The wind in the canyon was very strong, probably because of the rain storm that had been going all day. Winds blowing in from the plains whipped the valley into a howling tempest.
In the dark of night, a boat carried eight people through the rapid and steep cliffs. It was the safest path to their objective.
As expected, here we are. They were to anchor on the west side of Jungmun after a week’s travel. Seol-Hwi had become very familiar with the local environment during the trip.
If I stayed at headquarters, Jeok-Myung would have killed me.
As they got closer, Seol-Hwi tensed. This time, the enemy didn’t know they were coming. So this time, his best chance at surviving was to carefully bypass the enemy’s position.
“Look.” A middle-aged man with a full beard approached Seol-Hwi and nodded politely. He was Cheol Su-Dok, their direct supervisor and manager for three of the information offices.
“Ah! Leader. Yes, Captain?”
“Mount Hua Sect has people in the area, so don’t force a move. Just figure out how many enemies are nearby and leave.”
“Understood.” Seol-Hwi’s face shifted subtly. Although it was Sama Gwi’s command, he didn’t think Cheol Su-Dok would actively participate as a captain. Last time, Seol-Hwi was puzzled by his weird behavior because he didn’t have all the information.
There were two possibilities: most likely, Sama Gwi had instructed him to do this, or he was actually working for someone else.
While he was thinking, the ship had reached its destination.
“Everyone follow me,” Seol-Hwi said to his men and stepped onto solid ground.
He peered into the flowing river.
Coin 2 [Two Chances]
It’s still there.
He was too busy thinking about the words over his head to respond.
“What is it? Get a move on!” Cheol Su-Dok raised his voice when he didn’t receive a reply.
“—Follow me.” He hurriedly stepped forward, but his stiff expression didn’t go back to normal.
Just what had happened to him?
Seol-Hwi ducked into the bushes and his subordinates followed suit. Though they were a small squad, they had all learned their skills at the main sect academy. In their area of expertise they were as good as first-class warriors.
What do I do now?
Seol-Hwi hunched down and peered at the river. He was waiting for Cheol Su-Dok and the ship to disappear from view.
He’d done a lot of thinking on his way here. He was going to die on this mission, so he had to find a way out of this place—but if he did, he had another problem: if he went back to the pavilion he would be punished or even executed. Jeok-Myung might kill him even before they could dole out punishment.
Even here, I could die. There was always the possibility of being discovered by the enemy, despite his men’s best efforts.
Should I just run away…?
It was a solution, but not an easy one. There was simply no way he could hide the unsettling energy his sect harnessed for their martial arts; any member of the Justice factions with a certain level of mastery would certainly sense it on him. He might just end up being run down like a dog.
“Squad leader, what should we do?”
“Our priority…” Seol-Hwi looked around. Their destination was along the river. On his left were lush lands, and on his right were ankle-high weeds and knee-high bushes.
“Down that way.”
“Huh? What did you say?” Flustered choices questioned his order, but Seol-Hwi ignored them and started moving.
“I said we’re going down. Move it.”
Seol-Hwi was taking his men through the woods, directly opposite to where the enemy discovered him in the past.
“Do you know what the squad leader is up to?”
His subordinates’ faint mutterings reached his ears, but Seol-Hwi carried onwards. They’d left the reconnaissance area, and eventually reached the Jungwon area. Still, Seol-Hwi kept going.
Frankly, he was more concerned with [Two Chances] than his subordinates’ doubts.
Does it mean I have two more chances? Or does it mean that this is the second, last one?
He knew his current situation was hopeless – early or late, he would meet a tragic end. So he was hoping he’d get another chance. It made him feel better, at least.
“Wait!” Seol-Hwi raised his hand. Something had appeared from the forest.
“What is it?” One of his subordinates came up to him. “Could someone be watching us?”
“I will head in first to make sure it isn’t an ambush.”
Seol-Hwi examined the small building: a rectangle with four windows. It had to be a watch post.
“If you hear anything, rendezvous with me immediately.”
“Alright.” Seol-Hwi lowered his body and approached. With each step, his tension soared.
Please let it be empty… Seol-Hwi could handle a first-class warrior, even if they were a bit strong. But a warrior with extraordinary swordsmanship would almost certainly be the end of him, even if they were on the same level. Everything hinged on being able to kill his opponent immediately.
One… two… He took a deep breath.
“Hah!” He burst through the door.
A while later, his six subordinates came in and looked around.
“Doesn’t look like anyone’s here. I was nervous for nothing.”
“Right?” One of the men patted his chest in relief.
But something was odd.
“Squad leader?” Seol-Hwi stared at the window like he was possessed.
“Squad leader…” The man called out again, but Seol-Hwi didn’t answer.
<An enemy has appeared. What will you do?>
Seol-Hwi was looking at the characters again. Time stopped again, while struggled to wrap his head around the question.
▶It’s an easy opponent. Fight.
It made no sense. Why? Because of what? Where did this enemy even come from?
▷ It’s an easy opponent. Fight.
▶ Let's solve it through conversation. We’ll negotiate.
The cursor kept moving, but Seol-Hwi couldn’t find a single enemy. He really could not feel any energy in the area.
▷ It’s an easy opponent. Fight.
▷ Let's solve it through conversation. Negotiate.
▶ It’s an undefeatable opponent. Run as fast as we can.
What the hell is this? The choices kept coming, like they were trying to mess with him. But time was frozen, and he had to choose.
▶ It’s an easy opponent. Fight.
▷ Let's solve it through conversation. We’ll negotiate.
▷ It’s an undefeatable opponent. Run as fast as we can.
Time dwindled, in contrast to his growing doubts.
If he couldn’t sense the enemy’s energy, running or fighting was a doomed option.
<”Let's solve it through conversation. We’ll negotiate.” has been selected.>
“Squad leader?” One of the squad members called out to the stiff-faced Seol-Hwi.
“You can come out.”
Although it made no sense to him. Had it even been an hour since they arrived? How had the enemy found them in such a short time? In his memories, the enemy had found them after midnight.
The silence stretched on.
Seol-Hwi looked at his puzzled men and shook his head.
“Well then. One of us will stay he—”
“I guess there is quite a good one here.” An old man strolled through the open door, the bright moon looming over his shoulder.
“You…” Seol-Hwi despaired.
His clothes were illustrated with plum blossoms, the symbol of Mount Hua Sect.
How… Seol-Hwi was shocked. From the moment they arrived, they’d been moving away from the recon area without stopping. But here he was: Elder Goo Jong-Myung of Mount Hua Sect.
“Your expression says you recognize me?” The white-haired man leaned casually against the wall and looked around.
“How did you know we were here?”
“Huh?” Elder Goo Jong-Myung tilted his head and smiled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Aren’t you the ones who invaded my patrol area?”
“Patrol?” Seol-Hwi’s eyes widened. What was that supposed to mean? Patrol area?
“There’s no need to talk. I have no idea why you’re here, but you bastards from the Demonic sects—” Goo Jong-Myung brandished his sword. “—need to be killed!”
“Move!” His squad scattered. Seol-Hwi drew his sword.
A white beam flickered across his eyes.
Red blood splattered.
And then, something dug into his stomach.
A moment. No, even less. He couldn’t keep up even for a moment. Faster than lightning, the man cut the necks of his six men and thrust his sword into Seol-Hwi’s stomach.
“Slow as snails. Why are you so weak?” Goo Jong-Myung laughed as he examined his handiwork.
“What am I to do if the so-called “leader” is so weak?”
Contempt and ridicule.
Seol-Hwi shook his head.
“You… knew… right?”
“What do you mean?”
“It doesn’t… make… sense… unless.. you knew… we were… coming.”
“What? You bastard.” Goo Jong-Myung frowned and gave his sword an annoyed tug.
“Kuak—!” The sword pushed deeper into Seol-Hwi’s stomach.
As Seol-Hwi collapsed to his knees, the man held his face up by the chin. When they locked eyes, Seol-Hwi could feel a chill creeping up his spine.
Jong-Myung’s voice was soft, so soft that Seol-Hwi doubted his ears.
“You. How did you know?”
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