In the end, Ryu asked Bonny while looking at the children.
“Bonny, what are you teaching the kids and what was that scream just now?” → Ryu
Bonny smiled sadly while glancing at me with worried eyes. Unable to handle all this worry turned my way, I tried to change the subject as fast as possible.
“Miss Bonny, I’m fine so please stop worrying. Now, the reason why I came here was mainly because of the learning system. I observed that you guys created the form used back in our world I presume, right? Making the children go to classes, once per month give out tests and make all of them study almost the same thing. Am I right?” → Shen
“Mostly, it’s true. But after they get over the basics, they’re free to learn a main style of fighting. For example, right now I’m teaching them the forms of a [Soul Seer] just how you taught me.” → Bonny
I shook my head and said again:
“And here is the problem. Some children don’t necessarily wish to become warriors. Some of them may simply wish to research magic. Some might wish to study crafting, just like what mister Khalid is doing, and at such an early age, kids normally know what they wish to do. Others might want to find new forms of magic, and my books can offer a lot of patches for them to walk on. For example, the Power Words can be used in tons of forms, what I showed up till now is just the snow on the tip of the iceberg. There can be even more ways to use the Energy Stones, and now that I found a way to safely take control over them, there can be other people who could start working with them as well. The way of martial arts, again, can be exploited in many more areas than what I just did. I only used the elements from the Trigram, but there are dozens of primary elements, hundreds of secondary, and thousands of 3rd rated elements in this world which can be absorbed and turned into a martial dance. Moreover, there might as well be those who wish to study cooking, building, strategy or so on other types of arts or professions which, at the moment, they all are quite essential for the Kingdom’s evolution and growth in the future.” → Shen
“S-so what should we do about that?” → Bonny
Bonny was momentarily baffled by what she heard. She completely overlooked the possibility of having someone only proficient in one area, that one not being necessarily on fighting. She forgot that not everyone can turn into a warrior, just like how not everyone can turn into a researcher. They both might need discipline, but their areas of distinction are completely different.
“First, you can continue the elementary classes in which you make them study the basics and also make them learn a basic form of martial arts so their bodies will be on par with their minds. But then, when the basics have been integrated already, you must let them become aware of what is their area of studying. What they prefer, what are their best points and on what they can be focused on? You’ll have to add all of this in twelve classes, those starting from age 7 up to 18-19. As for the other teachers, observe how they’re doing and change them with someone that might be better at this. There is no shame if someone is no good at it, for not everyone can be a teacher.” → Shen
“I see…” → Bonny
I talked some more with Bonny about how she should make the school more efficient and welcoming for the children so they could later turn into true experts of their own domains, then Ryu stared at me a little troubled.
“Wait, Shen. Why do I feel like you’re passing the responsibilities of being the principal of the school to Bonny?” → Ryu
“Because I will go to Victoria and teach there for a while. This was the promise with Mister Yuri, wasn’t it?” → Shen
I answered back and made Ryu stare at me dumbfounded, Bonny having the same reaction.
“W-wait, since when have you decided that?” → Ryu
“Since I understood that I lost to Yuri.” → Shen
“You lost?!” → Ryu
Both Ryu and Bonny asked completely taken aback.
“Yes. First of all, my physical power was much superior, the devil’s soul power was just as superior. I was much above Yuri in any aspect; be it fighting knowledge, experience, power rank, raw strength, mental power, and soul-power.” → Shen
“T-then how did you lose?” → Ryu
“I lost the moment I asked the devil for help.” → Shen
They couldn’t believe what I said so I started explaining.
“I was taken over by my own emotions, here I lost in terms of mental power. Then he pushed me back for quite a few times in melee. Here I lost in the experience and physical strength. In the end, he caught me by surprise and made me enter my subconscious state, which in the end made my soul be entirely swallowed by the devil. Here I lost at will-power and soul power. Let’s not forget that he was able to seal back the devil, give me back my body and cleanse my soul well enough for me to acquire a calm mind and heart.” → Shen
Even though the heart was emptied, perhaps I can go with what Ryu said and fill it back with time. → Shen
For the first time since I woke up, I felt like smiling, feeling like maybe things will finally turn for the best. However, such positivity wasn’t really my style.
“I see… Then it is reasonable for you to listen to their requirements. Fine, I won’t stop you.” → Ryu
“Sigh~ if that’s what master wishes…” → Bony
Both Bonny and Ryu sighed together, then Bonny opened her eyes wide and said in a hurry.
“Wait! Shen! I forgot to say something important! It seems that Mister Khalid found out a form to take control over the Energy Stones in a much-simplified form!” → Bonny
“What?” → Shen
This time it was my turn to remain stunned for a moment. Bonny then continued and said:
“Yes. It seems that he was able to take control over the Energy Stone by throwing it into the fire then trying to connect with it while it was burning.” → Bonny
“… Connect with the Energy Stone while it’s under the influence of an element?… Bonny, can I trust you to make him write it down for later?” → Shen
“I don’t know if he’ll wish to do so anytime soon…” → Bonny
“Then I will visit him one of these days, I’ll ask you to remember me about this later. Right now I need to go out again.” → Shen
“Eh? Ah, okay. Goodbye Master Shen. Wish I’ll see you soon again.” → Bonny
“Yeah…” → Shen
“Yes yes, thank you very much, Bonny. Shen, you come with me.” → Ryu
Bonny smiled brightly at both of us and made me feel some kind of warmth. Ryu observed that and somewhat annoyed, he dragged me away in a hurry. After getting far away I asked a little bit annoyed.
“What’s with you? Suddenly grabbing me like that.” → Shen
“Shen. For the love of all, don’t you dare fall for my Queen when you already got yours, okay? I forgave you for a lot of things, but I won’t forgive you for this.” → Ryu
“Wait, you got me wrong…” → Shen
I looked at him like at an idiot while walking together toward the Southern Wall where the underground dungeon was built.
“I have no feelings for your wife, and I assure you that I won’t ever fall in love with her.” → Shen
“… That’s somehow annoying to hear, but please continue. Why you say that?” → Ryu
“I only felt respect and admiration for her. The fact that she’s so carrying with the children, the fact that she has such a pure soul, the fact that she’s able to sincerely smile like that in a different world. I admire and respect all of that, but I’ll never fall for her for two reasons.” → Shen
“Which are?” → Ryu
“Well, the first one is pretty obvious. It’s because she’s your woman, and a true man would never take another man’s woman.” → Shen
“That’s my brother. Proud of you.” → Ryu
“Second: It’s because the feeling of love is completely foreign to me. I only know that you’ll have to open your heart for the respective person if you truly love her, but I know better than to open my heart for someone else.” → Shen
“… You sound so cold.” → Ryu
“I can trust someone with a lot of things, but not with my heart. That’s the only thing I have of my own, and I won’t trade if for all the gold.” → Shen
“Even though it’s empty?” → Ryu
I stared stunned at Ryu who smiled at me as if trying not to laugh. Surely enough I don’t remember to ever say what happened with my heart. The fact that he knew this so surely made me doubt my own memory. I glared inside his eyes and tried to see if he was scheming something. However, there was no malice to be found, only some worry and sympathy.
“Don’t look at me like that. I can tell that what that devil stole from you weren’t simply your memories, but your heart which contained the most precious and dearest memories in your life. You feel no love or affection for nobody around you. You don’t remember the people you held dear the most. You can’t remember the happy or fun moments we had together. You don’t even remember the time we had a drink together for the first time in this world. Actually, it was the first time we even met in real life! Let alone have a drink. If you simply forgot about me, then you should’ve still had some memories about how you drank with someone but forgot with who, right? This only proves that you forgot even the best moments you experienced, not just the people.” → Ryu
“I can tell I’m right only by looking at your troubled face, hahaha~… Shen, you hiding like this from us is really painful. We’ve gone through ice and fire together, felt pain and had fun as one while fighting against Thanatos. We imparted all kinds of information and experiences with one another. Seeing you suddenly take me for a stranger… It hurts, man. I wish to no one with a brother to feel the way I feel right now, you know? It really sucks…” → Ryu
I looked perturbed at Ryu who had a devastated expression while avoiding eye contact. The pain was written all over his face as he walked in front toward the stairs of the dungeon. I stood behind for a moment as I felt more and more conflicted.
But… Even if you tell me that… All I have are painful, sorrowful, dark memories or just cold information. Nothing warm to hold dear, nothing I could call as a “happy memory”. Suddenly asking me to “trust”, “believe” and “have fun with” when all of these are just empty words to me… Is impossible. Maybe with time, but right now… It’s impossible. → Shen
I sighed out without saying a word and followed Ryu inside the underground prison where the captured soldiers and commanders of Urius have been imprisoned. The inside wasn’t that spacious but everywhere were ventilating holes, no bigger than 20cm square with illuminating crystals placed on the walls with a distance of 5 m from each other.
“We salute King Ryu! Lord Shen!”
Six soldiers that were placed as guards stood up after seeing us and bowed together. They then opened two huge iron gates and let us in. On the other side of the door, more little windows through which fresh air and dim light entered a spacious stone room, while half of the room was cut in two by tall bars of iron. The ceiling was around six meters high, while the width of the room was around 10 meters with 8 meters deepness. Three silhouettes appeared inside the cellule, all three of them wearing thick anti-magic chains with handcuffs. Except for their dirty clothes, nothing seemed to have troubled them from the past week of incarceration. The other soldiers were also imprisoned in the other rooms, filling the entire dungeon in one go, with close to 2200 soldiers of ranks Great Warriors to Masters to even Grandmasters.
“I see… So your highness must be the king of this place.”
A hoarse and deep voice resounded from the other part of the bars.
“And you must be General David, I presume.” → Ryu
“I’m honored the King already knows my name.” → David
David bowed his head and glanced at his two lieutenants to do the same. The dragoon Denisse and the Wildcat Daniel followed right after, bowing their heads with a refined demeanor.
“Oho~ your noble façade does give off the royal aura indeed. Completely different from the barbarian and sly one you showed me at first.” → Shen
I walked in front and stared at the three of them with cold eyes.
Denisse barred her teeth at me and was stopped by Daniel who starred at me with unfriendly eyes.
David looked at me with a complicated look then glanced at Ryu again.
“For what reason does the King himself pays us a visit at such an early hour?” → David
“I want to know what you mean by Warlord. My brother Shen is anything but such a being. If you’re judging him based on what happened inside the Jian Kingdom, then I must have you call me a Warlord as well, because I also opposed the Empire that one time.” → Ryu
“… So this place truly is the base of those Players who wish to liberate the kingdoms. Am I right?” → David
“Completely wrong.” → Shen
“What?” → David
David glanced at both of us with sharp eyes then Daniel from beside him asked in a whisper.
“How can we trust you…?” → Daniel
“Aren’t welcomed? You mean this place was built for pariahs?” → Daniel
“Exactly. A place built by the low for the lowly. A place built by slaves and wanderers for other slaves and wanderers. By the pariah for the ones who are not wanted, or are simply used as tools. For the ones who can’t find their place in this world and search for one which they could fight for wholeheartedly.” → Shen
My devilish aura evaded my body for a moment while a little grin appeared on my face. Ryu said nothing while staring at the three. The two lieutenants felt the pressure and didn’t dare say something else while David looked at me with the same sharp eyes as before. In the end, he opened his mouth and a heavy voice resounded:
“I see… So you’re telling me that you don’t wish to become a conqueror?” → David
“Not in the slightest. I only wish to research in peace and live my life on my own atop of a mountain’s peak or something.” → Shen
Are you a hermit? → Ryu
Even Ryu asked himself such while glancing at me with a dumbfounded expression.
“However. It remains unchanged that Warlord Shen proclaimed war against both the empires and wishes to unite the players and fight against them head-on.” → David
“I never said I wish to unite the players, let alone to fight both empires.” → Shen
I shook my head while feeling a headache coming my way.
“First of all, please explain to us how this happened? From what did it all began?” → Shen
“… This place is not a good place to hold a conversation.” → Ryu
Ryu interrupted me then he opened the cell by simply using the key he got from the guards.
“Come. We will talk inside my office.” → Ryu
I looked at him a little bit confused, then David and his two lieutenants followed right after us, leaving the cell behind. The other Antara guardians stared at us with wide-open eyes but said nothing against it. On our way to the tower, David and his two lieutenants glanced around as if trying to get an understanding of our powers. From around us, they were able to see a lot of elderly walking the streets, more dog and pig-men carrying meat from the warehouse toward the cafeteria, women chatting and carrying different materials or boxes in which food was prepared for their men who are working at the walls and new buildings. There were no children as all of them being at school at this moment. From the West, they were able to hear shouts and different noises as if a battle was taking place. When they looked in that direction, they observed a huge cuboid-like building, fully engraved with seals of protection and resistance, making the building night to impossible to destroy without the power of at least an Adept Saint.
The training grounds, I suppose. → David
David thought to himself while trying to give more importance to the box-like building. After a few more minutes, they finally reached the tower. Inside Ryu’s office, I prepared some tea for all five of us, Ryu and I sitting on the sofa while the three of them sitting on the chairs in front of the wooden table. I placed the tea in front of each of us then sat down with an expressionless face.
“Alright. This should do for a discussing environment.” → Ryu
“Indeed. I would like for you to continue now.” → Shen
David stared at us for a moment, feeling a little bit conflicted then Ryu suddenly chuckled and said:
“Oh, these will get in your way while drinking. Let me remove them.” → Ryu
He then took out a rusty key from inside his inventory and gave it to David.
“What is this?” → David
David frowned after seeing the key in his own hands.
“It’s the key to the handcuffs. You and your lieutenants can now take them off at least until we finish talking.” → Ryu
David’s face darkened while staring at us with sharp eyes.
He knows that even if we’re free or locked down, it makes no difference for them… This place is full of monsters, making for a pedestrian woman to have the Core Warrior power-rank. At the capital, she would’ve been trained to become part of the elites, while in here she freely cuts onions in the kitchen together with other Great Warriors and Masters for other few hundreds like them. At this point, I can’t even tell what these two’s true power-rank is. But only from their auras, I can tell it’s unfathomable. → David
The general sighed out in distress then he unlocked his and his subordinate’s handcuffs. Denisse instantly wished to jump at us and take us as prisoners, but David instantly grabbed her by the collar and forced her to sit back down again.
“Are these the manners of a lieutenant under my command? It seems I’ll have to discipline you later.” → David
She stared dumbfounded at her superior then she calmed down after understanding what David was thinking from his glance alone. With some sweat on her forehead, she bowed her head.
“P-please excuse my impoliteness. I apologize for all I’ve done and said against you sirs…” → Denisse
“Doesn’t matter.” → Shen
I waved my hand, a little irritated already by the time we lost then I continued.
“We came here for a reason. Please start talking already and stop taking our time.” → Shen
“Shen? Are you in a hurry?” → Ryu
“Well, aren’t we? I must say that we have a lot of work to do and my duty as a founder of this place makes me need to start working and organizing things that you had no time to prepare. Besides, you also built this kingdom in the wrong place for a while now.” → Shen
“Eh?” → Ryu
Ryu stared at me with huge eyes, unable to understand what I just said.
“Never mind that. Right now I want to hear Sir David’s explanation about the Warlord thingy.” → Shen
“B-but wait a moment-” → Ryu
“I said we’ll talk later.” → Shen
My voice was grave as I tried to make Ryu understand that we must take things in an orderly manner.
“Sigh~ fine. If you could, Sir David.” → Ryu
“Very well.” → David
Understanding that he couldn’t do anything at this point when his people depended on him, he gave up any thoughts of tricking us and explained in a way which won’t give out any secrets or inside-information from his kingdom.
“As you very well know, more than half a year ago, more and more people with incredible powers of unknown origins started to appear all over the globe. These people called themselves players and after a few moments, they would suddenly transform and change appearance into what seemed a weakened and feeble body, to that of martial artists, thoroughly trained and well-built, with an incredibly sturdy structure and a well-proportioned physique. Most of them changed races while some of them even genders. Most of them got in groups called clans and entered the guilds of adventurers. Others turned into criminals and bandits, while some were recruited by the noble families. There were a lot of them which suddenly disappeared then found dead outside a rural area, or simply took different kinds of jobs, wishing to live a peaceful life. The difference between a resident and a player was their perfect structure after transforming, the unique spells and skills they said they invented, most of them registering with Power Ranks between Energy Master and Great Saints, and the weak mentality, ending up in tears or vomiting after seeing blood, or simply screaming in fear at the sight of weaker monsters than them. I can say that I myself observed how a team of 5 Grandmasters was completely decimated by a beast of only B rank, killing them one by one when all they could do was to freeze in place from fright. Of course, there were also those who fought like true elites, showing combat might far superior to someone their own power-rank. Truly was a ridiculous sight to behold.” → David
“This has nothing to do with that Warlord Shen you told me about.” → Ryu
“Immediately I’ll talk about him. After a month the players appeared into this world, a group called Liberators raised from between them in the Northern parts of the Nostrung continent and absorbed more and more groups of players called clans. There were some who refused their invitations while there were also ones who opposed them. But after more wars between clans, the Liberators reached the peak of power between them and continued to absorb more and more players from all over the continent, taking in even some residents that disliked the present ruling powers, wishing for a change.” → David
“Hold on. From here on we also need someone who’s more familiar with the clans in this world.” → Shen
I turned into a mist and in less than a second, I reappeared with someone in my arms.
Shiroko stared dazed at everyone inside the room, unable to understand what was happening, then she felt a warm body hugging her from behind, together with a rather cold but familiar aura. With a pale face, she slowly turned, only to see my sharp eyes looking from above.
“L-Lord Shen…? M-may I know how can I help you…?” → Shiroko
She lightly trembled while grabbing her tail from between her legs. A slight blush appeared on her face as she couldn’t control her ears from twitching at my breath.
“Yes. I wish for you to listen to this story.” → Shen
After transporting, I released her and sat down on the sofa, making some space for her to sit down between me and Ryu.
How did it come to this? → Shiroko
She nervously fidgeted after sitting down between me and Ryu, unable to think straight while feeling pressured.
W-wait. I was inside the training room and exercised the [Devil’s Flame Punch] and tried to use more and more chi for it, until a sudden black smoke enveloped me and a voice resounded from around, telling me not to move. The next thing I remember was me inside King Ryu’s office and hugged from behind by Lord Shen! Now I’m sitting between them as if natural, and they don’t even mind it! Uuuuh~ I thought that once I finish training I’ll go take a bath once again, I wish I don’t smell now! → Shiroko
“Miss Shiroko.” → Ryu
“Y-yes!” → Shiroko
Ryu lightly patted her shoulder, worried that she was sick or something then she suddenly shot up from her place, stiff like a blank and nervous like never before, her face burning red as she became more conscious of herself.