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    Chapter 9: Sealed Hands

    Elder Yeom heaved a deep sigh.

    “Goodness. I was certain this would work…”

    Perhaps because he had expelled all the spirit within him with that burst of energy, there was not a hint of drunkenness to be felt.

    “Your strategy was excellent.”

    Elder Yeom smiled wryly.

    “Are you saying it was just you, Eldest Young Master was one step ahead of me?”

    Yeon So-hyeon did not reply but smiled faintly.

    At that, Elder Yeom, as if resigned, raised his hands in surrender.

    “Since I was in the wrong, how about we hand these over now?”

    It was because Life-Stealing Devil Sword had been inching his sword closer and closer to Elder Yeom’s neck.

    “….”

    His face was filled with immense dissatisfaction.

    And it wasn’t just Life-Stealing Devil Sword who was angry at Elder Yeom’s act; everyone still pointing their swords felt the same.

    Yeon So-hyeon praised his followers with a smile.

    “Well done. Everyone handled that admirably.”

    Only then did they one by one start to sheathe their swords.

    The office was noisy for a while with the sound of swords being slid into their scabbards.

    “Now, everyone, return to your posts.”

    The personnel started to exit the office like the tide going out.

    Of course, they didn’t just leave quietly.

    All of them glared at Elder Yeom with fiery eyes as they withdrew, making Elder Yeom, who was sitting with his back to the entrance, feel a prickling sensation on the back of his neck.

    “Ha ha. If I pull something like this twice, I won’t have a neck left to save.”

    Elder Yeom tried to laugh it off as charmingly as he could, but his back was already drenched in cold sweat.

    “Once again…”

    The response came not from the Eldest Young Master but from Life-Stealing Devil Sword, who had been the last to sheathe his sword.

    “…If you pull this kind of stunt again, elder or not, I’ll just pretend it was an accident and take off your head.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    It takes two hands to clap.

    When Elder Yeom offered a candid apology with a bitter smile, Life-Stealing Devil Sword stepped back with an expression as if the steam had been let out.

    “As expected of Life-Stealing Devil Sword. Truly lives up to his reputation.”

    His nickname was so renowned that even in the north, where Elder Yeom once resided, it was widely known.

    As Life-Stealing Devil Sword walked away with a swagger, showing his back, Elder Yeom called out to him.

    “How about we have a proper match someday?”

    “If you’re confident you’ll survive, by all means.”

    Life-Stealing Devil Sword snorted softly as he walked out, carrying an air of dignity.

    Following him out, the Eldest Young Master’s voice reached him.

    “Hey, gatekeeper.”

    Turning around with a ‘What now?’ expression, the Eldest Young Master pointed at the shattered doorframe.

    “You broke it, so make sure you fix it by today.”

    Eeek…!”

    Life-Stealing Devil Sword, seemingly on the verge of cursing, left without saying a word.

    Elder Yeom chuckled and shook his head at the sight.

    “In the entire Central Plains, you’re probably the only one who can handle that demon-like man so roughly, Your Highness.”

    “What demon-like man, he’s just a gatekeeper.”

    Whether Life-Stealing Devil Sword heard the Eldest Young Master’s voice from outside or not, his outraged yell could be heard, but the Eldest Young Master paid it no heed.

    Elder Yeom, with a wry smile, pointed to a figure that concerned him more than Life-Stealing Devil Sword.

    “And what about this young lady?”

    If Life-Stealing Devil Sword was the last to sheathe his sword, there was someone who hadn’t sheathed hers at all, nor stepped back.

    “This is Jung-ah, the head maid of this Eldest Young Master, and also my chief personal maid.”

    She glared at Elder Yeom with a ghostly intensity.

    Even though she had dispersed her energy, the remnants still lingered, her eyes emitting a golden glow.

    “Yes, well…”

    Elder Yeom, avoiding her gaze, nodded with an awkward expression.

    “I’ve heard of her before…”

    When the Eldest Young Master looked at her, Jung-ah resolutely shook her head.

    Instead of retreating, she took her position behind her master, without sheathing her sword.

    It seemed she had no intention of leaving her master alone in the presence of someone who had deceived her with a false appearance.

    The Eldest Young Master shrugged his shoulders towards Elder Yeom, as if to say there was nothing he could do.

    “Please understand. It seems she does not trust you.”

    Elder Yeom nodded as if he finally understood.

    “So she was the ‘Mind Reader’ advising the Eldest Young Master through secret messages.”

    “Mind Reader?”

    “Yes, that’s what they called it in the north.”

    The Eldest Young Master also nodded as if things were now clear.

    “I see. So, you had encountered this ‘Mind Reader’ in the north before. That’s why you were able to respond so adeptly.”

    Elder Yeom smiled wryly.

    “I had been warned beforehand, but I didn’t believe in such superstitions until I learned the hard way.”

    “It’s natural not to believe such fanciful tales until you experience them yourself.”

    “Indeed.”

    “…I apologize for interrupting your conversation.”

    At that moment, Jung-ah, who had been silently listening to their conversation, could not hold back any longer.

    “What exactly do you mean by ‘responding’?”

    “It’s nothing grand, really.”

    Elder Yeom graciously answered her.

    “The most important thing is to realize the existence of the Mind Reader.”

    The Eldest Young Master nodded in agreement.

    “That’s necessary for an effective response.”

    “Indeed.”

    Jung-ah asked further.

    “Then how did you realize my presence?”

    The Eldest Young Master answered.

    “It was probably when Elder Yeom heard the questions I asked Donggahyu, that old man. Given your previous encounter, you recognized the signs.”

    “That’s correct.”

    Elder Yeom inwardly admired Eldest Young Master’s deductive skills and continued to explain to Jung-ah.

    “From my experience, that mind-reading isn’t all-powerful. It especially struggles to distinguish between partial truths and the whole truth.”

    “Partial truths and the whole truth…”

    The Eldest Young Master simplified the explanation.

    “Everything Elder Yeom said earlier was true. He just didn’t tell ‘everything.'”

    “Ah…!”

    At Jung-ah’s exclamation, the Eldest Young Master smiled.

    “It’s true that he missed the battlefield, how he felt in the past, and all his sentiments. The clincher was his intention to resign from his elder position.”

    “But that wasn’t the whole truth.”

    “Exactly.”

    The Eldest Young Master looked at Elder Yeom.

    “Elder Yeom, are you resigning from your position as elder because you’ve given up all desire for power?”

    “…I will not answer.”

    Elder Yeom’s evasive response and wry smile caused Jung-ah to sigh softly.

    “Jung-ah, it’s not your fault. It’s just that Elder Yeom is a remarkable figure for being able to devise a countermeasure in such a short time, even turning the situation to his advantage.”

    Elder Yeom also praised Jung-ah.

    “The mind reader I encountered could not use their powers unless they were directly in front of me. But you didn’t even enter the range of my senses. I doubted myself several times because of that.”

    Each word from Elder Yeom was a genuine compliment, which somewhat eased Jung-ah’s spirits.

    “Had the Eldest Young Master not received your secret messages during our conversation, I might have never noticed your presence.”

    “Ah… I see.”

    Jung-ah’s disappointment was evident, and the Eldest Young Master comforted her with a bitter smile.

    “It’s very difficult to completely conceal the existence of secret messages from a master like Elder Yeom.”

    “Yes, my lord.”

    While she complied readily, her expression still carried traces of dissatisfaction.

    Was she that upset?

    The Eldest Young Master smiled at her display of genuine emotion, something he hadn’t seen since her eyes were awakened.

    “You’ve only been training in martial arts for a month, so there’s no need for greed. When the time comes, I’ll even obtain the Shaolin’s ‘Words of Wisdom Light Cultivation Technique’ for you.”

    “Yes, my lord.”

    Jung-ah’s face lit up at his words.

    Elder Yeom, watching her, muttered in disbelief.

    “…A month?”

    As Elder Yeom doubted his own ears, wondering if he had misheard, Jung-ah asked the Eldest Young Master.

    “Then, my lord, how did you see through Elder Yeom using my ability against me?”

    Elder Yeom also showed keen interest in the answer.

    “I am curious about that as well.”

    Despite all his contemplation, Elder Yeom couldn’t fathom how the Eldest Young Master had pierced through his strategy of turning the mind-reading to his advantage.

    The Eldest Young Master smiled faintly.

    “As I said earlier, it wasn’t difficult. It all starts with a single assumption.”

    “A single assumption, you say…?”

    The Eldest Young Master turned his gaze to Elder Yeom.

    “The Elder Yeom I know is an unbeaten warrior, always finding a way out even in the direst situations.”

    A meaningful smile played on the Eldest Young Master’s lips.

    “Such a person wouldn’t simply accept defeat and retreat in this chaotic situation. He would surely find a way out.”

    “….”

    Elder Yeom remained silent at the Eldest Young Master’s words.

    “From there, everything becomes simple.”

    The Eldest Young Master leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs.

    “The moment you negotiate with me here, defeat is certain. But relinquishing your position as elder and starting anew offers a small, but definite chance to rise again.”

    It echoed what the Eldest Young Master had once said to Yeom Baekha.

    The difference between ‘0’ and ‘a number close to 0’.

    Choosing between these differences is the real gambler’s choice.

    And Elder Yeom was such a person.

    After a long silence, Elder Yeom finally spoke with difficulty.

    “…You had confidence in your assessment of me from the start, Eldest Young Master.”

    The Eldest Young Master smiled gently.

    “The same goes for you, doesn’t it, Elder Yeom?”

    “…Yes?”

    “You also had confidence in me, which is why you attempted the strategy you did earlier, didn’t you?”

    The Eldest Young Master gestured towards himself.

    “When you stepped down from your elder position and brought your daughter, you were confident that I would treat her without complaint, weren’t you?”

    Indeed.

    ‘I am merely a physician and a non-swordsman, but you? Can you merely be a father to a child?’

    That was something the Eldest Young Master himself had said.

    Elder Yeom had such confidence in the Eldest Young Master, which allowed him to employ such a bold strategy.

    After a long silence, Elder Yeom shook his head.

    “…Indeed. I see no way to win.”

    With those words as his last, Elder Yeom closed his eyes.

    Perhaps he was entering a deep contemplation for a final decision.

    The Eldest Young Master did not press Elder Yeom further.

    He simply waited quietly for him to settle his thoughts.

    ‘Now, one step forward.’

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