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    “It’s midnight~~”

    As the bell tolled midnight from the bell tower, Officer Kwon informed Hyang that it was midnight.

    “I heard it. Even the clock is pointing to midnight.”

    “He probably won’t make it. To get to Donggungjeon, there are more than one or two walls to climb over. Plus, the guards stationed there are also more than a handful…”

    As Officer Kwon reported that they would not be able to enter, a faint voice was heard from outside the door.

    “Still, if the master of the Eastern Palace calls, I have to come.”

    Upon hearing the unexpected voice, Officer Kwon and the guards drew their swords and stood on either side of Hyang.

    “Then come in.”

    “Yes.”

    With a quiet reply, three men entered. Looking at the men, covered from head to toe in black, Hyang said a word.

    “Take off your masks.”

    “Yes, Your Highness.”

    The leaders of the Sword Guild respectfully bowed to Hyang after removing their masks.

    “We, the humble leaders of the Sword Guild, greet Your Highness the Crown Prince.”

    “Sit comfortably on the chairs over there.”

    “Your grace is immense.”

    As the leaders of the Sword Guild sat down, Hyang went straight to the point.

    “Which parts of Hansung are your guilds responsible for?”

    In response to Hyang’s question, the leaders described the areas where they held influence.

    “I lead a guild in Bukchon.”

    “I am in Dadoong…”

    “I am in Unjongga…”

    “Hmm… East and west of central Hansung, and north too. Is there nothing in the south?”

    ‘If I were to put it simply, it’s like gangsters splitting up the goldmine of 21st-century Seoul Jiangnan.’

    The guild leaders explained the reason.

    “There are no guilds settled in the south because there are no Guilds and there’s that Area 51. Ah! There are small fries who, calling themselves Gibu (妓夫), hustle in disreputable activities, targeting Area 51 and nearby soldiers. They are nobodies.”

    “I see. The reason I called you all today is…”

    Hyang went straight to the point again.

    The area Hyang wanted to use them for was ‘surveillance of the officials’ and ‘early detection of unclean groups.’

    “Don’t we already have the Office of Inspector General and Ministry of Law Enforcement for monitoring officials?”

    “Yes, but what I’ve learned from multiple incidents is that by the time the Office of Inspector General or Ministry of Law Enforcement catches on, it’s often too late. But you guys could act faster, given the information you can pick up from brothels and other places, right?”

    “That is true.”

    When the Dadoong guild leader nodded, the Bukchon guild leader asked.

    “I understand ‘early detection of unclean groups,’ but why entrust such a heavy responsibility to us?”

    “The dark corners are your specialty, aren’t they?”

    “…”

    At Hyang’s words, the guild leaders closed their mouths. It wasn’t that it wasn’t true; they frequently heard various things at the pleasure houses and used them for extortion or to seize opportunities.

    “If we take on the work…”

    As the Dadoong guild leader began to speak, Hyang cut him off immediately.

    “Official punishment and execution will not be imposed on you and your guild members for the time being. Actually, to be honest, it will be almost nonexistent even if I inherit the throne, and my father’s rule continues. Only a very few besides me and my father will know about your existence. However, if you die or get seriously injured during the work, it will be your full responsibility.”

    The guild leaders turned serious upon hearing Hyang’s words.

    ‘Should we not have crossed the wall?’

    All three regretted crossing the wall but had no choice. The Emperor and the crown prince had only been fueling their psychological hunger.

    “Do we have to give an answer right now?”

    “I think I’ve already given you enough time, haven’t I?”

    “…”

    At Hyang’s pointed remarks, the leaders fell silent again.

    That was because what Hyang said was true. After learning Hyang’s identity, they had more than thirteen days before the full moon to think things through. Among the members of the guild, there were many intelligent people, and the conclusion they reached was quite similar to what Hyang had just proposed. A decision had already been made.

    “We will follow your Highness’s suggestion.”

    “Good!”

    When they accepted, Hyang finally leaned back in his chair and relaxed.

    A leader from Dadoong broke the newly softened atmosphere by throwing a jest at Hyang.

    “Weren’t you being too careless? What would you have done if we harbored ill-will?”

    “Well, I have guards beside me…”

    Hyang moved aside the books on the table. Underneath them, two loaded guns in c*cked states were laid.

    “At least two of you wouldn’t have made it out alive.”

    No sooner had Hyang finished speaking than the Inner Guard’s leader said,

    “Actually, none of them would have made it out alive.”

    “Eh?”

    Both Hyang and the leaders turned towards the source of the voice and froze.

    Royal guards with loaded crossbows were aiming at them, and behind them stood Sejong.

    With eyes brimming with a menacing aura, Sejong stared at Hyang.

    “Crown Prince, you’ve really started something interesting, haven’t you?”

    “Gulp!”

    * * *

    Before long, Hyang’s room was filled with people. While royal guards aimed their crossbows at the leaders of the guild, ready to fire at any moment, Sejong made his way to Hyang’s seat.

    “Please, sit here.”

    “You and I will have a lengthy conversation later.”

    “…Yes.”

    Sejong, who had placed Hyang next to him, sat down and looked at the three kneeling leaders in front of him.

    “So, you are the leaders of the assassins that rule the nights of Hanyang, huh?”

    “That, that is correct, Your Majesty.”

    “It is an honor to witness Your Majesty’s presence in person. Long live the king! Long live the king! Long, long live the king!”

    “As the king, I’m not pleased. Assassins… How should I judge you?”

    “…”

    Faced with Sejong’s question, the leaders remained silent.

    They called themselves ‘Sword Guild’ among themselves, but among commoners, they were known as assassins, inducing fear.

    Sejong opened his mouth after silently staring at them.

    “If you follow the two commands that I issue now, I will guarantee your lives. No, although unofficially, I will even grant you honor.”

    The leaders looked up at Sejong.

    “The two commands you must follow are simple. One is to fully execute the commands just given by the Crown Prince. The other is to make the nights of Hanyang safe.”

    “How should we go about making Hanyang’s nights safe?”

    “Many people live in Hanyang; crime is inevitable. However, crimes that harm human life, especially crimes like the recent arson that harm innocent people’s lives and property, are unforgivable! Therefore, prevent such incidents from occurring! That is your second command.”

    “Are you ordering us to prevent crimes in advance or to report after the fact?”

    “That is your choice. If you have time, report in advance; otherwise, acting first and reporting later is also acceptable. However! If it is determined to be a false accusation, the punishment will not be light!”

    The leaders closed their mouths and pondered Sejong’s commands.

    “We accept your royal command.”

    The first to make the decision was the leader of Dadoong.

    “We accept your command!”

    “We accept your command!”

    After Dadoong’s leader made his decision, the other two leaders also accepted Sejong’s command.

    “Good. Then from tomorrow, execute the command immediately. And… I will soon select someone to communicate with me and inform you.”

    “We accept your command!”

    “Then leave! And keep today’s matter a secret until you die!”

    “We accept your command!”

    Answering Sejong’s commands, the leaders bowed deeply and courteously stepped backward out of the room.

    Watching them, Hyang felt something familiar.

    ‘Is this like a Joseon version of Las Vegas?’

    * * *

    Las Vegas had been heavily influenced by the mafia since its inception.

    Interestingly, the method the mafia used to attract tourists to Las Vegas was to ‘enhance security.’

    Swindlers, prostitutes operating in unauthorized areas, and drug dealers all disappeared without a trace into the desert sands, courtesy of the mafia.

    ***

    “Follow them and figure out where they came in from.”

    “Roger!”

    Upon the order from the Royal Commander, the royal soldiers followed the intruders out of the room.

    The faces of the royal soldiers following the intruders were stern.

    After the pilgrimage to the Hyang’s last visit to the brothel, the Royal Commander had been paying extra attention to the palace’s night security. Yet, today, their defenses had been breached.

    If the reason for today’s failure was due to a simple human error rather than an unknown weakness, the Commander was sure that there would be repercussions starting tomorrow.

    ***

    Meanwhile, in Hyang’s room, only King Sejong, the Royal Commander, Officer Kwon, and another warrior were present.

    “Do you have five spare lives? Did you pull this off relying solely on those two guns?”

    To Sejong’s words, Hyang answered with a smile.

    “Would that really be the case?”

    “You find this situation funny!”

    Realizing the mood was getting heavy, Hyang hurriedly removed the helmet he was wearing and offered it.

    “I did make some preparations, Your Majesty.”

    Taking the helmet, Sejong felt its unexpected weight and flipped it over to examine the inside. It was lined with metal plates.

    “That might protect your head, but what about…”

    Hyang quickly loosened the royal robe he was wearing. Inside his robe was a breastplate, and a slightly oversized copper button covered the neck area, serving as a neck guard.

    “The spaciousness of this robe is indeed useful.”

    “Hoo~”

    Sejong sighed deeply after listening to Hyang’s explanation.

    “Choose: 100 days of document sorting or getting caned right now.”

    “Should I bring the stepping stones?”

    “Sigh~.”

    At Hyang’s words, Sejong sighed and pointed to the desk.

    ***

    “… This is your father’s first and last warning. I understand the importance of what you’re trying to do, and the need to keep it a secret. But hiding it even from your father is unforgivable. If you’re caught again, you’ll be sorting all the documents from the Ministry of Taxation and Ministry of Personal offices!”

    “Yes! I will definitely report to Father and Mother!”

    Forgetting the pain in his calf, Hyang immediately stood up to reply. He knew the notoriety of document sorting, as he was its creator.

    “Then retire to your chamber.”

    “Your grace is boundless.”

    As they left the Eastern Palace, the inner Royal Guard Commander asked Sejong a question.

    “May I dare to ask, Your Majesty, why you have accepted those assassin defectors?”

    “Each has its own use, as they say. Even if they’re assassins, they must have their uses.”

    “Are they capable?”

    “Given that they broke through the Inner Royal Guards, they must have some skills, right?”

    “I will further train the royal guards. Firmly!”

    At Sejong’s words, the Royal Guard Commander grit his teeth. Today’s events were a disgrace to the royal guards.

    “In that case, take your leave.”

    “Your grace is boundless.”

    “Make sure today’s events don’t leak.”

    “I have entirely trustworthy subordinates.”

    “Good.”

    As Sejong was walking away, a thought occurred to him.

    ‘Hmm… I’ve just thought of a good way to test the assassins’ abilities.’

    ***

    Five days later, Officer Kwon was promoted from 8th Rank Lower Officer for Bravery to 8th Rank Upper Officer for Valor at the administrative division where he was stationed.

    He stepped in and said, “I’ve come to meet the leader.”

    “To whom shall I announce your arrival?”

    “Tell him I’ve come for the Unjongga.”

    “Yes.”

    A moment later, the guild leader, upon hearing someone was looking for him, appeared. He hesitated momentarily upon seeing Officer Kwon’s face but soon came forward to greet him.

    “It’s been a long time since we last met.”

    “Thank you for remembering me. Most likely, it will be me who will come. If not, someone with the name ‘Bukak’ has come.”

    “Bukak, understood. May I ask what brings you today?”

    “The first thing is to teach you this secret language, and second, the elder wishes to meet you.”

    “The elder?”

    Officer Kwon silently lifted his right index finger.

    “Ah! When?”

    “In three days, at midnight. Also, make sure to come through the north gate of the palace. Don’t try to climb over the wall like last time, otherwise, my guards will warmly welcome you. They had some venting to do because of the mess you guys made last time.”

    “Then, I’ll take my leave.”

    “Would you like a drink before you go?”

    “I’ll be frequenting the bar from now on, so I have to accumulate some goodwill with my wife first.”

    Upon hearing Officer Kwon’s words, the guild leader laughed.

    “Hahaha! Next time you come, I’ll prepare a tonic liquor that’ll help your vitality!”

    “I’ll count on that!”

    ***

    Three days later, at midnight.

    The leaders who entered through the north gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace met Sejong at Kangnyeongjeon Hall.

    “Did you summon us?”

    “Yes, I have a task for you.”

    “What task might it be?”

    “It’s related to the Crown Prince. You’re aware of the recent royal marriage decree?”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    “That foolish Crown Prince has made a ridiculously challenging requirement for his future wife.”

    “Yes?”

    Sejong explained to the leaders what traits the Crown Prince’s wife should possess.

    “…So, a marriage bureau has been set up to find suitable candidates, but it’s not easy. Therefore, you guys should try to find some.”

    “…Yes.”

    “This will also test your capabilities. The one who brings the best and fastest results will secure a higher position.”

    The leaders responded with nervous expressions.

    “We shall do our very best!”

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