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    An Annoyingly Unfortunate Maze

     

    Wide. Ah, too wide.

    The Heavenly Martial Arts Academy was incredibly vast.

    It was so expansive that anyone visiting for the first time would easily get lost and become a stray, as the interior of the pavilion was unbelievably vast.

     

    The forest of buildings tall enough to block the sun and wide enough to obstruct the path of the wind was sufficient to make the people trapped inside feel fed up. Moreover, despite being so spacious, there was not a single properly installed signboard within the pavilion, making it even more likely for one to lose their way and wander around. After all, even though the Heavenly Martial Arts Academy was a cradle of learning, it was still a martial arts organization. The top priority was to assume the existence of enemies and establish countermeasures against them.

    In that context, all the buildings here were constructed according to the meticulous rules of the Five Elements and Eight Trigrams. In other words, the building layout of the Heavenly Martial Arts Academy followed a kind of gigantic formation. If someone unfamiliar were to visit this place, they would wander like a rat in a maze or a blind crow, unable to find their way. The buildings, intricately constructed according to the rules of the Five Elements and Eight Trigrams, created the effect of a massive formation. In other words, it was a deliberate architectural design intended to intentionally confuse people’s vision and make them lose their sense of direction.

    Even so, the Heavenly Martial Arts Academy had no intention of assigning guides to the new disciples. The meaning was for them to find their way out and reach their dormitories using their own strength. If they couldn’t even decipher this simple formation, how could they endure the difficult and arduous lessons that lay ahead? This was the common thought among the pavilion’s authorities. Their training had already begun.

    The place the new disciples were currently searching for was called “Martial Spirit Hall,” a type of male dormitory complex. There were dozens of dormitory buildings named Muhon, Sword Spirit Hall, Blade Spirit Hall, and Spear Spirit Hall erected there, and most of the disciples who entered the Heavenly Martial Arts Academy would have their meals and lodging resolved there. Of course, as the Heavenly Martial Arts Academy was incredibly vast, there were also several restaurants, taverns, and brothels installed within the pavilion, but since they required a considerable expense to use, the majority of the disciples resolved their meals and bedding here.

    The old man they had seen earlier at Clear Mind Hall seemed to be the manager and overall supervisor of Martial Spirit Hall (the land where the spirit of martial arts breathes). With his clear voice, he explained the facilities, geography, and rules within Martial Spirit Hall, but Bi Ryu-yeon, who had always been far from complying with rules, paid no attention to such trivial matters. Hyo-ryong was in a similar situation, making them realize once again the truth of the saying “birds of a feather flock together.” So, not only Bi Ryu-yeon but also Hyo-ryong did not know the way to Martial Spirit Hall, and the two of them were currently wandering around this place.

    If this wasn’t called “you reap what you sow,” it would be difficult to find an opportunity to use this phrase for a while. Had they been wandering for about half a sijin (1 hour)? Bi Ryu-yeon, who had been far from formations from the beginning, had been wandering for an hour but still couldn’t find his way. Just as irritation was about to reach the top of his head, the two of them encountered a person. It was the first person they had met after half an hour of wandering. Looking around and roaming the pavilion, it was evident at a glance that he was in the same situation as them. The only difference was that his first impression seemed too old to be a new disciple this year. With a grave mound that hadn’t been weeded for at least three years, a scraggly beard that grew haphazardly like weeds, and eyes that seemed to possess a thin but somehow experienced smile, it was impossible to view him as being in his early twenties. The relaxed smile hanging from the corner of his mouth was the same.

    No matter how generously one looked at him, his appearance was that of a complete middle-aged man. The middle-aged man was the first to notice. Seeing Bi Ryu-yeon and Hyo-ryong first, the man raised his hand, waved, and greeted them as if he knew them.

    “Hey there? By any chance…”

    Perhaps he had approached them with a glimmer of hope that the two might know the way, but his hope was shattered spectacularly.

    “We don’t know either.”

    Bi Ryu-yeon’s words were firm. He had a look of disappointment but didn’t show it much.

    “No matter when you come here, it’s confusing…”

    “Excuse me, what did you say just now?”

    He had mumbled in a very faint voice, so even Bi Ryu-yeon and Hyo-ryong, who were standing next to him, couldn’t understand what he was saying.

    “No, no, it’s nothing.”

    The middle-aged man shook his head and awkwardly brushed off their question. Hmph… The two shot intense and thick glances of suspicion at the man. Then, the man gave an awkward smile, clasped his hands, and introduced himself.

    “My name is Jang-hong! I’m a new disciple who just entered this year.”

    “Liar!”

    The two shouted in unison. It was a strong expression of will, saying, “Don’t lie in front of us.” Even at a glance, his face couldn’t be seen as being in his early twenties at all. At that, the man who had introduced himself as Jang-hong made an embarrassed expression and looked sheepish. Jang-hong’s right hand kept scratching the back of his own head for no reason.

    “I’m telling the truth…”

    But his words could never be trusted by others. The weight of trust in those words was even lighter than a single fallen leaf.

    In any case, he was someone they had met while wandering together. What use would such a person be in finding the way? So, even after meeting Jang-hong, Bi Ryu-yeon and Hyo-ryong had to wander around the pavilion for a long time. As they had guessed, Jang-hong was of no help in finding the way. The gamble of the two, who had placed a tiny hope that their sharp intuition might be wrong, ended in complete failure. And finally…

    After dedicating themselves to finding the maze for 3 hours, the three of them were able to stand in front of a long and large rock. On the outer surface of the enormous rock, which was egg-shaped and stood tall, the size of two grown men combined, the three characters “Martial Spirit Hall” were magnificently engraved. It was an impressive craftsmanship that made it seem as if the spirit of a warrior could be felt at any moment. Behind it was a path surrounded by a forest, and beyond that, dozens of buildings were erected in the distance. It was where the Martial Spirit Hall Sword Spirit Hall Hall, which they had been desperately searching for, was located.

    It had already been more than a sikgyeong[1] since they arrived here. Even though it was time to take a few hundred steps if they moved now, they were standing still like statues, staring intently at the path without even thinking of moving. Why were the three of them standing at the entrance, not thinking of going in, and just staring at the path even after finding the destination they had been searching for so desperately?

    Eventually, Hyo-ryong turned his eyes and looked at Bi Ryu-yeon. It was as if he was asking for his opinion. Bi Ryu-yeon’s brows furrowed slightly.

    “It’s a path I really don’t want to walk on!”

    Bi Ryu-yeon blurted out. Hyo-ryong also nodded at his words. It seemed he had already noticed something.

    “Doesn’t it look really unlucky?”

    “It looks so unlucky that it even seems dangerous.”

    “Seriously, what were they thinking, constructing a road like this…?”

    Bi Ryu-yeon nodded as if agreeing with Hyo-ryong’s words. Only Jang-hong was standing behind them, emitting a strange gaze and staring intently at the path leading to the buildings. His gaze was different from the other two. A mysterious light flowed from his eyes.

    ‘It’s finally starting. The traditional Heavenly Martial Arts Academy’s welcome ceremony for newbies. The ultimate newbie hazing, the newcomer’s obstacle!’

    It seemed that Jang-hong already knew something. However, Jang-hong did not reveal the information he knew to his companions or give them any hints. He was in a position where he couldn’t do that.

    “I’d like to decline if possible, but the situation doesn’t allow it. At times like this…”

    Bi Ryu-yeon’s mouth opened again. The playful smile had returned to his face.

    “At times like this?”

    Hyo-ryong asked.

    “Forceful breakthrough!”

    Bi Ryu-yeon enunciated each syllable as if it were a matter of course.

    “Forceful breakthrough!”

    Hyo-ryong and Jang-hong shouted in unison. Of course, their gazes were filled with reproach, as if saying, “How about thinking a little and acting according to a plan?” But Bi Ryu-yeon had already made up his mind. His eyes showed that he was truly determined to carry out such a crude method. As if there was nothing more to see, Bi Ryu-yeon took a big step forward.

    “Swish!”

    An arrow flew out of nowhere, aiming straight at Bi Ryu-yeon’s face. It was a surprise attack with no warning or notice whatsoever.

    “Swish!”

    However, as if he had expected this, Bi Ryu-yeon dodged the arrow with a simple movement of slightly tilting his head to the side and lightly took the next step. The arrow that had flown left only a whistling sound in the air and flew to pierce the tree behind Bi Ryu-yeon. There was not the slightest change in Bi Ryu-yeon’s expression. The faces of Hyo-ryong and Jang-hong, who were behind him, also had an expression that meant “I thought it might happen, and it did.” These two had already noticed that traps were installed on the path.

    The three of them had finally found the entrance to their destination after wandering for an hour and one sikgyeong, and just as they were about to enter, they felt a strange sense of unease. Their instincts rang a severe alarm and warned them. That path was not one to be walked on recklessly… They had confidence in their senses to the point where it was almost unheard of for their premonitions, honed through countless years and tremendous training, to be wrong.

    Upon closer inspection, the small path leading to the buildings was definitely suspicious. It didn’t smell of nature but was filled with the scent of artificial manipulation, making it difficult to muster the courage to set foot on it. Moreover, if one looked closely, one could find faint bloodstains left here and there. In addition, the faint scent of blood had not yet disappeared, making it clear that something unusual was hidden. Something that threatened their bodies. So, they had a hunch, and their predictions hit the bullseye, perfectly in the center of a perfect ten. They had only taken one step, but the traps were already activated. How hasty… But this was just the beginning.

    “Swish! Swish! Swish!”

    On the second step, there were three arrows. Moreover, it was a terrifying technique of continuous shooting, accurately aiming at the upper, middle, and lower sections. However, Bi Ryu-yeon rendered them all useless with a single slight movement of his body.

    But the mechanical traps did not end there. More terrifying and cunning devices continued to hide and reveal themselves one by one with each step he took. Bi Ryu-yeon didn’t like these terrifying ladies who rushed at him recklessly just to show off their existence. Which man would be pleased when these fearsome ladies rushed at him with their chests or entire bodies without even knowing how to decline?

    This time, it was small, invisible flying needles. This was no joke. Although the needles didn’t seem to be coated with poison based on their color, the fact that dozens of flying needles aiming at the eyes were extremely dangerous remained unchanged. Originally, such flying needles were weak in terms of just hitting the target, so nine out of ten times, they were coated with poison or drugs. But fortunately, there was none of that.

    What would come after the flying needles? He had been looking forward to it. But the next one was another barrage of arrows, just like before. The only difference was that the number was incomparably higher than a moment ago. However, the problem was that this difference was actually a huge difference that could determine a person’s life or death. The eyes of the two watching from behind widened. In their minds, it seemed that Bi Ryu-yeon would definitely not be able to avoid the shower of arrows this time.

    There seemed to be no way to avoid the shower of arrows that cleverly covered all directions. If there was a way, would it be to block them with tremendous skill? But Bi Ryu-yeon mercilessly trampled on this expectation. His body swayed and wobbled.

    “Th-that… that’s… l-l-like…”

    “Yes, it really does resemble an octopus.”

    Jang-hong was so surprised that he stuttered and couldn’t continue, only widening his eyes, and Hyo-ryong, who felt sorry for Jang-hong, expressed his astonishment on his behalf. Jang-hong and Hyo-ryong were truly astonished. It was questionable whether their hearts had not leaped out of their throats. They couldn’t believe what they had seen with their own eyes. Had their eyesight deteriorated? Or had they ever been negligent in training their eye techniques? They even had doubts mixed with self-reproach, wondering if reading the secret manual all night last time might have been a mistake. How was such evasion possible with a human body? And how could one execute such a thing in broad daylight without any shame?

    Bi Ryu-yeon’s body movements were shocking movements that could never be thought of as human. His entire body swayed and wobbled like a soft-bodied animal, as if all the bones inside his body had been sold somewhere, and each and every movement was unthinkable for a human being.

    1. Roughly around 30 minutes to 2 hours[]

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