Chapter 48: Facing the Sword Wall for Seven Years (2)

 

For a few days, Jin Mu-Won rode towards the sunset, until finally, he arrived at a lone barren mountain situated west of the fortress.
The mountain rising from the flat, desolate plains looked no different from an uninhabited island in the middle of the ocean, except that the rust-colored rocks emanated an unearthly, sinister aura.

The original name of this rocky mountain was Mount Cinnabar (赤巖山)[1], but because of its macabre aura that prevented plants from growing on it or near it, and the fact that it scared off both humans and animals, it was more commonly referred to as the Ghost Mountain.

Most importantly, Jin Mu-Won knew that Heaven’s Summit was not aware of the existence of this mountain.

“Young Master, do you really plan on living here?” Hwang Cheol felt terrible at the thought of leaving Jin Mu-Won alone in this desolate place while he returned to the Central Plains.

On the contrary, Jin Mu-Won liked this place a lot.
He replied, “Yes, I do.
This is the perfect place for me to concentrate on learning martial arts.”

Back when he lived in the Northern Army Fortress, he was closely monitored day and night by Heaven’s Summit.
At least here, he wouldn’t have to constantly be on the alert for spies and carefully choose his every word.

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To the world, the man named Jin Mu-Won is dead.
They might be suspicious at first, but as time passes, they will forget me and move on to the next piece of interesting gossip, for that is the true nature of mankind.

If there are any problems with living here, it would have to be the difficulties in securing living necessities.
I’ll have to depend on Hwang Cheol’s seasonal visits for that.

“Uncle Hwang, I know this will be hard on you, but would you mind continuing sending me supplies regularly?”

“Oh dear! Please don’t say such things, Young Master.
Taking care of you is my duty.
You shouldn’t worry about me and focus on learning martial arts.”

Jin Mu-Won smiled and said, “Thank you, Uncle Hwang.”

However, instead of making Hwang Cheol feel reassured, Jin Mu-Won’s smile only ended up making him feel even more guilty.

Jin Mu-Won looked up at the giant mountain before him.

“This is the place where I will learn to spread my wings and take flight.”

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

After Hwang Cheol had left, Jin Mu-Won carried his luggage into a cave on the side of the mountain.
The naturally formed cave was wide and deep, perfect for his living and training needs.

When he was done moving his luggage, Jin Mu-Won did not rest.
Instead, he piled up a stack of large rocks into a certain shape, then headed to the bottom of the mountain and filled up a sack with soil.

The broken bone in his left arm hadn’t healed, and it was painful to put a lot of strength into it, but Jin Mu-Won did not want to take a break.
Soon, his body was drenched in sweat, and his muscles were twitching uncontrollably from the overexertion.

Still, he did not stop.
He drew some water from a crack in the rocks near the cave and mixed it with the soil to form clay.
He then used the clay to fill the cracks in between the large rocks that he had piled up.

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Just like that, three days later, Jin Mu-Won finished making himself a gigantic furnace three times the size and thickness of the one in his old smithy.
The reason for this large furnace was that there was no firewood available near Mount Cinnabar.
Instead, according to the “Record of a Thousand Weapons”, he’d be able to find coal in the mountains.
The flames created from burning coal were far hotter than that created from firewood, so he needed a furnace that could handle much higher temperatures.

Two days later, after searching around the mountain, he found a location where he could mine a black rock that matched the description of “coal” in the “Record of a Thousand Weapons”.

“Phew!”

Jin Mu-Won observed the white-hot flames in his new furnace.
The heat spreading out from it was so intense that it was hard to breathe even far away.

He tossed several chunks of iron ore into the furnace.
He needed to forge himself a new sword, as the one he had made previously was shattered during the battle with Tae Mu-Kang.

The new sword had to be much sharper and more durable than the previous one.

Smithing was also a good way to pass the time while he was still recovering from his injuries.
Two weeks had passed since his ribs were broken by Tae Mu-Kang, but even with the help of the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows, he needed to rest and meditate in-between smithing for another two weeks in order to completely recover.

“Huu…”

Jin Mu-Won took a deep breath and looked up at the blood-red rock wall in front of him.
It was the largest cliff face of Mount Cinnabar, being 300 ft tall and 500 ft wide.

It’s like a giant among giants is looking down at me; like nature’s majesty and supremacy is aiming to crush my spirit.

This wall is the backbone of Mount Cinnabar, and the red coloration is its blood.

I hereby name this wall, the “Sword Wall (劍壁)”.

“From now on, you will be my opponent.”

In his hand, Jin Mu-Won held a new short sword that he had spent the last month forging.

It was two feet and seven inches long, and weighed around half a pound.
The sharpness of its blade could be discerned from the way the steel glinted in the bright sunlight.

Jin Mu-Won had used every forging technique he knew to create this sword, and as a result, the size and weight suited him perfectly.
It looked crude and simple on the outside, but he was very satisfied with this piece of work.

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He poured his chi into the blade, and the blade hummed in response.
This was the sword acknowledging his chi.

While maintaining the chi in the blade, he closed his eyes and recalled the Shadow Blade of Destruction.

He was the Lord of the Northern Army, and all Lords of the Northern Army desired fighting on the frontlines more than sitting around enjoying life, because only when they were fighting the Silent Night, could they get stronger and obtain even more inspiration to improve on their martial arts.

The Shadow Blade of Destruction was the culmination of their efforts.

No one understood the pros and cons of the Silent Night’s martial arts more than the Lords of the Northern Army.
The Shadow Blade of Destruction was the result of compiling all the knowledge they had collected over a hundred years.

However, the Shadow Blade of Destruction was not the sword technique’s original name.
It was formerly called the “Demon Slaying Sword (滅魔劍)”—the sword created to slay the demons of the Silent Night.

When Heaven’s Summit betrayed the Northern Army, Jin Kwan-Ho decided to change the name of the technique.
It became the sword of shadows that slays not only demons, but destroys the heavens—the “Shadow Blade of Destruction”.
The new name was a reflection of Jin Kwan-Ho’s rage and hatred for Heaven’s Summit.

Jin Mu-Won went through the six basic forms of the Shadow Blade of Destruction in his mind.

Meteor Soul (流星魂) Wall of the Northern Heavens (北天壁) Dividing the Heavenly Seas (斷天海) Storm Forest (暴雨林) Bloody Flash (閃光血) Shadowless World (無影界)

As expected of the combined creation of multiple Lords of the Northern Army, the defenders of the world, just one of the six basic forms would be considered equal to the Silent Night’s and the Central Plains’s strongest martial arts.

However, the really scary part of the Shadow Blade of Destruction could only be realized when the forms were combined and performed in conjunction.
It’s true strength was not the sum of the six individual forms, but the strength of the six forms multiplied together.

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For example, if Meteor Soul and the Wall of the Northern Heavens were to be merged, it would result in a new form that was clearly distinct from the two original forms.
Similarly, combining Dividing the Heavenly Seas with Storm Forest would give rise to yet another new form.
Theoretically, simply by combining only two forms, one would be able to create thirty new forms.
Adding that number to the original six basic forms, that would be thirty-six forms in total.
And that was not the limit.

The keyword there was “theoretically”.
Not even Jin Mu-Won knew if it would actually work, since none of his predecessors had actually reached that level of mastery.

Right now, Jin Mu-Won had only learned the first three of the six basic forms.
Even then, it had taken him many, many repeated experiments and failures to iron out the mistakes and problems with the forms.
Turning a theoretical martial art into reality ended up being a lot harder than he thought it would be.

He didn’t know how much more time and effort it would take him to fix the remaining three forms, but he felt that as long as he kept trying, he’d surely succeed one day.

The Path of the Sword.

The current me is still standing at the beginning of that path.

Thankfully, my shackles are gone.
I can finally begin moving forward.

Suddenly, Jin Mu-Won looked up at the sky and whispered to himself, “I swear that I won’t let you wait that long for me, Ha-Seol.”

Right now, Good and Evil, Heaven’s Summit, and the Silent Night were things that had nothing to do with him.

He turned to face the Sword Wall and swung his blade.

A sword cried, and the wind rose.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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The White Dragon Merchant Association was one of the Ten Great Companies, a group that included the ten largest merchant companies in the world.
The financial power it possessed was enough to alarm even the royal family.
Although it was the only one of the Ten Great Companies not situated in the Central Plains, instead operating out of Lanzhou City in Gansu Province, the power and influence it wielded wasn’t any inferior to the other nine.

The headquarters of the White Dragon Merchant Association was Lanzhou’s largest estate, with over twenty halls, villas, and pavilions.
They had more than five hundred employees stationed in their headquarters, and if you included the employees in the branches, that number would easily add up to a few thousand.

Although their branches were spread out all over the world, their influence in Lanzhou City was the greatest.
There wasn’t a single person in the city who did not have any connections with the White Dragon Merchant Association, and certainly, no businesses that were not owned by or were not in a partnership with them.

The main door to the estate of the White Dragon Merchant Association was extremely wide and majestic.
It had been built like that to be able to accommodate three or four horse-drawn carts side-by-side.
The instant one stepped into the association grounds, they’d find themselves in a plaza so large that hundreds of dancers would be able to perform there together.

The large hall looking down upon that great plaza was called the White Dragon Hall.
The Hall was the face of the White Dragon Merchant Association, and where all the large and small decisions were made.
Due to its importance, it was guarded by a dozen first-class martial artists day and night.
Many of the guards were even martial artists of some small renown within the gangho.

Right now, inside the White Dragon Hall, 20 people were gathered around a long table.
Every single one of them was the leader of a hundred executives, and they made up the decision-making body of the White Dragon Merchant Association.

At the end of the table sat an old lady dressed in white.
Although her hair had turned white from age, the aura of authority she exuded was not to be looked down upon.
That was because she was the Head of the White Dragon Merchant Association, the supreme leader of one of the ten largest companies in the world.

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Her name was Jang Mun-Hwa, but she was more commonly referred to as the “Old Matriarch”. [2]

When she was still a seventeen-year-old girl, the Old Matriarch married into the upper echelons of the White Dragon Merchant Association.
Back then, the Association was not one of the Ten Great Companies, but one of the many small to medium-sized enterprises.

After her marriage, she became completely devoted to helping out her husband’s business.
Due to the efforts of the talented couple, the White Dragon Merchant Association grew larger and larger, richer and richer.
The couple depended wholeheartedly on each other, and as time passed, their family expanded to include four sons and three daughters.

Those were happy days.
However, they did not last long.
One day, less than ten years after the couple’s marriage, the husband was murdered by a group of bandits while he was out accompanying one of their caravans.
Subsequently, as if adding fuel to the fire, more and more of the White Dragon Merchant Association’s deliveries were delayed, and their customers complained.

When the Association faced its worst crises, the Old Matriarch stepped forward and took charge.
She did not have time to grieve for her dead husband, because she needed to stand at the top and calmly resolve the company’s problems one after another.

In order to extend the delivery deadlines, she personally visited the customers and pleaded with them.
In addition, she risked her own life and accompanied the caravans on their trade routes, even though she almost died at the hands of bandits several times.
Gradually, the customers who had lost faith in her and the Association began to acknowledge her passion and courage.

Just like that, the White Dragon Merchant Association made a huge comeback and even became one of the Ten Great Companies.
Without the Old Matriarch, none of it would have been possible.

To the Old Matriarch, the White Dragon Merchant Association was her child.
In turn, not just her own seven children, but all of the members of the Association believed in her like she was their own mother.
Within the Association, her position was absolute, and people who were willing to sacrifice themselves for her were aplenty.

Right now, among the leaders gathered within the White Dragon Hall, there were several of her own children.
Her eldest son Yoon Hoo-Myung, third son Yoon Ja-Myung, and youngest daughter Yoon Seo-In.
Her other children were either dispatched to manage the branches or on the road with a caravan.

The Old Matriarch was very proud of all of her children.
She hadn’t given any of them any special treatment and had made them work their way up the company from the very bottom.
Only when they had proved their ability, did she allow them to handle the more important businesses.

As her eldest son, Yoon Hoo-Myung had accompanied her on trade routes since he was young.
He had been with her through thick and thin, and was capable and well-liked.
It could even be said that the way Yoon Hoo-Myung treated his employees and handled his businesses was very similar to his mother.
Because of all these reasons, the Old Matriarch accepted that he would be her successor, and announced it to the rest of the Association.

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With Yoon Hoo-Myung’s position as successor confirmed, the Old Matriarch gradually handed the reins over to him and began to withdraw from most matters within the Association, except the most important decisions.

In fact, this was the first time she was participating in a meeting in a very long time.
That showed how important the matters they were going to discuss were.

After a long period of silence, the Old Matriarch said, “I heard that tensions in Yunnan have been rising recently.”

“That’s right, Mother.”

“Hmm…” The Old Matriarch frowned.

Yunnan was pretty far from their headquarters, and managing affairs there had always been difficult.
Hence, within the White Dragon Merchant Association, there had been many calls for her to shut down the Yunnan Branch.
Regardless, she ignored them and decided to keep the brain going, as it was the branch started up by her third son, Yoon Ja-Myung.

Seven years ago, Yoon Ja-Myung had risked his life to start up the Yunnan Branch, leading to a rapid expansion of their company.
Therefore, although he was no longer working there, Yoon Ja-Myung still felt emotionally attached to that branch.

He stood up and declared, “I wish to go to Yunnan.”

Yoon Ja-Myung had an expression like he was ready to die.
Until a short while ago, the Yunnan Branch had been doing very well.
They traded with the tribes there and obtained goods that couldn’t be found anywhere else, even though they were dirt common in Yunnan.
By transporting these goods northwards and selling them, the White Dragon Merchant Association made huge profits.

However, the profits from this business had suddenly plummeted to less than half of what they used to be.
To the White Dragon Merchant Association, this was a bolt from the blue.
Thus, they decided to hold an emergency meeting of leaders.

“I disagree.
Mother, right now, headquarters cannot function properly without Ja-Myung.
We should send someone else to Yunnan.”

“Hyung-nim, that is the branch I personally established.
No one here understands Yunnan better than me.
That’s why, please allow me to go there.”

Yoon Hoo-Myung wanted to force his younger brother to stay, but the determination in Yoon Ja-Myung’s eyes was so obvious, even Yoon Hoo-Myung was taken aback.

Yoon Hoo-Myung understood that his brother was the most suitable choice of envoy.
The reason he didn’t want him to go there was because no one knew what was happening in Yunnan, and he didn’t want to place his cherished younger brother in danger.

However, this wasn’t something he could say in front of all the White Dragon Merchant Association’s leaders.
His mother, the Old Matriarch, would never allow them to mix personal affairs with official ones.
That would be unfair to the leaders with no blood relation to her.

One-by-one, each of the leaders spoke up.

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“I think Yi Seo-Yoon, the Scholar of a Hundred Schemes, is the most suitable envoy.
He’s decisive, cunning, and will be able to quickly resolve the problem in Yunnan.”

“However, doesn’t he know nothing about the situation in Yunnan? I still think that Yoon Ja-Myung should be the one to go there.”

“Then what about the Thousand Blades Hall Leader?”

“He’s strong, but not very sharp.
I don’t think this mission suits him.”

“But…”

The interior of the Hall descended into chaos as everyone expressed their opinions.
Throughout all this, the Old Matriarch remained silent.
Only when the discussion had gotten less heated did the Old Matriarch resume speaking.

“Ja-Myung!” she said.

The Hall instantly fell into silence.
Not even Yoon Hoo-Myung dared to say anything as everyone quietly waited for the Old Matriarch to continue.

Yoon Ja-Myung straightened his back and replied, “Yes, Mother!”

“Do you really intend to go to Yunnan?”

“Mother, I am the person who best understands Yunnan’s economy.
This is something I have to do.”

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“What you say makes a lot of sense.” The Old Matriarch nodded.

“If I decide to send you there, who will you bring with you?”

“I wish to bring the Security Squad with me.
As long as I have Security Squad Leader Nam In-Geol and his subordinates at my side, I should be able to overcome any dangers.”

The Security Squad was one of the secret groups belonging to the White Dragon Merchant Association.
It was made up of a group of peak-level martial artists, and their role was to protect the Association’s most important caravans, involving either huge sums of money, precious treasures, or secret cargo.

The Squad Leader Nam In-Geol, in particular, was an expert among experts.
In order to hire him, the White Dragon Merchant Association promised him an unimaginable sum of money.

“In that case, you should bring another person there with you.”

“Who?”

“Escort Hwang.”

“Escort Hwang?” Yoon Ja-Myung’s eyes widened in surprise.

The Old Matriarch laughed, saying, “Escort Hwang is a man that can be trusted.
If something goes awry, get him to deliver us a message.”

“Understood.”

Yoon Ja-Myung was familiar with the man known as Escort Hwang.
Seven years ago, when he opened the Yunnan Branch, Escort Hwang had been a part of his group, and he did not think that the man really stood out or was particularly memorable.
However, since his mother brought him up specifically, he had to bring Escort Hwang along.

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“Stay safe, Ja-Myung.
Whatever is happening in Yunnan right now, it isn’t normal.”

“Thank you, Mother.”

“When do you plan to set off?”

“The Security Squad is currently on a mission, so I’m going to have to wait until they return.
If everything goes according to plan, I should be setting off for Yunnan in half a month.”

“I see.
Then, I declare this meeting over.
Except for Hoo-Myung, the rest of you are free to go.”

“Yes, Ma’am!”

Yoon Ja-Myung and the other leaders left the White Dragon Hall, leaving only Yoon Hoo-Myung behind.

The Old Matriarch looked at her eldest son and said, “Are you worried?”

“Frankly speaking, yes, I am.
I don’t know why, but I have a bad feeling about this,” admitted Yoon Hoo-Myung.

“Me too.
However, if we make the wrong choice because we were worried about losing a family member, then we would lose the loyalty of the other leaders.
On the contrary, during these kinds of situations, if we make an example out of ourselves, we will be showing the others that we are impartial and trustworthy.”

“I understand, Mother.”

The leader of the Association has to be able to separate personal affairs from official ones.
Yoon Hoo-Myung was well-aware of this fact, but he couldn’t help panicking and worrying about his brother.

“Don’t be too worried.
I’m sure Ja-Myung will be fine.
Now, go back to your work.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“I will return to my quarters.
Also, I wish to talk to Escort Hwang, so would you mind going to the dormitories and telling him to visit me?”

“Escort Hwang, right? Okay, I’ll do that,” replied Yoon Hoo-Myung, visibly confused.
Escort Hwang was but one of the many armed escorts working for the White Dragon Merchant Association.
There was nothing special about him, and his martial arts were weak.
Even so, his mother, the Old Matriarch, not only remembered him but trusted him greatly.
It was bewildering.

No matter what he thought about it though, he couldn’t refuse his mother’s orders.
Yoon Hoo-Myung strode toward the dormitory where the escorts lived.

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