Episode 13 Burning with ambition Alone(1)

October 25, 2023 • 11 min read • 358 views

Novel-Martial Artist Lee Gwak

The new leader of the 13th Squad identified himself as Seo Jong Myeong.

Lee Gwak looked at Seo Jong Myeong with a slightly furrowed brow. An inexplicable feeling of unease washed over him.

Even if the organisation had undergone restructuring, the distinctive atmosphere of the outer court always lingered. Their somewhat laid-back attitude was evident in their eyes and actions. However, Seo Jong Myeong didn’t seem to possess any traits of the outer court.

His sharp gaze and intense demeanor suggested that he came from a place with a different atmosphere.

‘He must be from the inner court.’

He couldn’t fathom why someone from the rigorous inner court was dispatched to the more lax outer court, but unease grew within him.

That’s when it happened.

“Hey, are you examining me now?”

The corners of Seo Jong Myeong’s eyes twitched slightly.

“No.”

“Kid! Your eyes tell a different story. What do you mean no?”

The pitch of Seo Jong Myeong’s voice rose. For a moment, Lee Gwak felt nervous, realizing that the new leader was not someone to be taken lightly.

Seo Jong Myeong chuckled. He seemed to sense Lee Gwak’s sudden caution.

“Relax. I’m not here to harm you.”

“……”

“I’m not after anything from you. Just wanted to see the only member of my squad. I’ve heard you were paralyzed. Had to check if you’re still alive, right? Hehe!”

Seo Jong Myeong’s laughter carried a strange, twisted tone.

A thought crossed Lee Gwak’s mind.

“So, I’m the only member in the squad?”

“Like I said, you’re the only one. They’ll assign others in due course.”

“Hmm!”

“What happened to you? I heard you were bedridden because of paralysis.”

“Lucky for me, I managed to get up recently.”

“Seems you have quite the fortune. If you have any luck to spare, share some with me.”

His words conveyed doubt, rather than genuine belief.

Turning away, he added,

“If you can move, join the others at the quarters. It’s embarrassing for me, as the leader, if you’re alone all the time.”

“Understood.”

“I’m off.”

Waving his hand, Seo Jong Myeong walked away.

Lee Gwak stood still, watching the receding figure of Seo Jong Myeong.

Everything around him began to change, as if it had been waiting for him to change.

‘No matter how the world changes, I must remain unyielding.’

***
When Lee Gwak stepped back into the Outer Court, much had transformed. The most evident changes were the atmosphere of the court and its structures.

In the past, living quarters were shared regardless of group affiliations. Now, individual accommodations had been assigned. High walls isolated each area, with strict distinctions made between affiliations.

The once-relaxed ambiance was nowhere to be found. Strict discipline was enforced, and the martial artists of the Outer Court stood more alert than before. Many were unfamiliar faces.

While Lee Gwak was engrossed in mastering the Eight Snakes Art in a confined chamber, momentous events were taking place outside.

The Jade Heaven Alliance and Celestial Demon Troupe had clashed.

The reason for their dispute remained unknown, but both sides had suffered considerable losses, and tensions were escalating.

Although the skirmishes had been minor so far, it was widely believed that if left unchecked, it could escalate into a conflict as devastating as the Great Heavenly Blood War.

Thus, the martial artists of Jade Heaven Alliance were on edge.

This unfamiliar atmosphere unsettled Lee Gwak for a moment, but he soon regained his usual calm. One of the most profound changes after mastering the Eight Snakes Art was his newfound ability to maintain inner peace at will.

“Have you returned?”

Seated in the courtyard, Seo Jong Myeong sensed Lee Gwak’s presence.

“Yes.”

“Don’t just stand there dazed. Sit wherever.”

“Is it really just us?”

“Like I said before, the other squad members haven’t been assigned yet. Until then, you’re exempt from all tasks, so just rest.”

“Just resting… is that acceptable?”

“As long as you don’t bother me.”

Confused by Seo Jong Myeong’s remarks, Lee Gwak blinked in disbelief.
Seo Jong Myeong waved him away.

“Get a grip. Stop rolling your eyes and go somewhere out of my sight.”

“Yes!”

Lee Gwak moved to the opposite side where training weapons were kept.
Swords, spears, blades, staves, and more – the variety was vast.

His eyes lit up with appreciation as he looked over the weapons.

It had been a year since he’d seen such weaponry.

At one point, he had thought he might never hold them again, which made this reunion all the more poignant.

The weapon Lee Gwak chose was a sturdy blade.

The most popular martial art among the Outer Sect martial artists of the Jade Heaven Alliance was the Blade Technique. Easier to master than the sword, and most importantly, more convenient to carry.

Lee Gwak was also trained in the Blade Technique, making the blade feel familiar in his hands.

Swish! Swish!

He swung the blade lightly.

Holding the blade after such a long time made it feel unfamiliar. Yet, Lee Gwak didn’t stop his practice.

Everything felt strange.

His basic moves, throws, steps, everything he’d learned over the past five years was a mess. He hadn’t been very accomplished even back then, and after a year-long hiatus, it was understandable for his body to forget.

“Phew!”

Lee Gwak exhaled deeply.

Although he had braced himself for this, facing the reality was still disheartening. But he wasn’t defeated.

Starting now, he would build up, step by step.

Just as he had desperately mastered the Eight Snakes Art, he could relearn the methods from scratch. That’s what Lee Gwak thought.

If he wasn’t to be deployed on a mission anytime soon, then time was on his side. He had plenty of it.

Drawing from his memories, Lee Gwak began to practise the technique.

Luminous Sword Art.

It was a basic technique that every martial artist of the Outer Hall had to learn.

Rather than stabbing, its form emphasized slicing and chopping, maximizing the unique utility of the blade. The consumption of internal energy wasn’t significant, making it perfect for low-ranking martial artists. However, it was clear that if one aspired to reach greater heights, it was best not to rely solely on this technique.

Lee Gwak was aware of this, but he had no other choice at the moment.

The Luminous Sword Art was divided into seven primary forms.

Lee Gwak began with the first, advancing towards the seventh.

In an instant, his face reddened. His breath grew short.

While he had conditioned his body throughout the winter, executing martial arts moves was a different challenge altogether.

His muscle flexibility allowed him to execute the moves without hindrance, but he struggled to maintain his breathing. Eventually, he collapsed, unable to even complete half of the routine.

“Ha! Ha!”

He could taste bitterness in his breath.

He desperately wanted to rest, but he resisted the temptation. If he gave in now, he’d revert back to his old self – the one who gave up too easily.

With a tremendous effort, Lee Gwak stood up again, determination gleaming in his eyes.

‘I’ll start over.’

He began the Luminous Sword Art from the beginning.

Swish!

Although exhausted, the force in his blade was more pronounced than before. But he knew he couldn’t be content with just that.

Lee Gwak gave it his all, pouring every ounce of strength into his moves. This was the first time he had ever exerted himself this much in martial arts.

His body was weary and he was gasping for breath, but Lee Gwak felt elated. However, a voice interrupted his concentration.

“What are you doing?”

The disdainful voice belonged to Seo Jong Myeong. When Lee Gwak regained his senses, he saw Seo Jong Myeong looking at him with a pitiful look.

“Yes?”

“Is this some pathetic dance of yours? Who would use such weak moves?”

Seo Jong Myeong’s harsh words made Lee Gwak bite his lip.

“Is my Luminous Sword Art really that bad?”

“It’s so bad it’s almost blinding.”

“Then teach me.”

“Why should I?”

“Aren’t you our leader?”

“Ridiculous!”

Seo Jong Myeong looked at him with disbelief.

Lee Gwak persisted,

“Is it impossible then?”

“Of course, it’s impossible.”

“Why? Am I not the only one left in the 13th squad? Wouldn’t it benefit you if I become stronger?”

Lee Gwak’s gaze was naturally challenging, but it wasn’t enough to provoke Seo Jong Myeong.

“Tsk! Do you really think such pesturing will work on me? I told you explicitly: Don’t bother me.”

“Leader!”

Lee Gwak called out loudly, but Seo Jong Myeong, ignoring him, stepped into his room.

Left alone, Lee Gwak stood there for a long time, staring at Seo Jong Myeong’s closed door. The firmly shut door showed no sign of reopening.

“No matter what you say, I won’t give up.”

If he gave up now, he’d be reduced to nothing again.

He couldn’t revert to those days when he was weak and uninspired.

Lee Gwak once more gripped his sword’s hilt and began practising his Luminous Sword Art.

Shhh!

In the empty courtyard, only the sound of Lee Gwak’s sword could be heard.

By the time Lee Gwak finished his training, evening had set in. He was so exhausted he could barely move a finger. He desperately wanted to just lie down and sleep. Yet, he mustered his strength and began to channel his Eight Snakes Art.

The first snake, which had been dormant, started to move.

As the first snake moved, the second one stirred, followed by the third and the fourth.

Now, Lee Gwak understood the distinct role of each snake.

While the first snake provided balance with its hefty weight, the second snake infused him with a ferocious energy. The third snake enhanced his senses, and the fourth greedily absorbed his qi. Because of this, Lee Gwak’s energy grew stronger every day.

His days were simple.

He practised the Eight Snakes Art during dawn and night, and during the day, he mastered the Luminous Sword Art.

Given that he wasn’t sharing his dwelling with anyone, he wasn’t concerned about prying eyes, which allowed him to train even more diligently.

Seo Jong Myeong, with a furrowed brow, observed Lee Gwak’s persistence.

It irked him to see Lee Gwak, drenched in sweat, smiling as he practiced.

Lee Gwak seemed utterly obsessed with martial arts.

Seo Jong Myeong couldn’t comprehend the joy Lee Gwak found in practicing the Luminous Sword Art, a technique no one in the Jade Heaven Alliance even bothered with.

“He’s mad,”

This was Seo Jong Myeong’s assessment of Lee Gwak.

However, he didn’t hold Lee Gwak in high regard. Even if Lee Gwak was diligent in practicing the Luminous Sword Art, its limitations were clear.

In the Jade Heaven Alliance, there were only a few techniques weaker than the Luminous Sword Art. Even the weakest technique Seo Jong Myeong knew was far more powerful.

The most significant issue was that the Luminous Sword Art had a clear limit. Even if one mastered it, they’d still be just an average martial artist. Yet, Lee Gwak never gave up.

Unable to hold back any longer, Seo Jong Myeong spoke up.

“Lee Gwak.”

“Yes?”

“Stop wasting your time on such a futile martial art.”

“What do you mean?”

“Even if you master the Luminous Sword Art, its limits are evident. No matter how much you learn it, you’ll remain an outer hall martial artist. No one will recognize your worth.”

“I’m not doing this to gain anyone’s recognition.”

“Then why be so persistent? All humans desire validation from others. Aren’t you the same? Your limits are clear. No matter how hard you try, you’ll always remain a pawn.”

“Shouldn’t I at least struggle?”

“You’re stubborn, to a fault. Fine! I’ll show you reality.”

“What?”

“Draw your sword and attack me.”

Seo Jong Myeong unsheathed his sword, pointing it at Lee Gwak.

“Huh?”

“Charge at me. I’ll show you your limits.”

His voice dripped with disdain.