Chapter 99: The Stone and the Starlight - First Part
Three kilometers away from where Sila had battled against Heavenly Dragon Guild's army, there were three people looking in Sila's direction. Two of them were men dressed in cheap wuxia clothing. They were standing behind a woman who was dressed in leather clothing and wearing a cowboy hat. Her sky-blue hair lingered on her shoulders and her tender right arm was covered in a seemingly high-tech arm guard that connected with a silver bow. She lowered her right arm and put the bow inside her arm guard. Then, she covered it with her long sleeve.
"What do you think of him, vice-leader? I mean the man whose name is Sila." One of the two men spoke.
"What about you, Toron? What do you think of him?" She asked back.
The man whose name was Toron replied, "Ah, with the distance being this far, I couldn't see his ability properly. It was the same back then in Colossia's battle tournament, we didn't react in time and died, otherwise we wouldn't be wearing these shabby clothing."
"Don't use 'we', Toron. You were in the grandstands so you should've been able to use energy reinforcement in time. Sigh, if only I didn't go out looking for some snacks..." The other man said.
"In the end, we both died, Chak. That's the hard truth," Toron said.
The woman wasn't interested in their disagreement as she said, "Even though he doesn't seem to be very decisive, that might just be his personality of not wanting to hurt people who can't fight back. As for his ability, he is comparable to a vice-leader from one of the large guilds. Based on the speed of his growth, it will only take him a year to become as strong as the top guild leaders."
"Whoa, isn't that too fast?" Chak asked.
"That is only the case where he trains by himself. It would take him sooner if he encounters many skilled opponents. I evaluate that he might be able to hold his own against guild leaders and other players of that level within three months, just before the war event starts."
"What should we do then?"
"Leave him alone. The enemy of our enemy is our friend. He is not a threat to us, the Mountain Thieves League. That is what we will tell the boss," she said.
"Your analysis is the best as always."
Nednapha ignored Chak's praise. "Now, let's get going."
Chak and Toron nodded before agilely sliding down the valley despite their level being lowered. This indicated that they were quite skilled.
Nednapha looked at the way Sila and Sangdao had left and muttered to herself, "...Misty Valley? they are going to Grea City, aren't they?"
'Who exactly is the woman next to him? She is even stronger than Sila. It is unfortunate that Sila didn't use his mechanical arm that he used against Solaria. I wanted to take a good look at it. Although it seems different from the left arm of Magic Emperor Montra that I witnessed a year ago, if it is an item of the same set and we can acquire knowledge about them, maybe we can learn Montra's weakness.'
With many unanswered questions left on her mind, she quickly went after the other two who had already gone ahead and began to catch up using her superior speed.
Sila moved quickly following the path. The area around there was a clear field with some insect-type monsters along the way. Many of them were giant centipedes. Their speed was slow so Sila could avoid a confrontation with ease so long as he maintained his speed.
Sangdao's qinggong was impressive. She was always next to Sila despite his sudden accelerations or sharp turns to avoid monsters.
As for Lookhin, it was the most comfortable of the three. Even though it had flown following Sila and Sangdao at first, after some time passed, it seemed to feel tired and ended up resting on Sila's shoulder.
Almost three hours had passed. They had been traveling in silence. Sila just recently became an acquaintance of Sangdao so he didn't know what to talk about. Meanwhile, Sangdao was there to observe Sila so she tried to not talk about herself, otherwise, Sila might learn something that he wasn't supposed to know yet.
They stopped their journey in front of the entrance of the deeper valley. The area around there was a greenfield without other living creatures. There was a sign in front of them indicating, "The Misty Valley is up ahead. Danger! You are advised to use other routes."
Sila turned his head to speak to Sangdao, "Sangdao, are you tired? If not, how about we enter right away?"
"Dao is not tired, but this little bird might not be able to keep it up longer than this." Sangdao pointed at Lookhin.
Sila looked at Lookhin and saw that it was fine. Its expression was like usual.
Sangdao continued, "Maybe it is not used to showing expressions. Why don't you open your status window to check, Sila?"
Sila couldn't understand what Sangdao was saying, but he obediently followed her suggestion.
Pet Status: Lookhin, Level: 1
Race: Dark Brown Sparrowhawk, Rank: Squire.
Health Points: 7/20
Magic Points: 0/0
Qi Points: 0/0
Psychic Points: 0/0
Love Degree: 37%
"Ah? It is starving, isn't it? The love degree is also lower than before."
"It started feeling tired about halfway through our journey, Dao guesses. That's why it stopped flying and rested on Sila's shoulder instead."
"Oh, why didn't you just tell me, Lookhin?" Sila lightly scolded Lookhin, but Lookhin glared back at him, feeling slightly angry.
Sangdao chuckled. "Dao thinks it has tried, but Sila just didn't realize."
Lookhin nodded to confirm Sangdao's statement. It had pinched Sila to the point that its talons were hurting. However, Sila was always circulating qi all over his body. Once Lookhin increased the pressure, Sila naively thought that it was normal for Lookhin, a little hawk, to pinch him. So, he activated Formless Soldier, changing his shoulder to become as hard as metal and totally ignored it.
Sila stretched out his right arm for Lookhin to change its resting place. "But, how can you tell that it is tired, Sangdao?"
"Dao is just observant. It is common sense for me to use my power to check my surroundings every time I see something is off. Dao noticed that this little bird changed from flying to resting on Sila's shoulder so I used my qi to inspect it. That's how I discovered its weakened condition," Sangdao answered with a gentle smile.
Sila was surprised that Sangdao could inspect Lookhin on his shoulder without him noticing. It made him fully aware that Sangdao's ability far surpassed his.
"Then, how about we rest here for a few hours? We can continue our journey in the next two or three hours."
Sangdao shook her head. "A few hours later, the sun will set. Spider-type monsters are more aggressive at night. We might encounter the Eight-Legged Spider King if we are in the valley at night. Dao also thinks this little bird has to rest for an entire night. So, Dao suggests we should continue our journey tomorrow morning."
"Ah? Does it take that long for Lookhin?" Sila looked at Lookhin and shifted his gaze to Sangdao.
This time, it was Sangdao who became confused. "Eh? Dao thinks Sila already knows that since it is your pet."
Sila's face was reddened. To be honest, he didn't know a thing about Lookhin. Recently, he always kept it in the ring or left it for Julia to take care. If his ring hadn't been broken, Lookhin would be in it instead of flying alongside them.
Sangdao didn't want Sila to feel bad so she hurriedly continued, "Although it is a qi-type monster... no, Dao saw that it could use skills of every type, it doesn't possess supportive skills like Basic Qi or Qi Circulation. That's why, if it spends its energy, it will become hungry easily and need to take a rest for its energy to regenerate. Dao saw it spend a lot of power in the previous battle. It's surprising enough that it's still not worn out."
In fact, Lookhin should already be worn out as Sangdao had guessed. However, with the Hibernation passive skill that it got from the Great Millennium Turtle, it could prolong its consciousness for a while before it would collapse.
Sila expressed his thanks to Sangdao for warning him about Lookhin. He was aware that he needed to take better care of Lookhin from now on.
"First things first, you need to eat something, Lookhin. Wait a moment." Sila opened his system window to search for pet food.
However, he had to feel disappointed. He didn't prepare any pet food for Lookhin. Even though he had kept all of Lookhin's pet food in the ring, when it broke, the system didn't return the food back to him.
As for his food, he only had cold tea. After he had mastered Primary Qi, Sila only ate at the restaurants from time to time, not keeping food within his item window anymore.
"Do you have any?" Sangdao asked.
Sila sighed. "I don't, I didn't prepare any food with me."
"Eh? Dao thinks Dao heard that Sila had already prepared for this journey before we left."
"About that... I had eaten food before I left. I thought that since the journey would only be three or four days, I could just circulate Primary Qi to stop my hunger."
Sangdao opened her system window and took five warm steamed buns out, letting off a pleasing smell. "If you don't mind, how about you let it eat these buns?"
Lookhin didn't wait for Sila's response. It flew to Sangdao and acted like a cute, hungry bird. It tilted its neck, lovingly asking for the food, before slowly digging into the buns.
"Oh, it's really starving. Please eat a lot and then get plenty of rest, will you? We will rest at this place tonight," Sila said, to which Lookhin completely disregarded him and continued eating its food.
Sila went to collect dry firewood. Recently, Sila really neglected to prepare items for his journeys. It was due to his need to maintain inventory space for all of his hidden weapons. Thus, Sila had abandoned camping items such as food, lighter, and a tent; essentials that players tended to carry with them. He only carried a water bottle with him and some healing items like medicine and potions.
Once he had collected enough firewood and the fire was lit, he went to sit on a nearby stone and looked at the sight of Sangdao and Lookhin together. Lookhin seemed to have more of a liking toward the food owner than its original owner already.
"Is Lookhin the name of this little bird?" Sangdao asked while gently stroking Lookhin's feathers.
"Yes, when I first got him, it had a brown color and it was also tiny like a small pebble."
"Dao would like to suggest that Sila take better care of it. If you don't have time, you can buy the pet-sealing accessory to keep it inside and put a lot of food in it. Well, you still need to bring it outside to play from time to time."
Sila was about to explain that he used to have that kind of item too, but telling her like that only sounded like an excuse in this situation. All he could say was "Yes…"
"Grea City is the main city and is also known as the Android Kingdom. It is also a metropolis of psychic types. It shouldn't be difficult to buy this kind of item from there."
The name 'Android Kingdom' sounded familiar to Sila. Once Sangdao mentioned that it was a metropolis of psychic types, he remembered.
Sila recalled the quest attached to his Right Arm of the Sealed One, 'Searching for the Lost Android Kingdom.'
Sila began to feel that he was really neglecting many things around him. He had a lot of quests to do, and a lot of martial arts and moves to learn. He also had his personal matters like finding his teacher's whereabouts and his revenge against Montra that was left to be done.
'I think I need to make a list to see how many and what things I need to do,' Sila thought.
Sangdao saw Sila immersed in thinking so she didn't disturb him. However, when Sila was about to shut his eyes, she immediately called him.
"Sila, what are you doing?"
Sila stopped his qi circulation and answered Sangdao, "I don't know what to do so I intend to circulate qi to practice my skills."
Sangdao showed her mild smile. "Sila, when it's time to rest, you need to rest. You can practice when it's time to practice. Previously, Sila was the one who told us that we will rest at this place tonight."
"But... I still haven't practiced at all today. When I was in the dojo, I needed to practice every day. I plan to do the same in this game, practicing as much as possible to close the gap between me and Montra, since he entered this game long before me."
"Resting is also counted as practicing, you know?"
"Resting is practicing? What do you mean?"
"Correct. If the chords of the harp are too tight, they will rip. While if they are too loose, the sound of the harp will become unpleasant to the ear. Balancing between practicing and relaxing is a core part of an effective training program."
"But… my teacher always told me that I need to practice if I feel unconfident. So, I always train myself every time I feel restless."
"When practicing, it does not necessarily have to be physical training. Training one's mind is also an important factor that martial artists need to do. Dao believes that your teacher must have tried to tell you this."
Sila thought about Sangdao's interpretation. He had never interpreted his teacher's words this way.
Sangdao saw that Sila was deep in thought again so she continued, "How about Dao imparts you my personal technique?"
Sila got out of his thought. "Your personal technique? You don't have to do that." Sila was surprised that Sangdao had her own technique at her age.
"It's alright. Dao is Sila's teacher anyway."
Sangdao giggled. "When we first met, you called me teacher, don't you remember?"
Hearing that, Sila's face reddened. At that time, he thought the nameless elder had used some sort of in-game skill to transform and become a young woman so he mistakenly called her that.
Sangdao didn't wait for Sila to argue as she continued talking. "Listen to this female teacher of yours, alright? My technique's name is Evening Near the Misty Valley. It's not only a combat technique but also a technique that you can apply to everything in your life."
"Evening Near the Misty Valley? The name is quite peculiar." Sila frowned at the name.
"Yes, Evening Near the Misty Valley is a mental technique. No need to practice. You will understand it if you give it a thought, but you won't understand it if you don't try. Please listen carefully."
Sila nodded, ready to listen.
Sangdao started to explain her technique, "This technique means: at this time, in this moment, and in this place. Since Sila is near the Misty Valley, your heart and your mind must also be near the Misty Valley. Do your best to train when it's time to train. Do your best to rest when it's time to rest. Do your best to fight when it's time to fight."
Sila couldn't help but smile. "The technique's name sounds like something Dao came up with on the spot."
Sangdao nodded. "That's because Dao is in the evening, near the Misty Valley. How about you, Sila? Where are you now? The past, or the future?"
Sila listened to Sangdao's words and thought for a moment. Sangdao's sentence had a deeper meaning than a casual conversation.
Sangdao continued to say, "In the evening near the Misty Valley, there is Sila, Dao, Lookhin, pebbles, grass, the campfire, the ground, the sky, the moon, and even several stars. There are these many things around you but Sila still didn't give any of them your attention. Your mind is concerned about events that happened in the past or matters of the future. Sila, there's a limit to how much us humans can think about while the things around us are limitless. Dao only wants you, in this evening, near the Misty Valley, to stay with Dao, Lookhin, and the nature around us. If you can do just this, Dao thinks you will be considered to have mastered this technique."
Sila listened silently. He started to get what Sangdao was trying to tell him. It was like, in a battle, he needed to focus only on the fight itself, not the result of the fight. The present is the most important time since we can't change the past nor predict the future.
Living in this exact moment. In the Evening Near the Misty Valley.
"The words of the female teacher are very deep and profound. I will always keep this technique in my heart and try my best to master it."
Sangdao chuckled. "Dao is not possessive over my personal technique. Dao will not mind if my disciple can surpass his female teacher with it."
The atmosphere between the two brightened. Sila opened his heart and started sharing some of his stories to Sangdao, while she did the same. The conversation between the two continued and Lookhin finally fell asleep on Sangdao's lap.
Sila listened to Sangdao's stories and raised his head to see the sky. He inhaled the refreshing breeze that came into contact with his face.
He felt happier than any other days, despite him knowing that there were still a lot of problems waiting for him.
Sila himself couldn't tell what had caused him to feel this happy. Maybe it was the sky, the moon, the wind, or the starlight.T/N: Like chapter 19-20 and 24-25, this time, the name 'Sangdao' and 'Dao' (her nickname) literally mean 'Starlight' and 'Star'. Thus, this chapter's name 'The Stone and the Starlight' basically refers to the protagonist Sila (=stone) being together with Sangdao (=starlight.)