Chapter 249: Hell’s Gate
Sila woke up inside a brain-scanning capsule that was filled with a strange liquid. Once the equipment recognized that the user inside was awake, the glass cover opened and the liquid was drained away. Sila stood up from the capsule and removed the helmet from his head. He looked around the room he was in, feeling confused.
“Where am I?”
Sila clearly remembered that he had logged into the game in Joshua’s room with two other advanced brain-scanning capsules next to him. However, he was now alone in a white room he didn’t recognize. The other two capsules were nowhere to be seen.
Mora opened the door and came inside. Sila raised his hands to salute his teacher. The two of them sat down on two chairs in the room.
Mora handed Sila a certain pellet and a glass of water. “This is a medicine to help your body adjust after using the special capsule. Swallow it.”
Sila nodded without saying anything. He took the pellet and swallowed it before drinking water.
“Don’t circulate inner force yet,” said Mora. “Tell me what happened. You sent me a message saying that there was something urgent you wished to discuss.”
“Yes, sir... I wanted to ask about Kimon.”
Mora’s expression instantly changed when he heard that name. “Did you meet them, Sila? Could it be that you were killed by them?”
“I met them by chance, sir. They... didn’t know I was there.” Sila decided to keep Nunthima’s matter for later.
“Were you killed by them, Sila? This is very important,” Mora asked again with a serious expression.
“No, I wasn’t. But, even if I die, isn’t it just in the game? I doubt it’s that serious.”
Mora released a sigh of relief. “That’s good... Sila, you are still not fully aware of how grave being killed in Monster Soul can be, especially for us.”
“Eh? I have died once, sir. All I had to do was wait in an empty room.”
Mora shook his head. “The personal information of players is normally hidden behind a high level of protection by the game and monitored by a security company. However, there is a gap that can be exploited, and that’s when you are killed by someone. Part of your personal data will be sent to the killer. You get it, right? When you kill someone, the system will tell you their name, rank, and whether they are a wanted player.”
Sila recalled the time when he killed players. “You’re right, Teacher. The system really informed me. But... isn’t it rather useless?”
“The important part isn’t how useful the information is but the fact that your information is leaked. It means a fraction of your data is transferred to others without the system’s protection. A skilled hacker can use such a gap to track you down, and they can even find the location where you logged in.”
“Ah, but...” Sila muttered, “...What is the point, Teacher? They will just know where I am.”
“It’s fine for others, but not for you, Sila. Have you forgotten what kind of machine you are using to log in? If someone tracks you to this place, the secret about this special capsule may be exposed. In the worst-case scenario, you may even be assassinated while you are online.”
“Understand? That’s what I mean when I told you it’s important. You used a normal machine in the past, so that’s fine. However, from now on, you should flee if you can’t fight. In the case that you die, you must immediately log out. We will have to move somewhere else.”
In any case, Sila didn’t have any intention to die since the beginning. “Talk about moving... Teacher, where is this place?”
“It’s another secret base. Actually, this is related to Kimon. I heard the rumors that they were on the move, so I moved you out in preparation. I didn’t think you would want to talk to me about them though.”
“What about the other two capsules, sir?”
“Joshua moved them someplace only he knows about.”
Sila felt a bit regretful. He missed a chance to find out who else was using the same special capsule as him.
“Then... what exactly is Kimon, sir?” asked Sila.
“First of all, tell me how you learned the name Kimon.”
Sila recounted what had happened to Mora. When he heard that Kimon expressed their intentions to help Sila become the next Wulin Lord, Mora fell silent then released a sigh.
“I didn’t expect all the Kimon’s Heirs to show up. This shows how strongly determined they are.”
Sila silently waited for his teacher to continue.
“You already know that the Wulin Masters Association was established hundreds of years ago with the goal of preserving and passing down profound arts. However, to achieve that goal... To record all the profound arts in the same place, a tremendous amount of wealth, manpower, and influence was required. In a certain era, the association faced a great financial crisis. Thus, the Wulin Lord of that generation came up with an idea to build a certain organization to fix the problem. And that organization is precisely Kimon, or rather Hell’s Gate.
“Kimon is the dark side of the Wulin Masters Association. It’s a small organization that can make enough profit to cover all of the costs and support the entire association. In fact, Kimon played a major role in developing the association into what it is today.”
Mora fell silent again. This time, Sila couldn’t help but ask. “What kind of service does Kimon provide, Teacher?”
“...Assassination ...the most profitable job in the world.”
“Correct. Even in this modern age with high-tech weapons, the most lethal weapon of them all is still the profound practitioner. Even the safest place equipped with metal or synthetics detectors still can’t hope to stop an assassin with a killing art from sneaking in. Therefore, assassination remains a booming business. There is always someone wanting to kill someone in any day and age.
“Kimon’s base is located on a small phantom archipelago near the southern part of Japan. They are ruled by Four Island Masters—the strongest assassins who each inherited the ultimate profound dark arts from the past generations. The four of them have titles they also inherited from the founders: the Eminent Immortal, the Earthbound Reaper, Heaven’s Heiress, and the Flaming Cloud Demon God.”
“Wait, Teacher. Did you just say the… Flaming Cloud… Demon God?” Sila repeated what he heard.
“You heard correctly. Our Flaming Cloud Dojo used to be a part of Kimon. However, that changed in my teacher’s generation. He was both the Wulin Lord and Kimon’s Island Master, so he had to make his standpoint clear. In the end, he decided to withdraw from Kimon and turned his back on the assassination business. He also worked to reduce Kimon’s influence, making them close off their islands and have to temporarily close their business.
“Unfortunately, his decision also badly affected the Flaming Cloud Dojo. Because we were a part of Kimon, people tend to avoid associating with us. As such, our dojo’s business declined and we were left with just a few disciples like you have seen in the past.”
“This means... Kimon chose this time to return after being inactive for a while?”
“It seems so. The association has weakened because the Wulin Lord position has been left vacant for a long period of time. This must be the main reason they chose this time to come back. Be especially careful, each Heir is the Island Master’s main disciple. You mustn’t engage in battle with any of them. They have all been trained in separate dark arts that are designed to kill, making it insanely difficult to survive against them. Be sure to run away as soon as you spot them.”
“But, with the way they talked, I think they want to help me win the war, Teacher.”
“I guess they must think they will have an easier time controlling you. Montra has learned much about the association, while your knowledge barely scratches the surface. They probably plan to influence and advise you to regain Kimon’s past glory.”
“Is there really no way I can win against them?”
“There is... but like I said, it will be insanely difficult. Their profound arts are all dark arts, designed with the intent to kill, so your overall strength will have to be above them for you to have some chance.”
“What exactly are dark arts, Teacher?” Sila decided to ask since his teacher mentioned them frequently.
“By normal understanding, they mean sinister arts used by vile people. However, that’s just one side of dark arts.”
“Is there another side?” Sila wondered.
“There is. There is always another way to look at anything, Sila. Did you know that the martial world in the past was filled with narrow-minded people? In the earliest generations of studying profound arts, the practitioners only considered the action of cultivating inner force through their veins as studying a martial art. Aside from this, any attempt to learn profound arts would be labelled as a demonic path, or learning a dark art.”
“Eh? Why was that?”
“They just wanted an excuse to eliminate the opposing side, I’d say. When someone else came up with a different way to become stronger, they would frame the others as practitioners of the demonic path, using a dark art. With that excuse, they would be able to claim justice and get rid of potential rivals, calling themselves heroes who eliminated villains of the martial world.”
“So... dark arts just mean the arts with learning processes different from the standard method, right, Teacher?”
“That’s not always the case. Some arts are indeed sinister, Sila. I want you to know that not all dark arts are evil though. Only, the people of the martial world were afraid of the dark arts' power and potential, thus they tried to eliminate those who learned them. Ironically, at the same time, most of them also sought to obtain those powerful dark arts in order to study them secretly.”
The world is full of irony. Apparently, the martial world is the same. Even though people claimed to be just and pronounced those who learned dark arts evil, it was none other than the so-called “heroes” who sought to acquire such arts.
“I’m thinking that an encounter with Kimon may be inevitable for you, so listen to me carefully. I will tell you how terrifying the dart arts inherited from the Island Masters can be. Knowing this will let you handle them correctly, or at least increase your odds of successfully fleeing from them.”
Sila had his fair share of interest in dark arts for quite a while, so he listened attentively. The Flaming Cloud Dojo used to be a part of Kimon, so Mora was knowledgeable regarding the arts.
“The young man named Asava must have inherited the art from the Eminent Immortal. His dark art is an accumulation of forbidden techniques, called Sage of the Six Disasters. Usually, a human’s body is like a vessel containing inner force, and the size of this vessel will gradually increase depending on their age and how they practice. However, Sage of the Six Disasters is an art that requires the user to permanently damage their own veins, making their body incapable of containing inner force. As a result, the users of this art will only have negligible amounts of inner force.”
“Eh? What is the point?” Listening to Mora’s explanation, Sila was confused that such a bizarre art reliant on damaging the user’s body existed in the world.
“This profound art is the ultimate art of borrowing the opponent’s strength. No, rather than calling it borrowing, maybe snatching is the more correct word. The user exchanges the ability to hold inner force for supreme control over it. Sage of the Six Disasters can perfectly borrow, snatch, negate, or even control the opponent’s inner force to work against them—similar to how you were tested.”
“An art that can perfectly control the opponent’s inner force...” Sila swallowed his saliva. He recalled the time in Belacia City when his power vanished in an instant.
“If you rely on your qi arts, he will counter you with your own inner force. However, if you disregard inner force and depend on martial arts... I have to warn you that the Eminent Immortal of every generation is the master of martial arts focused on killing moves. His ability to kill is top class.”
Without support from inner force, Sila’s Formless Martial God would be nothing but a set of difficult-to-read moves. It lacked the raw power needed to take down an opponent, so it would have no hopes against Asava, who inherited killing arts, or Montra, who still had the highly versatile Heavenly Destiny Fist. Exactly as Asava had said, Sila would have lost in five blows.
“The man carrying a large coffin that you mentioned must be the Earthbound Reaper’s main disciple. The art he relied on was the ultimate qi art of body strengthening, which grants the user herculean strength and an indestructible body. Through the use of this qi art, the user will also have an inexhaustible amount of inner force and they can use it both internally and externally. The name of this dark art is Vajra Qi.”
Sila scratched his head. “It sounds incredible. How can such a useful art be labelled as a dark art, Teacher? Is it because its learning method is different from a traditional one?”
Mora shook his head. “Don’t misunderstand. Vajra Qi is indeed a dark art. Its cultivation method represents the gruesome part of the art. Personally, I don’t think it’s an art that should exist.
“Those who can learn this art have to possess a specially prepared body. Even before they are born, once their mothers become pregnant and learn that the babies in their wombs are male, they will have to drink a special tonic once every week. For your information, this tonic has a side-effect of causing ninety percent abortion rate. Even when this step is passed successfully, due to the accumulated poison from the tonic in their bloodstream, the mothers will die as soon as they deliver the babies. Then, the baby will have to undergo a long session of qi transmission under the hands of martial experts who are skilled enough to support the babies’ lives. As a result, the babies will possess abnormal constitutions and veins, which are necessary for training Vajra Qi.
“What makes Vajra Qi a dark art is not only its inhumane cultivation method but also the fact that the infants won’t even have the right to refuse to practice. It’s a violation of a human’s basic rights.”
For the sake of strengthening their clan, humans were willing to go this far. Listening to it, the feeling of disgust filled Sila’s heart.
“As for the main disciple of Heaven’s Heiress, Himeko,” Mora continued without noticing the change in Sila’s expression, “Her dark art, Goddess’ Resonance, is a sound-controlling art that grants the user the ultimate hearing. She should even be able to hear a tree leaf flickering in the wind. There was no way she couldn’t hear your heartbeat. It’s questionable why she didn’t inform the others of your location.”
Sila had yet to tell Mora that Himeko and Nunthima were the same person. “I also don’t know why, sir.”
“Well, whatever. This art is a kind of emotion-manipulating art. It was said to be the most mysterious art even by Kimon’s standards. Rumors had it that, at the highest level, Heaven’s Heiress can mass-control people using only her voice. It was classified as a dark art due to its arcane and enigmatic nature.”
With that, only one Island Master remained. Sila wasn’t that foolish. He knew that all of Kimon’s Island Masters used dark arts. He continued his questions with a muffled voice, “...What about the dark art belonging to the last Island Master, Teacher? Could it be that...?”
Mora sighed. “It is exactly as you are thinking, Sila. Kimon’s last dark art is the one in our dojo’s possession... Flaming Cloud Qi.”
Naturally, Sila had come into contact with the mentioned art, Flaming Cloud Qi, when Mora had sent him a copy of it. Honestly speaking, he was rather disappointed when he had read it. Flaming Cloud Qi was even weaker compared to Tiger Dragon Qi. He could practice and use it with relative ease. In the end, he fused it with some of the other energies he possessed and eventually created Yin Yang Energy.
“But... Flaming Cloud Qi seems rather normal. Its qi circulation method is quite traditional, and both its training method and the power it possesses are also not that dangerous.”
Mora took a book out of his bag. It was a book with the same cover that Sila had seen in Monster Soul. “Open it.”
Feeling curious, Sila took and skimmed through it. He frowned as he discovered that the book contained many more pages than the one he received in the game. It seemed Mora had held back some of the pages.
“There are a total of four parts in Flaming Cloud Qi. The pages that I scanned and sent you only cover the Foundation Part. That part contains a standard cultivation method that is safe to practice, suitable for helping the user develop a solid foundation in preparation for learning the next two parts—the Cloud Part, and the Flame Part. These two are necessary for learning the last and most dangerous part, the Nirvana Part.”
Just skimming through it, the book strangely eluded a mysterious charm that enthralled Sila. He could hardly remove his gaze from the texts. “Why is Flaming Cloud Qi considered a dark art, Teacher?”
Seeing how Sila was interested in the book, Mora heaved a big sigh of worry. He personally didn’t want Sila to learn it. However, for Sila to come out alive against Kimon who possessed fearsome dark arts, what was required might be none other than a dark art of his own.
“That’s because it’s a dangerous qi art that can be harmful even to the user. If you can’t properly control it, your entire body will be engulfed in flames made of qi and be reduced to nothing... My teacher also died in this exact manner.”