Cynthia looked at the strongest of the captain-rank companions around her. Three out of seven were killed, only these four were left. Last time, when she was companions with Garen, she didn't think anything of it. Now that they were opponents standing in front of each other, she felt the suffocating and terrifying pressure.
It was like facing a dozen-storey tall dark blue wave. It was the terrifying pressure of realizing that there was no way to dodge, no escape, and direct confrontation would only result in being devoured and drowned!
The dark blue wave that covered everything in sight was advancing towards her; even her breathing started to quicken, and her body temperature fell.
Cynthia fiercely gave herself a slap, and instantly snapped out of the illusion of pressure.
"Am I breaking?" she muttered.
Only someone who was about to suffer a mental breakdown would experience such illusions. She went through death training before when she was very weak and had experienced it once, but it wasn't as terrifying as the suffocating pressure from downstairs.
She hung her head low and started taking deep breaths.
"It's going to be alright… It's going to be alright… I can do it. I will definitely be able to find a way to break through. Definitely!"
Garen looked up at the broken steps on the staircase leading up to the first floor and frowned. He turned around to look at the military captain awaiting his orders.
"Break through it."
He pointed at the ground floor ceiling.
Bang bang bang bang!
Dozens of submachine guns were raised and fired towards the ceiling.
This was a small building constructed with cement-bonded wood fiber. The partition between the ground and first floor was not completely concrete; it was effortlessly punctured under the powerful impact of the submachine guns.
A large number of bullets shot through the first floor flooring like rain drops and ricocheted within the small living room on the first floor.
A large celadon vase in the corner of the room was hit by a stray bullet and shattered into countless pieces.
Cynthia and the others crouched closely together in a corner and tried as much as possible to reduce the surface area of their bodies, but two of them were still hit multiple times to the extent that they resembled hornet's nests. The space on the first floor was limited; there was no way to effectively avoid the gunfire.
Cynthia and the captain could be considered the strongest two among all of them. In haste, the method which they chose to evade the bullets was the most effective, so they didn't suffer much harm. One got hit in the face, and the other in the left shin. At least compared to the other two, they were already very lucky.
Huff… huff… huff…
Their heavy breathing was clearly audible in the quiet space.
Garen's voice came from the first floor.
"Killing you would be as simple as crushing an ant to me. Surrender, and both of you can live in this situation. I acknowledge your true strength," Garen downstairs looked up towards the first floor and said calmly. He was indeed making the offer out of appreciation of talent.
The operational model of Manleyton Corporation differed from other companies. To prevent the concentration of power at the upper tiers, all staff would transfer teams from time to time. Constantly scattering and constantly changing, the relationship between members was detached. This was the reason he dared to solicit the other party after killing so many people from Manleyton. Moreover, White Cloud Gate currently lacked elite talent that completely belonged to him.
"It seems, among the Three Divine Marshals, you are the most mediocre one." Cynthia didn't speak. Instead, it was the other old man's voice that came from above.
Garen gestured for the soldiers to spread out, and addressed the people on first floor alone.
"From the sound of it, you've met the other two Divine Marshals?"
"Of course. They are strong and cruel. Anyone confirmed as an enemy would face their full wrath," the man replied. "But you're different. You would alter your benefit analysis based on your mood or some other reason and come up with the best solution. Am I right?"
Garen unconsciously smiled.
"Not bad. You are indeed worthy of being a talent who has survived till now. If you join White Cloud Gate, I will assign you to a suitable position. Choose: join, or die."
"The alternative of refusal is death. This is your idea of a choice?" Cynthia said sarcastically.
"Death is equally a choice." Contrary to Cynthia, Garen nodded calmly. "Well, it was your corporation that betrayed me first. A force that is familiar with my details, expecting to safely escape my sphere of influence. Don't you think that's too naïve?"
The first floor remained silent. After a while, the sound of two guns being dumped on the ground could be heard.
Garen put his hands into his pockets, turned around and headed out the door. He had his answer from the way they breathed.
"Go upstairs and bring the two of them down. Give them medical treatment and a good rest."
"Yes, sir." The military captain quickly saluted Garen. Speaking to Garen at spitting distance, he recalled the outrageous scene earlier. The captain had already listed Garen as someone he would absolutely not provoke.
Su Lin walked in from the courtyard.
"Yes, it's over here." Garen nodded. He removed his torn t-shirt in one swift move, and changed into a t-shirt of the same style handed over to him.
"You're not worried they'll trick you?"
"It's fine. The risk of loss is inevitable if you want to reap the rewards."
"Next, you plan to…"
"Let's check on Bovini," Garen said calmly.
"He's now half alive after being tortured by the 'triad' members," Su Lin was delighted about Bovini's misfortune.
"It can't be helped. Nobody asked him to declare leaving White Cloud Gate. Property incapable of being defended are naturally alluring pieces of meat. What a pity. If Mr Bovini was still part of White Cloud Gate, I would offer my full assistance in punishing those unruly 'triads'. But now it's none of my business." Garen smiled.
"Sometimes I wonder if you're really seventeen." Su Lin was speechless and started smiling too.
"There will always be people who are considered geniuses in this world. Unfortunately, I'm one of them." Garen boasted without blushing.
"Brag on, you!" Su Lin patted him, speechless.
The two of them walked towards the direction they came from, and soon disappeared into the woods.
A few days later.
Garen was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the White Cloud Martial Colosseum, his eyes closed.
Across from him, also sitting cross-legged on the floor, were Collin and Simon. The entire Colosseum capable of accommodating 200 people was empty apart from them.
Recently, Garen had a growing feeling that his martial arts had gradually entered a stage where it couldn't be explicitly assessed. The Qi, blood and spirit of his body were completely in sync, as if all of his previously latent true strength was gradually being explored and utilized.
"The human body is a large treasure trove," he slowly spoke. The two people opposite him were instantly invigorated and listened attentively. It was a golden opportunity to be able to receive personal guidance from the current Garen.
"Even if it were an average person, as long as he is able to thoroughly tap into his potential, they can exhibit amazing power too," Garen said softly with his eyes closed.
"The method I'm teaching you is to be used in training exercises. Spend half an hour a day meditating, and consciously perceive the favorable and unfavorable factors generated in training within your entire body."
"The Secret Martial Art of White Cloud Gate is sufficiently intense, but lacks solidification. This is something that I have only recently realized. It's difficult to find a suitable Secret Martial Art to aid in solidification in such a short amount of time, so I've chosen to use this method. Focus on your meditating for half an hour. There will be students to remind you when the time is up."
"Yes, Eldest Senior Brother," they answered in tandem, and closed their eyes. They would never doubt Garen's words, because his actual personal progress was already evidence that the method was effective.
Garen slowly got up and headed to the basement of the Colosseum.
Simon and Collin were two core disciples that he had been devoting his time and efforts to coach recently. There were many core disciples at White Cloud Gate, but they were the most distinguished. If he wanted to successfully train two right-hand men in a short amount of time, they were his best hope.
Fortunately, both of them were aware that it was a critical period for White Cloud Gate—which needed the backing of powerful forces—so they have progressed rapidly. They weren't lacking in foundation skills in the first place, so now under Garen's personal tutelage, they have naturally improved by leaps and bounds. They had exceeded their peers and were now on par with adult Martial Adepts.
A few days ago Simon even went for a test; his Amateur Stage had reached Stage Six. This could be considered a qualified level even among adult Martial Adepts. After all, Second Senior Brother Farak was only at Amateur Stage Nine.
In comparison, Collin was similar. Both improved at a perceptible pace.
But Garen was able to see that Simon's limit was at Stage Seven. He had lost an arm, and any further training would be impeded by this inherent defect. If in future he didn't possess extremely strong willpower to persevere, this would be it for his entire lifetime.
Collin, on the other hand, could still improve. Since they returned, he had taken them both as disciples. Under his unreserved tutelage, coupled with Collin's immense potential, she could probably reach Eldest Senior Sister's level by 25 years old.
Of course that referred to Rosetta's true strength on the surface, after concealment. Her actual true strength was unknown, even to Garen. After all, he had never seen her fight with full strength before.
In estimation, Master, Eldest Senior Sister, and Tenstar Ni, should all be at the level on the brink of Grandmaster of Combat, that is, the peak of Grade E.
Of these so-called "grades", Grade D is the limit. Anything above that was not used to assess humans.
In other words, this alphabet grading was originally used by countries to grade firearms.
Grade E was for handguns and other small firearms, Grade D was medium-sized firearms. Going up the scale would be weapons that were even more powerful.
This was merely because martial art practitioners unwilling to be phased out by the times refused to withdraw from this stage of history, so they graded their own martial art powers with firearm gradings, all to prove that martial arts could reach a level not inferior to firearms. But alas, the highest could only be Grade D.
When he reached the staircase at the entrance, Garen turned around to look at the both of them.
"In the near future, they could both thoroughly stabilize the standing of the dojo locally," This so-called stabilization referred to the average daily challenges, teaching, training, explaining and similar tasks.
"You are planning to leave?" At the bottom of the stairs, Cynthia was leaning on a wall flipping a sharp dagger. She tossed the dagger upwards—it spiraled into a round silver wheel—then accurately caught the handle in her hand as it landed. The sound of the blade cutting through air could be heard.
"The car is ready. We can head over straightaway." Jack was the scar-faced captain who had surrendered together with Cynthia.