When Pyo-wol returned to the inn, it was already late in the evening.
Inside the inn, the members of the Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe were gathered. Their faces were filled with tired yet satisfied expressions after a full day of wandering and performing around Runan.
“People were so surprised that they couldn’t even close their mouths!”
“I guess that’s enough to get the word out that we’re performing, right?”
“Well, I’m sure we made enough noise about it.”n𝓞𝒱𝞮/𝐥𝔅/In
“I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s performance.”
The troupe members chatted as they took a sip of their drinks.
Pyo-wol looked around the inn for a moment, but he couldn’t see So Gyeoksan anywhere.
Just then, Yi Okran spotted Pyo-wol. She then approached him,
“Oh, you’re here.”
“He went out since he had some other matters to attend to.”
“Yes! He said he’ll be back by tomorrow evening at the latest.”
“Will the performance continue without him?”
“Our leader rarely performs, and we’re the ones organizing the show since the beginning, so it’s not a problem even if he’s not there.”
Pyo-wol nodded at Yi Okran’s explanation.
“If you haven’t had dinner yet, would you like to join me? I feel bad that I haven’t treated you properly yet, and besides, you’re a friend of our leader.”
“But still, please give me a chance. It’s the first time I’ve met someone who knows about our leader’s past, so I really want to treat you well.”
“Did he not tell you about his past?”
“Then I can’t tell you either.”
“If you have any questions, you should ask him directly. Don’t make things difficult for other people.”
“I did put you on the spot, I’m sorry.”
Yi Okran easily admitted her mistake and apologized, but that didn’t mean she was giving up on sharing a meal with Pyo-wol.
“In that case, I’ll just treat you to a meal. That will be okay with you, right?”
Pyo-wol thought she was quite insistent, hut he had no more reason or excuse to refuse.
Yi Okran said with a pleased expression.
“Hey! Clear one table and bring out some new food!”
As soon as Yi Okran gave the command, the members of the troupe, who had been laughing and talking, began to move in unison.
The male members cleared the table, while the female members went to the kitchen to fetch food for Yi Okran and Pyo-wol.
In no time, a table was filled with food.
At Yi Okran’s words, Pyo-wol sat down. Then, as if waiting, one of the female members sat down next to Pyo-wol.
When Pyo-wol frowned slightly, Yi Okran laughed and said,
“Don’t worry. She’s doing it because she wants to.”
“That’s right, I’ve been wanting to sit next to you since the moment I first saw you.”
The female troupe member said, with a bashful smile.
Yi Okran explained further.
“Being a member of a small theater troupe is actually not an easy job. As you know, many people consider us to be of lowly class. Beautiful and charming people like the one next to you are often preyed upon by the higher-ups.”
“It’s my first time hearing about that.”
“Of course. It’s because it’s not well known, but it’s actually quite a common occurrence.”
While people enjoyed the performances of a theater troupe, they also tended to think of them as very lowly beings. This was especially true for those of higher social status.
They would often not leave a beautiful woman alone in their midst.
They would sometimes coax the troupe leader into giving them the female members, either through threats or money. And the ones who succumbed to the temptation would end up throwing the female members to the higher ups for a night.
This was their world, where such things happened frequently.
“But our leader is different. No matter how much money was offered to him, he would never give away a member if they didn’t want to. No matter how much other people threaten him, he will always protect them. It’s thanks to him that we can perform with such bright faces.”
“He must be a good leader for you guys.”
“Yes, I can’t compare him to anyone else.”
“Honestly, there’s no one like our leader. Before he arrived, we lived such hellish lives.”
The female member sitting next to Pyo-wol said while putting the food in front of her onto her plate.
The female member’s name was Ga Hyang.
She had a cute appearance and a beautiful voice, which made her a target for many people. In fact, there were times when she had to sell her body against her will, but none of the money she earned went into her pocket.
All the money she was supposed to receive went straight to the pockets of their previous leader. He would often use the money to entertain himself and show favoritism to other members.
Even if she wanted to escape, she couldn’t.
That was because their previous leader dominated the troupe with violence.
If So Gyeoksan hadn’t appeared, their hellish lives would have continued until today.
Pyo-wol found their words quite surprising.
The way they just described So Gyeoksan was different from the one he knew in the past.
During their time in the underground cave, So Gyeoksan was more gloomy than anyone else. He was similar to Pyo-wol in a way that he was unwilling to show his true colors.
While there were times So Gyeoksan stood by So Yeowol and Song Cheonwoo, he only did so out of necessity. He was still always ready to betray them at any moment.
It was for this reason that Pyo-wol found So Gyeoksan untrustworthy and unreliable. However, to these people, So Gyeoksan seemed to play the role of a pretty dependable protector and leader.
Ga Hyang leaned closer to Pyo-wol’s side and said,
“Plus, our leader doesn’t mind if we don’t make any profit from our performances. To be honest, our performances are not always successful, more often than not, we lose money, but our leader would always manage to bring money from somewhere else and fill in the gaps. We know that he wouldn’t be able to do so in such a normal way which is why we’re curious about our leader’s past.”
“I’ve already told you that if you’re curious, you should ask him yourself.”
“Oh my! How heartless.”
Ga Hyang looked at Pyo-wol with a smile. Although she said that Pyo-wol was heartless, her eyes still curved like a half-moon, filled with affection.
Yi Okran looked at Ga Hyang and said,
“You’re going to find yourself in a lot of trouble, Ga Hyang. You should not be the kind of girl who gives her heart to others so easily.”
“What woman wouldn’t like such a handsome man? I’m already happy just by looking at him—”
“Girl! Looks aren’t everything, what truly matters is—”
“I know, it’s the heart. I’ve heard it so much, my ears are bleeding.”
“I don’t know. It may be the heart for you, but to me, it’s about the person’s appearance.”
Ga Hyang stuck her tongue out at Yi Okran.
Yi Okran looked at her incredulously, but she soon broke into a smile.
Ga Hyang wasn’t originally such a bright and outgoing child.
She was usually reserved and introverted, so seeing her assert herself so strongly now, Yi Okran felt happy. It was evidence that Ga Hyang’s personality was becoming brighter.
However, Pyo-wol seemed to have no interest in Ga Hyang.
‘How many women would actually be of interest to him anyway?’
Ga Hyang probably knew this fact as well. After all, she had gone through many trials and tribulations herself. Nevertheless, she still fell in love with Pyo-wol.
Seeing the twinkle in Ga Hyang’s eyes, Yi Okran’s heart ached even more for her.
The night continued to pass, with Pyo-wol silently eating his meal, and Ga Hyang staring at him longingly.
* * *
The inn was already bustling early in the morning.
Members of the Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe had been up since dawn preparing for the performance. They were busy checking their costumes and packing their props.
Today was the day they would perform in the Jin manor.
Their compensation would depend on the outcome of today’s performance, which was why every member of the troupe was on edge.
To make matters worse, So Gyeoksan has yet to return to the inn since last night. Even though they were used to performing without him, they still couldn’t help but feel nervous.
Fortunately, Yi Okran took charge. She led and directed everyone so that they remained calm and focused on preparing for the performance.
When all the preparations were done, Yi Okran spoke up,
“Let’s go to the Jin manor!”
All the members of the troupe answered in unison.
They packed up their things and headed to the Jin manor.
After the troupe left, Pyo-wol came down the stairs.
The inn was so quiet and empty that it felt almost eerie. After having spent the past two days with the Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe, the serene atmosphere felt unfamiliar.
Pyo-wol headed straight to the stable.
The horse in the stable neighed when it saw him. Pyo-wol stroked the horse’s nape, and in turn the horse closed its eyes and stayed still, enjoying his touch.
After some time, Pyo-wol mounted his horse and rode towards the Jin manor.
The road to the Jin manor was crowded with people.
People had heard that the Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe would be performing so they had been heading to the Jin manor since the morning.
The people’s faces were bright with anticipation since they would be seeing a troupe perform after such a long time.
Seeing their expressions, Pyo-wol thought that the Jin family’s plan had worked. They succeeded in reviving the mood and atmosphere of the people in Runan, which had been depressed because of the fight with the Snow Sword Manor.
A long line of people lined up in front of the Jin manor, waiting for the gates to open.
When Pyo-wol appeared, one of the Jin family’s guards recognized him. The guard approached Pyo-wol and said,
“We received an order from Lord Jin to let Master Pyo in, so please follow me.”
Pyo-wol nodded and followed the man.
The warriors guarding the entrance opened the way, letting him pass.
Pyo-wol then entered the manor on horseback.
The manor which had been in ruins, was now almost back to its former glory. This was all thanks to the large sums of money coming in and numerous laborers who were employed after making contracts with merchants.
There were still a few unfinished buildings, making the place look a bit untidy, but overall, the reconstruction of the manor was done well.
A large podium had been built in the middle of the manor. On top of it were the members of the Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe, making their preparations for their performance.
Just then, someone approached Pyo-wol,
It was Jin Siwoo, who greeted him with a smile. His face was more cheerful than it had been a few days ago, but there were still remnants of bitterness in his expression.
Pyo-wol got off from his horse and said,
“You must have had a hard time.”
“Not really, the real work is actually done by others.”
“Where’s the Golden Heaven Society?”
“They haven’t arrived yet, but I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”
Jin Siwoo said bitterly. He tried to keep a cheerful expression on his face, but he was still having complicated emotions.
The reason why Jang Mugeuk wanted to visit the Jin family today was to gain legitimacy. By visiting the home of the Golden Heaven Society’s founder, Jin Geum-woo, Jang Mugeuk would then officially be recognized as the next leader.
While Jin Siwoo could easily see through Jang Mugeuk’s intentions, he still had no reason to stop him.
Pyo-wol silently patted him on the shoulder.
At that moment, the voice of the guard at the entrance could be heard.
“Open the gates!”
Jin Siwoo turned to Pyo-wol and said,
“I have to go.”
Jin Siwoo hurriedly headed towards the podium.
Although he wasn’t looking forward to today’s event, he still had the responsibility of making sure everything would run smoothly.
As the entrance opened, people who had been waiting poured in. Jin Siwoo then led those people in the large hall in front of the podium.
As the people entered and gathered, music began playing from the podium.
The crowd immediately cheered in unison.
Soon after, the singers began to sing along.
The atmosphere in the manor quickly heated up.
The troupe certainly knew how to liven things up.
Once they got everyone’s attention with their song, they began their performance.
What was especially impressive in their performance was the quick-changing facial expression of the performers.
The technique involved drawing a person’s face on silk, layering it several times, then tearing it apart to reveal a different face.
To those who didn’t know how the technique worked, it seemed like a demonic art.
Just as the people were becoming absorbed with the performances of the troupe, a group of people appeared in the Jin manor.
They were the Golden Heaven Society martial artists, and they were led by Jang Mugeuk and Dok Gohyang.
As Dok Gohyang looked inside the manor filled with people, he smirked.
“They must have organized this performance for us. It’s nice to see all this hustle and bustle!”
Everyone in the Golden Heaven Society knew that it wasn’t the case at all, but not a single one of them dared to refute Dok Gohyang’s words.
At that moment, Dok Gohyang caught sight of a man, standing alone.
The man who didn’t even give them as much as a glance once they arrived, was none other than Pyo-wol.
This caused the smile on Dok Gohyang’s face to instantly disappear.