Garen followed Ai Fei to the fifth floor and discovered that the steel door by the staircase was opened, with a man in black suit and crew cut hair standing by the side. The man eyed Garen before asking, "You’re Garen, right? Your uncle is waiting for you at the study."
Garen nodded in return. He then changed his shoes, tidied his outfit and followed Ai Fei to the study after closing the door.
Fire crackled inside the chimney by the main hall, and the room was warm from the radiating heat. While passing the main hall, he spotted a girl with a red ponytail delicately sleeping on the couch in her white training robe.
Garen laid his eyes on her and paid special attention on her arms and thighs before continuing to the study.
There was a corridor between the study and the main hall, with sides filled with mirrors as clear as the sky. Garen stooped in front of the mirror and, from it, he saw his own reflection staring back at him.
Purplish-black short hair. Deep red eye sockets. Wearing a black t-shirt that barely covered his jam-packed body. With that slender figure of his, he couldn’t help but give off a robust temperament.
From the look of things, it was obvious that Garen had been spending time training. It was of great timing that it was during his puberty, causing him to look taller and stronger than before.
Without wasting any time, Garen pushed open the study’s redwood door. He saw two rows of bookshelves lying on each side of the wall, with a long blackwood table positioned in the center of the room.
An old man with white hair and his uncle were sitting beside the table enjoying their coffee, and the air was filled by the aroma of their drink.
Garen stood still as he gently knocked on the door.
It couldn’t be more obvious that his uncle had been gaining some weight. His thick black eyebrows wrinkled up, and he seemed to be piling up in his seat caught up in his thoughts. He only turned his head towards the door when he heard Garen knocking.
"Ah, Garen, I almost thought that you had forgotten me after not visiting for so long! What have you been up to lately? Even Ying Er said that she hasn’t seen much of you recently. You’re not still training at that dojo, are you?" Garen’s uncle said while pointing at the seat across him. "Come take a seat, it’s been so long since we had a conversation between uncle and nephew."
Garen nodded and spent no time taking his seat. He gave a glance at the white-haired old man while sitting down. From his appearance, the old man must be at least seventy to eighty years old— he had white beard and white hair, and he was wearing a white robe.
But what really captured Garen’s attention was that, since the moment he set foot in this room, the old man had been eyeing him, seemingly troubled.
Turning his attention away from the old man, Garen sat up straight and looked at the direction of his uncle.
"Uncle, I heard that you wanted me to inherit your property. Is it true?" Garen asked, showing his concern.
"Of course it is true," Uncle Anjer answered as he arched his eyebrow. "This decision has been made since a long time ago."
He gently tapped his fingers on the table, letting out a rhythmic sound.
"How do I say this… How about this, I will tell you everything from the beginning. After all, I know that you are not the type of person that is interested in power or money. So, if I don’t make things clear for you, I’m afraid you might not want to accept my inheritance."
Garen was taken aback, not knowing how to reply. However, it was indeed what his uncle had said, he did not care about having power or money. Perhaps it was because he had an ability that made him ignore these types of possession, or perhaps there was some other reason. but it was definitely what his uncle had said, if things were not discussed clearly, he would’ve prepared to convince his uncle to drop this decision.
Uncle Anjer muttered to himself before speaking again, "You know the situation of my two children. It is certain that they cannot inherit the property. Be it Lombarth or Phelia, they are playful and immature. They might change in the future, but the chances of it happening is too slim."
"As for the youngsters from my wife’s line of family… They are too ambitious! Though I have to admit that they have some capability, but I am certain that if they inherit my property, there will be nothing left! What will happen to Phelia and Lombarth then? The efforts that I had put into building this business and network JUST to be handed to them freely? Impossible!"
Uncle Anjer took out a cigarette and lighted it before continuing, "I admit, this situation must have placed you in an awkward position. For this, I apologize. However, I really don’t want my legacy to be in the hands of someone else! I still have two kids! Yes, Phelia and Lombarth. Though Lombarth always makes me worry, but he is still my child, Garen."
He stared into Garen’s eyes intently.
"Since you were young, you showed an outstanding talent of handling a business, and only you can help me stabilize my inheritance. I know that you have never yearned for what I have in life, but think about Phelia. Even though Lombarth never managed to get along with you, but Phelia has always liked you, right? You liked her too, right? I can assure your engagement with her."
Garen was startled—he was almost speechless. He had never wanted to divert his attention on other paths, but, as of this moment, he didn’t know how to reject his uncle.
Moreover, looking into the current situation, it seemed like Uncle Anjer was at the end of his road—only forty years of age, yet he was already arranging his inheritance.
Uncle Anjer took a deep puff from his cigar. Not long after, white clouds starts gushing out from his nose.
"I know it is sudden, but I hope that you can consider this seriously." This time, he spoke as if he was speaking to another adult.
"If this is your wish, Uncle." Garen narrowed his eyes before continuing, "It’s just that would you mind telling me why are you in such a hurry in arranging this? You are still well in your middle age. Won’t it be too soon for you to worry about this?"
Uncle Anjer seemed less tense having known that his nephew did not reject him immediately. He took out a small scissor and clipped the cigar before holding it in his mouth. Then, he pointed at the old man.
"Naturally, I have my own reasons. Come, let me introduce you. This is my old friend, Adonis. He has been the guest of my house lately, and the one sleeping on the couch outside is his disciple, Winnie. You both practice martial arts, so I suppose you guys must have tons of common topics."
Garen frowned. "Uncle, you still haven’t told me the reason, maybe..." Before he could even finish his sentence, a loud thump echoed out as the study’s door was flung wide open.
The three turned their attention toward the door, only to find Lombarth breathing heavily at the side, staring at Garen ferociously.
"Garen! It’s you! It’s you again!"
Garen frowned again. He wanted to speak, yet he was interrupted once again.
"Get out!" Uncle Anjer shouted. He stood up as he pointed a finger to outside the door. "Can’t you see that we are having a conversation? Get out!"
Lombarth was about to speak, but after seeing the expression of his father, he unwillingly slammed the door and left.
While panting, Uncle Anjer sat down and angrily shoved the cigar into the ashtray.
"This Lombarth is getting out of hand! Please excuse me, I have to teach him a lesson. In the meantime, why don’t you two have a talk? You two should have some common topics since the both of you are martial artists. I am sure Adonis won’t mind giving you some advice, Garen."
He then stood up, coughed heavily, before going out from the study.
A click sound reverberated as the door was slowly closed.
Garen sat at his seat as he silently stared at the old man sitting opposite him. This old man had been eyeing him with a troubled expression since the moment he set foot in this room.
Their eyes met, yet not a single word was let out.
"Young man, your art has drifted from the right path." Finally, Adonis spoke.
"The right path?" Garen was dazed. Originally, he thought that this old man would tell him his relationship with his uncle, yet he actually decided to evaluate his art instead.
"To practice martial art is to practice mastering the heart. Your heart has been affected by your own strength," Adonis murmured. "When the convenience of the strength becomes more apparent, you will be more accustomed to it, to a point where you can never get rid of it. And, when you base your art with it, you will only find yourself being a puppet to it! Forever living only to practice martial arts to get stronger!"
The old man stood up, walked to the window and looked down.
"Did you think that you can get a sense of security just by increasing your strength?"
Garen shivered. He raised his head to the old man and asked, "What do you mean?"
"Don’t let your mind be distracted by strength. The strong will always be strong, and the weak will always be weak." Adonis shook his head and turned his direction toward to door. The door opened and closed, yet no sound was produced.
Garen sat at his seat, his expression uncertain.
He abruptly stood up, with his hands gently touching his chest. His muscles were as strong and as hard as a rock, yet the strength he had never gave him a peace of mind.
The blocker Garen held in his hand was being kicked hard. From where he stood, a cloud of dust spread out in all directions.
A series of blows were furiously struck on the same spot.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
In an instant, four sounds overlapped one another. Garen was slowly knocked back, and his hands were almost unable to keep the blocker stabilized.
Senior Sister Darcia slowly pulled in her fists, letting out a deep breath. Each side of her temples was blood red—a sign only a master in the White Cloud Dojo would show. Cooling down while pulling her fists, the color from her temples slowly faded.
"It’s your turn, junior." Darcia took the blocker off Garen’s hand. "It’s now your turn to attack."
"Okay." Garen nodded.
Both of them wore black robes, sparring on the second floor of the White Cloud Martial Colosseum.
Thump! Thump! Puff!
Like two specks of dust, they stood on the middle of the newly retiled brown-red floor. Each blow they traded, wisps of white dust proliferated around them. The sound of their feet screeching against the floor was enough to have someone clench their teeth.
Garen repeatedly jabbed and swinged his fists towards Darcia, but each of his blows were precisely blocked by the latter.
Darcia seemed to be at ease, and her steps were as light as feathers. The white tiger tattoo that occasionally appeared while sparring seemed as if it was alive during vigorous movements. Her blood red temple, with the sharp eyes that seemed to be smiling, gave off an unusually attractive vibe.
After continuously sparring for two hundred times, Garen was finally out of breath. He stopped what he was doing, took a few steps back, and breathed heavily.
"Huff… Senior Sister, can I ask you a question?"
"It seems that you have something troubling you?" Darcia smirked while walking towards Garen.
She landed a hard kick on Garen’s chest, sending him to stumble across the room.
"What you must do now is none other than sparring!" Darcia stood while looking at Garen in disdain. "Confusion, hesitation, indecisiveness, cowardice… Get it out of your head! You’re wasting your time if you still live in your past."
She raised her leg high off her chest—her posture was similar to a crazed elephant—and mercilessly landed it on Garen’s head.