Coming out of the ring satisfied, Garen removed his gloves and walked to Erwin's side.
"Looks like I'll be able to catch up to you very soon, Senior Brother Erwin."
"You think you’re the only one improving?" Erwin threw him a look of feigned contempt. "Alright, let’s put this topic aside. You have to go home for dinner later, right? It’s quite far from here to the city center, so head home then or else you won’t be able to find transportation later."
"Okay, I'll be leaving first then." Garen was aware of the situation too. He greeted two other people on his way out the door, walked past the courtyard and exited the main entrance of the Martial Colosseum with a few other students.
White Cloud Dojo was just a dojo in Huaishan City. It had two branches and a main Martial Colosseum. Both branches were within the city, and only the main Martial Colosseum was located in the outskirts, which was quite a distance from Bluetree Street where Garen lived.
After finally managing to hail a carriage, both Garen and another female student going the same way squeezed into it. The carriage started heading down the gray cobblestone road towards the city center.
Sitting on the right side of the carriage, Garen reclined on the leather seat, closed his eyes and rested with his head tilted slightly upwards. The crisp sound of hooves on cobblestone could be heard incessantly.
The girl beside him took out a book and started reading it page by page; the sound of pages turning came at regular intervals.
In a daze, Garen slowly fell into a half-asleep state.
Some time passed. There seemed to be a slight commotion going on nearby. He gradually woke up and looked out the carriage window.
The black-haired girl beside him also turned to her side to look out the left window. A group of colorfully dressed children were playing chase and ran past the side of the carriage. These children, seemingly from Zhejiang, each had an assortment of red, yellow, and green gift boxes in their hands.
"Ahh, it's Children's Day today." Garen realized.
"It was yesterday, but some families choose to celebrate it a day later. That way, it's less crowded and probably safer for the kids." The black-haired girl turned around to face the front of the carriage again. She took a glance at Garen and asked, "Where are you getting off?"
"I'm getting off at Pennington."
"It's already Blacktree Street here. We'll be at Pennington soon."
It was then that Garen noticed the buildings passing by outside had become gray ones; the walls of each engraved with reliefs. Both sides of the road were each lined with a row of candlenut trees.
"Thanks for the reminder. The corner of Pennington is just up ahead. Sir, if you could just let me down here?"
The black carriage slowed down to a stop at the corner of Pennington. Garen stepped off the carriage and paid the fare. Afterwards, he straightened his clothes and started walking towards Dolphin Antiques at the corner of the street.
A ray of scarlet sunlight shone in and lit the whole antique store a warm shade of red.
The old man was once again sitting in front of the bookshelf directly facing the entrance, and had dozed off at the desk.
Garen walked through the door without disturbing him, and directly headed towards the left side of the store with a sense of familiarity, to where the Bronze Cross Emblem was placed.
He picked up the emblem and examined it. There was a thin layer of glimmer on it, but that didn't matter. Holding the emblem, Garen's attention shifted to the Attribute Pane in the lower part of his field of vision.
Although 100% of the Potential Attribute had been used up, several days of continuous "accumulation" had made Garen’s Potential rise to 47% once again.
"You again, kid?" Old Man Gregor spoke from behind him, "You're here to see it everyday. If you like it so much, why not just buy it so you can look at it all you want?"
"Am I not already trying to save up? Do you think it's possible for me as an ordinary student to casually come up with such a large sum of money?" Garen refuted without turning around to face him.
"It's up to you. Your presence makes my shop seem livelier anyway. But rules are rules, it's 10 bucks an hour."
"Yeah, yeah… You're really obsessed about money." Garen was rendered speechless.
He dawdled for more than an hour holding the emblem, while the sky outside gradually darkened. Garen reluctantly put the emblem down after seeing his potential increase slightly at an infuriatingly slow pace.
"Remember to take good care of it. I'll be back!"
"Yeah! Scram kid, you're even more long-winded than me!" The old man impatiently waved his hand and continued, "It's time for me to close up anyway."
"No wonder you don't get any business here." After multiple interactions, Garen was already familiar with the old man's temper. Initially, there was still a veil of civility between the two, but after growing more familiar, both just let it all go and spoke their minds.
More than two weeks had passed.
Garen resumed his normal routine in the academy, travelling between the antique store and the dojo day in and day out. His Potential steadily increased past 100%, allowing him to allocate new Attribute Points again.
It's just that he hadn't decided on what to add the points to. Originally, he meant to raise his grades in a few subjects, but unfortunately, not all skills could be enhanced with Attribute Points.
Only a few special skills allowed such enhancements, and not others; for example, National Studies and Foreign Languages. The high-grade learning materials for these subjects weren't even distributed, and Garen had no relevant memory of them, so naturally, he couldn't understand any of it.
It dawned on him that his Attribute point enhancements could only work on skills and subjects already within his field of knowledge.
Simply put, if he was taught a level of the White Cloud Secret Method but had no clue about its further levels, he would need follow-up training before he could enhance it. So, under such circumstances, he wouldn't be able to compel an Attribute point enhancement since his memory bank didn't have the blueprint for further enhancements.
Attribute Points and his Unique Skills, as Garen concluded, were more like means with which to substantially develop, mine and utilize his potential, expressed in the form of skills and levels. They were not like skill points in a videogame that allowed him to learn new things instantly.
Therefore, to enhance a skill, one would have to have a comprehensive understanding of the content of the next skill level. Leave something out, and the skill couldn't be upgraded.
Putting aside his own development, his relationship with his sister Ying Er seemed to have changed. Ever since that odd session of playful slapstick the other day, Ying Er would be in a hurry and wouldn’t say much every time they interacted. What happened? Garen wasn't sure what was going on with Ying Er. He just felt that things had become more awkward than before. After meals, she would clear the dishes quickly, then dash back to hide in her room, not speaking to Garen anywhere near as much as she used to.
In the blink of an eye, midterms were approaching fast. Confederate schools had three semesters in a year, so each semester was quite short. Ying Er's archery tournament was about to begin too.
Garen did some light reviewing. Only the exams in third year of high school were important anyway, so he didn't really bother about the other semesters. It's not as if university was the only option. Moreover, Mathematics and Physics here were effortlessly simple. It took him a mere ten days to boost his mastery of both subjects to the advanced level. He even managed to attain elementary level for both National Studies and Foreign Languages through rote memorization.
After enhancing his intelligence, his memory and comprehension had improved as well. Pairing that with his adult consciousness and mind, this made his results far better than that of the previous Garen. If not for the fact that his focus wasn't on studies, he would probably be on par with the top students.
The afternoon sun shone on Pennington Street at an angle which cast long silhouettes on the street. Both sides of the street were deserted, and only a few pedestrians passed by, all with thick windbreaker jackets on.
Two black cars were parked by the side of the road. The polished surface of the car bodies reflected a pale yellow glow. In one of the cars, the driver could be seen sleeping soundly at the wheel.
On the right side of the street, a purple-haired boy with burgundy eyes was rubbing his hands together and striding along in a hurry. His hair was slightly long, extending from his temples to his chin. His purple hair wrapped around his face, occasionally being blown backwards by the wind. He was wearing a light gray sweater and trousers, which accentuated his porcelain white skin.
The boy looked up at the advertisement banner on a distant building.
The red banner read: From 21st to 25th of September, Elizabeth Jewelries Autumn Bargain, Discounts ranging from 50 - 90 %.
"It's already September? Time sure flies…" Garen quickened his pace. He was on his way to the antiques store. It was already a few days past the time limit that the old man had mentioned. Because he had only just been freshly selected as a disciple at the dojo, he could only participate in the internal tryouts in the next quarter; there was no way he could make any money from tournaments for now.
He didn't have the money, but the other buyer that Old Man Gregor mentioned hadn't appeared either. Garen felt at ease and justified to continue making one to two hours of contact with the emblem every day to absorb more Potential.
"Enhancing skills with Attribute Points still isn't as worthwhile as using it on my own Attributes," Garen carefully analyzed, "Skills can be improved through mastery. Unless it's a difficult skill to improve, using Attribute Points on my own body would be better. Improvements like these are long-term enhancements. If I used a few Attribute Points on Physics or Mathematics just to make it easier for myself to attain an advanced level, it would have been a waste. The most that would have achieved was saving me some time. It would be more worthwhile if I used it on the difficult-to-improve White Cloud Secret Method…"
Garen glanced at the Attribute Pane in his lower field of vision.
Strength, enhanced by two points, was now at 0.52. Potential was at 124%.
"I obtained the improvements in strength by training in the White Cloud Secret Method, and partly through daily strength exercises. Moreover, since gaining Attribute Points seems to have the effect of fortifying and maintaining the body, my strength won't decrease from lack of training."
He glanced at the Skills Pane.
White Cloud Secret Method: Intermediate. Fundamental Combat Skills: Elementary. Explosive Fist Arts: Uninitiated.
"Explosive Fist Arts, the fighting technique that only Formal Disciples can learn upon initiation, as well as the intermediate level White Cloud Secret Method - I could use Attribute Points to enhance these." Garen hesitated. "Explosive Fist Arts can raise the strength of the whole body to its highest limit, and the strength of the fists can be increased by threefold; it is the upgraded version of Fundamental Combat Skills. Generally, it takes two years to master the basics, at which point the skin would harden and hitting a sandbag with gloveless bare hands wouldn't cause any injury, whereas the White Cloud Secret Method is the basis of all fundamentals, capable of producing exceptional results if accumulated throughout a long period of time. It has been said that it takes more than 10 years to reach the advanced level, and one would have to possess extraordinary talent…" /
Garen was particularly interested in the martial arts of this world now. It was very similar to the national martial arts on Earth in his previous life, but was much more commonplace than the latter. Even though both were difficult to train in and apply, this wasn't a problem for him because he had his special ability.
He had wanted to learn martial arts to strengthen himself in his past life, but he lacked the conditions to. Now that all the conditions were met, naturally, his interest has piqued; it was almost as if he had become obsessed with them..
"Fortunately, I have the emblem, which allows me to accrue Attribute Points. Following this progression for enhancements, I'll enhance the White Cloud Secret Method first, then boost my Explosive Fist Arts to the most advanced level. By then, I'll be able to reach the upper tier of the entire dojo! Even the Dojo Master of the White Cloud Dojo himself had merely attain the third tier in his Explosive Fist Arts and advanced his White Cloud Secret Method by another level, although it wasn't a full mastery."
"As long as I keep using the emblem to aid my enhancements, I can boost my martial art skills to a level similar to that of the Dojo Master with just five Attribute Points!"
Snapping out of his excitement, Garen had reached the corner of Pennington. Unusually, the entrance of Dolphin Antiques seemed a bit messy today.
He quickened his pace and walked into the store. He was greeted with a shock.
It was chaos inside: antiques and broken debris were strewn all over the floor, it was all a mess.
A man and a woman, both clad in windbreakers, stood at the store entrance while interrogating the old man.