Garen was strolling alongside the street next to the river wearing his black coat.
On his left, sounds of river colliding against the bank could be heard. The midnight wind blended itself with the gloomy surroundings; one cannot help but to feel as if winter was just around the corner.
Garen had his hands inside the pockets of his pants while strolling; the coat masking the torn shirt that he was wearing inside. He unbuttoned his shirt and looked down on his chest, only to find the red mark on his exposed skin slowly fading away.
His hands reached to his stomach. Still can’t shake off the pain.
At the corner in front of the street, an old lady appeared in her gray gown, gently pushing her cart. On her cart stood a cylinder-shaped black container, and on the container’s surface were the words: 2 yuan milk.
A girl in a thick white fur coat rushed over to the cart. She took out some money and gave it to the old lady. In exchange, she left with warm milk in between her palms.
Garen tightened his shirt due to the decreasing temperature around him. He too hurried towards the old lady.
"Can I have one please?"
"Of course," The old lady answered. Her face wrinkled with age, so was her skirt, but she looked surprisingly neat. She took a small yellow cup from under her cart and put it under the container. She poured the milk into the cup and passed it to Garen.
He gave the old lady two yuan, carefully holding the cup in his hands, and headed off to the arc just by the corner. The billboards at the each side of the closed shop had coincidentally formed an enclosure that prevented the wind from blowing onto Garen.
Garen laid his back against the wall, looking at the milk cart that was going further away from him. Every now and then, residents came out of their houses to buy milk from the old lady. She handed them their drinks, they handed her the money, and she continued her journey.
The scene of him bursting No. 101 with one blow recurred in his mind.
"I’ve murdered again…" Garen closed his eyes, seemingly stuck in recollecting his thoughts. "I was born with a talent that none others have: the ability to swiftly cross the gap others spent years to build. But is it a blessing or a curse? Because of this, I have no progress in sculpting my heart and soul."
"Abruptly increasing strength, causing my desires to be set loose and spiral out of control… Is this what I’m facing? Am I going down the righteous path or the demonic path?"
Coming back from his senses, he immediately discontinued his thoughts. He took a sip of the warm milk, the vapor from the drink steamed onto his face. The rich aroma of the milk seeped itself into his nostrils and left him feeling oddly satisfied.
"The fight with Golden Hoop 101… It was obvious that my speed could not match him, but my strength and defenses were enough to endure his hits. It didn’t matter how many blows he laid on me, one blow from me was enough to seal the deal… Which was also one of the perks of strength-based fighters. Even then, my combat techniques are still not up to class. If my techniques were at a certain level, I’m confident that I’m able to strike first no matter how swiftly he moves. Until I’m certain I’m able to face these types of opponents with ease.. " Garen concluded while taking another sip from his milk.
"It seems as though the choice I made to strengthen my body first was right. No matter how fast a person is, a bullet is all that’s needed to end a battle. This type of approach is safer, to say the least. Too bad I’m still fighting at the basic level. I still need to focus on solidifying a general move set before moving on."
He crumpled the cup and threw it into a nearby trash bin after finishing his milk.
"Now, I’m simply strengthening my body and throwing it onto my opponent to see what happens. Things will be different, though, when my combat skills mature."
Garen walked out from his hiding spot and headed towards the stone bridge. After crossing it, it took another ten minutes for Garen to reach his house at Bluetree Street.
From this point on towards the whole area within Bluetree Street was considered as the suburbs.
A bell rang from afar, signaling that the clock had struck ten.
"It’s ten already?" Knowing this, Garen hastened his pace. The hills were especially empty during the night, except for the occasional carriage and cars along the road. It looked as though no one had ever set foot around here during the night.
After coming out from an intense battle, Garen was exceptionally relaxed, having this silent night to accompany him.
He walked without a worry along the main street, knowing that no one knew who he was and, naturally, will not have any intentions towards him. If it weren't a scheme specifically set against him, normal people would be just like chicks on his palm if they went up against him.
Over at the stone bridge, a few drunkards sat on the floor boasting about their stories. A sharp smell of alcohol ran up to Garen’s nostrils as he passed by.
Garen had one of his hands on the stone bridge’s rail. The cool rough surface of the cement that he felt from his touch transmitted into an image that was projected in his mind. Suddenly, he felt some pain surging from his chest to his abs.
Garen was surprisingly calm because he knew it was the impact from the bullet that caused the internal pain.
He tore off his tattered shirt effortlessly and threw it into the trash bin at the side. He only wore his coat cover his body as he made haste towards the direction of his house.
Garen didn’t even get far before a white carriage appeared coming towards his direction. The carriage made a sharp U-turn on the main street and followed him slowly. The carriage window slowly wound down, exposing Grace with her tired, yet emotionless face.
"I have gotten the permission for the application. Now, regardless if it’s the Golden Hoop, if they set foot in our territory, they must follow the rules. They must give a clear explanation on why they ambushed us now," she whispered.
Garen jogged along beside the carriage. "101 died," he said calmly.
"Died?" Grace glanced Garen for a second and notice that he was showing no emotion. She immediately understood when she saw the cement powder on his face. "I understand. I will handle it."
"I received some intelligence this time when I went back to the company. The Golden Hoop dared to order some of their henchmen to kidnap the son and daughter of Dale Quicksilver and the White Eagle. The current status of their children is still unknown. It is obvious there are some motives behind this action."
Garen regained his breath before speaking, "I’ve already saved the two children. Too bad they weren't grateful."
Grace was stunned by his reply. She did not expect so much to have happened when she was not around.
"Is it… Did they see your face?" Her eyes fixated on the cement powder on Garen’s face.
"Supposedly no… But still, she is the daughter of Dale Quicksilver. She can easily see through the disguise. She is indeed a tough one." Garen recalled the moment the little girl stood up out of nowhere and questioned his expression.
"Right, do you know how the factions divide themselves in the martial arts community?" he added.
"The division of the sects?" Grace was puzzled. "I’m not particularly sure about that, but from what I’ve heard it is separated into two groups: the official ones that train accordingly to build their physique and mentality; and the unofficial ones who train people to morph themselves into a human weapon to take lives."
"Is that true?" Garen’s eyes light up suddenly. "Then, do you know anyone well-known sects that train using the unofficial way?"
"Give me a sec…" Grace frowned. She went silent for a moment before continuing, "Your master is one of them. There are a few martial artists inside the province that follows this philosophy. It has quite an impact on the underground community there."
"It seems that they are quite accepted. What about the martial artists that trained formally?" Garen asked.
"Almost similar, besides the fact that they don’t dwell in the underground community, they are quite in common with the unofficial ones. Didn’t your master or senior mention anything about this?"
"I’m heading back first. Be careful when going back, Grace."
"Relax, I’ve gathered enough human resources to deal with this situation." A killing intent could be seen in Grace’s eyes as she continued, "I even have the police department on my side. This time I will give the Golden Hoops an unforgettable lesson!"
Garen saw the determination from Grace’s eyes so he didn’t bother to continue. Garen passed by the village’s main gate and saw the old guard watching him. The guard then scribbled on a piece of paper, faced down.
Before going up the stairway, he heard sounds of children crying coming from above, as well as a hoarse male voice coming from the record player.
Garen skipped a few stairs and got to his floor in no time. The hallway was dark and almost pitch black, so Garen had to move slowly to avoid bumping into anything or anyone. He reached the door, took out the key, and inserted it into the keyhole.
The doorknob unlocked. The inside was dark and silent.
Garen closed the door softly and changed his shoes before entering the living room. From the corner of his eyes, he spotted a shadow sitting on the couch. He could barely make out the shape of a human under the low lighting
Garen paused, before slowly realizing the shadow was of his sister.
"Ying Er? What are you doing sitting here?"
Ying Er sat silently on the couch facing down; her expression shrouded in the dark. The only light source was the faint light coming from the opposite building, shining through the window onto her.
Garen noticed that her sister wore a black high-waist skirt with a dark colored bow on her head. She even wore a pair of thick stockings underneath her skirt. She sat unmoved on the couch, without replying.
Ever since he came to this world, Garen has always cared for his sister. Judging from his sister’s personality, he knew something was up.
He then shifted himself and sat beside his sister on the couch.
"What’s up? What happened today? Aren’t you going to the Jaderipple Lake with your friends tomorrow?"
Grace only replied after what looks like an eternity.
"I’m not going tomorrow."
"What happened?" Garen frowned. For Garen, he always thought that the world was different inside and outside the house. To him, home was a place where he could free himself from all his worries. He could only be himself when he was with his innocent sister who only knew how to treat him well.
Plus, Ying Er was the last one he wished to hurt.
"It’s nothing, stay out of it!" Ying Er turned her head away. "I’m just a little bit tired that’s all."
Garen grinned, stretched his hands out to both sides of his sister’s cheek, and pulled.
"Ah… Owh. What are you doing!?" Ying Er erupted. She tried to pull Garen’s hands away from her cheeks but despite her best efforts, her struggles were ineffective.
"Don’t worry so much when you’re inside the house. Take some rest. I’m sure after a good night’s rest you’ll be fine." Garen let go of his hands. "Don’t forget you still have me, Pa, and Ma in the house."
"Do you want me to kill you!?" Ying Er stood, punching and kicking Garen in a completely arbitrary manner. Nonetheless, she didn’t exert too much force to prevent hurting Garen by accident.
"You shouldn’t look down on your brother," Garen smirked, steadying his body to let Ying Er hit him. "Are you tickling me by any chance?"
"Gahhhh!!!" Ying Er was truly angered now. "It seems as though you won’t know wrath if I don’t use my true power!"
She threw a heavy punch at Garen’s face.
"Hey! Not the face!" Garen was caught off guard by his sister. He quickly avoided his sister’s incoming punches, dug his head in between his arm, and hid somewhere in the living room.
Ying Er followed closely behind him, chasing and trying to beat him. Both of them made a fuss in the living room.
After quarreling for a while, Ying Er was finally exhausted. She then dropped bum first onto the couch.
"Huff… It has only been months and already your body has grown bigger. What do you eat every day? It’s absurd!" She caressed her fists. Garen felt nothing, yet her fists were red with bruises
"I told you I’m practicing martial arts. I’m even a formal disciple of a master. I’m different from amateurs like you." Garen purposely showed off his proud face to his sister.
"You… are really getting on my nerves!" Ying Er felt a sudden urge to give her brother more beatings. She inhaled deeply, suppressing her urges. "Speaking of which, you had been gone all day for weeks now. What have you been doing outside? Did you found a job outside because it’s the holidays now?"
Garen scooted over to his sister’s side. "Nothing much, I usually jog around evening, right? Plus, I need to train some of my basic techniques at the dojo. It’s normal if I came home late."
"It’s not good if you come home too late." Ying Er said, pouting her lips, "And I heard a rumor about you and Ai Fei in school…"
"I swear I’m innocent…" Garen was obviously in a predicament. He then started giving a detailed explanation to his sister about what had happened.
Both of them cuddled up on the couch, chatting away. By the time they came to their senses, it had been two hours past midnight.
Ying Er sat still on the couch, without any intention of going into her room. It could be seen from her face that she was tired. She sneaked a yawn when Garen wasn’t paying attention.