Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 147

April 24, 2024 • 12 min read • 375 views

The Young Grow, and the Old Wane (3)

Lee Gwak had settled his life in the forest.

In truth, there was nothing much to settle. All he had for a household was just enough food to prevent starvation, a few belongings, and the sword he was now carrying.

Gwang Noh ya used to go out occasionally when something was needed. The sword Lee Gwak was holding had been acquired in such a way.

It was of no better quality than the cheap sword he had used before. Its balance was off, and it was poorly tempered, resulting in inferior strength.

It was a weapon that would never have been used by the Jade Heaven Alliance, but it was still the best sword that could be found in the vicinity.

Lee Gwak left the forest carrying only the sword.

After years in the rainforest, he honestly didn’t know where he was. Judging by the humid and hot weather all year round, he could only guess that it was far south of Celestial Demon Troupe, in the southwestern part of Jianghu.

No matter how much he walked, the forest seemed endless. Perhaps Lee Gwak had chosen the wrong direction. However, Lee Gwak was neither in a hurry nor disappointed.

There was no rush, and no reason to hurry.

When he felt tired from walking, he rested, and when night came, he found a suitable place to sleep outdoors. Occasionally, he encountered wild animals, but most of the time, they avoided Lee Gwak first.

After walking for three days, the forest finally came to an end.

He squinted against the blinding sunlight. The rainforest was always shaded, so he hardly had the chance to see such intense sunlight..

Lee Gwak finally realized that he had left the forest.

After adjusting to the sunlight, Lee Gwak opened his eyes slightly and looked around. An exotic landscape caught his eye.

It was a village of houses with a different style than the ones in Jianghu. The pillars, walls, and roofs were all made by weaving wood together. At first glance, it was clear that they were built for the heat, not the cold.

Surrounding the village was a vast expanse of rice fields, apparently cleared from the rainforest. He could see the villagers working in the rice fields.

It was a peaceful scene, entirely unrelated to the Jianghu.

The villagers were surprised by the sudden appearance of an outsider in the rainforest.
With his long, unkempt hair and beard, and wearing almost torn clothes barely covering his body, Lee Gwak’s appearance was enough to surprise them. Moreover, Lee Gwak was carrying a sword, making him intimidating.

One of the villagers cautiously approached him.

He appeared to be a man in his late forties. He glanced at Lee Gwak before speaking.

“Who are you? What brings you to our village?”

“My name is Lee Gwak.”

“Lee Gwak?”

“Yes! I have been practicing in the forest and have now come out into the world.”

“Good heavens! You mean you’ve been living in that forest?”

“Yes, I have.”

The middle-aged man looked surprised at Lee Gwak’s answer.

He and the villagers were indigenous people who had lived here for generations. Even they, who had grown accustomed to the environment, never ventured into the forest unless it was absolutely necessary, for there were countless dangers lurking within.

It was no wonder they were surprised to hear that he was cultivating in such a forest.

Suddenly, as if remembering something, the middle-aged man clapped his hands.

“Could you possibly be a disciple of the Divine Person?”

“The Divine Person?”

Lee Gwak looked puzzled. Then, the middle-aged man explained about the Divine Person.

An old man in tattered clothes with white hair, possessing divine might capable of pulverizing a giant rock into dust in an instant.

His description clearly matched Gwang Noh ya.

Only then did Lee Gwak realize that this village was the place where Gwang Noh ya used to fetch provisions.

Once, when Gwang Noh ya had come to get necessities, bandits raiding the area attacked the village. Gwang Noh ya annihilated them in an instant, and since then, the villagers revered him as the Divine Person.

“We’ve been wondering for the past few months why we hadn’t seen him. Is the Divine Person well?”

“Master has ascended to heaven.”

“Oh!”

The middle-aged man looked stunned by Lee Gwak’s unexpected reaction, as if he had been hit by a hammer and his mind went blank.

However, the middle-aged man quickly regained his composure and spoke cautiously.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked such a thing…”

“It’s okay. My master has passed away peacefully. There’s nothing to apologize for.”

“Do you plan to leave this place then?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Why don’t you stay here tonight and leave tomorrow? We haven’t fully repaid the Divine Person’s kindness, and we would like to offer you some hospitality, even if it’s just a little.”

“There’s no need for that.”

“There are no other homes for three days’ travel from here. It would be better to prepare here before leaving.”

With the middle-aged man saying so, Lee Gwak could no longer refuse. After sleeping on the ground for years, he did long for a proper place to sleep.

The middle-aged man led Lee Gwak to his home.

It turned out the middle-aged man was the village chief and the only person in the village who could communicate with Lee Gwak. He had lived outside in his youth and learned the language then.

As Lee Gwak had guessed, this place was far south of the Central Plains. It would take ten days to go through the forest he had lived in and more than a month to go around it, which showed how far it was from the Central Plains.

Lee Gwak looked back at the forest.

Even after years of living there, he didn’t know all the terrain. There was a higher chance of getting lost if he had to go through the rainforest to get back to Jianghu.

To return to the Central Plains, he would have to go around the forest. But Lee Gwak was not disappointed. After spending years here, another month did not seem to make much difference.

“Please wash and rest here until dinner is ready.”

The room the chief showed him to was attached to the river that ran through the village. The water was so clear and clean that he could drink it right away.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome. While you’re washing, I’ll have a child bring you some clothes to wear.

The chief bowed to Lee Gwak and stepped away.

Left alone, Lee Gwak stripped and entered the river.

The feeling of refreshment he hadn’t felt in a long time brought a smile to his face. Lee Gwak meticulously scrubbed away the grime that had accumulated on his body over the years. He decided to trim his hair and beard, which he had never managed before.

After cutting away the hair obstructing his view and trimming the beard that reached down to his chest, his original face was revealed.

Although slightly pale from lack of sunlight, his appearance had hardly changed from before. If there was any difference, it was in his eyes, which had become ordinary.

Lee Gwak’s gaze was no longer as profound and brilliant as before. No one looking into those ordinary eyes would think him special.

Then, a child around seven or eight years old came into the room holding neatly folded clothes. The child looked surprised at the change in Lee Gwak’s appearance, but then gestured for him to get dressed.

He smiled and put on the clothes the chief’s son handed him.

They were the traditional attire of the local people, wide and somewhat shabby.

Dressed in these clothes, Lee Gwak did not look like a martial artist at all. To an outsider, he would be mistaken for a local, blending in perfectly.

The chief’s son seemed pleased with Lee Gwak’s appearance, smiled brightly. He gestured eating and took Lee Gwak’s hand, leading him away.

It seemed that the meal was ready.

Lee Gwak nodded and followed the boy.

The boy led him to a spacious clearing in the middle of the village. The clearing was set up with an abundance of food, as if for a feast, and all the villagers had gathered there.

When Lee Gwak arrived, they told him to sit next to the chief.

“What is this?”

“The villagers wanted to mourn after hearing that the Divine Person had ascended to heaven.”

“Mourn?”

“Yes! This is our way of holding a memorial. Please, don’t feel burdened and enjoy the gathering.”

Lee Gwak nodded at the chief’s words.

The feast began.

A bonfire was lit in the center of the clearing, and people shared food. Some sang songs, others drank and chatted merrily.

Although different in style and form from those in the Central Plains, they mourned Gwang Noh ya in their own way.

Lee Gwak quietly ate his meal and observed their memorial rituals.

‘It’s good that there are people who mourn Master like this.’

Gwang Noh ya had lived his life as a madman, instilling fear throughout the land.

People only feared him, never curious about his circumstances or thoughts.

For them, Gwang Noh ya was a source of harm, not a subject of mourning.

Lee Gwak felt fortunate that there were others besides himself who remembered and mourned Gwang Noh ya. Gwang Noh ya would be pleased if he saw this from heaven.

‘May you find peace there…’

Lee Gwak lifted his cup.

The local grain alcohol was sour, but it went down well, perhaps because it had been so long since he last drank.

He felt the alcohol’s effects quickly.

Though he could easily dispel the drunkenness with his internal energy, Lee Gwak chose not to.
He wanted to be intoxicated today.

Several villagers approached to talk. Despite the language barrier, their faces and gestures seemed to convey their messages.

They had received great kindness from Gwang Noh ya.

They would never forget it.

They wished blessings for Lee Gwak’s future.

Their expressions, gazes, and gestures spoke these words.

The chief, who was nearby, translated for them, conveying similar sentiments.

Lee Gwak thanked them and accepted the alcohol they offered. He laughed and chatted with them.

Time passed in this way.

As the feast drew to a close, the chief asked Lee Gwak.

“Do you have any plans to settle here?”

“I’m sorry, but I must return to Jianghu.”

“No, I expected as much. You don’t belong here.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your eyes do not reflect the desire to settle. They show the determination of someone with a firm goal. Such a person can never stay in one place for long. Not until their goal is achieved.”

“…”

“That’s why, if you’re planning to return to Jianghu, I actually recommend heading south.”

“South?”

A puzzled expression appeared on Lee Gwak’s face.

Heading south would mean moving further away from the Central Plains.

“If you go south from here for three days, you’ll reach a city by the sea. It’s probably the most prosperous area around here. I’ve heard it’s a gathering place for all kinds of people, including those from the Western Regions and even farther places.”

“Um!”

“There’s a ship that regularly comes from the Central Plains to that city. If you take that ship, you should be able to return to the Central Plains easily.”

“Is that true?”

“I heard it from a merchant who comes here. It’s a reliable source.”

This place was quite remote, making contact with the outside world difficult. Getting necessities often required a significant effort. Merchants visiting from the outside acted as a link for the villagers, bringing goods and trading for crops grown by the villagers. The chief learned about the world from them.

“Do you know what happened to the war in the Jianghu?”

“The war?”

The chief’s eyes widened as if he was hearing about it for the first time.

He was unaware of the Jade Heaven Alliance and even the term “Celestial Demon Troupe.” That’s how isolated this place was from the rest of the world. It was natural for him not to know.

Above all, Lee Gwak wanted to know the outcome of the war. Although he had been focused on martial arts training, now that he was back in the world, he needed to know the result.

All his dear ones had been swept up in the war.

‘Could the 13th squad have escaped safely?’

Lee Gwak believed they had.

He had prepared escape routes and traps in case of emergency. If they followed Lee Gwak’s instructions, the 13th squad would have safely escaped the battlefield.

Therefore, Lee Gwak wasn’t worried about them.

There was only one person he was concerned about.

‘So Cheon!’

Thinking of her made his heart race, but the more he thought about her, the calmer Lee Gwak’s expression became.

After all, there was nothing he could do from here.

He needed to return to Jianghu first.

Lee Gwak decided not to make any judgments until then.

Although he felt a surge of longing, Lee Gwak suppressed it and asked the chief.

“How do I get to the city where the regular ships come?”

“Planning to take a boat, are you?”

“Yes.”

“A merchant from afar will arrive in a day or two. If you follow him, you can easily reach the city.”

“Um!”

“It’s much better to follow him than to try finding the way on your own. The paths here are very complicated, and many are unconnected, making it easy for newcomers to get lost. Following the merchants will be much faster. Perhaps there, you might find the information you seek.”

“Understood. I’ll do that.”

“You’ve made a good decision.”

The chief smiled.

The feast continued until dawn, and the merchant arrived two days later.

Lee Gwak set off following the merchant.