Haimen might not be the largest city in the world, but it was definitely the busiest.
On one side, trading ships were unloading their cargo, while on the other side, small fishing boats were docking and unloading their caught fish.
The unloaded cargo from the trading ship would all be taken either to the nearby warehouses or the warehouses of the Sea Dragon Sect, while the caught fish would be immediately traded on the spot.
Haimen is the most active place for monetary transactions to take place in the entire world. Seeing tens of thousands of gold coins come and go every day was a common occurrence. Due to these circumstances, numerous people flocked to Haimen in pursuit of wealth.
Laborers working for the Red Bandana Association were a prime example. Being affiliated with the Red Bandana Association makes it easier for people to secure jobs at the port. This was why many people aim to join the said organization.
But not all people working at the port belonged to the Red Bandana Association. This includes the people currently hauling their caught fish from their fishing boats.
Since the smell of fish clung to a person’s body, it was a job that the Red Bandana Association did not pay attention to.
Most of these jobs were performed by people who had just arrived in Haimen. Once they gained some experience, they would eventually try to join the Red Bandana Association and work at the port.
But even such people working at the bottom of the ladder in Haimen have basic needs and desires. This is where prostitutes came in. Prostitutes would approach such people with the intention of targeting their pockets.
These prostitutes are considered even lower than the courtesans working in the brothels of the well-off downtown area.
They don’t sell laughter, music, or alcohol like the courtesans.
They only sell their bodies.
And they sell their bodies to a variety of people.
Fishermen, men from the slums, and even sailors from out of town.
So as a result of selling their bodies as circumstances allowed, they sometimes unexpectedly ended up with a child. To the prostitute, the child, who could potentially be someone’s offspring was no different from cargo– a heavy burden.
The prostitutes would then make constant efforts to get rid of the child. They would often times ingest strong drugs or inflict blows to their stomach. In this way, most of the babies in their stomachs would end up stillborn.
But every once in a while, a child would make it through the gates of death and survive to see the light of day. But even then, they would still remain unwelcomed by their mothers.
From birth, they were forced to live and survive on scraps.
When they reached a certain age, they were forced to fend for themselves and find a way to survive on their own.
They had no choice but to run odd jobs, resort to theft, and commit misdeeds in the back alleys to support themselves. That’s how these children melted into the lowest depths of Haimen and survived on their own.
The servant of the inn where Pyo-wol was staying was one of those children. But he was among the lucky ones. He received a meager salary and occasionally received tips from the guests.
For the children belonging in the back alleys, being a servant or errand boy was their favorite occupation. Those who did not become a servant were forced to travel from place to place.
Unwelcome by anyone, the children banded together. Although they had different areas of activity, they stayed in touch and looked out for each other. That’s why they were more aware of what was happening at the bottom of Haimen than anyone else.
“My name is Geomyeon.”
When Pyo-wol looked at him, Geomyeon had a slightly embarrassed expression.
“It’s a name I made up. It means a sparrow that uses a sword. My nickname used to be Sparrow.”
Geomyeon was also a child born to a prostitute.
The elderly prostitute neither had the mental nor physical capacity to suddenly take care of a child that appeared out of nowhere.
She considered Geomyeon as an obstacle blocking her future. With how a child was constantly crying next to her, she couldn’t properly serve customers. So the moment when Geomyeon learned how to walk to a certain extent, she kicked him out of the house.
Geomyeon grew up watching his mother sell her body from outside their makeshift shelter.
Because he was so nimble and quick, people called him a Sparrow. It was only later on when Geomyeon added the word ‘sword’ to the word sparrow did his name became Geomyeon.
Even though things were going well for him and he became a servant, he still maintained a close relationship with his friends in the back alleys.
Whenever he receives his meager paycheck, his only pleasure was to visit his friends and eat delicious food with them.
Geomyeon guided Pyo-wol to the back alley of the port where his friends usually gathered.
The back alleys were no different from the slums that Pyo-wol had visited so far.
It was dirty, foul-smelling, and full of crude shacks.
The ground was covered with unidentifiable filth that would make anyone reluctant to step on it. But even then, Pyo-wol didn’t even bother to look down. He continued to follow Geomyeon without a second thought.
Geomyeon sneaked a glance at Pyo-wol and thought to himself,
‘He’s not an ordinary person after all.’
Geomyeon had witnessed firsthand how Tarha dealt with the Red Bandana Association’s martial artists yesterday, so he knew well how terrifying and fearsome Tarha was.
Pyo-wol was one of the people who sat at the same table as Tarha. The sight of him casually talking to Tarha without being intimidated had left a lasting impression in Geomyeon’s mind.
The place where Geomyeon took Pyo-wol was the most secluded area of the back alleys.
It was a small clearing surrounded by shacks with various objects piled up like mountains, thus forming a small garden.
There were children sitting all around the open space.
Their ages ranged from five-year-olds to early to mid-teens like the servant, and among them were several children who seemed to be of mixed race.
This was their territory.
As expected of someone living in the back alleys, their eyes were filled with a sense of hostility.
A child who seemed to be the leader among them soon stood up and approached Geomyeon and Pyo-wol,
“What do you want?”
He was an unusual child. He had yellow mixed in his hair and was a fair-skinned child. However, his body was covered in scars, showing how harshly he had lived, and even his eyes had a deep fierceness.
Geomyeon stepped forward and explained,
“We have a customer, Brother!”
Upon hearing the word ‘customer’, the leader boy glared at Pyo-wol and said,
“What do you want from us?”
“All kinds of information.”
“What the fuck do you mean by all kinds?!”
The corners of the leader boy’s eyes shot up in disdain.
He despised such broad terms.
He preferred to speak precisely and accurately about anything, and he never trusted those who spoke vaguely and broadly.
The survival instinct of someone who lived at the bottom was ingrained deep within him.
There were over twenty thousand children in this clearing. Add in the children living in their own territories, and there were more than a hundred.
The leader boy had the responsibility to protect them.
Geomyeon tried to calm down the leader boy and said,
“Brother! Calm down for a moment! He’s not someone who you can mess with!”
“What nonsense are you talking about?”
“Well– you see—”
“Cut the crap and step aside. I’ll be the one doing the negotiating, not you.”
“Okay– I understand…”
When the leader made a face, Geomyeon quietly stepped back. The leader’s name was Tae Musang.
He had chosen his own name as well.
He chose the surname Tae simply because it sounded cool, while his first name Musang meant having no rival.
Tae Musang looked at Pyo-wol with a fierce gaze.
The basis of negotiation was to establish and gain superiority over the other party.
Even if he didn’t know why the other side wanted such broad information, the one who needed the answers was the other party, and not him.
He aimed to dominate the situation and extract as much compensation as possible.
“If you have something you want, state it specifically. Don’t speak vaguely like that. And even if you give us money, we won’t let you off easily.”
Tae Musang started with a threat.
He thought that his threat would be effective since Pyowol’s appearance was delicate. It was his negotiation tactic that he had acquired from the bottom.
Pyo-wol’s lips curled up in an arc.
Looking at Tae Musang reminded him of an old memory.
Tae Musang’s action was exactly similar to how children behaved in the underground cave.
They formed groups and moved together, while their leaders expanded their influence by fighting against others.
Tae Musang’s behavior was no different.
He intentionally spoke harshly to intimidate and impress upon the following children that he was someone of this caliber.
Of course, in Pyo-wol’s eyes, Tae Musang only looked cute.
Seemingly bothered by Pyo-wol’s smile, Tae Musang narrowed his eyes,
“Laughing? You’re laughing now? How could this motherfucker be laughing? Kaak! Ptoo!”
Tae Musang spat on the floor and walked toward Pyo-wol. He showed his most threatening appearance.
Pyo-wol opened his mouth,
“What’s your name?”
“What do you care? You son of a bitch!”
“I just wanted to offer my condolences to someone who’s about to die.”
“What? You fucking—!”
In an instant, Tae Musang’s eyes flipped. He then rushed toward Pyo-wol.
His movements were so nasty that it was hard to believe he hadn’t learned martial arts. He seemed to be naturally agile.
In the blink of an eye, Tae Musang’s fist reached near Pyo-wol’s chin. However, Tae Musang couldn’t extend his fist any further.
Before Tae Musang knew it, a blade was touching his chin. It was certain that if he extended his fist further towards Pyo-wol, the blade would pierce through his chin.
The single-edged blade which was the size of a child’s palm was Pyo-wol’s phantom dagger.
Tae Musang’s face twisted.
Only now did he realize that Pyo-wol was a skilled martial artist. He had never thought of it before because Pyo-wol looked too delicate and beautiful to be a martial artist.
Seeing Tae Musang’s predicament, the children quickly rushed forward.
In the hands of the children were weapons commonly seen, such as wooden sticks, sickles, and hammers.
Although they were young, it was evident how ferocious they were.
Without such ferocity, they would never have survived here.
The adults here do not protect the children. On the contrary, they try to extort and exploit them. To protect themselves, the children have no choice but to become ferocious as well.
Unfortunately, however, their opponent this time was too good for them.
The children all froze in unison.
But it wasn’t their own will that made them stop.
They only stopped because of the small daggers floating right in front of them.
“What’s g-going on?”
The children couldn’t hide their astonishment.
To their eyes, the daggers appeared to be floating on their own.
The truth, however, was that the daggers were actually being manipulated by Pyo-wol’s Soul-Reaping Thread. The children just did not know of such an elaborate and advanced technique.
One of the children slowly moved to the side. However, seeing the dagger follow in his direction, he froze in place.
One phantom dagger rested on the tip of Tae Musang’s chin, while nine phantom daggers floated in the air, keeping the children at bay.
It was a sight to behold.
Tae Musang unknowingly swallowed his dry saliva.
The ferociousness they have accumulated from living at the bottom of the ladder was no match for the opponent in front of them.
Tae Musang had encountered many people who could be called masters in his time at Haimen, but he had never seen anyone like Pyo-wol.
‘S-Shit, I’m screwed!’
He instantly regretted not listening to Geomyeon’s words.
He tried to act tough to protect the children, but his choice ended up putting them in danger instead.
Their opponent is a master who could easily end their lives with a single move. It would have been better not to associate with such a person in the first place.
But, he had already attacked Pyo-wol.
It was now too late to turn back.
Tae Musang shouted,
“L-Let me deal with this alone.”
“Be… because I’m the only one at fault.”
“When you get involved in a group, you have to take collective responsibility.”
“That’s the kind of place Jianghu is. It’s entirely your responsibility that these children are on the brink of death. You recklessly rushed in without even knowing what your opponent was capable of. Instead of protecting them, you invited danger to the children to the point of death. You are not qualified to be their leader.”
Tae Musang gritted his teeth.
Pyo-wol’s words were like sharp daggers, digging into his chest.
He had worked tirelessly to protect the children, but he couldn’t believe the fact that his hasty judgment had actually put them in danger.
Tae Musang looked at Pyo-wol with bloodshot eyes.
The moment their eyes met, he felt a chilling sensation throughout his body.
He had met countless people in his life, but never had he seen someone with eyes that were completely devoid of emotion.
The more Tae Musang looked into such eyes, the more despair washed over him like a tidal wave. Pyo-wol’s unreadable gaze made Tae Musang feel extreme fear.
Tae Musang suddenly fell to his knees.
“Please spare me.”
“Why should I?”
“You said you wanted information, right? I’ll become your hunting dog and give you anything you want, so please let me live.”
Tae Musang’s demeanor and tone completely changed. Plus, he made a reasonable proposal.
Pyo-wol realized that Tae Musang had completely given in.
It was difficult to get someone like Tae Musang to submit, but once he made up his mind, he was someone who would not easily waver.
Pyo-wol pulled a pouch from his pocket and tossed it to Tae Musang.
The pouch contained silver coins.
“Follow the trail of the person that Geomyeon tells you about.”
Without even asking who the target was, Tae Musang replied.
At that moment, Pyo-wol retrieved his phantom daggers.
Sighs of relief burst from the children’s mouths.
Only then did Tae Musang raise his head again. But by then, Pyo-wol had already disappeared into thin air.
Tae Musang gaze then turned to Geomyeon.
“You! Just who the hell did you bring?”