Episode 3 (The outer hall warrior, Lee Gwak(3))

October 20, 2023 • 12 min read • 404 views

The Thirteenth Squad had gathered in one place for the evening watch duty.

“Hurry up, won’t you? You brats!”

The leader of the 13th squad, Oh Gu Hong, glared at them, but none of them were frightened.

“Brother, if you’re done speaking, let’s get moving.”

“Aren’t you tired of saying the same thing every day…….”

The squad members rebuked Oh Gu Hong instead.

“Ah, you little…”

Oh Gu Hong displayed a disgruntled expression. However, he soon relaxed his stiff face and shook his head.

There was no such thing as authority in the 13th squad. They had been together for too many years. Even if Oh Gu Hong was the leader, it didn’t mean that his martial arts were particularly strong; he was only the leader because he had lasted the longest in the 13th Squad.

Not all outer hall martial artists were like this. Other squads held strictly to their hierarchy, but the 13th Squad was unusually free. Perhaps it was because the leader was not an outsider but naturally promoted from within.

Oh Gu Hong’s gaze swept over each member.

Some had been with him for ten years, others for five. He couldn’t help but feel attached.

Oh Gu Hong’s gaze suddenly stopped on a young man. It was Lee Gwak, smiling and inspecting his attire.

“Youngest!”

“Yes!”

“Did you go to the Musical Performance Hall again? Your grin is touching your ears.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Manage your expression. There are plenty of brothers here alone, you know.”

“Yessir!”

Lee Gwak responded swiftly.

Even as he said the words, the smile on his face didn’t fade. That was how comfortable he felt.

After more than five years together, they knew a lot about each other. The 13th squad were also the ones who had taken care of him when he had first entered the Jade Heaven Alliance and was struggling to adjust.

“Hehe! Seems our squad leader is lonely, nitpicking at Gwak.”

“That’s right, he’s already in his mid-thirties, so it’s no wonder he’s lonely.”

Seizing the opportunity, the others rushed in and pounced on Oh Gu Hong.

“Shut up! If you’re all ready, let’s go to the front gate. If you’re late, the 12th squad will be furious.”

“Yessir!”

“Let’s move.”

The 13th squad headed towards the alliance gate.

Although there were about twenty martial artists walking around, no one on the street paid them any attention. It was a common sight at the Jade Heaven Alliance.

Upon reaching the alliance gate, the 12th squad, who were on day duty, greeted them.

“Are you here?”

“Anything unusual?”

“It’s so dull, I thought I was going to die of boredom.”

Cho Mu-tak, the leader of the 12th squad, chattered away at Oh Gu Hong. The two were quite close, so they could converse freely.

“Well, we’re off. Take care!”

Leading the twelve, Cho Mu-tak entered the alliance gate. Then, one of the 12th squad members approached Lee Gwak.

“Good work. I’m heading in.”

It was Go Jeon-ok.

“You too, good work. Go and get some rest.”

“Will do!”

Go Jeon-ok passed by with a smile. As soon as he disappeared, one of the 13th squad’s members approached Lee Gwak and whispered,

“That guy, he’s been hanging around in the Heavenly Intelligence Hall lately.”

“Heavenly Intelligence Hall?”

“Yes! He’s just some frustrated guy who hasn’t made it big. Be careful! Hanging around such a guy could get you into unnecessary trouble.”

The man speaking with a dissatisfied expression was Seok Yi Cheon.

“I Know.”

“Well, that’s good.”

Seok Yi Cheon nodded his head with a relieved expression.

Heavenly Intelligence Hall was an organisation that, along with the outer hall, formed the backbone of the outer court. While the outer hall was responsible for the border of the Jade Heaven Alliance, Heavenly Intelligence Hall was tasked with gathering information from the outside.

Even after the Great Heavenly Blood War a hundred years ago, the threats did not disappear. Therefore, the Jade Heaven Alliance created the Heavenly Intelligence Hall, focusing on the collection of external information.

Although it was an organisation that belonged to the outer court, its importance was incomparable. Most of their members’ identities were kept secret, with the exception of a few who were exposed to the public.

The fact that Go Jeon-ok was making contact with the Heavenly Intelligence Hall showed how reckless and ambitious he was.

Standing at the alliance gate, Lee Gwak thought that he would have to give Go Jeon-ok some advice.

“Don’t let your guard down and keep watch. If you slack off and get noticed by the higher-ups, you’ll be punished.”

Oh Gu Hong said something to make sure the men weren’t feeling lazy. It happened every day, so they didn’t pay much attention to him, but they didn’t ignore him either.

They were well aware of the severe consequences if they were caught slacking by their superiors.

Day shifts were boring, but night shifts were a different story. During the day, those with permission lined up to enter the alliance, the time passed well while inspecting them
In contrast, the night shift involved shutting the alliance gates and constantly keeping an eye out for suspicious figures. It’s not uncommon to not see a single person all night. Naturally, the passage of time felt slower.

With large torches on either side of the gate, they were on guard. Lee Gwak also stared straight ahead.

As usual, the time passed slowly.

The moon was high in the sky, but no one came near the gates. Perhaps that was to be expected.

The Jade Heaven Alliance was indeed the most powerful force in the world.

Recently, the ten sects have been gaining momentum, but even all their combined forces barely matched the Jade Heaven Alliance.

Naturally, no force dared to approach the jade heaven alliance with ill intent.

Lee Gwak stood in place and fiddled with the sword at his waist. It was a cheap weapon he’d been given when he’d first been assigned to the Outer Hall’s 13th squad.

He said he’d taken care of it, but it was so poorly made that it had already lost a number of pieces.

“I hope it holds up well.’

If the blade were to break due to a mishap, he would need to purchase a new one with his own money. Such an incident could ruin his entire plan of saving up to buy a modest house.

His mind was in turmoil.

Lately, it has only gotten worse.

It didn’t matter if he somehow managed to save up enough money to buy a house to live in with Geum Yul Seon. Living alone was one thing, living with two people was another. There would be so many more things to pay for, and he doubted that a lower outer hall warrior would be able to afford it.

The more he thought about the future, the more his head throbbed. Unconsciously, Lee Gwak furrowed his brows.

Then, it happened.

“Uh, over there?”

One of the group members who was standing guard pointed ahead and let out a warning cry.

Without thinking, Lee Gwak and the other members of the Thirteenth squad gripped the handles of their swords and glared ahead

“What is it?”

“What’s happening?”

Lee Gwak used his internal energy, and increased his perception. In the distance, he could see black figures in the darkness approaching the gates.

Oh Gu Hong took out his sword and shouted.

“Who goes there? Identify yourselves.”

The tension in his voice was unmistakable. Of course, he didn’t think it was an enemy, but just in case.

At the peak of the Thirteenth squads tension, a voice rang out from the darkness.

“We are from the Blue Dragon Squad.”

“The Blue Dragon Squad?”

At that moment, a group of blue-robed martial artists emerged from the darkness.

Oh Gu Hong squinted and looked at them. A look of relief appeared on his face as he checked their faces. It was a face he recognised.

“Captain Shim!”

“Ah, Captain Oh, it appears that the Thirteenth squad is on guard duty today.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

Captain Oh replied hastily.

The man he was conversing with was Shim Woo-yeon, the captain of the Blue Dragon Squad.

Although they were both called captains, the Blue Dragon Squad was a place where only the strongest were gathered, incomparably stronger than the outer hall.

Unlike the Outer Hall which belonged to the Outer Court, the Blue Dragon Squad was a part of the Inner Hall.

The power of the Inner Court, composed of two legions, three divisions, and four groups, was formidable even within the Jade Heaven Alliance. Naturally, even among those with the same rank, there was bound to be a vast difference in martial prowess.

In particular, Shim Woo-yeon, the chief of Blue Dragon Squad, was known as a peak swordsman. He was a martial artist who could subdue Oh Gu Hong within a matter of seconds. Naturally, Oh Gu Hong had no choice but to step back in his presence.

“Why is the Blue Dragon Squad here at this hour?”

“We are on our way back from an external mission.”

“Ah!”

At Shim Woo-yeon’s curt response, Oh Gu Hong exclaimed in surprise.

Unlike the members of the Jade Heaven Alliance who always stand by, the martial artists of the Inner Court frequently went on external missions. Among them, the four groups of the Inner Court were particularly known for their numerous missions.

Oh Gu Hong studied the Blue Dragon Squad closely.

Their appearance suggested that they had been through a gruelling mission. Their clothes were torn here and there, and it was obvious that they had suffered injuries, as indicated by
the blood stains. Behind the Blue Dragon Squad, however, were several unfamiliar faces.

Oh Gu Hong asked Shim Woo-yeon,

“Who are they?”

“They’re involved in the recent mission.”

“Hmm!”

“I have to get permission from the executives to let them in, so it would be good if you could protect them in the meantime.”

“Are you talking about right now?”

“Yes!”

“I understand.”

Oh Gu Hong replied.

The words came from the chief of the Blue Dragon Squad, after all. From the start, he didn’t have the authority to refuse.
Oh Gu Hong then turned to Lee Gwak.

“Lee Gwak, Seok Yi Cheon, take them to the White Sage Pavilion.”

“Yes, Chief!”

“Understood.”

Lee Gwak and Seok Yi Cheon replied without hesitation.

Although they were casual acquaintances, the distinction between public and private was clear.

The two men approached the people brought by the Blue Dragon Squad and took a closer look.

They ranged in age from young children who looked about twelve years old to boys and girls who looked seventeen or eighteen.

They also seemed to have gone through hard times, looking pale and worn out. They stared at Lee Gwak and Seok Yi Cheon with fear-filled eyes.

Lee Gwak spoke to them.

“Everyone, follow us. As long as you listen to us, there will be no trouble.”

Instead of replying, the children lowered their heads and followed Lee Gwak.

The White Sage Pavilion was a small building on the outskirts of the Jade Heaven Alliance. With its high walls isolating it from the outside and its easy-to-monitor location, it was used primarily to hold and monitor suspicious individuals who were attempting to enter the Jade Heaven Alliance.

After watching Lee Gwak and the children following behind Seok Yi Cheon for a moment, Shim Woo-yeon soon led the Blue Dragon Squad into the Alliance Gates.

“What’s going on?”

“They seem to have gone through a rough time.”

As the remaining members of the Thirteenth Squad chatted, Ou Gu Hong frowned.

“What’s this? Just a day or two’s issue? Can’t you stand guard properly?”

The thirteenth squad quickly returned to their posts.

Oh Gu Hong knew that it was good for his health to ignore the affairs of the Inner Court. Although he was curious, he deliberately showed no interest.

‘Once they’re in the White Sage Pavilion, the Main Court will handle the rest.’

Lee Gwak and Seok Yi Cheon, who were responsible for guarding the White Sage Pavillion, might be a bit worn out, but he couldn’t afford to worry about these things all the time.

***

The White Sage Pavilion wasn’t far from the main gate.

“Rest here. There are four rooms, so the boys can share the two on this side, and the girls can use the two rooms on the other side.”

Without any argument, the children entered the rooms assigned to them.

Just when he was about to assign the last group of girls to their rooms,

“Excuse me?”

Suddenly, one of the children timidly grasped Lee Gwak’s sleeve.

It was a girl who had kept her head down all this time.

As Lee Gwak looked at her with a curious expression, the girl hesitantly spoke.

“Are you perhaps Gwak Oraboni?”

“You recognize me?”

“Really… You are Brother Gwak. Sob!”

At Lee Gwak’s response, the girl covered her mouth with one hand and sobbed, Lee Gwak looked baffled.

“Do you know me?”

“I, I’m So cheon.”

“So cheon? You can’t mean Han So cheon from Snow Canyon?”

“Yes!”

The girl brushed up her dishevelled hair. Then, her concealed features were revealed.

She was a beautiful girl with dark eyebrows. Her eyes were as deep as her dark eyebrows, her nose was sharp, and her small lips, reminiscent of a plum blossom, were very red.

“How did you…”

“Brother Gwak. Hic!”

“Calm down and tell me what happened. How did you end up here?”

“Everyone died.”

“What do you mean?”

“Everyone in the village is dead. Dad, mom…”

Suddenly, Han So Cheon buried her face in Lee Gwak’s chest and began to sob.her sobs became a trigger.

“Hic!”

“Waaah!”

The girls in the room burst into tears all at once. The room quickly filled with the girls’ crying. But Lee Gwak no longer heard their crying.

Although he had left a long time ago, Snow Canyon was his hometown.

His legs wobbled at the tragic news from Han So Cheon.