Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 32

November 13, 2023 • 11 min read • 359 views

Episode 32(Each Carries Their Own Tale (1)

Novel- Martial Artist Lee Gwak

Lee Gwak was sitting upright.

In front of him was a liquor table with bottles and snacks, and Cho Ha was sitting across from him.

A tumult of emotions crossed Cho Ha’s face as she looked at Lee Gwak.

Upon entering the room, the first thing Lee Gwak said was “I’m sorry.”

At those words, Cho Ha felt her strength drain away.

She realised the sentiment with which he had followed her. Lee Gwak was not a man who sought a night of love at the brothel.

“Is it because you don’t like me?”

“No, you are the most beautiful of all the women I have ever seen.”

“Then why?”

“I didn’t want to spend a night compelled by someone else’s coercion, not of my own will. I apologise for the misunderstanding.”

“You seem like a special person.”

“Not at all. I am just an ordinary person.”

“No. You are special. More so than any other man I’ve ever met.”

Cho Ha shook her head.

Lee Gwak, unsure of what to say next, sealed his lips tight. Cho Ha then smiled and spoke,

“Connection of the heart need not always come through physical intimacy. I would like to share the night with you over drinks. Would that be acceptable?”

Lee Gwak nodded silently, and a smile blossomed on Cho Ha’s face.

She forgot about the mission she had been given and spent the whole night talking with Lee Gwak.

‘This is alright.’

In the morning, she would have to report about the man she had spent the night with. But unless she told them, nobody would know that she and Lee Gwak had not slept together.

With this rationale, Cho Ha continued conversing with Lee Gwak.

She did most of the talking, and Lee Gwak listened to her over drinks.

Cho Ha talked and talked, unaware of the time passing. Perhaps she had been desperately longing for an opportunity to share her life story with someone.

***
Suddenly, Lee Gwak looked back.

The brothel, once illuminated by bright red lanterns, was now all extinguished and swallowed by darkness. Shrouded in shadows, it felt eerily sinister.

He knew Cho Ha was awake; he could tell by her breathing, the stiffness of her muscles, and her unnatural expression. Still, he didn’t want to get involved in anything more complicated than that.

He staggered in the direction of his house. The streets were deserted since it was still before dawn.

Eager to get home and rest, Lee Gwak took a shortcut. This meant crossing through the slums.

As soon as he entered the slums, the stench of decay hit him. The streets were piled with garbage that no one had bothered to clear.

Lee Gwak quickened his pace, eager to leave the poverty-stricken area as soon as possible.

But then, a strange sight caught his eye.

In the middle of the slum, there was a large flat surface, and someone was drinking alone on it.

It was almost dawn, yet the man was still drinking—a remarkable drinker, Lee Gwak thought to himself. However, since it was none of his business, he intended to pass by without a word.

“Hey, you there!”

The man on the platform, still drinking, called out to Lee Gwak.

“Are you talking to me?”

“Yes! You, you’re… Lee Gwak, right?”

“Do you know me?”

Suspicion flickered across Lee Gwak’s face. The man smirked and stood up.

“That’s right! Lee Gwak. It’s a bit dark, I was uncertain. Don’t you remember me?”
The man rose from the platform and approached Lee Gwak. As he drew closer, his features became clearer.

Dishevelled hair, shabby clothes, and a lurching stride—everything about him was unfamiliar.

“Who… are you?”

“Tsk! Don’t you remember?”

“…”

“Back then, you were with that young girl, around here.”

“The young girl?”

“Lim So Bo! Still don’t ring a bell?”

“Ah!”

For a moment, Lee Gwak let out a gasp. He suddenly remembered.

He had stopped by this place before heading to Mt. Sohua. It was here he had seen a man arguing with Lim Sobo.

His name was definitely…

“Nam Woo Gyeong?”

“Yes! Now you remember. You’re a bit slow, aren’t you?”

“I only saw you once three years ago. It’s strange that you remember me.”

“Tsk! How can you survive the Murim with such a bad memory? Remembering faces is one of the keys to surviving the Jianghu.”

At Nam Woo Gyeong’s words, Lee Gwak sighed.

Most people can’t remember someone they’ve only met once, especially if it was a fleeting encounter years ago.

It wasn’t surprising that Lee Gwak didn’t recognize Nam Woo Gyeong right away. If anything, it was unusual for Nam Woo Gyeong to recognize him from a distance.

“Why are you drinking alone and miserable?”

“Well, I had nothing to do after work, so I thought, why not? Want to join me?”

“No, thanks.”

“Don’t be like that, have a drink.”

Nam Woo Gyeong shook the bottle of liquor he was holding.

“I’ve been up most of the night and I’ve had enough to drink. I need to rest.”

Lee Gwak politely declined. Nam Woo Gyeong, however, paid him no heed.

“The smell of courtesans? Did you drink in a brothel? Where, Crimson Flower Brothel?”

“How did you know that?”

Suspicion laced Lee Gwak’s voice.

Because that was indeed the name of the brothel he had just left.

In the darkness, Nam Woo Gyeong’s eyes sparkled.

“No need to be so wary, lad! What other decent brothel is there around here besides the Crimson Flower Brothel? I was just guessing. But you’ve moved up in the world? This place isn’t cheap. Not a place for a low-ranked martial artist from the outer hall, right?”

“I am a squad leader now.”

“Is that so? You’ve climbed the ranks.”

The glint in Nam Woo Gyeong’s eyes shone through the dark, and Lee Gwak did not miss this shift.

‘Is he connected to the Crimson Flower Brothel?’

Lee Gwak grew curious about Nam Woo Gyeong’s identity.

“Now that you’ve advanced, I’ll buy you a drink.”

“…”

“No need to look at me like a flounder. I’m just lonely.”

“Then, just one drink.”

“Heh! One becomes two, and two becomes three in no time. Sit down.”

Lee Gwak sat down beside Nam Woo Gyeong on the platform.

Nam Woo Gyeong handed Lee Gwak a cup of liquor.

“Here!”

“Yes!”

Nam Woo Gyeong filled Lee Gwak’s cup to the brim, then his own until it nearly overflowed.

“Drink up!”

“Yes!”

Lee Gwak brought the cup to his lips. A rich aroma prickled his nose.

A glint of recognition flashed in his eyes.

It was the same fragrance as the liquor he had at the Crimson Flower Brothel. Not a drink a man in shabby clothes like Nam Woo Gyeong could easily come by.

Lee Gwak was now certain that Nam Woo Gyeong had ties to the Crimson Flower Brothel.

But he kept his realisation concealed, sipping the alcohol with feigned indifference.
Nam Woo Gyeong too emptied his cup and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

“Ahh! That’s the stuff. Liquor needs to be this good to be worth drinking, don’t you agree?”

“It’s good.”

“Heh! You seem to know your drink. So, what’s been happening with you to become a squad leader?”

“Just luck, I suppose.”

“Really?”

“Yes!”

“Heh! Well, congratulations anyway.”

“Thank you.”

Nam Woo Gyeong looked at Lee Gwak silently for a moment after his neutral response. Although his gaze was heavy, Lee Gwak did not shy away.

Nam Woo Gyeong changed the subject.

“What about that young girl?”

“Who? Oh, you mean Lim So Bo?”

“Yes!”

“That was the last time I saw her, here with you. I haven’t seen her since.”

“Why not see her in the city? Has she gone out somewhere?”

“We were never close to begin with. Wouldn’t it be odd if we kept meeting?”

“That’s true. She’s a troublesome one.”

“Yes?”

“She shows up when you least expect it.”

“Why?”

“Exactly.”

Nam Woo Gyeong downed another cup. Lee Gwak watched him quietly.

“Lee Gwak!”

“Yes!”

“Never mind.”

Nam Woo Gyeong seemed to have something to say but then he hesitated.

Then a gust of wind blew past them, and Lee Gwak caught a whiff of a bloody scent.

“Has this man been through the Asura Blood Chaos Trial too?

Lee Gwak quietly took another sip from his cup.

The drinking session ended quickly.

When the liquor bottle was empty, Nam Woo Gyeong got up without any fuss, telling Lee Gwak to drop by again.

Lee Gwak responded with a formal“I will” and headed back home.

“Phew!”

He was exhausted.

Lee Gwak simply went to his room and lay down to sleep.

His house, surrounded by a high wall, was a great sanctuary. He had only slept for about an hour, but all his fatigue was gone.

After a quick wash, Lee Gwak made his way to the Jade Heaven Alliance.

No matter how late the night was, attendance was mandatory. Upon arrival at the outer hall, Seok Yi Cheon greeted him.

“Lee Gwak! I’ve been assigned to your squad.”

“Already?”

“Yes! Right after I arrived, they told me to report to your unit.”

“That was quick.”

“It is. Haha! Looking forward to working under you, leader!”

“We’re short on members, so brace yourself for some hard work.”

“I’m up for it.”

“Let’s do our best then.”

“Yes!”

Their hands clasped together.

This gave Lee Gwak his first squad member. Though only one, the responsibility of leading someone weighed heavily on his chest.

“It’s really nice to be working with you again.”

“Me too.”

“So what’s our mission? It doesn’t make sense for just the two of us to guard the main gate of the outer hall, does it?”

“We won’t be assigned to guard the outer hall until more personnel arrive.”

“Who said that? The hall leader?”

“Yes! That’s what he said last night.”

“Lucky us. Looks like we’ll get a few more days of rest. Haha!”

“But we should still be on standby. You never know what might happen.”

“That’s a given. But being able to relax at the dormitory is still a plus.”
Seok Yi Cheon laughed heartily.

Lee Gwak smiled pleasantly in response.

The two of them sat on the porch in front of the barracks and talked. Just a few days ago, Lee Gwak had almost lived in this place.

Everything was naturally familiar to him, yet he felt a strange sense of alienation. Lee Gwak found his own feelings curious.

“By the way, how’s the new house?”

“It’s good.”

“Wow, you’ve made it! Already got a house. Now all that’s left is to find a nice girl and get married.”

“…….”

“You still haven’t gotten over Miss Geum?”

“No”

“Good! Don’t harbour feelings for such a wicked woman. It’s only going to hurt you.”

“Don’t worry about me.”

Lee Gwak smiled.

Any lingering feelings for Geum Yul Seon were gone. Yet he wasn’t quite ready to meet someone else either.

For now, he just wanted to live unbound by any ties. He wasn’t sure when his feelings would change, but he didn’t want to force himself to follow the current of his heart.

After giving his advice, Seok Yi Cheon, perhaps tired, went back to his room. Left alone, Lee Gwak took out the sword strapped to his waist.

Swish!

Drawing the blade, its nicked surface was revealed.

The sword, with notches here and there, wasn’t in great condition, a testament to how roughly Lee Gwak had used it during his time at Mt. Sohua.

Lee Gwak began to sharpen the blade with a whetstone beside the well.

Shick! Shick!

The sound of the sword being sharpened echoed quietly around the well.

Lee Gwak forgot everything else.

The night with Cho Ha, the drinks shared with Nam Woo Gyeong.

All he saw was the blade, becoming keener with each stroke.

A faint smile formed on Lee Gwak’s lips.

Before, he had cared for his sword out of habit. But now, it felt different.

It was as if the sword was whispering to him.

Sharpen here.

It will make me perfect.

Lee Gwak heeded the whispers of the blade.

Shass! Shass!

At the quiet well, only the sound of the blade being honed carried on the wind.