Jang Hamun, the Sea Dragon sect leader, tapped the table with his finger.
It was a habit of his whenever he was troubled.
His worries deepened after meeting Lee Seong-hak, who had returned from his journey a day ago.
The items and information that Lee Seong-hak had shown him concerned him.
No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn’t come up with an easy answer.
It was when he sighed,
“May I come in for a moment?”
The voice of his attendant, Woo Gunchang, called out.
Upon hearing Jang Hamun’s permission, Woo Gunchang entered the room.
Woo Gunchang, who was now in his early fifties, was the one in charge of the major and minor affairs of the Sea Dragon Sect.
He was also someone who played a significant role in helping the Sea Dragon Sect reach its current status, so Jang Hamun respected Woo Gunchang a lot for it.
Jang Hamun spoke to Woo Gunchang,
“Have a seat.”
“How can I sit at the same table as you–”
“There’s no one else here, so it’s fine. Just take a seat.”
Without further ado, Woo Gunchang sat across from Jang Hamun.
“So, what’s the matter?”
“There’s a strange rumor circulating in the streets right now.”
“What kind of rumor is it?”
“There’s information that a member of the Red Bandana Association was beaten up by an old man.”
“What kind of baseless rumor–?”
“I don’t think we can just dismiss it as a mere rumor. After all, there are quite a few witnesses. They say even Master Yoo of the Red Bandana Association couldn’t last a few seconds against the old man and fell to his knees.”
“So the rumors are true?”
Jang Hamun wore an expression of disbelief.
The Sea Dragon Sect knew best about the power of the Red Bandana Association more than anyone else. Although the said organization wasn’t comparable to the Sea Dragon Sect, they were still a force to be reckoned with, capable of inflicting significant damage if underestimated.
In particular, the Red Bandana Association’s leader, Yoo Il-seok, was so strong that even Jang Hamun didn’t dare to underestimate him. If Yoo Il-seok couldn’t last a few seconds, then it was obvious that the old man was an incredibly skilled martial artist.
“Why would such a skilled martial artist…”
Jang Hamun frowned.
Unpleasant thoughts flashed through his mind.
As he struggled to clear his mind, he asked Woo Gunchang,
“What is the identity of the old man?”
“We’re still trying to figure it out. However, from his yellow hair and beard, he may be someone from outside the Central Plains.”
“Outside of the Central Plains?”
“Yes. I think he may have been on one of the ships that came in yesterday. I have called the captains to ask them about it, so I’m sure they should be able to tell us exactly where he came from.”
“Tell them to find out quickly.”
Woo Gunchang replied, bowing his head deeply.
It was obvious that if an elderly person with enough power to single-handedly defeat the Red Bandana Association had come, then Jang Hamun could not afford to take such an individual lightly.
He had to figure out why such a person had come to Haimen.
There were not just one or two factions aiming for Haimen.
With the enormous amount of goods passing through Haimen every day, many factions have been greedy. That was why the Sea Dragon Sect always had to be sensitive to external threats.
If the old man happen to be by chance greedy for the city of Haimen and wanted to challenge their supremacy, then the Sea Dragon Sect had to take measures now.
“Since the situation is not looking good, let’s set up an emergency plan for now. We should be ready to move at any time.”
“And just in case, be prepared to call in skilled individuals from outside, so that they can help at any time.”
“But, if we’re not careful then we could end up bringing in a tiger to avoid the wolf.”
“I know. That’s why I’m saying that we should be prepared. We never know what might happen.”
“Okay. I’ll start spreading the word.”
Jang Hamun walked over to the window and opened it wide, revealing a panoramic view of the harbor.
Trading ships were still coming into the harbor.
Every time a trading ship came in, the Sea Dragon Sect would make a fortune. And Jang Hamuin had no intention of giving up such tremendous profits.
‘This land is mine. No one can take it away from me.’
* * *
Pyo-wol walked through the streets of Haimen.
Haimen is an incredibly large city. The streets were so complex that without a guide, it was easy to get lost. As a result, many newcomers ended up getting lost and wandering into the back alleys.
Of course, it was extremely rare for them to come out unharmed from those back alleys. They had to experience firsthand how cruel human nature could be and how brutal life could be for those at the bottom. If they were lucky enough to escape with their lives, it was considered fortunate.
Nevertheless, Pyo-wol didn’t mind walking around in such dangerous streets.
There were numerous people who tried to approach Pyo-wol as they saw him walking alone. Some were enchanted by Pyo-wol’s beautiful face, while others approached with the intention of robbing him.
But, not one of them managed to land a hand on Pyo-wol’s body.
Under Pyo-wol’s feet, a man was lying on the ground, groaning in pain. The man had just recklessly approached Pyo-wol a moment ago.
The man did not appear to have any visible injuries, but the man’s complexion was pale and he had bubbles coming out of his mouth.
He was the twenty-third man who had attacked Pyo-wol. He had suddenly appeared out of nowhere and demanded,
“Give me everything you have!”
Pyo-wol did not hesitate to unleash a technique he had recently learned on the man.
So this was the result.
The man was experiencing excruciating agony.
He would have preferred to lose consciousness rather than endure the intensifying pain, but the more intense the suffering became, the clearer his mind became.
Pyo-wol didn’t even spare a glance at him and walked past.
With time, the technique he had used would naturally wear off. Of course, until then, the man would continue to endure hellish pain.
Pyo-wol then continued memorizing the landmarks and terrain around him.
Whenever Pyo-wol visited a place for the first time, he had the habit of studying and familiarizing himself with the terrain.
He would analyze the terrain, distinguishing advantageous and disadvantageous areas and preparing for the worst-case scenario.
He might be more at ease than before, but this habit of his hadn’t changed at all.
Only when Pyo-wol had memorized the terrain of Haimen did he return back to the inn.
“Oh, you’ve returned already?”
As soon as Pyo-wol entered the inn, Tarha was the first to greet him. Yul Ayeon, who was by Tarha’s side, also smiled and greeted him.
“You’re back. I thought you wouldn’t return because I haven’t seen you all day.”
“I was just wandering around here and there.”
“Were you sightseeing?”
“You could say that.”
“Oh, how envious.”
Yul Ayeon flashed a playful smile.
This made her already mesmerizing blue eyes stand out even more.
As Pyo-wol took the seat in front of them, he spoke,
“I also haven’t seen you since this morning. Were you busy?”
“I suppose it’s because it’s my first time visiting this neighborhood so there was a lot to see and visit. Thanks to that, I was busy touring around with my granddaughter.”
Tarha replied with a smile.
Yul Ayeon rested her chin in her hands and spoke,
“There are so many fascinating things in the Central Plains. There are many beautiful people too, so it’s a treat for the eyes.”
“That’s right! The Central Plains is indeed different from the Western Region.”
“What is the West like?”
In response to Pyo-wol’s question, Tarha scratched his head with his finger for a moment.
“Well… It’s definitely different. It’s much more well-decorated. Everything here in the Central Plains that is.”
“Is that so?”
“The people, the buildings, the environment… should say that all of it feels richer?”
“Is it not like that in the Western Region?”
“Well, it’s been through a long civil war.”
“Civil war? Does that mean the West was divided?”
“More or less. The war should have ended a little earlier, but it dragged on for some reason. That’s why the region became even more devastated and desolate.”
“It’s truly a tragedy. Many people in the West have suffered because of it, unlike here where it’s so peaceful.”
“Well, to me, the Central Plains doesn’t seem particularly different.”
“Is that so?”
Tarha looked at Pyowol, surprised at his unexpected response.
“It’s only peaceful on the outside.”
“Just appearing peaceful on the surface is enough. If the Western Region was only this peaceful, then I wouldn’t have come all the way here.”
Tarha smiled bitterly.
After a moment of thought, Pyo-wol asked.
“When did the civil war start in the Western Region?”
“It’s been over several decades. In fact, civil wars are actually quite common in the West. With so many tribes and kingdoms, there’s no shortage of clashes and territorial battles. But I swear this is the first time I’ve ever seen a civil war go on for so long without any hint of resolution.”
“So why did you come all the way here? If the civil war is that bad and serious, shouldn’t you be there to fix it?”
“Because the root cause lies elsewhere.”
At that moment, Yul Ayeon’s voice snapped Tarha out of his reverie. Only then did Tarha realize his mistake and composed himself.
“Forget that last one.”
“As I get older, I tend to indulge in pointless musings more often. I sometimes wonder if that’s why they say people should die when they’re old.”
Tarha brought his drink to his mouth.
Yul Ayeon smoothly changed the subject.
“By any chance, is there anything worth seeing that you could recommend?”
“Really? That’s a shame.”
“I don’t know this place much either.”
“Well, it can’t be helped.”
Despite Yul Ayeon’s words, she didn’t show the slightest hint of disappointment at all.
She just stared intently at Pyo-wol.
There were many handsome men in the West, but none of them gave off the same air as Pyo-wol.
In the first place, she didn’t like men with such feminine and flashy appearances. In her opinion, men should have broad-shouldered and must be dependable.
In fact, the most common men she would see around her were exactly those kinds of men.
If nothing extraordinary happened, Yul Ayeon would marry one of those men. After all, the laws of the Mara Sect were extremely strict, to the point that they do not allow marriage with outsiders.
The only exception was her father.
Her mother had fallen in love with a man from the Central Plains, but while she may have successfully given birth to Yul Ayeon she had to pay a steep price.
Since then, no one dared to marry a foreigner.
This was especially true for Yul Ayeon. She even had it even worse because she was already of mixed blood. It would absolutely be impossible for her to marry anyone outside of the Mara Sect.
And if by any chance she were to marry someone outside of the Mara Sect, not only would she face severe consequences, but so would her grandfather, Tarha.
Therefore, the idea of marrying someone outside of the Mara family never once crossed her mind. However, Pyo-wol’s appearance was so impressive and charming that it started to shake her firm resolve.
Yul Ayeon was genuinely curious about Pyo-wol’s identity.
It was impossible for someone with his appearance, aura, and eyes to be an ordinary person.
Since arriving in the Central Plains, she had been in the dark about the situation here.
She tried to subjugate the Red Bandana Association to get the information she wanted, but her knowledge was still significantly lacking. Because of that, she couldn’t easily deduce Pyo-wol’s identity just from his face.
Whether or not Pyo-wol knew what she was thinking, he continued to stare out the window.
A moment of silence hung over the table where they were sitting.
Tarha was busy taking a sip of his drink, Pyo-wol had his gaze focused on the outside, while Yul Ayeon continue to observe Pyo-wol.
Such an unusual atmosphere lingered and continued on for a while.
It was Pyo-wol who later broke the silence.
“I’ll go ahead first.”
He stood up from his seat and headed for the annex.
He could feel Tarha and Yul Ayeon’s gazes on his back, but he paid them no attention and just continued being on his way.
As soon as Pyo-wol left their sight, the servant, Geomyeon quickly followed him and went to his side. Geomyeon had his back bent down as he opened his mouth,
“I received a message from Brother Musang.”
“Since he did, then it must be certain. He said he had been monitoring the children while you were away.”
“Those two of them came here to find someone, and they had the martial artists of the Red Bandana Society scattered in search of that person.”
“Do they know the identity of the person?”
“It’s only been a day. Give us a few more days and we’ll likely figure it out.”
“Tell them to hurry up.”
Geomyeon replied, nodding his head at Pyo-wol’s words. Then, as if he had remembered something, he spoke again,
“By the way, this is a completely separate matter, but I heard that the Sea Dragon Sect is very busy right now.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know the details myself, but they say that security has become stricter since a merchant ship arrived.”
Pyo-wol’s gaze traveled to the location of the Sea Dragon Sect.