Descent of the Demon Master-Chapter 543. Condensing (3)
Chapter 543. Condensing (3)
Many deserted roads could be found simply by leaving Seoul's city limits and entering the outskirts. What was interesting about these areas where seemingly no one lived and not many cars drove past was the presence of several luxurious-looking buildings.
People of higher standing who wished to hold private meetings away from the public's eye often used these establishments despite their astronomical cost.
And that was the situation with this particular establishment. Despite the late hour, this deserted road was illuminated by bright headlights. This stream of bright lights seemed to climb higher and higher up the mountainside.
The destination for this stream of light was an expansive estate with traditional Korean buildings that could only be reached by traveling for quite some time on this road. No, perhaps calling this place a 'traditional estate' was underselling its sheer majesty. The more fitting description would be a 'palace'.
Many black luxury sedans were gathering in front of this palace's entrance. Employees on standby smartly helped with parking. As for the honored guests riding in the back, they exited their rides and strode into the palace without even bothering to look back once.
Once past the grand gateway, the guests were greeted by the sight of a neat stone pathway. Walking along this path would lead them to a separate building located a little deeper in the estate.
As soon as Lee Jung-Geol approached the entrance, the employees on standby silently but smartly opened the doorway for him to enter.
“Thank you for coming such a long way, Assembly Master Lee.”
“Mm...!” Lee Jung-Geol nodded quietly. He scanned the interior and noted the presence of many important-looking men surrounding a large table topped off with expensive alcohol.
“This way,” someone called out to Lee Jung-Geol and gestured to him to take the empty seat of honor.
Lee Jung-Geol briefly wondered whether to decline or not. However, he didn't see a need to do that. So, he didn't stand on ceremonies and headed to the seat of honor. After settling down, he took in the familiar faces of the people around the table. His position afforded him a good view of everyone.
'There are more here than I thought...'
Back when he was still the Assembly Master... This was the sight welcoming him whenever he held a meeting. Folks who looked up to him, their gazes containing subtle hints of wariness and respect. Although, that was a story from the past, and it didn't concern Lee Jung-Geol anymore.
While Lee Jung-Geol was swimming in the reminiscence of his past, more people arrived to fill the empty spots around the table. Once everyone was seated, a bout of silence descended in the room before someone quietly spoke up. “It seems everyone who's supposed to be here has arrived, sir.”
Lee Jung-Geol slowly nodded before raising his voice. “I'm not sure what to call this occasion.”
The men in the room politely but awkwardly chuckled. In the past, this meeting would've been referred to as a periodic get-together or conference of the Martial Assembly's executives. However, that was no longer the case. No one here had the qualifications to organize a meeting in the name of the Martial Assembly.
Another man addressed the crowd. “The... occasion isn't really important, wouldn't you say? Indeed, the important part is that we are finally getting to enjoy each other's company again.”
“Yes, you're right,” Lee Jung-Geol wryly smiled back.
Even though this meeting was ostensibly about rekindling old friendships, everyone gathered here knew that that was just a cover story. Lee Jung-Geol suddenly thought of a perfect term to call this meeting.
'Yes, this is a meeting of traitors, isn't it?'
Lee Jung-Geol had to work hard to suppress a bout of wry laughter wanting to force its way out of his mouth. His thoughts were proven by how no one was trying to engage in small talk with someone else. If these people were really here to rekindle their friendships or whatever, they should've been busy yapping away about mundane things by now. However, they were all too busy avoiding making direct eye contact.
“For now, why don't we enjoy our meals first, gentlemen? I'm sure you're all feeling peckish.”
The surest way to get the conversation going was the 'right' mood. Enough booze and good food in the system were bound to lessen the tension and lower the wariness. That would be when people become more willing to talk.
A few rounds of booze went around, followed by the indisposable companion of a gathering like this, the tales of the good old days. That did wonders in relaxing the mood greatly. Only then did the whole reason for this get-together begin to surface.
“Right! It was never like this in the past, but now!”
The slightly heated atmosphere had washed away the initial wariness and awkwardness. Even before the suddenly interfering silence could do its job, the booze managed to overpower it.
“Yes, you're right. We used to have honor. We cared for each other, didn't we? We all worked toward the... the great cause!”
“I mean, this thing with the Yeongnam Group? Just how bitter and bloody was our conflict with those bastards? I lost my friend to those bastards. But now, those punks are waltzing around the Assembly's corridors as if they own the bloody place! What's this crap about being one family and whatnot?! I never told anyone about this before, but...! It pisses me off so much, I tell ya!”
The floodgates of dissatisfaction had truly opened now. All the complaints these men had to suppress until now began pouring out nonstop.
“Let's be honest here, what did those brats do for the Assembly?!”
“Right, right! We all did the hard work, so they could run! Just who was it that helped them survive all those cutthroat years back then! It's us!”
“I don't mind Assembly Master Bang's personality. Sure, being young and hot-blooded is good and all. I don't mind that at all! However! How does it make sense for him to give his right-hand position to that Yeongnam Group bastard! What does that punk know about the Assembly that he dares to order us around!”
“And, and! They have gotten rid of the general meeting, too! Even if the Assembly functions with the Assembly Master at its core, things weren't like this in the past. At the very least, didn't the leadership seek out the opinions of the directors and elders first? The reason why Assembly Master Bang could do as he pleased as a director back then was because you've acknowledged his authority, didn't you? Assembly Master Lee?”
“Yes, he's right!”
Lee Jung-Geol silently listened, unable to erase the bitter smile on his face. 'It's like... I'm in a nursing home.'
These very people used to lead the Martial Assembly. But now... Even Lee Jung-Geol thought these men had gotten too old and too out of touch. As proof, they had started talking about the so-called good old days like a group of retirees. The younger generation didn't care about the past. Those who got drunk on the past glories were no better than corpses.
Lee Jung-Geol was leery about watching these old men discuss weighty topics, but he had no one to hang out with besides these folks.
'Bang Jin-Hun has exceeded my expectations.'
Because of Bang Jin-Hun's stubborn, hot-blooded personality, Lee Jung-Geol expected him to run into several serious complications. Unexpectedly, though, Bang Jin-Hun immediately pivoted away from his previous hard-line approach and chose conciliatory routes instead after becoming the new Assembly Master.
Despite the history of bitter enmity between the two organizations, Bang Jin-Hun treated the Yeongnam Group people as if they had always been a part of the Assembly. By appointing Lee Hyeon-Su to an important position in the Assembly, Bang Jin-Hun also made good on his promise of not discriminating based on one's prior affiliation.
Thanks to his efforts, the initial animosity between the Yeongnam Group and the Martial Assembly was gradually replaced by unity. With the younger generation as the lead, no less.
'Yup, he's doing a better job than I expected.'
Lee Jung-Geol figured Bang Jin-Hun wouldn't have the experience and wisdom to pull this off, but that man easily exceeded the expectations with flying colors. With the exception of one problem, that was.
'...Unfortunately, the generational change isn't as straightforward as you think.'
Forcibly and rapidly swapping out the old guards with newer generations, like how Bang Jin-Hun had done, would lead to a build-up of dissatisfaction. Not to forget, these old men were all martial artists.
Most martial artists lived longer lives than regular folks. And their prime were also appreciably longer. Most normal folks would consider retirement after reaching a certain age, but martial artists would still be full of vigor and drive around the same age. So, it was unsurprising to see them growing in dissatisfaction after being relegated to obsolescence without a carrot or two to appease them.
“Things weren't like this before, you know! Not only that but...!” One of the directors, his face flushed from alcohol and blood rushing to his head, spat out his dissatisfaction. “What is up with all the foreigners waltzing around in the Assembly? Since when did our Assembly become a mishmash of random rabble like this? Can anyone tell me?!”
That set off a chain reaction of complaints and bitter whinings.
“Yes! We're the Korean Martial Assembly, no? South Korea's Martial Assembly! Since when did we become the International Martial Assembly! Fine, fine. I get it. Foreigners can join us, no problem, since the era has changed significantly. But, but! What was that again? Those people will be teaching martial arts? What kind of nonsense is this? Foreigners teaching our younger generation! I won't accept this!”
“That's not the only issue here, gentlemen! Didn't you hear about the proliferation of demonic arts in the Assembly?”
“Say what now?!”
“You didn't hear? Yes, the demonic arts! Our younger generation is busy mastering demonic arts after Assembly Master Bang gave his permission!”
“What? Our kids are being taught those accursed techniques?! Did Assembly Master Bang lose his mind or something?”
“...Well, Assembly Master Bang isn't an idiot, so the demonic arts our kids are mastering can't be that dangerous stuff we all know. There must be something different about them.”
“What are you saying! This is not something you can hand-wave away by saying there might be something different! We're talking about demonic arts here! Bloody demonic arts!”
The atmosphere in the venue quickly heated up; its noise level also rose rapidly. However, Lee Jung-Geol knew what was really going on here.
'All bark and no bite, the lot of you...'
If these old men really had the courage to rebel against Bang Jin-Hun, they wouldn't be herded into this room to complain to each other. No, they would've done something before the situation had reached this point.
But that was impossible, so they were gathered here like a mischief of rats. No, should they be called dogs instead?
No matter how many dogs gathered, they would always be dogs, not wolves. If these people really were wolves... The Martial Assembly with a more easygoing attitude would've been ripped apart by them already!
'Right. Dogs can only be dogs...'
The difference between a mutt and a wolf was unbridgeable. Wolves instinctively knew their survival depended on forming a pack, but dogs needed humans to lead them. A pack of stray mutts wouldn't even win against a single wolf.
Most importantly, though... These people faced a far more decisive problem.
“Hmm…” Lee Jung-Geol quietly cleared his throat. However, that was still enough to silence the noisy venue. His mood improved after learning that his authority still worked with these old men, but Lee Jung-Geol was wily enough not to show that on his face. “Gentlemen. I know you're all dissatisfied. Everyone here is indeed unhappy.”
“Former Assembly Master, sir... Yes, we're dissatisfied. However, how can we not?”
Lee Jung-Geol's official title of a 'director' was sneakily upgraded to 'former Assembly Master'. Obviously, Lee Jung-Geol didn't miss that. And he also didn't miss those who seemed uncomfortable with the sudden upgrade of his title.
One of the basics in politics was discerning your allies from your opponents. And wizened politicians even knew how to sniff out the current allies that might turn into future opponents. As for the best, smartest politician...
They never made allies, to begin with. Because, everyone was an opponent in politics.
All these men were here only because they thought following Lee Jung-Geol was still worth the trouble. If they determined that Lee Jung-Geol didn't have any power in the organization, these men would swiftly abandon this meeting and run toward Bang Jin-Hun to tell him about what happened... All for the sake of earning some brownie points!
Lee Jung-Geol licked his dried lips and sighed. “However... What can we realistically do about it?”
“A-Assembly Master, sir?”
Lee Jung-Geol narrowed his eyes and scanned the venue. “Without defeating Kang Jin-Ho first, there's nothing we can do about this situation.”
The mere mention of Kang Jin-Ho's name instantly brought the proverbial Ice Age into the room. Some people began coughing uncomfortably as if they were choking on something.
'A bunch of trash...!'
Lee Jung-Geol inwardly tutted. Up until a few moments ago, these old men proudly boasted about being the bravest, manliest warriors out there, yet... But now, they acted like cowering dogs with their tails tucked between their legs, their eyes nervously darting about and gauging the uneasy mood. This shameful sight was worthy of all the insults imaginable, but Lee Jung-Geol tried to be more understanding.
At least, they didn't really deserve to be insulted too harshly, anyway. After all, everyone here had witnessed the event of that fateful night. They had all seen what Kang Jin-Ho did to the Yeongnam Group by himself.
Even Lee Jung-Geol felt a streak of cold sweat trickle down his spine simply by remembering that night! Since that was the case for him, things should be no better for these men.
Awkward-sounding fake coughs continued to fill the room. If these men had been talking about Bang Jin-Hun, their discussion would've rapidly progressed. However, when Kang Jin-Ho was designated as their opponent, no one seemed willing to keep the discussion going.
As far as these old men knew, Bang Jin-Hun was Kang Jin-Ho's most loyal supporter and helper. In other words, Bang Jin-Hun was under Kang Jin-Ho's wings. So, if they were to drive Bang Jin-Hun out and regain their former prestige, confronting Kang Jin-Ho was simply unavoidable.
Someone finally broke the silence and cautiously raised his voice. The words no one wanted to hear but still hoped for someone to say them... came from this man.
“How about we confront Kang Jin-Ho, then?”
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