The man appeared to be 40 years of age. He had a cute little mustache above his lips and an overall mature-looking face. He wore a black top hat and his black trench coat draped down all the way to his ankles. The one thing that caught Garen’s attention was the black pipe he had in his hand. He was smoking patiently with a frown on his face; white fog shot out of his nostrils from time to time.
The woman standing beside the man was very pretty. She was around the age of 20 to 30 with her light blonde hair in a ponytail. Her entire appearance was elegant and clean, and her white trench coat was spotless without the slightest hint of dirt. With her delicate and beautiful porcelain-like face, she seemed like a professional who was decisive and simple.
The arrival of Garen did not catch the attention of the three people in the room. He walked softly until he was beside the old man and eavesdropped.
"…Then, the time of the crime should be last night. The exact time has to be deduced based on the evidence at the scene of the crime," the man rubbed his chin and said in a low voice.
"That’s right," the old man answered in a low voice as well. "That is the situation as I know it. I have told you everything I know. Oh, this is a regular customer of mine, Garen."
The man checked out Garen from head to toe, then nodded. "Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Sure, no problem," Garen responded hastily.
The man asked Garen about the condition of the shop last night, then began to wander around the store with the lady in white.
Old Man Gregor was kneeling on the ground, picking up the scattered old books. He was quietly cursing the thief.
"Old man, you were robbed?" Garen kneeled down as well and helped to pick up the books.
As soon as "robbed" was mentioned, the wrinkles on Old Man Gregor’s face twisted into a lump. "I was not feeling well today, so I decided to only open the shop in the afternoon. You know me, I definitely wasn’t opening the shop just for you. Who would’ve expected that as soon as I walked in, I saw…"
The old man and the young man got along strangely well. When they chatted, they forgot about the age difference and formed a cross-generational friendship. Garen felt warm on the inside. He knew that the old man actually felt fine and had been for days. The old man always opened the shop for him in the afternoon before his visit and closed the shop right after he had left. He did not care about money at all. He knew that Garen was simply coming to see the emblem, and therefore opened the shop exclusively for him.
Old Man Gregor was too lonely. He wanted to find something to do to kill time and, perhaps, bickering with Garen was one of the most interesting times in his day.
"Which things are missing?" Garen was suddenly worried, as he remembered the Bronze Cross Emblem.
"Some stuff went missing, including the Bronze Cross Emblem you like so much." The old man had a long face as he confirmed Garen’s worries.
"F*ck!" Garen’s expression changed. "Are you sure it’s lost?" Suddenly, he remembered something and immediately suggested, "No, I think you may have missed a spot when you searched. The emblem was so small. There are so many things here. Maybe it fell in a corner somewhere." He quickly cheered up.
"There is no need to search again. The emblem is definitely lost." The old man shook his head. "I already searched everywhere before you came…"
Garen was silent. The emblem was essential for him to improve his potential. He had searched the entirety of Huaishan City, and the Bronze Cross Emblem was the only thing that had the potential for him to absorb. Now that his sole source of improvement was lost, the perfect life and the bright future Garen had planned suddenly darkened.
The two of them kneeled onto the ground, not sure what to say now.
"Who are those two?"
"They are federal detectives who are investigating
the serial thief case: Dale Quicksilver and Miss Si Lan. They are here to help solve the case," the old man informed Garen in a whisper.
In this world, crimes were normally solved by detectives. Famous detectives and policemen had the right to investigate crime scenes immediately after crimes were committed. Since most cases were solved by detectives, famous detectives had a high societal ranking.
Garen nodded and observed the interaction between the two as he picked up more books.
The two of them wandered around for a long time when Dale Quicksilver finally broke the silence.
"This is definitely the doing of the Golden Hoop! The style of the crime is exactly the same as Navici!" He gently touched the edge of a table and sniffed it under his nose.
"This guy ran away quickly!" Miss Si Lan frowned.
"Si Lan, remember what I said the time we solved the Light of Wendini case?" Dale Quicksilver asked suddenly.
"Sir, you mean?"
"Yes"--he then turned his body around--"If the Golden Hoop appears, the two of you must remain calm and not provoke him. This criminal is atrocious, do not anger him! Any carelessness will result in casualties! He is a retired officer from the special forces."
"Not an issue!"
The old man and Garen quickly stood up and answered.
"We did not come all the way from Navici for fun. This time… we will not let you get away again!" Dale Quicksilver turned around and mumbled. His gaze became strangely profound, "Si Lan! Inform the White Eagle at once. Tell them there is no need for further investigation, say that we already caught the tail of the criminal!"
Dale Quicksilver shook his trench coat and walked toward the front door in big steps. Si Lan followed after him closely.
"Sir, should we wait for the White Eagle before we make any move? Out of all the cases we have dealt with, the Golden Hoop is the most dangerous. This is also our first encounter…"
"No, it will be too late if we wait for them to take action…" Dale Quicksilver raised his head and stared at the flaming red sunset sky. "Relax, nothing is going to happen… No matter how dangerous, he is just an ordinary person. All human beings have a weakness!"
"Don’t you think this is too risky… after all, the Golden Hoop was an officer in the special forces. He had received formal training and can easily defeat five to six adults empty handed," Si Lan’s face was still frowning.
"Don’t worry. We are not going to personally attack him," Dale Quicksilver smiled kindly and pinched Si Lan’s cheek. Si Lan blushed and lowered her head. "Alright, let’s go back."
With one person in front and other in the back, they marched away.
Inside the shop, Garen sat down in a chair and watched their backs until they were gone.
"Old man, who’s this Golden Hoop? Is he famous?"
"He is a serial thief and killer. Have you not been paying attention to the recent news? There have been multiple instances of stealing and murdering all over the country. I’m lucky that I didn’t have to personally face that Golden Hoop…" Old Man Gregor, who was cursing just moments ago, was rejoicing, "I heard that the Golden Hoop was once surrounded by police. He wounded two policemen with a gun then casually ran away by hiding himself in a crowd. The only wound he received was during a brawl with a policeman when a bullet brushed against his arm."
Listening to the old man, Garen faintly felt that this was not the first time the Golden Hoop and Dale Quicksilver had had a feud.
"A few days ago, in a manor down at the countryside, Dale Quicksilver’s friend had a brawl with the Golden Hoop and was close to arresting him," the old man added.
Garen squinted his eyes and saw that at the end of the street, Dale Quicksilver and Si Lan were negotiating with a strong looking man in black. The man had a tense gaze, bulky muscles, and movements that exposed him as someone who knew Martial Arts.
"Is Dale Quicksilver’s friend that person?" He pointed toward the sturdy man.
The old man peeked in the direction. "Yep, that’s the friend. He was in the shop moments ago."
Garen nodded. From the man’s body language, he could tell the man’s combat level.
"Based on his body type and his aura, he is most likely an ordinary adult who has above average strength. He probably trained in military style combat, and it is possible that he knows special explosive techniques too."
Because of the instinct acquired from training, Garen could naturally compare the differences between the man and himself. "If we had a battle, I do not have nearly as much practical experience; however, strength-wise, I am definitely stronger than him! The strength of an ordinary adult, converted into numbers, is 0.5, and I have long surpassed this number. If I focus all my energy on special explosive techniques, I will win in strength by a landslide. Therefore, if the Golden Hoop is similar to them…"
Garen again focused on the skill panel in his vision.
"Only I am different than others. I can attribute points to different attributes. My actual strength does not match my physique." He had observed everyone else in the Combat Center, and everyone was the same. The heavier and bulkier physique someone had, the more muscles they had and the stronger they were. He was the only exception. He had an ordinary physique, but if he decided to explode all of his energy, he could easily surpass the limits.
After a dull impactful sound, Garen punched hard at a 180-pound sandbag, which swayed over the passing line.
He was shirtless. His white, sturdy muscles were quivering on his body. He was not wearing any gloves; instead, he was hitting the sandbag with his bare fists. It was evening; the boxing room was empty except for him.
"After only two weeks, I can easily punch 180 pounds. White Cloud Secret Arts mixed with Explosive Fist Techniques sure is amazing."
Garen grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat off his face.
"No wonder White Cloud Secrets Arts is a closely guarded secret art. It is the most fundamental art you could learn from the White Cloud Dojo. By now, the students who started training at the same time as me are far behind me. The level needed to attain Intermediate Secret Arts in addition to its growth speed are also higher than others too. On top of that, the first time I used the Secret Arts, the results were so great that I was able to upgrade it. Hmm… I guess that in the future I will never be able to achieve such great results again. I can’t believe I was able to combine the use of the medicinal aroma and the Secret Arts to achieve a score above 0.5."
When he was just starting to learn the Secret Arts, the old man from that day took out a secret art scroll that faintly had a medicinal aroma. It was the type of aroma that mixed well with the incense in the fireplace, stimulating deeper comprehensions during Secret Arts Training.
He again posed in the stance required for the White Cloud Secret Arts, and a surge of cold air slowly extended from his chest to his limbs. Muscles from his entire body were pulsing to the rhythm of his heart.
The body adjusted the most and improved the greatest during the first time a secret method was used. That day, Garen only adjusted slightly, but he was already able to handle the 120-pound weight. Now that he had recovered, his strength increased again. He was now able to utilize all the enhancements he received.
To exceed 180 pounds was not a difficult task.
Standing in the stance dictated by the Technique, Garen’s attention was again focused on the skill panel.
"The Explosive Fist Technique is the real combat method in the Dojo. It is not a technique that only looks impressive. If I can successfully master the Explosive Fist Technique, then I can truly start my ranking tests. If I can get a ranking, then I can start teaching at a Dojo and receive better salaries… Then I can start collecting jewelry that contains potential."
Garen was again calculating inside his head. Feeling determined, he shifted his vision onto the Explosive Fist Technique.
"This is the one!"
Following his exclamation, the surge of cold air was sucked out of his head and squirmed onto the location of the record of the Explosive Fist Technique in his vision. The word "Uninitiated", finally, jumped slightly and abruptly changed into Elementary.
Instantly, Garen felt his body tighten as if a waxy liquid was being produced by his internal body. The liquid sluggishly seeped through his skin and covered it.
Inside his brain, a loud noise rumbled.