Although the inhabitants of the third realm commonly assumed that their realm had three thousand worlds, just how many worlds there were precisely was still uncertain.
The "three thousand worlds" was a common turn of phrase, referring to their realm just as "the third realm" did, but "the third realm" was a phrase used by hunters from the Milky Way.
Zhang Lie replied, "Actually, if worlds were allowed to accrete naturally, there should be far more than just nine superior worlds. There might be thirty, ninety, even a hundred and fifty."
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Of course, Zhang Lie couldn't be certain whether this was the case. The fact that there had been nine superior worlds and that there was now nine superior worlds spoke to more than coincidence, as though the third realm's resources were incapable of supporting more than nine superior worlds simultaneously. Zhang Lie hadn't been in the third realm for long, and couldn't be certain about the situation.
The king replied, "In that case, the three thousand worlds aren't developing naturally?"
Zhang Lie replied, "As I told you, among the three thousand worlds are the superior worlds of antiquity."
"By 'antiquity', do you mean that they've been present forever?"
Zhang Lie shook his head. "Nothing is eternal in this realm. They've simply been here for a long time, so long no one else remembers their history. Over the years, they've grown and grown—tens of thousands of years, hundreds of thousands, millions.
"By now, even the kings of those superior worlds may have forgotten how long they've lived. In truth, before some of these worlds were annihilated, many aliens believed that they could never be defeated. Even the superior kings themselves believed this—but as things turned out, that was wrong."
The king nodded.
Zhang Lie continued casually, "There used to be a superior world here whose jurisdiction we were under, but I destroyed it."
The king gave Zhang Lie a thumbs up. "Amazing, Master!"
He wasn't shocked, merely excited. Although destroying a superior world was an impressive feat, the king didn't have the context to understand how impressive it was. No matter how strong the opponent was, however, the king had blind faith in Zhang Lie. He was certain there was nothing Zhang Lie couldn't accomplish.
"The superior worlds of antiquity treat the third realm like a cake. They cut apart slices for themselves, their jurisdictions, and farm out the worlds under their control. If a world in their jurisdiction were to evolve into a superior world, the superior worlds of antiquity would reap those worlds and claim them as their harvest."
The scaleman king understood immediately. "That's why you had our world ascend during the chaos of the death spirits' war, Master! The superior worlds would have been too tied up to react."
"You can understand it in that manner, but not completely."
"In what sense?"
Zhang Lie explained, "Even without the death spirits' war, no one would have stopped your ascension, but doing so during the war could have prevented unnecessary accidents."
The scaleman king recalled what Zhang Lie had said.
"Master, is it because of the superior world you destroyed?"
Zhang Lie replied, "Exactly. This was originally the jurisdiction of the xuluo world. Because they attacked the Zongming world, I retaliated, and the Zongming world is now responsible for this territory. It's an ally of mine."
The king continued, "Master, have you returned because of these superior worlds of antiquity?"
Zhang Lie nodded. "These worlds are about to attack us."
The scaleman king was shocked, but he quickly schooled himself.
Zhang Lie commented calmly, "You don't seem nervous at all. It's clear you've grown."
No king would panic even in the greatest of calamities. Zhang Lie hadn't expected that the formerly weak ninth prince could have grown to such an extent in just a few years.
The scaleman king shook his head. "You mistake me, Master."
The scaleman world had recently evolved, and the scaleman king had no information about these superior worlds.
Zhang Lie continued seriously, "Although I don't want to surprise you, you have to understand just how strong these superior worlds are. They each have at least two combatants with strength equivalent to that of a superior king."
The scaleman king replied, "I know they might be strong, but we have someone even stronger on our side!"
The scaleman king laughed. "You, Master!"
Zhang Lie also began to laugh. "Haha, you really think highly of me, don't you?"
The scaleman king nodded. "I'm confident in your strength, Master."
Zhang Lie continued, "The superior worlds of antiquity are targeting the new superior worlds, who have recently evolved: the Zongming world, the draconian world, and your world, the scaleman world. I'm hoping that the scaleman world will be willing to form an alliance with the other two worlds to counter the superior worlds of antiquity."
The scaleman king nodded. "Very well."
Zhang Lie blinked in surprise. "Aren't you going to ask about the details?"
The scaleman king smiled. "I trust you, Master."
Zhang Lie grumbled, "If you keep behaving like this, you'll eventually be tricked!"
The scaleman king laughed. "I'll only ever believe you like this, Master. If you do end up selling me, well, I'll help you count your profit."
Zhang Lie patted the scaleman king's head.
Although his status had risen twice over, his attitude toward Zhang Lie didn't change. Once again, it felt as though they were just the ninth prince and his master.
"You'll have to make a trip to the Zongming world to discuss plans against the invasion."
Once the two of them finished, Zhang Lie and the scaleman king returned to his palace, whereupon they found the former crown prince and his son.
Upon seeing the young scaleman, who looked much like the former crown prince, Zhang Lie nodded sagely. "Very good. He'll surely be a leader of the scalemen."
The former crown prince quickly told his son, "Thank the grandmaster for his blessing!"
The former crown prince's son might be young, but he was clearly trained in propriety.
"Thank you for the praise, Master!"
"There's nothing I can teach this child. After all, our routes to strength are different. However, I would be happy to present him with this gift."
Zhang Lie handed over a peak-grade soulshard.
He had quite a few peak-grade soulshards in his possession, many of which were incapable of being used in fights at his level. The soulshards would be useful for him, but he could certainly use them as gifts.
The former crown prince's son was clearly very excited by the gift. Zhang Lie informed the scalemen, "It's time for me to be leaving."
The scaleman king sighed. "Won't you stay for a bit longer, Master?"
Zhang Lie shook his head. "The invasion's about to begin."
The king didn't hold Zhang Lie back. Instead, he proposed, "Let me accompany you, then."
The former crown prince instantly jumped in shock. "You can't, Your Majesty! The world cannot be without a ruler for a single day, let alone a recently evolved superior world!"