Martial Artist Lee Gwak Episode 99

February 15, 2024 • 12 min read • 225 views

Birds of a Feather Flock Together (3)

Novel-Martial Artist Lee Gwak

Originally, Siege Fortress was a large village situated on the plains. Thanks to its fertile land and abundant water sources, it was always bountiful enough to have good harvests. As a result, the villagers lived here generation after generation, without the need to venture elsewhere for a livelihood.

Their lives took a drastic turn when the war between the Jade Heaven Alliance and the Celestial Demon Troupe broke out. With the outbreak of war, the trade routes were blocked and this place was also swept up in the chaos of war.

Many people died, and houses were burned or destroyed. Thus, the once prosperous city quickly became a ruin filled with the aura of death.

The original inhabitants fled the city to escape the war, and the void they left was filled by martial artists from the jianghu, including those from the Jade Heaven Alliance.

They occupied the empty houses and fortified the entire city. They built high walls on the outskirts of the city and brought in countless war supplies. This made the Siege Fortress the strongest fortress in the world.

Later, the natives came and asked to return to their homes, but the martial artists of the Jade Heaven Alliance ignored them and instead drove them out.

With nowhere else to go, the inhabitants became vagrants, wandering the neighborhood and falling prey to bandits who took advantage of the war. Thus began a cycle of tragedy that continues to this day.

The corpses Lee Gwak saw on their way here were all residents of the Siege Fortress.
Siege Fortress was surrounded by high walls like those of the Jade Heaven Alliance. Many martial artists stood guard on the walls, and flags symbolizing the Jade Heaven Alliance fluttered in the wind, adding to the bleak atmosphere.

With a heavy creaking sound, the massive iron gate opened.

Led by the carriage with Yong Cheon Myeong, the martial artists of the Jade Heaven Alliance entered the Siege Fortress.

Upon entering Siege Fortress, they felt the burning gazes of the people. The locals, going about their business within the fortress, curiously eyed the new arrivals.

“Has the Jade Heaven Alliance sent reinforcements?”

“Tch! Poor souls. Dragged into this hellhole of all places.”

They looked at the newly arrived martial artists with pity.

The longer someone had been in Siege Fortress, the more cynical and weary they appeared. Their eyes reflected a life wearied by the harsh realities of war.

“This is the Siege Fortress?”

“The atmosphere is ominous from the start.”

As the martial artists entered the Siege Fortress for the first time, they murmured to each other, sensing the grim mood of the battlefield.

“Welcome, Prince!”

As Yong Cheon Myeong dismounted from the carriage, a martial artist in his late forties approached and greeted him. This was Jang Gwang, the commander-in-chief of Siege Fortress, known as the White Flower Invincible Spear.

Jang Gwang came from a background of wandering martial artists. While most of those wanderers were not particularly skilled in martial arts, Jang Gwang was an exception. He had mastered his family’s secret spear techniques to the highest level and chose the path of a wanderer to gain real battle experience.

With his spear, he defeated numerous experts, proving his worth and, as a result, was recognized by the Jade Heaven Alliance to become the commander-in-chief of the Siege Fortress.

Yong Cheon Myeong responded to Jang Gwang’s greeting with a smile.

“It’s been a while, Lord Jang. You seem to have become even more valiant.”

“And you, Prince, have become even more majestic.”

“I look forward to your guidance. Please lead us to victory.”

Yong Cheon Myeong’s smile deepened at Jang Gwang’s words. He patted Jang Gwang’s shoulder a couple of times and said,

“Let’s go, Lord Jang.”

“Would you like to go to your quarters first?”

“There’s no need to waste precious time. Let’s head to the meeting room.”

“I anticipated as much and have already prepared a space. Please, follow me.”

“Wait!”

Yong Cheon Myeong suddenly turned to look at Bang Ye-in.

“Come with me as well. We’ll arrange a separate place for you to rest.”

“No, thank you. I’m grateful enough for the escort here. I have somewhere else to stay.”

“Do you have acquaintances here?”

“Fortunately, someone with ties to the Bang Clan’s Inn is running an inn here. I plan to stay there.”

“Hmm! Then, there’s nothing I can do. Understood! If you encounter any difficulties, come find me. You’re always welcome.”

“Thank you just for saying that. I’ll come to pay my respects later.”

“Tell me the name of the inn, and I’ll instruct my men to ensure you’re well taken care of.”

After giving the order to Jang Gwang to look after Bang Ye-in, Yong Cheon Myeong departed.
Before leaving, Jang Gwang spoke to the martial artists of the Jade Heaven Alliance,

“You’ve all worked hard getting here. Tomorrow will be busy, so rest well today.”

Jang Gwang quickly disappeared, and then the martial artists of Siege Fortress approached the Jade Heaven Alliance’s martial artists.

“You’ve all had a long journey. We’ve prepared places for you to rest; please follow us.”

They led the Jade Heaven Alliance’s martial artists to a residential area not far from the main gate.

“These are all vacant houses; feel free to use them. We’ve cleaned up a bit, but there will be many shortcomings. Please bear with it. Everything is scarce around here.”

“Hm!”

“Rest well today.”

After showing them to the vacant houses, the martial artists left with a salute. Jwa Ryoon then distributed the houses among the Jade Heaven Alliance’s martial artists.

The Mystic Martial Squad was allocated the better houses, followed by Heavenly Intelligence Hall, and lastly, the outer hall.

The 13th Squad was also given a house. It was dilapidated, but the roof and walls were intact, enough to protect them from the wind and rain. There was even a small detached room included.

Each squad member was assigned a room, and Lee Gwak was specially given the detached room. He tried to decline, but his squad members were insistent. They argued that it was only proper for the squad leader to have a semblance of dignity, as it would reflect well on them too.

“Ahjussi, I’m going to go now.”

“I’ll escort you.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“I want to get a feel for the atmosphere here anyway.”

“Hehe! Then, that’s fine.”

Bang Ye-in smiled.

Lee Gwak told his squad members,

“Rest well here today. I’m going to explore the area and get a sense of the place.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard, leader. You must be exhausted from walking here.”

The entire 13th squad was on the verge of exhaustion from the march. Had they been forced to march another day, some would undoubtedly have collapsed.

They were more eager to lie down and sleep than to follow Lee Gwak. Understanding their sentiment, Lee Gwak smiled.

“I’ll be fine. I’ll be back soon.”

“Take care.”

With Ki Jin-hwi’s farewell, Lee Gwak and Bang Ye-in stepped outside.

After surveying the surroundings, Lee Gwak began walking towards a bustling street.

The atmosphere on the street was tense. Everyone was armed, and their eyes darted around, filled with suspicion and wariness.

The pervasive atmosphere of mistrust dominated the street. Although Lee Gwak didn’t know what specifically made them so wary, he proceeded to walk into it.

Most of the houses on the street had been torn down and rebuilt. Half-collapsed during the expulsion of the natives, and roughly renovated as the martial artists moved in.

As a result, the streets within the Siege Fortress exuded a unique atmosphere.The rough and disorganized atmosphere was a clear indication that the place was still under the influence of the battlefield.

As Lee Gwak and Bang Ye-in walked down the street, not a single person paid them any mind.
Bang Ye-in murmured,

“They say there’s no hope here, and it seems that’s true.”

“Where did you hear such a thing?”

“Traveling around the world, you end up hearing things you wish you hadn’t. I probably have much more experience in Jianghu than you, Ahjussi.”

“Hmm!”

Lee Gwak looked at Bang Ye-in with newfound curiosity.

Sometimes she seemed like a carefree child, but at other times she seemed far wiser than anyone else, probably due to her extensive travels from a young age.

Indeed, Bang Ye-in had far more experience in the Jianghu than he did.

“But is there an inn even in a place like this?”

“Of course. People gather here too, after all.”

“…”

“Wherever people gather, there’s a need for places to stay. Naturally, inns spring up.”

“But wouldn’t the Jade Heaven Alliance control this area? It’s unlikely they would easily permit inns to operate.”

At Lee Gwak’s remark, Bang Ye-in smiled softly.

“The Jade Heaven Alliance does manage this place, but that doesn’t mean they have complete control. Even before the Jade Heaven Alliance made this place their base, many had already settled here. This includes the Ten Sects, numerous wandering martial artists, and merchants eyeing their pockets. While none of these groups can compare to the Jade Heaven Alliance in power individually, they’re not so insignificant that the Jade Heaven Alliance can completely ignore them either.”

“So, you’re saying all these forces somehow maintain a delicate balance?”

“Exactly. The Jade Heaven Alliance needs their cooperation to some extent, so they have to make some concessions. Otherwise, they’d face internal strife.”

“Thank you. I’ve learned a lot from you.”

Lee Gwak expressed his gratitude to Bang Ye-in.

A spark of interest flashed in Bang Ye-in’s eyes.

Throughout her travels in the Jianghu, she had never encountered someone like Lee Gwak who easily acknowledged his shortcomings and was thankful for guidance.

The martial artists she had met were usually full of pride, never admitting their faults.

Especially, being taught by a young girl like herself was considered the ultimate humiliation by people like them. Hence, she harbored prejudices against the martial artists of the Jianghu.

But the man she observed was different.

He was always thirsty for knowledge, accepting teachings without any prejudice. His demeanor was a refreshing shock to her.

‘Is it because he comes from the Outer Hall?’

She didn’t mean to belittle him by thinking so. Instead, she cautiously speculated that perhaps having been through the rougher, lower ranks, he was more desperate for proper guidance.

As they conversed, they arrived at their destination.

Just as she had said, a proper inn did exist.

“Western Wind Inn?”

The inn’s signboard was written in poor handwriting.

She shook her head in disapproval.

“Ah, how does this terrible handwriting not change over time?”

She strode confidently into the Western Wind Inn.

Inside, there were quite a few guests, all armed martial artists. The atmosphere inside the inn was quite gloomy because of this.

It was no wonder that when a young girl entered the room, everyone’s eyes were focused on her. Though her face was plain, her expressive and lively demeanor made her look beautiful.

A few martial artists showed malicious intent.

Seeing a flower-like girl in this place where women were rarely seen, their suppressed desires rose to the surface.

Then, she shouted loudly.

“Big Bear!”

Her clear voice echoed through the inn. When there was no response, she shouted even louder.

“Big Bear, come out!”

“Who dares to call for me so brazenly?”

Following heavy footsteps, a giant figure appeared from the direction of the kitchen.

He was a huge man, head and shoulders taller than ordinary people, reminiscent of a giant bear as she had described. His appearance made everyone inside the inn hold their breath.

His face was as fearsome as his size. His eyes bulged out like marbles, and his thick lips reminded one of a catfish. Most striking were the large scar splitting his face and the burn marks near his ears.

His appearance, now with a grim expression, looked even more frightening. In his hand, he held a thick kitchen knife.

Those who harbored malicious intentions towards her quickly bowed their heads.

Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San.

That was the giant’s name.

He was the owner of the Western Wind Inn, its sole chef, and a martial artist feared by many.
There were more than a few martial artists who had been dismembered for causing trouble in his inn.

“Quiet down and just eat your meal” was Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San’s rule. Normally, this would deter people, but Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San’s cooking was delicious. It was so good that people were willing to endure the unpleasantness to eat here. This place was worth that much, and an unspoken rule had developed among people not to cause trouble here.
Guests expected Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San to scold her. But his reaction to seeing her far exceeded their expectations”

His fierce expression softened, and tears welled up in his bulging eyes.

“Ah… Miss! Is it really you?”

Thud!

Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San threw down the kitchen knife and rushed towards her. She smiled warmly at him.

“It’s been a while, Big Bear!”

“Truly, it’s Miss. Sob!”

Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San, in a manner not fitting his fierce appearance, whimpered and knelt before her.

She embraced his large head and said.

“Have you been well? Big Bear!”

“Of course! This Big Bear has missed Miss so much.”

“I missed you a lot too, Big Bear.”

“But, Miss, what brings you to this dangerous place?”

“I wanted to see Big Bear, and I needed to find some herbs.”

“Ah… Miss?”

Hearing that she had come to see him, tears streamed down Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San’.

“Miss, while you’re here, this Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San will protect you with his life. Those who dare to lay eyes on Miss will have their eyes gouged out and fried in oil, and those who harbor malicious intentions will have their balls cut off and fed to dogs. Just trust in this Big Bear and stay at ease.”

At that moment, eerie shrieks echoed from various corners.

Some covered their eyes with their hands, while others clutched at their groins.

Iron Butcher Cheol Dae-San looked around and said.

“Make sure everyone gets the message. If our Miss speaks a word of discomfort, they’re all dead.”