The loud and bassy rumble of the engine inundated Kang Jin-Ho's ears. A deep smile was plastered on Kang Jin-Ho's face as he listened to the noise he hadn't heard in a while.
'This has an inexplicable charm to it, doesn't it?'
Objectively speaking, Kang Jin-Ho could travel faster than this car if he ran at full speed. And if it were him from Zhongyuan, he wouldn't even need to expend much energy to achieve that kind of speed!
There was no denying that Kang Jin-Ho had experienced speeds far higher than what this car could produce. However, there was an appreciable difference between driving a car and running on his own two legs. Controlling a device that responded sharply like a fine blade according to his commands was a joy Kang Jin-Ho couldn't experience back in the ancient past.
'I guess I'm finally a modern-era person, then?'
Not too long ago, he found a car like this cumbersome, a burden to lug around. But not having it around left him with much melancholy. Now that he was back in the driver's seat, this inexplicable joy started to fill him up again.
The engine wailed loudly when Kang Jin-Ho stepped on the accelerator, causing the red supercar to shoot crazily forward toward the horizon like a sleek fighter jet seeking out a target to destroy.
“Uwaaah?! Crazy son of a...!”
The users of Seoul's urban expressway freaked out and stared in shock when a red supercar scythed past them.
The driver loudly spat. "Damn it! People like that need to get into an accident first so that they get to learn the painful lesson of safe driving!"
His passenger tilted his head. "...But, uh, what kind of a car is that? That rear-end is so weird, right?"
“We don't need to know what car that is.”
“I said, we don't need to know! So, don't even pay attention to it.”
The driver sneakily sighed under his breath as the red Lamborghini became a small dot in the distance.
'I'm so jealous...!'
Despite his insults and anger, the driver would have dearly loved to have a go in that sleek supercar. Not giving it the proverbial beans while sitting behind the wheel of a nice car like that was probably a crime against humanity, too.
The driver had to admit that even he would have driven fast like that and not given a toss about other road users cursing him to the high heavens.
"Sheesh. I should make more money or become a gold spoon in the next life or something. Dunno which family's scion you are, but you sure have it nice, don't you?"
As a son of a former taxi driver, the only time Kang Jin-Ho used a gold spoon was back during his doljabi, but the other road users had no way of knowing that.
In any case, Kang Jin-Ho was consciously slowing down his car.
'This sure is a problem...'
If his gaze strayed away from the speedometer for a brief second, the car's speed would shoot up higher. Too high, in fact! Since Kang Jin-Ho was capable of controlling any vehicle at a much higher speed than most normal people could, he would often shoot past the legal speed limit if he didn’t pay attention even for a millisecond.
Kang Jin-Ho slowed down while falling deeper into his thoughts.
'Or... maybe it's because I've accumulated a bit of stress?'
Since Kang Jin-Ho had issued his final warning, he would soon get his result. If Lee Jung-Geol properly understood the warning, he would raise the flag of surrender soon. Otherwise, that old man was no doubt preparing for his bitter final resistance.
Which choice would he make? Kang Jin-Ho smirked quietly.
The story was similar back in Zhongyuan. A martial artist wasn't the type to surrender easily. Even if the situation was dire, and the only path left was death, a martial artist would never give up and try to struggle and resist until the bitter end.
'And that's what makes them martial artists, isn't it?'
The path Lee Jung-Geol would choose was so blindingly obvious. He would try to resist right up until the end.
Kang Jin-Ho slowly rubbed his face.
'Well, I did warn him.'
Kang Jin-Ho had left that old man a way out. Even a path of escape had been left open, too. However, if Lee Jung-Geol still chose the path of resistance instead of escape, then the responsibility of what was about to happen would fall on his shoulders.
Kang Jin-Ho suppressed the buzzing heat boiling up from somewhere deep in his gut as he gradually depressed the accelerator. Like a meteor scything through the night sky, a red supercar continued to race down the dark road.
“He wants me to surrender?” Lee Jung-Geol muttered. His face was a lot more gaunt compared to a few days ago.
Lee Hyeon-Ju wiped the tears off of the corners of her eyes after seeing all the shadows drawn on her grandfather's face.
Just where did it go wrong? Less than a month ago, the Martial Assembly was peaceful, and Lee Hyeon-Ju was strutting around full of confidence. Since then, though... her grandfather's situation had gotten so bad it couldn't possibly get any worse even if they tried.
Of course, Lee Hyeon-Ju knew Kang Jin-Ho wasn't responsible for it. However, she just couldn't dismiss the thoughts that were blaming him for everything.
Her reasoning and emotions were colliding. Even without Kang Jin-Ho, this crisis was bound to happen sooner or later. However, Lee Hyeon-Ju simply couldn't stop thinking that Kang Jin-Ho's appearance was the catalyst that accelerated the event's progress.
She quietly pressed down on her chest.
It didn't matter whether Kang Jin-Ho decided to butt in or not. No, what mattered was that she and her grandfather had just been driven to the extreme edge, and it was now time for them to make a choice.
“While trying to chase out a wolf, we've invited a tiger instead, haven't we?” Lee Jung-Geol chuckled, and his face was filled with remorse and anguish.
He had been protecting the Martial Assembly all his life. However, it seemed that the entire world was telling him to step back and call it a day.
'Are you saying that I've done enough?' Lee Jung-Geol chuckled hollowly.
Who was allowed to decide that? Lee Jung-Geol stopped laughing and clenched his fists.
“Bastards who don't know anything dare to...!”
Rage started to bloom on Lee Jung-Geol's face. The Martial Assembly had grown to this scale thanks to his hard work. After the Korean War, the world of martial arts had become fractured and had fallen into chaos, and Lee Jung-Geol and his hard work repaired and led the flock to where they were now!
But now, the children who had grown up after fattening themselves with the fruits of his labor dared to criticize him for getting old! And they even told him to stand down?!
'How dare they!'
Flames burned within Lee Jung-Geol's eyes. “I will not do that!”
“No, I will never do that!”
Lee Jung-Geol slammed his desk made out of solid wood, instantly splitting it in half.
“I've built up this Martial Assembly through my blood and sweat, yet I'm supposed to hand it over on a silver platter?! I cannot do that! No, I will not do it!”
“But, Grandfather...!” Lee Hyeon-Ju stared at her grandfather as sorrow became her main expression. “There is no other way.”
"What do you mean there is no other way?! We still have the advantage in numbers!"
Lee Hyeon-Ju shook her head. “No, Grandfather. We've already lost.”
“How can you say that?! When I'm still alive and kicking like this!”
"Grandfather, you must face reality!" Lee Hyeon-Ju sighed and tried to convince Lee Jung-Geol. "Not many among our supporters are willing to shed blood and fight for our sake, Grandfather. When the real fighting starts, they'll most likely stay under the radar."
"But that will be the same story for Bang Jin-Hun, too! He doesn't have the charisma to unite and lead people, so who would want to risk their lives for him?!"
“But Bang Jin-Hun built his power base with that possibility in mind, Grandfather! Obviously, he'll have more people willing to take up arms for him!”
“M-mm...!” Lee Jung-Geol gasped in pain.
“And how are you going to stop Kang Jin-Ho?”
The mere mention of Kang Jin-Ho's name was more than enough to instill fear into Lee Jung-Geol's expression. It felt like his heart would lurch and splutter until it stopped dead!
Lee Jung-Geol's head was telling him that Kang Jin-Ho couldn't be stopped.
Even if he mobilized every warrior he could find, Kang Jin-Ho still seemed impossible to stop. That was how otherworldly that returner's martial arts attainment seemed to Lee Jung-Geol.
“Stinking returner bastards...!”
'Order' existed in this world. However, these damn returners came back to the modern era after experiencing the past just to throw the world into chaos. Sure, most returners kept to themselves without becoming a problem, but this bastard named Kang Jin-Ho was different. He wanted to stand in the open and shake up the world.
“Even if we managed to stop Kang Jin-Ho, our forces, with our strength depleted from the battle—we won't be able to defend against the Yeongnam Group's assault. That means the Martial Assembly will get absorbed by them in the end, Grandfather!”
“There is no other way, Grandfather...”
Bang Jin-Hun would never give up. And it meant Lee Jung-Geol had to give up and walk away. That was the only way to save the Martial Assembly he had spent his entire life protecting and nurturing.
"...You say there is no other way?" Unfortunately, rage had clouded Lee Jung-Geol's eyes again. "Since when did you become a weakling who only knows how to spew such nonsense!"
“I've built this Assembly with my own two hands! But now, are you telling me to hand it over to a bastard without fighting back?! I will not do it!”
“I already said I will not do it, Hyeon-Ju! Didn't you hear me?!”
Lee Hyeon-Ju's expression hardened.
'He has changed...!'
This old man in front of her eyes wasn’t the same grandfather she knew and loved throughout her life. The 'Lee Jung-Geol' who remained cool-headed no matter what and tried to make the best decision was no longer here. He had long been replaced by a man stained deeply by the greed of a decrepit senior citizen!
'So, this was why...!'
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Lee Hyeon-Ju squeezed her eyes shut. Back when Bang Jin-Hun started raising a ruckus about Lee Jung-Geol needing to vacate his position, she figured that the man was simply blinded by his thirst for power. She thought Bang Jin-Hun was bad-mouthing her grandfather out of his desire to become the next Assembly Master.
However, she was wrong. Her grandfather was... already no longer the person she knew.
'I should've recognized this sooner...!'
If she had recognized it earlier, then perhaps, they wouldn't have been reduced to this state...
“Grandfather, we need to protect the Assembly, at the very least!”
Lee Jung-Geol roared unhappily, “What's the point of protecting the Assembly after it falls into the wrong hands?!”
"It's still better than watching it dissolve, don't you know that?! Do you want to see the Yeongnam Group uniting the Korean martial world?"
“...Right. That was it, wasn't it?” Lee Jung-Geol suddenly stared at the empty air in stupefaction after the name of the Yeongnam Group triggered something in his head. “When you think about it, all this began not with Bang Jin-Hun or Kang Jin-Ho. No, it all began... with the Yeongnam Group.”
“G-grandfather...?” Lee Hyeon-Ju tilted her head in confusion. What was the point of saying that when it was already too late?
Lee Jung-Geol's gaze slowly shifted to his granddaughter. “Do you know why the Yeongnam Group suddenly gained prominence and influence?”
“I'm sorry?” Lee Hyeon-Ju blinked her eyes. Where was her grandfather going with this? None of that was important right now, after all!
Despite her confusion, Lee Jung-Geol paid no mind to his granddaughter's reaction, as if he didn't care about her reaction in the first place. "It's because they borrowed power from the foreigners."
"Foreigners... and their power?"
Lee Jung-Geol powerfully nodded. "Yes, foreigners and their power! It was because they received support from Chinese martial artists! That was how they managed to quickly grow their strength! So, if the Korean martial world falls into the Yeongnam Group's hands, Korea will basically become a vassal state of China!"
“That means... We'll have to prevent that, at the very least.”
"Indeed, we have to prevent that," said Lee Jung-Geol as his eyes gleamed dangerously.
A rush of anxiety quickly washed over Lee Hyeon-Ju after she noticed her grandfather's expression. She had never seen Lee Jung-Geol make that kind of face before. And it simply did not suit her beloved grandfather, who used to be so benevolent and gentle.
While making the face of a man who had lost to his greed and madness, Lee Jung-Geol broke into a sinister cackle. “Yes. I can see it now. I was approaching this problem incorrectly from the beginning, wasn't I? Those bastards were playing a coward's game, so it was stupid of me to oppose them in a forthright and open manner.”
“If they resorted to borrowing the foreigners' power, then... All I have to do is do the same.”
Lee Hyeon-Ju's eyes quaked powerfully. “Grandfather, no!”
Lee Jung-Geol's expression gradually transformed. His burning eyes slowly cooled down, and a benevolent smile soon formed on his face as if he had returned to his old self. “Child, you don't need to worry anymore. This grandfather of yours will sort out everything very soon.”
“What are you going to do, Grandfather?”
“I told you, you don’t have to worry anymore.”
“...Grandfather, please snap out of it! What's gotten into you?!”
“Hahaha, this child...” Lee Jung-Geol lightly clapped his hands, prompting several men in black suits to enter his room. “Gentlemen. Things will get troublesome if this child goes around blabbing her mouth, so... Confine her for a while.”
Lee Hyeon-Ju cried out as rough hands started grabbing at her shoulders. “No, Grandfather! You mustn't! You need to stop!”
“Do not worry, child. And get some good rest while you're at it.”
Lee Jung-Geol watched as his granddaughter was dragged outside the doorway, and then he muttered to himself, “Time to... revert everything to how it used to be.”
Even if the method this time wasn’t righteous!
From the Assembly Master's office, the plan to plunge the world into chaos and confusion was set in motion.
1. From Mister Google: “Doljabi is a tradition where the child is placed in front of various items or objects (Usually 6 – 8 items). Then, the child is encouraged to grab one or two items from the set of objects where each choice represents a certain future of the child with respect to his or her career or lifestyle.” ☜