His right palm lightly knocked against Palosa’s raised palms. There wasn’t any intense explosion, and neither was there a ferocious all-encompassing impact of aura.
There was just two spikes of aura darting forward like poisonous snakes, and then flashing back like lightning, leaving everything exactly like before.
Similarly, Garen shot back in an instant, landing on an empty spot ten meters away.
"The second hit!"
Without pausing, he dashed forward once more.
Exactly like the previous palm hit, he once more struck against Palosa’s palm lightly.
"Shape Sever Finger!!" Palosa roared, his fingers dotting Garen’s palm like raindrops. The moment each finger touched his hand, it flashed with a hint of grey-green.
The two separated once more, and both fell silent.
"The last hit!" Garen leapt forward, the platinum statue abruptly merging with him to become one. His entire body was edged with a platinum light.
He leapt lightly and landed in front of Palosa, both his palms pressing forward soundlessly.
In that split second, a great platinum aura burst out around Garen’s figure, the aura and the currents mixing together to form countless sharp knives flying at Palosa from all directions.
Palosa took ten steps back. Each step formed a deep imprint on the ground.
Garen pulled back his fists and stood.
"Go." The flush in Garen’s face was gone in a moment, and he walked towards Andrela and Nightmare.
"Then he…?" Nightmare looked at Palosa in confusion.
But Andrela tugged at his clothes, and said no more. The three of them took the two key-shaped black stone pieces, and gave them to Dale Quicksilver and the others who had been waiting for safekeeping. Together, they walked towards another clean spot in the stone forest.
Palosa stood in the same spot quietly, looking at his hands with a melancholy smile.
The truth was, as soon as he used this form, the result had been decided.
"In the end… I was just afraid of the loneliness…" He shook his head and laughed. His body erupted in a series of explosions.
It was as though someone lit firecrackers inside his body. His skin and muscles began turning from round and full to dried-out husks, as though he had stood in the wind for countless years in the blink of an eye.
His previously flushed face rapidly began to dry out at a visible rate, like thousand-year-old tree bark. His tall body also shrunk quickly, his whole person morphing from a powerful warrior into an ancient mummy in a moment.
He leaned onto a broken statue slowly, his gaze going across the gray mist, as though he saw himself in his most glorious days.
Suddenly, Sylphalan’s mad face appeared in front of his eyes.
He paused for a moment, and understood.
"So I had lost, all the way back then…"
A light breeze blew past, and there was no longer anybody by the stone statue. Only a heap of clothes, falling onto a mound of white sand.
On the edge of the largest stone statue in the Southern Territory.
There were two figures like the Central Area’s stone statues in the North Territory. The ruins could both be opened by keys, and once the entrance was open, naturally everyone could go in. But only those with keys truly had the right to use the Black Smoke Pot.
The fog dissipated, and time passed.
The fog gradually changed from grey to black, and then from black to grey-white, and finally from grey-white to completely white.
Garen sat cross-legged in the middle of the forest of stone statues, his eyes closed. There was a vertical gash on his chin where he was hit by Palosa’s final explosion.
The Divine Statue Technique’s natural healing powers quickly closed up and healed the wound, leaving only a thin red line.
After merging his three personas into one, every move of Palosa’s was equal to unleashing a secret technique. Before he knew it, he had sustained a certain number of internal wounds. The Divine Statue Technique was crazy enough to be called a legendary divine technique, but even after he perfected it, Palosa could still harm him. Compared to his condition when he was fine after taking Palosa head-on, this was as different as heaven and earth!
"Too bad… I’ll have one less opponent in this world…" At Garen’s level, there were far too few people who could really catch his eye. And this one trip to Smoke Island, cost them so many elite martial fighters…
Suddenly, he heard footsteps and voices from deep within the mist.
Garen opened his eyes slowly, and saw Nightmare and Andrela bringing along Dale Quicksilver, Miss Si Lan and co. White Eagle was there too, looking unusually unkempt. The group also brought with them an unconscious boy and girl.
"Found them?" Garen stood up.
"Your injuries are fine now?" Nightmare looked intrigued to see Garen stand up. Getting closer, he tapped Garen’s chest with his scallion-like fingers. "You were breathtakingly fierce just now, do you wanna play a game with Big Sister here? ~~I just love you fierce types~~"
Garen was exasperated as he watched Andrela drag Nightmare away. Even now, it was hard for him to get used to Nightmare’s fetishes sometimes.
"Alright, stop fooling around. How much more time until we open the ruins?"
Dale Quicksilver looked at his watch, "Twenty more minutes."
"Then do you want to come with us?" Garen glanced at Dale Quicksilver, Si Lan and co.
Quicksilver shook his head. "Sorry, my daughter, White Eagle and the others need to rest properly. And the poison in my body… is a little complicated…"
"I wasn’t careful enough," Garen said apologetically. "Even though you warned me."
"It’s alright, luckily I’ve encountered this poison before, so it’s not too bad." Dale Quicksilver smiled openly. "Next, if you guys want to obtain the right to use the Black Smoke Pot, you will have to face the Northern Territory’s Immortal Palace. With our level of power, we’ll only become your burdens if we get involved. So it’s best for us to stay away."
Garen understood that he was right, and so he nodded.
"If you need any help, you can come find our White Cloud Gate."
"Much thanks!" Dale Quicksilver nodded solemnly.
Then it was White Eagle, and the appraisal expert Yoke, who each came up to thank him.
Miss Si Lan took one step forward, and actually blushed for once.
"Thank you for saving me… uhm… your body is really nice..." She said that before realizing what it was she said, and ran off in a hurry. It was a far cry from her usual cool and collected demeanour.
"Your body is really nice~~" Nightmare repeated in a strange voice. "She’s fallen for you, y’know~~"
Garen was utterly speechless. Looking at his naked upper body, he had no idea what kind of expression he should wear.
After bidding them farewell, Detective Dale and his group gradually disappeared into the fog, until their footsteps vanished completely.
Taking a deep breath, the three of them stood in front of the stone statue in a triangular formation, in order to respond quickly to threats from all sides.
Garen took a black stone key from his pocket, and inserted it into a small keyhole on the statue’s abdomen. It turned easily.
There was clattering of gears from inside the statue, and the noise grew steadily louder into a crescendo. From inside the statue, it quickly spread to the ground underneath its feet.
For a moment, it was as though the whole forest of stone statues had erupted into a cacophony of clattering.
Suddenly, the entire south end of the island started to sway gently, light tremors rippling through the earth’s surface.
Garen, Nightmare and Andrela watched the black stone statue quietly. It was s black statue of a human who had one hand raised and the other on the ground, which shook for a while and then fell still.
"The Southern Territory’s key has been activated, now it’s up to the Northern Territory," Andreal said softly. "There’s no mistaking the time. It has to be when the moon is full, but not necessarily at night. It’s late in the afternoon now, almost evening, so we should be able to see the moon outside."
As soon as they finished speaking, some more intense tremors came from behind them without warning.
The ground in front of them slowly split apart to reveal a black underground tunnel. The tunnel was square and made of black stone, with many scars and dents on the walls inside. There were even bones scattered on the floor.
As soon as it opened, a stench of rot rushed out from within.
All three of them maintained their expressions. After retrieving the key, Garen glanced at the underground tunnel.
"This is the final battle, where only one will emerge the victor. Do you two still want to go in?"
Nightmare took a step back. "I haven’t lived enough, and it’s not my wish to fight Sylphalan to the death. My only enemy is Flamingo, this has gone beyond my safety parameters." They pouted. "Faced with monsters like you guys, elite fighters just one level lower can’t do much anymore. I’d rather not join the party."
Andrela gripped his sword hilt tightly.
"I’m with you. I’m here to transcend my limits anyway, so I can’t back out halfway."
"Have you truly decided?" Garen looked at him calmly.
Nightmare caught Andrela, who had passed out.
"He’s decided, he’s not going. We’ll go back first and wait for you, have fun." She smiled brightly and waved Garen good-bye. And then Nightmare picked Andrela up and ran straight away, vanishing into the thick fog before long.
Garen’s eye twitched a few times, and he was rendered speechless.
Then he turned around to look at the pitch black corridor in front of him.
The tremors had finally stopped. The island was silent for a moment, and then suddenly gave a huge jolt.
Waves of fog started to roil, gathering in between the north and south, forming a large thin ring of white clouds.
All the smoke and fog above Smoke Island disappeared in a second, revealing the clear evening sky.
Through the cloud ring, rays of twilight red sun shone past the stone forest to land on Garen’s body.
He looked up in the direction of the area between north and south, to see an enormous black statue of a person standing there.
The statue had one hand pointed towards the sky and the other touching the earth. There was a small smile on its lips. But most surprising was how there was a gap between the top of its forehead and its hair, just like the viewing platform on top of the Statue of Liberty.
The stone statue, standing at several thousand meters tall, was like a huge miracle that had withstood the test of time, standing proudly in the exact centre of the entire Smoke Island.
Garen touched the book pendant hanging in front of his chest, and stared at the middle of the statue’s head. Vaguely, he could see a tall figure standing there.
Without any doubt whatsoever, Garen just knew, that was Sylphalan.
He pinched his pendant, and jumped into the tunnel.