Episode 12(Growing in Solitude (3))

October 25, 2023 • 11 min read • 377 views

Lee Gwak sat still, not even turning on the light in the dark of the night.

He had always thought this might happen.

Even if he had sustained grave injuries and had been immobilised for six months, a lover should have shown up at least once. But during all that time, Geum Yul Seon never visited.

It was proof that her heart had already left him. But even so, she was too cold.

Regardless of his current state, there was a courtesy that needed to be extended between
people, more so between lovers who had shared their hearts.

Lee Gwak’s lips quivered.

“Is this the end?”

His face distorted in pain.

He thought that since he had already anticipated this, it wouldn’t hurt. But it wasn’t the case.

It felt as if a large needle was relentlessly piercing his heart. Holding his chest, Lee Gwak bowed his head.

He didn’t know how much time had passed. After a while, Lee Gwak slowly raised his head. His eyes were even deeper.

Without a word, Lee Gwak lay back down. The Yoga Secret Manual on the ceiling came into view.

The moment he opened the second door and awakened the second serpent, sensations returned to his entire arm and upper body.

If he opened the third door and stirred another serpent, he believed he would regain the ability to walk.

He already knew how to open these doors. But to do so required immense patience and time. And Lee Gwak had plenty of time at his disposal.

When he awakened the first serpent, a dense aura began to move. After awakening the second serpent, a fierce aura was added.

The two serpents intertwined like threads wrapping around each other and darted toward the third door. Lee Gwak relentlessly stimulated the third door, trying to awaken the snake inside. But unlike the second snake, it refused to show any signs of awakening no matter how much time passed.

Still, Lee Gwak wasn’t disheartened. He had considered that this might happen.

Naturally, as one progresses to higher levels, the challenges grow steeper.

It was so with martial arts, and it was true of the ways of the world.

It was evident that if opening the second door was challenging, then the third door would be even harder. And surely, the fourth or fifth doors would be exponentially more demanding.

Fortunately for Lee Gwak, he was blessed with ample time and the ideal conditions, focusing solely on the Yoga Secret Manual above.

The small room was both his prison and the most comfortable place for his training.

Shhh! Shhh!

In the dim room, only the sound of Lee Gwak’s quiet breathing echoed.

Days and nights passed. Time flowed endlessly, and Lee Gwak became more engrossed within it.

During this period, no one sought out Lee Gwak.

He was completely alone, and he was thriving in his solitude.

***
When the bitterly cold winter passed and a warm breeze began to blow, the door to the small hut opened. And a scrawny man stepped out.

Between the hem of his clothes, his legs, devoid of muscles, looked as if they would break at any moment. On his gaunt hands, veins protruded like worms.

The man paused by the door, looking up at the sky. A gust of wind swept up his dishevelled hair, revealing his hollow cheeks and cracked lips.

His overall appearance was unkempt, but there was one thing that was never unkempt: his eyes. Clear and unclouded, they shone with life.

“Has it been a year?”

The man murmuring in a husky voice was none other than Lee Gwak.

He had emerged outside after an entire year.

Having spent nearly a year lying motionless, his muscles had atrophied, and there was no strength in his body. Yet, he was content with the fact that he could move by sheer will.

Lee Gwak deeply inhaled the fresh air. While one might think there’s no difference between indoor and outdoor air, what Lee Gwak felt was profoundly distinct.

“Huuh!”

He could feel the energy, gathered in his lungs, move towards his Huiyin point. The serpent resting there responded to the sensation.

Then the second serpent awakened, followed by the third and fourth. These four awakened serpents infused Lee Gwak’s body with renewed vigour.

Last winter, Lee Gwak had managed to rouse the third and fourth serpents. At the very moment he awakened the fourth, sensation surged back into his legs, enabling him to open the door and emerge on his own accord.

Step by step, Lee Gwak carefully advanced. Without strength in his legs, maintaining balance proved challenging. Inevitably, after only a few steps, he fell.

“Ha-ha-ha!”

Yet, Lee Gwak laughed.

Lying on the ground, he laughed heartily for some time.

To an outsider, he might have seemed mad, but fortunately or unfortunately, no one was present to witness.

Those who haven’t experienced the blessing of moving their limbs at will could never truly understand its significance.

After a while, Lee Gwak pulled himself together. The turbulence of the recent events was no longer visible on his face. It was as if nothing had happened.

“This is merely the beginning.”

While he could now move his limbs, Lee Gwak had no intention of stopping here.

He had already experienced the power of Yoga Secret Transmission firsthand.

Merely unlocking the four gates had already filled him with overflowing energy and sharpened his senses. He couldn’t even fathom the transformations that would occur upon opening the fifth gate. But opening the fifth gate was difficult with his current cultivation method.

The practice of Qigong was now essential.

Traditionally, the techniques of Yoga Secret Transmission required a unique combination of its specific breathing exercises and the dynamic movement of Qigong. Static cultivation alone had clear limitations.

Now that he could move, Lee Gwak needed to practise Qigong to further strengthen his muscles. Until then, he had no plans of leaving this secluded space.

Fortunately, the provisions left behind by Seok Yi Cheon were plentiful. Lee Gwak had enough to sustain himself for several months.

Starting with stretches, he began to limber up his stiff body. The rigidity of a year made his movements wooden, causing excruciating pain with every motion. But Lee Gwak endured.

True hardship lay in immobility. The pain from movement brought him an odd sense of joy.

This pain was a testament to his newfound freedom.

With a sudden motion, there was a distinct sound of bones colliding.

Lee Gwak did not rush. Slowly, but surely, he moved as much as he currently could, never forgetting to maintain the breathing patterns of Yoga Secret Transmission.

Breathing and movement had to synchronise.

“Huff! Huff!”

Sweat streamed down Lee Gwak’s face. Still, he did not cease.

It was much later when he concluded his practice.

Having finished his daily regimen, Lee Gwak headed to a small kitchen on one side of the room.

Inside, dry rations, assorted vegetables, and meats were stacked in abundance. These supplies, meticulously stored by Seok Yi Cheon before winter, remained untouched.

The winter’s chill had preserved the ingredients perfectly. Lee Gwak selected some meat.

To rejuvenate his withered muscles, nothing was as effective as meat. Simply seasoned with salt, Lee Gwak grilled it over the flame, relishing each bite.

Juice dribbled down!

The juices ran down his chin. His front was stained with meat juices, but he didn’t care.
Watching Lee Gwak voraciously devour the meat, he resembled a wolf. Yet, the man himself, Lee Gwak, was oblivious to this likeness.

Chew! Chew!

The eerie sound of Lee Gwak chewing on meat echoed throughout the small kitchen.

Lee Gwak ensured he ate ample meat daily and moved his body diligently. His routine was executed with calculated precision.

His once scrawny frame, reminiscent of dried firewood, gradually began to fill out, and his once coarse skin started to gain a healthy sheen.

He was beginning to look more human.

Another two months passed, and Lee Gwak had almost entirely regained his former physique. No, when considering the quality of his muscles, he was even better than before.

Each muscle fiber was so defined, it looked as if hundreds of bundles of wire had been twisted together. Yet, they were not overly developed, but precisely what was needed.

This was the prowess of Yoga Secret Transmission.

Yoga Secret Transmission optimised the human body for mastering martial techniques. While it wasn’t as drastic as the techniques from central plains, given enough time, its effects were comparable.

After checking his physical condition for a while, Lee Gwak entered his room. Having spent most of his time outside since his recovery, entering his room felt strangely unfamiliar.

He lay on the floor, gazing at the ceiling.

The ceiling was still plastered with pages from the Yoga Secret Transmission manual. He had looked at it so often that every character and dot were etched into his mind. There was no longer any need to look, but Lee Gwak found it hard to tear his eyes away.

He soon realised that the title “Yoga Secret Transmission” was added by someone from a later generation.

The font inside the book and the title on the cover were strikingly different. Someone who had likely skimmed the content hastily penned the title.

Lee Gwak felt the title “Yoga Secret Transmission” didn’t fit the content.

Having mastered it himself, he knew better than anyone. Among all, what caught his attention was the segment described as “snake”.

[When the seventh snake awakens, the eighth great snake will open its eyes. Only then will the true world be revealed…]

The term “snake” has historically invoked discomfort among people. Martial arts involving the term “snake” felt like those of the evil sects. However, Lee Gwak found the term “snake” quite fitting.

“Eight-Snakes Art, yes! This art should be called the Eight-Snakes Art.”

Lee Gwak resolved to call the Yoga Secret Transmission he mastered the “Eight-Snakes Art.”

The secret to manoeuvring eight snakes – hence, the Eight-Snakes Art.

Lee Gwak began peeling off the pages from the ceiling.

These pages had been his crutch for the past year. But now, every move was imprinted in his mind. They were no longer of use to him.

He had no intention of compiling the Eight-Snake Resolution back into a book either. Lee Gwak saw immense potential in the technique and didn’t want to share that vision with others.

Lee Gwak lit a bonfire in the courtyard. As the flames roared, he threw the Eight-Snakes Art into the blaze.

Whoosh!

The flames, which consumed the Eight-Snakes Art, surged even more violently. The book that had empowered Lee Gwak for a year was reduced to ashes in mere moments.

Standing still, Lee Gwak watched the spectacle unfold.

Now, the Eight Snakes Art had vanished from the world, and Lee Gwak was the sole possessor of its knowledge.

He felt, for the first time, that he had a unique edge over others. The onus of nurturing and evolving this newfound power rested solely on Lee Gwak’s shoulders.

Just then—

“What’s this? Weren’t your limbs supposed to be paralyzed? You seem perfectly fine.”

A stranger’s voice suddenly rang out.

Without a hint of surprise, Lee Gwak turned towards the source of the voice.

A man was entering through the door.

On the surface, he appeared to be in his early thirties, but there was an inexplicable aura of age and experience about him. Lee Gwak had a hunch that this man was far older than he seemed.

A sword, adorned with ancient motifs, hung at the man’s waist. It was evidently no ordinary weapon. But what stood out most was the man’s face. His cold expression, as impassive as glass, combined with a somewhat twisted gaze, exuded an intimidating aura.

The man scanned Lee Gwak from head to toe with that icy stare.

For a moment, Lee Gwak felt a chilling sensation, as if worms were crawling all over his body.

“Who are you?”

“Me?”

“Yes!”

“I’m the newly appointed 13th squad’s chief, lad!”