Chapter 27: Some Go, Some Stay… (2)
Light Novel: Volume 2 Chapter 2
Manhwa: Chapter 30
Episode 1. Some Go, Some Stay… (2)
The wind blew gently, wrapping around Lee Gwak’s body.
His tied-up hair and robe fluttered in the breeze, disrupting his view. However, Lee Gwak did not even blink as he watched the carriage disappear into the distance.
Only after the carriage vanished from sight did Lee Gwak close his eyes.
The past three years flashed through his mind like a swift lantern slide.
There were hardly any good memories.
Life here was a continuous struggle, more akin to desperate flailing for survival.
The instructors of the Steel Blood Hell Training Ground pushed the talents to their limits, and the talents had to struggle to survive in the hell that they had created.
Those who had learned martial arts from a young age had it somewhat better, but others, like Han Socheon, who hadn’t received systematic martial arts training, had to endure days akin to hell.
Han Socheon’s ability to pass through the Steel Blood Hell Training Ground with one of the best records was due not only to her exceptional talent but even more so to her will to survive.
“Please, don’t die. Socheon!”
“Please don’t die. Xiao Chen!”
Lee Gwak opened his eyes, sincerely wishing for her safe return. His eyes shone brighter than ever.
When he descended from the peak and returned to his quarters, it was late at night. The day’s work had ended, and both the talents and instructors had retired to their dwellings for the night.
Lee Gwak hesitated for a moment, considering whether to return to his quarters, but then turned his steps elsewhere. His destination was the Steel Blood Hell Training Ground.
“Where are you going, Lee Gwak?”
When questioned by the guards on duty, Lee Gwak responded with a smile.
“I’m going to check if anything is broken.”
“Always so diligent. Alright then. Just make sure not to stay out too late.”
The guards opened the way for him, and Lee Gwak passed through.
It was a routine that had been repeated every day for the past three years.
Every day for the past three years, Lee Gwak had followed the warriors of the Creation Pavilion and studied every trap mechanism. Now, he was more than just an assistant– he had reached a level where he could inspect and repair things on his own, even to the point that the warriors of the Creation Pavilion left most of the tedious and troublesome work to him.
Because of this, Lee Gwak was able to freely enter the Steel Blood Hell Training Ground without being stopped by anyone.
The destination Lee Gwak was headed towards within the Steel Blood Hell Training Ground was the Infinite Hell Route, known for producing the most dropouts.
The Infinite Hell Route, which possessed an exquisite combination of numerous traps and obstacles, was a continuous path of hellish challenges as its name suggested. In terms of danger, while the Asura Blood Soul Trial that Han Socheon had passed was the most dangerous, the Infinite Hell Route was no less perilous.
Above all, what made the Infinite Hell Route particularly grueling was the demand for endurance and perseverance beyond human limits.
The fact that not many of the talents managed to make it to the end, even though most of them had undergone systematic training to strengthen their stamina from a young age, was a testament to the brutal nature of the Infinite Hell Route.
Lee Gwak paused momentarily at the entrance to the Infinite Hell Route.
Taking a deep breath, Lee Gwak finally stepped into the Infinite Hell Route.
There wasn’t a single light inside the Infinite Hell Route. Without even a night pearl, let alone a torch, the darkness was pitch black.
Even when he concentrated qi into his eyes, it hardly allowed him to see further than three yards. This led him to no choice but to use his other senses.
Lee Gwak closed his eyes and walked into the Infinite Hell Route.
Suddenly, a faint sound of firing erupted from the darkness.
It was a sound so faint that it would be impossible to hear unless one focused all their attention on it, but Lee Gwak didn’t miss the sound.
Something long and black flowed out from Lee Gwak’s sleeve and began to whip around at a frightening speed. The object, moving as agilely as a venomous snake, was none other than the meteor hammer.
The faint sound of metal clinking echoed incessantly in the cavern as objects struck by the meteor hammer fell to the ground.
Beneath Lee Gwak’s feet, tiny objects crunched at every step – they were fine silver needles. These needles, barely distinguishable to the naked eye, were fired by the trap mechanisms.
The silver needles were just the beginning.
A barrage of hidden weapons poured out from the darkness.
Poison darts, flying daggers, throwing stars, caltrops– the variety was extensive.
It wasn’t just hidden weapons that were fired. Traps were also triggered all at once.
The ground that was intact just moments ago collapsed, and a thick mist filled the inside of the cavern. A strange resonance followed, numbing the sense of hearing.
Humans typically receive a significant portion of their information through sight and hearing. The paralysis of sight and hearing meant an absence of information.
The purpose of this gateway was to develop the other senses while artificially blocking them. The primary goal was to maximize the sense of smell and touch and to develop the sixth sense.
With the sixth sense developed, one could sense the precursors of danger and react a step ahead. However, very few warriors had actually developed this sense.
Most martial artists memorized the sequence and pattern of the concealed weapons being deployed and responded accordingly through repeated challenges. Only a handful of exceptional individuals managed to pass this gateway by relying on their sixth sense.
Lee Gwak had also developed his sixth sense. But his case was different from other talents.
The fifth snake coiled behind his neck was on the move. As the fifth snake began to stir, Lee Gwak’s intuition significantly improved, and all his senses became terrifyingly sharp. That included his sixth sense.
Even with his eyes closed and hearing impaired, he could picture the surroundings like a painting.
With a dull thud, the wall opened, and bronze men appeared. The bronze men, driven by mechanisms, rushed forward at a fearsome speed.
The technique deployed by the bronze men was known as the Severing Gold Tiger Hand.2 Although they do not have internal energy, since they were powered by mechanisms, the intricacy of their movements and destructive force was not inferior to that of a human.
If the challenger could use internal energy, the bronze men would not be too difficult to deal with. However, the use of internal energy was strictly forbidden here. The challenge was to overcome and defeat the bronze men with the intricacies of techniques alone.
Lee Gwak drew his sword to face the bronze men.
Sparks flew in the darkness as the bronze men’s arms clashed with Lee Gwak’s sword.
The destructive force behind the attack pushed Lee Gwak’s body backward before coming to a halt. His feet caught on a subtle imperfection in the ground.
Although the ground was hard to see in the darkness, it was marked with countless footprints. These were the traces of movement left by the warriors who had challenged this place before.
With one foot anchored, Lee Gwak’s other foot swept the ground. His heightened senses detected the minute differences in elevation on the floor.
Lee Gwak’s feet fit perfectly into the footprints left by someone else as if they were cast in a mold.
With his hands executing the Eight Sects Sword Art, and his legs following the traces of someone’s footprint, Lee Gwak’s figure looked incredibly focused.
The footprints on the floor numbered in the thousands. To move precisely following the footprints left by only one person among them was nearly impossible. Yet, Lee Gwak was accomplishing this seemingly impossible task.
The fifth snake that curled around his entire body was both agile and sharp. It pushed his senses beyond their limits, allowing him to accomplish things that would normally be impossible.
There were more than a hundred warrior who executed their movement techniques here, each having different levels of internal energy and habits. But, the fifth Serpent was able to distinguish the subtle differences in an instant.
That was why, in the midst of hundreds of movement techniques, it identified and executed only one particular method.
The Nine Movement Flash Step.
It was the movement technique that Han Socheon had used to pass through the Asura Blood Soul Trial.
The Nine Movement Flash Step was one of the peak movement techniques in the Jade Heaven Alliance. It was so difficult that only a few exceptionally talented individuals among those who entered Mount Shaohua had barely managed to learn it.
And now, Lee Gwak was stealthily learning this masterpiece of a technique.
It wasn’t just Nine Movement Flash Step that he had stolen. Through the traces on the walls, the scars on the bodies of the bronze men, Lee Gwak observed numerous martial arts and absorbed their strengths.
Although he was unable to unleash the technique to its full power because he didn’t know the precise cultivation techniques, he was able to incorporate the strengths of each martial art into his own, the Eight Sects Sword Art.
The Eight Sects Sword Art Lee Gwak was unfolding now was very different from the original. It was still the same simple formula, but it was now more stronger and contained more complex martial principles.
However, because he had stolen and learned too many martial principles, there was an undeniable sense of disunity, as if the techniques were not fully integrated. Nonetheless, reaching such a level of skill was an impressive feat.
Clang clang clang!
Sparks continuously flew in the darkness.
Having passed the bronze man executing the Severing Gold Tiger Hand, three more bronze men with different martial techniques appeared to block Lee Gwak’s path.
The bronze men executed a formation attack against Lee Gwak. As mechanisms were added to the formation, and then combined with illusion formations, it was as if hundreds of troops were attacking him all at once.
The illusion formation wildly shook Lee Gwak’s senses. Maintaining composure while being subjected to such illusions was by no means an easy task.
The fourth technique of the Eight Sects Sword Art, Blood Dragon Roar, was executed.
Like a fiery dragon spitting flames, Lee Gwak’s sword demolished the bronze men.
After overcoming the three bronze men, another ten appeared, displaying different formations.
With a shout, the fifth technique, Lone Scorch Demon, was executed.
Silver sword light swept wildly through the dark cave.
* * *
Lee Gwak gasped for breath as he looked back.
He could see the Infinite Hell Route stretched behind him, immersed in darkness.
He had traversed through the Infinite Hell Route for what seemed like forever, and so he was feeling extremely tired.
His legs felt heavy as lead, and his body was as powerless as soaked cotton. But a faint smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He had made it through the Infinite Hell Route on his own strength alone.
This was already his third time through the Infinite Hell Route, but the pleasure and thrill of success had not faded in the slightest. On the contrary, with each new passage, he gained not inconsiderable insights.
He saw aspects he had not seen before and grasped new techniques.
Over the past three years, like the other talents, Lee Gwak had challenged the Steel Blood Hell Training Ground. He too was shattered, broken, and left bloodied like the rest.
The difference was, that while others had instructors to systematically teach and guide them through martial arts, Lee Gwak had none.
So he stole and learned.
He would enter the trials under the guise of repairing mechanisms, studying the martial traces left by others, standing guard while instructors taught, and stealthily learning from them.
At first, it was tough even to memorize, let alone understand. But Lee Gwak was desperate.
He tried to make sense of the martial principles taught by the instructors and apply them to the Eight Snakes Art and Eight Sects Sword Art. As he persisted, he gradually began to comprehend.
This way, Lee Gwak tenaciously stole the martial principles from the instructors, continuously learning and improving himself.
His current level of achievement was the result of blood, sweat, and relentless inquiry. But there was nowhere he could proudly proclaim or boast about it.
If a mere Outer Hall warrior were to claim that he had achieved this much through his own efforts, no one would believe him. He would more likely be accused of being a spy sent intentionally by the Celestial Demon Union or other factions. Therefore, Lee Gwak meticulously concealed his achievements.
Lee Gwak caught his breath, stretching his back.
Although he had passed through the Infinite Hell Route, his task was not done yet. He had to erase any trace of his passage through the Infinite Hell Route.
He returned to the route, repaired the damaged bronze men, collected scattered hidden weapons, and restored them to their original places.
He also checked the mechanisms and traps for any faults. Inspecting these devices consumed more of his energy than the martial arts practice itself.
A slight miscalculation could render the mechanisms inoperative. Although he somehow had mastered the art of mechanism engineering by shadowing and following a warrior from the Creation Pavilion, he did not have a deep understanding of it.
Mechanism engineering was a profound discipline that required a deep understanding of astronomy, geography, and military tactics to master. Lee Gwak was still far from such a level, he only knew enough to scrape the surface. But that was sufficient.
By the time Lee Gwak was done with his tasks, dawn was breaking on the horizon.
The instructors and talents were starting to stir, breaking the silence of the morning.
“You sloths! Move it!”
The instructors’ shouts filled the morning sky, and the talents bustled about.
Today, they would use the training grounds that Lee Gwak had serviced.
Among them were some who particularly stood out.
“Everyone head to the Infinite Hell Route. Today, too, those who fall will be killed by my hand.”
The one pressuring the talents with a murderous voice was none other than the First Instructor. Still masked, he was driving the talents forward.
Twenty warriors responded with a shout as they rushed toward the Infinite Hell Route. Madness seemed to radiate from their retreating figures.
It wasn’t just them. Nearly all the talents remaining here were exuding the same madness.
Here, the talents were transforming into weapons of war.
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- Infinite Hell Route. Raws: 무한지옥로(無限地獄路).
- 無限 wúxiàn – unlimited / unbounded
- 地獄 dìyù – hell / infernal / underworld
- 路 lù – road / route / joruney
- Gold Tiger Hand. Raws: 절금호수(絶金虎手).
- 絶 jué – to cut, sever, break off, terminate
- 金 jin – gold
- 虎 hǔ – tiger
- 手 shǒu – hand
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