Chapter 44

Episode 2. Book 1: Exploration – Chapter 11

San looked ahead with the musical instrument still in his hands. He’d still be able to play the guitar-like instrument even though a few strings broke, but he chose to pause.

His mouth was tightly shut, and his hand was frozen mid-air.

His gaze was fixed on a single person in the audience.

People were still catching their breaths and waiting in silence. It was as if they were trapped in the calm before the storm.

They were swept by the passionate rendition that swirled like a torrent in their ears, in their minds, and deep in their hearts. His belting words and harmonizing sounds lingered in the hall.

The words and image of which he spoke seemed to melt in their heart. The mellow, sorrowful, and sweet melody touched them directly and swayed their psyche. The sudden ending caused a disconnected vacuum in the hall and within their hearts.

A momentary sense of collective embarrassment and awkwardness was felt once the audience was sucked into this vacuum. However, they yearned and desired more. They wanted the continuation of this noveluplifting mood.

However, as with all good things, an end was necessary, demanded, and sought…

San turned to his left and laughed. He stated the closing last words while touching the broken strings…

“Today… my song is over. But…”

He slowly rose. His gaze fell on the Count before turning to another place. The people followed the direction of his gaze.

“If I have to sing again…”

“…!”

“It’ll probably be after another painful period has passed…”

San gently stroked the instrument. His meaning seemed to sink deep inside everyone’s minds…

“The next time, I hope I don’t sing alone, as I did now.”

After speaking, San turned cheerful and approached the instrument owner. He handed the instrument to the musician, who was still staring at him with wide-open mouth.

He smiled brightly, placing his hands on the musician’s shoulders, and said, “It was a good instrument. I’m sorry! I couldn’t keep my promise. You must be compensated. I’ll make sure to keep this promise!”

San was walking back to his place with both hands in his back pocket. The sound of his receding footsteps rang loudly in the deep silence.

        Clap-clap-clap-

A person’s applause broke the silence. It was from Cecil, lead bard and master of ceremonies. He stood up alone, clapping with an inspired expression on his face.

It was a clear expression of respect. The Count stood up and clapped as well.

Clap-clap-clap-

Soon everyone got up and started clapping. There were no cheers or shouts. Only the sound of roaring applause, which seemed like it would never cease, like the sound of a waterfall.

The sound resonated with the building and spread louder and more magnificently throughout the hall. The sound of applause made the evening space warm, shading the area in a tint of warm purple. A warm wind entered the hall this spring day.

The gentleness and emotional spirit seemed to cause condensation on all the women’s eyes…

***

“Hmm… You’re a handful.”

“I can’t sleep, so what should I do?”

“By the way, do you have to sleep so close in this spacious room?”

“I can’t help it. Hasn’t it become a habit?” 

“…”

“Are you asleep?”

“Go to sleep! Can’t I even sleep after drinking so much tonight?”

“….”

“Are you sleeping?” 

“….”

San stretched out his arm and pushed it under her head. She closed her eyes tight and pulled into his chest, laying her head comfortably on his outstretched arms. He glanced towards her.

She had washed and perfumed her hair, so it smelled fresh. Her breath was tinged with the slight smell of alcohol. He felt his mind go dizzy.

While staring into the darkness with Biyeon’s head leaned against his arms, a great many thoughts entered his mind. Among them was a strong mixture of resentment and anger, making him want to protest and grapple with someone.

‘Why… why! Why should we live a life like this where we’re not even allowed to rest for a moment? How long have we lived in a constant state of nervousness, breathlessness, and hell-like atmosphere! Shit… What did we do to deserve this form of death!’

The room the Count provided them was large, spacious, and colorful. There was also a guard stationed outside. However, there was no guarantee that it would be safer than the pit in the Pi’an forest where they lived for the past year like moles. Furthermore, those with their almighty power may still be watching them.

Therefore, they didn’t let their guard down. They installed traps around the windows, entrances, and around the bed. Even when they were sleeping… they had emergency packs with only the necessary amount of clothing to escape in case of an emergency.

It was also a defensive mechanism for the two to curl up and sleep like this. Even when they were sleeping, they wouldn’t snore. That’s why they always slept lightly. One would sleep lightly while the other would sleep a little deeper. He found it unfair that they had to continue this pathetic habit in this gorgeous room.

Even in this relatively advanced civilization, they had to live like homeless travelers, constantly worrying about the danger that lurked just around the corner.

Biyeon didn’t let her guard down for a moment, even today. Even with all the alcoholic beverages she consumed, she kept her vigilance. Thus, even in this comfortable place, she couldn’t rest and curled up in his arms, sleeping like a cat.

Damn...

San suddenly looked at Biyeon’s face. The line and contour of her face were beautiful, even in the dark. Her heart was also wise and strong. However, she had to live a tough life. Why did she have to suffer in a place like this…

“Thank you...” she mumbled quietly into his ear.

“I should be saying that,” he said before closing his eyes.

***

More and more people came into the castle every passing day. All kinds of hunters, warriors, and merchants entered through the gates to meet the Count. The Count now recognized more visitors than residents within the castle walls.

“Phew- This is a bigger event than I thought.”

San clicked his tongue as he passed the front gates.

“It’s like an ethnic and race exhibition. Everyone is so busy…”

“Are you going out, my lords?”

A guard at the front gate saw the two approaching his sector and rushed to greet them courteously. They had become famous people.

In this smallish castle and estate, news about the two had spread rapidly.

Most of the people were interested in the novelty. People often imposed their own fantastical fantasies and expectations about them, making their presence even more mystical and alluring.

“Hum- Today, we’re planning to look around the outskirts of the estate, San nodded and answered.

“I will make sure to provide you with a guide,” the guard respectfully replied.

“Uh, no? Well. Yes… would you do that?” San fumbled.

“Please wait!”

The guide that was appointed to them, ‘Yuren’, was a warrior with the title of Official. In the modern Earth military, he would be close in rank and duty to a commissioned officer. He took the lead with a serious face, guiding them here and there.

They toured the outskirts of the estate all morning, and on their way back, they took a break to find a reasonably sized restaurant to have a meal.

“What is that building?” San asked, pointing to a nearby building.

The building was quite large. It had 3 floors and had a high wall surrounding it like a modern Korean mansion. From time to time, they could hear chanting and cheers from behind the wall.

“That is a clan building. There are three or four minor clans within any castle. That place is called the Yuso Clan and is the largest warrior clan on Count Essen’s estate. The clan mainly specializes in martial arts that deal with spears and clubs. The leader of the clan is ‘Yutu’. He has already reached the Dark Warrior level of martial power,” Yuren replied.

“How does a clan operate? What businesses do they operate to stay afloat?” asked Biyeon.

“They’re mainly in charge of escorting nobles, merchants, and other high-level people between provinces. They also provide military power when there’s a dispute between provinces. As a matter of fact, I’m also from the Yuso Clan. I learned how to write and developed my martial art skills there.”

While answering, Yuren made a very strange expression.

He was speaking to seemingly all-powerful Awakened Warriors, but they were asking about clans… he initially thought he was being teased, but he just tilted his head while trying to decipher the hidden meaning in their serious expressions.

“Hmm- So, they’re a martial arts clan that also specializes in general education?” San muttered as he looked at the building once more with interest.

“Yes. That’s what they do. Large clans in the empire or in the big cities of the kingdom are also called universities. Among them, the three Absolute Clans are the places all warriors dream of attending.”

“Absolute Clans? I heard that Dong-Myung is an Absolute Clan. Is that right?”

Yes. They dominate the martial arts world with the Han-Sung and Ki-Jang Clan.”

“Oh? Then which clan is the strongest? Do they ever clash with each other?”

San pursued the topic further with interest.

“They do not clash against each other often. It’s difficult to say who is stronger because each Absolute Clan has a different specialty. In fact, it must be said that the three major forces have coexisted in balance for more than a few hundred years. People usually associate each clan this way: ‘Warriors of Han-Sung’, ‘Weaponry of Dong-Myung’, and ‘Organization of Ki-Jang’.

“What about their personal martial powers?”

“In terms of individual skills, Han-Sung warriors, who mainly use swords, are the strongest. However, if three or more warriors fight together in a group, it is said that the Ki-Jang warriors are superior due to their ability to cooperate and move as one. The Dong-Myung warriors are armed with all sorts of marvelous weapons, including remote and melee weapons. They’re known to be the trickiest because they are able to transform materials on their body and use them as weapons.”

“What level of skill is the person named Dongye from the Dong-Myung Clan?” asked San.

Yuren opened his eyes wide. He looked around carefully and replied in a low voice, “Sir Dongye is an Awakened warrior. We do not dare to assess and differentiate Awakeners. One wrong or misspoken word will lead to great trouble. Sir Dongye is the clan representative responsible for overseeing the northern area of the Poran Kingdom, such as the estates of Count Essen, Marquis Norian, and Count Meyer. He is considered the strongest warrior in this area.”

“Is that so?”

Biyeon looked at San and tilted her head.

There seemed to be some laughter in her eyes.

“If that uncle recovers, he’ll jump to seek revenge on us, no?”

“I guess we’re as good as dead.”

San turned his head and laughed.

“Sir?”

Not knowing what they were talking about, Yuren looked at the two alternately with an anxious expression.

The three finished eating. The meal included a bagel-shaped bread made from grain, water, scrambled eggs, meat, and salted vegetables mixed with a lot of fat.

Tea also came out, but it looked roasted and boiled rather than steeped.

“I’m glad that the food here suits my taste. This one here is especially tasty, no?”

“We need to take some back. Yuren, what do you call this?” Biyeon asked, pointing to a dried vegetable dish.

“The dish is called ‘Yellow Cho’. People who like spicy food seek this dish.”

“Can you order some to be taken out? We love spicy food.”

“That will be no problem.”

The three slowly made their way back to the castle gate. There were large open markets and various stalls on every street with people busily wandering here and there.

Finding what you need, and finding the people who need you…

Suddenly, Biyeon stopped walking. San’s face hardened. She put her hand on her belt and took out a small sack.

I… I think we’ll need to take some salt again.”

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