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    Elder Council, after adjournment.

    Only two people remained in that place where all the elders had left.

    “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!”

    The resounding voice of the Council Chief echoed through the empty corridor.

    “You just made an enemy out of that crazy old monster! And by joining hands with the eldest young master he hates the most!”

    The Council Chief shouted as if wringing his words.

    “Do you think he won’t know that you’re deeply involved in this?!”

    The Deputy Chief rubbed his ears with a nonchalant expression.

    “Goodness. Didn’t I always tell you to practice sound techniques? If you had, you would have long become the world’s best with just that voice of yours.”

    “Is this a time for jokes?!”

    The Deputy Chief’s expression vanished.

    “If I don’t make jokes now, what am I supposed to do?”

    “…”

    The Deputy Chief raised his hand to show it.

    “Do you see it?”

    That old and withered hand, covered in liver spots, was trembling as if having a seizure.

    The Deputy Chief forced a smile with quivering lips.

    “That old monster never took his eyes off me. Even when the first person spoke up about punitive compensation, even when someone agreed to it, his gaze was fixed only on me.”

    Although he knew it well.

    He was too dangerous of an opponent to make an enemy.

    The Council Chief hit his own chest.

    “Then why on earth did you make a deal with the eldest young master?! For what reason?!”

    He grabbed the Deputy Chief’s shoulders.

    “Didn’t I say I would take full responsibility and resolve it for you? If it’s your problem, I would have solved it no matter what price I had to pay!”

    He shouted at his friend who wouldn’t raise his head.

    “I am the Council Chief! I am the Council Chief of the Great Luoyang Sword Clan!”

    The Deputy Chief looked up at his friend of sixty years.

    “That’s why.”

    “What do you mean?!”

    The Deputy Chief staggered and took a step away from the Council Chief.

    “You’re the Council Chief. With that power, you’ve always helped me. But…”

    “But why…?”

    The Deputy Chief spat out a single sentence toward the Council Chief, who had an expression of not understanding.

    “But since childhood, you’ve been like that. Even now. You’ve never completely pulled me up from the cliff.”

    The Deputy Chief bared his teeth at his friend.

    “When I was about to fall off the cliff, you extended your hand. But you never once pulled me all the way up to the top of the cliff…!”

    He added.

    “…And it was the same five years ago.”

    “…!”

    The Deputy Chief’s eyes sparked.

    “That’s exactly why.”

    The Council Chief’s expression distorted.

    “Didn’t I always say? In all things:”

    “Yes, in all things, there is a ‘sequence’ and ‘procedure.'”

    The Deputy Chief laughed hysterically.

    “Just as it was the proper ‘sequence’ for that position to come to me originally. If you had properly helped me five years ago!”

    As the Deputy Chief’s words continued, the wrinkled face of the Council Chief trembled more and more.

    “If all my problems are solved even now, just as I’m the most likely person to be the next Council Chief in terms of ‘procedure’!”

    “Then we both would have died! Do you still not understand?!”

    “There was also a sufficient possibility of survival! It definitely existed!”

    “The possibility of that…!”

    The Deputy Chief cut off the Council Chief’s words with a thunderous shout.

    “Then can’t you help me even now?!”

    The Council Chief’s mouth hardened.

    “If we combine our strength, we can somehow confront that old monster! Isn’t that right?”

    But there was also a sufficient possibility of both of them being destroyed.

    “That’s…”

    The faces of his family members and subordinates, who would be relying on him and ending their day today, flashed through the Council Chief’s mind.

    The Deputy Chief gave a bitter smile.

    “…I know. I know everything. Now you’re carrying too many things on those shoulders. I know your sense of responsibility better than anyone else.”

    That’s why he was called the small giant.

    The Deputy Chief looked at his friend, who seemed on the verge of bursting into tears at any moment.

    “…Now I, too, have too many precious things I’m carrying.”

    He turned around and walked to the other end of the corridor.

    “Thank you for listening to my complaints until now.”

    The Council Chief, who had been standing there blankly for a long time, staring at the figure of the person who was no longer there, lowered his head.

    In the end, he walked towards the opposite end of the corridor.

    The paths of the two people, who had started their relationship as milk brothers from the moment they were born, diverged.

    Their relationship, which had been tightly bound by trust and faith.

    That relationship ended like that to protect the trust and faith they each carried.

    ***

    The place the Deputy Chief headed to with staggering steps was Elder Yeom’s residence.

    Elder Yeom, who had been swinging his giant sword in light attire, noticed him and ran over in a single breath.

    “Deputy Chief!”

    The Deputy Chief spoke to Elder Yeom with blurry eyes.

    “…Can I have a drink?”

    Seeing the unusual expression on his face, Elder Yeom nodded solemnly.

    “Of course. Please come inside.”

    Elder Yeom helped the staggering old man inside.

    And after sending away all the subordinates, he personally arranged the alcohol and snacks.

    The old man, leaning on an armchair and blankly staring at the ceiling, spoke.

    “…Although I was prepared, it hurts more than I expected.”

    Elder Yeom let out a deep sigh.

    “…I don’t know what to say.”

    The old man muttered as if talking to himself.

    “When I finished the deal, I thought it was satisfactory…. I thought it was a price I could sufficiently endure….”

    Elder Yeom simply stayed by his side without a word.

    The appearance of Deputy Chief Ham looked ten years older than the last time he saw him.

    “…I thought at least five of them would stay by my side. We had agreed in advance.”

    He refused the cup Elder Yeom offered and drank straight from the jar.

    Half of it spilled on the floor, and the other half was as good as spitting it out with a cough.

    “…After seeing that monster’s reaction today, no one kept their promise.”

    Already drunk before coming to see Elder Yeom, he looked at Elder Yeom with unfocused eyes.

    “I paid the price. More miserably than I had calculated. Now I’m a kite with a broken string. That monster will target me, who is now completely exposed. Even if you and the eldest young master don’t keep your promise, I won’t hold a grudge.”

    No one stayed by his side.

    Without a moment’s hesitation, Elder Yeom said to Elder Ham.

    “Don’t worry. From now on, as a member of my faction, Deputy Chief will receive the protection you deserve.”

    “Really…? You’ll keep your promise?”

    “Of course. Isn’t that trust?”

    Elder Ham laughed loudly.

    “Now you are my friend! My brother!”

    Elder Yeom laughed along with him.

    But there was something chilling about that laughter.

    ***

    A night with a bright moon.

    Under the eaves of Wongak Pavilion.

    Yeon So-hyeon was looking at something under the moonlight.

    The Medicine King quietly approached him.

    Although Medicine King had approached without making any sound, as if by some magic, as soon as he got close, Yeon So-hyeon turned around.

    “Have you decided to change careers to a night visitor now?”

    Embarrassed, Medicine King answered gruffly.

    “At this age, what career change….”

    But his eyes glanced towards what Yeon So-hyeon was holding, as if it bothered him.

    “It’s nothing much.”

    Yeon So-hyeon readily held it out.

    It was a letter written in extremely short text on silk.

    [I will repay the grace you have bestowed, even if I die and come back to life.]

    The Medicine King briefly sniffed.

    A faint scent of musk wafted from the silk.

    “…Yeom Baek-ha. It was sent by that child, wasn’t it?”

    Yeon So-hyeon, who had turned his head again, only nodded without answering.

    Medicine King struggled to speak to his somewhat ephemeral-looking back.

    “…Do you regret it?”

    There was no answer.

    Only the flower petals fluttering in the gentle breeze sparkled in the moonlight.

    “It was I who found the ‘medicinal herb that can artificially induce seizures’ in that child. Then should I be the one regretting it?”

    Medicine King said it artificially induces seizures.

    Yeon So-hyeon did not answer.

    “It was the kitchen maids who ground that herb and put it in that child’s meal. Should they be the ones regretting it?”

    “…I was the one who made the decision and gave the orders.”

    As soon as the answer finished, Medicine King threw a question.

    “Then, was there any other way?”

    A brief silence.

    “There wasn’t.”

    “Right. You must have done it because you absolutely needed Elder Yeom.”

    “That’s right.”

    Yeon So-hyeon recalled the history before he went back in time.

    The promised period of great chaos that came to the Luoyang Sword House after Yeon So-hyeon left as a son-in-law.

    Until the very last moment when the Luoyang Sword Clan was shattered, there was one warrior who never forgot his loyalty and oath to the Clan Leader and the sword clan.

    A man who never lost in any battle no matter how disadvantageous, and always brought the necessary victories.

    Guarding the front of the Deep Chamber that had already lost its Clan Leader, he fulfilled his loyalty to the very end and passed away. The world called him:

    The Ever-Victorious, Never-Defeated.

    The God of the Giant Sword.

    Yeon So-hyeon needed someone like him.

    To create the future he envisioned.

    Absolutely.

    Yeon So-hyeon’s last move to obtain such a person was ‘deception’.

    ***

    The Medicine King, who had been keeping silent, asked.

    “…What if, on that day, Elder Yeom had not returned and just left with his daughter?”

    “…Nothing. Just greater sacrifices in the journey ahead.”

    The Medicine King didn’t say anything, as if waiting for something.

    In the end, it was Yeon So-hyeon who continued.

    “…In fact, I believed he would definitely return. He’s that kind of person. Someone with trust.”

    Yeon So-hyeon gave a bitter smile.

    “To gain the trust of a trustworthy person, the last move needed was deception. How contradictory is that?”

    The Medicine King approached Yeon So-hyeon and sat down beside him.

    “If there was enough time, if there were a few years, could you have gained Elder Yeom’s trust?”

    “…No. He’s not a light-minded person who would trust someone after a year or two of interaction.”

    Yeon So-hyeon spoke in a low voice, as if muttering.

    “If I had approached him revealing everything, he would have doubted everything. If I had given him everything, he would have accepted nothing.”

    Because he was a person in power.

    Because that was the responsibility of one carrying many things.

    “…And it’s the same for me.”

    Yeon So-hyeon looked up at the void.

    “Even if he had approached me with a sincere heart, I would have had no choice but to doubt him. If he had offered loyalty without a price, I would not have accepted that loyalty.”

    Because he himself was also a person in power.

    Because he too was carrying far too many things on his shoulders.

    But the way to gain the trust of such an Elder Yeom, and the way for Yeon So-hyeon to trust Elder Yeom, was also very simple.

    Just like how Yeon So-hyeon recently ‘sold trustworthy deals’ to other elders.

    The experience of being driven to the limit, the experience of almost losing his daughter forever.

    Yeon So-hyeon’s actions in that situation.

    Elder Yeom’s decision to risk everything he had.

    After paying such a huge price, he came to trust his relationship with Yeon So-hyeon.

    Because Elder Yeom paid such a huge price, Yeon So-hyeon was able to trust his relationship with him.

    A solid trust relationship created by a single small deception.

    How shallow was that trust between those in power?

    “…”

    Medicine King, who had no choice but to remain silent, noticed other letters on Yeon So-hyeon’s lap as he turned around.

    Seeing that all the letters were written on the same silk, it was clear that all those letters had come from Yeom Baek-ha.

    [Today, for the first time since childhood, I was able to walk properly. Thank you.]

    [Eldest Young Master, you have given me a new life.]

    Medicine King’s eyes skimmed over the contents of the letters.

    [This young lady is so happy that Father and Eldest Young Master have become close friends who deeply trust and rely on each other.]

    “…”

    The two did not engage in any conversation.

    They just looked up at the night sky.


    Arc 03

    The Other Side of the Moon

    An earthly kingdom cannot exist without inequality of persons.

    Some must be free, some serfs, some rulers, some subjects.

    -Martin Luther [1483.11.10.-1546.2.18]”

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