After being followed by Garen through the alley for a while, the black shadow in front suddenly turned left and ducked out of the alley.
Garen avoided a puddle and continued his pursuit with light, careful footsteps. No matter what, he had to figure out the background of the person he killed the other day, whether they would be able to trace his identity or not. At this point, it wasn't just about Potential points but, more importantly, about the safety of his family and himself.
He turned into a dirty alley even narrower than the last one. The sound of a man arguing with a woman could be heard from the apartments above. The whole alley was filled with the stench of rotting food and waste.
The person in front was kneeling beside a garbage bin with his hand inside it, digging for something. There were two homeless people sleeping soundly on either side of him.
Garen quietly stood at the corner of the alley and peered into it, borrowing the faint light radiating down from the block above.
After a while, the person rummaged through the bin and dug out a black leather purse. He stuck his hand inside the purse, felt around a little and pulled out a small bronze key. After pocketing the key, he quickly looked around and continued to move forward.
Garen retracted his head and hid behind the corner wall when the person turned. He slowly stuck his head out again after waiting for the sound of the footsteps to fade away.
Without warning, the moment he stuck his head out, Garen felt a stabbing pain in his waist.
He reflexively swung his right elbow backward.
Someone let out a muffled groan. The elbow strike had left them staggering. The person tried to turn around and escape, but only managed a few steps before stumbling onto the ground. They struggled a few times to get up but failed.
Garen’s heart was thumping, but it was already his second real fight. Coupled with the changes in his mentality previously, this time was completely different from the first. He wasn’t as panicked compared to before.
He suppressed his nerves and took a few deep breaths. He examined his waist where he was stabbed: there was a tear in his clothes, apparently caused by a small dagger-like weapon, but his skin was uninjured.
"If it wasn’t for me learning Explosive Fist Arts for self-defense which solidified my body to an extent comparable to the Body Hardening Technique, that stab would have killed me." Garen looked at the tear. It was right at where his kidney was. A shiver ran down his spine.
Garen walked up to the man on the ground. The man held a black dagger in his right hand. His clothes were dirty, as if they hadn't been washed in a long time. He looked like an ordinary homeless person.
"You won't be able to live for long now. Master James will avenge me!" The man let out a low sinister laugh and glared at Garen with his beady green eyes. A trace of blood spilled out from the corner of his mouth, his head bent askew, and he was dead. There was a hint of black in the blood that spilled from his mouth: poison.
The man had committed suicide before Garen could manage to even ask about the situation. Garen crouched to check his pulse and breathing: he was indeed dead.
Garen felt like he had been dragged into a war between two forces. The man had mistaken him for a member of the opposing force, and committed suicide without a second thought just to prevent himself from leaking any information.
The harshness and cruelty of this warrior, so ready to die, made Garen shudder.
"He probably wasn't sent to specifically tail me. The person in front must have come to retrieve something, and this guy here was probably sent to kill me after he realized that I was following that person. He could also be a spy from the other organization… Seems highly unlikely that I've been exposed." Garen breathed a sigh of relief after analyzing the general situati
on. It was clear that his accidental killing had been mistaken for a deliberate act committed by the opposing side.
"No wonder when I stopped the car the man so decisively ordered for me to be killed. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time…"
The more Garen thought about the situation, the more he realized that these were the facts.
He looked around him, there was no movement. The snoring of the homeless men and the arguing voices from the block above could still constantly be heard, with some feral cats in heat making mating call sounds from time to time.
Garen bent over to examine the assassin and found a gold coin with black and gold stripes in the inner pocket of his coat. Without taking a second look at it, he shoved the gold coin in his pocket and left the same way he came.
He crept out of the alley when the crowd thinned. He acted as if nothing had happened and went around the city center in circles. It wasn't until the bell tower in the city chimed the end of the hour that he jogged home in a hurry.
Garen shut the front door, changed into slippers and went into the living room.
The oil lamp in the living room was lit. His father, Eisen Lombard, was reading the newspaper on the sofa with his legs crossed into a figure four. He was wearing black pajamas, and there was a slight twitch in his brows.
Eisen was a plump middle-aged man with messy indigo hair and a full white beard; he looked like a passionate football coach.
When he saw that Garen was back, he lifted his plump face and gave him a little nod, but didn't say a word.
"Where's mom?" Garen tried to act naturally as he removed his jacket and hung it on the coat rack by the door.
"Since it's a holiday, she's gone to the block across the street for coffee at Madame Cadney's," Eisen answered casually. "You only came back after the bell chimed. Don't stay out for too long next time, it gets dangerous outside when it's late. There have been a few murders in the city recently. They've all happened in places where there were very few people about. Do take care to avoid such places."
"Yeah, I know. I heard some of my schoolmates mentioning it." Garen nodded.
"Especially you, always running around in places with very few people."
"Be careful when you’re walking around. Your sister has just gone to bed. She has preparatory practice for the tournament tomorrow." Eisen put down the paper, finished his coffee and said, "Since you're back, I'm going off to bed too. Don't wait up for mom, she'll probably be out late."
"Alright." Garen rested on the sofa for a bit, drank a glass of water, and watched his father close the bedroom door behind him. He waited for a while longer until he heard the lights go off inside the room. He then got up, washed up, switched off the living room lights, and went into his own room.
He sat by his desk and switched on the desk lamp. Then, he carefully took out the dark gold coin from his pocket and examined it under the light.
The gold coin was the size of a walnut and was as thick as a normal coin. Engraved on the face of it was a double mast galleon in full sail against the wind. Above the galleon was a snake with its mouth open, ready to bite.
On the bottom of the coin was a number: 1521.
On its flip side was a knight's suit of armor. A sword ran through the armor from within, angled upwards, and a helmet hung from the tip. A garland encircled the whole armor.
Garen rubbed on the coin repeatedly. He could make out a dark golden color beneath the black paint from a few spots on the flip side of the gold coin.
As he pressed a finger to the dark gold spots, and the Potential on the bottom of his vision jolted.
From 179% to 180.
And then it stopped moving.
Garen silently put down the gold coin.
Ever since he’d accrued a few Potential points at the old man's place, he hadn't used any of them, but instead saved them for the time being.
He originally intended to add them to the White Cloud Secret Method, but later considered that it would probably be better to add them to the Explosive Fist Arts. After all, that was the technique that would give the best results in a short amount of time. On top of that, he hadn't been successful in getting anything out of the book ever since he borrowed it from the old man, which made him even more reluctant to use the rare Potential points on anything.
"I thought I could find something substantial on him. For a member of an organization that’s stolen so many antiques, all he had on him was a gold coin. Should I deem him a side character in the grand scheme of things?"
He shook his head, then hid the gold coin in the desk drawer.
"Since this is a misunderstanding, it should end here. I can't keep getting dragged into it." Recalling how he was stabbed without warning earlier, he broke into a cold sweat.
"If I hadn’t trained in Explosive Fist Arts which hardened my skin, that stab could have killed me. Fortunately, he was weak. If it were someone stronger, and with some poison on the knife…"
When he thought of this, a shiver ran down his spine.
"I'll just stay focused on going to school and practicing martial arts. This business is too dangerous. It's better if I just leave it to professional detectives like Dale Quicksilver."
He made up his mind not to meddle in this matter anymore. The Bronze Cross Emblem was valuable, but there was a new source of Potential from the Old Man. Thus, even though he could no longer get any more regular absorption from it, Garen's desire to get the emblem back gradually faded.
"I'll use the last bit of Potential on the White Cloud Secret Method. The sooner I add to it, the faster my strength and physicality can begin to increase."
He pondered for a second, and finally cast his line of sight onto the White Cloud Secret Method in the Skills pane.
Slowly, the stream of qi from his brain flowed out and entered one of the items under the White Cloud Secret Method.
The words gave a shake and gradually blurred, upgrading from 'intermediate' to 'advanced'.
A crisp sound rang through his brain. The 'advanced' instantly blurred and reverted to 'intermediate'. A current flooded back into Garen's brain.
"What's going on?" He frowned and carefully reviewed the Skills pane.
A new symbol had emerged after 'White Cloud Secret Method'.
Even though he didn't know how to pronounce it, Garen strangely understood its meaning: "Information Incomplete".
"It seems that the teachings of the Secret Method were incomplete. The key to the advanced Secret Method should be in the hands of the dojo masters and key disciples," Garen deduced the truth of the matter.
He thought about it, then focused his sight on Explosive Fist Arts. Similarly, after the Potential points were added to it, the words blurred then reverted to 'elementary'. There was a new symbol after it, the meaning of which Garen again immediately understood.
"Does the intermediate level of Explosive Fist Arts require external drug stimulation as a simultaneous therapy? Otherwise, it would harm the body and mind…" He was well aware that, to have been initiated in Explosive Fist Arts without any assistance, was extremely fortuitous.
It would be the same for the White Cloud Secret Method. The dojo would naturally want to maintain certain core elements within their control. It's not likely that they would give it all away in one go, otherwise they wouldn't be so established.
"So it seems that, to enhance my martial art powers, I have to elevate my status within the dojo." Ever since he transmigrated here, almost all of his time had been spent on his fascination with martial arts. Something that he could only dream of on Earth, he could actually be exposed to here. This had always made Garen excited. And now that he understood the importance of martial arts and the security it provided, his pursuit of it had become more fanatical.
Although he was encountering some problems, he wasn't too concerned. As long as he could participate in the dojo's internal qualifying tournament, he could attain a good ranking and gain the attention of the high-level core figures.
"Since I can't add to Skills, I'll just add to my basic Potentials." He shifted his sight and lingered on the basic Potential pane.
Strength: 0.53. Agility: 0.23. Physicality: 0.33. Intelligence: 0.36.
"I've added to Vitality, Strength and Intelligence before. I should just add to Agility this time, and check out what effect that has." Garen held a "might as well add to it" attitude toward Potential points.
Compared to his ordinary peers, he would have a better starting point no matter which items he added his Potential points to.
After all, he had an ordinary body enhanced by Potential points.
On top of that, the stabilizing effect of Potentials meant that once he reached a certain level of a Potential, even if he didn't really train much, the body could still maintain the Potential at its peak and wouldn't regress. If he didn't practice martial arts to build up his physicality under such favorable circumstances, even he felt that it would be a sinful waste.