent turned feral as well.

Crack!

The sound of something shattering echoed.

It was the sound of the gate breaking.

The two serpents writhed even more ferociously. In an instant, the once steadfast gate crumbled.

Whoosh!

The first serpent burst through the broken gate.

Riding a vortex, the first serpent met the second inside the gate. The two serpents entangled chaotically.

They twisted and turned, as if ready to strangle each other, but at some point, they began coiling harmoniously, biting each other’s tails and spiralling together.

Whoom!

The two serpents teased, provoked, and intertwined with each other.

Lee Gwak’s lips parted in shock.

He felt a sensation that was both agonising, like thousands of ants biting at once, and oddly euphoric.

“Ah!”

Lee Gwak forcibly bit his lip.

When human senses become exceptionally heightened, the line between pain and pleasure blurs. It was an inevitable consequence of awakening and expanding one’s senses.
***
“Ah, it’s so chilly. The cold is really setting in.”

Seok Yi Cheon complained as he rubbed his shoulders.

The breath he exhaled dispersed into the frosty air. It seemed like just yesterday that it was summer, but the season was already turning into winter.

He instinctively huddled in his coat, but the cold wind relentlessly found its way through the gaps.

The place Seok Yi Cheon was hurrying toward was a small hut located in a secluded part of the outer court.

“Sigh.”

As he looked at the alcove, a shadow fell across his face.

Although he considered himself a generally upbeat person, his heart grew heavy every time he visited this place. Inside that tiny hut was Lee Gwak.

The vibrant young man, full of youthful vigor, now lay motionless, almost like an invalid. The harsh reality weighed heavily on Seok Yi Cheon’s heart.

Initially, the 13 squad members came to comfort and take care of Lee Gwak, but as time passed and the atmosphere grew heavy, they visited less frequently.

The saying goes, ‘There’s no devoted son for a prolonged illness.’ How could it be easy to nurse another person with whom you don’t share a drop of blood?

As it stood, Seok Yi Cheon was now the only one who continued to visit and care for Lee Gwak.

Seok Yi Cheon massaged his stiff face and practised a smile several times. He took a deep breath in front of the door and then opened it with a deliberate, cheerful tone.

“Lee Gwak, it’s me. Wha—?”

Seok Yi Cheon’s eyes widened in disbelief at the sight.

“You, how…?”

Seok Yi Cheon stuttered, unable to speak.

“You’re here, brother!”

Lee Gwak was sitting up, greeting him.

Seok Yi Cheon blinked repeatedly, too shocked to respond.

Every time he visited, he had only ever seen Lee Gwak lying lifelessly. Much time had passed, and there was no sign of recovery from Lee Gwak. Seok Yi Cheon had, to some extent, come to accept the grim reality.

He thought that if there were any hope for Lee Gwak’s recovery, it would’ve manifested by now. After all, for nearly six months, Lee Gwak had been bedridden, paralyzed. To hope for his sudden recovery now seemed like a foolish dream.

Just a few days ago, Lee Gwak was still lying there, limp and motionless. Seeing him sitting up now was nothing short of a miracle.

“You, how did this happen? Can you walk?”

“I can only move my upper body for now.”

“Lee Gwak!”

Seok Yi Cheon embraced Lee Gwak tightly. Tears welled up in his eyes.

It felt as if a heavy stone had been lifted from his chest.

He hugged Lee Gwak and gently touched his upper body with his hands. Although he was still as thin as bamboo, there was a newfound vitality in him.

“It’s a blessing, truly a blessing.”

“I can’t breathe, Brother.”

“Oh, sorry. You’re not fully recovered yet.”

Only then did Seok Yi Cheon let go, his face filled with questions.

“But how did you recover? Everyone had given up…”

“I don’t know. At one point, I just began to feel sensations slowly returning.”

“It’s a miracle.”

Seok Yi Cheon uttered in amazement.

Had he looked up, he might have noticed the pages stuck to the ceiling. But his gaze remained fixed on Lee Gwak, attributing the change to a mere miracle.

“I’m relieved. I was worried because I might not be able to visit you for a while.”

“What’s happening?”

“The truth is, there’s a major reshuffle happening within the alliance. Our 13th squad is also being reorganised, and we might all be scattered.”

“Why?”

“It’s a decision from above. How would lowly ones like us understand the reasons?”
Seok Yi Cheon’s expression darkened.

He had lived harmoniously within the 13th squad for so long that they felt like brothers.
With the reorganisation, they would all be separated, and Seok Yi Cheon could not guarantee his continued presence in the 13th squad.

If he had to leave the squad, it would undoubtedly become challenging to visit this small hut. But knowing that Lee Gwak could now sit up on his own was a slight comfort.

“The atmosphere in the outer court must be tense?”

“You think? Everyone’s on edge. We’re just gritting our teeth and bearing it. But a few seem pleased, especially Go Jeon-ok. He’s so desperate to leave the outer court that he’s openly courting the Heavenly Intelligence Hall and other groups. It’s ridiculous.”

“Hmm!”

“He never visited once, right? It’s all because of his ambitions. Despite being friends, he hasn’t even visited once. Is he even human?”

Seok Yi Cheon’s voice involuntarily grew louder.

At that, Lee Gwak responded with a bitter smile.

Was it only Go Jeon-ok?

In the past five years, many of those he knew hadn’t even shown their faces. This tiny room was a prison for Lee Gwak, but it was also a demarcation line that separated true friends from the rest.

Only a few, including Seok Yi Cheon, had crossed that line.

Lee Gwak closed his eyes.

He might have had reasons to feel hurt, but strangely, he didn’t. His heart was calm, eerily resembling a serene, ripple-less pond.

Whether this peace was due to his familiarity with loneliness, or because of mastering the Yoga Secret Manual, he wasn’t sure, but it hardly mattered.

He was content with his current state.

Then, Lee Gwak asked,

“Do you happen to know what became of Socheon?”

“The young lady from the same village? Hmm! I haven’t seen her since then. Should I find out?”

“No need. She’s smart, she’ll be fine.”

“Right! She will be. But, speaking of which…”

Suddenly, Seok Yi Cheon hesitated, a troubled expression evident on his face.

“What is it?”

“Well… It’s about the Golden Flutist from Musical Performance Hall.”

“…”

“It seems she might have found another man.”

A heavy silence settled in the room.