“Huuk! Huuk! Huuk! Huuk!”
Droplets of sweat flew off in the wind, and damp hair flapped around.
Dressed in pristine white, Baek Cheon ran and ran. His every stride was firm with determination, and his slightly furrowed brow showed an undeniable resolve…
“Ah, wait! Wait a minute!”
At the sound of Baek Sang’s shouting, Baek Cheon turned his head back without slowing down.
“N- No! Stop for a bit!”
Only then did Baek Cheon come to a halt.
As soon as he stopped, Baek Sang and Tang Soso collapsed on the spot as if they were falling flat.
“Heok! Heok! Heoook!”
“Aigo…. Aigo. I’m dying.”
After gasping for breath for a while, Baek Sang looked at Baek Cheon with a face that he couldn’t understand.
“No, Sahyung! Who’s chasing after us?”
“Since Chung Myung aren’t here, shouldn’t we just take it easy? Why are you running like a chicken with its tail on fire?”
At that, Baek Cheon wiped his damp forehead with a strange face.
“This… has become a habit.”
Jo-Gol and Yoon Jong also nodded in agreement at the word.
“If something goes slowly, I feel uneasy….”
“I feel impatient because there’s nothing to pull… I feel like I need to pull something.”
Baek Sang was left speechless. All he could do was to look at them as if thinking, ‘What’s with these thing?’ However, the three of them were on the better side. Yoo Iseol was tilting her head with a puzzled expression, asking, ‘Why? What’s wrong with going fast?’
‘No, if it’s like this, it’s meaningless that Chung Myung isn’t here, right?’
If they’re going to act the same whether he’s there or not, then why did they leave him behind?
“I know the situation is urgent, but there’s no need to run until we foam at the mouth.”
“I know. I know but…”
Baek Cheon looked around with a restless look.
“Going slow makes me anxious and I can’t be reassured.”
“I keep feeling like I have to go quickly and get things done quickly.”
Jo-Gol nodded furiously as if agreeing with the statement.
“I keep feeling anxious and impatient like I’m going to go crazy. It feels like someone’s following from behind.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
Looking at the three who were constantly looking around as if they were neurotic, Baek Sang clenched his eyes shut.
‘It’s not like they’re carrying some kind of ghost.’
Despite leaving Chung Myung behind, these people are still completely under his shadow.
“But Sahyung. If we keep running like this, not only me, but Soso will also collapse. Be a little more…”
At that time, Baek Sang looked surprised at the voice from below.
Tang Soso, who was panting with her face stuck on the dirt ground, suddenly raised her head and was grinding her teeth. Looking at the blazing eyes, even a tiger would have fled from her while urinating.
“Let’s go like this!”
“Sa- Sajil! You’ll pass out if you keep it up.”
“If I pass out, then so be it.”
Tang Soso gritted her teeth.
“You think I don’t know?”
“These days, you’ve been using me as a doctor, and don’t expect me as a sword warrior as much!”
Baek Cheon and Yoon Jong flinched. The sharp glare was directed at them.
“I might be lagging behind now, but if this continues, I will become a burden in the end, I know that.”
“Soso, we’ve never thought of you that way. You are our precious…….”
“Do you think I’ll let myself become that? Keep running! If I can’t run on my own, I’ll follow even if I have to crawl. If that doesn’t work, I’ll grab someone’s hair and drag myself!”
Baek Cheon closed his mouth and grinned.
Yes, that’s right.
Where is there warmth in Mount Hua?
Tang Soso lifted herself up with trembling hands on the ground. It looked as if fire was bursting from her eyes.
“No, it would be better to rest a little…”
“Don’t worry, Sasuk! I’m gonna catch up with you stubbornly! Don’t worry about me and just go!”
“N- No. Not you.”
Tang Soso turned her head to the side.
Baek Sang slumped down with a face saying, ‘Beat me to death but I can’t run anymore. Leave me behind or boil me for food, do as you wish.’
Tang Soso looked at him with a pitiful look on her face.
“What! Why! I’m an office worker!”
“… This bat-like guy.”
Baek Cheon muttered under his breath. When necessary, he claimed to be an office worker of the Finance Hall, and when inconvenient, he claimed to be a proud swordsman of Mount Hua Sect. He was quite the cunning opportunist, wasn’t he?
‘I don’t remember him being that bad in the past.’
Thinking about it, who among the people of Mount Hua Sect remained the same as before? They had all changed quite a bit.
Briefly lost in thought, Baek Cheon sneaked his eyes at Yoon Jong.
“What are you looking at?”
In response to Yoon Jong’s question, he lightly shook his head.
“I was just thinking about how hard the guys left in Mount Hua must be having.”
Yoon Jong chuckled.
“They must be having a hard time. There’s nobody to hold him back, after all. But with Sect Leader and Great Sasuk there, it won’t be a disaster, right?”
“He might not cause a disaster, but it gives me the creeps thinking about how much that frustrated guy will vent his anger because he couldn’t follow.”
“Hahaha. That’s true.”
Looking at each other, the disciples of Mount Hua who were laughing awkwardly looked towards Mt. Hua, which was already far away.
“…Let’s get this over with and go back.”
“N- No! Let’s take a break!”
“Quit whining and get up, you little punk. We’re almost there. It’s the Yangtze River soon.”
“… It’ll take a whole day’s run to reach there, won’t it?”
“A day will pass quickly.”
At that moment, Baek Sang realized something.
He didn’t know when Chung Myung was here, but now he knows for sure since Chung Myung is gone. Now, Mount Hua’s problem is that Chung Myung isn’t the only one.
Baek Sang groaned as he got up and started running again.
“Heok! Heok! Heoook! Ah, I’m gonna die!”
Baek Cheon smiled slightly as he felt the presence of Baek Sang, who was catching up hard behind him while gasping.
“Come on, let’s speed up a bit more!”
There seemed to be something rough and loud coming from behind, but Baek Cheon didn’t bother.
* * *
“We’ve arrived at the Yangtze River.”
“Hmm. So it is.”
After barely arriving at the Yangtze River, Baek Cheon breathed out a long breath.
He feel this every time he see it, but the view of the Yangtze River was literally spectacular. Especially for the disciples of Mount Hua Sect, who were from Shaanxi and rarely saw big rivers.
Normally, they would have admired this vast river with pure hearts, but now, they felt more overwhelmed than happy looking at this incredibly wide and long river.
‘Do we have to search this place thoroughly?’
It was daunting.
The Yangtze River, spanning half the central plains, was so long, and its breadth was akin to that of the sea. The idea of them searching this vast area seemed nearly impossible.
Back Cheon turned his head since there was no answer. And what he found was not Baek Sang, who stood next to him and answered quickly as usual, but Baek Sang, who was lying on the ground and twitching.
“…Are you all right?”
“…If you weren’t my Sahyung, I’d seriously….”
Baek Sang is struggling to get up. Then, with a face covered in dust, he replied gruffly.
“…Where did you say the disciples of Yuryong Sect were last seen?”
Baek Sang turned his head as if he had no clue.
“Didn’t you hear? Somewhere on the Yangtze.”
Baek Cheon slowly clenched his fist. Watching the veins rise on his strained forehead, Baek Sang gently began to speak.
“Right… Kugang. Right. They said it was around Kugang. They were attacked while crossing to Poyang Lake.”
“Oh, that’s right! They said Kugang. It’s right around there where the others are missing.”
“Who told you?”
Baek Cheon loosened his fist.
Of course, Baek Sang had a good reason to be angry.
“You dragged me here without giving me a chance to rest, and now you’re asking me while my head is spinning. You could have at least given me some time to catch my breath before asking. Ei, no blood, no tears….”
That’s why Baek Cheon tried hard to ignore Baek Sang’s mumbling that was barely audible.
“Poyang Lake… Then we’re in the right place.”
Baek Cheon squinted his eyes as he looked out over the vast expanse of water stretching out before them.
The Yangtze River was connected to massive lakes at various points. These lakes were optimal areas for pirates to operate.
First of all, being a lake, the current wasn’t swift, so ships cannot run away easily. And, the areas where the water flowed into the lakes were several times wider than an ordinary river. Plus, the lakes themselves were so vast that they almost replaced the need for the sea, making it difficult to chase pirates.
“Then we’ll start by searching the area around Poyang Lake.”
“…Sasuk. It’s too wide. Can we really search this huge area on our own?”
“Nothing will come out of it if we just search randomly.”
Baek Cheon nodded lightly at Yoon Jong’s question.
“As we have already contacted Beggar Union in advance, go seek cooperation from their branch of Kugang. Please check to see if anyone has recently taken care of the injured.”
“Yes, Sasuk. I understand.”
“Baek Sang, bring Jo-Gol and gather information through local merchants. This incident isn’t just happening to us. We need to confirm if there are any merchants who have recently been victimized by pirates.”
“I’ll go to Beggar Union. I can’t work with this guy.”
At Baek Sang’s words, Jo-Gol protested as if he was wronged.
“No, Sasuk. How can you say that! I’ve been respecting and following you so much!”
“You should consider it fortunate that this is not the age of Confucius. If Confucius had seen you, he would’ve turned the Three Schools of Jungwon from Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism to just Taoism and Buddhism.”
The same imagination unfolded in everyone’s head. Their body trembled as they imagined Confucius holding a fan and mercilessly smashing it on Jo-Gol’s head.
That would be a truly bizarre sight.
“Anyway, if that doesn’t work, please send me alone to Beggar Union. No matter how close our alliance with Beggar Union is, they are an intelligence organization. They might have been lenient when we were powerless and poor, but it’s fair to pay a decent price now. Since it’s a matter related to money, I’ll go.”
“And as for investigating the merchants, Jo-Gol, who is a merchant’s son, will do a better……”
“Ei, you must be joking.”
In response to a sudden outpouring of nonsense, Baek Sang quietly watched Jo-Gol. Jo-Gol, who had somehow distanced himself, was pretending to look at a distant mountain.
‘You reap what you sow.’
He didn’t feel pity at all.
“Then let’s do as you say.”
When Baek Cheon nodded, Jo-Gol grumbled and clung to Yoon Jong’s side.
“Then let’s have Yoon Jong do that. Take Soso with you, Samae, and check if the people around Poyang Lake have heard rumors about the pirates. Specifically, we need to find out if there’s a new group of pirates, not the ones that were originally there.”
When Yoo Iseol answered, Tang Soso quickly moved next to her and put her arm around her. The expressionless Yoo Iseol tilted sideways.
Although Yoo Iseol might seem a little scary to ordinary people, she should do well with Tang Soso tagging along.
“Sasuk. What’s your plan then?”
Baek Cheon turned his head and looked toward the Yangtze River.
“I guess I’ll have to go to the river.”
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“It won’t hurt to experience it beforehand. Anyway, we’re running out of time, so let’s move now. Don’t forget that the most important thing when gathering information is finding the missing people.”
As Mount Hua’s disciples dispersed, Baek Cheon slowly turned to look towards the Yangtze.
‘I don’t have a good feeling.’
He had a bad feeling that the situation might be more serious than he initially thought.
“I’ll find out when I check.”
Baek Cheon slowly moved toward the river.
Is it because they’re all tired or because they’re distracted by the absence of Chung Myung?
None of Mount Hua’s disciples, who arrived at the Yangtze River, noticed that there was a dark gaze watching them from afar.