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    Chapter 21: The Maid Corps of Wongak Pavilion

     

    Despite the clamor from the massive construction outside, the courtyard of Wongak Pavilion remained as tranquil as if it belonged to another world.

    Amid the anticipation, Yeon So-hyeon, the Eldest Young Master of Luoyang Sword House, made his appearance.

    A black silk coat, extravagantly embroidered with gold thread, fluttered on his shoulders in the breeze.

    Following him, with graceful steps, were Jung-ah, the steward of Wongak Pavilion, and the triplet maids.

    As Yeon So-hyeon ascended the temporarily erected low platform, the chief steward stepped forward solemnly and opened his mouth.

    “The head of the maid corps, step forward.”

    A woman, referred to as the head of the maid corps, advanced.

    She stood before Yeon So-hyeon with measured steps.

    Appearing to be in her late teens or early twenties, she gave the impression of being more a martial artist than a maid.

    Her tall stature and robust physique were indeed the handiwork of the chief steward, who had personally chosen and raised her, and her beauty was exceptional.

    After the chief steward nodded at her, he spoke again.

    “Swear your allegiance to the Eldest Young Master, your master.”

    The head maid then drew a sword from her back and held it in front of her.

    “Loyalty!”

    Simultaneously, the forty-nine maids behind her, aligned in formation, drew their swords in a unified motion.

    “Loyalty!”

    The sight of fifty women holding swords was more reminiscent of a sword corps than a group of maids, perhaps that’s why the chief steward introduced them as the Maid Corps.

    Their flawless coordination brought a broad smile to the chief steward’s face.

    Yeon So-hyeon stepped down from the platform and stood in front of the head maid.

    Surprisingly, the head maid, who seemed a born warrior, seemed at a loss up close.

    Her long eyelashes quivered, and a blush spread across her face.

    Yeon So-hyeon, observing her reaction, spoke.

    “Your name?”

    With trembling voice, she opened her delicately painted pink lips to respond.

    “I am called Hyang, my lord.”

    Yeon So-hyeon suddenly took her hand.

    “Ah…”

    A warm breath escaped her lips.

    “Looking at your hand, you haven’t just started wielding a sword yesterday. Since when have you been practicing swordsmanship?”

    She lowered her head, as if to hide her flushed face, and answered.

    “Since the earliest memories I have, my lord, I have been holding a sword.”

    “Indeed, that’s the case.”

    Yeon So-hyeon released her hand.

    A sigh laced with regret escaped her lips.

    “Judging by the depth of your inner strength, you have diligently practiced your mental disciplines as well…”

    Yeon So-hyeon nodded, scanning her physique.

    “Your muscles and bones lack nothing for martial arts training, and you are already well-disciplined.”

    Her body shivered under his gaze, not out of repulsion or shame, but for a different reason altogether.

    Yeon So-hyeon came to a conclusion.

    “Remarkable. You lack nothing to be called a warrior.”

    It was no exaggeration.

    Alone, she could easily subdue any number of thugs from the Black Bone Faction.

    “…Such talents would not be shameful to showcase.”

    Her face flushed as she bowed her head, her breath sweet.

    “….”

    Watching her, Yeon So-hyeon asked,

    “What would you do if I were to not accept you and cast you aside?”

    Her eyes trembled intensely, dew forming in them.

    “…I would accept your command.”

    Yeon So-hyeon wiped the corner of her eye.

    “What if I commanded you to lay down your life?”

    Determination and resolve filled her face.

    “At any time, I would follow your command.”

    Yeon So-hyeon stroked her face.

    “What if I said I would accept you all?”

    Joy beyond measure shone on her face.

    “Being able to serve you, my lord, is the greatest happiness.”

    Yeon So-hyeon took a step back from her.

    She couldn’t hide her disappointment as his touch left her.

    “Hmm.”

    Yeon So-hyeon stroked his chin, pondering.

    “You, no, you all…”

    His gaze, piercing, settled on the maids who were looking only at him.

    “Do you understand that your feelings towards me have been thoroughly ingrained?”

    They all responded immediately.

    “Yes, we are fully aware.”

    “And that your minds have been cunningly manipulated?”

    “Yes, we are all aware.”

    There was no hesitation.

    “Even if you are merely expendables, mere puppets existing for my sake?”

    Yeon So-hyeon continued to probe.

    “Even if your entire lives will be spent for my sake, and unlike others, you won’t be able to have lovers, fulfill your own dreams, or form families?”

    The head of the maid corps looked at Yeon So-hyeon.

    Her eyes held a distant longing, as if gazing at a star in the far sky.

    “That is our happiness, our dream, and the reason for our existence.”

    “….”

    Yeon So-hyeon, looking at them, didn’t ponder the nonsense about ethics.

    He had seen places struck by great famine with his mother.

    He had witnessed parents, unable to eat the corpses of their own children, exchanging the bodies with neighbors to boil and consume.

    Given their circumstances, he felt no great guilt or pity, having already seen too much.

    Even if it wasn’t the Yeon So-hyeon, the inheritor of the Dark Heavens Scripture, but the Yeon So-hyeon of the past, it would be the same.

    “Remarkable.”

    He clapped his hands.

    Bright smiles appeared on the faces of the maids.

    “I promise you here.”

    Yeon So-hyeon made eye contact with each of them.

    “Though you are tools for my use, I will cherish and value those tools.”

    He walked among them.

    “While you may not enjoy the happiness of ordinary people, within my domain, you will experience a joy that others cannot.”

    Yeon So-hyeon committed the faces of all the maids to memory.

    “Though you would lay down your lives for me at any moment, know that if I were to lose you, I would weep more bitterly than anyone else.”

    He returned to his original position and looked at the head maid, the maiden named Hyang.

    “You all now belong to me.”

    The entire maid corps kneeled in unison.

    “Loyalty!”

    * * *

    The chief steward and Jung-ah enthusiastically applauded the scene.

    “As expected of our lord. No matter how meticulously those children were crafted, there’s always an imperfection.”

    “Your lordship has added the finishing touch. With this, they have become perfect masterpieces. Congratulations.”

    “Ha-ha. Thank you. Jung-ah, hearing you say that makes me feel reassured and proud.”

    “A creation you can truly be proud of.”

    It was a conversation drenched in madness between parent and child.

    The family and the maid corps were so strikingly similar that there seemed to be no distinction between the manipulator and the manipulated.

    “Wow…”

    The triplets also clapped earnestly, though their expressions were relatively more ambivalent.

    Quite overtly ambivalent, in fact.

    “Um, doesn’t it seem a bit different from when we arrived?”

    “It must be because the lord has officially ended his seclusion. It must be that. Absolutely, definitely.”

    “The day we came to Wongak Pavilion. That day was a bountiful catch. I can still feel the sensation in my hands. Heh heh.”

    * * *

    After sufficiently praising the chief steward, Yeon So-hyeon returned to his quarters.

    The chief steward, with a face overwhelmed with emotion and teary eyes, left several words of advice before departing from Wongak Pavilion.

    Jung-ah stood before the maid corps.

    Her skirt fluttered, and the sword at her waist jingled.

    Her deep golden eyes gazed down at the maid corps.

    “I am Jung-ah, the head personal maid to the Eldest Young Master and the chief court lady of Wongak Pavilion.”

    Her presence was like a sharp blade, imbued with the dignity of a queen.

    The maid corps looked at her with eyes filled with intense admiration.

    “Today is busy as well, so I’ll keep this brief.”

    Jung-ah’s gaze flashed chillingly.

    “You all must understand that it’s imperative you never become a burden to our lord.”

    Everyone nodded in agreement.

    “Those who wish to merely settle for their current position will be personally expelled by me.”

    Jung-ah brought up the maids’ greatest fear, making them tremble.

    “Therefore, you must never be complacent and should always be prepared to bring glory to our lord’s name.”

    Her voice echoed throughout the courtyard.

    “Do you understand?!”

    The maid corps responded with the loudest voice they could muster.

    “Yes, lady Jung-ah!”

    Jung-ah gestured for the triplets to come forward.

    As the triplets approached with the most well-behaved expressions, Jung-ah introduced them to the maid corps.

    “These are maids of Wongak Pavilion, who will be in charge of you from now on: Il-ryeong, Yi-ryeong, and Sam-ryeong.”

    The triplet maids smiled gently and greeted the maid corps.

    “Though they may be young and look innocent, they are more skilled and knowledgeable than you.”

    The triplets wore a slightly smug expression.

    “You must treat them with the respect you would accord a teacher. Understood?”

    Another loud chorus of agreement filled the air.

    Jung-ah nodded and then turned to the triplets.

    “Before the next group of maids arrives, you must ensure that all of these become fully competent members of the maid corps.”

    A golden radiance flowed from her eyes.

    “Do you understand?”

    The triplets, sweating under her formidable gaze, nodded frantically.

    “You don’t have to worry!”

    “Leave it to us!”

    “We’ll drive them hard!”

    Jung-ah, after giving them a piercing look, turned and walked away, her departure cutting through the air like a cold breeze.

    Everyone in the courtyard bowed deeply, offering their respects to her.

    As soon as she was out of sight, the triplets raised their heads and chuckled quietly among themselves. Their time had finally come, from the lord to the chief steward, and even the steward herself.

    It had been a long period of patience.

    Il-ryeong casually leaned on one leg and then spat on the ground.

    “Ha-ha. Now, you all…”

    Just then, from an unseen distance, Jung-ah’s angry voice thundered.

    “Il-ryeong! Do not forget the demeanor befitting a maid of our lord!”

    Il-ryeong, who had jumped in surprise, quickly returned to a more demure posture.

    “Yes, head Jung-ah! I will bear it in mind!”

    There was no response.

    After freezing in that position for a moment, Il-ryeong sighed and shrugged her shoulders at the maid corps, attempting to lighten the atmosphere.

    “You all saw, right? Head Jung-ah is an incredibly formidable person. Just assume that she sees everything, no matter where you are or what mistakes you make.”

    Yi-ryeong nodded in agreement.

    “That’s right. Once, when I was preparing sweets to offer to our lord, I secretly ate one, and she immediately noticed.”

    “It was the same when I accidentally tore an undergarment while doing laundry.”

    “Come to think of it…”

    At that moment, Samryeong coughed to get Il-ryeong and Yi-ryeong’s attention.

    “Now doesn’t seem like the time for such stories, does it?”

    Prompted by her words, Il-ryeong and Yi-ryeong returned to their sly grins.

    “Ha-ha. Indeed.”

    “From now on, we’ll start by teaching you the most fundamental duties of Wongak Pavilion.”

    “Heh-heh-heh. Remember, this is all just the basics, so don’t show any signs of struggling right from the start.”

    Their cunning smiles echoed across the courtyard of Wongak Pavilion.

    The maid corps shivered at their grins.

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