A white line cut through the middle of the vast sandy plains, extending into the distance beyond the horizon.
A silver car was slowly driving on the white line. Silver patterns were engraved on the side of the car; it looked exceptionally luxurious.
The car quickly reached a flat land. The back of the car kept blowing up sand and dust, which made it seem like a yellow tail.
From above, this flat piece of land had a few tiny yellow balls on it, arranged in a whirlpool shape.
The car slowly stopped at a ball on the outermost rim.
After a series of car doors opening and closing, three youths alighted from the car: two adults and a child.
The two adults had different images. One man had flaming red hair and looked handsome. He looked like a playboy who enjoyed women and drinking.
The other man was tall and well-built. His dark purple hair draped over his shoulders. There was a hint of coldness in his ruby eyes. He had an arm across his chest, and on it sat an adorable little girl.
"What is this place?" The tall man was Garen, who had followed Su Lin out. He gently shook his arm to allow Celine to dismount.
"Somewhere on the edge of Thakanriknar Desert, I'm not too sure either. I've merely followed father's instructions to find this place," Su Lin said while shaking his head. "Let's go. The thing I'm looking for is in the middle."
He took the lead and walked towards the center of the round whirlpool formation.
Garen and Celine followed closely behind.
The three of them advanced inwards in a straight line along the gaps between the balls of the round whirlpool formation.
From time to time, Garen would touch the balls as he passed by. They felt cool and hard to the touch, and rough too; there were a lot of honeycomb-like holes on the surface.
These balls were all two meters tall and entirely dark yellow, almost inseparable from the sand that it stood on.
The three of them reached the center of the round formation. In the middle was a three-meter-tall yellow ball, the largest of the lot.
Su Lin stood in front of the ball, constantly groping for something. Soon, with a gentle press of his palm, a round piece of yellow stone block the size of a fist gave way with a click, and revealed a deep, dark hole beneath.
He reached and groped for a while, then gently took something out: it was a black bundle of cloth.
He swiftly opened the bundle. There were remnant pieces of yellow pebbles inside, and nothing else.
"I can't believe we still haven't found it," Su Lin sighed and turned around. "He is indeed Duskdune Shura. He managed to eliminate so many locations to find this place merely based on father's lie."
Garen walked up from behind.
"What is it that you're looking for?"
"The real Golden Sword Throne was hidden here by father," Su Lin explained. "But now it's been removed. This gamble with Duskdune Shura, no matter how you look at it, father has lost. Only this piece of black cloth which was wrapping the throne is left."
Garen ignored the deeper meaning of his words and other circumstances. Suddenly he narrowed his eyes and stared at the black cloth bundle in Su Lin's hands.
He slowly reached out to take the black cloth bundle from Su Lin's hands, just like how one would take something for a casual look.
At the touch of the black cloth, a refreshing stream instantly flowed from the bundle into his fingers.
Garen trembled slightly, then inconspicuously started to pretend opening up the cloth to inspect inside.
The stream from the black cloth continuously flowed into his fingers, then along his palm, shoulders, chest, and finally into his brain.
Within seconds, the stream from the black cloth instantly weakened and disappeared.
He could suddenly feel in his hands the scalding heat of the cloth from being baked in the dessert for too long.
"Let me have a look," Celine said excitably.
Garen casually threw her the black cloth. He vaguely heard Su Lin say something, but he couldn't hear clearly anymore. His entire attention was concentrated on the Attributes Pane at the bottom of his vision.
'Strength 2.64; Agility 1.22; Vitality 2.15; Intelligence 1.53; Potential 112%'
Potential at 112%!
"Sure enough…it really is Potential!" Garen was delighted. "Finally! Finally I have new attribute points!"
It had been too long since he last acquired new attribute points, he couldn't even remember when it was. During this time, his enhancement had all been due to his training in Secret Martial Arts.
"Garen, Garen?..." Su Lin's voice came from beside him.
Garen snapped out of his daze, and looked at Su Lin who was looking at him puzzled.
"Sorry, I was thinking about something and zoned out."
"So now are you planning to go back to Huaishan or…?"
"I've changed my mind," Garen said in a low voice. "I want to track down Duskdune Shura with you."
"Oh?" Su Lin was mildly surprised.
"Come on, let's head back." Garen turned around and walked straight towards the car.
He didn't care what Celine and Su Lin thought. He got in the car and, with his back on the seat, closed his eyes as if he were sleeping. But in actuality, he concentrated all his attention on the Attributes Pane and Skills Pane.
His current situation was clear at a glance.
'264 122 215 153 112%
'Strength 2.64; Agility 1.22; Vitality 2.15; Intelligence 1.53; Potential 112%
———— Secret Martial Arts ---
Mammoth Mutation: Explosive (Top level) Skin Hardening Level One (Iron Body); Blood Qi Stabilization (Boulder Martial Art);
'Firestream Fist: Level One (of Four)'
"There are a few options now. The first is to enhance the effect and level of Mammoth Mutation Secret Martial Art. Another is to enhance Iron Body and Boulder Martial Art, which are now at rudimentary level, to Level One. This would also have a similar overall effect to enhancing Mammoth Mutation Secret Martial Art, but the specific effects of enhancement would be unclear."
"The there's enhancing Firestream Fist from rudimentary level to Level One. It only requires a little attribute points. The question is whether it's worth using the points on this attribute."
He started to hesitate.
There were a few mysterious symbols on the back of the Skills Pane. It represented the clarification on the attribute points required to forcibly enhance skills.
'Attribute points can enhance low level skills by one level per point, and mid-level skills forcibly by one level every two points. For high-level skills, five points are needed to enhance one level, not to mention the need to meet skills learning and enhancement requirements. Failure to enhance might be due to incomplete data collected.'
Initially, his Mammoth Secret Technique was supplemented by the wad of paper soaked in medicinal water, and after that aided by his Master, Fei Baiyun's medicinal pill. Otherwise, he would have to honestly practice and train sequentially to enhance it, or rely on adding attribute points.
"Practicing Secret Martial Art is unusually difficult…" Garen suddenly gave a long sigh. He considered the progression of Secret Martial Art difficult even with his special ability and conditions, needless to say how it would be for other martial art practitioners.
Most martial arts practitioners were the same. Even if they had talent and trained diligently for 10, 20 years to achieve a hard-earned Secret Martial Art, they would still be helpless in the face of firearms. This bitter sentiment was perhaps only understood by Secret Martial Art practitioners who have trained hard to hone their craft.
At this moment, Su Lin and Celine had gotten in the car as well. The car slowly started, turned a corner, and headed back towards the direction they came from.
The three of them did not speak in the car.
Garen kept considering which skill to add the attribute points to. He obtained these points after much difficulty, it was a world of difference compared to the attribute points he easily obtained before.
Attribute points are easy initially but would gradually become difficult. After his body developed resistance towards most Antiques of Tragedy, it had become more difficult for him to easily obtain Attributes. Unfortunately, he had understood this too late.
After final consideration, Garen's vision finally fell on Agility.
So far, he had realised in his battles with myriad experts, that the defence of his peak Body Hardening Technique was sufficient, but he seemed to always have to put up a forceful resistance because his speed was unable to keep up with his opponents'.
In his martial arts journey, the most important skills were Strength and Vitality, followed by Agility and Intelligence.
"My defence is sufficient for now. Even if faced with Duskdune Shura's Dragon Gates, as long as he doesn't engage anything above the fourth Gate, it wouldn't cause me much harm. So now the most important thing is to add to Agility and Intelligence. If I can't keep up in agility and speed, that means I would constantly not be able to keep up with the enemy's position. The enhancement of Intelligence would also benefit me in terms of my grasp of the situation. But for now it's better if I enhance practical true strengths.
He looked at that bit of hard-earned Attributes and finally made up his mind. He cast his vision firmly on Agility.
On the Attributes Pane, the value for Agility gradually blurred and changed from 1.22 to 1.52.
"Huh? Attribute points have reverted to increasing by 0.3 every time?" Garen was slightly surprised. He instantly noticed that, as Agility was enhanced, Strength followed suit, and gradually changed from 2.64 to 2.66.
Just as he finished adding Attributes, Garen instantly felt as though his body was about to float. Obviously it was caused by a large-scale increase in Agility.
The enhancements gained from the addition of 0.3 to Agility in one go, for a Grandmaster of Combat who had precise control of his body like Garen, were exceptionally great.
He closed his eyes and felt the change which made his entire body feel light.
Originally he planned to split the Attribute points up and add some to Intelligence. After all, the enhancement of intelligence would eventually have a trickle-down effect on all other aspects. But in the end he gave up on that idea. The effect of the Intelligence Attribute, based on his prior analysis, was the integrated enhancement of comprehension, analysis and memory. But for someone like him who was able to directly and swiftly grasp the basics of academic subjects as long as the Attribute requirements were satisfied, that wasn't very important.
Intelligence was like a skill in martial arts: indispensable, but would only play a role in a situation where the gap between strengths wasn't too wide. Under absolute Strength, any skill or strategy would be superfluous.
After all, the more concealed and meticulous a plan was, the more it required a precise linking of every moving part; a mistake in any one part would result in the complete collapse of the plan.
And most importantly, he was not aiming for victory in the grand scheme of things, but was instead in pursuit of the true purpose of martial arts. It was the same reason he was passionate about martial arts—his goal that he carried over with him from his previous life on Earth—to break through the human limit and achieve evolution.
The purpose of martial arts, apart from combat and killing, was to break free from the shackles of human limit, and achieve personal evolution. This was also the limit that many Grandmasters of Combat in this world were pursuing.
Garen was familiarising himself with the changes to his body. He reached a fist out and repeatedly opened and clenched it.
Learning from the words and deeds of Fei Baiyun, Farak and Eldest Senior Sister, he had now become more firmly set on this goal.
The car was slowly turning around. They were further and further from the round whirlpool formation behind them, until it disappeared beyond the horizon.
In front of them to the right, a stationary white car appeared in the distance, its headlights reflected the blinding sunshine like the eyes of a goldfish. A man stood in front of the car. He was a bearded man who wore a white cloak and wrapped himself up like an Arab. He was leaning on the front of the car bonnet and doing repairs. The car constantly emitted black smoke and strange clunking noises could be heard from time to time.
Su Lin drove past the bearded man.
Outside the right car window, a caravan of camels carrying loads could vaguely be seen cutting through the desert in the opposite direction. Dark-skinned men swayed as they rode the camels and marched on forward. A breeze brought with it the crisp sound of camel bells from the distance.
In the car, the three of them were quietly admiring the scenery outside.
The endless stretch of yellow desert gave the illusion that it was delicate and smooth under the sun, like top-grade fine porcelain.
Su Lin gradually slowed the car; the sound of the engine became much softer.
A small grey figure stepped on the car window then rapidly leaped over the car, from right to left. It landed on the sand to the left of the car and swiftly ran into the distance.
Only after it was a distance away did the three of them clearly see that it was a small animal similar to a cat, like a kitten with rabbit ears. Its body was covered grey fur. Compared to a cat, its ears were much larger, much longer, and were constantly wiggling.
The eyes of this little guy narrowed into slits as it ran; its four little legs moved without pause, but it was still very stable.
"Bat-eared fox. A common small animal." Su Lin looked speechlessly at the four tiny paw prints left on the car window.
"Isn't this area close to the entrance of the desert? I didn't expect to see a bat-eared fox," Celine lamented.