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    Despite being a minor and not even twenty years old (Bi Ryu-yeon was only nineteen), Bi Ryu-yeon was excessively misusing the term “elder.” This inconsistent use of vocabulary, sometimes being used unnecessarily or omitted when necessary, was evidence that he was not yet a perfected con artist. His dedication to the art of deception was evident, but two months was a relatively short time to fully grasp, understand, adapt, and apply the vast and ever-changing world of deception. Fortunately for Bi Ryu-yeon, no one had yet realized this fact, allowing his fraudulent act to continue unhindered.

    “Everything here is created by my supreme educational consideration. Considering my current status and position as an elder, I have close connections with various families and sects. Some of you might know me very well. However, I do not want to give personal favors to any individual among you due to these connections. Learning should be fair. Therefore, I have hidden my face and name to ensure fairness in this teaching. Though I have concealed my identity, if anyone here recognizes me through my unique weapons or martial arts, pretend as if you don’t. The connections we had in the past vanish at this moment, and the only relationship remaining between us is that of teacher and student. Remember, I have no relations with you and am a stranger you are meeting for the first time. From now on, your progress depends solely on your abilities. You will address me only as ‘Master.’ Understood? I am nothing but your teacher.”

    “Yes, Master!”

    Everyone responded in a loud and clear voice. Bi Ryu-yeon was immensely pleased with the sound of ‘Master’ echoing in his ears. It was an uplifting feeling. He emphasized the word ‘Master’ in particular, as it was one of the main reasons he had embarked on this plan.

    From the lips of the fake teacher Bi Ryu-yeon, a passionate oration spilled out, and the response came in strong, resonant voices. If anyone familiar with him had been present, they would have been astonished by his eloquently twisting tongue, wondering what had made him so verbally agile. Among the sixteen members of the Vermillion Bird team sitting there, a few naive ones had already been completely taken in by Bi Ryu-yeon’s fiery and volcanic speech, their eyes shining with deep impression.

    Bi Ryu-yeon’s immediate confession of wearing an incognito mask upon meeting them was a high-level(?) deception technique. By revealing to the people his use of the mask, he preemptively averted any future dangers. It was an advanced form of deceit where he openly shared his weakness, thereby avoiding it. 

    Had Bi Ryu-yeon kept hidden the fact he was wearing an incognito mask while teaching, and if by some mistake or a keen person’s notice, his disguise was revealed, they would have questioned why he deceived them with the mask. At that point, a frivolous answer like “Just for fun…” would not suffice. Him teaching in disguise fundamentally carried a significant flaw. However, if from the start, he logically convinced them why he was teaching in disguise, they wouldn’t be able to raise any objections about the mask later. Even if a third party questioned him about it, he could brusquely reply, “What about it? I already explained it to everyone!”

    A fact already revealed was no longer a weakness for Bi Ryu-yeon. Moreover, by making a splendid speech around this fact, he even managed to instill respect in some of the children. Looking at them with their eyes full of admiration – though the situation was quite suspect of being an illusion – Bi Ryu-yeon felt the rewards of his two months of diligent study. Elated, he clenched his fist, thinking that “Monkey Can Do It Too: A Guide to Trickery” was indeed a brilliant book.

    Catching his breath, Bi Ryu-yeon continued speaking with a more composed expression and voice.

    “Now, let’s have a time for self-introductions. You, start with introducing yourself.”

    Bi Ryu-yeon’s index finger pointed at Namgoong Sang, who was sitting in the front. Namgoong Sang, who was picked, quickly stood up and began his introduction in a clear and confident voice, embodying the perfect model student.

    “My name is Namgoong Sang, the second son of the Namgoong family, and I am currently serving as the leader of the Vermillion Bird team. I look forward to your guidance and teachings.”

    Namgoong Sang concluded his introduction with a polite bow, a perfect example of how to give a respectful greeting. Obviously, receiving such a courteous and proper greeting, Bi Ryu-yeon’s mood seemed to be soaring. He was pleased.

    Following Namgoong Sang’s lead, the Vermillion Bird team members began introducing themselves one by one. The Vermillion Bird team truly was a collective of members from diverse backgrounds and martial arts sects. Among the male disciples were: Hyun-woon from the Wudang Sect, Tang Cheol-yeong, the third son of the Sichuan Tang Clan, Cheong Mun from the Qingcheng Sect, Jo Cheon Woo from the Huashan Sect, Yi Ja Ryong from the Kunlun Sect, a bald disciple from the Shaolin Society, Geum Yeong-ho, the only son of the largest trading company in the martial world, Golden Tiger Company, Noh Hak from the Beggar’s Sect, and Namgoong Sang, totaling nine men. The female disciples included Tang Mun-hye, the second daughter of the Sichuan Tang Clan and Tang Cheol-yeong’s sister, Jin Ryeong from the Emei Sect, Namgoong Sansan, the eldest daughter of the Namgoong family and Namgoong Sang’s twin sister, Danmok Su-su, the eldest daughter of the Danmok family, Moyong Chwi, the only daughter of the Moyong family, Hua Seol-ok from the Huashan Sect, and Hwangbo Ok-yeon, the eldest daughter of the Hwangbo family, totaling seven women.

    ‘Oh no!’

    While examining the gender ratio of the Vermillion Bird team, Bi Ryu-yeon couldn’t help but frown. Was the person who formed this Vermillion Bird team in the Heavenly Martial Arts Academy a fool? With nine men and seven women, the men outnumbered the women by two. This composition was just asking for trouble during the training camp. To prevent any unsavory incidents, the female members should have outnumbered the men or at least been equal in number. Even an equal number could be risky, but it was still better than the current situation. Two more men than women was the worst possible arrangement.

    “Tsk, tsk, tsk…”

    Bi Ryu-yeon clicked his tongue in disappointed(?) regret. It was now his responsibility to control the surging wolfish nature that arises at night, or even without the moon. Particularly for those vigorous wolves, it seemed necessary to put heavy shackles on them.

    “Ahem, nice to meet you all. Now that we have temporarily formed a master-disciple relationship, it’s only temporary, but remember, once a teacher, always a teacher. From now on, I am your eternal teacher, and you are my eternal disciples. If anyone has received any teachings, it already forms an unbreakable master-disciple bond. Remember this, understand?”

    “Yes, Master!”

    “Hehehe, good, good. To commemorate this, I will give each of you a gift or a souvenir. Receive it gratefully.”

    Bi Ryu-yeon managed to swallow the words, “These items cost a fortune,” with superhuman patience. The announcement of gifts from Bi Ryu-yeon brought a gleam of joy to every disciple’s face. After all, who doesn’t love free stuff? Bi Ryu-yeon then opened a large box next to him. It was a plain box made of dark wood, devoid of any patterns or decorations. At first glance, and in reality too, it was an ordinary box, but the items inside were anything but ordinary.

    Inside the black box were dozens of dark-colored bracelets, similar in appearance to the black dragon bracelets on Bi Ryu-yeon’s wrist, but in a deep black hue. The only difference was the absence of the embossed dragon on these mass-produced bracelets. It was impractical to include such intricate designs on each one.

    Bi Ryu-yeon distributed four dark-colored bracelets to each member of the Vermillion Bird team. With 16 members in total, there were 64 bracelets in the box. Manufacturing these bracelets had cost Bi Ryu-yeon two months and a whopping five nyang of gold. Only after making them did Bi Ryu-yeon realize that his own Black Dragon Bracelets were not cheap imitations, which brought a satisfied smile to his face. Additionally, he had also made two steel axes and three steel laundry bats as a bonus. It was an operation that saw half of his painstakingly allocated budget fly away, and he wasn’t even sure if he could recoup the investment.

    The Vermillion Bird team members were shocked upon receiving four dark-colored bracelets each. Shouts and groans of “Ack!”, “Ugh!”, and “Urk!” echoed around as they felt the unexpected weight of the bracelets. The total weight of four bracelets, while not as heavy as Bi Ryu-yeon’s own Black Dragon Bracelets, was still an astonishing 200 geun (about 74 kg or 163 lbs), a hefty gift indeed. No wonder they all looked pale and shocked.

    Watching his disciples react just as he had when he first received the dark-colored bracelets, Bi Ryu-yeon grinned triumphantly. This was just the beginning.

    ***

    The Ferocious Sambo Beatdown Technique

    The blue sky shone brilliantly, as if inviting people to plunge into its depths, stretching out clear and vast. The cold, transparent valley stream flowed freely, producing a refreshing sound as it followed its destined path.

    Sunlight filtered through the white cloud fragments in the sky, scattering thousands of golden fragments as it shimmered on the surface of the clear valley water. In response, a cool breeze enveloped the world, creating a clear afternoon. The day was bright, and the energy seemed to boost life’s vitality. However, beside the valley stream, where the sun fragmented, a different scene unfolded, unrelated to the beautiful weather.

    Splash, splash.

    “Aaaah! No, this isn’t it. What is this even supposed to be?”

    This was not what she had anticipated. The ideals she had dreamt of before arriving here had long dissipated like dust sitting atop a wardrobe. Her arms were numb, her back sore. A torturous pain seemed to dislocate her shoulders, sending sharp signals through her fine nerves to her brain. Her slender arms, legs, and back continuously sent danger signals to her brain, which was already overwhelmed with handling these signals.

    In her left hand, she gripped the laundry placed on a flat rock, while her right hand firmly clutched a uniquely shaped laundry bat. Unlike ordinary laundry bats, this one was a dark, dull color, made from heavy iron. The iron laundry bat, despite its size, weighed an enormous 50 geun (approximately 18.4 kilograms or 40.5 pounds), making it a defiantly heavy object. Consequently, her hand trembled uncontrollably from the very start of using it.

    Her name was Tang Mun-hye, a 19-year-old girl from the martial family of Sacheon Tang. Born into a martial household, she began training in martial arts at the age of 7, starting with swordsmanship. After three years of honing her skills with the sword, she had laid a solid foundation in martial arts. At 10, she took up the whip, and from then on, she began to learn the art of whip fighting and hidden weapons from her family.

    At 14, she famously beat up a 16-year-old sole son of a renowned martial arts family, who had made derogatory remarks about women learning martial arts, saying they should stick to cooking and laundry. At 16, her skills stood out even among the boys and girls of the Sichuan Tang family, earning her the right to learn the family’s secret techniques. She came to possess the Tang family’s unique poison techniques, known as “Bi-in Bu-jeon” (only passed to non-outsiders).

    At 18, she applied to the prestigious Heavenly Martial Arts Academy, desired by all in the martial world, and was accepted despite the high competition. Gaining admission as a woman was no small feat, as it required extraordinary effort, talent, and skill. Her mid-term grades in her second year at the academy were high enough to qualify her for this training camp.

    She had always longed to become stronger, which is why she harbored great expectations for this training camp, known to significantly boost one’s skills.

    However, the idea of doing laundry was a total shock for her. To think that she, who aspired to be one of the greatest female martial artists, was reduced to doing laundry seemed as absurd as asking the King of Hell to spare a life.

    “Thump, thump, thump! Splash, splash, splash!”

    “Mun-hye, you’ll ruin the laundry. Take it easy.”

    Danmok Su-su, a fellow laundry worker, worried about the exploding laundry and tried to calm down Tang Mun-hye, who was venting her frustration on the laundry.

    “How can I take it easy? I’m already furious.”

    On the verge of exploding with pent-up anger, Tang Mun-hye snapped irritably at Danmok Su-su.

    “Still, we have to endure. What can we do?”

    “Am I in a situation to just suppress and endure? Aren’t you angry, Su-su? We’ve been doing nothing but laundry for over 10 days.”

    “Oh, it’s not just laundry. We did a lot of other things too,” corrected Danmok Su-su kindly, addressing Tang Mun-hye’s slip of the tongue.

    “Eugh, I mean, it’s just a saying. And what are these other tasks you’re talking about? Beading, foraging, chopping wood like men, aren’t all these just menial tasks? What do they have to do with martial arts training that we’re doing nothing but these tasks to death? Plus, we had to do all these tasks with these ridiculously heavy dark-colored bracelets on our hands and feet. We came here to learn martial arts, not to do hard labor. Understand? My whole body hurts, and I feel like I’m falling apart.”

    Tang Mun-hye was venting all the frustrations that had accumulated over time. Her long-awaited expectations had been shattered in an instant, making her extremely sensitive to everything. It seemed like she had been bottling up a lot of grievances.

    “I’m in pain too, just like you. My arms are trembling, and my whole body is in agony. But it’s much better than at the beginning, right? Initially, we couldn’t even move properly.”

    Danmok Su-su spoke with the tenderness of a mother comforting a crying child.

    “I don’t mind if training makes my body suffer. That’s exactly what I wanted. But this is different. It’s unbearable to be overworked because of these menial tasks.”

    Tang Mun-hye’s slender eyes narrowed, and her black pupils flashed with anger. Danmok Su-su, sitting next to her, felt a chilling coldness emanating from her.

    ‘She’s really angry. It’s like a boiling kettle.’

    Fearing that not calming Tang Mun-hye down could lead to something as serious as a murder, Danmok Su-su cautiously opened her mouth again.

    “Well, it’s not just us doing laundry, right? Others are doing the same work. Look, Miss Jin is cooking upstairs right now! Along with Miss Namgoong and Seol-ok.”

    Both Jin Ryeong of the Seven Phoenixes from the Emei Sect and Namgoong Sansan of the Namgoong family were involved in menial tasks like meal preparation, and even Huashan’s Hua Seol-ok was cooking, suggesting Tang Mun-hye should also let go of her anger. However…

    Despite her efforts, Danmok Su-su’s attempt to calm Tang Mun-hye seemed insufficient as the latter’s complaints continued, her fury unabated.

    “Still, cooking is cooking. It’s better than this. What is this anyway? Laundry looks so shabby. If it has to be menial work, I’d rather cook. We’re not maids; why should we be doing laundry?”

    Hearing Tang Mun-hye’s complaints, Danmok Su-su cautiously responded.

    “Uh, Mun-hye, it’s because you burnt the rice to a crisp and turned the soup into saltwater during the cooking test… Oops!”

    Danmok Su-su’s careful words were abruptly cut off by Tang Mun-hye, who didn’t want to be reminded of her embarrassing past.

    “Quiet! You also burnt the side dishes, remember? Under the pretext of stir-frying, you mutilated the vegetables beyond recognition.”

    Tang Mun-hye’s harsh words made Danmok Su-su increasingly irritated. She had kindly explained why they were in this situation, yet instead of gratitude, she received humiliating retorts. But she couldn’t escalate the situation by responding in anger and decided to endure patiently.

    “Oh, come on, I might not have learned cooking at home, but there’s no need to humiliate me like this! How are you planning to deal with the consequences if you keep complaining like this? Have you already forgotten what happened to junior brother Noh?”

    At the mention of junior brother Noh, Tang Mun-hye flinched, her body rigid with fear and dread. The vivid memory of that day’s bloodshed, the unforgettable horror, still haunted her. If something like that happens to me… The mere thought of experiencing a similar fate sent chills down her spine, causing her legs to tremble and goosebumps to rise on her arms.

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