With a sudden and violent attack, Garen's arm caught the tip of Golden Hoop's head—and like the giant claws of a vicious beast—he clasped it tightly as if he were going to crush it.
This was the Acceleration Technique of the White Cloud Secret Method. Combined with any other action, it could achieve the effect of instantaneous acceleration to create a sudden attack.
This was the first time Garen had used White Cloud Combat Arts in a real battle. White Cloud Combat Arts required an imposing momentum to it: every single action had to exhibit a crushing force.
When his palm was about to catch Golden Hoop's forehead, Golden Hoop produced a dagger out of nowhere and stabbed upwards, aiming for Garen's wrist.
The move was swift and agile. The tip of the dagger seemed to instantly accelerate, as if some special force technique was used.
Garen turned his palm sideways to avoid the blade, then he hit Golden Hoop's wrist with the side of his palm. With a swoosh, the dagger flew out of his hand and landed in the bushes.
Golden Hoop took the opportunity to back up a few steps, opening up some distance between them.
"You think you can win by force? Fool!" Golden Hoop reached his right hand behind his waist, and suddenly, four small black throwing knives were flung towards Garen.
Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh!
The four throwing knives flew out in a flash and accurately struck onto Garen's chest.
Garen didn't manage to respond in time. He wanted to cross his arms to protect his chest, but when he raised his arms, the throwing knives had already pierced his clothes.
The throwing knives merely ripped his clothes and were nailed to his skin, but they didn't cut through the skin.
He grabbed one of the knives and threw it at Golden Hoop. A violent whirling sound followed. The throwing knife turned into a round disk and flew straight at Golden Hoop, but he evaded it with ease.
Garen flung the three remaining knives in succession, but they were all casually avoided by Golden Hoop. This time, Garen took the opportunity to pick up the double-barreled rifle while Golden Hoop was distracted.
White smoke came out of the barrels as the shot hit a tree trunk and left a black indent. Some leaves and bark fell off the tree like raindrops from the force of the blast.
Golden Hoop was extremely fast. He started dodging once Garen showed signs of his next actions, which made him impossible to aim at. After a few evasions, he seemed to realize that Garen's reactions were not as quick as his, and his eyes narrowed into a sneer. His astonishment at Garen's physical change earlier instantly faded.
"I thought you wanted to kill me? Do you think you can?"
"Go to hell!" Garen roared. He raised the double-barreled shotgun and flung it at Golden Hoop like an iron bar. Garen's force caused the gun to give a loud, piercing whistle in mid-air. This was to no avail either: Golden Hoop turned his body to the right and easily avoided it.
"What's the use of having a ton of strength? If you can't hit me, it's all in vain," Golden Hoop jeered. With yet another dagger in hand, his body suddenly drew close. He did a slight flick with the dagger, then stabbed towards Garen's wrist.
Angled upwards, this stab was quick and precise. He had targeted the moment when Garen's large range of motion created some space.
"It's over." A trace of malice flashed across Golden Hoop's eyes.
At this instant, Garen squinted as he swung his right arm backwards, avoiding the dagger in a flash.
The slow pace he had a while ago had seemingly transformed. His right arm flung out like a rubber hose at a lightning-pace and hit Golden Hoop's left arm.
The speed of this attack was different from before. Only a glimpse of a shadow could be seen from the swinging arm. His speed had almost doubled!
Golden Hoop sta
red wide-eyed. His dagger was only halfway through the stab when he felt a crack in his right arm, which was then followed by a burst of pain. Suddenly, his body turned light as it involuntarily leapt towards the right.
Golden Hoop crashed into the bushes. After some ruffling, he created a trail in the shrubbery, trampling over a large amount of plant and leaves. He went on for a good seven to eight meters before colliding against a large white rock.
Garen stayed put and didn't give chase. As his body gradually restored to its original state, he shook his right arm a little as a relaxed smile broke across his face.
"You really thought I was slow? Even though I'm not as fast as you, I'm not that slow. I deliberately said I wanted to kill you first, then acted like a clumsy doofus. All of it was to lure you to stay and duel with me, and to make you think that you could get rid of me easily without wasting too much time, with the added benefit of relieving yourself of your hatred towards me. Too bad…"
He slowly walked over. He saw Golden Hoop try to hold his body up from the ground, but his every attempt was met with the same result: he kept falling flat every time. It wasn't just his right arm; when he was stumbling through the bushes, it was obvious that there was an unnatural distortion in his left arm—it was broken.
"I am not as fast as you. If you ignored me and directly pursued Dale Quicksilver and his companion, then I wouldn't have been able to stop you. Good thing you were agitated by me enough to stay put." It was the first time he had used the combat arts strategy taught by Fei Baiyun in an actual combat. The fact that it worked like a charm gave him an immense sense of relief.
Golden Hoop's face was livid. Fresh blood slowly dripped from the bottom half of his body. He must have cut himself somewhere when he was stumbling through the bushes.
"You got hit by four of my knives, but you weren't… cough, cough… weren't even injured. Even so, don't get too cocky. Someone will avenge me!"
Upon finishing the sentence, purple blood instantly spilled from the corner of his mouth. His head bent askew, his eyes clouded over, and he eventually stopped breathing.
Garen squinted and quickly crouched down to apply pressure on Golden Hoop's chest. His body was still warm, but his heartbeat had stopped.
"Dead? The infamous thief, Golden Hoop, can’t possibly die so easily from my trickery, can he?" He felt that it was all too simple.
Golden Hoop and Dale Quicksilver had been battling wits for a few years. If he could so easily be dispatched, he should have disappeared ages ago—it wouldn't be up to Garen to do it.
Garen gave a puff as he stood up and surveyed his surroundings.
The forest was quiet: only the fluttering of tree leaves blown by the wind could be heard.
He crouched down again and started examining Golden Hoop's belongings and clothing.
The man had nothing on him except some money and throwing knives.
Looking at the cloth covering Golden Hoop's face, Garen frowned. When he removed it, he was instantly shocked at what he saw.
Under the mask was a half-burnt face with a black scar of the number "102" on his right cheek, as if he was branded.
"102? Looks like Golden Hoop is not a person, it's an organization." Garen suddenly felt that things had become more complicated. "That means there is probably someone else pursuing Dale Quicksilver and Si Lan. This guy was just a decoy."
He stood up, mindfully examined his surroundings, then quickly ran towards the direction of the castle.
"This Golden Hoop is just an ordinary person with some training in combat arts. Most people could easily impersonate him with a bit of practice. He just knew some Explosive Speed Force Technique. The real Golden Hoop wouldn't be so simple. "
Recalling the "102" on that man's face, Garen felt a heavy weight in his heart.
"If that number represents a rank or a serial code, that means Golden Hoop is an organization with more than a hundred members. So why would such a big organization dedicate itself to stealing antiques? Purely for profit? Or is there another purpose?"
From how Dale Quicksilver casually gifted him the Black Jade Disk, it showed that he didn't know what that meant to Garen. He probably thought that Garen had great skill and also liked antiques.
Valuable antiques of tragedy like the Black Jade Disk were absolutely irresistible for such a collector.
But that was Kelly the collector—a fake persona. The real Garen was, in fact, merely a high school student.
The thought of facing a murderous evil organization like Golden Hoop alone made Garen uneasy, even though he had been training in martial arts for so long. Although he had lived for decades in his past life and he wasn't actually a teenage high school student, that life was led in a lawful and socially stable environment.
He quickly ran back. Soon, he was in front of the hole in the castle fence.
Garen hurried through the hole before turning to a corner and heading towards the main gate of the castle. Suddenly, he glimpsed a flash of light to his right.
He stopped in his tracks. He focused his gaze towards the direction of the light, and he could vaguely make out a black telescope withdraw into the trees in a distance. The flash of light earlier was the reflection of sunlight off the lens of the telescope.
"I didn't think there would be someone surveilling. That means my every move has been monitored." Garen was stunned. "No wonder Mr. 102 said someone would avenge him. This is troublesome."
He thought he had killed that person in the forest without being seen, and his organization shouldn't have noticed him. Now, he realized this thought was too naïve.
"I'll just have to find Dale Quicksilver and Si Lan first, then figure it out from there. To be marked by the organization but still remain unclear about the situation, that's courting death."
He walked around the side of the castle to the front gates.
The castle gates were ajar. It was unusually quiet inside; he couldn't hear the voices of Dale Quicksilver and Miss Si Lan.
Garen quickly walked through the gates. In the castle hall, the previously set white-colored wooden coffee table had been overturned, and the tea from a glass pot had spilled all over. A clutter of footprints could be faintly seen all around the floor, as if a lot of people had rushed past this place.
Garen briefly scanned the footprints. Most of them were moist black footprints, with some green moss mixed into them.
"Someone was here, and they were not alone." He lightened his footsteps as he crept up to the first floor, then he started patrolling the corridors.
The castle walls and floor were covered in burnt ash, the type that was white with some black mixed inside, like black and white paint that wasn't fully blended.
Remnants of half-burnt oil paintings still hung on some parts of the walls along the corridor.
Walking towards Dale Quicksilver's bedroom, Garen tried to breathe as softly as possible, all the while listening for movement within the castle.
It seemed like he was alone in the entire castle; there was no sound. The air was filled with a dead silence and desolation.
Soon, he reached the entrance of Dale Quicksilver's bedroom. The iron door was ajar.
Garen gently pushed it open and went in through the gap without making too much noise.
There was a white bed in the room, a single sofa, and a large rectangular crate.
The thick curtains covered most of the windows, only allowing a ray of light to shine in through a small part. The whole bedroom was eclipsed in shadow, and it seemed dark inside.
The crate was placed at the end of the bed; an oil lamp was still alight on top of it. The dim light from the oil lamp illuminated the parts of the room eclipsed by the shadow of the curtains.