Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 28

November 9, 2023 • 12 min read • 367 views

Episode 28(Those Who Leave, Those Who Stay……(3))

Novel- Martial Artist Lee Gwak

Time swiftly passed.

It had been six months since Han So Cheon had descended the mountain. During that period, nearly a hundred individuals had succeeded in overcoming the trials of the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall.

Those who had passed through the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall descended from the mountain, while the rest endured by sheer greet. The casualties continued to mount as the instructors pushed the trainees to their limits.

Lee Gwak looked down at the dozens of bodies lying on the ground with gloomy eyes. They were today’s victims.

It was never a pleasant sight to see young martial artists, brimming with potential, lying dead. This was true even though they had no direct connection to Lee Gwak.

“Tsk! Looks like we have to clear away the bodies again.”

“To die while mastering martial arts? Better to live a normal life than that. Even if I die and resurrect, I couldn’t do what they did.”

The outer hall martial artists murmured among themselves.

There had been an unusually high number of casualties in recent days, casting a gloomy atmosphere over Mount Sohua. The outer hall martial artists were sick to their stomachs with the constant need to dispose of the dead. The thought of having to do it again was enough to make them feel nauseous.

Lee Gwak felt no different from them, but he didn’t show it. While loading the bodies onto a cart, he spoke to the other martial artists.

“I’ll bury the bodies. You guys rest.”

“Would you do that for us?”

“Ahem! We appreciate it. We’ll buy you a drink later.”

The outer hall martial artists brightened up at that.

Lee Gwak pulled the cart filled with corpses away from the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall and toward a small pool that lay in the distance.

The basin already contained hundreds of graves, large and small – the final resting places of the trainees who had died so far.

“Phew!”

Lee Gwak parked the cart to one side and began digging with a pickaxe.

Thud! Thud!

With each stroke of his pickaxe, deep holes were carved into the ground. Lee Gwak quickly completed about a dozen graves.

Carefully, he laid the bodies into the holes, one by one.

The lifeless feel of the corpses was frightening. But without showing any discomfort, Lee Gwak carefully buried them all.

Not a single person came to visit while he filled the graves and fashioned small mounds over them. He alone comforted the dead.

From his pocket, he took out a small bottle of liquor and sprinkled it over the fresh mounds.

“May you be reborn in paradise…”

Lee Gwak sincerely hoped they would reach a better place, if such a place existed beyond this life.

For a long while, he stared silently at the newly made mounds.

Suddenly, Lee Gwak spoke.

“Do you truly believe your deaths were worthwhile?”

No answer came back, of course. The dead cannot speak. But Lee Gwak sincerely wished to hear their reply.

He had witnessed more deaths than anyone since he arrived at Mount Sohua, and had seen countless young martial artists thrown into hellish trials under the pretense of protecting the Jianghu, only to perish. Yet, not a single person had visited their graves.

Who was this sacrifice for, and what was its purpose? Lee Gwak was curious.

The real war they’re talking about hasn’t even started yet.

With a heavy heart, Lee Gwak returned to his quarters, only to find an unexpected figure awaiting him.

“You’re back?”

It was Seo Jong Myeong.

“Chief!”

“Where have you been? Ah, but that’s not what matters.”

“Yes?”

“From today, you’re the new leader of the thirteenth squad, Lee Gwak!”

“What do you mean?”

“I plan to step down as leader today. Therefore, you must take over as my successor.”

At Seo Jong Myeong’s sudden declaration, Lee Gwak’s face showed with confusion.

It was typical of Seo Jong Myeong to appear out of nowhere and speak in riddles, but today’s announcement was especially sudden and unexpected.

“What are you saying? Me, a leader?”

“There’s no one else in the squad, right? So you have to take charge.”

“And what about you as the leader?”

“Me? I’ve got other matters to attend to.”

“What matters?”

A deep frown creased Lee Gwak’s forehead, and Seo Jong Myeong responded with a slight smile.

“Aren’t you happy to become a leader?”

“What’s there to be happy about when there are no members?”

“Haha! You can recruit members in time. A leader has that authority. Just smile! It’s a happy occasion.”

“……”

“And you know, your salary increases as a leader. Isn’t that great?”

“I am pleased.”

“That’s the spirit! Haha!”

Seo Jong Myeong chuckled to himself at Lee Gwak’s response, his laughter tinged with a hint of madness.

Lee Gwak thought there was not a single sane person on Mount Sohua. Everyone seemed to be consumed by madness. Or perhaps the madness that had always been there had finally erupted.

Once Seo Jong Myeong’s laughter subsided, Lee Gwak inquired.

“So where will you go now that you’re no longer the leader?”

“Me? Back to where I belong.”

“Back to where? I suppose it’s something I shouldn’t know about?”

“Of course. Don’t try to delve into matters that are beyond you.”

“Understood.”

“That’s the right attitude.”

Seo Jong Myeong patted Lee Gwak’s shoulder firmly, his grip was substantial enough to feel weighty.

“So does this mean we won’t see each other again?”

“That might happen, or it might not. Anyway, you won’t see me for a while. I’m leaving this
place tomorrow.”

“Excuse me?”

“Why are you so surprised? It’s only natural to leave once everything is done.”

“It’s just so sudden.”

“Be prepared yourself.”

“For what?”

“The Steel Hell Blood Training Hall, it’s going to close soon.”

“What?”

At Seo Jong Myeong’s sudden declaration, Lee Gwak’s expression was one of sheer bewilderment. It sounded like a lie, but Seo Jong Myeong’s face showed an unprecedented seriousness.

“Those who could conquer the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall have done so. The others have reached their limit. They will never overcome it.”

“But still…”

“Do you know how much it costs to keep this place running? Even for the Jade Heaven Alliance, the burden has become too much to bear.”

“Uh!”

“That’s why we’re closing down. We’ve achieved what we set out to do, and it’s clear there’s a limit to how much further we can maintain the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall.”

“What about those who couldn’t make it through the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall? What will happen to them?”

“Oh! Are you concerned about them too?”

“It’s not concern but…”

“They already have their path set. Even if they failed to pass the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall, they still have their uses.”

Seo Jong Myeong gave a faint smile. Lee Gwak thought his smile was eerie.

He continued.

“They will be at the forefront in the war against the Celestial Demon Troupe. A position more glorious than any other, so all you can think about is returning to the Jade Heaven Alliance. And fulfil your role as leader.”

“I understand.”

“And don’t forget to buy me a drink with your increased salary.”

“Will there be a chance for that?”

“Ha! Do you think I would forget my one and only squad member? I’ll come to find you one day, so have the money ready.”

“I understand.”

Lee Gwak eventually nodded.

It didn’t matter if he remained a member forever; he had no lingering attachment to the Jade Heaven Alliance. However, he accepted Seo Jong Myeong’s offer not only because he had nowhere else to go, but also because there was no better place to hone his martial arts skills than here.

Leaving aside abstract notions like ideals and beliefs, the Jade Heaven Alliance was a pretty good employer. At the very least, the pay was always on time. Thanks to that, Lee Gwak had managed to save a considerable sum during his three and a half years here.

With the money he had saved so far, he could afford a small house in the outer reaches of Jade Heaven Alliance. With the salary of a leader, perhaps even a slightly bigger house.

“Can I recruit team members as I please?”

“You’ll have a say in a few, but most will be assigned by those above.”

“It wasn’t like that for the leader, was it?”

“Am I the same as you? We’re of different standings. Ha! Trying to play in my league?”

“I apologise.”

“That’s alright, I’m leaving now. Who knows when we’ll meet again, but take care until then.”

“Leader, please return safely.”

“Sure! Take care.”

Seo Jong Myeong waved his hand dismissively as he walked away.

Lee Gwak watched his disappearing figure pensively.

From the next day, he was nowhere to be seen, and twenty of the martial artists had disappeared. But no one seemed to care.

For the martial artists trapped behind the formidable walls of the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall, there was no luxury to attend to the changes around them.

For them, each day was a hellish repeat, like a hamster on a wheel. Surviving the day was a feat that exhausted all their mental strength.

The enthusiasm they had when they first climbed Mount Sohua was nowhere to be seen; now, they spent their days out of sheer inertia. Observing them, Lee Gwak thought that Song
Jong Myeong’s words must be true.

The Steel Hell Blood Training Hall was too much for them now. Any further pushing and they would meet their deaths.

The place was soon to be closed, and when it would open again was uncertain.

For Lee Gwak, who belonged to the Jade Heaven Alliance, returning here was impossible.
Lee Gwak decided to attend to a matter he had been postponing.

He waited for nightfall and revisited the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall. Perhaps due to the closure decision, the security was lax today, allowing Lee Gwak to reach the desired area without much hassle.

He found himself at the entrance to the Asura Blood Chaos Trial.

It was the very gateway that Han So Cheon had once passed through. Many trainees had gone through since, but the place remained unchanged.

It was as sturdy and dangerous as ever.

The bronze statue that Han So Cheon had thoroughly destroyed was now perfectly restored.
Beyond the statue was an exit, but Lee Gwak was not headed there.

Instead, he thumped on the wall beside the bronze statue.

Thud! Thud!

The dull sounds echoed, evident that there was a hollow space behind. It was a space that Lee Gwak had accidentally found while repairing the mechanisms destroyed by Han So Cheon.

He was curious about what was inside but had never had the chance to open and explore it until now.

‘There must be some secret hidden in the last chamber of the Asura Blood Chaos Trial.’

He had been here for three years and six months, yet no one had spoken of such a space. It was clear that its existence was either unknown or deliberately concealed.

Carefully, Lee Gwak examined the mechanism. Finding the mechanism to open such a sealed space was not a difficult task for him.

Before long, Lee Gwak found the control device. As he manipulated it with his fingertips, the wall moved with a heavy sound.

Groan!

Finally, the space hidden behind the wall was revealed.

It was an empty room, about five jang wide on each side—sufficiently spacious for a training hall, but utterly bare.

Lee Gwak silently observed the empty space.

There was clearly nothing there, yet an inexplicable chill ran through his body.

For a moment, Lee Gwak hesitated to enter the room. His heart urged him to go in, but his body resisted.

‘What is this?’

Confused by the unfamiliar reaction, Lee Gwak nonetheless boldly stepped into the room.
The inside was as empty as it had seemed from outside.

No treasures or weapons, not even the simplest piece of furniture—it was desolate. Yet, the chill persisted, defying the mere coldness of the stone chamber.

Carefully, Lee Gwak surveyed the room. His gaze landed on the southern wall.

“…….”

As if he had been struck by lightning, Lee Gwak’s body shook uncontrollably.

He felt crushed under the weight of a thousand ton boulder, unable to breathe.

It was because of the black shadow etched onto the wall.

It looked like the figure of a person in a seated meditation pose.

‘What is this?’

It could have been a casual doodle or perhaps an illusion caused by the recess in the wall.

But upon seeing the shadow, Lee Gwak couldn’t breathe or move a muscle. His lungs constricted, his eyes bulging as if they would pop out.

Thick veins protruded on the back of Lee Gwak’s hand. His nails dug in, drawing blood, yet he could not stir.

The first snake had been unleashed, writhing uncontrollably.

From the second to the fifth serpent, they awakened, thrashing wildly as if possessed. This phenomenon had never occurred since mastering the Eight Snakes Art. The snakes had always followed his command, never before had they moved beyond his will like this.

“What is this?”

Lee Gwak clenched his teeth.

It felt as if his soul was being torn to shreds.

All of this was due to the black shadow in the shape of a human figure etched on the wall.
Lee Gwak focused his internal energy into his eyes, and as he did so, the form of the black shadow became even more distinct.

Only then did Lee Gwak realize that what he had seen was not an illusion.

The black shadow was unmistakably human in shape.

It was as if someone’s figure had been projected onto the wall as a shadow.

Much like the ancient Dharma of Shaolin who left his image on the wall after nine years of facing it in meditation. Someone had left their likeness as a shadow on the wall here through meditation.

That shadow seemed to be pressing down on Lee Gwak with immense force.