Rumors of the arrival of the Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe spread throughout the city of Runan.
The performers played their musical instruments, sang songs, and showcased their tricks.
“This is the best!”
The people cheered as they watched the performers.
The atmosphere, which had been somewhat dampened by the fight between the Jin family and Snow Sword Manor, was enlivened by their appearance.
There was also news of the gathering of the Golden Heaven Society, a social organization of young martial artists.
These two pieces of news became a source of vitality for the people of Runan. Whenever two or more people gathered, they would talk about these two topics.
“The meeting of the Golden Heaven Society in Runan must be because of Jin Geum-woo, right?”
“Isn’t it obvious? He’s the one who founded the Golden Heaven Society.”
“How good would it have been if he was still alive.”
“If he had been alive, the Snow Sword Manor would not have dared to challenge the Jin family.”
“Still, I’m glad that the Jin family won. The Golden Heaven Society probably gathered in Runan to honor Jin Geum-woo.”
“That’s right, and I’m sure the Jin family knew they were coming, so they invited some performers to lighten the mood.”
The people misunderstood that the troupe had come to welcome Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe.
As the cheers grew louder and louder, so did the people’s misunderstanding grew deeper and deeper.
So Gyeoksan sneered at them.
He walked through the streets alone with his hat pressed down. While the troupe caught the people’s attention, So Gyeoksan moved alone somewhere.
He headed towards a back alley of Runan. After looking around for a moment, he approached a shabby mansion.
The house had a small black flag next to a red gate. The flag was so small that it was hard to spot unless you paid attention.
So Gyeoksan knocked on the gate. The gate soon opened without a sound.
He stared at the wide-open gate for a moment, then stepped inside.
The mansion he entered had a typical northern-style structure. The courtyard was in the middle, with pavilions surrounding it, thus completely blocking the view from the outside.
It was a structure adapted to withstand the harsh cold of the north, but there was no better structure for keeping secrets.
So Gyeoksan stood in the middle of the courtyard, looking around.
It was then.
“Are you the Blood Bat?”1
A muffled voice came from the main hall connected to the courtyard.
So Gyeoksan squinted and looked at the main hall.
He saw a man sitting in a chair looking at him.
The man was also wearing the same kind of hat as him, so he couldn’t see the man’s face.
So Gyeoksan nodded and said,
“That’s right, I’m the Blood Bat.”
The name Blood Bat was one of his aliases. Whenever he took on a job as an assassin or handled any secret missions, he would use the name Blood Bat.
He kept this kind of work a secret even from his subordinates. The only person who knew this fact was Yi Okran..
He strained his eyes to make out the man’s face, but even with his enhanced eyesight, he couldn’t see through the man’s hat.
The man threw something at his feet.
It was an envelope containing a letter.
“What you need to do is simple. Take the person written in the letter to the Prison of No Return.”2
“You’re telling me that the Prison of No Return actually exists?”
So Gyeoksan looked at the man in surprise.
But the man’s voice that returned was cold as ice.
“It exists. That’s why I’m entrusting you with this task.”
“There’s a map inside that leads to the Prison of No Return. Memorize it and then burn it.”
“Ah, I understand.”
So Gyeoksan couldn’t help but have a stony expression even as he answered.
‘He made a mistake. The Prison of No Return…’
Rumors about the Prison of No Return have been circulating around Jianghu for a long time.
No one knew who created it, or when it was created.
No one even knew what purpose it was created for.
It was only rumored that such a place existed.
Many even doubted the fact that it even existed.
The most terrifying rumor about the Prison of No Return is that once you enter, you can never get out. That’s why it was named the Prison of No Return.
There have been people who mysteriously disappeared from Jianghu from time to time.
People who vanished without leaving any trace, as if their very existence had been erased.
Some said they had all been taken to a place called the Prison of No Return. But there was no evidence, and it was just a story that floated around like a legend.
So Gyeoksan gritted his teeth.
‘I have a bad feeling about this…’
He was asked to take on this mission all the way from Runan.
The identity of the client was unclear.
Above all, he had a bad feeling, which was why he initially tried to refuse this mission. However, it was a request that he couldn’t afford to refuse, so he had no choice but to accept it.
He then tried to pass the task on to Pyo-wol as an alternative, but that attempt failed. Now, he found himself in a situation where he had to carry out the request himself.
The location of the place, Prison of No Return, had been kept secret up until now.
There must have been a good reason for the secret to be kept so well.
A killing machine, perhaps, or a shackle that could never be broken.
Either way, it wasn’t a good thing for So Gyeoksan.
In the worst case scenario, he could lose his life. But now, turning down the request was even more impossible.
So Gyeoksan gritted his teeth and walked forward.
He picked up the envelope that had fallen on the floor.
When he opened the envelope, someone’s name was written on it.
The moment he saw the name, he unintentionally cursed.
He raised his head back again to look at the client.
But the client was nowhere to be seen.
* * *
Taking advantage of So Gyeoksan’s momentarily distracted state, the client slipped out of the mansion.
He had rented the mansion for a day in someone else’s name. Even if someone investigated, there would be nothing to reveal his identity.
Once he was some distance away from the mansion, he removed his cloak and hat and threw them over the wall of another house.
He was a man in his early forties. He had tanned skin and a well-muscled body. He had an overall strong impression which stood out.
He walked with a brisk stride.
He headed for the largest inn in Runan.
The inn had a sign that read ‘Celestial Origin Pavilion.’
When he arrived at the entrance of the inn, a woman came out to greet him.
The moment he saw the woman with a beautiful appearance and blue eyes filled with intelligence, he greeted her,
“And the request?”
“I’ve left it in the hands of someone trustworthy, you needn’t worry.”
“Are you sure?”
“Would I dare to be careless about my identity?”
“I trust you.”
Only then did the woman’s expression relaxed.
For a moment, a sense of relief came over the man’s face.
Some might criticize him for being wary of the woman’s reaction, but if they knew even a little bit of her true character, they would never say such a thing.
Um Soso, the Witch of the Blue Sea.3
She was the terror of the South Sea.
For those who knew how Um Soso had made Dok Gohyang the indisputable successor of the Martial Sword Sect, they had deep-rooted fear towards her etched into their bones.
The man who just arrived at the inn was Ilgum, one of the Three Swords of the South Sea and Dok Gohyang’s subordinate.
Just then, Dok Gohyang opened the door of the inn and stepped out.
“What are you talking about so seriously?”
“Have you come out?”
“What are you talking about without me?”
“We were just discussing about the Third Young Master.”
“Oh! That? Did you catch the stray hunting dog?”
“Yes! I was fortunately able to catch the wandering hunting dog.”
“And its abilities?”
“Its reputation is not bad.”
“That’s good to know.”
Dok Gohyang chuckled.
* * *
Pyo-wol left the inn and headed to Jang Noya’s gambling hall.
As soon as Pyo-wol entered the gambling hall, Jang Noya came running out barefoot.
There was a faint glint of fear on Jang Noya’s face as he looked at Pyo-wol.
It was Jang Noya and his men who had cleaned up the mess after Pyo-wol’s fight with the Black Cloud Corps.
They had buried the bodies they couldn’t dispose of in the swamps or in the outskirts of Runan to erase any evidence.
As they disposed of the bodies, they realized just how terrifying Pyo-wol was.
All of the dead were martial artists who could be considered masters in Jianghu, and yet Pyo-wol managed to wipe out more than a hundred of them.
Jang Noya and his men trembled in fear.
It had been several days since they had disposed of the bodies, but the terror still lingered in their minds.
When Pyo-wol sat down, Jang Noya quickly reported,
“We haven’t seen any unusual movements in Runan yet. Most of the martial artists who sided with the Snow Sword Manor have left Runan, while the Jin family is busy cleaning up the mess.”
Pyo-wol listened to Jang Noya’s report without saying a word.
As of now, he could obtain any information from Hong Yushin of the Hao clan as much as he wanted. However, Pyo-wol would never make the blunder of just relying on only one source for information.
The more sources of information he had, the better.
While the sheer volume of information would never catch up to the Hao clan, Jang Noya and his men had built a more extensive network of information in Runan.
At least in Runan, Jang Noya and his men have surpassed the Hao clan.
Jang Noya and his men could see where the Hao clan could not.
That was why Pyo-wol had come to the gambling hall.
After listening to Jang Noya’s report, Pyo-wol spoke up,n𝗼𝑣𝓮-𝒍𝑏/1n
“From now on, focus on the Golden Heaven Society.”
“By that, do you mean the ones staying at the Celestial Origin Pavilion?”
“But we don’t have enough people to monitor them all.”
“You don’t need to monitor them all. Focus on Jang Mugeuk, Dok Gohyang, and Jang Hoyeon.”
Jang Noya replied, bowing his head deeply.
Pyo-wol was just about to leave Runan, but the Golden Heaven Society and So Gyeoksan were holding him back.
‘Is it a coincidence?’
It might have been a coincidence that they both arrived at Runan at the same time. But Pyo-wol believed that there was no such thing as coincidence in this world.
Even the seemingly coincidental events had a deeper reason that inevitably intertwined.
What’s more, So Gyeoksan has been deeply involved with him since childhood.
The fact that So Gyeoksan and the Golden Heaven Society came at the same time and got entangled with Pyo-wol stabbed him in the heart like a thorn under a fingernail.
Other people might not think much of it, but Pyo-wol saw it as a warning sign.
One of the secrets to Pyo-wol’s survival until now was that he never ignored even the slightest sense of danger.
Pyo-weol thought back to Jang Mugeuk.
It was hard to define him when he first met him, but now he was sure.
Jang Mugeuk’s eyes were filled with intense desire.
To someone with such a longing gaze, the peaceful and static atmosphere of the current Jianghu would have been unbearably boring.
He might have felt like a fish out of water, slowly drying up and dying. And the battle between the two factions in Runan would have been a breath of fresh air.
It was like a golden opportunity to witness cracks in Jianghu’s order that had only been talked about and to make them bigger with his own strength.
Seeing him gather the members of the Golden Heaven Society and become its leader only made Pyo-wol’s convictions stronger.
It didn’t matter to him if Jang Mugeuk’s ambitions ran wild, or if the world became muddled because of it.
It didn’t matter as long as it didn’t concern him.
But So Gyeoksan just happened to enter Runan at the same time.
Pyo-wol didn’t think it was a coincidence.
Some invisible force must have been at work.
Or perhaps, probably the power of fate…
Thank you for reading!
Blood Bad. Raws: 혈편복(血蝙蝠). 血 xiě, xuè – blood; radical number 143 蝙 biān, pián – bat 蝠 fú – kind of bat Prison of No Return. Raws: Buhoekok, 불회옥(不廻獄). 不 bù, fǒu, fōu – no, not; un-; negative prefix 廻 huí – circle around; return; curving 獄 yù – prison, jail; case; lawsuit Witch of the Blue Sea. Raws: 창해마녀(滄海魔女). 滄 cāng – blue, dark green; cold 海 hǎi – sea, ocean; maritime 魔 mó – demon, evil spirits; magic power mo1 女 nǚ, rǔ – woman, girl; feminine; rad. 38 Raws: 효웅(梟雄). A hero with a cruel personality. 梟 xiāo – an owl; thus, something evil 雄 xióng – male of species; hero; manly