Unable to respond, Yeon-woo narrowed his eyes and wondered if he’d heard correctly. ‘Take his daughter? Is he talking about marriage? But why would he say that all of a sudden?’ Yeon-woo was frozen, trying to figure out the hidden meaning behind the Martial King’s words.
In the meantime, Edora, who normally wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow at most situations, was furiously blushing and shrieking at the Martial King. "Father!"
But the Martial King laughed it away with his usual cheekiness and said, "Edora, have you forgotten our tribe’s custom already? You have to snatch a good guy when you have the chance. I’d say he’s good enough to join our family. You know, your mom also snatched me when I was around your age...”
"I’ll deal with my marriage on my own, so stay out of my private life!"
"Heehee. You don’t need to be so shy."
"If you keep making fun of me, I might really make a scene right now.” Edora gave her father a look as she put a hand on Shinmado, clearly intent on drawing it if he continued teasing her. But the Martial King didn’t stop laughing, and she had already pulled half of the sword out before he finally choked down his giggling. He clapped his hands together and said, “Anyway, it’s been a long time since our village has had a guest. We can’t have him standing outside like this. Come inside, let us continue our conversation with some tea.”
* * *
The Martial King ushered Yeon-woo into the large house. Walking next to him, Edora told him that this was her family’s residence, and it was called the Palace of Martialism. Yeon-woo nodded at her explanation, trying to stay calm and composed. However, he was surprised at the plainness of the palace. It was filled with wooden furniture and had a rustic charm. The garden was planted with crops like yams and potatoes instead of flowers and bushes. Who would have thought it was the residence of a royal family?
When Yeon-woo entered the drawing room, he saw that a steaming teapot with teacups and a plate of whole-grain cookies had already been set out on the table. He sat down and put a cookie in his mouth. Although the taste was subtle, the crunchiness and the nuttiness of the roasted seeds made it very appetizing.
‘Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Phante and Edora eating meat.' It occurred to Yeon-woo that perhaps these grains were their staple diet. As he wondered about this, the Martial King entered the room in a different outfit. This time, he wore majestic-looking black clothing with exquisite golden embroidery. “I apologize for being late. It took me a little while to change into these clothes. It's been a long time since I’ve worn this, and I forgot the order I’m supposed to put them on,” the Martial King said, pinching his clothing.
"You look good in them, sir."
"Hehehe, I know. Back in the old days, I used to make a lot of girls cry." The Martial King began to brag about his past as a ladies’ man. Edora sighed, and Phante shook his head, covering his face with his hand. The elders and the bodyguards looked dead-eyed, as if they had already heard everything an unimaginable number of times. However, Yeon-woo only saw the Martial King as a rather chatty person. It was about a quarter of an hour later when the Martial King finally ended his yapping. "OK, shall we get back to our talk now?"
Yeon-woo rose from his seat and got ready to make a formal greeting. The important part of his visit was about to begin. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Cain, currently..."
"Oh, let me just stop you right there. I've already heard more than enough about you from my son and daughter. Besides, I believe anyone who pays attention to the lower floors knows who you are."
Yeon-woo slowly sat back down at the Martial King’s gesture. The Martial King continued talking with his arms crossed. "The Hoarder, the novice who has broken every single record from the Tutorial to the Beginner Zone, the partner of Blood Sword and Foxy Tail, the monster who makes a clean sweep of all the rewards in each floor he visits…" He rattled out the nicknames and achievements that people had attributed to Yeon-woo.
"And..." The Martial King paused for a second. His broad smile revealed his sharp canines, and Yeon-woo couldn’t suppress a tiny shiver. Then the Martial King said in Yeon-woo’s mind: 『The player who defeated Arangdan completely by himself, am I right?』
Yeon-woo sprang up from his seat instinctively. The collapse of Arangdan might have been the catalyst of the war between Red Dragon and the Cheonghwado, and Yeon-woo had to make sure no one knew that he’d been responsible. He was shocked to discover that someone apart from Kahn and Doyle knew about it. He had to ask the Martial King how he figured it out—by force, if necessary.
Swish! The bodyguards reacted to Yeon-woo’s sudden movement, and before Yeon-woo could do anything, their hands were already on their swords. The rest of the people in the room looked puzzled at the unexpected turn of events, and a tense atmosphere hung over the drawing room.
The Martial King said in a commanding voice, "Sit."
Although it was just a single word, the Aura of the Martial King restrained Yeon-woo as though he’d been bound in invisible chains. ‘I can't move.' Cold sweat ran down his back. 'He’s a real monster.'
Yeon-woo realized he had been mistaken about a beast that lay dormant in the Martial King. It wasn’t dormant at all, it had been awake all this time hiding behind his smile. Yeon-woo was beginning to understand why his brother had described the Martial King as a beast. He really was one. A savage beast who played with his prey secure in the knowledge that he could subdue it any time. Yeon-woo couldn’t do anything other than sit down, but the expression in his eyes grew a little sharper. He would back down for now but prepare to make another move, like a tiger crouching low before making a big leap.
The unyielding spirit in Yeon-woo’s eyes made the Martial King’s smile grow even wider. 『Don't worry. There are only three people who are aware of your deeds.』 Although his lips were shut, the Martial King’s voice was so clear to Yeon-woo, it was as though he were speaking directly in Yeon-woo’s ear.
Since the Martial King seemed ready to keep Yeon-woo’s secret, Yeon-woo clenched is teeth and put on a calm expression despite all the questions he had. How did the Martial King figure it out? Who were the other two people? Why he had brought it up? However, Yeon-woo knew that it wasn’t the right time to ask.
As the two of them exchanged looks, Phante gave his father a sour look and said, “You must have said something rude again, you old geezer. I gotta say, you really have to stop teasing people."
The guards removed their hands from their swords, and the elders shook their heads. Some even said, “How can he still be so bad-mannered at his age?”
"Father?" Edora said through gritted teeth. However, the Martial King only laughed mischievously, forcing Edora to apologize to Yeon-woo with a deep sigh. "I'm sorry, Oraboni. My father is a mean and horrible old man. Whenever he finds someone interesting, he starts teasing them right away. Please forgive his rudeness."
"Come on. Don’t you think you went a little too far calling your father a horrible old man?” The Martial King grumbled.
"And you say that after what you’ve done to him?"
"Hmph! You don’t care about your dad anymore now that you got a husband, eh? Looks like I raised my daughter for nothing."
"Would you mind shutting your mouth?”
The Martial King and Edora bickered for another minute, only stopping once they realized that their guest was still present. "Ahem. Anyway, you must have a lot of questions right now. Don’t worry, I will give you some time to ask later."
"OK." Yeon-woo had to push back his questions for now. After all, they really weren’t meant to be spoken in this room full of people.
"Now, let’s get down to business. I’m aware of your problem thanks to Yanu’s message. Is that humongous thing the egg in question?"
"Yes, it is." Yeon-woo beckoned to the egg, and it floated up from the corner of the room and slowly moved towards the table. It was so tall that the people in the room had to watch its journey with their hearts in their throats, worried that the egg might break the ceiling. Fortunately, the egg reached the table without any incident.
"I had my doubts when I read the message, but this...”
"How is this possible…?"
"I thought I knew all about beast eggs, but this is not at all what I expected. I wonder what’s inside this huge egg.”
As soon as the egg was placed on the table, the elders gathered around to examine it in detail. Some knocked on the egg to check the hardness of the shell, while others pulled out their notes and compared the egg’s pattern and color with those of other eggs. Some sat on the floor, laying out ancient documents to look for any similar cases in history.
"These are our tribe’s elders. They are mostly parasites who eat up the village’s food, but they’ve picked up some knowledge here and there that might be helpful to you,” the Martial King said jokingly.
The elders sent menacing glares to the Martial King but returned to studying the egg, which had greatly aroused their curiosity. As he watched the elders quietly, Yeon-woo noticed how healthy and fit they were for their age. Most of them were so strong that Yeon-woo couldn’t even tell what their strength was. He was beginning to understand the true power of the One-horned tribe.
"Do you think they can find a solution?" Yeon-woo whispered to the Martial King.
But the Martial King answered with a shrug. "I don't know. Brainwork isn’t my area of expertise. But I do know that they know a lot more things than anyone else in the Tower. If they don’t have an answer, no one else will be able to give you one.”
Yeon-woo could sense the deep trust that the Martial King had in the elders, and this reassured him. He calmly watched the elders investigate the egg.
After about an hour, the elders came to Yeon-woo after finishing their discussions. "We were able to find a similar case in our records, and we presume that the situation might apply to your egg, too.”
"What is it?" Yeon-woo sprang up from his seat. ‘How did they discover something when even the Phoenix couldn’t figure out?’ Although Yeon-woo still had his doubts, he couldn’t help feeling delighted at the glimmer of hope.
"Really? What is it, old man?" The Martial King said, brimming with curiosity. The elder glared at the immature king for a second, then he turned to Yeon-woo and adjusted his glasses. "However, I’m afraid there's a problem.”
"Do you mean there’s no solution?"
"No, no, there is a solution. Hmm, let me explain what we found first. The egg in our records was four meters tall, even bigger than your egg. The records indicate that that they had to administer something to hatch the egg. However, what’s surprising is that the beast that hatched out of the egg was a Void Dragon, just like the Legendary Beast in the dream world."
Yeon-woo couldn’t find the words to reply at this shocking information, while the Martial King only said a surprised, “Oh."
"What?" However, Phante and the others were stunned, and they goggled at the elder. The Void Dragon was the strongest among the four Legendary Beasts dwelling in the dream world. That meant it was highly likely that there was another powerful beast growing inside his egg.
"What the hell, this is so unfair! Why does he always get the good stuff?" Phante shouted as he pointed to Yeon-woo. His face was green with envy, but Yeon-woo ignored him and stared at the egg.
Whoom. He could feel the egg’s pride through their connection, and the egg seemed like it was daring him to push it around now that he knew how great it was.
Edora raised her hand and asked the elder a question. "But as far as I know, the Four Legendary Beasts weren’t born in the Tower.”
"You’re right. And that's the problem. Legendary Beasts originate not from the Tower but the outside world, and that includes the Void Dragon. The case in our records dates back to the time before the Tower’s emergence."
‘An event that happened even before the Tower came into existence? Why is that occurring now and to my egg?’ Yeon-woo stared blankly at his egg, recalling what the Phoenix had told him. ‘The Phoenix said that the beast might have lost its motivation to come out because I don’t have a dream.’ It suddenly occurred to him that the absence of a dream might have triggered some sort of mutation in his egg.
But just as Yeon-woo was starting to blame himself for this problem, the Martial King suddenly said, “OK, let me get this straight. A long time ago, there was an egg that refused to hatch, and when it did, it turned out to be a Void Dragon. And you’re thinking the same thing is happening now, right?”
"That is true."
"So what is there to worry about? You said there’s a solution.”
The elder glared once more at the king’s lack of seriousness, but the king was now humming a song to himself. The elder clucked his tongue and continued explaining to Yeon-woo. "Since your egg is abnormally large, we suggest treating it with the Seed of the Moon.”
‘Seed of the Moon?’ Yeon-woo tilted his head at the strange name.
"Oh, right! Seed of the Moon should work."
"Yeah, that should do."
But everyone else nodded as if it was obvious. Yeon-woo was bewildered. He had never heard of the Seed of the Moon even though he had a vast knowledge of artifacts and elixirs thanks to his brother’s diary.
Edora noticed Yeon-woo’s confusion and gave him a brief explanation. "A Seed of the Moon is one of the rare herbs passed down in our tribe from generation to generation. It is not a commonly known herb because other races do not know its use.”
Yeon-woo finally realized why he’d never heard of it. There was no way his brother could have known about a herb that only the One-horned tribe used. Yeon-woo clenched his fist at the thrill of finding a solution. His desperate struggle to hatch the egg was finally coming to an end. "How can I get the Seed of the Moon?" he asked the Martial King.
The Martial King suddenly broke into a mysterious smile. "So, you require an item that only the One-horned tribe possesses, is that correct?”
"But as you have heard from Edora, a Seed of the Moon is a very rare item. We cannot simply give it away for free. You see, it takes a full fifteen years to grow just one root."
Yeon-woo understood the meaning behind the Martial King’s words. He was looking for an exchange. He had to figure out what he could give in return that was of equal value. Edora seemed about to speak up, but the elders next to her stopped her. The rule was that no one was allowed to intervene when their king was acting on behalf of their tribe. Edora had no choice but to stay silent.
Phante’s eyes shifted from Yeon-woo to the Martial King over and over. There was an awkward silence in the room, but after a minute, Yeon-woo carefully said, “As you can see, I don't have anything valuable I can offer you for it. I don’t belong to any clan nor do I have any patrons. If you can give me some time...”
"We won’t sell it on credit."
It was a flat-out rejection. Yeon-woo pressed his lips together tightly. He had to come up with something else. He began to think of several artifacts that he possessed, but none of them would satisfy the Martial King, except perhaps for Vigrid and Aegis. But he couldn’t trade them for the herb either.
If he had to give up one of them, it would be Vigrid, but he was reluctant to give up something that had sentimental value since the sword reminded him of Kahn and Doyle. As Yeon-woo was agonized over the issue, the Martial King suddenly smirked. "You don't have to trade an item for it, you know. What about some physical labor instead?”
Yeon-woo quickly snapped to attention. If he could acquire a Seed of the Moon in exchange for something as simple as physical labor, he was more than willing to give his time. ‘But what does he need my help for?’ Yeon-woo didn’t know what the Martial King planned on telling him to do, and his next words came as a shock.
"You’ve heard of the war between Red Dragon and the Cheonghwado, right? We'll be joining the war as mercenaries. I need you to fight with us. What do you think?"
Yeon-woo's eyes grew as big as saucers. 'What?'Previous Chapter Next Chapter