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    “Wait!”

    At the woman’s cry, Anghwa hesitated.

    Cheon Hajin rubbed his ear.

    “You have a good voice too.”

    The woman’s face turned extremely cold as she abruptly stood up.

    “What is the meaning of this?”

    “What is?”

    “I asked what you’re doing!”

    “You can see what I’m doing, can’t you, you bandit wench?”

    “Hey, Third Young Master!”

    “Oh, and I’m asking because I really don’t know.”

    Cheon Hajin tilted his head.

    “Are you perhaps a disciple of the Cult Leader like me?”

    It was a genuine question, but to the other party, it could only be heard as mockery.

    The woman’s face reddened. She couldn’t manage her expression at all.

    “No? Yeah, I figured as much. But you’re not only threatening me but also yelling in my face.”

    “Look here.”

    “Are you perhaps of a higher status than me?”

    Cheon Hajin turned his head to Anghwa.

    “Anghwa, is that woman above me in rank?”

    “N-no, she’s not.”

    “Ah! Of course. You would know. Who is that woman?”

    Anghwa glanced at the warriors, seeking their reaction.

    Cheon Hajin widened his eyes.

    “Damn it, why are you looking at these bastards? Answer quickly.”

    “Yes, sir!”

    Anghwa explained briefly.

    The woman’s name was Hong Yeorin.

    She currently worked as a demon disciple in the Hall of Delight within the Cult and was the daughter of the Crimson Serpent Clan, one of the Seven Demonic Clans.

    Despite her young age, she was strong enough to be called a late-stage genius and was recognized as a heroine of the Demonic Martial Arts World for her excellent work.

    And most importantly…

    “Oh, is that so? She’s the younger sister of a fellow disciple like me?”

    “Th-that’s right.”

    “I was wondering why she was barking at me, but it turns out she had a reliable backer.”

    Hong Yeorin’s face contorted.

    A reliable backer? The Third Young Master was insulting her, knowing full well the bloody relationship between her and her brother.

    Cheon Hajin waved his hand dismissively. It was a gesture filled with unconstrained annoyance and languidness.

    “The situation has become a bit strange, but whatever. Since you’re the blood relative of a fellow disciple, I’ll cut you some slack. I don’t want things to escalate either.”

    “…”

    “Leave. And don’t come looking for me again. Got it?”

    Not that it matters if you do, since I won’t be here anyway.

    Cheon Hajin grinned sinisterly. The thought of finally escaping this place made the back of his neck burn with excitement.

    ‘This…!’

    Hong Yeorin’s cheeks trembled uncontrollably. The insults she had endured thus far were already hard to tolerate, and now he was openly mocking her.

    “…Fine.”

    Her expression had vanished at some point.

    As her anger reached its peak, her face instead became calm, a cold wind blowing across it.

    “It’s rather fortunate that you’re being so clear, Third Young Master.”

    “Yeah, bye.”

    “Before I go, let me just take care of this one thing.”

    “What now?”

    She took out two pieces of high-quality paper from her bosom.

    “It’s the contract with our handprints on it.”

    Contract?

    “You remember, don’t you? In case one of us breaches the contract first or creates a situation where it becomes unavoidable, the penalty is set at three times the amount.”

    “Hm?”

    “If we convert the elixirs I’ve invested in you into funds, it’s close to a thousand taels of gold.

    If we add in the miscellaneous financial support, it slightly exceeds two thousand taels, but I’ll let that slide for old times’ sake.”

    “…?!”

    “Six thousand taels of gold. Pay it right now. If it’s difficult for you, at least write a debt acknowledgment. Then I’ll quietly disappear.”

    Elixirs? Financial support?

    Wait, as a disciple of the Cult Leader, you received elixirs and financial support from the blood relative of a fellow candidate? What kind of outrageous nonsense is this?

    ‘I’ve never heard of such a thing.’

    Cheon Hajin looked at Anghwa.

    Anghwa shook her head with a frozen expression. She seemed to have no idea either.

    ‘Ha! Six thousand taels? Six thousand taels?!’

    Six thousand taels of gold.

    That’s equivalent to sixty thousand taels of silver. Sixty thousand taels of silver was an astronomical amount comparable to the annual budget of a decent-sized sect.

    And she wanted him to cough up that huge sum right now? If not, write a debt acknowledgment?

    Seriously!

    “Fine, let’s write a debt acknowledgment.”

    “…What?”

    “Didn’t you say to write a debt acknowledgment if I can’t pay right away? Anghwa! Prepare some writing tools.”

    His nonchalant attitude caught Hong Yeorin off guard instead.

    “A-n debt acknowledgment? Are you serious?”

    “You told me to write it, you wench.”

    His tone was brimming with bluntness. Hong Yeorin felt dumbfounded.

    ‘He’s going to write a debt acknowledgment?’

    A debt acknowledgment should never be written carelessly. Especially for those with high social status, one must be even more cautious.

    It’s not about whether the promise is fulfilled or not, but the fact that a debt acknowledgment was written can itself cause controversy.

    Bluntly put, if word spreads that Hong Yeorin wrote some kind of debt acknowledgment with the Third Young Master, the public’s attention would inevitably focus on the Third Young Master.

    Public attention is like a double-edged sword.

    It’s fine if that attention is filled with curiosity, but the moment it evolves into suspicion, the subject becomes trapped in invisible bars.

    Wouldn’t those bars be immense pressure for someone of the Third Young Master’s stature?

    ‘Is he serious?’

    Seo Ryang was not exceptionally intelligent, but he was still someone who knew the situation and could read the flow.

    Naturally, she thought he wouldn’t write a debt acknowledgment. That’s why Hong Yeorin brought it up as an option.

    It was the best means to pressure the other party and gain the upper hand.

    But he said he would write it. And with an indifferent expression at that.

    “Are you really going to write it?”

    “Are your ears for decoration?”

    “You’re really going to write it, right?”

    “Want me to pierce them for you?”

    The bridge of her nose trembled involuntarily.

    Cheon Hajin inwardly scoffed.

    ‘It’s not like I can’t write the damn thing.’

    His experience in the gangho spanned over thirty years. There was no way he wouldn’t see through this cheeky bandit girl’s shallow scheme.

    So what? What about it?

    Once he got out of here, the debt acknowledgment or whatever would disintegrate into thin air. He was a thorough individualist with no interest in reputation or power.

    Moreover, the original owner of this body was unnecessarily cruel, killing subordinates at the slightest provocation. He didn’t give a damn about the dignity of such a guy.

    “Young Master, I have prepared the writing tools.”

    “Oh, good work.”

    As he ground the ink, Cheon Hajin asked.

    “So, how about I write that I’ll repay it in about three or four months? Is that okay?”

    “…”

    “Why aren’t you answering? Too long? But it’s six thousand taels of gold, so I think giving that much time is only fair.”

    You never know what might happen in life. The time frame of three or four months was the minimum insurance against any unforeseen circumstances.

    Hong Yeorin’s complexion changed several times.

    But only for a moment.

    “…Fine. Write it.”

    “Alright.”

    Cheon Hajin hummed as he wielded the brush.

    Hong Yeorin, who had been staring at the debt acknowledgment with a confused expression, suddenly widened her eyes.

    “What are you doing now?”

    “Writing the debt acknowledgment, obviously.”

    “…”

    “Don’t talk to me. I’m busy.”

    Hong Yeorin was dumbfounded.

    “You think changing the handwriting will make it invalid?”

    Handwriting? Oh!

    ‘That’s right.’

    There was no way his handwriting would match that of Seo Ryang.

    But what did it matter?

    “I’ll be affixing my handprint anyway. Don’t nitpick over trivial things.”

    “…”

    “Let’s see, the Spring Festival is in four months, so I’ll write that I’ll pay by the end of this year? Is that good?”

    “No.”

    “Make it three months then? Let’s go with that.”

    “It doesn’t matter if it’s three or four months later. That’s not the important part.”

    “Damn it, if you have something to say, spit it out. Stop beating around the bush and just say it. What have you been trying to do?”

    Hong Yeorin took a deep breath at his irritated tone, devoid of any consideration for the other party.

    Calm down. If you get angry here, you lose.

    “We need to correct the amount.”

    “You’ll make it cheaper? Then thanks.”

    “I’ll raise it to ten thousand taels.”

    The brush abruptly stopped.

    “Ten thousand taels?”

    “Yes, ten thousand taels.”

    “Are you out of your mind? How did six thousand taels suddenly become ten thousand?”

    “I need compensation for the emotional distress too.”

    Cheon Hajin’s brows furrowed.

    “And what kind of bullshit is that?”

    “Eleven thousand taels.”

    “What?”

    “The contract will only be fully terminated when the payment is completed. Until then, you must maintain your dignity as a contractual party.”

    “Dignity or whatever, but you’re raising it by five thousand taels over a few words?”

    “I have to.”

    Hong Yeorin’s eyes were now filled with genuine murderous intent.

    “The insult to me is an insult to the Crimson Serpent Clan. The Third Young Master not only treated the daughter of the Crimson Serpent Clan, a branch of the Cult, as a bandit but also hurled curses to my face. What do you think will happen if that fact gets out?”

    She turned the insult she received into an insult to her clan.

    In other words, it was no longer a personal issue but an issue between factions, implying that she would expose their secret contract.

    It was no longer about money or a deal for a better future.

    It had become a matter of pride.

    “What will happen? Well, I don’t really know.”

    “There will be many complications, but one thing is certain: the Third Young Master will have unnecessary concerns from now on.

    Because when the scent of blood spreads, hungry wild dogs gather.”

    “Is there anyone who witnessed the insult?”

    “There is. Those two.”

    She was referring to the escort warriors she had brought.

    Hong Yeorin went a step further.

    “Or perhaps everyone in the main family might have seen it.”

    “You’re spouting nonsense.”

    “I’ll raise it to twelve thousand taels. And you’d better not ignore my words.

    It’s not difficult for the main family to blow things out of proportion if they put their minds to it.”

    “You have the ability to turn lies into truth?”

    “To be precise, it’s more like adding weight to the truth. A little bit of lying might be sprinkled in, but that’s up to us.”

    Hong Yeorin smiled.

    Her eyes were filled with murderous energy, but her expression exuded refreshment.

    “If you don’t like that, change it to twelve thousand taels and affix your handprint. I’ll let you know in advance that there will be no further bargaining.”

    “…”

    “What are you doing? Hurry up and stamp it. Didn’t you say you had somewhere to go? You seemed to be in a great hurry.”

    Cheon Hajin silently glared at Hong Yeorin.

    Hong Yeorin’s smile deepened.

    ‘How dare a useless bastard!’

    From the beginning, the reason she had supported him with elixirs and money was to make the Third Young Master her puppet.

    She was inferior to her brother in martial talent, rank, and age.

    But her ambition far surpassed her brother’s.

    Since she couldn’t become the Cult Leader due to her inherent limitations as a woman and lack of talent, she at least wanted to climb to a position second only to one and above all others.

    In the past, she had considered a political marriage with the Third Young Master, but now that thought had completely vanished.

    She had no need for a puppet that couldn’t run, lost in the Demonic Deviation, and had lost even the minimum dignity.

    It was regrettable, but she had no choice but to multiply her investment and find another puppet.

    Hong Yeorin, who had become elated, and Cheon Hajin, who was glaring at her.

    Hong Yeorin thought Cheon Hajin was perplexed, but he was actually consumed by entirely different thoughts.

    ‘…Yes, that’s right.’

    Escape from this hellish Demonic Cult. Achieve a peaceful life of my own.

    That was his thought.

    But there was one thing he just realized. More precisely, he remembered something he had forgotten.

    ‘Life is an equivalent exchange.’

    Leaving the Demonic Cult was certainly not an easy task.

    But he had taken it too lightly. He thought he could escape easily with just a little effort.

    He was wrong. That was just an optimistic outlook.

    ‘I shouldn’t have.’

    Insurance of three or four months? Somehow it will work out?

    This was the main temple of the Demonic Martial Arts World, known to be the most brutal in the gangho.

    He had been too careless in a situation where he should have been extremely tense and cautious.

    ‘Crucially, I’m still living in the gangho.’

    And in the gangho, you can never achieve what you want without risking your life.

    Swish swish swish.

    Cheon Hajin corrected the amount on the debt acknowledgment to twelve thousand taels.

    Hong Yeorin chuckled.

    “Give it to me.”

    “No.”

    “…What did you say?”

    Cheon Hajin gently rolled up the paper.

    Hong Yeorin furrowed her brows.

    “Hey, Third Young Master.”

    “Anghwa.”

    “Yes! Young Master!”

    “Go out and call the captain of the guard.”

    Anghwa left hurriedly without answering or questioning. She was extremely tense in this suffocating atmosphere.

    Shortly after, the captain of the guard entered.

    “Invincible is the Cult, ten thousand demons bow in blessing. I pay my respects to the Third Young Master. For what reason have you summoned this lowly one?”

    “Prepare a carriage. I have somewhere to go.”

    “Third Young Master, forgive my presumption, but your current condition…”

    “I will be going to the Cult Leader’s Residence.”

    “…Pardon?!”

    “Prepare the carriage and send word to the Cult Leader’s Residence. Inform them that the Third Disciple seeks an audience with the Master.”

    In an instant, the atmosphere in the room turned cold.

    “Calling mommy and daddy? Good for you. I don’t have parents, so I’ll at least call for my Master. After all, the ruler, teacher, and father are one and the same.”

    For three months, he had truly endured to the point of disgust.

    He would no longer just test the waters. He would enter the heart of this hellish Demonic Cult and stake everything on a confrontation.

    He wasn’t even annoyed with Hong Yeorin anymore.

    Rather, he was grateful to her. Thanks to this bandit wench, he had perfectly realized how brutal this place was.

    If he wanted to find his freedom, he had to bet a stake worthy of it.

    He would go before the most powerful person here and reclaim his rights.

    “What are you doing? Send word to the Crimson Serpent Clan too. Let’s see who has the louder voice in the Cult Leader’s Residence.”

    Hong Yeorin’s face turned extremely pale.

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