A verbal agreement was one thing, but concrete action was another altogether.
Black Orchid observed Garen through narrowed eyes for a moment, and then lightly took a sip from her cup of tea.
"I heard that Gate Master Garen managed to stop the people from Immortal Palace at Picardi. It’s making quite the uproar through the world of martial arts." Black Orchid put down her teacup, and patted her hands lightly. "When they heard that Gate Master Garen had agreed to meet here, the elite warriors of our Behemoth Gate fought each other for the chance to experience your ultimate Body Hardening Technique."
Garen’s expression didn’t change. The elite fighters of the Behemoth Gate wouldn’t stop at anything less than a personal experience of his powers. They were obviously here to scout out his abilities.
"I have also long heard that the Behemoth Gate likes to recruit potential geniuses from all walks of life and disciplines. In that case, the fighters you have raised must be extraordinary. Allow me to widen my horizons."
"Since you have agreed, Gate Master, then I shall ask the General to arrange an arena." Black Orchid smiled slightly, and slowly stood. "Other than the leader of the Behemoth Gate, there are two of our strongest fighters. I believe they won’t disappoint you, Gate Master."
"I hope so." Garen stood, and fell silent.
Lieutenant General Lycian had guessed this would happen, so he stood at the same time and led the two of them out through a small door on the left.
Passing through a narrow wooden corridor, the three of them quickly arrived at a spacious concrete area behind the meeting place.
The arena was oval-shaped and surrounded on all sides by almost a thousand soldiers, all armed to the teeth. And on the right end of the arena, there were already two people waiting.
One of the two had been standing while the other crouched, but upon seeing the other three enter, both of them instantly stood at attention.
Garen observed the duo, one man and one woman, closely. The man had his hair falling over his shoulders and stubble all over his face, wearing a long white robe that looked like a bathrobe. Only his eyes were a strange blue-green, just like those of a cat or wolf.
The woman had a slender but healthy figure, and was wearing skintight leather like Cynthia, except hers was all red. Her waist and limbs swayed gently, her arms twisting flexibly like snakes. In contrast, her skin was shockingly white, like someone who just recovered from a horrible illness.
A pair of red eyes fixed tightly onto Garen, with a vague flash of cruelty in them.
"Red, White. Gate Master Garen wants to see the true essence of our Behemoth Gate martial arts. Which of you would like to demonstrate first?"
"Me first." The long-haired man was probably the one Black Orchid called White. He took one step forward, standing in the middle of the arena. With a wave of his right palm, there were suddenly five transparent crystal blades in between his fingers, each as thin as a cicada’s wing.
"Top level fighters who can stand their own against the Immortal Palace only come once every few decades. I would like to experience Gate Master Garen’s mystical powers for myself." The man chuckled coldly. "Please."
Be it Black Orchid, Red, or White, none of them actually mentioned the issue of key importance.
It was the fact that the two fighters here who had been brought out of the Behemoth Gate, together with Black Orchid herself, were in fact the three strongest members of the Behemoth Gate. Most importantly, the three of them had faced the Imperial Palace head-on before, and likewise managed to get out of the encounter intact.
If Sylphalan wasn’t so ridiculously over-powered, the Imperial Palace might not have been able to suppress the Behemoth Gate.
The Behemoth Gate had had their way for several decades. Butterfly Blade Barcrand, from the same generation as Sylphalan, was a top-tier fighter who had escaped over the sea from the Azure Continent. The Blue-eyed Butterfly Assassination Group that was founded in and terrorized the Azure Continent had later been destroyed by the Imperial Palace over a dispute in profits.
Garen gripped his fists lightly, and slowly stepped forward.
"Blue-eyed Butterfly, Barcrand? To think you were still alive, and you even joined the Behemoth Gate."
"You know me?" Barcrand was rather taken aback, but he immediately laughed nonchalantly, "Compared to how you, the White Cloud Gate Master, had your reputation spread across the entire Confederation within a few short years, I am still far from your match."
"You, sir, are a legendary senior." Garen smiled, "Since you’ve already retired into the shadows, why do you still come out to look for a beating? Old guys should stay in their wheelchairs and live the rest of their few remaining days quietly."
"You got an impressive mouth on you! I wonder if your hands are as impressive," Barcrand’s expression didn’t change as he said calmly.
"Won’t you know as soon as you start the attack?" Garen stood with his hands behind his back, his eyes slowly narrowing.
Neither of them won an advantage in the war of words, so they decided to abandon speaking altogether, and just observed each other closely.
A cold breeze blew past them.
Barcrand instantly vanished, quietly, without a trace, as though he had completely disappeared.
Garen was slightly taken aback, and carefully felt for the movements around him. But he couldn’t find any trace of this person whatsoever.
He cocked his head, and sparks flew instantly on his left cheek. Something transparent and sharp had sliced across his face.
"Interesting. Assassination Knife Techniques, is it?" It was Garen’s first time facing this strange field of martial arts. Even though Palosa’s moves from back then were called the Assassination Fist Technique, the truth was he used his fists so openly and honorably that they could no longer be considered an Assassination Fist Technique.
Another row of sparks appeared on Garen’s right arm. That piercing sound of friction, sharp enough to make one’s teeth ache, continued to linger in the air.
As for those watching from the sidelines, Black Orchid’s and the Red woman’s eyelids kept twitching. They knew very well how much damage White could inflict with his slices. Even Duskdune Shura wouldn’t dare stand still like this when facing White. But when faced with Garen…
Lieutenant General Lycian’s scalp had gone numb.
"Unbelievable… To think the human body could reach such a high level of hardness!!" He murmured under his breath non-stop, looking at Garen as though the latter was a monster.
More sparks exploded from Garen’s chest. Garen suddenly laughed, just once, and threw his left arm backwards. The air was smacked loudly, producing a piercing sound.
In that moment, a shadow staggered before disappearing into the air. It was obvious he had been scraped by that split-second attack.
"Never let it be said that I don’t know how to respect my elders." Garen pulled back his left hand, looking at the faint traces of blood on his fingertips.
Slowly, he started walking forth. Rows after rows of sparks kept erupting on his body, but after every bout of sparks, he would casually brush past Barcrand’s shadow without fail.
Another shadow aimed a strike at his left ear hole without mercy. This was also the only place on Garen’s body where the defense was slightly weaker.
Barcrand held his breath, all the power in his body focussed on the sharp blade in his hand. His body twirled in mid-air, his arm similarly spinning at high speed, like the tip of an electric drill.
"It’s over." Suddenly, Garen’s voice spoke into his ear.
A powerful force struck his waist fiercely from the side.
Barcrand’s expression shifted slightly, the tip of the knife in his hand slipping downwards instantly to act as a shield in front of his waist. At the same time, his body curved upwards like a butterfly amongst flowers, and he actually managed to evade the brunt of the attack.
His whole body was struck away by Garen’s whip kick, and he flew into a nearby wall with all the impact of a bullet.
Eerily, the wall split into an infinite number of small pieces without a sound. Barcrand’s figure stood on the collapsed wall, looking ever so slightly worse for the wear, as he stared at Garen with a serious expression. His right hand hung loosely at his side, evidently dislocated.
"What fast reflexes," White sighed sincerely.
At the last moment, Garen did hold back a little. Although they fought fiercely with their words, neither side was willing to bring the conflict one step higher, both opting to leave some space to maneuver. According to legends, Butterfly Blade could control five Butterfly Blades at once, but he had used just one earlier. It was obviously just a test.
With the familiarity of an old hand, Barcrand lightly pressed his dislocated arm together, and it fell back in place with a ‘crack’.
"Next one." Garen looked at the woman in red by the side.
Red took a step forward, her whole body emitting a faint aroma. A slight breeze blew past, and the smell entered Garen’s nostrils, relaxing his body and mind. The woman had eyes as sharp as a hawk’s, her whole person radiating an aura that contained a hint of coldness and cruelty. Her long chestnut hair was tied into a ponytail that hung behind her. After seeing that short test between Garen and White, the tinge of easygoingness on her face had also gradually vanished. In its place was the careful wariness of a beast before the hunt.
With a swoosh, she pulled out two identical fiery-red guns from goodness knows where. The barrels were thick and large, with spiders engraved onto them.
"My martial arts is a new trend, a mix of guns and Secret Techniques, so watch out."
Without waiting for Garen’s reply, she fired her first shot with a ‘bang’.
Strangely, the bullet from that shot wasn’t particularly fast, but it left a clear trail of white smoke in the air.
Garen tilted his body slightly, the bullet brushing past his shoulder.
There was the sound of a muffled explosion from behind him, the burning red flames coloring Garen’s face crimson.
That bullet had hit the wall behind him, and immediately exploded like a grenade.
"A custom-made explosive bullet, is it?" Garen instantly took three more steps back.
Three more explosions, and three more clouds of red flames on the wall behind him.
Even he wouldn’t want to test explosive shells like this with his own body. Who knows how strong the explosive power inside was. If it was powerful enough to overcome his defenses, and if it contained poisons at that, he would surely fall where he least expected it.
The only thing he was still vaguely wary of at this point, was high temperature weapons like these.
Just as he steadied his footing from his retreat, a red shadow flashed past his eyes.
Red actually began fighting at close distance. Two long reverse-hooks extended from the grips of her guns, piercing through the air at Garen like a pair of fangs.
The two were so close, their bodies were almost plastered together. Standing in the middle of the arena, they emitted a continuous barrage of metal clanging sounds.
Directly in front of Garen, Red had completely morphed into a flurry of flames, her movements strange and unpredictable like an eight-legged crimson spider. Her attacking patterns were completely unlike regular martial artists, as she used those sharp thorns to aim at the vital spots on the lower body. But at the same time, her speed was extraordinarily fast, her angles hard to catch.
Garen had never before encountered such a vulgar manner of attacking, and couldn’t adjust in that moment. As such, he was forced into retreating repeatedly.
His belt was hooked and cut, making Garen reach for his belt in a hurry to prevent his pants from falling off. As the Master of a Gate, as the strongest fighter in the South, his reputation and image were an important trademark for the entire power.
And as a man, if he were forced to run buck-naked by this woman here, even an eventual victory would count as a loss.
Red chuckled sweetly, easily did a backflip, and fired two shots in mid-air.
Bang, bang! Two clouds of red flames erupted on either side of Garen at the same time, the kickback making him retreat backwards the entire time.
Hearing Red’s laughter, Garen started to grow rather angry. She was either aiming for his lower body, or his butt, all her attacks honed in on his fatal spots. Although his Body Hardening Technique was unrivalled, he couldn’t hold up to such a vulgar fighting style.
As soon as he stood steady, he immediately saw Red pouncing at him again while upside down. The two reverse-hooks whistled sharply through the air, aiming straight between his legs.