Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 90

February 2, 2024 • 11 min read • 315 views

A Sharp Awl is Bound to Pierce Through the Pocket Eventually (2)

Novel-Martial Artist Lee Gwak

Outer Hall Leader, Maeng Hee Cheon, greeted Lee Gwak in his characteristically blunt voice.

“Did you rest well?”

“Yes!”

“That’s good to hear!”

Maeng Hee Cheon, arms crossed, looked at Lee Gwak with a rather rough gaze.

“It seems to me that Squad leader Lee is quite lucky.”

“Excuse me?”

“From what I’ve heard from the Enforcement Pavilion, you’ve been through a lot. Even the Myriad Merchant Troupe’s Stealth Sword Squad was wiped out, but seeing as you came back alive, I’d say you’ve got heaven’s luck on your side.

“……”

“Anyway, you’ve rested enough, so you can start working again, right?”

“Yes!”

Lee Gwak answered with a calm expression.

Maeng Hee Cheon didn’t seem to like Lee Gwak’s answer and gave him a stern look. Lee Gwak didn’t know why, so he just kept his mouth shut.

After a while, Maeng Hee Cheon revealed his thoughts.

“It seems you’ve made quite an impression on the military strategist.”

“Excuse me?”

“The military strategist mentioned it personally. He asked me to take good care of you”.

“……”

“Seeing such requests coming in already, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday they suggest you for the position of the outer hall leader.”

Lee Gwak then realized why Maeng Hee Cheon was being so hostile towards him. He must have thought Lee Gwak could become a threat to his position.

Maeng Hee Cheon was not a man of broad-mindedness.

Although he was only the leader of what was considered the lowest organisation in the Jade Heaven Alliance, he had fought numerous internal battles and eliminated rivals to reach his position. He was particularly sensitive to anyone who opposed or threatened his authority.

He was reacting sensitively, fearing that Lee Gwak, Yeo Joong Wol’s favorite, would threaten his position. That’s why his eyes were harsh.

“I am satisfied with my current position.”

“Really?”

“Yes!”

“Hmph! Everyone says that outwardly. But who knows their true intentions?”

Maeng Hee Cheon didn’t believe Lee Gwak’s words. His eyes were even filled with hostility.

Lee Gwak didn’t make any more excuses, knowing that no matter what he said, he wouldn’t be believed.

After observing Lee Gwak for a moment, Maeng Hee Cheon brought up the main topic.

“Your group will be dispatched to the battlefield soon. So, prepare yourself mentally.”

“Excuse me? What do you mean……”

“The front lines with the Celestial Demon Troupe are growing by the day. The higher-ups have determined that the current forces are reaching their limits, so they’ve decided to send additional support troops. As such, your squad and the 12th Squad will be dispatched from our outer hall”

A sly smile appeared on Maeng Hee Cheon’s lips.

Lee Gwak’s brow furrowed at this sinister smile.

Maeng Hee Cheon’s words were true.

The front lines between the Celestial Demon Troupe and the Jade Heaven Alliance were indeed expanding day by day. What had been confined to the border areas was now showing signs of spreading throughout the Jianghu.

Because of this, the forces originally deployed were no longer sufficient to maintain the front lines. Thus, the Jade Heaven Alliance decided to send additional troops to bolster them.

Many martial artists had already been recruited from the main and inner court, and now it was the turn of the outer hall.

“I don’t want to send you, but there’s pressure from above, what can I do? That’s why I’ve decided to dispatch your squad, the one I can trust the most. The military strategist is also keeping an eye on you.”

“……”

“It’s not immediate, though. There’s still time, so you can prepare slowly.”

“Is it confirmed that the 13th squad is going?”

“Yes!”

At Maeng Hee Cheon’s firm reply, Lee Gwak closed his eyes for a moment. Maeng Hee Cheon watched him with a smile on his face, clearly enjoying Lee Gwak’s reaction.

After a moment, Lee Gwak opened his eyes and spoke.

“May I leave now?”

“Yes!”

“Then…”

Lee Gwak stepped outside.

The familiar scenery of the outer hall, which he had seen since childhood, unfolded before his eyes. But today, it felt unusually strange.

‘Is it because my heart is no longer the same?’

Lee Gwak shook his head and moved on.

His destination was the quarters of the 13th squad.

“Welcome.”

“It’s been a while.”

Seok Yi Cheon and Ki Jin Hwi greeted Lee Gwak warmly.

“Where’s Cheon-wol?”

“Haha! He went to see Miss Lim. Isn’t that nice?”

“I see.”

Lee Gwak nodded at Seok Yi Cheon’s response.

Ki Jin Hwi tilted his head.

“But you don’t seem too happy? What happened?”

“I have something to tell you.”

“What is it?”

“I just met with the hall Leader.”

Lee Gwak shared the conversation he had with Maeng Hee Cheon with his squad members.

“Ugh!”

Seok Yi Cheon let out a groan.

He had joined the 13th squad thinking it would be an easier assignment compared to other groups, but now the prospect of being dispatched to the battlefield brought a wave of fear.

This feeling was shared by Go Cheon Gwang and Woo Il Yeong as well. Their faces clearly displayed their complex emotions.

Ki Jin Hwi clicked his tongue.

“Tsck! So, what are you planning to do, leader?”

“I intend to go to the front lines.”

“Oh!”

Ki Jin Hwi sighed heavily at Lee Gwak’s calm response, and so did the others.

If Lee Gwak went, they would also have to go to the front lines. But then, Lee Gwak said something unexpected.

“I will go to the front lines, but you all don’t have to.”

“What do you mean? How can we ignore a decision from above?”

“I plan to ask the Military Strategist from the secret court.”

“Ah!”

Ki Jin Hwi exclaimed in realization.

Indeed, if it involved the strategist’s power, reassigning a single squad from the outer hall to a different task would be easy. No matter how much Maeng Hee Cheon resisted, he couldn’t defy her orders. But one thing was puzzling.

“If he has that much power, he could exempt not just the squad members but also you, the leader. Why do you insist on going to the front lines?”

Everyone’s eyes turned to Lee Gwak.

They all, like Ki Jin Hwi, had curious expressions.

Lee Gwak looked at each of their faces before answering.

“It’s just… what my heart tells me to do.”

***

Lee Gwak looked at his hands.

Calluses filled his palms, feeling more like stones than skin.

He hadn’t directly stained his hands with blood, but the swords he held had been tainted with it.

Jianghu was thought to be a place of freedom.

Most people believed that.

But those like Lee Gwak, who had lived long in the Jianghu, knew that this was not the case.

The Jianghu was a place where grudges and obligations grew as much as the blood on one’s hands.

A world as vast and intricate as the rivers and lakes that dotted the land, filled with countless debts of gratitude and revenge. This was the Jianghu as Lee Gwak knew it.

When Lee Gwak was just an ordinary martial artist of the outer hall, he understood these facts intellectually but didn’t feel them deeply in his heart.

But now, it was different.

He had killed the Dark Emissary and become entangled with mysterious groups like the Black Ghost Mist Squad.

Even though he could pass off the current moment as if nothing had happened, the karma accumulated during those times would undoubtedly return to him in some form.

Most crucially, his fight with Yul Cheon Ak, the leader of the Black Ghost Mist Squad, made him truly aware of his identity as a martial artist.

That’s why he didn’t refuse Maeng Hee Cheon’s unreasonable order. He felt that his destiny was already flowing in that direction.

Therefore, this decision was entirely Lee Gwak’s own will. However, it was different for the 13th squad.

Even though they belonged to Lee Gwak’s squad, they had no reason to be entangled in such unreasonable matters. Therefore, Lee Gwak planned to ask Yeo Joong Wol to exempt them from this task. Yeo Joong Wol had the power to do so.

Lee Gwak thought all members of the 13th squad would be exempted, and he would not have resented them even if that were the case. But an unexpected result occurred.

Not a single member opted out; instead, everyone decided to join him on this journey.

“If the leader goes, it’s only natural that his squad members follow,” said Ki Jin Hwi.

“Well, just because it’s the front lines doesn’t mean it’s all fighting and clashing. What’s the harm if we’re just on support duty in a safe place?” grumbled Seok Yi Cheon.

“We should follow our leader,” said Go Cheon Gwang and Woo Il Yeong, joining Ki Jin Hwi and Seok Yi Cheon.

The last to decide was Cheon-wol.

Having returned late and heard the story, Cheon-wol silently began packing his things.

Thus, all members of the 13th squad agreed to embark on the journey together. However, there was still plenty of time before they had to depart for the front lines, so they could enjoy some freedom in the meantime.

Upon leaving the Jade Heaven Alliance, Lee Gwak unexpectedly headed to the Crimson Flower Brothel.

Since it was still daytime, the Crimson Flower Brothel was quiet. When Lee Gwak entered, there was no one to greet him.

Lee Gwak spoke up.

“Is anyone here?”

After a moment, a beautiful woman from the Crimson Flower Brothel descended the stairs.

“We’re not open for business yet. Courtesans usually come in the evening… Oh, isn’t it Sir?”

The woman who had been responding indifferently brightened up upon recognizing Lee Gwak.

She was Cho ha, a courtesan of the Crimson Flower Brothel.

She had been paired with Lee Gwak during a previous gathering of Maeng Hee Cheon and the squad leaders.

Cho ha approached Lee Gwak with quick steps, a bright smile on her face.

“It’s been a long time since we met.”

“Indeed.”

“What brings you here today? You’re not the type to drink with a courtesan by your side in broad daylight.”

Though she said this, a subtle anticipation was evident in Cho ha’s eyes. However, the response from Lee Gwak did not match her expectations.

“I came here seeking information.”

“Ah! Of course. Please, come inside.”

She led Lee Gwak to her room.

It was a place he had visited once before, yet it still felt unfamiliar.

“Please, have a seat here.”

“No, thank you.”

Cho ha offered the main seat, but Lee Gwak declined. After her insistence, he reluctantly took the offered seat.

“What exactly do you wish to know, visiting here with such difficulty?”

“I want to know about the current state of the world and the situation on the front lines.”

“That’s quite broad.”

“Sorry, I don’t know much about it.”

“Not at all!”

Cho ha gazed directly at Lee Gwak’s face. Her intense look was somewhat overwhelming, but Lee Gwak did not avoid her gaze.

She then made an unexpected comment.

“It seems you’ve finally made up your mind.”

“Excuse me?”

“I always felt you didn’t quite fit in with the Jade Heaven Alliance. I thought one day you would leave and stand on your own. You are destined to make a great impact in the world.”

“I’m not that remarkable.”

“A woman’s intuition is often more accurate than you think, sir!”

Cho ha’s eyes curved into a smile.

Despite feeling burdened by her confident words, Lee Gwak chose not to deny them further.

“What exactly do you want to know? The Young master has instructed me to assist you, so I can tell you anything that’s not top-secret.”

“Thank you. As I mentioned earlier, I want a general understanding. I lack knowledge in this area.”

“That might take a while, is that alright?”

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“Alright then, please wait a moment.”

Choha got up and went inside. She returned shortly with a few yellowed books in her arms.

“These summarize the current state of affairs. The trends of the Jianghu over the past year are covered here. By reading these, you should be able to grasp the current situation without needing further explanation. These are not to be taken outside, so please read them here.”

“Thank you.”

Lee Gwak immediately started reading the books, quickly engrossed in them. They were compiled with the full resources of the Hao Clan, making them easy to understand even for someone unfamiliar with the Jianghu’s affairs like him.

Cho ha started slicing fruit beside him.

A complex mix of emotions, indescribable in words, flickered across her face.

What would it have been like if I had been a normal woman?

She wondered if she could have met an ordinary man and led an ordinary life.

But she soon shook her head.

She was not an ordinary woman, and Lee Gwak was not an ordinary person either.

Cho ha sighed quietly, making sure Lee Gwak didn’t hear.