The arrival of the Single-Horned Dragons was quiet yet uproarious . They moved soundlessly but the qi unleashed from them shook the air . It took them only a few minutes to form a blockade in front of the valley’s entrance .
Kiryu stopped his feet, and all of his followers stopped accordingly . The mountain pass leading to the inside of the Valley of Immortals was a bottleneck . There was only one entrance and it was suitable for defense . Even if they vastly outnumbered the enemy by hundreds, only a few could enter at a time .
Observing the terrain, Sila realized the Valley of Immortals was a difficult place to raid . “What will we do, sir?”
“Aside from Crow, I don’t recognize the other two,” Kiryu said as he sensed power surging from the inside . It was a mix between qi and psychic power .
Psychic power in a form of mental oppression was unleashed from the valley . Kiryu blocked it easily by materializing his qi into a wall, as did Sila and Rex . Meanwhile, Lookhin was almost unaffected by it since the power coming with the wind didn’t work well on her, since she was a bird . Only the Single-Horned Dragons were trembling at Crow’s psychic power .
“My neighbor has returned and come for a visit . How about I welcome you with hot sake? Come in, Kiryu . You too, Sila . ” Crow’s words, imbued with qi, came from the inside .
Rex was the first to move . His eyes showed that he was angry . “My lord, this may be a trap . Please let me lead the way . ”
Kiryu responded to Rex by pressing him down with qi, making him kneel . “Rex, I will go even if there is a trap waiting for me . You have a much more important connection to the Single-Horned Dragons than I do, so you’re their main target . You have to be a lot calmer than this . ”
Seeing Kiryu being harsh on Rex, Sila was taken aback . Kiryu walked past Sila while he was at it .
“Sila, follow me inside . I want to know what kind of trick Crow is going to pull . Rex, you stay outside . Don’t forget to be vigilant . If you see my signal, you shall storm inside and destroy everything . Don’t hold back . ”
Rex nodded . Kiryu then spoke to him in a more casual tone, “No need to worry . The Valley of Immortals will surely be erased from the world today . Rest assured . ”
Sila followed Kiryu inside with Lookhin, who didn’t care about any of this, right behind him .
“You’re curious, right? You may ask,” Kiryu said to Sila during their walk .
Sila was on guard against a possible ambush . However, since he got permission, he asked, “Why did you do that to Rex, sir?”
“Because this is going to be a war,” Kiryu explained, “Rex is like a commander while I’m his lord . To control the commander, you have to be friendly to them while, at the same time, make them respect you . Moderately reward or punish them according to their actions . Leave them a degree of freedom and chance for them to grow and show their talent . On the other hand, you have to show them that you are ultimately stronger . The hierarchy of authority is utterly important during wartime . Making a slight mistake can lead to your downfall . ”
“Won’t it be better if we’re on intimate terms?” asked Sila .
“You can do that in a group battle, but you can’t during war . Soldiers in an army have to respect and fear their lord more than their enemy . If you’re too intimate with them, your orders won’t be absolute . On the other hand, if you’re too distant, your orders may be misinterpreted . You must make them feel that you’re respectful, admirable, and fearful, all at the same time . If there is one day where they fear your enemies more than they fear you, they will either flee or direct their weapons at you . ”
Sila memorized Kiryu’s words as they might be useful in the approaching war event .
The three of them went past the small mountain pass and arrived at the Valley of Immortals’ inner area . The same table, where Crow always sat, had three people around it . One of them was Crow, while Sila knew the other two well . They were Sanon and Shueria .
“It’s been a very long time, Kiryu . Come, sit down,” Crow casually invited .
Sila slightly bowed his head to Sanon and Shueria to greet them, to which they nodded back . He then was welcomed and asked to sit down by Crow, while Lookhin minded no one as she sat on his lap . She extended her hand to a bottle of sake on the table, but Sila pushed it away . As a result, she pouted and took out a bag of pet food to eat .
Crow poured sake into a sake cup . “When was the last time you ate? You look a lot thinner than before . Shueria, can you help me serve the food?”
“Yes, Teacher,” Shueria replied and entered a hut .
Kiryu took a side glance at the departing young man . “Do you have a disciple?”
Crow drank the sake . “No, Shueria just keeps calling me that way . I have no plans to impart my profound art to others, but this is just a game . I liked his determination, so I taught him some of my moves . Well, Shueria lives in France . It can be said that our world has become smaller thanks to Monster Soul . Maybe meeting him is my fate and I should really consider accepting him as my disciple . Hahaha!”
“And who are you?” Kiryu turned to Sanon .
“I’m Crow’s friend . He said he got a diligent kid, so I came to help him by offering guidance . I didn’t think I would get to meet Mister Kiryu today . I’m sorry I have never heard about you before . I’m now aware that my experience is still too shallow . The world of martial arts is indeed huge . It turns out that there are many hidden experts existing in this world . ”
“No need to apologize . I, too, have never heard of you,” Kiryu replied sternly .
Sanon was an Elder of the Wulin Masters Association . Describing himself as lacking in experience and knowledge was quite humble . Kiryu was an expert who secluded himself for dozens of years, not associating with people . He came up with a powerful profound art near the final moments of his life . Thus, his reputation was unknown despite possessing great strength .
Meanwhile, Sila was thinking about another matter . It seemed to him that Sanon came here to give Shueria pointers . In his mind, Elder Sanon was someone exceptional . Even though he was ranked last among the Three Elders, only he had produced many outstanding disciples . Be it Montra, Kawin, or Revin—they were strong in their own ways . It could be said that Sanon was extremely skilled at nurturing talents .
Sila wondered how strong Shueria was at this moment . Would he be stronger or weaker than him, who mastered Flaming Cloud Qi, one of the Five Crown Jewels, almost on his own?
Shueria served Japanese food to everyone present . Sila hadn’t eaten much Japanese food before, since he preferred Thai meals that he cooked with his teacher .
The atmosphere was quite grim, so he didn’t feel like eating . In fact, with the exception of Lookhin and Crow, who seemed to be oblivious to the tense atmosphere, no one among them touched the food .
“Haha! You’ve been missing for a long time . Did you forget how to eat? It’s all delicious . ” Crow laughed .
“I’m a mountain person . I only ate plants and herbs to survive . It’s the same even when I’m in the game . I eat to live, not live to eat . ”
Crow fed himself a bite of salted whitefish using chopsticks . “That’s regretful . You should relax and have some fun . There are many tasty dishes in the game waiting for you to try them . ”
“Is the Single-Horned Dragon’s meat included in those tasty dishes you spoke of?” Kiryu asked, his voice husky .
Crow’s hand, which was holding onto a cup of sake, came to a stop . “Wait . Is this the reason why you came today?” He showed a confused expression before looking at Sila . “I thought you’re here because of Sila . ”
Sila couldn’t help but interrupt . “Wait . Why did you think Mister Kiryu came because of me, sir?”
“Well, all of the Slime Seals were destroyed, so they must finally realize their treasure was stolen . It’s a no brainer that you would return to this place . However, you must have known that you lack the strength to beat me . I predicted you would invite others to come with you, though I expected them to be the Slime King or the Slime Guardians . I was a little surprised to discover that it was Kiryu who came . Nevertheless, I know you practice Tiger Dragon Qi, so I thought you asked him to lend you a hand . ”
Sila frowned . “This is my personal problem . I won’t ask others for help . Mister Crow, you looked down on me too much . ”
Crow waved his chopsticks . “I don’t think so . In fact, it seems I have overestimated you . I just noticed that you no longer have the Right Arm of the Sealed One . There is zero chance you can win against me at this rate . No, rather, the you right now can’t even win against Shueria . ”
“Why do you think so, sir?” Sila was aware that Crow was trying to infuriate him . However, he was calmer than before . All he did in response was ask politely .
“To be honest, I planned to let Shueria fight on my behalf to avoid being condemned as bullying a kid . Exactly because I overestimated you, I invited Sanon to give Shueria advice and the weaknesses of your arts . I even taught him my secret move, gave him special items, and upgraded his heart to the fourth stage, which is the highest we can do without meeting the Sealed One personally . As it turns out, you don’t have the right arm anymore . What a waste of my time . ”
Sila shifted his gaze to Shueria, who neither acknowledged nor denied those statements . Somehow, he felt like he was cheated . Shueria did nothing but he was bestowed with a lot of things simply because Crow favored him . On the other hand, he had been practicing diligently without a day off . He even took risks and paved through adversities and rough moments, all for the sake of mastering Flaming Cloud Qi . In the end, his efforts only made him equal to the one who did nothing .
At that time, Sanon lightly tapped his finger on the table, calling for Sila’s attention . Sila looked at Sanon . He felt like Sanon was trying to tell him something .
Sanon moved his lips without saying a word . Sila read his lips . It seemed he was saying, ‘Montra’s perspective . ’
Instantly, Sila felt like someone lit up a lightbulb in his brain . He now understood why Sanon was here .
True, one of the reasons why he came here was to nurture Shueria, given the latter was passionate and talented . However, his true aim was to make Sila see things from Montra's perspective .
‘I see . Montra must have been thinking that things were unfair, as I’ve got a lot of helpers . Montra also works hard . Just seeing his martial moves is enough to know that he has polished them through hard work . In his point of view, I just suddenly showed up and became the other candidate . It isn’t strange that he would hold a grudge against me . ’
The amount of training was not something that can be easily measured . It is difficult to say for sure who is putting in more effort than whom . Exactly because there is no measurement, people’s feelings always tend to be biased, thinking that they worked harder than others .
We often think, “They worked less than I did . How can they become more successful than me? This is unfair . ” We try our best to search for the flaws in others while ignoring our own .
As expected of Sanon, who is the father of a genius like Montra . His words encouraged Sila to think, broadening his view . His advice was indirect yet clear . With only a few words, he made Sila understand Montra more . Instead of simply telling him to think, Sanon made Sila personally experience what Montra had gone through .
His bias toward Sanon vanished completely . In fact, Sila felt Sanon was very mature for not minding his past rude behaviors .
“Thank you, sir,” Sila said lightly, though he knew that Sanon could hear him . Sanon said nothing in response . He only nodded silently .
Crow stared at Kiryu, chuckling . “So? You came just because I killed some inanimate masses of digital data?”
Kiryu replied indifferently, “If you put it that way, those things you have been enjoying are the same . The Valley of Immortals is also inanimate . Everything is just digital data . I take it that you won’t feel angry if I destroy every single thing you hold important in Monster Soul, right? Since all of them are inanimate masses of data . ”
Crow flinched . He now understood that his thoughts regarding this topic were shallow . He didn’t have the right to decide how valuable things are to others . His usual playful attitude was gone, as he knew that Kiryu was serious about this .
Crow put his chopsticks down . His appetite had been ruined . “What do you want, then?”
“I want nothing from you . This is not a negotiation . I just came to tell you to prepare yourself . You have brought harm to my people for so long . It’s time to get you back . ”
“In that case, the thing that Sila wants will be off the list as well . It’s just a mass of data anyway . I won’t tell you where it is . ”
“E-Ehh!!” Sila exclaimed, “How does this relate to me?!”
Crow continued, “You came with him, so you’re an accomplice . Come, you can bring as many dragons as you want . I will kill them all . Tsk . If I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have been so easy on them . I should have wiped them all out . ”
Kiryu said nothing as he stood up and prepared to leave . Sila was silently panicking . It seemed misfortune had befallen him before he could sense it coming . Could it be that his trip to the valley would end up being for nothing? However, his plans were linked sequentially . If he failed to acquire the Blade-Sharpening Dragon, he would be clueless about what his next action should be .
“Please calm down a little, both of you,” Sanon interrupted, “May I speak my opinion?”
Sanon had yet to act rudely to anyone present . In fact, he had been polite to Kiryu, who didn’t get much respect in his lifetime . His life, which he had wholly dedicated to practising, had been mocked and ridiculed more often than not . That was why he stopped his feet and decided to hear Sanon out .
“I’m impartial to this topic . Could you two please allow me to be a middleman?”
“Middleman? Middleman what?” Crow asked with a doubtful tone . It implied that the two of them didn’t stage this beforehand .
“From my point of view as an outsider, I can see that you all have something you desire from this . War is costly, bringing about losses and casualties . We should avoid it if possible . Mister Kiryu, if the battle were to occur, given Crow’s strength, it is possible that many of your important dragons will die—”
Crow teasingly interrupted, “—or maybe all of them . ”
Sanon quickly hindered Crow from adding more fuel to the fire by continuing, “—or maybe he won’t be able to kill any of them . My point is that the future is uncertain, but the risk is there . As you all have something you desire from this situation, can you please state it for the time being? Mister Kiryu can go first . ”
Kiryu replied almost instantly, “I want Crow to take responsibility for his actions . ”
It was now Crow’s turn . “I don’t want anything in particular . He just came to pick a fight with me . Well, let’s just say I want him to leave me alone . ”
Sanon turned to Sila and asked, “Sila, what about you?”
Sila was bewildered . “Eh? Me too? Umm . . . I just want Mister Crow to return what he stole from the Slime Kingdom, sir . ”
Sanon put a hand to his chin, pondering . It was the gesture that Montra unconsciously got from his father . The habit whenever he falls into thought .
“If a fight between Mister Kiryu and Crow breaks out, we won’t be able to predict or control the damage . The battle may even last several days . What do you say if I suggest we settle this through a proxy war? I heard that Sila has inherited Mister Kiryu’s art while Shueria has trained under Crow . Both of them aren’t your disciples though, right?”
Both Kiryu and Crow nodded at the statement . Kiryu explained, “Sila read the messages I left behind . I didn’t teach him a thing . Rather, I’m not good enough to be someone’s teacher . ”
Crow also explained, “Shueria was the one bugging me to train him . I only showed some of my martial moves for him to follow though . ”
Sanon concluded, “That’s perfect . It means both of them have learned only the basics . Teaching is also a skill . How about each of you use one day to impart your arts to your disciple and have them duel at dawn? They will be your representatives for this war . It’s a match to see who is better at teaching . The rules of the match can be decided later, but the loser has to obey the victor’s commands with no excuses . ”
Kiryu nodded . “It’s good that we can reduce the level of damage . The Single-Horned Dragons will not have to risk their lives this way . ”
Crow smirked . “I’m cool either way . How about you, Shueria? What are your thoughts on this?”
Shueria took a glance at Sila . “We planned to have a match from the start . I don’t have any objections if it happens earlier than planned . ”
The rest locked their gazes at Sila, making him feel a sense of déjà vu . The situation was like back then in Colossia City . Three out of the four involving parties had already agreed, making his decision irrelevant . He had no choice but to comply .
“I guess I have to agree with this . . . right?” Sila answered with a hint of uncertainty .
Sanon showed a bright smile . “It’s decided, then . I’m positive that each of your arts is deep and profound . Just one day won’t be enough to learn it all . How about starting it right away?”
Crow stood up . “That’s right . We should go . Shueria, follow me . ”
Shueria quickly followed Crow deep inside the valley . On the other hand, Kiryu was rather indifferent .
“Sila, we should go as well . ”
Sila turned to the old man . “Please wait a minute, sir . I have something to talk about with Mister Sanon . ”
“Fine . I’ll leave first,” Kiryu said as he left .
Only Sila and Sanon remained near the entrance . Sila was the first to speak, “Mister Sanon, you’re quite skilled . ”
“I’m the weakest among the Elders . ” That was Sanon’s reply .
“I mean, with only a few words, you both prevented a large-scale conflict and also gave some young stars of the new generation an opportunity to learn under capable masters . You’re indeed skilled at teaching others . ” Sila really meant it . Although he had never personally experienced being taught by Sanon, he was confident that it would be extremely resourceful .
“We all have the potential inside us . I simply give gentle pushes in the right direction . ”
Sila nodded at Sanon with the feeling of respect . “You’re a good person, so I need to tell you something . It’s about Montra . ”
Sila then told Sanon about the fact that Montra was practicing Grand Deity’s Breathing, which immediately caused Sanon’s expression to change . However, Sanon seemed to come up with an idea soon after .
“I have a way to fix that, though I will need your help, Sila . Please come to meet me alone after tomorrow’s match ends . ”
Sanon turned into light . It seemed he logged out in a hurry . Sila guessed he must have some matter to take care of .
A way to fix it? Sila couldn’t help but wonder . Teacher Mora always had answers for every question while Sanon seemed to be able to fix any problem, even the ones Sila was completely clueless about . It was a reminder that the Three Elders of the Wulin Masters Association were truly incredible figures, and that what he had seen so far of each of them was but the tip of their icebergs .