Best disciple. Nocturne hesitated for the first time when he heard this, and without missing a beat, the Martial King threw out a series of strikes. Bam! Bam! Bam!
Nocturne came to his senses and tried to shield himself with his arms, but the strikes blew his arms away once more. Fortunately for Nocturne, he could restore his arms through his power, but his face grew twisted, not because of the pain but because he thought that the Martial King was making fun of him.
『That doesn’t make any sense…!』
“Why do you think it makes no sense?” the Martial King said in a biting tone.
Nocturne automatically looked down at the spot on his body the Martial King was pointing to, and he stopped hesitating and counterattacked. Their arms collided, and their feet shifted to find a way to close the gap between them. Even during the brief moments when their eyes met, they didn’t stop using the Eight Extreme Fists against each other, as though they were exchanging chess moves.
“You copy me well.” The Martial King said without moving his mouth. “You’re the only one of my disciples who has reached this level.”
Nocturne felt silent. He wanted to tell the Martial king to stop speaking so much nonsense, but he couldn’t get those words to come out.
“It’s been like that from the beginning. From the moment you first opened your eyes and became aware. You instinctively imitated my breathing and my habits. At first, I was dumbfounded that someone could do that.” The Martial King smiled as he recalled that time. Nocturne’s actions were like those of a baby duck newly hatched from its shell and seeing the world for the first time, imprinting on the first being it saw. The duckling would follow its mother and learn survival skills to live in the world. It would learn how to flap its wings, paddle in the water, and snatch prey with its beak. Then, it would become an independent adult. One day, it would find a mate, build a nest, and lay eggs, just like its mother.
For the Martial King, Nocturne was just like a duckling. Since he didn’t have any memories, Nocturne instinctively wanted to learn everything from the Martial King, perhaps as a defensive strategy. At first, the Martial King was bothered by Nocturne’s actions, but over time, the Martial King started looking at Nocturne and his actions differently. As time passed, Nocturne truly started resembling the Martial King, first in simple habits, then martial arts, until the establishment of Nocturne’s understanding and style of martial arts.
The pace of Nocturne’s development was so surprisingly fast that even the Head Elder, who had encountered many talented students throughout his life, could not help marveling. Even if some of that could be chalked up to the basic power of being Allforone’s simulation, it was still mind-boggling how fast Nocturne absorbed what he learned. Martial King couldn’t help developing a fondness for his disciple, the child who accepted him as a master and imitated everything about him. No teacher would dislike a student who devoted himself to becoming like his teacher. The only difference between them was their personalities.
Unlike the Martial King, who was very arrogant and self-assured, Nocturne was calm like Allforone. Still, he was a carbon copy of the Martial King in every other way, as the battle between them proved.
Bang! Bang! As the Martial King and Nocturne’s strikes constantly clashed, an increasingly hot whirlwind started raging. Sss. The Martial King’s right arm shattered like a sandcastle. Particles of light poured into the spot where his arm had been.
[Your transcendence has reached a critical point.]
[Gaia’s Curse has grown out of control.]
[The process of deterioration is accelerating!]
Though his transcendence was moving ahead at full speed, the Martial King did not pay it much mind. It was more important for the Martial King to talk with his disciple and clear up any misunderstandings. “Obviously, I initially brought you with me because of my greed. You were like a lifeline that I needed to overcome my stagnant development. I was crazy about overcoming my limitations.”
The Martial King acknowledged his mistake. When he looked back on that period, the Martial King also felt that he had acted crazily—perhaps even beyond madness. At that time, the Martial King’s reputation as a walking disaster had grown, and he would stomp on anyone who criticized him for fooling around or blow away someone’s house for starting rumors. He did things in the extreme because of his frustration that he wouldn’t be able to overcome his enemy, Allforone, no matter how much he tried.
Around then, Martial King started thinking of other, non-traditional measures. If he could not beat Allforone through normal means, perhaps there was an unconventional method. The Martial King thought of taking out Allforone’s simulation on the twenty-first floor and studying it to find a way to defeat Allforone. It hadn’t been as difficult to pull off as he’d expected.
He took advantage of the Tower system’s blind spots, and he managed to achieve it after controlling his thoughts and using up all the karma he had acquired up to that point.
“I’m not sure if you’ll believe me, but you who saved me from myself.”
Nocturne wanted to shout at the Martial King to stop spewing nonsense. He also wanted to shout that he did not believe what the Martial King was saying. He wanted to shout that everything the Martial King had done for him was based on a lie. However, Nocturne remained silent because the Martial King’s mischievous yet gentle smile and impression he got from the Martial King’s attacks made him realize that every word the Martial King uttered was the truth.
“I thought you were a simple simulation, but you’re an individual who possesses an ego. Furthermore, you followed me around like a little duckling, calling me ‘Master’. Even though I’m crazy about improving, I’m not that crazy to treat a student like a lab rat. That’s why, whenever I saw you trying so hard to remember your past, even though I wanted to tell you, I did nothing. I just could not find the heart to say anything.”
The Martial King’s left foot crumbled, but he continued moving quickly without losing his balance. Nocturne had been so single-minded that he didn’t even realize that the Martial King was deteriorating.
『You can’t just erase your past sins by saying that…!』
“No, I can’t. My intentions were impure, and I hid the facts from you. So… I’m sorry.”
Those words landed heavily in Nocturne’s chest. The Martial King had never uttered anything like that before.
“You need to understand…” The corners of the Martial King’s eyes wrinkled as he smiled. “No matter what anyone says, you are my disciple.”
Boom! Half of the halo that enveloped Nocturne disappeared with the Martial King’s blow. Whoosh! The whirlwind produced by impact blew towards the sky. Nocturne did not even let out a cry of pain. Every word that the Martial King uttered had shaken his heart, and he could finally see things clearly.
Sss. When a gust of wind blew past, the entire right side of the Martial King crumbled into tiny particles like sand, revealing condensed light dispersion inside his body. Nocturne’s eyes flickered for the first time. He knew that the Martial King was deteriorating, and even though he had hoped for the Martial King’s death, now that it was imminent, Nocturne felt a knot tightening in his chest.
However, the Martial King laughed jokingly. “You’re not Allforone. You’re not Vivasvat’s simulation. You may have originated from him, and even if you were originally a simulation created by the Tower’s system, you’ve lived your own life. Isn’t that right?”
Nocturne’s fists trembled. Boom! The Martial King did not miss the opportunity and lunged forward.
“Let me ask you something. Did you live under the control of Allforone? Were you a doll controlled by me? Are the memories you possess right now yours or Allforone’s? And what about your current thoughts? Your ego? Aren’t you self-aware?”
Bam! The Martial King’s left hand wrapped around Nocturne’s right hand. Nocturne tried to shake off the Martial King’s grasp, but The Martial King narrowed the distance between them and tightly bound Nocturne.
“Don’t waver. Don’t be scared. Don’t be afraid. What is there to be afraid of? You’re living your life, so don’t create stress from things that don’t matter to you. Also…”
For a moment, Nocturne could feel his body stiffen. Strangely, he could not even budge. Then, Nocturne realized why. He realized what the Martial King was holding. It was his source code. How the hell did the Martial King recognize and read his source code? As long as the Martial King was part of the system, he shouldn’t have the power to do this.
Though it had not been long since the Martial King initiated his exuviation and transcendence, the Martial King had already reached Allforone’s power level. This meant that the Martial King could also utilize the Tower’s code like Allforone, something that even the top administrator could not easily touch.
“Since you’re my disciple, you should show some guts and pride, you wimp.” The Martial King swiped Nocturne’s stomach with his hand.
Boom! At that moment, Nocturne slightly bounced upwards as the halo of light that surrounded him was torn apart, revealing his true form. Nocturne’s eyes were full of astonishment and confusion. Nocturne’s transcendence, which was based on the Tower’s system, had been aborted.
[Transcendence has been aborted. Player ‘Nocturne’ will be downgraded.]
[The system cannot interfere.]
[The system cannot interfere.]
[All system attributes applied to the player ‘Nocturne’ will be suspended.]
Despite this unbelievable act, The Martial King laughed as if it were no big deal. More than half of his torso had deteriorated, and his vision was already blurring. He forced his eyes open and looked straight into his disciple’s face. “I’m happy we could clash like this. Before, you were just a duckling who only knew how to imitate me… Now, you can flap your wings and fly. Haven’t you found your own path? Your adolescence was pretty long, no?”
Adolescence. Before children became adults, they worried about their identities, what they would do in the future, and how they could establish who they were. To the Martial King, Nocturne was just like an adolescent.
Nocturne pretended to be mature, but it was only now that he had gotten rid of his dependence and rebelled against the Martial King. Once Nocturne overcame this period, he would be reborn as a wonderful, unique duck.
“However, even if you’re going through puberty, doing something wrong still means it’s wrong. You should expect an appropriate punishment for your mistakes, right?”
Bam! The Martial King smiled as he moved. He was truly enjoying this moment. “Because that’s what a teacher, a parent, and an adult should do for you.”
Nocturne closed his eyes tightly. He did not know what the Martial King planned to do, but since the system was shut down and no longer providing him with power, he could not do anything. Even if the Martial King sneezed on him, he would have no choice but to die. Nocturne could no longer resist. 『Master?』
Nocturne was tense, expecting a huge blow, when he felt a warm touch on his head instead of pain. His eyes popped open to see the Martial King smiling at him warmly. The Martial King looked proudly at his mature disciple as he gently stroked Nocturne’s head. “I’m proud of you.”
Plop. Nocturne sat on the ground and burst into tears.
“Damn it, damn it, damn it!”
Boom! Boom! Boom! Yeon-woo swung Vigrid wildly, trying to break the barrier down in any way possible. At Yeon-woo’s command, the Ghost Giants and the dragon of death bombarded the barrier with their attacks, but the barrier did not budge. They could not even scratch it.
Yeon-woo’s anxiety and anger grew, his eyes burning with fury. It was just like his goddamned master to do this to him. Why did the Martial King want to commit to such an absurd act? What did he want Yeon-woo to see? What the hell did the Martial King mean about mortality and immortality? Once one died, none of those things mattered. Why was the Martial King acting so flippantly? There were many things Yeon-woo wanted to say, but he could not verbalize them.
As Yeon-woo struggled with himself, the Martial King, still shimmering with light, overwhelmed Nocturne. Now that he’d lost his own halo of light, Nocturne crumbled to the ground and dropped his head while shedding tears of regret.
Yeon-woo stopped without even realizing. The Martial King turned his head to Yeon-woo. His body had deteriorated so much that the missing parts outnumbered the remaining ones. More than half of his face was missing. The Martial King was probably trying to hold onto it just so he could leave his last words.
The Martial King was like a candle flame shining brightly right before being extinguished. His eyes were dazzling. “Did you observe everything?”
Yeon-woo wanted to say something. However, those words were not appropriate for this moment. It was his master’s last moment. It would be silly for Yeon-woo to cry or be angry at his master’s smiling, fading face. Thus, Yeon-woo forced himself to smile and nod while tears rolled down his face. And though it was difficult to move his lips, Yeon-woo quietly eked out, “Yes.”
“That’s it then.” The Martial King nodded as if satisfied with this last lesson. After looking at his two disciples, the Martial King moved his gaze to his son, who was looking sadly from afar, and his tribe members. “If I had known this would happen, I would have had a drink every now and then instead of just fighting around with my students and children. How unfortunate.” The Martial King clucked his tongue and quietly disappeared.