"Your brother is very well-known…" Garen shrugged. He didn't know what to make of it.
"He's always been like that," Su Lin murmured. "Excellent, serious, dignified. He can even have a face-to-face confrontation with father. When I was young, I would often hear them arguing in the study."
"You have a happy family." Garen took a sip of water.
"Indeed." Su Lin reverted to his normal self and smiled. "But now someone is trying to destroy this happiness."
"Kill anyone who tries." Garen smiled. He didn't speak after that.
Soon, designated waiters served them the prepared dishes and drinks. The dishes looked visually appealing and delicious. Chicken, duck, fish, geese, all kinds of meat were readily available. At the sides, there were attendants waiting with more dishes.
Garen got up and glanced around the entire carriage: it was empty except for a gray-haired old man at the other end receiving similar treatment. The old man saw him and raised a glass to toast him with a smile.
Garen smiled back at him and sat down. He looked at Su Lin across from him having a bite of meat mixed with a mouthful of wine and chewing it in his mouth; it felt weird to Garen.
"Seeing you eat, I don't know why but I always feel repulsed."
"I don't look like someone from a rich family, right?" Su Lin wasn't bothered, and kept chewing while he mumbled. "It's normal. I would never change myself just because of other people's opinion. That's my principle."
"It's a good principle to have." Garen nodded. When he saw that one of the dishes had changed, he started eating too.
Su Lin had a large appetite, but his wasn't small either.
Ever since he reached the limit of Secret Mammoth Technique, his appetite had increased dramatically. Seven to eight pounds of meat in a meal was a walk in the park. Converted to Earth units, that was five to six catties. This was excluding bread, soup, vegetables and other dishes.
The train chugged on, slowly and steadily. Every day, Garen and Su Lin chatted or listened to the youngsters around them. Every meal, they would avoid eating with others in case their immense appetite alarmed them.
After a week, they finally reached the heart of the Eliza Province, Harmony City.
Jumping off the train from the carriage doors, Garen suddenly saw Su Lin's body tense up and he was standing still in front.
"What's wrong?" The station was so loud and noisy that Garen had to raise his voice.
"It's here." Su Lin turned around. He was holding a black card about the size of a playing card between his index and middle fingers; a 'J' was printed in the middle of it.
"Duskdune Shura's black card."
"Weren't you already mentally prepared?" Garen smiled. He was far from being that ordinary person from Earth. Confronted with any challenge, he was confident he could face it himself. When he heard that Duskdune Shura's card had arrived, he had a sense of eager anticipation instead. He had come to terms with it: even though firearms were capable of threatening martial art practitioners, he had special abilities and was a unique specimen gifted with infinite possibilities—maybe he could break through that limitation in the near future.
"That's true. Let's go. But I'm guessing father and the others should already be aware about the appearance of the black card." Su Lin gave a wry smile.
Sure enough, right after he said that, a large group of people walked towards them from the station entrance—all soldiers in brown military uniforms. The leader of the group, a male officer, walked up to Su Lin and saluted him.
"Captain Su Lin, following the orders of the Commander, we are here to escort you back to the manor."
Garen looked as Su Lin silently shrugged and turned around to give him a wry smile.
"Come on," he said as he turned around and walked towards the convoy of military vehicles parked in the distance, surrounded by the soldiers.
Garen followed close behind, and was protectively surrounded by several soldiers too.
The travelers around them were astonished and confounded; each had their own theories about what was going on.
At the sight of Su Lin and Garen being escorted away by a large group of soldiers, Eileen, Sharman and the others who were still in the carriage were left speechless.
The faces of the three rich kids who were bragging about their family backgrounds and wealth started to redden in embarrassment. Compared to them, it was obvious that Su Lin and Garen were the truly eminent characters. To think that they were boasting about their family connections and whatnot in front of them…
At the edge of a lake near Harmony City.
Amidst the dense green trees by the lake, there was a square black-roofed estate.
Double-storeyed steeple buildings formed an incomplete square; the gap in the square was the driveway which led to the estate.
The entire estate was surrounded by a metal fence, with a white gate in a gap to facilitate entry and exit.
Weak rays of sunlight fell on the roofs of all the buildings within the estate, and off the glass, faintly reflecting the light outwards.
At noon, a motorcade of dark green military vehicles drove along the driveway into the vast estate.
The motorcade comprised of four cars. They slowed to a stop at the edge of the lawn in the middle of the estate.
Car doors opened then banged shut as a large group of soldiers dismounted and dispersed. Only two officers were left escorting two youths to the white marquee in the middle of the lawn.
Of the two youths who stepped out of the car, one had flaming red hair and a handsome face with clear skin. He had a small golden earring on his ear.
The other had indigo hair and was well-built. He took in his surroundings after stepping out of the car, as if it was his first time there: it was Garen who had just arrived from the train station.
"Garen, let's go meet my father together first," the youth with flaming red hair said to him.
Garen nodded, and walked towards the marquee together with Su Lin.
On the lawn outside the marquee, a tall and sturdy man raised a brown golf club and mimicked hitting a ball from time to time; he seemed to be practicing.
The man was wearing white casual clothing. His hair was completely white and his forehead was balding. He had a healthy complexion and his eyes were calm but determined, conveying a resolute temperament.
The man was somewhat portly. After he completed a swinging action, he leaned on his club and stood there looking towards Su Lin and Garen.
"Father, I'm back. This is my friend Garen. I've invited him over to stay with us for a while. He's a very close friend of mine," Su Lin stepped forward and took the initiative to speak first.
"This is my father Crohn. You can call him uncle."
"Hello uncle. I've taken the liberty to visit you. I apologize for disturbing," Garen greeted politely.
"It's fine. I see that you're different from those other guys. I hope that Su Lin has more proper friends like you and gets into less trouble outside." Crohn nodded and gave Garen a friendly smile.
"Oh yeah. Don't go out and about for no good reason. Did you receive a black card with a 'J' printed in the middle?" he turned to ask Su Lin.
"Card? You mean this?" Su Lin took out the card and handed it to his father.
Crohn took the card. A trace of severity flashed across his eyes.
"Sure enough. Alright, you show Garen around, as long as you keep to the area around Lake Saima as much as possible."
"I know, don't worry. The area around Lake Saima would be fun enough for us." Su Lin smiled and waved. "Come on Garen, I'll bring you to your temporary residence."
They bid Commander Crohn goodbye and strolled around the estate for a while. Su Lin passed Garen the keys to the house he had prepared for him as well as the car keys, then instructed him on matters related to car maintenance. Only after that did things settle down temporarily.
"Putting these aside, you'll stay at my home for this period of time. It's not officially the start of term yet. You can move out once school is back in session. Any problems?" Su Lin started arranging matters.
"None. But I need to take a look at the layout and location of the house, and maybe get some daily necessities."
"Don't worry. It's right by the university, and well-stocked with all the daily necessities. After this, I'm going to introduce you to another friend of mine, who will also be our companion in this upcoming period," Su Lin said mysteriously.
Garen was very interested in this other person who was comparable to himself. It was conceivable that a person capable, in Su Lin's eyes, of joining the ranks to counter Duskdune Shura, would absolutely not be an ordinary person.
Holding on to his expectation, Garen followed Su Lin to check out the house. There weren't any problems with it. It was a beautiful white villa, and the expensive Rossland was parked in the garage.
Then it was paying a visit to this new friend who was going to join their ranks.
Harmony City slums.
Clusters of dark gray buildings were packed together densely; some were even leaning and threatening to collapse.
Garen and Su Lin passed through an alley between two leaning buildings. On the ground floor of the buildings were dirty shops and ordinary housing for the poor. Clotheslines with laundered clothing hung above the alley; some of the clothes were still wet and dripping with water, emitting a strong smell of soap.
The walls on both sides of the alley were plastered with all kinds of small advertisements: mostly housing rental, high-interest loan, and hiring notices. Some parts even had advertisements directly written in green and red paint; it looked like children's graffiti.
In the depths of the alley, the sun couldn't reach them—they were shrouded under the shadow of the buildings. The ground was damp; it was in a constant state of humidity all year round.
Garen and Su Lin walked along the alley and were aware of the curious gazes of local residents they got from time to time. Some harsh coughing noises could vaguely be heard coming from the residences.
Su Lin carefully stepped over a dirty puddle. "I haven't been here in a long time. The city has been carrying out preventative measures against an epidemic. They say it's a new strain of influenza, more problematic. People with poor personal hygiene are the most vulnerable group to be infected. I hope that guy isn't infected."
"I guess not," Garen casually replied. He saw a bedraggled young boy sitting at the entrance of a shop to his left. The boy was weaving something using pale yellow grass. "Why doesn't he live in a better environment?" Garen asked logically.
"No particular reason. It's just how he is. This is where he grew up," Su Lin whispered. He turned a corner in front and walked towards the right. "We're here."
Garen followed him and turned the corner into a forked alley. There was only a small shop selling hoes and iron farming tools at the end of it. The shop was somewhat dark. Two silhouettes could vaguely be seen busying inside.
Garen followed Su Lin to the entrance of the shop.
"Is anyone in?" Su Lin shouted.
"How can I help you, sir?" A young man in mud-colored linen clothes walked out. He was holding his sleeves with his hands, revealing the burn scars on his arms.
"Where is your boss?"
"May I know who's asking?" An elegant young lady walked out of the shop. She wore a drab gray skirt, but her high breasts and vivacious figure revealed her youthful charms.
"Why are you looking for my father?"