Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 91

February 2, 2024 • 11 min read • 355 views

The Tide of an Era Changes (1)

Novel-Martial Artist Lee Gwak

If one were to name the quietest place in the Jade Heaven Alliance, the leader’s residence would undoubtedly be the first to come to mind. This is because the leader, Ja Hong Cheon, disliked disturbances.

Consequently, the Leader’s Residence was usually devoid of visitors, except when the heads of the Four Courts visited to report on significant matters.

Even these visits were rare, often individual and infrequent. As a result, the Leader’s Residence was not only quiet, but eerily silent.

Now, after a long time, people were gathering at this usually secluded place.

The core members of the Jade Heaven Alliance, including the Heads of the Four Courts, Leader Ja Hong Cheon and his disciples, except for the yet to return Woon Dae Yon, along with Yong Cheon Myeong and Dan Liyeon, had gathered.

Although it was a rare gathering, the atmosphere wasn’t light. A heavy weight had settled over them, and it seemed very serious.

Ja Hong Cheon, seated in the leader’s seat, looked towards Joo Shin Yoon, the head of the Inner Court.

“Now that everyone is here, let’s begin.”

“Yes, Leader.”

Responding, Joo Shin Yoon stood up. All eyes in the room focused on him.

“As you all know, the situation at the front is not favorable. The number of casualties is increasing and the front lines are expanding. If this continues, it won’t be long before the entire Jianghu is engulfed in a major conflict”

“Hmm…”

It was something they already knew, but hearing it from Joo Shin Yoon’s mouth made it seem even more serious.

The Jade Heaven Alliance had sought to maintain the current front lines. They feared that if the conflict spread throughout the Jianghu, it could lead to chaos similar to the Great Heavenly Blood War a century ago.

The damage done to the Jianghu during this time was so great that it took nearly two generations to recover from the aftermath.

If this war with the Celestial Demon Troupe doesn’t end soon and escalates into a global conflict, it will surely sweep across the Jianghu like a devastating storm.

“Fortunately, the Myriad Merchant Troupe decided to provide substantial support, allowing some respite, but the reality remains tough. The Inner Court and I agree that it’s impossible to resolve the situation by just recklessly deploying troops and supplies to the front lines as we are currently doing. I believe the Secret Court would also agree with this, wouldn’t they?”

Joo Shin Yoon’s gaze turned to Yeo Joong Wol, the military strategist.

Yeo Joong Wol silently nodded, indicating his agreement with Joo Shin Yoon’s opinion. A subtle smile then appeared on Joo Shin Yoon’s lips.

‘As expected, there’s an ulterior motive.’

Yeo Joong Wol’s gaze, observing Joo Shin Yoon, became deeply contemplative.

The meeting today hadn’t been scheduled in advance. It was convened abruptly at Joo Shin Yoon’s request, with Ja Hong Cheon’s approval.

Yeo Joong Wol, unaware of the meeting’s purpose, was not the only one taken by surprise. Nam Il Geuk, the head of the main court, and Geum Gu Ho, the head of the outer court, were also in the dark. Probably the only person who knew the reason for Joo Shin Yoon’s summons was Ja Hong Cheon himself.

As if proving this theory, Ja Hong Cheon looked at Joo Shin Yoon with a faint smile, as if urging him to get to the point.

Responding to this silent cue, Joo Shin Yoon spoke.

“Actually, the Celestial Demon Troupe recently sent a secret emissary to propose negotiations.”

“Is that true?”

Yeo Joong Wol rose abruptly from his seat, startled by the shocking news.

“It is true.”

“How come I was not aware of such a crucial matter?”

“It was kept highly confidential.”

“But I am the strategist of Jade Heaven Alliance. How can I devise strategies for the Jade Heaven Alliance without knowing such an important matter?”

“That’s why I am telling you now. Apart from informing the Leader earlier, this is the first time I’m discussing it.”

Yeo Joong Wol clenched his teeth at Joo Shin Yoon’s calm response.

It was clear to anyone that Joo Shin Yoon had bypassed the Secret Court and Yeo Joong Wol in moving forward with this issue.

“So you’re saying we are now going to negotiate with the Celestial Demon Troupe?”

“Of course!”

Joo Shin Yoon answered too nonchalantly.

Yeo Joong Wol’s gaze sharpened. The damage suffered from the war with the Celestial Demon Troupe was beyond description. Numerous sects had been annihilated, and even more people had died.

The blood of the people formed rivers, and their screams pierced the sky.

In such a context, the sudden proposal to negotiate with the Celestial Demon Troupe – especially without involving the strategist of the Jade Heaven Alliance – was completely unacceptable.

“You cannot be serious?”

“We can’t let such a good opportunity slip away. As I mentioned earlier, I already have the Leader’s approval for this.”

Joo Shin Yoon glanced at Ja Hong Cheon, who nodded, adding weight to his statement.

‘What’s going on?’

Yeo Joong Wol’s gaze sank deeper.

Although there had been occasional tensions and conflicts between him and Joo Shin Yoon, to be so blatantly disregarded was a first for him. It deepened his curiosity about the hidden intentions of the leader and Joo Shin Yoon, especially in pushing for negotiations while treating the military strategist of the Jade Heaven Alliance like a mere figurehead.

“Actually, this negotiation…”

Joo Shin Yoon’s voice echoed in the silent hall.

As he continued, everyone’s faces hardened. When he finished, a deep silence pervaded the hall, underscoring the shock of his revelations.

The silence was finally broken by Leader Ja Hong Cheon.

“What does the head of the Inner Court think about this plan?”

No one responded to his question, not even Yeo Joong Wol, the military strategist.

***

“Phew!”

Lee Gwak rubbed his temples with his thumbs, moving along. 

His brain felt like it had melted from taking in so much information overnight. However, his expression was not bad, considering he had achieved his goal.

The documents Cho ha had provided contained the information he needed: the current state of affairs in the Jianghu and the power dynamics of the various sects.

Most of the information was not particularly relevant to Lee Gwak. However, data related to the Celestial Demon Troupe was crucial for him. Therefore, he focused intensively on information regarding the Celestial Demon Troupe.

It had been many years since the war with the Celestial Demon Troupe began, revealing many of its powerful martial artists. The key figures in Celestial Demon Troupe’s had already been identified by the intelligence networks of the Jade Heaven Alliance and Hao Clan.

However, the Celestial Demon Troupe’s power was not limited to what was publicly known. In fact, the undisclosed masters were so numerous that their might was comparable to an impregnable fortress.

Lee Gwak focused on the names of Celestial Demon Troupe’s masters, but the name he was looking for was nowhere to be found.

‘Go Geom Wol.’

A man who had appeared out of nowhere on his journey to the Myriad Merchant Troupe.

He was the man who had imprinted the existence of Blade Howl in Lee Gwak’s mind, becoming an object of awe for him.

He still had trouble sleeping when he thought of him.

There might be martial artists stronger than him, but no one had left such a deep impression on Lee Gwak as Go Geom Wol.

Lee Gwak thought that, as Go Geom Wol had said, their paths were interconnected in the web of cause and effect, but he had no clue where that intersection might be.

“Phew!”

Lee Gwak sighed deeply, releasing a breath he had been holding back.

“God damn it. What are you sighing so deeply for?”

Suddenly, a familiar voice reached his ears.

As Lee Gwak looked up, he saw a familiar face. His pupils dilated in recognition.

“Leader…?”

“Ha! Leader is you. Haven’t you been appointed a while ago?”

The man approaching with his trademark furry smile was none other than Seo Jong Myeong.

He had been the leader of the 13th squad before Lee Gwak.

“How come you’re here?”

“Ha! Just came by for some business. What’s got you so serious?”

“Well, it’s just…”

“Never mind that. It’s good to see you after so long. How about a drink?”

Seo Jong Myeong slung an arm around Lee Gwak’s shoulder.

“It’s still morning, though?”

“What does that matter? Who cares about the time when drinking? Just tell me if you’re in or not.”

“Well, sure.”

“Ha! Great. Do you know any good inns around here? Everything has changed so much since I was last here, I have no idea where to go.

“Follow me. I know a place.”

“I knew I could count on you.”

Seo Jong Myeong chuckled and patted Lee Gwak on the shoulder.

Lee Gwak led Seo Jong Myeong to an inn near the slums.

It was a place that catered to people going to work early in the morning and usually only served meals, but it also served alcohol to those who wanted it.

“Nice!”

Seo Jong Myeong smiled with satisfaction as he looked around the interior of the inn.

Lee Gwak silently observed him.

Seo Jong Myeong hadn’t changed much from before, still possessing a friendly smile and a robust demeanor.

However, having spent a long time with him, Lee Gwak could sense subtle differences in his aura and gaze.

His eyes were colder, and his presence seemed fiercer. Of course, these changes were so subtle that only someone like Lee Gwak, who had known him for a long time, would notice.

Lee Gwak looked at the back of Seo Jong Myeong’s hand. There were scars on them that he hadn’t seen before.

‘He, too, has been through hell.’

Just like the marks on his body, he must have killed many people.

That was the nature of the battlefield.

Lee Gwak called the inn owner and ordered some light snacks and drinks.

“Ha! That’s better.”

Seo Jong Myeong was already rubbing his hands and waiting for his drink to be served. Lee Gwak spoke to him.

“How have you been lately?”

“Busy, got thrown into various missions here and there.”

“The atmosphere on the front lines seems tense.”

“Ha! That’s the way battlefields are. Kill or be killed. But lately, more are dying than surviving. It seems that even the higher-ups are getting anxious.

“I see.”

“Enough of the serious talk, let’s just drink.”

“Alright!”

As they spoke, the owner brought out the drinks first.

Seo Jong Myeong poured drinks for both himself and Lee Gwak, then downed his glass in big gulps.

There was a certain madness in the way he wiped the alcohol from his mouth with his sleeve.

Lee Gwak watched him for a moment, then drank from his glass. The alcohol felt sharp on his empty stomach.

“Ah! Now I feel alive.”

“Take your time, we have plenty of it.”

“You know how long it’s been since I had a drink? I’ve missed this.”

Seo Jong Myeong shook the bottle, making a sloshing sound inside.

He filled his own glass again. Lee Gwak had to drink quickly to keep up with him.

“How’s it going as the squad leader? You look better than before.”

“It’s a headache. I should’ve stayed satisfied as a regular member.”

“Hmph! Isn’t that what men are for? You have to be ambitious. It’s a bit hard now, but if you hang in there, good times will come.”

“I hope so.”

“Ha! You haven’t changed at all. Good!”

Seo Jong Myeong laughed and poured another drink into his mouth.

The owner soon brought out food, but Seo Jong Myeong barely touched it, seemingly lost in his drink.

His face quickly reddened. Setting down his glass, he asked,

“How’s the atmosphere in the Jade Heaven Alliance these days?”

“What atmosphere are you talking about?”

“The overall mood.”

“Actually, I’m not sure, as I’ve just returned from an external mission.”

“Really?”

Seo Jong Myeong narrowed his eyes, looking surprised at Lee Gwak’s response. There was a hint of madness in his gaze.

“Gwak!”

“Yes!”

“Do you know how many are dying on the front lines?”

“I’m not sure. It doesn’t feel real.”

“That’s the problem.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s too peaceful here. While so many are dying on the front lines, this place feels like a separate world, too peaceful. Isn’t that strange?”

“……”

“It’s weird. Really weird!”

Seo Jong Myeong murmured repeatedly, seemingly drunk.