Garen sat on the starboard-side of the aircraft, wearing a golden earring on his left ear. It was snapped onto his earlobe, as the pins on it were not able to pierce his skin.
He touched the earring, it was engraved with a number 9 as an indication of his status in the Golden Loop. Whenever he accesses Golden Loop’s resources, he’d need to show the symbol before his subordinates can identify and follow his orders.
The aircraft wasn’t large, it’s only enough for a dozen people to fly in.
The pilots were two Golden Loop members in black, they also wore the golden earrings, but the numbers engraved on them were three digits.
Third Senior Brother Joshua sat beside Garen, both his bodyguards sandwiching him from his front and back, protecting him.
The other people from White Cloud Gate like Simon, Corinne and other core members sat at the back. Between the core members, two figures were extra noticeable.
A lady with a girly youthful appearance, Cynthia, wore a simple T-shirt and jeans. She let her hair down to her shoulder length and sat by the window, humming. Sitting beside her was Jack.
Both of them were beaten by Garen in Huaishan City when they were still Manuyllton’s lead captain.
When Garen was absent from the city, even though they didn’t join the dojo, they regularly interflowed with Simon and Corinne, even some pivotal information were provided by them.
Bringing them on this trip was to enlist their help to protect the newly formed core disciples of White Cloud Gate who had never seen firearms.
"Third senior brother, do you know anything about Gun Arts?" Garen turned toward Joshua. He had always been curious about Yoda’s discipline.
"Gun Arts?" Joshua frowned, "The Will Brothers my mum hired for me were experts in Gun Arts, it’ll be better if you ask them, I don’t know much about Gun Arts."
He paused, "Are you saying that traitor Rosetta may use Gun Arts against us?" His face darkened.
Garen looked at Joshua and knew, all his focus was set on seeking revenge from Rosetta, the First-senior-sister-turned-traitor. Everything he came across, he would associate it with vengeance, so Garen stopped asking. He turned to the sharpshooter who reminded him of Yoda.
The sharpshooter is a bald man with a deep tan complexion, he wore a pair of silver framed glasses which makes him look a little like a professor.
"I’m Morden Will, my friends call me Morden."
Garen nodded, "Okay then, Morden, about the Gun Arts, how do you manage to train yourself to such degree of skill? Skip the denial part, I can tell, you already attained a high level of expertise."
A look of surprise flashed in Morden’s eyes, he grinned.
"You have a good judgment, sir. Actually, I’ve had a breakthrough only recently, and it felt like I went in an unknown, uncharted territory. I didn’t know you could recognize it."
He contemplated for a while, looking for the right words.
"How do I say this? Gun Arts is actually similar to Martial Arts, the only difference is we lack the defense module, focusing instead on the attack and evasion modules."
"Can you describe what it was like when you train?" Garen’s curiosity was piqued.
"Of course," Morden paused. "In the beginning, we practiced with static targets. It’s those with bullseyes that are not moving. When we’re practicing, we also look for the guns that are most suitable to us. It could be standard issue guns or customized guns, the only thing is that it should fit you like a glove. After having found the gun you are most suited to, as well as achieving 90% accuracy with a static target, this is level one."
"Level two is next. It’s about getting used to the maximum firing range of your gun. If you’re able to keep half your accuracy while aiming at maximum firing range, and separately hit a moving target with 90% accuracy, you’ll be in level two."
"Level three is when you find what you’re best at. With the foundation you had in the previous two levels, you will develop your evasion skills, until you are able to avoid at least half of the bullets from gunners of level one and two. At the same time, you will learn about all the qualities of all firearms, the strength and weakness, bullet trajectories from all kinds of bullets, identifying bullet marks, the different usage of different gunpowders, you’ll learn it all. You will also have the ability to customize bullets and modify your guns.
In this level, your gun will become even more suitable to you, its abilities easier to wield and allows the gunner to excel." Morden had a sense of pride on his face. "I’m in this level. Even if there was a hail of bullets, as long as there aren’t any stray bullets or too many people, a level three gunner wouldn’t have too much of a danger. Of course, there will be degrees to which you are proficient in level three. Different firearms will produce different effects in different environments, in addition to the number of guns you’re dodging, your familiarity with the environment, and your willpower, tactics, reaction speed, all these can become a vital point to winning a battle.
"Just like Martial Arts, right? Is there a higher level?" Garen inquired calmly.
"There is," Morden nodded, "Level four, that is a legendary state. Controlling multiple guns at the same time, having 360-degrees vision with no blind spot, being able to swiftly attack enemies before they’ve even moved. This level, is when you can fight a Grandmaster of Combat head on. One of the strongest was a Gun Arts Master who appeared a long time ago - Yoda, the Eight-Arm Dragon King. It was said that he was able to use Gun Arts against a Grandmaster of Combat. Unbelievable."
"A Gun Arts Master who fought against a Grandmaster of Combat… That really was something." Garen nodded.
"You’re not a gunner, you wouldn’t understand." Morden shook his head, "The ability to fight a Grandmaster of Combat head on, it means that the gunner must be able to keep up with the speed of a Grandmaster of Combat. As you would know, a speed-focused Grandmaster of Combat can cross a dozen meters in a blink of an eye. Without the speed to match, your head would roll before you could set up your gun."
"In other words, the Eight-Arm Dragon King at least has the eyesight and the speed of a first rated Grandmaster of Combat? That Yoda is not a Grandmaster of Combat, how did he acquire an eyesight and reaction like that?
"He must have a series of secret training method." Morden admitted his ignorance on the subject. "This is only an example of a single person against a Grandmaster of Combat. Of course, Grandmasters of Combat are strong, but they still wouldn’t be ablt to take on multiple firearms by themselves. I think you should train for a little Gun Arts, combining that and your Martial Arts, you would be a lot stronger.
Everyone was silent for a moment.
Garen glanced at everyone around him.
"How long did it take for you to reach level three?"
"Three years if you’re talented, but everyone has different limits. The heights to which everyone can reach is different." Morden said with a cocky air. "If you’re not talented, then you’ll need time and loads of bullet. Usually about twice the time, at least six years."
"Are there a lot of level three gunners?"
"One in a thousand."
Garen was deep in thought, it’s not that the ratio was low, on the contrary, the ratio was too high.
If it only takes several level three gunners to mob a slower Grandmaster of Combat to death, there are a hundred and fifty thousand soldier in the Confederation, how many gunners would there be? Amongst those, how many are level four?
This is an unknown.
Garen can now understand how Duskdune Shura was hurt badly by the Slash Brigade.
This is the power of the government.
If there’s an unknown number of Gun Arts Experts in the Confederate Army, what about Martial Arts Experts? How many are there in the world?
A silence lingered in the cabin for a while. Everyone was plunged into a muted poignancy. This is the tragedy of Martial Arts.
Firearms are superior in destructive power, compared to Martial Arts which is difficult to master, firearms are far more common and easier to learn and use.
The rest of the journey was spent in silence and contemplation.
By the time the aircraft arrived at the Lake Shore West City, dusk has fallen.
The Golden Loop arranged for everyone to rest in a luxurious hotel, it even had a Practice Room for people to train their bodies.
Cynthia’s foot landed on Garen’s torso, dispersing a cloud of white dust. She tried disengaging, but her right leg was caught with a slap from Garen.
"The first thing you need to do when practicing Mammoth Secret Technique… is get used to beatings!" Calmly, Garen swung Cynthia’s leg to the side.
Cynthia was flung across the room and crashed onto the wall.
She grunted. After regaining her balance by stepping backwards, Cynthia charged forward fiercely, a small blade shot out from below the sole of her foot, and kicked upward.
With a shwing, the blade grazed in front of Garen’s nose, missing by a mere inch. Slashing air, Cynthia was suddenly hit by a sense of dread. Sure enough, her inner thigh was met with a great force. Her whole body fell backward.
She sprawled on the ground lined with a rubber mattress. Struggling to get up, but her body didn’t seem to obey.
She looked up to see a sneaking Jack being thrown beside her, landing heavily and unable to move.
Both of them were glistening with sweat and looked awkward, their clothing drenched.
Garen slowly approached them.
"Not bad, you’re so much stronger than you were before. With firearms, you should be able to take on fighters below the level of a Grandmaster of Combat."
Cynthia hadn’t given up trying to stand up, but her control over her body was minimal.
"Weren’t you worried that I will surpass you if you keep letting us do sneak attacks? I will still kill you!" She stared at Garen, her face lined with defiance. "You are only older than I am by a little. If you can become so strong within that time, I can too!"
"‘Under the same conditions, I will not lose to anybody!’" Garen stated matter-o-factly, "This was the words you once said, which is why I promised to give you the best conditions to train, even the supplements and resources… If you really can do it, then do it. I will be waiting for you to achieve that. But, as long as you have not reached that goal, you will be my subordinate.
"Rest well. We will depart tomorrow morning."
He strolled past the duo by their side and exited the room. The suffocating ambience that was permeating the training room disappeared alongside him.