Episode 4 ( A small leaf is easily shaken by even the slightest breeze (1)

October 20, 2023 • 13 min read • 393 views

Han So Cheon buried her face in Lee Gwak’s chest and sobbed uncontrollably. In no time, his chest was stained with her tears.

Lee Gwak could not bring himself to push her away, only patting her back. There were so many things he wanted to know, but now was the time for Han So Cheon to calm down.

How much time had passed? Gradually, Han So Cheon’s sobs subsided. The trembling in her shoulders eased, and she seemed to regain some semblance of calm. Finally, Lee Gwak released her from his embrace.

“What… What happened? Everyone is dead?”

“Oraboni…”

“Tell me calmly, what happened?”

“I’m not sure myself. It was in the middle of the night… Suddenly there was a sound, like a burst of laughter. My head hurt as if it was going to explode and my vision blurred…”

Han So Cheon couldn’t continue, her words dissolving into more sobs. Lee Gwak comforted her, rubbing her shoulder.

“Calm down, you don’t have to tell me if it hurts.”

“No, it’s okay! I want to speak.”

With her forehead still against Lee Gwak’s chest, she took a moment to catch her breath. After a while, when she could breathe more easily, she resumed her story.

“While my head was spinning, black figures invaded our village.”

“Black figures?”

“People on black horses… I saw them charging into the village before I lost consciousness. When I came to, everyone was dead. Mom, Dad, everyone.”

“Everyone was dead?”

“I was the only survivor. Everyone else was dead. Hic!”

Overcome by emotion once more, Han So Cheon’s face contorted, but she bravely continued.

She was only seventeen years old. Her mental strength was not strong enough to withstand the misfortune that had suddenly befallen her.

If the Blue Dragon Squad hadn’t arrived in time and taken her under their wing, she would have wandered the world and starved to death.

Lee Gwak’s gaze turned to the other children.

“Could it be that they, too?”

“It’s not just our village that was attacked.”

At least twenty villages were affected. None had been completely wiped out like Snow Canyon, but many people had been killed or injured.

The children who came with Han So Cheon were all orphans who had lost their parents. The Blue Dragon Squad had brought these children to the Jade Heaven Alliance because they had nowhere else to go.

‘The black-clad martial artists?’

Lee Gwak remembered the martial artists who had arrived at the Jade Heaven Alliance that morning.

They were also dressed in black and rode black horses. Perhaps they were the ones Han So Cheon was talking about.

‘What on earth happened?’

His chest felt tight as if a thousand pounds of rock had been placed on it. He had left long ago and had no ties there, but the fact remained that Snow Canyon was his home.

Han So Cheon wiped away a tear and asked.

“But what happened to you, Oraboni? When did you join the Jade Heaven Alliance? You left without a word.”

“Huh!”

Lee Gwak sighed and looked at Han So Cheon.

For some reason, he felt embarrassed to look at Han So Cheon. It had been five years since he had left his hometown, but he still felt inadequate.

When he lost his parents to the plague and left his hometown, he had great ambitions.

He vowed to join the Jade Heaven Alliance and become a martial artist who would shake the world.

It was the kind of ambition that any young boy with a heart of steel would have dreamed of.

Lee Gwak believed himself to be exceptionally gifted, confident that his talents would enable him to master martial arts to a high level.

It didn’t take him long to realise that he was mistaken. He struggled and struggled to get to the Jade Heaven Alliance and was lucky enough to get the examination.

If his talent was recognised, he could learn high-level martial arts and even be assigned to a better organisation than the Outer Hall. But such luck did not come to him.

A bitter smile tugged at the corners of Lee Gwak’s lips.

His talent, as judged by the entrance examination, was only average. His intellect was quite high, but his physical abilities were low.

He could learn martial arts of an average level, but the evaluators who examined him thought it would be challenging for him to reach the realm of Everlasting victory.

Lee Gwak could not agree with their opinions, so he rebelled. However, the Jade Heaven Alliance was not as merciful as to yield to his rebellion. With the prestige of being the best in the world, countless talents had flocked to the Jade Heaven Alliance, and their abilities far exceeded Lee Gwak’s.

Some were endowed with the talent of ‘Wen Yi Zhi Shi’ – the ability to understand ten parts from hearing one, while others were backed by the halo of a prestigious family. Even if their talents were a bit lacking, they had the aid of their families and the benefits of elixirs, which Lee Gwak could not compete with.

Lee Gwak was tormented by the barriers of social status and talent, and suffered from the invisible discrimination that subtly pervaded his existence. He was chipped, cracked, and shattered, leaving only a trace of his original strength and steadfastness.

This was no longer the proud Lee Gwak who had left Snow Canyon.

He was just a defeated man, unable to overcome the barriers of reality, so he couldn’t answer easily.

“You must be tired, get some rest.”

“Oraboni?”

“Let me know if you need anything.”

At Lee Gwak’s words, Han So Cheon showed an anxious expression.

She had lost everyone in her village and drifted into the Jade Heaven Alliance. The only person she knew in this world was Lee Gwak, and she couldn’t help but feel uneasy at the thought of him disappearing from her sight.

Lee Gwak offered her a smile.

“It’s okay, I’ll be guarding outside. If there’s anything you need or want, just ask.

“Thank you, Oraboni.”

“Get some rest now. You look very tired.”

“Okay!”

Only then did Han So Cheon give a slight nod.

Leaving Han So Cheon behind, Lee Gwak stepped outside of the White Sage Pavilion. When he appeared at the main entrance, Seok Yi Cheon was waiting for him.

“Why are you so late?”

“Just ran into someone I know.”

“Someone you know? Among them?”

“Yes!”

“Really? What a strange coincidence, meeting someone you know here. I don’t know who it is, but be careful.”

“Why?”

“They’re related to the Blue Dragon Squad. I don’t know, but they’re being watched from above, and if you get involved, you’ll be in trouble.”

Lee Gwak silently nodded. There was a point to Seok Yi Cheon’s words.

The best way for a low-ranking martial artist like himself to survive in a major sect like the Jade Heaven Alliance was to keep a low profile, to be as invisible as possible.

He was more likely to bring misfortune than good fortune if he was seen by the wrong people. It wasn’t without reason that Chief Oh Gu Hong lived as if he were both present and absent.

It was a heavy night, and his gaze drifted to the inner court in the distance.

***

The inner court of the Jade Heaven Alliance was akin to a massive fortress. Each area was strictly isolated by high walls, guaranteeing autonomy, with countless ingenious contraptions laid out everywhere.

Even the members of each organisation couldn’t fully grasp how huge the inner court was. After expanding for over a hundred years, almost no one truly understood the whole layout of the structure.

The roads resembled a labyrinth, with guards stationed at every corner to keep watch twelve hours a day.

Among all the areas, the most sternly guarded was, undoubtedly, the Great Hall where the Alliance Leader resided.

The largest hall in the entire place, the Blue Dragon Hall, was the residence of the Alliance Leader.

Inside the Blue Dragon Hall, there was a huge jade throne carved out of stone emanating a blue aura. Sitting on the throne was an elderly man whose age was difficult to guess.

At first glance, the old man seemed ordinary. There was nothing remarkable about his eyes or energy. Yet everyone inside the Blue Dragon Hall was holding their breath.

This ordinary-looking old man was none other than Ja Hong Cheon, the leader of the Jade Heaven Alliance.

Ja Hong Cheon, the Supreme Sword Emperor.

He was the third generation leader of the Jade Heaven Alliance and a legendary martial artist who was said to be the strongest man in the world.

By his side, the inner court master Joo Shin Yoon stood quietly.

Ja Hong Cheon and Jo Shin Yoon”s gazes were fixed on a man who had just walked into the Blue Dragon Hall.

He was a man in his mid-twenties, dressed in black from head to toe.

The very man who had entered the Jade Heaven Alliance with about a hundred horsemen yesterday morning.

The man walked straight towards Ja Hong Cheon.

Even in the presence of the unparalleled master, he did not show the slightest sign of intimidation. Rather, he wore a faint smile on his lips, which even appeared somewhat arrogant.

At the sight of the man, Jo Shin Yoon’s eyebrows twitched.

The man’s lack of respect, not even bowing before the leader, touched a nerve. However, Jo Shin Yoon himself showed no sign of irritation and maintained a calm expression.

Finally, the man stopped in front of the jade throne where Ja Hong Cheon was sitting.

He gave a bow to Ja Hong Cheon and began to speak.

“I Gwan Il Hyeon of Celestial Demon Troupe, greets the leader of the Jade Heaven Alliance, the Supreme Sword Emperor Ja Hong Cheon.”

“It’s good to see you, Gwan Il Hyeon. How is your master doing?”

“Thanks to your concern, my master is doing well. He insisted that you should visit the Celestial Demon Troupe sometime.”

“Haha! It wouldn’t be difficult to go there, but I’m not sure if I could come back alive. Although I appreciate your consideration, this old man prefers to stay put in the Jade Heaven Alliance. Now that I’m getting older, I don’t want to do anything even remotely dangerous. I can’t bear to leave the comfort of my own home and travel all the way to the Celestial Demon Troupe.

“You are too modest, my Lord. Who could possibly harm you, the unrivalled master?”

“Well, if it’s the ‘Solitary Celestial Demon’ then it’s possible.”

“Although he’s far away, my master considers you a close friend. So, you don’t need to worry about that.”

“Those are kind words. I too hold your master in high regard. The ‘Solitary Celestial Demon’, Jin Gwang Hon, is indeed a person worthy of the title ‘the unrivalled master.”

“Your words are too kind, my Lord.”

A subtle smile appeared on Gwan Il Hyeon’s lips. On the other hand, Joo Shin Yoon watched his every move with cold eyes. He was wary of Gwan Il Hyeon.

Gwan Il Hyeon was not of ordinary standing.

He was the disciple of the ‘Solitary Celestial Demon’, Jin Gwang Hon. And Jin Gwang Hon was the current leader of the Celestial Demon Troupe.

The Celestial Demon Troupe.

It was a name that had been for a while after the Great Heavenly Blood War a hundred years ago. No, it was a name that they had tried hard to forget.

Once, under the name of the Demon Cult, they had ruled the world, and after the Blood Sky Great War, they disappeared into the southern part of Jianghu, becoming a name associated with mystery and terror.

Even now, for the elderly, just hearing the word ‘Celestial Demon Troupe’ was enough to startle them. That’s how synonymous the Celestial Demon Troupe was with terror

For the past hundred years, the Celestial Demon Troupe barely showed its face in the Jianghu. However, the Jade Heaven Alliance never slacked off in monitoring Celestial Demon Troupe. Because they were the biggest enemy of the Jade Heaven Alliance and the Jianghu.

Gwan Il Hyeon was the first person from Celestial Demon Troupe to enter the Jade heaven Alliance in over a hundred years. Therefore, the martial artists of Jade Heaven Alliance, including Joo Shin Yoon, were staring at him with wary eyes.

Ja Hong Cheon offered Gwan Il Hyeon a seat.

“You’re a distinguished guest who visited the Jade Heaven Alliance for the first time in over a hundred years. I’ve been too careless in my treatment. Please take a seat.”

“I’m comfortable as I am.”

“I like your youth. As you wish.”

“Thank you.”

“So, why did the disciple of Solitary Celestial Demon come to our Alliance? It doesn’t seem like you came all this way just to ask about this old man’s health.”

“The truth is, I came here seeking Jade Heaven Alliance’s cooperation.”

“Cooperation? Since when did the Jade Heaven Alliance and Celestial Demon Troupe have a relationship to discuss cooperation?”

The tone of Ja Hong Cheon’s voice became slightly cold. The temperature in the Blue Dragon Hall cooled down in an instant.

‘The rumour that this old man’s martial arts has reached the realm of creation seems true after all.’

A slight shiver ran up his exposed skin between his clothes, but Gwan Il Hyeon tried hard not to show it.

Although he was wary of Ja Hong Cheon’s martial prowess, he was a messenger carrying the decree of Solitary Celestial Demon Jin Gwang Hon. He knew well that Ja Hong Cheon couldn’t harm him, and so he could step forward with confidence.

“A hundred years have passed since the Great Heavenly Blood War. No matter how deep the grudge, enough time has passed to fade. I don’t think the Jade Heaven Alliance is so stuck in the past that it can’t think about the future.”

“You do indeed have the guts to be a disciple of the Solitary Celestial Demon. Good! Tell me. What do you want?”

Ja Hong Cheon slightly bent his waist to look at Gwan Il Hyeon. Then, the pressure exerted on Gwan Il Hyeon increased further.

Licking his dry lips with his tongue, Gwan Il Hyeon opened his mouth.

“I would like the Jade Heaven Alliance’s help in hunting Gwang Noh ya(Lunatic Pugilist).”

“Did you say Gwang Noh ya?”

“That’s right.”

At Gwan Il Hyeon’s answer, Ja Hong Cheon’s gaze sank deeply. A storm was raging within his deeply sunken pupils.