༺ Second Chapter – The Seductress and the World Beyond (9) ༻
The eradication of the Sun Society upon losing Pyosan had happened in the blink of an eye.
It was expected in a way.
Even the strongest among the Sun Society, Leader Kang Byeokwoon, was just a minor member of the Unorthodox Path, with his skills barely entering First Rate.
They faced Hwa-seo’s subordinates, each of whom was a first-rate expert, and Mok Riwon, who was a peak master.
It was a difference in weight class.
After finishing the clean-up of the Sun Society, Mok Riwon found a quiet place at the Jade Flower Pavilion and sat in lotus position.
He was assimilating the enlightenment he had gained from the duel with Pyosan.
‘I’ve fully achieved three stars.’
The qi of the Star God Technique swimming within him was showing three distinct stars.
Considering that the third star was still blurry when he had just stepped foot into the outside world, this duel had brought significant gains.
It was certainly a happy achievement.
However, upon completing his meditation and opening his eyes, there wasn’t any satisfaction on his face.
‘…I failed to completely suppress my desire to kill.’
That was the reason for his ongoing discomfort.
Even after eleven years of rigorous training every single day since he started learning martial arts, the sight of blood still clouded his sense of reason.
The question why he still could not control his desire to kill after all this time was easier said than done, because the wicked mania from the Heaven-Slaying Star was just that vicious.
Mok Riwon remembered Ma Il-seok’s advice to him.
-Once you step into the martial world and engage in real combat, you will feel a stronger impulse than ever before. The kiling intent exchanged in the moment your life is at stake will be very different from what you’ve felt while sparring with Brother.
His words were indeed correct.
The killing intent that aimed for his life at every moment, and all of those sticky negative emotions.
All of those were new stimuli that Mok Riwon had never experienced before.
Mok Riwon took a deep breath inside, then brushed off the rising melancholy and got up on his feet.
‘I have to be more careful in the future.’
It was a truth he had set aside because he was beating himself too hard over it. Still, considering the outcome, he hadn’t made matters worse with his desire to kill, so it could be viewed as a half-success.
If he continued on this way, he might one day completely suppress the Heaven-Slaying Star.
With those hopeful thoughts, Mok Riwon smiled.
Then, he walked away.
‘I should go see the Mistress.’
When he saw her on his way back, she seemed full of worries, so she likely needed some comfort.
It was heartwarming to have someone by your side during tough times, so surely Hwa-seo would smile brightly once he offered her comforting words.
Thinking that, his heart raced, and Mok Riwon quickened his pace towards the top floor of the courtesan house.
And then he heard something that made him doubt himself.
“Y-You said that you’re going to sell the courtesan house?!”
At the top floor of the Jade Flower Pavilion, Mok Riwon was shouting with all sorts of overreactions.
Standing before him, Hwa-seo, who had abandoned her elegant appearance earlier in the day, observed Mok Riwon act foolishly once more and responded to him.
A smile was forming on her lips.
“Yes, there is no longer a reason for me to stay here.”
“But why, why is that?! There’s nothing left that will bother the Mistress! From now on, shouldn’t only happiness and success await…!”
The question, from his perspective, was quite normal.
After going through all the trouble of defeating the villains and securing the safety of the courtesan house, had all his efforts been in vain?
He was curious why in the world she was making such a choice and continued asking her, to which Hwa-seo answered again.
“I have something I must do.”
“Something you must do?”
“Yes, something I’ve been running away from all this time out of fear. If I were to use your words, I will be repaying kindness with kindness, and evil with evil. I will seek retribution for the wrongs done to me.”
Mok Riwon’s fingers trembled.
“Kindness with kindness, evil with evil…”
“As you know, I am a person of the martial arts world and my realm is quite high. Were you not curious why someone like me was running a courtesan house in the first place?”
Of course, he had been curious.
When he first sought out Hwa-seo, he had even expression suspicions about this.
However, that question was erased from his mind after he learned more about her.
“I just thought there there must be some circumstances.”
“If you let everything pass over you so carelessly, you will surely face trouble later on. You should develop the habit of being more suspicious.”
“In any case, for that reason, I intend to stop running away. That’s why I’m selling the courtesan house.”
Hwa-seo said that while staring at Mok Riwon.
Hwa-seo brushed aside those fleeting thoughts and arose from her seat to speak to him.
“Thank you, Young Hero.”
“You have given me courage. If it weren’t for you, I might have spent my whole life running away, or even ending up hanging myself out of failure.”
Hwa-seo made a fist-palm salute.
The sight of her wrapping her palm around her fist in a proper posture, slightly bowing her head was like a work of art.
“I always thought I was chasing self-interest, but now I realize that I was just making excuses for myself. You helped me see that.”
“Young Hero, you are my savior who taught me about chivalry and righteousness.”
Hwa-seo despised the Sichuan Tang Clan.
The people who made up the family, their ironclad rules, and their culture.
They were all things she rejected, yet even she acknowledged roughly half of the family’s principles.
‘Repay kindness twice over.’
How she would deal with her grudges was a decision for another time, but the principle of repaying kindness twice over was something she found agreeable.
Standing upright, Mok Riwon felt awkward watching Hwa-seo perform a fist-palm salute towards him.
Even so, a feeling of pride welled up inside him, one that could only be described as a sense of accomplishment.
The feeling of accomplishment that he had acted in a way that suited that title, that he had changed someone’s life, all of those touched his heart.
Mok Riwon scratched the back of his head and cast his gaze into the air, biting his lip before finally responding in kind.
He performed the same fist-palm salute as her.
“I only did what had to be done!”
Mok Riwon laughed heartily, feeling as though he had set the stage for quite a cool scene. Hwa-seo, unable to control herself, burst out into laughter and asked him.
“Where will you go now?”
“Yes, you said you came to the martial world for your heroic journey. Don’t you have a destination in mind?”
Mok Riwon’s mouth was tightly shut, his eyes shaking all over the place.
‘Huh, I don’t…’
He just ventured out into the world beyond, thinking that opportunities would arise wherever he went.
He had some famous spots in the martial world in mind, places he had heard about from Mok Seon-oh and Ma Il-seok that he thought about sightseeing.
In case of an emergency, if he got lost, he thought of just using the Beggars’ Gang badge that Ma Il-seok had given him, so he hadn’t planned ahead.
So he panicked.
Hwa-seo could tell the answer based on that alone, and a perplexed expression crossed her face.
“…You have no plan?”
“You just recklessly charged out into the martial world?”
There was a limit to being naive. What the hell was his master thinking, sending such a person out into the world?
It was a situation that made those questions arise in Hwa-seo’s mind, but also something Mok Riwon’s two masters had not expected.
That was because they had lived in a secluded mountain valley deep within Jiangxi Province, not just any ordinary place.
The tasks there were repetitive and menial, unchanging even after several years. To his masters, Mok Riwon was a sharp and capable young man, trusted to handle the routine of the valley.
They believed that such a clever individual as Mok RIwon would surely be able to take care of himself once he ventured into the martial world.
“…I-I planned to go wherever my feet took me.”
It was a flimsy excuse.
Hwa-seo suddenly felt a sense of unease at his reply.
Wouldn’t this foolish and naive person end up getting swindled somewhere?
No, being merely swindled would be fortunate. The thought occurred to her that with his unnecessarily good looks, he might be sold off as a sex slave.
‘In the worst case scenario…’
What if he got lost in the mountains and died?
Shivers ran down Hwa-seo’s entire body, and her face began to turn deathly pale.
She felt like she was looking at a child abandoned by the side of a river.
He must not be sent off alone.
Unintentionally, Hwa-seo came to that conclusion and opened her mouth to suggest something to Mok Riwon.
“Then, would you like to come with me?”
“With you, Mistress?”
“Yes, if you have nothing urgent, you should travel with me.”
She spoke as if it were no big deal, but in Hwa-seo’s mind, Mok Riwon was as good as a corpse.
Therefore, there was one reason for this decision.
‘I have to take him with me and hammer at least some common sense into his head.’
If her savior was sold off as some sex slave or died wandering in a mountain valley somewhere, she wouldn’t be able to sleep well for the rest of her life.
With that thought, she made her offer and Mok Riwon asked her in return.
“Where is the Mistress going?”
“I will stop by Anhui and then go to Henan.”
“By Henan, you mean…”
Mok Riwon gasped, his eyes sparkling.
Hwa-seo snorted at that sight.
‘…Yes, I knew this would happen.’
Mok Riwon worshiped Tales of the Martial Heroes almost religiously, so given that Shaolin Temple was always portrayed as the good guys, was more than enough to pique his interest.
But it would be best to plant the seed deep in his heart.
Hwa-seo once again stimulated Mok Riwon’s childlike imagination.
“There is someone at Shaolin Temple I have to go see, and before that, I have to stop at Anhui for something.”
“Yes, Anhui, where the Namgung Family, one of the Five Great Families is located.”
“That’s right! Anhui, where Sword King Namgung Hyuk is!”
Mok Riwon was already on his knees on the ground.
Hwa-seo nodded and added.
“Spring is coming to an end, and at this time of year the Orthodox Faction always hosts one particular event.”
“Orthodox Faction…! Spring…! Event..!”
The look of expectation on his face grew even greater.
Thinking to herself, ‘It’s too easy, almost pointless’, Hwa-seo uttered words that would seal the deal.
“The Dragon Phoenix Martial Arts Tournament. It will be held in Anhui this year.”
That was the end of it.
Mok Riwon’s forehead hit the floor.
Then, pleaded in a voice that sounded almost pathetic.
“PLEASE TAKE ME WITH YOU–!!!”
The Dragon Phoenix Tournament.
A festival where young and promising martial artists of prestigious orthodox sects gathered.
It was an event that Mok Riwon was thirsting for, one filled with martial arts and chivalry.
Looking at the cute round head of Mok Riwon from above, Hwa-seo grinned.
“Please take good care of me.”
It did not take long to clean up the courtesan house. Aside from everything else, the Sun Society was now gone and many desired to own the largest courtesan house in Jiangxi Province for that reason alone.
If she had taken things slowly, the courtesan house could have been sold for a high price, but Hwa-seo valued time over money and thus sold the Jade Flower Pavilion for the same amount she paid for it and set out.
On the main road, Hwa-seo looked back at Suyang County in the distance and became sentimental.
‘Running away ends here.’
She had resolved to live in hiding for the rest of her life, yet nothing had changed.
So the only way forward was to fight back.
The Tang Clan was tenacious and merciless, stopping at nothing to get their way.
To confront them, she too must harbor the same heartlessness.
A chilling gleam flickered in Hwa-seo’s eyes.
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
She would hold nothing back.
“Sohyang, it looks like we have to part ways now.”
Hwa-seo looked at her loyal followers, who had guarded her all this time. They listened to her with their heads bowed deeply.
“Please keep an eye on the clan’s movements while I am away at Shaolin.”
“As you command.”
There was no need for a long speech.
Her subordinates, who had always protected her, stepped back leaving those words.
But remaining there standing alone was the one closest to her, Sohyang.
As she watched Hwa-seo about to leave, she left some parting words.
“Please take good care of yourself.”
“You worry too much. Isn’t Young Hero Mok accompanying me?”
Mok Riwon smiled brightly and nodded his head at the words, ‘Young Hero Mok.’
“Leave it to me!”
‘It’s because I don’t trust you that I can’t help but worry.’
Sohyang, unable to utter her true feelings, simply glared at him, sighed, and bid her final farewell.
“I will take my leave now. The letter…”
“Yes, send it through the ‘Gang’.”
Sohyang bowed deeply and then distanced herself like the others.
Mok Riwon was now alone with Hwa-seo and revealed his full anticipation.
“It’s finally time to leave! To Anhui To the Dragon Phoenix Tournament! Just the thought that I, Mok Riwon, am going there is making my heart race!”
“It won’t be anything like you’re expecting. It’ll just be a gathering of young people.”
“Isn’t Mistress also young?”
As soon as he spoke, Mok Riwon remembered that he did not actually know Hwa-seo’s age. When he looked at her, she giggled and said.
“Yes, I’m not that old yet. I’m twenty-two this year.”
“Ah, Esteemed Sister!”
“You don’t have to be so formal.”
Hwa-seo waved her hand dismissively.
Mok Riwon was pleased to learn more about Hwa-seo and performed the fist-palm salute.
“Hm! Understood! Then I’ll keep calling you Mistress Yeonhwa as before!”
‘Now that I think about it, I did use that name.’
Why did he think that the owner of a courtesan house would use her real name?
Hwa-seo burst out laughing at Mok Riwon’s naivety and looked him straight in the eye.
“My real name is Hwa-seo. Yeonhwa was just a fake name created for escaping.”
Mok Riwon’s mouth dropped open.
The look in his eyes was filled with a deep sense of betrayal.
‘He’s quite amusing.’
No matter what she said, his reactions were always interesting. As expected, bullying him would be fun.
‘This journey won’t be boring, at least.’
He might even be an enjoyable companion.
With that thought in mind, Hwa-seo assumed the fist-palm salute towards Mok Riwon.
And once again, she introduced herself.
“Now I will properly greet you. I am Hwa-seo, Tang Hwa-seo.”
Mok Riwon’s face went blank.
Hwa-seo formed her next words while considering what would make him happy.
-I’m Mok Riwon! I don’t have a title yet!
It was a childish thought, but considering how much he cared about titles, she wondered how he would react to her words and continued with a smile.
“The martial world once called me the Poison Phoenix.”
What followed was exactly as she had expected.
Mok Riwon’s reaction was so predictable that she, having vowed to embrace her identity as Tang Hwa-seo, laughed harder than she had ever in her life.
The journey began with the clear sound of laughter.
And the pleasant companionship that Tang Hwa-seo had anticipated shattered to pieces in less than three days.
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