Jin Mu-Won strolled around the Northern Army Fortress with his eyes closed. Everyone who saw him thought that he was just wandering about aimlessly. In truth, he was mulling over the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows.
There is a storm (風雨滿天), but the candle shines bright (烛火明世).
One must be like a candle, illuminating the world even during a terrible storm.
This was a very abstract phrase, and the explanatory text wasn’t particularly helpful, either. Jin Mu-Won couldn’t be sure if it was a method of circulating chi or a lesson in ethics.
I need to strike a balance between both interpretations because the Art of Ten Thousand Shadows isn’t simply a chi cultivation technique, it’s also a philosophical text.
Suddenly, Jin Mu-Won opened his eyes. His precognition told him that someone he welcomed very much would be arriving at the fortress in the near future.
Not far away, he saw Jang Pae-San and his men hanging out. They didn’t bother him anymore and treated him like he didn’t exist, because doing so was a waste of everyone’s time.
Once the Third Company had understood that they would gain nothing from messing around with him, the tension between them disappeared. The men had become so relaxed from the lack of societal pressures that they would discuss all sorts of obscene things in public in order to while away the time.
All they thought about was how to get past each day without feeling bored. As for the orders from their higher-ups to keep a lookout for the Silent Night? That was all but forgotten.
It was a repeat of what their predecessors did. And just like them, these guys would spend their days doing nothing until it was time to return to the Central Plains.
Jin Mu-Won took a step forward. His injured finger was still throbbing with pain, but he did not show it on his face. Whether he liked it or not, he’d have to spend three years with these mercenaries. To ensure that they would ignore him, he’d have to keep a low profile at all times and always hide his true emotions.
He walked past Jang Pae-San and headed for the backyard. In the past, this had been a beautiful garden with exotic plants, man-made landscapes and a big pond. Now that no one took care of it, though, it had become overrun with weeds.
Jin Mu-Won would sometimes come here in order to rest and avoid people, but today, someone had gotten here before him.
There was a man brandishing his sword recklessly. He crushed the grass beneath his feet and chopped off the bushes at waist-level, sending plant debris flying through the air.
“Pant, pant!” gasped said man, who turned out to be Seo Mu-Sang. He must have been training for quite some time, as his entire body was drenched in sweat.
Jin Mu-Won paused and observed Seo Mu-Sang quietly.
Seo Mu-Sang had an expression filled with self-loathing and was venting out his frustrations on the plants like a crazy guy.
The Blue Cloud Sword Style (青雲劍法). 
That was the name of one of the martial arts that was taught to every grunt in Heaven’s Summit. It was a martial art that could be learned within a very short time due to its simple moves and effective chi cultivation method. However, everyone knew that there was a limit to how strong one could get by practicing it.
If one wanted to surpass that limit, they’d have to obtain better martial arts, but Heaven’s Summit would never easily hand over such treasures to a mere affiliate mercenary like Seo Mu-Sang.
The only way for him to obtain high-level martial arts was to be promoted to a high position within Heaven’s Summit, or make a great accomplishment and be rewarded. Unfortunately, Vice-Captain Seo Mu-Sang wasn’t in a position where he could do either.
He looked like he was randomly waving a sword around, but his movements were sharp and concise, and he followed the trail of his sword with his eyes. He might not have been particularly talented, but he definitely had a solid foundation.
After finishing his sword dance, Seo Mu-Sang threw his sword on the ground.
“AHHHHH! GODDAMNIT!” yelled Seo Mu-Sang resentfully, his voice hoarse. Suddenly, he noticed Jin Mu-Won looking at him and raised his head.
Their eyes met.
“You got a problem with me coming here?”
“No, it was empty anyway.”
“Then get lost.”
Seo Mu-Sang’s attitude toward Jin Mu-Won was plain rude. That was because every time he saw the boy, he would be reminded of his regrets and lingering ambitions.
Jin Mu-Won lowered his head slightly in acknowledgement, then left. Seo Mu-Sang resumed swinging his sword around wildly.
The cut leaves and grass spun and danced in the air.
A gentle breeze stirred up ripples in the pond water, causing Seo Mu-Sang’s reflection to blur as if he were shivering.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One Year Later
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Jin Mu-Won looked up.
It was a fine day, with not a cloud in the sky, and he could even see the plains far into the distance. Normally, this sight would make him smile, but not today.
Winter was coming. Soon, the temperature would start decreasing at a frightening rate, and the winds would freeze one right to the bone. The Northern Plains would be quickly transformed into a world of white.
“Ah, fuck! It’s freezing! Hurry up and move the things inside. If anything’s missing, we’ll need to inform the suppliers right away.”
Jang Pae-San’s loud complaint pierced Jin Mu-Won’s eardrums. He turned around and saw Jang Pae-San nagging at three people pushing a filled supply wagon.
An evil grin spread over his face.
The winter last year had been really cold. Even Jin Mu-Won, a local, couldn’t stand the harsh winters of the North. Then, just how bad had it been for these people experiencing it for the first time?
They learnt what frostbite was, and the feeling of breathing in air that was like knives slicing through their lungs. Also, because they underestimated the amount of food they would need to eat to resist the cold, they had been left with no choice but to go out and get supplies in the middle of a blizzard. Jin Mu-Won could still remember the looks on their faces.
Evidently, they had learned their lesson. About a month ago, Jang Pae-San had written to Heaven’s Summit requesting several times more food and necessities than the previous year. Not only that, he had also bought a ton of fur from the hunters in the nearest village, and clumsily sewed himself several coats in preparation for the coming winter.
It was the second winter that Jin Mu-Won and Jang Pae-San were going to have to spend together. Their relationship hadn’t changed, though. For the whole of the last year, both of them had pretended that the other didn’t exist, just like ostriches burying their heads in the sand.
In just one year, Jin Mu-Won had grown a lot taller and even his scrawny body was starting to show a little muscle. However, the most noticeable things about him were his stubbornly pursed lips and the profound look in his eyes that made the sixteen-year-old look like a mature adult.
Seo Mu-Sang looked at Jin Mu-Won warily. Although his hatred for the boy seemed to have diminished a little bit, there was still some killing intent left in his eyes.
Jin Mu-Won could feel Seo Mu-Sang’s gaze, but he did not pay it any mind. He knew that Seo Mu-Sang’s hostility toward him had decreased significantly over the past year.
While Jang Pae-San and the other mercenaries were wasting away, Seo Mu-Sang diligently worked on improving his swordsmanship. Every day, as he swung his sword and practiced his footwork, the grass around his feet was uprooted until the ground became barren and hard.
Seo Mu-Sang had completely mastered the Blue Cloud Sword Style by now. However, he had been getting more and more irritable lately as there was no more room left for him to improve.
“Young Master!” A familiar voice called out to Jin Mu-Won.
Jin Mu-Won smiled.
A man in his thirties stood in front of him, dragging a large horse-drawn cart behind him. He had tanned skin and looked a lot older than he actually was.
“Young Master, how are you?”
Hwang Cheol smiled. He had brought an entire cart filled with winter supplies for Jin Mu-Won.
“I’m fine, thank you for your concern. How have you been, Uncle Hwang?” greeted Jin Mu-Won.
“I’m nice and healthy, as you can see. I’m freezing though, so can we go inside now?” Hwang Cheol was tempted to push Jin Mu-Won all the way back into his room.
Jin Mu-Won grinned as he led Hwang Cheol indoors. He looked at Hwang Cheol’s cart. It was filled to the brim with food and other necessities. Uncle Hwang worked hard to save up and buy this stuff for me.
In the face of Hwang Cheol’s loyalty and sincerity, Jin Mu-Won sniffed and felt the tip of his nose getting colder and colder as his snot froze.
“Uncle Hwang, you don’t have to do this for me.”
“But I want to do it. The price of these goods means nothing to me compared to the precious Young Master…” cried Hwang Cheol, tears dripping down his face.
Jin Mu-Won beamed and patted him on the shoulder, saying, “Don’t cry, Uncle Hwang. I’m really thankful for your concern, that’s all.”
Hwang Cheol did not reply and only smiled bitterly.
Jin Mu-Won should never have ended up this way. If not for the Northern Army’s efforts, the Central Plains would have been nowhere near as prosperous as they were now. A hundred years ago when the Silent Night first invaded, the Central Plains had been on the brink of destruction. Even now, the wounds of war had not completely healed.
But time was fleeting, and so was human nature. As soon as the Central Plains had recovered a little, they forgot about the scars and despair from that time and began to vie among themselves for power again. They forgot about the Northern Army’s accomplishments and destroyed it for selfish reasons. Now, they had even forgotten about Jin Mu-Won.
“Any news about the outside world?” asked Jin Mu-Won as they entered his room.
Hwang Cheol suppressed his feelings of bitterness and began to tell Jin Mu-Won about recent events. He was the young man’s only link to the rest of the world, and the only source of information about stuff happening in the Central Plains. From this information, Jin Mu-Won could deduce the rough directions that the world was taking, so he always listened very carefully to the stories that Hwang Cheol told.
Hwang Cheol talked all night long, and Jin Mu-Won’s laughter could be heard from time to time through the gaps around the door.
When morning arrived, Hwang Cheol prepared a nice breakfast for Jin Mu-Won. Jin Mu-Won wanted to share the food, but Hwang Cheol refused. In the end, he finished all the food by himself, causing Hwang Cheol to grin with satisfaction.
“Young Master, I have transferred everything to the storeroom. Be sure to eat well.”
“Don’t worry. Ever since then, I’ve made sure to eat three meals a day.”
Despite Jin Mu-Won’s answer, Hwang Cheol did not feel relieved. Jin Mu-Won understood how Hwang Cheol felt. If their positions had been reversed, he would probably have felt the same way.
Just then, Jin Mu-Won’s gaze shifted toward Hwang Cheol’s cart. Most of the goods had been removed, but there was still some stuff left.
“What’s that?” asked Jin Mu-Won, pointing to a rock about the size of a toddler. The obsidian rock with a dull black gleam looked extremely heavy.
“I got it on my travels. I heard that it was a meteorite that had fallen from the heavens, and that a tribe was worshipping it as a holy rock…”
“How did something like that end up in Uncle’s hands?”
“The tribe was massacred, so the rock became the property of no one.”
“They were massacred?”
“It seems like they got into a conflict with the Tyrant Fist Sect.”
Shocked speechless, Jin Mu-Won looked up at the sky. The dawn had arrived and the sky was getting brighter, but that did not make him feel any better.
“The Tyrant Fist Sect is in Yunnan, right?”
“Yes. It’s probably because there aren’t many martial arts factions over there.”
Jin Mu-Won closed his eyes. The four traitors of the Northern Army had all chosen to set up their own factions in the Central Plains.
The “Phantom Blade (赤手鬼劍)” Yeon Cheon-Hwa (連天華) had set up base in the West and created the Greatsword Fortress (重劍堡), also known as the Fortress in the Western Paradise (西天堡).
The “Wind Emperor (風帝)” Kyung Mu-Saeng (庆伍胜) created the Tempest Mountain Villa (風雲山莊). Although his martial arts were balanced between footwork and close-combat, because of his followers, his faction ended up mostly combat focused.
The strongest among the Four Pillars, the “Ironblood Emperor (鐵血武帝)” Jae Hyuk-Shim (载啸辛) created the Ironblood City (鐵血城) in the northern region of the Central Plains. He was a master of defensive martial arts, but his subversive personality frightened everyone, including his own followers.
Finally, the “Fist Demon (拳魔)” Jo Cheon-Woo (曹天佑) created the Tyrant Fist Sect (霸拳會). He was cruel, ruthless and relentless to the point where he would charge forward without looking back once he had a target, like an unstoppable raging bear. The Tyrant Fist sect was situated in Yunnan to avoid territorial conflicts with other large factions, but in the process of its expansion, it annihilated and absorbed countless small sects and tribes. 
“Don’t worry too much about what happened, Young Master. I’ll take this away so you don’t have to look at it.”
“No, don’t. For some reason, it has captured my heart.”
Jin Mu-Won reached out with his fingertips and touched the rock. The icy chill that he felt weighed heavily on his heart.
 Blue Cloud Sword Style (青雲劍法): Literal translation – Blue Cloud Sword Style. Manhwa TL: Way of the Blue Sky Blade.
 List of terms:
Phantom Blade (赤手鬼劍): Literal translation – Invisible Ghost Sword. Manhwa TL: Cursed Ghost Blade
Yeon Cheon-Hwa (連天華): The name Cheon-Hwa means “Best of the Heavens”.
Greatsword Fortress (重劍堡): Literal translation – Heavy Sword Fortress.
Fortress in the Western Paradise (西天堡): Literal translation – Fortress in the Western Paradise. Manhwa TL: Protectors of the Western Heavens.
Wind Emperor (風帝): Literal translation – Wind Emperor. Manhwa TL: Tempest Storm
Kyung Mu-Saeng (庆伍胜): The name Mu-Saeng means “Victory for My Team”.
Tempest Mountain Villa (風雲山莊): Literal translation – Wind and Cloud Mountain Villa or Tempestuous Mountain Villa. 風雲 has double meanings, either “wind and clouds” or “a tempestuous situation”.
Ironblood Emperor (鐵血武帝): Literal translation – Iron Blood Martial Emperor. Manhwa TL: Iron Blood Ruler
Jae Hyuk-Shim (载啸辛): The name Hyuk-Shim means “Howling Punishment”.
Ironblood City (鐵血城): Literal translation – Iron Blood City. Manhwa TL: Iron Castle.
Fist Demon (拳魔): Literal translation – Fist Demon. Manhwa TL: Demon Fist. The emphasis is different and I’d translate 拳魔 as Fist Demon and 魔拳 as Demon Fist.
Jo Cheon-Woo (曹天佑): The name Cheon-Woo means “Blessed by the Heavens”.
Tyrant Fist Sect (霸拳會): Literal translation – Tyrant Fist Sect. Manhwa TL: Broken Fists Sect