Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 57

December 27, 2023 • 10 min read • 308 views

The Cycle of Gratitude and Resentment (Part 1)

After parting with the Lim siblings, Lee Gwak went to the market.

He bought some rice, some meat, and a few other cold items. Though he tried to buy just enough, he ended up with a hefty load by the time he left the market.

When Lee Gwak returned home, the first thing he did was to open the windows for ventilation. Then he started cleaning.

He dusted, swept, and mopped the room.

“Phew!”

Suddenly, he thought cleaning was more exhausting than practising martial arts.

When he was done, he lay on the ground and stared at the sky.

The stars in the evening sky seemed ready to spill out at any moment. Lee Gwak gazed at the sight.

As he stared at the endless sea of stars, a face suddenly popped into his view.

“What are you doing?”

It was Han So Cheon, appearing unexpectedly and looking down at him with curiosity.
Despite her cat-like stealth, Lee Gwak was not startled.

“I’m just looking at the stars.”

“Stars?”

Han So Cheon lay down beside him.

The sea of stars, ready to spill at any moment, now filled her vision as well.

“Beautiful!”

“Indeed!”

“When I think about it, I realise I’ve never really looked at the sky like this before.”

Since being assigned to the Hidden Blood Squad, she had never known a day of rest or peace. Always walking a tightrope between life and death, she never had the leisure to look up at the sky.

Han So Cheon stared blankly into the night sky. A tear briefly formed in her eyes before disappearing.

Then, Lee Gwak spoke.

“What about dinner?”

“Not yet!”

“Then let’s eat.”

Lee Gwak quickly got up.

“Oraboni?”

“I’ll prepare it, you lie down and rest.”

Without waiting for her response, Lee Gwak headed to the kitchen.

Han So Cheon silently watched his retreating figure.

‘Oraboni!’

Reflecting upon it, their connection was indeed remarkable.

The first person she met when she drifted into the Jade Heaven Alliance was Lee Gwak, and when she was pushed to her limits in the Steel Hell Blood Training Hall, it was also Lee Gwak who became her mental anchor.

She followed Cheol Geuk jin and was assigned to the Hidden Blood Squad, where she performed countless missions. The brutal missions that pushed her beyond her human limits wore away at her humanity, and she eventually reached her limit. That’s why she couldn’t sleep.

Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the faces of those who had died at her hands. She was afraid to sleep, so she spent countless nights in insomnia.

When Han So Cheon returned to the Jade Heaven Alliance, she was at the peak of her insomnia and mental breakdown. Having not slept for nearly a month, she even contemplated suicide.

She sharpened her dagger daily, holding it to her throat. Just when the temptation to end it all grew strongest, she thought of Lee Gwak.

Remembering a past promise, she sought him out in faint hope. In his embrace, after months, she finally found sleep.

Whenever she reached a crisis in life, Lee Gwak was always there. It was as if the heavens had sent him as a gift for her weary soul.

Han So Cheon suddenly looked at her hands.

On the surface, they appeared unscathed and clean. But upon closer inspection, they bore numerous small scars.

And… the ineradicable scent of blood.

Han So Cheon clenched her fists tightly.

She knew.

That the scent of blood would follow her until death.

‘I can’t let Oraboni Gwak get swept up in my fate.’

That’s why So Cheon secretly visited Lee Gwak, away from the eyes of others.

She knew that if people found out about her connection with him, his fate would become just as tumultuous as hers.

“Haah!”

Han So Cheon suddenly let out a sigh.

She felt selfish for having these thoughts.

If she truly cared for Lee Gwak, she shouldn’t have come here, no matter how many sleepless nights she endured due to insomnia.

Numerous thoughts clouded her mind.

As she struggled with these thoughts, unable to reach any conclusion:

“Let’s eat.”

Lee Gwak’s voice echoed.

In an instant, her thoughts were washed away.

Like a lie

Lee Gwak walked over to the wooden bed where Han So Cheon was lying.

The food was made from today’s grocery shopping. It was crude, but it was made with love.

Lee Gwak set the table on the bed.

“Waited long? Let’s eat.”

“Oraboni!”

“Why?”

“Nothing!”

Han So Cheon forced a smile and picked up her spoon.

“This looks delicious.”

“Eat a lot. I made plenty for you.”

“Okay!”

Han So Cheon nodded.

Lee Gwak also began eating with a smile.

Clack! Clack!

For a while, only the sound of the chopsticks clinking against the bowl echoed.

Han So Cheon ate with real relish.

Returning from successful missions, she used to be greeted with the finest delicacies, but none tasted as good as the food Lee Gwak made.

She chewed every bite of Lee Gwak’s cooking thoroughly. Noticing this, Lee Gwak asked her:

“Want another bowl?”

“Yes!”

Lee Gwak scraped every last bit of rice from the cooker for her.

That night, Han So Cheon fell asleep in Lee Gwak’s arms once again.

Softly, her peaceful snores filled the room.
***
The next day, Lee Gwak woke up feeling the emptiness of his arms, but he wasn’t startled, having experienced this before.

He quietly got up and stepped outside.

Han So Cheon was nowhere to be seen inside the house.

After fetching water from the well and cleaning up, Lee Gwak went out. Though it was early morning, the streets were already bustling.

Lee Gwak blended in with the crowd as he walked down the street. His destination was Nam Woo Gyeong’s house in the slums, but when he arrived at Nam’s house, he was greeted by a different person.

A white-haired old man with ash-gray eyes – Hwian.

Hwian’s eyes lit up as he saw Lee Gwak enter.

“So, you’re Lee Gwak.”

“Do you know me?”

“Woo Gyeong’s my disciple. It would be strange if I didn’t know about a new friend he has made.”

“Hmm!”

“You came to see Woo Gyeong, right?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Then you’ll have to wait. Woo Gyeong is currently with an important guest.”

“Understood.”

“Sit down and wait. I’ll bring some tea.”

“No, thank you.”

“Please wait.”

Hwian didn’t accept Lee Gwak’s refusal.

Eventually, Lee Gwak had to sit down and wait as suggested.

‘A master!’

Lee Gwak’s eyes showed ripples of emotion.

Just locking eyes with Hwian’s ashen gaze filled him with tension, a reflexive bodily response.

Lee Gwak didn’t know the exact level of Hwian’s martial arts skills, but he was certain that he was among the top martial artists he had ever encountered.

Whether Hwian noticed Lee Gwak’s tense gaze or not, he began preparing the tea set.
He placed a kettle of water on the stove and placed tea cups on the table. His movements as he handled the tea leaves, which he had plucked and dried himself, were incredibly refined and exuded the grace of a true master.

His gaze was as sharp as a well-honed sword, and his hand gestures were as graceful as the unfolding of a sword play.

‘When martial arts reach the ultimate level, every action in daily life becomes a form of technique.’

Lee Gwak thought Hwian had reached such a realm.

Hwian sat opposite Lee Gwak, carefully brewing the tea.

Chirrup!

The tea in the teacup emitted a fragrant aroma.

Although Lee Gwak was not knowledgeable about tea, he could sense that the tea Hwian was brewing was extraordinary.

“This is Mao Feng tea, hard to come by from Huanshan. It clears the mind when drunk.”

“Thank you.”

Carefully, Lee Gwak raised the cup to his lips. The clear tea was a pale yellow, with a delightful aroma and exquisite flavour.

Just as Hwian had said, it seemed to clear his mind. The depth of its flavour was incomparable to the cheap tea he had carelessly drunk before.

“Good tea awakens the mind and encourages introspection. In that sense, Mao Feng tea truly deserves its reputation.”

“It seems so. The taste is indeed profound.”

Pleased with Lee Gwak’s response, a faint smile appeared on Hwian’s lips, but it vanished too quickly for Lee Gwak to notice.

“Would you like another cup?”

“Thank you.”

Lee Gwak extended his cup, and Hwian poured more tea.

Chirrup!

In the quiet room, only the sound of the tea being poured resonated.

Suddenly, Lee Gwak’s face tensed. A tremendous force was flowing into him through the teacup he was holding.

Lee Gwak realised that Hwian was testing him.

How should he react?

For a moment, he contemplated hiding his martial arts skills, but then he remembered that Nam Woo Gyeong already knew to some extent about his proficiency. Not reacting at all might raise more suspicion.

Lee Gwak raised his internal energy to counter the force flowing from Hwian through the teacup.

Hwian’s eyes sparkled upon feeling the strong energy emanating from Lee Gwak.

As a test, Hwian increased his energy input. Lee Gwak’s face reddened with the effort, clearly straining with all his might.

Hwian’s force grew stronger, and Lee Gwak countered by raising his own energy.

Creak!

The teacup Lee Gwak was holding trembled violently.

Spider-web-like cracks spread across the surface of the cup, a result of the internal energy clash between the two men.

Pop!

Unable to withstand the pressure, the teacup burst with a faint explosion. However, the tea that had filled the cup did not scatter but hovered in the air, held together by Hwian’s formidable energy.

The tea, still in the shape of the cup, eventually flowed back into the teapot.

“Hmm! It seems the teacup was too frail. Wait a moment. I’ll get a new one.”

Lee Gwak did not respond, just glaring at Hwian with a flushed face.

Hwian smiled faintly, thinking that Lee Gwak was too occupied with controlling his disturbed energy to reply.

‘Impressive. With such internal strength, he wouldn’t be far behind the advanced martial artists in the Jianghu.’

Hwian recognized Lee Gwak’s martial prowess as noteworthy.

It was commendable for an outsider with no proper master to reach such heights.

Occasionally, there were such individuals who, without formal guidance, grew on their own, based on their exceptional martial talent.

They were the so-called geniuses.

These individuals, by establishing their unique domains, often built impregnable fortresses, bringing despair to many in the Jianghu.

The current Jade Heaven Alliance and the Celestial Demon Troupe were results of such geniuses. However, Hwian did not consider Lee Gwak to be among these geniuses.

His limits were clear.

More importantly, Lee Gwak was older. His internal strength was considerable, but his growth potential seemed limited. It was unrealistic to expect further growth at his age.

Most geniuses in the Jianghu had showcased their talents in their early to mid-teens. There were hardly any who had experienced a resurgence in growth at a later age like Lee Gwak.

Hwian believed Lee Gwak had reached his peak.

‘What a pity! If I had met him ten years earlier, I could have properly trained him.’

Shaking his head, Hwian turned away. He wasn’t particularly regretful; confirming that Lee

Gwak was not a threat to Nam Woo Gyeong was satisfactory enough.

What he didn’t see was Lee Gwak exhaling a suppressed breath.

The struggle was not just against Hwian’s internal energy. He had to calm the rising serpent in him, eager to bare its fangs.

Contrary to Hwian’s thoughts, Lee Gwak had not shown his full strength.