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Reopening Old Wounds (closed except by invite)

PostPosted: Thu Jan 01, 2015 8:27 pm
by Daehanjeiguk
4752년 2월 1일

Usually, the start of a new year is something to celebrate - to herald with joyful cheers. And despite the woes of the past 50 years, there was reason to celebrate something. Peace. For the first time in many years, the whole realm on land and sea had been pacified, the New Order was finally realized, in part to devolve the role of the Imperial Armed Forces, to share the responsibility of government with the diverse locales where government was perhaps more effective. Perhaps the biggest help came from the farthest reaches of the realm - in Jipryuk (Europa) and Gamryuk (Africa); those areas were able to police their own sovereign lands with minimal interference from the Han. And what was the objective in all of this - to uproot a criminal organization whose sole purpose was the utter destruction of the Han civilization? At what expense was such work to be effected? They were trying times for all, least of all the common person on the street who strove to make ends meet. Nonetheless, the end of these troubling times seemed to be coming to end - a new cycle had begun. The old cycle had seen the integration and disintegration of a global, transregional Empire; perhaps the new cycle would see the beginning of a new era of prosperity.

Indeed, there was much to celebrate in the rejuvenated Empire - it was the ascension of the newest Empire, following nearly 30 discontinuous years of martial regency. While the military cherished its role as the head of the greatest country in the region (if not the world?), there were murmurs of discontent. Years of fighting the Mujeongbu had inexorably led to conflicts of natural rights and Imperial security. Well why fight for Imperial security, if there is no Emperor? Well, he is being sought... Sought was he, and found then at an auspicious time.

Yi Yeong-Cheon was the bastard child of Yi Mu-Ja. At the ripe age of 6, his mother died, leaving him without a notable father and stranded in the streets. It was not the sort of beginnings one would expect of nobility, particularly since his biological father was unknown. But thanks to the miracle of science, it was possible to find the little strain of DNA that would connect his blood to royalty - somehow. When he turned 12, Hwarang Agents swept him off the streets and brought him to the elegant decor of Cheongbok Palace, built by the Yeongmu Emperor many years ago - the last true Emperor. Yeong-Cheon was bit perplexed, as were many people around the Imperial quarters. How could he be the offspring of an Emperor who was at least 20 years dead (or missing) and left no progeny? Well, the Imperial scholars fudged around the family tree a bit and found an exciting link dating back all the way back to the Gwangmu Emperor. Indeed, the Gwangmu Emperor was noted for bring the Han Empire to the world, that beautifully devastating period that saw the resurgence of the Mujeongbu and the near annihilation of a civilization (not to mention several unsavory international incidents). But additionally, that Emperor had a brother - a very prolific brother who had many children, one of whom even became betrothed in a rare ceremony between the Han and another Empire. It was perhaps the first step to integrating with the rest of the world, but it was a short-lived moved, which ended with terrorists (of a different sort) killing that line. Not to worry, the Emperor's brother had many other offspring, two sons, three daughters, and five purported others (he was a shameless philanderer). Some of those "illegitimate" children still carried the noble blood of Taejo, which meant that there will still a chance that the Emperor's offspring was around.

Yeong-Cheon - by extension of the Imperial Academy's logic - was (at best) the third cousin, twice removed of the not-so-recently departed Yeongmu Emperor. It mattered little - Yeong-Chein reveled at the prospect of becoming Emperor. It is any little boy's dream to become something so much greater than himself. He figured as well that it was no big deal to change the clothes of the street for those of the palace. It was a thought that he shared with himself throughout his formative years - until his sixteenth birthday, when he was to be prepared for his competency examination. The people all assembled upon Changan Square on the eve of the new year to hear the Regents read his results... - he passed! Yet... there were the murmurs that perhaps it was best to leave the martial regency in place until Yeong-Cheon had formalized his Imperial authority...


Baek Jun-Hwan was a little upset at the news, but in retrospect, it was plainly obvious that the military powers in control were too reluctant to give up their power. And now that they had some poor kid (literally) as their pawn in this play for power, they could continue to play on the "necessity" of the regency until his Imperial authority had become formalized.

"Ah, they will never give up their power," Jin remarked loudly. The other patrons in the bar glanced passingly at the old man before resuming their prior habits. Baek quietly approached him and tapped his shoulder gently. "Jin-sshi, you're drunk. It's best not to upset the other customers."

"Ah, I know when I am drunk, and I have not even crossed halfway to drunk!" Baek continued to coerce Jin to quiet down subtly, but he was too inebriated either to notice or to care. "This government has been working on a farce for most of my life, and what, while you kids lay low like i]dogs[/i], cowering with your tails behind your legs - this military is seizing more and more power."

"Jin-sshi, the censors..."

"Damn the censors! They can't silence me! I'm been talking for 60 years, ain't no one stopping me from talking! Not my mother, not my father, not my teacher, and no %$#^ing fancy-pants marshal is going to stop me from talking. Besides, what could be so wrong about stating the obvious? The Marshals just want power for themselves. This 'Emperor' - if he even is Emperor at all! - is going to sit on the Vermilion Throne while the general, the admirals, the marshals whisper into his weak little ears and give them exactly what they want! That's the same way it happened with Gyeongmun (the posthumous name of the Yeongmu Emperor), and if this kid survives long enough to have his own kids, they'll do the same to his kids. Maybe they'll just pick up some other random boy of the street and make him Emperor! They're just giving out the title away, aren't they?..."

It was not long before two men in dark suits entered the bar. Baek desperately tried to calm Jin down, but he shook off any offer of help. "I'm an old man," he said, turning to the man in dark suits. "You can't do worse than what you've done to this country. I'll go calmly." And with that, the two men escorted Jin out - such was the way it seemed for some time. Baek knew that their patience would run out eventually, however. The censors were not to be taken lightly, even if they served a public good. Personally, Baek hated them, but maybe Jin was right - they're all frightened of the military, especially in the wake of the JeongsaProtests, which saw thousands of innocent citizens killed by the military. It was a dark time, and it nearly brought the Empire into conflict with most of the other countries at that time - save the brilliant intervention of the Diplomat, a man so mysterious and powerful that he's only known by that name around the whole world. After the Jeongsa crisis, he disappeared - leaving behind a stronger political union and many disappointed and terrified people. That was the day they realized that their government could kill them with virtual impunity.

Baek still thinks about that. He had read about it in school, and he reflected that he was born in the Jeongsa year - 21 years ago. That could have been him, or his parents that were killed in the protests. In fact, it was quite possible that his own father was killed, since he was without a father for as long as he could remember. His mother and his grandfather - Mr. Jin - were his parental figures, and after his mother passed away two years, he's been helping out in his grandfather's bar ever since. He had just passed the citizenship competency exams, but without the time to study anymore, he's stuck as an Intermediate Scholar - not good enough for any of the bigger jobs that he's wanted since he was little. As he cleaned up the bar area to prepare for the evening rush, he thought about the chances of him becoming a journeyman storekeeper, owing to his grandfather's status. But that was unlikely; Jin brushed too often with the wrong side of what passes for the law in these parts (so much that even Jin said to avoid calling him "grandfather" - to protect himself from retribution), and Baek wasn't too keen to become a storekeeper anyway. He sighed - there wasn't much going right in the world for him.

It would have been worse if Jin did not return before the evening rush. Unfortunately, he did not; fortunately, the evening rush was not so rushy. In fact, it was a horrible day - only a few regular patrons came to order some food to take home. Baek angrily barked orders into the kitchen, wondering why his cook was acting so slowly - but it was more the absence of Jin that worried him too much that he became easily agitated. When Jin did not return after the closing hour - as was mandated by curfew - he paid the cook the daily salary and started to close up the shop. As he started stacking chairs atop the tables, he expected to see Jin stumble into the Bar, prostrate and drunk beyond belief. "That man has gone and gotten himself drunk at Old Long's place again!" he muttered to himself. There was no other reason for his visit to the censors to take so long.

He was nearly correct. However, instead of old Jin stumbling into the Bar, a young boy rushed into the room. "Hey!" Baek yelled. "You can't come in here. We're closed! Curfew!"

"Please, you must let me stay here!"

"No! It's curfew! Go home!"

"I can't!"

Just then, the wailing sounds of a siren echoed in the distance. Baek's face rushed with blood, terrified at the thought of some hoodlum entering his Bar. He couldn't have this place, on the same night that Jin was taken by the censors! "You can't stay here, you %$# criminal!"

"I'm no criminal! I'm running away!"

"Don't care! Go home to your mommy!"

"I... I don't have one."

"Daddy?"

"Also."

Baek was half-way ready to shove the kid out the door, but a sudden grip of guilt rushed over him. It grew even greater when the sirens became louder and then suddenly faded as the emergency vehicle rushed off to some other locale. He let go of the kid's collar and pulled up a chair, reclining there as he looked at this kid - definitely teen-aged or somewhere thereabout. Like many other orphans in the country at that time, he must have been enrolled into a state school, which would have explained much about his attire and his affect. Even though he knew the love of his own mother, Baek knew too well the pain of losing parents, and he couldn't tell whether this kid was old enough to remember that. He contemplated letting the kid stay the night, only to find his problems had expanded.

"Aish, that bastard Long!" Jin cried, nearly crawling on his knees toward the door. Baek rose from the chair and rushed to bring Jin inside. Jin shoved him, trying to assert his own strength. "I can walk, young one."

"You're stumbling, Jin-sshi," Baek replied. "You're not even walking on your feet!"

"I lost my feet in the war, little worm!"

"You never fought in any war!"

"What war!?"

Baek sighed. "Exactly."

Jin slowly walked into the bar, nearly completely cared for and everything in it stowed for tomorrow. He made his way to the chair and noticed the little boy sitting on the floor. "Jun-Hwan, what is that?" he asked.

"That's an orphan."

"Shouldn't he be in a school, or something like that?"

Baek nodded. The kid shook his head. Jin shook his head and waved a dismissive hand. "Nah, this kid can stay."

The two of them looked awestruck at the old man. "Really?" they exclaimed nearly simultaneously.

"Absolutely, it's worth one grain of rice for each moment of charity. Even if the government won't do it, it's our shared responsibility to care for one another. This child needs help and a place to sleep - let us share our wealth."

Baek shook his head and whispered to Jin, "Have you forgotten about the curfew?!?"

"Bah, the curfew stinks. You broke curfew many times, if I recall correctly! In fact, wasn't there this lovely woman?..."

Baek shook his hands, cajoling him to stop. "Okay, okay, the kid can stay. But... we're going to have to figure out some alibi."

"He's your cousin."

"My cousin?"

Jin laughed. "These days, anyone can be your cousin." He called out to the boy - "Hey, you! What's your name?"

The boy paused and slowly, silently uttered a name. "Dok-Do."

"Dok-Do, aish, what a horrible name. Jun-Hwan, this is Geun-Ho." Jin said specifically to Jun-Hwan, introducing him to the name. He turned to the kid. "Geun-Ho, this is your cousin - Jun-Hwan. Remember that." The boy nodded feverishly. He apparently knew what was at stake. Baek shook his head in disbelief, even though more and more - as time passed and he had time to ponder more about the situation, his heart too accepted the situation. For his part, old and severely drunk, Jin stumbled back to his feet and patted Baeks shoulder. "Good work in the bar today. I'm going to get some rest. Show your cousin to his bed." He walked out of the room, up the stairs to the residence floor. Baek looked at Geun-Ho, closing the door firmly shut to keep out any other intruders and quickly rearrange the last bits of the furniture. Geun-Ho seemed much more naturally relaxed, almost too much to a certain extent. When he had finished, he turned to the boy and showed him a corner by the kitchen with a padded cushion and a light blanket. "This is where you will sleep."

"What? This dingy thing?"

Baek turned irate. "If it's dingy, why not go back to your school?"

The boy pouted still, shaking his head. "If this is my bed, then where is yours?" Baek pointed at that very spot. Geun-Ho shook his head. "But we can't possibly share the same bed!"

"I know," Baek said, walking away. Geun-Ho watched him walk back to the main floor, propping up a chair and reclining on the table. It was perhaps then that Geun-Ho understood the situation, and seeing little alternative relented to sleeping on that dingy spot. And as the light turned dim in the place, Baek gave only faint hints of a smile when he saw Geun-Ho laying on the spot where he had slept before, thinking to himself that this was the same way that his mother used to sleep. Perhaps that cycle had finally come full circle?

PostPosted: Fri Jan 02, 2015 3:42 pm
by Daehanjeiguk
4752년 2월 4일

Baek wasn't sure about the arrangement at first. "He's just a boy, he's not ready for these kinds of responsibilities." Jin was more optimistic. "Ah, he'll be fine. Give him an opportunity to show that he can handle it, and he'll be a fine asset." Baek shook his head. He stepped away from the bar counter to whisper more carefully into Jin's ear. "He's an unreliable punk who spends his free time laying around idle. He ran away from school because he doesn't want to handle hard work. And your thought is to give him a big responsibility in the restaurant?"

Jin sighed. "Work keeps us from three great evils: boredom, vice, and poverty. The reason the boy seems idle is because he has nothing to do. And maybe he left the school because they didn't engage him the right way, so it's up to you to find the right job for him."

"The right job?" Baek's voice turned more exasperated. "This kid can barely write, let alone write well. The cook speaks some devilish tongue - she can't read what I write half the time, and you think this kid can handle the job?"

"Then teach him," Jin said with a smirk. "You know how to write."

"Yes, but it's already my job."

"You already do too much work here," Jin said, patting Baek's shoulder. "If you train the boy to do your job, then maybe that leaves you more time to do your studies for Advanced Scholarship?" He looked around the bar, noting the number of regular patrons. "We don't have too many people to serve, most of the regulars order the same thing all of the time; I'm sure the boy can handle it. If not, then Geun-Ho goes back into the street! Simple as that."

"We can't just do that," Baek replied. "If we kick him out, what'll he do?"

"Go back to school? Starve? Get conscripted? Join the spa? Who knows? Do you think it's my job to figure out what happens to him?"

Jin stepped away to address the patrons in the room. Baek shook his head dismissively. He couldn't believe that he was going to let the punk kid take over such an important job in the restaurant. But what Jin said hinted at some common sense. The boy needed to learn to read and write - teaching him this job would be good way to learn that. Plus, he knew for the longest time that he wanted to go back to school. If he spent less time in the restaurant, he could resume his studies, even go to school part time. "Geun-Ho," he called out to him. The boy didn't seem to listen, preferring to lay in his place sleeping. "Geun-Ho, wake up. I have something very important for you," he said again. The boy still lay there, ignoring Baek's calls. He thundered as he walked to Geun-Ho's corner, kicking him softly but forcefully until he had gotten up. "Listen, I'm not sure if you're capable of this, but we're going to put you to work. You've been mooching off us for the past couple of days, but today, you're going to help us take orders for the kitchen."

"Do I have to?" the boy whined.

"Ai!" Baek gently swatted Geun-Ho with a notepad. "It's not that hard, you just write the things that people want."

"I can't write that well..."

"Yeah, well that's an excuse," Baek said, handing the little board to Geun-Ho. He led him up to the first customer - Jang Tong-Saek, a long-time visitor who always orders the same exact thing, every time, whether it's morning, noon, or evening. Geun-Ho seemed apprehensive about the whole thing, but since he was under the spotlight, he felt obliged to follow Baek to the table. Baek led the order. "Mr. Jang, what would you like to eat today?"

"You know what I want," Jang replied.

Baek nodded, "Yes, I know, but Geun-Ho is practicing. He needs to learn how to write."

"Ah, is that the case?" Jang said, perking his lip a little mischievously. "In that case, I'll have the fried seafood pancake."

Geun-Ho stared blankly at the piece of paper. Jang stared back at him. "Do you need me to spell that out? Hae-mul-pa-jeon?"

"Yes, yes..."

Baek took the notepad and wrote out the characters slowly. "See? Start out with the ㅎ, then you go next door to the ㅏ and ㅣ, that makes 해. This one's tricky, you start out small with the ㅁ, then below goes the ㅜ, and then below that goes the ㄹ - 물. Now, you go over and write the ㅍ and then you do another ㅏ, that makes 파. This last one is the trickiest: top left corner ㅈ, top right corner ㅓ, and below all of that is the ㄴ. And there you have it - hae-mul-pa-jeon. You try it."

Having seen it done the first time, Geun-Ho struggled but managed a somewhat legible rendition of Baek's writing. "Very good!" Baek praised. "Do you think you can handle the rest of the orders for today?"

"I just learned one thing," Geun-Ho said. "How can I do orders for everyone else today? What, is everyone going to order fried seafood pancakes?"

That last bit was quipped a bit sarcastically, but Baek smiled at the thought. He went over the bar counter and pressed the microphone button - "Attention all customers, for today only, fried seafood pancakes are 50% off menu price! Help Geun-Ho practice his writing today by ordering some fried seafood pancakes today!" The restaurant cheered, Geun-Ho shook his head at the thought of writing hae-mul-pa-jeon repeatedly, and the cook peeked her head into the area to vent her frustration in whatever language it was that she spoke. Jin, hearing the commotion from upstairs, storming back downstairs. "Aish, what's this nonsense about half-off pajeon? Who authorized it?"

"I did," Baek said, pointing at Geun-Ho going from one table to the next, writing down the order. "He's learning to write, isn't he?"

Jin smiled and then swatted Baek's head. "Aish, fried seafood pancake is really expensive to make! Why did it have to be that one?"

PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 6:11 pm
by Daehanjeiguk
4752년 2월 7일

Breaking News - The Gyeongju Special Capital Metropolitan Area is due to receive hundreds of esteemed delegates from around the Jungryuk Region, including those visiting from Dok-Ji, Pa-Ri, Yeong-Do, Mal-Sul, E-To-Pi, Ju-Ryu, and In-Do, weeks ahead of the planned Sam-Il Festivities, celebrating the 12th anniversary of the formal United Coalition to eliminate the terrorist threat of anarchist movements. For several years, negotiations had been in place to solidify stronger relations among the pluriplenary nations of the Region, but many such discussions ended in heated debate as to the role of the Han Empire in any formal political union. It is widely expected that the leaders of the four corners of Jungryuk will announce the formal ascension of the Samil Confederation on the historic March 1st date, although this remains to be seen. As a result of these celebrations, Imperial Security will be enhanced to ensure the continued safety of Imperial citizens and their foreign guests. Citizens in the Imperial Special Capital Metropolitan Area are reminded to comply with all censor and curfew guidelines to maximize their enjoyment of the festivities...

Breaking News - Security forces in Yangseo have initiated one of the largest anti-criminal operations in recent memory, confiscating nearly 1.44원 hundred-million in counterfeit cookware, including over 4.2 ten-thousand frying pans destined for distant destinations. Local police lauded tips from an astute quartermaster who noted an unusual list in the vessel carrying these items, which seemed to exceed the declared weight on the ship manifests. Investigations are ongoing into the nature of this criminal enterprise, but early reports suggest that this is the work of the Mo-Chek-Bu - a relatively non-violent anarchist support group which finances many of the terrorist activities around the world. Persons with relevant information are encouraged to call into the Imperial Security Forces...

Breaking News - in Sports...


"형, why do they keep introducing new news by saying 'Breaking News'? Half of this junk isn't even news."

Baek tried to shrug off Geun-Ho's constant prodding. Originally, he wanted to spend a nice day at the pool - already overcrowded because, well, Gyeongju is situated in a (sub-)tropical region and every one has the same idea to spend a nice warm day at the pool, and because the pool that Baek routinely visited was public and free. The lounge chair that he had picked was perhaps the last one he would have chosen because it was stuck next to the shallow zone, where many of the kids would splash around recklessly (and sometimes mischievously) at the nearby patrons trying to get a good sun bathing session. Baek was reclined in a restful pose, with a pair of shaded visors to block out the sunlight from his eyes, while Geun-Ho waded in the pool at his feet, alternately poking fun at his trunks, critiquing the news, complaining that the air was too cold, or something else just to annoy Baek. And why was Geun-Ho so active?...

"Why should I bring Geun-Ho with me to the pool?"

Jin shrugged his shoulders. "Both of you have been stuck in this place for too long. Take a break."

"Geun-Ho has only been here for a week!"

"He's been studying a lot of words, and everyone needs a good break every once in a while."

Baek shook his head disappointedly. Of the things that he didn't want to do with Geun-Ho, his pool time was also sacrosanct. "Even so, I don't think Geun-Ho would want to go to the pool." At that moment, Geun-Ho jumped out, already sporting a (relatively) new pair of swimming shorts. "Why wouldn't I?" he asked, with a bright smile on his face. Baek shook his head furiously...

"Jin-아저시 said that you could find some girls here!"

Baek pointed off in some random direction. "There, girls. Go get."

Geun-Ho poked Baek some more. "Why do you wear trunks? Do you think girls like seeing your hairy legs? Here are some breaking news - Baek-형's legs are so hairy that birds are starting to nest there, thinking it's a tree."

"Get lost!" Baek said, a little more forcefully. He even lifted his visor to glare at Geun-Ho a little. Geun-Ho had a smirk as he retreated a little bit back into the water. Satisfied a little, Baek recovered the visor and rested his head back down. As soon as he did, Geun-Ho came back to poke his feet again.

"형, why is all of the news breaking?"

"I don't know. People are stupid and need to be reminded that the news is important even when it's not. Now leave me alone."

Geun-Ho frowned. "What's the point of coming to the pool if you're going to just sit there?"

"This is what I do at the pool; it's relaxing."

"Why can't I do that then?" Geun-Ho asked.

"There are too many people, and not enough chairs. Go play in the water like all of the other kids."

"Just how old do you think I am?"

"5."

With that remark, Geun-Ho defiantly splashed some water onto Baek, who nearly lunged up and off the chair after Geun-Ho. At the last moment, he remembered his place on the chair, and decided it wasn't worth it to chase after Geun-Ho. He dried off the sploch of water, recovered the visors, and returned to his restful pose on the chair. For a day of relaxation, he wasn't getting very much of it. Unfortunately for him, it was about to get much, much worse.

"Baek Jun-Hwan."

A monotonous voice called to him. Even before he looked, a shrill chill swept his spine; he knew that it wasn't going to be good when he took off the visor. And when he did, he saw three men dressed in black robes - Hwarang agents. These were not your average curfew or censor officers, or even Imperial Security; these people were dangerous beyond dangerous, if only their intentions were more apparent. "Baek Jun-Hwan - the Emperor demands your presence."

In a flash, the three men swept Baek off the chair and carried him by force into a black van. They handcuffed him in a chair, and before he could protest, they blindfolded and gagged him. Even before the van began to dart crazily through the streets (at least what could be assumed to be streets...), Baek felt frightened for his life. People seldom disappear with the Hwarang to reappear; people seldom reappear at all. And now he was being taken by force, without any prompt - save the "demands" of the Emperor - to a remote location, and only Geun-Ho would care to know what had happened. The van did move crazily through the streets - at times, it seemed as though the van was driving around in circles. When they finally arrived at the next spot, two men held him firmly by the shoulders and escorted him out - or rather, shoved him onto some grassy field before heading down some stairs that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The steps were cold and metallic; Baek hopped at every touch on his bare feet. The air was also cold and mechanic, cloaking him in a mysterious aura that seemed to choke his very being as the Hwarang led him to some secret location.

They finally arrived there, seating Baek in a padded leather chair. They stripped the blindfold and gag forcefully hard; Baek muttered a weak protest of pain, though he was far more afraid of what these men were going to do to him now. The room itself was actually very comfortable - with ornate furnishing fitting for the Emperor's bunker. Perhaps it was the Emperor's bunker? There was a fireplace with a grate in the fashion of a courting pair of golden phoenix. The walls were all black stone, with a library space opposite the fireplace. Facing Baek was a big, dark, wooden desk, which was plain on the surface. And as the three agents stood behind him at the ready, Baek could hear the heavy footsteps approaching from behind the ornate, golden mantle, with a glazed silk fabric shrouded the entrance for someone very special.

He was old, old beyond reckoning any years. And though his gait was weak and stumbly, he did not use a cane or any other walking aid. His footsteps were firm and strong, but slow and timid. When he arrived at the desk, he took his time sitting in the plush chair. He looked at Baek with a stern, emotionless face, before reaching into his desk and pulling out a pair of thick spectacles. When he looked again at Baek, he was irate - speaking with the sort of floral obscenities that Baek had never heard before or since:

"%$#^! What is the %$#^ %$#^ meaning of this %$#^? Did I %$#^ ask you to bring a %$#^ underwear model? And he's %$#^ handcuffed too? Is he %$#^ really %$#^ threatening?" The old man's voice thundered with infinite authority, such that even the agents quaked at his command. They quickly took off the handcuffed and returned to their statuesque poses. "Get him a %$#^ towel too! He needs to be covered!"

The agents immediately left the room, allowing the old man to reveal a much friendlier face. "I'm very sorry for the inconvenience. The agents were instructed to bring you here, but I cannot fathom why they would bring you... like so." The sudden change in tone made Baek feel more comfortable, though he was still quite shy when he explained the circumstance to the old man: "Well, I was at the pool. They didn't really give me a chance to change into my clothes." The old man nodded, seemingly understanding the whole mishap. "I see. Well, it is still no excuse for you to be here dressed in skivvies. It's not proper."

The agents returned and gently caressed Baek with a nice towel. The old man was unbelievably furious at this. "%$#^ %$#^ %$#^ %$#^ %$#^ %$#^, that's a %$#^ %$#^ tea towel! Do you %$#^ %$#^ think that a %$#^ tea towel is going to %$#^ cover him? Get him a %$#^ real towel!" The agents darted away even more quickly, it was hard to gage just how incompetent these agents were, given the amount of professional swiftness they carried their duties. The old man looked back at Baek with a bright smile. "I'm sorry for the profanity - it is truly unbecoming of the gentleman, but I cannot excuse incompetence for my elite agents. I imagine that you must have questions, and it is our time to discuss things."

The first question that came to Baek's mind was perhaps the stupidest, and he stupidly mumbled it out: "Are you the Emperor?"

"Me? The Emperor? Hah!" the old man slapped the desk with a bit of ferocious intensity. He cackled before coughing. "Oh, you're funny," he wheezed a bit later before he settled down. "As to your question, no, I am not the Emperor. In fact, I am not even royalty. But if you must call me anything, call me the Diplomat. That seems to be most popular moniker, these days."

"The Diplomat?" Baek said, a bit awestruck. "You were the man who negotiated the peace after the Crisis?"

"Yes, yes. Well, negotiate, no. Manage, yes. There is a fine art to managing the pieces of a chess table - though the general cannot step outside of the palace, he marshals his army to victory across the river. And much like the real world, you cannot negotiate your enemy away from threatening your position - it must be counteracted with excellence." Just as the Diplomat finished speaking about that, the agents returned with a large, voluminous bath towel, which they carefully draped over Baek's body. The Diplomat smiled even more brightly. "Well, we can say you are much more presentable, if not for the state of everything else." He motioned his hand, which evidently dismissed the agents to another place. He continued on. "It is unfortunate that you must be brought into this, because I had hoped for minimal invasiveness on my part. As it is, however, there are actions that seem unavoidable, and in order for all of the pieces to work well in the end, I must indulge a secret to you."

The Diplomat turned to his desk and pulled out from a drawer a massive paper folder. He slammed it onto the top of the desk and unfurled it, opening it to a specific location in massive pile of papers. "You see," the Diplomat said, as he perused the documents, "I have been playing a very long game, and we are nearing the end game. I cannot tell you who my opponent is, nor can I tell you the prize that is in store. All that I can say is that I fight for the Emperor, on his behalf. And it is my unfortunate pleasure to inform you that the Emperor direly needs your service."

Baek was puzzled. He wasn't exactly sure how or why the Emperor needed his service at all. In fact, he wasn't even sure how the Emperor knew of him. This all seemed very suspicious, were it not for the fact that he had just been taken by the Emperor's elite agency to a secure and undisclosed location. "What qualifications does the Emperor think I have?"

"Well," the Diplomat clarified, "I fight on the Emperor's behalf. The Emperor is currently indisposed at the moment, which means that I move his pieces. And you - Baek Jun-Hwan - you have become a new pawn in the game. And the best thing about pawns - they only move forward or sides, never backward. Rest assured, I will not put you into a situation that will cost you much, unless you do not follow my advise. But the task that I entrust to you - the task that I feel you are most qualified - this task has already been given you, not more than 7 days ago."

"What task?"

"Seven days ago, a young child came out of the street into your abode. This child is of prime interest to the Emperor. It is fortunate that you and your grandfather have been caring for this child, and do not imagine that we have left alone supervising the Emperor's treasure. But as I had mentioned earlier - there are forces moving that are looking to... challenge my moves. So... I am telling you now what you must do to ensure that - firstly - you and your grandfather remain alive and well at the close of these maneuvers, and - secondly - the Emperor's interests are maintained."

"What interest does the Emperor have in a little boy?"

"He's no mere 'little' boy. And he has the Emperor's favour." The Diplomat leaned forward towards Baek, and whispered to him, "It's best not to question these things."

"So what do you want me to do with the boy?"

"It is your duty to ensure that no harm falls to him. It is best that the boy not appear in public until a time later to be determined. You have been holding him in your restaurant with your grandfather - this is most ideal, since the boy will be preoccupied, he is kept out of public view, and the Emperor's interest in this boy is maintained at a distance from more sinister plots."

"So basically, you're telling me to protect this kid from harm? And all the while, you've taken me from him, all alone at the pool now?"

"We are aware of this," the Diplomat said, shaking his head. "This is one of the reasons why we are informing you of this. But rest assured, the child has been secured, and he is waiting for you back with your grandfather. If your grandfather asks for information, it is best not to tell him anything, unless the boy tells him first."

"What do tell him? Why can't I tell him?"

"Surely you are aware that the men who have brought you here are Hwarang. I myself am Hwarang - or was, when I was a younger man. All Hwarang are sworn loyalty to the Emperor above all else, as protection from the Empire that the Emperor was born to serve and protect. No doubt, you are aware of what has happened since the passing of the estimable Gyeongmun..." The Diplomat paused. "I'm not sure how much I can tell you, before your worth exponentially increases - but know this, avoid the censors, avoid the curfew, and most importantly avoid the Imperial Security. If anyone asks you your business with the boy, continue to insist that you are cousins. If anyone asks you your business with the Hwarang, tell them that you are owed compensation for your harrassment."

"That's it?"

"Anything more, and you will be too knowledgeable to leave this room." The Diplomat clapped his hands, and the Hwarang agents returned to escort Baek back home. As Baek got up to leave, the Diplomat reached out and held his hand. "Oh, and one more thing - whatever so happens to the boy, ten thousand times will be done for you. Remember that."