Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Kang Hyuk rose at dawn. He was already ninety-eight years old. Though most people lazed around in bed for a while, Kang Hyuk was different. He was accustomed to jumping right out. His body had no other option but to follow the flow of nature—and it was this body that had accumulated numerous military victories.
Kang Hyuk cleared his throat. ‘Is it raining?’
He gently pounded his back and shoulders with his fists. If it were raining, his body would no doubt ache all over.
‘How long will this body of mine last…’
By habit, he emerged from his earthen straw-thatched cottage out into the front courtyard. The front courtyard was a space which he had built to exercise his aging body from time-to-time. Upon seeing the space in front of the cottage, the few people that had visited were left with the impression that it was a training ground, rather than a courtyard.
With the crisp morning breeze came the scent of the forest. It felt utterly refreshing. Eight years had passed by since he had retired as the leader of the Hwacheon Clan to take up a simple life in the Ami Mountains of Sacheon. Someone had once asked him whether the shift from being a leader who wielded great power to living the life of a common country-person was in any way regretful to him. Kang Hyuk felt no regrets whatsoever.
‘The position of the leader was perfect to be in—if one wanted to die from overwork,’ Kang Hyuk mused.
He had formerly held the highest position in Baekdo, Moorim—the leader of the Hwacheon Clan.
The breeze whistled gently once more.
Kang Hyuk sat down in a cross-legged position, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath in. The clean air, scented with pine needles, entered his lungs. He thus began his Qigong practice.
Suddenly, Kang Hyuk realized something. ‘I’ve lived as much as I could live thus far. Dying like this wouldn’t be so bad.’
Throughout almost a hundred years, he had experienced both hardships and success to his heart’s content. Now, he had no further regrets.
‘Do I really have no more regrets?’ Kang Hyuk reflected. ‘Is there nothing more that I wish to experience?’
At last, a slight smile emerged onto his face. ‘My life’s goal was to avenge my dead brother. It’s been over eight years since I have paid back the debt of blood in full. What else is there for me to regret?’
Kang Hyuk realized that he really didn’t have any lingering desires, regrets, or anything of the sort.
‘Then, if I die, what will happen to my body?’
Even without thinking deeply about the subject, it was quite obvious to him. His dead body would decay and return to the earth. With the extra nutrients provided by his corpse, the trees grow more vigorously. The fruit from those trees would then become a person’s source of nourishment! This was the cycle of life.
‘My body is a speck in this whole cycle.’ His one random thought slowly began to stretch further. Images of the people he had met throughout his life began to flicker before his eyes. ‘In that case, if everything goes round and round again, what is going to happen to all these people?’
Kang-Hyuk’s trance went on.
‘That’s right! They too, have a cyclical existence.’ Suddenly, like a jumping carp, a question reared its head. ‘But if that’s the case, where is the beginning and where is the end of us all?
This thought penetrated Kang-Hyuk’s mind.
‘That’s right if everything emanates from the One-ness, then everything must also go back to the One-ness.’
If everything has the same beginning, then everything must also have the same ending. In truth, he already knew this fact. But from being thought, a knowledge in theory, it now came to Kang-Hyuk in a completely different way- in the form of experience! He experienced such a dynamic change of perspective within him that it would be impossible to explain with human language.
His heart was overflowing. He felt an exhilarating shiver throughout his whole being.
That was enlightenment.
At that moment.
*Sound of vibration*
His body was vibrating with energy.
Slowly, the area around him became hotter.
His body was completely engulfed with motes of dazzling light. However, Kang-Hyuk, who was deeply engrossed in a spiritual state of oneness, had no clue of the changes that had come upon him.
He was just rejoicing in his enlightenment and simply continued with his meditation.
How much time has passed?
Kang-Hyuk, who had just opened his eyes, wondered why his body felt so light and refreshed.
‘Is it because of the enlightenment experience?’
Upon this thought, Kang-Hyuk began to stretch out.
‘Then, should I wash my face and begin today’s work?’
Time had already flowed by quite a bit, and morning had already dawned once more. However, Kang-Hyuk was totally unaware of this.
He started to walk towards the spring he had tapped close to his cottage. And then, at the very moment he bent over to wash his face.
‘. . . . .’
Kang-Hyuk was completely taken aback and cried out, “Go away, Kang-Jae!”
The spring had shown him the reflection of his twin-brother who had died 70 years ago.
Kang-Hyuk touched the reflection of what he thought was his brother, but the only thing his hand felt was cold water.
‘This. . . what is this. . . ?’
Kang-Hyuk’s disappointed eyes could only see his own hands. His hands were not the wrinkled hands of an aged man but the smooth, flawless hands of a man in his 20s.
‘Could it be?’
He then began to examine his body. His clothes had disappeared to heaven knows where, and had been replaced with skin overflowing with suppleness and elasticity. He touched his face. It was smooth, completely wrinkle-free. In addition, his long white beard had also disappeared.
He looked at his face in the reflection of the spring once more.
‘My hair is. . . . black?’
It was then that it finally dawned upon him.
That which he saw reflected in the spring wasn’t the face of his dead brother, but the face of himself with the appearance of a youth!
Kang-Hyuk immediately realized what had happened to him. It was thanks to the various things he had picked up during his time as the leader.
‘I have undergone reverse-aging?’
A laugh emerged from Kang-Hyuk. It wasn’t a laugh of happiness but a laugh of complete dumbfoundedness. He hadn’t anticipated his enlightenment experience was to be so monumental.
‘At best, I thought that I would have an increased level of Qi but reverse-aging! This is what I originally-! Tut-tut.’
He tried to cut his words short but they had already spilled out. As far as he was aware, the phenomenon of reverse-aging only occurred when one had become free from the laws of cause and effect, also known as karma.
I have done it.
At the age of 98, Kang-Hyuk had experienced enlightenment and was now at an existence by which he was free of the laws of cause and effect. He pondered over why this had happened to him now of all times. After pondering for some time, he realized that there was no point in trying to figure this out and that the only outcome of his efforts was a headache. He went back inside his cottage, put on new clothes, and began to pack clothes for travelling. For now, he had decided to go to Nak-yang, where the Hwacheon Clan was located. There was someone there whom he had to share his experience of reverse-aging. The current leader of the Hwacheon Clan had said the way he had handed over the position of leader was as though he was throwing it away.
‘Even so, he should know that I’ve undergone age reversal so that no other problems can crop up in the future.’
As the previous leader of the clan, who was still alive, Kang-Hyuk was still known as the Retired Leader. It also meant that he was still obligated to attend the various functions of the Hwacheon Clan. He avoided attending almost all of these functions by feigning illness. However, there was one event he was unable to avoid attending. This event was one which was held once every four years in which the people of Moorim compete with one another to prove their martial arts prowess- The Moorim Tournament. It so happened that the tournament was taking place this year.
‘If I suddenly appeared in my new form the day before the finals of the tournament, that fellow would be pretty shocked wouldn’t he?’ Kang-Hyuk thought to himself. The current leader of the Hwacheon clan was also a member of a group called Kwaepungdae, which he had been the head of before becoming the Hwacheon Clan leader. ‘Is it because of that attachment..?’ As he thought over it, he realized he didn’t want to create a difficult or a shocking situation for the current leader.
‘I should have a guilty conscience for passing him over such a burdensome position let alone be the cause of more trouble for him.’
With luggage on his back, he looked back at his cottage. Since he trusted that his house would be looked after by the karmic laws, there was no need to lock the door. He stomped his feet. Kang-hyuk’s stride was scarily as light and fast as flowing air. This was most likely due to the increase in the Qi of his body. At that point, Kang-Hyuk experienced something unmistakeable. His newly-acquired youthful body was so light that a humming sound emanated from it.
‘Ah… youth is truly wonderful. It really is!’
The journey to Nak-yang:
A boy reached his hands out towards the warmth of the burning campfire.
The early spring night was still a little chilly.
“It’s quite cold, isn’t it young master?”
The servant beside him quickly added more firewood to the campfire.
“It’s okay. This much cold is expected of the place. By the way Warrior Yeom, when will we reach Nakyang?”
Amongst the seven guards standing around the boy, a warrior with an expressionless face answered.
“It will take half a month more, young master.”
Upon hearing this answer, the boy looked so desolate that even the servant looked at him with pitiful eyes.
The name of that boy was Dang So-Mun.
During the whole duration of this journey, the servant had looked up to the young master in admiration.
Not long after, there was a rustling sound.
The sound of movement within the thicket caused the warriors sitting beside the campfire to instantly unsheath their swords.
From the sound of Warrior Yeom’s cry, a man emerged from the thickets of vegetation.
“I’m not a suspicious person!”
Emerging from the grasses was a rather handsome looking young man in his 20s.
Seeing the travelling gear on his back, he didn’t seem suspicious therefore the warriors took no further action.
Their lack of initiative was also due to the sword he wore on his back. It meant that he was a person from Moorim.
“Reveal your identity!”
Upon the warrior’s questioning, the man obediently revealed who he was.
“My name is Kang-Hyuk. I come from deep within the forest but have some business in Nak-Yang so I am travelling that way. However, the road to reach there was going around in circles and it was getting quite dark so…”
He trailed off.
It was none other than Kang-Hyuk, the once great leader, the Kang-Hyuk that had undergone reverse aging.
“My home is within the Ami mountains and I have survived thus far by only eating raw foods that I could forage from the wild. I’ve been wanting to eat a hearty cooked meal.”
“As this thought lingered in my mind, I spotted the light from your fire and was drawn to this place in the hopes of finding an evening meal.”
Their initial gut instinct that this fellow was an innocent Moorim person was now completely confirmed.
Still, Kang-Hyuk couldn’t completely reveal his true identity as the ex Baekdo Moorim leader to them.
He looked as though he was in his 20s.
He didn’t have any real reason to hide his identity. It was just that if he did reveal his identity, they would most likely brand him as a mad man.
Taking this into consideration, he would probably also have to change his usual way of speaking informally to speaking in a more respectful manner.
Kang Hyuk thought to himself. ‘Even so, my actual age is nearing one hundred years and I’m even a retired great leader. It’s a bit ridiculous for me to be speaking in honorifics to those younger than me!’
However, he felt this compromise would have to be made for the time being.
The warrior seemed to be studying Kang-Hyuk.
“I don’t sense you having a fierce spirit so you can’t be a black magician. You also don’t seem to be a magi or someone cultivating demonically.”
At that point, Dang So-Mun, who was sitting by the camp fire, timidly spoke up.
“So… Warrior Yeom, in that case, why don’t you guys uh…draw back your guard …?”
Seeing Warrior Yeom’s expression, Dang So-Mun’s speech started to trail off.
“As the young master has said this, I will follow. But keep in mind for the future that you must treat all you come across in the land of Moorim with caution. Do not blindly trust.”
“That’s some sound advice,” Kang-Hyuk said.
At Kang-Hyuk’s unexpected agreement, Warrior Yeom turned around. Seeing Warrior Yeom’s stare, Kang-Hyuk tilted his head to the side.
“Why, isn’t it so?”
“Mmm-hmm. That’s right! Anyway, I’m keeping an eye on you so I would advise you to not step out of line.”
Hearing this, Dang So-Mun invited Kang-Hyuk to sit beside him.
Dang So-Mun was intensely watching Kang-Hyuk coming to sit beside him. But not trying to be discovered, he quickly retracted his gaze.
“I’m the young master of Sacheon’s Dang Family, Dang So-Mun.”
“I’m Kang-Hyuk. I don’t really have a proper clan or a familial background so I cannot introduce myself in this way.”
Moorim was a place where there were many intertwined relations of both favour and of spite. This is also why he told anyone who asked that unfortunately, had no real familial or clan background. This was something he had learnt from the elder of the clan.
Dang So-Mun didn’t question this in any way.
“Where are you all going?”
“We’re travelling to the Hwacheon academy. I finally got admitted this time.”
“Are you speaking of that prestigious school?”
“Yes, that one.”
Kang-Hyuk was now entirely certain of Dang So-Mun’s age.
This was due to the fact that the age of entrance for the academy was fifteen.
For many generations, the owner of the Hwacheon academy had always been the Hwacheon Leader.
As a consequence, the ex-leader of this very group, Kang-Hyuk, knew a fair bit about the Hwacheon academy. This was natural, given that the Hwacheon academy was an affiliate of the Hwacheon clan.
It was the most prestigious academy in the state of Baekdo within Moorim.
It wasn’t just because this was an academy that was established and governed by the Hwacheon Clan that ruled Baekdo, Moorim.
Around half of the more talented people working under the Hwacheon Clan were selected from those who had graduated from the Hwacheon academy.