The Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe’s performance ended with a success. Once the performance was over, everyone who had gathered to see it in the Jin manor went back to their respective homes.
“That was really amazing!”
“They were called the Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe, right? They’re the best troupe I’ve ever seen. I hope the Jin family invites them again next time.”
“I agree! Thanks to them, the anger in my heart seems to have completely been released.”
The people had satisfied expressions on their faces as they leave the Jin manor.
“Everyone did a great job. It’s all thanks to you that the event went well.”
One of the Jin family elders thanked the troupe for their hard work.
“It’s nothing. This is what we’re paid to do.”
Yi Okran who acted as the representative of the troupe said humbly.
“Thanks to your troupe, things have gone well. I might just hire your troupe again to perform next year.”
“We’ll be grateful if you do.”
“Here, take this.”
The elder tossed a pouch to Yi Okran. The pouch was filled with money. It was the payment for the troupe’s performance.
Yi Okran’s mouth naturally curved up after realizing that the Jin family had paid them a much larger sum than what was initially agreed upon.
“Thank you so much.”
“I’ve added some more extra for you. Have a safe trip.”
“Yes! Please call us again next year.”
Yi Okran bowed her head deeply in gratitude. When she lifted her head again, the Jin family elder had already gone off somewhere and disappeared.
Yi Okran turned to the troupe and said,
“Let’s go back to the inn! Let’s eat and drink everything we want today!”
The troupe members roared in unison at her declaration. This was the sweetest reward the members could ask for after they had finished their performance.
The Heavenly Flower Variety Theater Troupe immediately took off.
They were then followed by Golden Heaven Society. Starting with Jang Mugeuk, the Golden Heaven Society martial artists left the Jin manor.
Jin Siwoo, as the host, bid them all farewell. Although he felt uncomfortable dealing with them, this was a job he couldn’t afford to entrust to others.
The last one to leave the Jin manor was Pyo-wol and Namgung Wol.
“Thank you again, both of you. It’s all thanks to you that the Jin family was able to keep its footing.”
“Please come and see us again next time.”
Jin Siwoo wore a regretful expression.
Pyo-wol and Namgung Wol’s presence in the Jin manor had greatly encouraged him during this trying times, so now that they were leaving, his heart was starting to feel empty.
Namgung Wol comforted Jin Siwoo for a long time.
During their time together, the two became as close as siblings. Jin Siwoo trusted and relied on Namgung Wol, while Namgung Wol cherished and treated Jin Siwoo as if he were his own younger brother.
“I will definitely come visit you at the Heavenly Guardian Association.”
“I’ll wait for you.”
“Please come by next time as well, Brother Pyo-wol.”
“If the opportunity comes, I’ll stop by here again.”
Jin Siwoo looked at Pyo-wol with wistful eyes.
Pyo-wol nodded and then turned around.
After today’s event, the Jin family would lock its doors for the time being. They would focus and devote all of their energy in replenishing their resources.
This in turn would make it difficult for them to bother dealing and keeping up with external affairs. This also means that Jin Siwoo couldn’t afford to come out for a while either, hence his disappointed expression.
Pyo-wol and Namgung Wol left the Jin manor together, holding the reins of their horses side by side.
When they came to a fork in the road, Namgung Wol said to Pyo-wol,
“It’s time for us to part ways. If you happen to pass through the vicinity of the Heavenly Guardian Association in the future, please stop by.”
Namgung Wol smiled happily at Pyo-wol’s reply.
He looked at Pyo-wol for a moment, before getting on his horse and riding off towards the south, where the Heavenly Guardian Association was located.
Pyo-wol also went on his way and returned to Runan.
Once he arrived in the streets of Runan, there were many people who looked unusually excited. These people were the ones who had gone to the Jin manor to see the performance of the Heavenly Flower Variety Threater Troupe.
They were all still talking about the performance.
Perhaps this kind of atmosphere would continue for a while.
Just as Pyo-wol was about to head to his inn,
“There’s a fire—!”
Flames suddenly leapt up from the back alley.
People were running out into the street, screaming.
Pyo-wol reined in his horse and headed toward the direction of the flames.
When he arrived at the scene of the fire, his face hardened.
The place where thick smoke and intense flames were spurting out of was the same place Pyo-wol had visited this morning.
It was Jang Noya’s gambling den.
“What should we do?”
“Quick! Fetch some water!”
“How are we going to put it out?!”
People could only shuffle to their feet, but they were unable to muster the courage to put out the fire. The heat was so intense, making it impossible for them to even get close.
Pyo-wol tied his horse nearby and threw himself into Jang Noya’s gambling den, which was now engulfed in flames and smoke.
The heat inside the gambling den was so intense that he would have had trouble breathing if he had not protected himself with his inner qi.
Pyo-wol looked around, trying to find any signs of life inside the burning gambling hall. But, the only things he could see were lifeless bodies.
The bodies were half-burned, and showed clear signs of a sword wound. That alone made it clear that they had been killed with a sword strike.
Pyo-wol examined the other bodies.
They were all in the same state.
They were all killed with a single sword strike.
And based on their wounds, it was clear that it was the work of a single person.
It was an incredibly frightening technique, capable of sending shivers down to one’s spine.
The culprit had killed all these people with a chillingly skillful and emotionless precision. To take a life so thoroughly, devoid of any human emotion was by no means an easy task.
It was a feat achievable only by those who lack human emotions, like Pyo-wol, could accomplish. Therefore, the person who killed these people in the gambling den was undoubtedly of the same kind as himself.
Pyo-wol went deeper into the gambling den.
There were more bodies in the depths of the gambling den, and like the other bodies, they were all killed with a single sword strike.
Pyo-wol found Jang Noya’s body among them.
Unlike the other bodies killed with a single sword strike, Jang Noya’s body was horribly mutilated. He was covered in deep wounds that clearly showed signs of torture.
Jang Noya’s eyes were wide open, as if he had suffered excruciating pain right up until the moment he took his last breathe.
Pyo-wol silently looked at Jang Noya’s body.
His eyes were full of a deep, and indescribable emotion.
Only after taking a closer look at Jang Noya’s wounds did Pyo-wol stood up again.
The flames had already reached the area where he was at right now. Waiting any longer would only turn the situation dangerous, even for him.
Leaving Jang Noya’s body behind, Pyo-wol flew out of the room.
He broke through the ceiling and landed on the roof of a nearby mansion. Luckily enough, the flames and acrid smoke soaring high into the sky shielded him from the eyes of the people.
As he was on top of the roof, Pyo-wol looked at the people gathering around the gambling house. People still couldn’t muster the courage to approach the gambling den.
Then all of a sudden, Pyo-wol’s gaze landed on a woman who stood out from the crowd. She was a woman with a beautiful appearance and impressive blue eyes.
The moment he saw her, Pyo-wol realized that she was the one responsible for this tragedy.
Um Soso also then looked to his direction.
Thick smoke and red flames stood in between them, blocking their view of each other.
But just as Pyo-wol was looking at her, she, too was also looking directly at him.
And as if warning him, she glared at him fiercely before turning away.
Her figure quickly disappeared into the crowd.
* * *
Pyo-wol frowned as he looked at the empty Celestial Origin Pavilion.
Only the owner of the inn and his servants remained cleaning up the place, where the members of the Golden Heavenly Hall had stayed until morning.
Upon seeing Pyo-wol, the owner of the inn approached him and asked,
“How can I help you?”
“Where are all the guests?”
“They’ve all gone home, saying their schedules are over.”
“So everyone left already?”
The owner of the inn cautiously replied. He instinctively felt that something was off about Pyo-wol’s mood.
“Where did they say they were going?”
“Do you think they would tell a mere innkeeper like me?”
The innkeeper’s words were reasonable.
Each and every member of the Golden Heaven Society were all talented individuals who had already gained recognition in different regions of Jianghu. With how great their sense of pride was, it was highly unlikely that they would disclose their destination to a mere innkeeper.
There was no doubt that Um Soso have also left with Dok Gohyang. But the problem was that Pyo-wol could not determine in which direction Dok Gohyang had gone.
Runan is at the center of four major roads, where both waterways and land routes are well developed. All roads are connected in all directions, making it impossible to pinpoint where Um Soso and Dok Gohyang could have went.
Pyo-wol could try to track them down, but by the time he figured out the direction they have gone to, they might have already gone far.
Pyo-wol could only return back to his inn with a heavy heart.
As he was on his way, he naturally expected that the troupe would be back at the inn, gathering around, and drinking together. Yi Okran had definitely said that they would be doing so after the performance.
But by the time Pyo-wol arrived, the inn was empty yet again.
Pyo-wol asked a servant who was cleaning up,
“Where did the theater troupe go?”
“Oh! They packed their bags as soon as they came in and left.”
“They left right away?”
“Yes! As soon as their leader came back, they talked to him for a while and then left in a hurry.”
“Their leader came back?”
“Yes! The person with a small stature and slightly hunched back is the leader, right? If so, then yes, he came back.”
“Did he come back alone?”
“He seemed to have been pulling a cart.”
“Yes! It was a cart with a large box—”
“Do you know what was inside the box?”
“How could I know? I can’t just look inside a guest’s luggage as I please.”
Pyo-wol didn’t ask any more questions.
The Golden Heaven Society and the Heavenly Flower Troupe.
Two of the largest groups that had entered Runan had disappeared on the same day, and at the same time.
Pyo-wol didn’t think it was a coincidence.
Furthermore, Jang Noya and his subordinates, whom he had ordered to monitor the Golden Heaven Society, were all killed.
It was clear that the Golden Heaven Society, especially Dok Gohyang and Um Soso, were involved in this incident. And perhaps the Heavenly Flower Theater Troupe, specifically So Gyeoksan, had some kind of deal with them.
He had no evidence linking the two, but circumstances indicated otherwise.
‘What kind of deal did they have?’
Pyo-wol thought about his conversation with So Gyeoksan.
So Gyeoksan was obviously under a lot of pressure with a request, which was why he tried to pass the request to Pyo-wol.
‘It must have something to do with the box that was brought on the cart.’
There was no such box when Pyo-wol first saw the theater troupe so So Gyeoksan must have brought it here from somewhere else.
‘So Gyeoksan has only been away for a day or so since he left. If he’s planning to return, the maximum distance he can travel is about half a day.’
After organizing his thoughts, Pyo-wol left the inn.
He headed straight to the brothel, which served as one of the Hao clan’s branches.
If it was a branch of Hao clan, they would be able find out what had happened within half a day’s journey from Runan.
As soon as he entered the brothel, he was greeted by the brothelkeeper,
“Oh you’re here?”
“Where’s Hong Yushin?”
“He left during the day for urgent matters.”
“Do you know what it is?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
The brothelkeeper looked apologetic.
It was hard to blame him. After all, this branch of the Hao clan has yet to run normally after suffering significant damage from a recent enemy attack.
Many people died, while the organization collapsed. With all the key figures and personnel dead, even gathering information in Runan turned out to be difficult.
That was why Hong Yushin remained in Runan, rebuilding the system. But even then, it would still take time for everything to be fully restored.
The brothelkeeper then cautiously spoke again to Pyo-wol,
“Lord Hong should be back by tomorrow at the latest, so why don’t you wait here until then?”
“If there is any news from his lordship, we will let you know first.”
In the end, Pyo-wol nodded. Waiting here seemed like a better way of saving time than waiting for Hong Yushin elsewhere.
Pyo-wol waited for Hong Yushin in the brothel.
But a day passed, then two, then three.
Yet Hong Yushin still did not return.
Oh god. I can’t believe they’re provoking Pyo-wol like this… They’re almost playing him around, making him run around and guess where they are.