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    With the sword blade held upright at the center, and after expressing a salute, Jang Woo-yang leaped forward. As he leaped, he unleashed his sword. The movement of the sword resembled petals fluttering and falling from the sky. The moment a fluttering petal paused in mid-air, it shivered and spat out 18 sword shadows into the air. The brilliance of the falling petals, carried by the wind, was dazzling, with an undeniable momentum and change.

    “Chaotic Flower Sword!”

    However, the one who was truly surprised was not Bi Ryu-yeon, who was directly confronting the sword, but Jin Ryeong who exclaimed in shock from behind. Bi Ryu-yeon, the actual opponent, stood leisurely, even sporting a smile on his lips.

    The Chaotic Flower Sword, or more precisely ‘Chaotic Flower Flying Sword Sixteen Forms,’ was a distinguished sword technique in the Emei Sect, not to be casually taught to outsiders. Although it was known that the lord of this Central Armed Escort Agency claimed to be a lay disciple of Emei Sect, it was unimaginable that he had also mastered the Chaotic Flower Sword. Even if the extent to which Escort Agency’s head Jang Woo-yang had mastered the 16 initial forms of the Chaotic Flower Sword was unknown, the fact that someone considered an outsider, merely a nominal disciple, had learned the Chaotic Flower Sword, was astonishing to Jin Ryeong[1].

    Moreover, observing the 18 transforming sword shadows, it was evident that Jang Woo-yang had mastered the Chaotic Flower Sword to an advanced level. The subtlety and true worth of the Chaotic Flower Sword lay in the brilliance and glamor created by the interplay of illusion and reality. The switching between the false and real strikes of the unleashed sword shadows was the essence of the Chaotic Flower Sword.

    This secret was also applied to the Chaotic Flower Hand, another technique parallel to the Chaotic Flower Sword. Without properly grasping this secret, the variation drawn by the eighteen sword shadows as seen now would have been impossible. His nickname ‘Eighteen Swords’ was not merely earned by cursing and swearing but signified his mastery. The 18 sword shadows aggressively thrust towards Bi Ryu-yeon.

    ‘There it is.’

    At the moment Jang Woo-yang thought he had struck true, his sword, as if aimed at a phantom or swinging at an illusion, passed through Bi Ryu-yeon’s body. But Jang Woo-yang’s sword had only pierced through Bi Ryu-yeon’s afterimage. Bi Ryu-yeon, having evaded the chaos of the 18 sword shadows as if turning time and space into nothingness, kicked towards the bewildered Jang Woo-yang’s abdomen.

    “Thoughtless Strike.”

    After the technique hit its mark, Bi Ryu-yeon announced its name. The reason he didn’t courteously announce the name of the technique before attacking was that the time it took to execute the technique was faster than the time needed to pronounce its three-character name. Announcing the technique beforehand would waste precious time. For techniques that emphasize speed or those involving penetrating into the opponent’s guard, announcing their names is akin to poison.

    Honestly, while calling out the name of a technique looks stylish, it’s not always practical. This kick, named “Thoughtless Strike,” representing a kick executed without any thought, is one of Biroe-Moon’s pseudo martial arts techniques, which include one technique each of fist, palm, kick, and direct strike. It belongs to the kick category and is performed thoughtlessly and ruthlessly in a natural state. This technique is like a ghost in its inescapability and its formidable power when it hits.

    Spewing a fountain of blood from his mouth, Jang Woo-yang was knocked away. Nevertheless, because a lot of the force was withdrawn at the moment of impact, it didn’t cause life-threatening injuries. After all, who would be responsible for compensation if he were to die? All the effort so far would be in vain, which is why the kick was moderated.

    Seeing their lord spewing blood and collapsing, the chief escort Swift Spear’s Deung Yeo-woon and the vice-chief escort Flash Spear’s Deung Yeo-ho couldn’t hold back and lunged forward. These two, having appeared with their lord from the start, were martial artists and brothers, as evident from their names, and both were masters of spear techniques. They had remained passive as their lord had engaged personally, but seeing him fall in one strike, they could no longer stand by.

    “This bastard.”

    “This bastard.”

    Being brothers, even the way the yells they uttered during the attack were the same. Swift Spear’s Deung Yeo-woon, Flash Spear’s Deung Yeo-ho. Their secret technique, the ‘Five-Stage Continuous Strikes,’ was renowned for its difficulty to counter, as each of the five changes came at different intervals. Moreover, the combined attack of the Five-Stage Continuous Strikes, executed simultaneously from left and right, was considered threatening enough to be deemed unstoppable by anyone.

    Individually, they might have been less skilled than the owner of Central Armed Escort Agency, Eighteen Swords Jang Woo-yang, but in a combined attack, their martial arts were even stronger than their lord’s. Their joint attacks had a formidable power that even Eighteen Swords Jang Woo-yang couldn’t block.

    Deung Yeo-woon’s dark-colored spear, containing five changes, thrust towards Bi Ryu-yeon’s right side. Simultaneously, Deung Yeo-ho, holding a spear of the same material and color, attacked Bi Ryu-yeon’s left side with the same technique, the ‘Five-Stage Continuous Strikes’.

    Facing simultaneous attacks from both sides by two first-class experts, and with both their weapons being spears, they had a much longer effective range than the unarmed Bi Ryu-yeon. However, even as their attack almost reached him, Bi Ryu-yeon did not even think of moving. His body was just about three inches (about 10 centimeters) in front.

    That was when it happened. Suddenly, Bi Ryu-yeon crossed his arms above his head and shifted his left foot behind his right heel, spinning rapidly with that force. It seemed as if a fierce whirlwind was swirling around him. The posture of the attacking Deung Yeo-woon and Deung Yeo-ho began to falter under the force of the whirlwind. Like trees being sucked into a vortex, their offensive moves spiraled towards Bi Ryu-yeon. The spear thrusting from the right by the elder brother Deung Yeo-woon narrowly missed his chest, while the younger brother Deung Yeo-ho’s spear from the left barely missed Bi Ryu-yeon’s back. And then…

    Thud.”

    Bi Ryu-yeon’s hands, raised above his head, transformed into hand-chops, striking down hard on the napes of Deung Yeo-woon and Deung Yeo-ho who had lunged in to attack. The two brothers, who were born under the same father, lived in the same house, ate at the same table, were disciples of the same master, wielded the same weapon, and learned the same martial arts, simultaneously fell face-first to the ground. Having blocked the combined attack of the reputed strongest chief and vice-chief escorts, Bi Ryu-yeon uttered a remark, as if it was not enough just to defeat them.

    Technique Name—None!”

    It was a spontaneous movement, driven purely by necessity, so naturally, there was no specific name for the technique. Thus, everyone from the lowest-ranked escort to the representative, and from the chief escort to the lord of Central Armed Escort Agency, ended up sprawled on the ground due to Bi Ryu-yeon and his disciples.

    Approaching the fallen head with confidence, Bi Ryu-yeon grabbed his ear and spoke loudly, sounding like thunder in Jang Woo-yang’s ears.

    “How is it, back to your senses? Getting hit hurts no matter who you are, that’s just common sense. That aside, shall we continue the conversation we were having? That gangster was too rude, interrupting in the middle of what this elder was saying. This is why you need to educate your subordinates properly. Education is important. Failures in subordinate education are all your responsibility as the leader. But anyway, putting that aside, the victim you mentioned is my disciple, a direct descendant of the Sichuan Tang Clan. Did you know? Tang Clan, that Tang Clan! From what I hear, they are masters of poisons and hidden weapons. If you’re struck by their poisons, nothing but a handful of blood remains, and their hidden weapons are absolutely unavoidable. You must have heard of them too, right? Sichuan’s top power, the Sichuan Tang Clan. Their name holds quite some prestige. So famous that my ears hurt..”

    The head’s face was drained of color. There was no way he wouldn’t know them. Who within the martial world, no, who in the entire stronghold of Sichuan wouldn’t know of the Sichuan Tang Clan, grandmasters of poisons and hidden weapons? Moreover, as someone living in Sichuan’s domain, no one understood the might of the Tang Clan better than Jang Woo-yang, who experienced it close at hand.

    Furthermore, if the disciple who was victimized really was indeed Tang Clan’s direct descendent, it meant that he wouldn’t even be able to request aid from  the Emei Sect. After all, he would lack proper justification to make such a request. In fact, even if the Tang Clan came in rampaging and trampled Central Armed Escort Agency, the Emei Sect wouldn’t be able to intervene. They had their reasons, but neither the Emei Sect nor they themselves had any.

    In truth, Jang Woo-yang was well aware of these circumstances, but Bi Ryu-yeon was not. Having been cooped up in the mountains or living in villages with nothing but blacksmiths, what could Bi Ryu-yeon know about the Sichuan Tang Clan? He was merely spouting whatever he had picked up, mixed with a bit of exaggeration and bluster. However, for Jang Woo-yang, who made his living in Sichuan and was the head of the Central Armed Escort Agency, these words were far from a joke.

    “Is, is that really true?” 

    “Of course, it’s true. Do I look like I’m lying right now? My disciple’s sister is here with us too. If you want to check, go ahead. But I won’t take any responsibility for what happens next. She’s on the verge of exploding.If you go poking and make her blow her top, no one will be able to stop her. She has quite a temper. She might go home, gather all her relatives charging in for revenge too. Still wanna try?”

    Bi Ryu-yeon looked at Jang Woo-yang with a bright, healthy smile. It was a remarkable confidence, an absurd, boundless self-assurance that seemed to weigh heavily on Jang Woo-yang’s mind and body like a millstone. Check? He didn’t have the slightest desire to do so. In Sichuan, turning the Sichuan Tang Clan into an enemy or provoking them was never a wise move.

    What if the claim turned out to be true upon checking? And what to do if it was false? There was no solution. The situation had already shattered beyond recovery, had it not? Moreover, judging from the man’s confidence and abilities, it was surely the truth.

    “What should I do then?” asked the owner, his voice trembling. Jang Woo-yang, not realizing that Bi Ryu-yeon was pretending to be older, spoke to him respectfully. Jang Woo-yang’s face, devoid of any vitality, seemed to grow more and more haggard.

    “You know very well what you should do!”

    Bi Ryu-yeon shoved his right hand in front of Jang Woo-yang’s nose and said,

    “…?”

    “As I mentioned before, I demand compensation for the physical and mental harm suffered by my disciple, myself, his friends, and his family and relatives.”

    The compensation initially discussed now included additional items for the mental anguish suffered by the disciple’s friends and family, a change necessitated by the exertion and sweat expended during the negotiation process. However, Jang Woo-yang, as the head of the escort agency, no longer had any choice. If things escalated any further, it could end up as more than just shutting down their business and taking down their signboard. In fact, there might only be piles of ash and corpses remaining.

    “I understand. I will, I will give it to you. As long as today’s events are treated as if they n-never happened….”

    Jang Woo-yang trailed off, struggling to get the words out. Bi Ryu-yeon’s possible rejection seemed to terrify him. He was desperate to somehow smooth over this incident, no matter the sacrifice on his part.

    “Of course.”

    Bang!”

    “Ugh.”

    Like stamping a seal on a contract, Bi Ryu-yeon heartily slapped Jang Woo-yang’s back in agreement. In this way, under the pretense of compensation for the physical and mental damages inflicted on himself, his disciples, his disciple’s friends and their family and relatives, Bi Ryu-yeon was able to extort an exorbitant amount of compensation from the Central Armed Escort Agency. Just how much he received, only Bi Ryu-yeon himself knew; he refused to divulge the exact amount to anyone. He didn’t want others knowing.

    Teehehe.”

    With a content smile, a slightly strange laughter, lips that seemed about to burst, and a heavy-looking bag in his hand, Bi Ryu-yeon also secretly held slips of paper called ‘money notes’ in his robe, unbeknownst to his disciples. No one among the disciples knew this fact, nor did they… know that the amount written on these papers was greater than the amount in the bag.

    Bi Ryu-yeon and his disciples, having finished their retribution, began to climb the mountain towards their training ground, feeling light-hearted. Crossing the mid-autumn slopes, the mountain was clad in splendid crimson and lovely yellow finery, dazzling the eyes of onlookers. At some point, the wind too had become cooler. Only the sun still shed its last vestiges of warmth upon the earth. The time for their parting was now drawing near.

    1. She’s a member of Emei Sect, so she would definitely recognize Emei Sect’s technique performed by Jang Woo-yang[]
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