Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 56

December 27, 2023 • 10 min read • 248 views

The Return of the Warriors (3)

Go Jeon-ok was diligent in his efforts.

Even when he was with the outer hall, he never stopped searching, and as soon as he saw the slightest suspicion, he followed them.

As a result, it was the Thirteenth Squad that became tired. This was because they had to handle the additional work for the number of people who were absent from the Heavenly Intelligence Hall.

At one moment, Go Jeon-ok’s eyes sharpened.

“That man, he’s suspicious.”

His gaze fell upon an ordinary-looking man. A face common on the streets, clad in plain clothes, the man was perusing clothes at a street vendor.

Lee Gwak, following Go Jeon-ok’s lead, scrutinised the man but found nothing unusual.

“He looks normal. What’s suspicious about him?”

“It’s because he’s normal.”

“What?”

“Gwak, the very existence of an ordinary person in the Jade Heaven Alliance is strange.”

“Hmm!”

Lee Gwak murmured in realisation, never having thought in such a way before.

Go Jeon-ok’s eyes glinted like a predator.

“The eyes of an ordinary warrior like you and those of us in intelligence are bound to see differently. Our enemies won’t appear in conspicuous garb. They disguise themselves as ordinary neighbours, trying not to stand out.”

“Hmm!”

“Those we seek are such people. It’s almost funny when you think about it. Is it even plausible for ordinary folks to loiter in colossal sects like the Jade Heaven Alliance or the Ten Sects?”

Nodding, Lee Gwak saw the logic in Go Jeon-ok’s words.

Indeed, the perspectives of Lee Gwak, following the path of a martial artist, and Go Jeon-ok, expanding his influence in an intelligence gathering faction, were naturally different.
Go Jeon-ok had always been ambitious, not hiding his career-oriented nature. Despite facing ostracism, he steadily climbed the ranks.

Nam Woo Gyeong came to mind.

‘Does Hyung Woo Gyeong also see the world as Jeon-ok does?’

Considering that even Go Jeon-ok, a low-ranking member of the Heavenly Intelligence Hall, could think this way, Lee Gwak wondered about the worldview of Nam Woo Gyeong, the leader of the Hao Clan, a sect that spans the world.

When Go Jeon-ok marked a target, his subordinates shadowed them.

Occasionally, they would meet other members of the Heavenly Intelligence Hall. Go Jeon-ok would subtly nod in recognition, so natural that an outsider wouldn’t think it was anything more than a greeting. Only someone like Lee Gwak, who had known him for a long time, would notice.

‘There are many!’

Lee Gwak realised that the Heavenly Intelligence Hall was larger than he thought, their eyes and ears spanning across the Jade Heaven Alliance.

He couldn’t recognize all of them, but he remembered those Go Jeon-ok acknowledged.
Unaware or indifferent to Lee Gwak’s complex thoughts, Go Jeon-ok chattered beside him.

“Hehe! The Jade Heaven Alliance is in complete chaos now. Many spies have infiltrated and are active. If we can only weed out the spies from the Celestial Demon Troupe, it would be a huge success. Then, I can secure a key position in the Heavenly Intelligence Hall. When that happens, come under me, Gwak. Let’s combine our strengths and devour the Jade Heaven Alliance.”

“Devour what? Do you think the Jade Heaven Alliance is such an easy target?”

“Hmph! Why not? After all, even our Sect Leader started no differently from us.”

Go Jeon-ok snorted in disdain.

It was not widely known, but Ja Hong Cheon, the current Sect Leader of the Jade Heaven Alliance, had also started as a mere foot soldier. However, he was an extraordinary talent, quickly catching the eyes of the higher-ups and being mentored in martial arts.

Compared to him, Go Jeon-ok’s martial prowess was merely above average, nowhere near Ja Hong Cheon’s level. But his ambition was no less than that of Ja Hong Cheon.

Lee Gwak understood Go Jeon-ok’s ambition but had no desire to join in.

His path was that of a martial artist, not that of an ambitious schemer.

Even at that moment, Go Jeon-ok was talking openly about his ambitions. Perhaps he did this because he considered Lee Gwak a close confidant, but for Lee Gwak, such openness seemed dangerous.

As Go Jeon-ok described, the Jade Heaven Alliance was indeed a chaotic mess. It was impossible to guarantee that someone nearby wasn’t a spy from the Celestial Demon Troupe. They would surely try to exploit Go Jeon-ok’s ambitions if they discovered them.

The biggest lesson Lee Gwak had learnt from the Jade Heaven Alliance was to never reveal all about oneself, and the second was that he should look after his own safety.

When he was paralyzed due to Gwan Il Hyeon of the Celestial Demon Troupe, Jade Heaven Alliance did nothing significant. There was no compensation, no proper treatment.

Had Han So Cheon not provided the Yoga Secret Manual, he might still be bedridden in despair. Hence, Lee Gwak did not trust the Jade Heaven Alliance.

His primary reason for staying was his promise to Han So Cheon, and secondly, a stable salary from the Jade Heaven Alliance.

With a stable life, Lee Gwak could focus on advancing his martial arts.

He half-listened to Go Jeon-ok’s ramblings, not trusting his promise to take care of him.

During his time bedridden, Go Jeon-ok never once visited. Trusting such a person would be foolish.

Oblivious to Lee Gwak’s inner thoughts, Go Jeon-ok continued talking. Even the usually indifferent Seok Yi Cheon seemed irritated.

“Great work today. Let’s endure a bit longer until the Jianghu Tournament.”

Finally, after Go Jeon-ok’s closing remarks, the thirteenth squad could breathe a sigh of relief.

“Gosh, Jeon-ok has become even more ambitious since joining the Heavenly Intelligence
Hall. Still, he should watch his mouth. Who would trust someone so indiscreet?”

Seok Yi Cheon shook his head after parting from the Heavenly Intelligence Hall.

Though he had not expressed it before, he too was displeased with Go Jeon-ok.

Lee Gwak sighed softly.

“Still, he does have good interpersonal skills. He’ll find his place.”

“Indeed, he’s unparalleled in sensing opportunities and aligning himself. Hehe!”

“Let’s go have a meal.”

“Sounds good.”

They headed to the cafeteria operated by the Outer Hall.
***
After dining with his squad, Lee Gwak stepped outside, followed by Ki Jin Hwi.

“Let’s go together, Squad leader.”

“Are you heading out?”

“Yes!”

Despite their previous conversation, the relationship between Ki Jin Hwi and Lee Gwak hadn’t changed much. Ki Jin Hwi treated Lee Gwak with respect as his squad leader, and Lee Gwak regarded him as a fellow squad member.

Although Ki Jin Hwi had many mysterious aspects, Lee Gwak did not delve into them.
There was an unspoken boundary between Lee Gwak and Ki Jin Hwi. They respected it, maintaining a certain distance. Crossing it would mean deepening their relationship, which neither wanted.

The two walked along, chatting about this and that.

“Isn’t living in the dormitory uncomfortable?”

“It’s comfortable and nice. They provide meals, a generous salary, and free accommodation. What more could one ask for? There’s probably no better place to work than Jade Heaven Alliance in the current world.”

Lee Gwak smiled at Ki Jin Hwi’s response, sharing similar sentiments.

Then, suddenly.

“Huh?”

Ki Jin Hwi let out a cry of alarm.

“What’s wrong?”

“I thought I saw someone I know.”

Lee Gwak looked in the direction of Ki Jin Hwi’s gaze.

A woman in a large robe disappeared through the crowd, and behind her back hung a white cloth object that, by its shape and length, looked like a sword.

“Hmm!”

For a moment, Lee Gwak trembled.

His whole body tingled as if he had been struck by lightning.

When he wasn’t aware of her, he didn’t feel anything, but as soon as he became aware of her presence, he felt a suffocating pressure, and his entire body felt like it was being crushed.

He hadn’t felt anything like this since Gwang Noh ya.

‘Is she a master comparable to Gwang Noh ya?’

Lee Gwak involuntarily clenched his fists.

“Squad leader, go ahead without me.”

Ki Jin Hwi gestured to Lee Gwak and hurried off in the direction of the robed woman.

Left alone on the street, Lee Gwak stood dumbfounded for a moment. Even though the woman in the robe was gone, the overwhelming pressure he felt from her still seemed to weigh down his entire body.

Just then, a large snake was unleashed and coiled around Lee Gwak’s entire body, and he was able to release the pressure on his body and let out a sigh.

“Phew!”

Exhaustion was written all over Lee Gwak’s face.

Recently enlightened, he had thought his martial prowess was considerable within the Jade Heaven Alliance. Yet, the confidence shattered into pieces by the mere presence of the woman who vanished into the crowd.

“I still have a long way to go.”

He had heard that the Jianghu was filled with countless martial masters like grains of sand, but this was the first time he truly felt it.

“Who could she be?”

Curiosity about the woman’s identity grew, and so did his interest in Ki Jin Hwi’s true nature.

“Sigh!”

Lee Gwak let out another deep sigh, realising how far he still had to go and how much he had been a frog in a well, content with so little.

He was still feeling the effects of the shock he’d felt earlier, but he couldn’t just stand here in a daze forever.

Just when he thought he had received the right stimulus at the right time.

“Oraboni!”

He suddenly heard a familiar voice.

Turning his head in surprise he saw familiar faces.

There was a young girl and a boy resembling her, both smiling at him – Lim Sobo and her brother, Lim Ji Moon.

“Sobo, Ji Moon.”

“What were you muttering about just now? I’ve been calling you for a while, but you didn’t hear.”

The chattering girl, Lim Sobo, approached with her brother, Lim Ji Moon.

“What were you thinking about?”

“Nothing.”

“It doesn’t seem like nothing. Tell me, maybe I can help.”

“It’s fine.”

“Tsk! But why are you alone?”

“What?”

“Where’s the handsome Oraboni? Why are you alone?”

Who? Cheon Wol?”

“Yes!”

“Well, he’s probably resting at the dormitory.”

“Next time, don’t just wander around alone, bring Oraboni Cheon Wol too. I want to see his face.”

At Lim Sobo’s words, Lee Gwak chuckled, and Lim Ji Moon bashfully lowered his head and stepped away.

“Where are you going? Come here.”

“Sister, please…”

“Why, am I embarrassing you?”

“Yes! Very much…”

“You?”

At that moment, when Lim Sobo’s eyes sparked with mischief, Lim Ji Moon spoke to Lee Gwak.

“Oraboni! It’s been a while. Have you been well?”

“Yes! You also look well.”

“Hehe! I took a good rest after that incident.”

“Where are you siblings off to?”

“We’re going to meet someone. Sister said she can’t go alone.”

Lim Ji Moon’s response brought a smile to Lee Gwak’s face. He had a hunch about whom they were going to meet.

Lim Sobo then said,

“We’re on our way to see Ahjussi Woo Gyeong. Do you want to come with us?”

“I’ll pass.”

“Why?”

“I have things to buy.”

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“It’s fine.”

“Tsk! You always say it’s fine. Hmph! I’m fine too then.”

Lim Sobo snorted at Lee Gwak’s refusal.

“I’m leaving now. See you later.”

Lee Gwak waved and left.

Lim Sobo stared at the back of Lee Gwak’s head as he walked away. Then Lin Ji Moon tapped her on the shoulder and said,

“You’ll bore a hole in his head if you keep staring like that. What are you looking at so intently?”

“It’s just fascinating!”

“What is?”

“Just everything…”

Lim Sobo’s eyes gleamed sharply.

The innocence of a young girl was no longer visible on her face.