Chapter 245: Zero
Once Lomyok had left and more than an hour remained before the appointed time for Sila’s meeting with his teacher, he and Bluebird sat down and discussed the events regarding Zero .
Bluebird took out Zero’s white mask and placed it on his right palm while his other hand held the disc which had been attached to the mask . He was hesitant to open the file inside .
From their last exchange, Sila could tell that the two, Zero and Bluebird, weren’t strangers to each other . “Do you know him?”
Bluebird finally removed his gaze from the disc . “I don’t personally know Zero . . . but I know Narin . He was the one who recommended this game to me . We . . . were friends . ”
“Were? So, you two are no longer friends?” asked Sila .
“Narin died two years ago . . . I was the one who killed him,” replied Bluebird, his voice light .
“W-What did you say?”
“The thing is . . . ” Bluebird started to reveal his past with Narin, his eyes blankly staring at the mask .
Bluebird and Narin were childhood friends . When they had grown up and entered universities, Narin became interested in learning martial arts as a hobby and invited Bluebird to join a certain small dojo with him . After two years had passed, the difference in their strength became obvious . Narin was more diligent, so he developed faster . In any case, Bluebird wasn’t particularly interested in martial arts, so he didn’t mind . For him, practicing martial arts was just an exercise .
The dojo that Bluebird mentioned was just a small one that imparted traditional martial arts—at the level of a hobby or, at best, sports—not as profound as Sila or Montra’s . Thus, the arts were not as deep and lacked killing intent .
“That day . . . it was just another ordinary sparring match between us . We were put onto the same stage and, as usual, I stood no chance against Narin . By the way, Narin’s family is very poor, so he often worked hard and slept less . I guess he also worked a lot the day before and didn’t get much sleep either, so he was quite exhausted . Therefore, he couldn’t dodge my simple punch . The impact I felt through my fist wasn’t heavy at all, but it was enough to knock him down . The back of his head hit against the mat . . . ”
“Then . . . he died?” asked Sila .
“No, he instantly got up and was perfectly fine . He even won against me . However, a month later, he collapsed when he was working and got carried to a hospital . A doctor performed a CT scan and found out that his condition had worsened after the spar . He fell into a coma for a week before passing away . ”
“ . . . Blue, you said you were the one who killed him, but that’s not it . It’s . . . ”
“An accident . . . Yes . . . the doctor also told me that . That light collision wouldn’t kill anyone, yet it was the starting point . Combined with the fact that he worked his body too hard with not enough rest, it eventually became what killed him . He was just unlucky . Even Auntie, Narin’s mother, told me that it wasn’t my fault . ”
“Me too . I don’t think it’s your fault, Blue . For martial artists, injury and death are inevitable . It’s not anyone’s fault . ”
“We are not like you!! Sila!!” Bluebird roared . “I didn’t even want to train! Narin was also just enjoying it as a hobby! It wasn’t like he planned to learn martial arts as a career . We were normal people!!”
Sila fell silent . “ . . . I’m sorry . ”
Bluebird released a long sigh . “No, it’s my fault . Sorry that I got upset . ” He looked at the disc as he wanted to change the subject . “Let’s see what Narin left behind . ”
Sila nodded when Bluebird inserted the disc into his system window . While the system was loading the file, Bluebird finished his explanation .
“Narin invited me to play this game before it even launched . He wanted us to start at the same time and travel together . When he died, I no longer cared about it . It was four or five months after the game launched that I found it interesting and wanted to try . ”
Sila silently listened as he didn’t know what to say .
The file was finally ready . A hologram of Zero floated from his screen . Bluebird muttered to Sila, “It’s a video file . ”
The hologram of Zero removed his mask . It revealed Narin’s tired face, who looked straight into Bluebird’s eyes, the two gazes locked onto each other .
[Hello, Bluebird . I’m assuming you will use this name for your avatar . . . I remember the time when we were talking about the names we would be using in the game and you pointed at your dad’s old car and said ‘I will go with Bluebird . ’]
The two of them listened attentively . They were aware that Narin had more to say .
[ . . . Unfortunately, if you are listening to this file, it means my brainwaves became unstable and I can no longer exist in Monster Soul . Technically, I died . . . died for a second time . . . ]
[You may wonder what I am talking about . . . I will have to start from when I was in a coma . At that time, I was conscious of myself . It was like I was trapped within a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from . I stayed in a completely dark world with no exits, floating around with no purpose . In fact, I was supposed to die like that . However, someone entered my nightmare . . . he is the creator of Monster Soul . . . Doctor Joshua . ]
“Joshua?” Sila exclaimed, though Bluebird wasn't interested . He still listened carefully to what Narin was about to say .
[The doctor said he came to meet me through a brain scanner . Actually, I had heard about it and was aware that using a brain scanner on a patient whose brain was having problems is against the law . He told me I was dying and he gave me a choice . . . ]
“Against the law? Why?” Sila interrupted .
Bluebird was quite knowledgeable about it, so he replied, “Yes, that’s because using a brain scanner interferes with the brain’s processing functions . Even if it looks like you’re sleeping, your brain doesn’t get to fully rest like real sleep . Generally, when the user’s brain discovers anomalies, the scanner will automatically shut down and prevent the user from logging in until their brainwaves stabilizes . However, patients with brains that are having problems may cause the wavelength of pattern of their brainwaves to deviate from the norm, which can make the scanner miscalculate . Although the chances of that happening are low, the law strictly prohibits it since it’s about people's lives . ”
Narin continued without listening to their conversation .
[ . . . He said I was going to die in a couple of days, and he wanted to purchase my remaining ‘lifespan’ for the sake of his experiment . He said he was secretly studying the field of brainwaves and would like to have a large number of examples . In return, he would give my family a huge amount of money . . . Sigh . My mother couldn’t bear the medical bills I had caused . If I died like that, I would leave a huge burden behind . Our family only consisted of both of us . . . If I were to die, I at least wanted my mother to live a comfortable life . . . ]
[After I had accepted his deal, he moved me out of the hospital that night . He issued a fake death certificate for me and switched my body with someone else’s corpse . Also, he disguised himself as staff from an insurance company and gave a lump sum of money to my mother, claiming that I had secretly taken life insurance on myself without telling anybody . My mother wasn’t knowledgeable about this kind of thing, so she didn’t suspect him . Everything went smoothly . ]
Bluebird could remember that so well . Even though she ended up with a large sum of money and no longer had to work hard, Narin’s mother hadn’t smiled even once since his funeral . It was the part that Bluebird always blamed himself for .
[My second life began on the first day that Monster Soul officially launched . . . my new life under the name of Zero . This world became my new and only world . Since I can stay online 24/7 and use my life to its fullest, I became stronger at a quick pace . I even ended up with this Shadow Emperor title . ]
[The doctor always tells me that the brain is a complicated organ . His research focuses on the numerous possible reactions seen in brainwaves in different situations . He grants me complete freedom . Furthermore, if I’m lucky, he may discover a way to cure me . At the same time, he warns me to watch out for extreme situations and serious injuries . If my brainwaves weaken, maybe I will cease to exist even in this world . ]
[Since I no longer have to work and my mother already has a comfortable life, my desire has changed . From a hobby . . . martial arts became my lifetime goal . I want to fight an intense and worthy battle . I want to die in a real match . . . so that I can finally return to genuine zero and have no more regret . ]
As Sila was listening, he deeply pondered about it . Narin said he was one of the test subjects . If Bow was included, that would already make two . Sila wondered how many people were involved in Joshua’s research .
[ . . . Man, you surely know what I’m thinking . I’m doing this because I want to tell you that I’m the one who chose my way to die, Bluebird . From a deathmatch, not your lucky punch . So . . . please, stop blaming yourself . ]
Bluebird stared straight into Narin’s eyes . He was strangely calm .
[Lastly, as I promised the doctor, this file will override itself with empty data . Remember that even when I die, others are still alive . Zero means nothingness, yet nothingness is the beginning of everything . Please live on and happily continue your life . ]
[ . . . Farewell, my best friend . ]
The video file had ended as the hologram vanished . Looking at the mask, Narin’s memento, Bluebird noticed something behind it . He moved it closer to his eyes and spotted lines of letters engraved inside .
“Hmm? This is . . . Shadow Reaper Hands . Narin engraved his martial art on the inside of his mask . ”
Sila was thinking about something else, but his focus shifted to the mask once Bluebird mentioned it . “I guess he wanted you to inherit it . ”
Bluebird shook his head . “Too bad . They’re all texts with no illustration . I can’t possibly make anything out of them . ”
“May I have a look?” asked Sila, to which Bluebird simply handed the mask over without question .
Sila read through the texts while Bluebird did nothing to interrupt his concentration . Once he had finished reading it once, Sila gave it back to Bluebird .
“They’re the core concept and primary movements of his martial art . Reading this kind of text requires a moderate level of experience . Since this is not your area of expertise, you will have a difficult time comprehending them . As for me, I can understand about sixty or seventy percent of it right now . The rest will have to be adapted during actual combat . Anyway, do you want me to perform each move to show you? You can look at them and adapt them in a way that suits you best . ”
Bluebird nodded and took out a notebook, ready to jot down notes . Gradually, he read aloud each sentence inside the mask and Sila performed the move accordingly, one by one .
“Zero . . . erm, I mean, Narin used Shadowless Soul Qi as a foundation of his power, so his Shadow Reaper Hands is light and quick . If you plan to inherit it, you will have to use other kinds of power instead . The result may differ, but martial arts are about repetition . If you keep on practicing, Narin’s martial art will eventually become yours . ”
Bluebird nodded . He decided not to start practicing yet as he would try to understand the moves first .
Sila considered this martial art as a gift Zero prepared for Bluebird, so he tried his best to forget the contents . Still, a fraction of Narin’s martial art remained in the back of his memory .
Sila clawed the air for the last time and stopped . He looked at Bluebird, who had his notebook open on the ground and was trying to comprehend the moves he just saw .
Noticing that the time for his appointment with Teacher Mora was approaching, Sila decided to leave in order to go to the hotel and log out .
“I have to go . Blue, what will you do?” asked Sila .
“I think I will be staying in this cave for a long while . No worries . Call me if you want anything . By the way, be careful on your way back . ”
Sila nodded and turned to Lookhin, who was sitting and chatting with Clute . Apparently, Clute was teaching Lookhin the proper way to use magic, and Lookhin was listening to him attentively . It seemed she disliked herself quite a bit at the moment because she had been unable to help Sila earlier .
“ . . . The quality of a spell’s result is dependent on the timing . If you just find out the suitable timing for using your magic, it will be as if a battle is halfway yours . . . ” Clute explained while Lookhin kept on nodding .
Witnessing such a scene, Sila showed a warm smile . “ . . . Lookhin, please stay with Clute and learn from him, okay? I have to go out . It may take several days before I come back, so I don’t want to seal you if possible . I will just come and pick you up when I return . ”
“Mn,” replied Lookhin . It seemed she was really eager to learn and polish her skills as she didn’t want to end up being a burden . In fact, after she had witnessed the fight between Mamon and Clute, she was aware that she couldn’t win against Mamon in a serious match the way she was now .
The cave soon disappeared from Sila’s sight under the heavy snowstorm once he departed . His head was filled with questions, be it about Joshua’s research or his parents . Still, the most important question he had was about Five-Attributed Cloud Qi .
He had been very confident that he could win against anybody using this art, yet it turned out that he was unable to take Zero down . During the last exchange, he was pretty certain that the reason Zero disappeared was due to his unstable brainwaves, not because he had died or lost due to Sila’s move . If the fight went on, the real loser might have been none other than him .
Sila was aware that even his versatile qi art must have weaknesses . No profound arts are flawless . No matter how they seem to be theoretically perfect, they must surely have some flaws when in action, which can certainly be seen in the user’s actions .
Zero is the starting point, but there is no end .
Nobody is perfect . Perfect means stagnant, and being stagnant in a world where everyone keeps going means going backward .
“ . . . Maybe I’m missing or forgetting something important . I should consult Teacher . ”
Sila leaped through the snowfield . Although he left footprints in the snow, the snowstorm soon flew past and his trail disappeared . Sila was contemplating his questions when he spotted Belacia City from far away . However, he suddenly came to a stop .
. . . There were people blocking his path .
Two magic fighters, the Two Monarchs who were above all others except Magic Emperor Montra, were in top shape . Kawin inspected his metal armguards to ensure they were in perfect condition while Revin spun his heavy sword before placing it on his shoulder .
The magic power around the two players shot up . No words were needed . Sila was fully aware of their goal .
Apparently, the difficulty of his simple task of returning to the city had gone up .
Two Dragon Domains—one earth and one flame—were activated and overlapped . Together with the snowstorm, the atmosphere became bewildering . The earth trembled as the sound of the snow wind let out a mysterious roar, but the air Sila inhaled was hot .
Sila started by activating Divine Raiment to provide protection against the Dragon Domains . Seeing Kawin, it reminded him of when they first met in Grea City . At that time, Sila couldn’t manage to land even a single clean hit on Kawin .
This time, however, he wouldn’t allow himself to be the only one receiving attacks .