For almost 20 days, Garen practiced the White Cloud Combat Arts under Second Senior Brother Farak’s supervision. Farak corrected all of the mistakes that might cause Garen injury before Farak could spend time on his own training.
Since Farak’s supervised him in person, Garen could not use the two Attribute Points he had accumulated from all these training days. The abrupt enhancement of power would alert Farak and expose his special ability.
In a bright training room, two arm-sized dark iron sticks were mercilessly hitting Garen’s back and chest as beads of sweat splashed all over the cement floor.
The two strong students wielding the sticks were panting and had no strength left to continue striking.
"Okay, thank you. Get some rest."
Garen stood up straight, relaxing the muscles of his upper body.
"Yes, Brother Garen," said the two students, as if they were just absolved of a severe punishment. They put away the iron sticks and left the room hastily.
Standing alone in the center of the room, Garen felt the bright sunlight shining through the window and onto his naked upper body, reflecting the glossy sweat.
Garen let out a long exhale as his muscle gradually relaxed.
It was lively outside as the indistinct sounds of an accordion drifted from the street, along with loud roars.
Garen glanced at the window.
"Looks like the government holding a celebration for completing the central sculpture. It’s surprising that it lasted so many days."
Garen paced to the window and looked down.
A group of kids with red shirts, black hats, and small black-and-white striped Federation flags were passing by the dojo in lines. They were looking around aimlessly, and the lines were a mess, but with their cute faces and young skin, they had attracted a lot of people on the street. There were also parents and relatives following them, cheering them on. The scene was chaotic, yet rhythmic.
There were several long tables placed by the streets, covered with white tablecloths. People were busy setting out fruit plates and cakes on them, but some, including a group of beautiful girls, had already sat down and start tasting. The two students who helped Garen practice were also there, smiling and chit-chatting with two girls.
Garen couldn’t help laughing.
"No wonder they were so reluctant."
"Of course they were. You couldn’t possibly forget which holiday it is today?" Third Senior Brother Joshua spoke from behind.
Garen turned around and found that Joshua had shaved all the white hair from his head. Now his head was covered with bandages and he was wearing a white suit, which presented a weird scene, since he looked like a monk in a tuxedo.
"What holiday? Isn’t for the completion of the central sculpture?" asked Garen puzzled.
"It’s the Carnival! The Carnival!" said Joshua speechlessly while rubbing his bald head. "Have you practiced too much and lost your mind? Hiding indoors to train on your own on Carnival day? This is a once a year event."
"Carnival…" Garen suddenly understood and said, "Every December 30th, I almost forgot…"
He pulled his jacket from the hanger and put it on slowly, covering his powerful muscles.
"Brother, how do you have time to come back to the dojo? Shouldn’t you enjoy yourself during the holidays?"
"If only First Senior Sister didn’t beat me into pieces, then you wouldn’t even have the chance to tell me to enjoy myself," said Joshua sourly. "Okay, okay, hurry up. You must have someone you want to see, right?"
"Yeah…" Garen smiled, dressed himself up, and grabbed his key from the shelves. "So excuse me for leaving first. Thank you, brother, for reminding me or I would have missed something really important."
"That’s more like it! Bring me something nice to eat when you come back," said Joshua, waving his hand.
Garen stepped out of the training room. He washed off the sweat from his face with tap water and left.
A noisy and sweltering turbulence blew directly on his face as soon as he stepped outside. Everyone was crowded on both sides of the street while watching the slowly marching parade. A circus troupe passed by as pigeons burst out from magic tricks and soared up into the sky.
Garen followed the street and went toward Pennington Street. He made a few turns, bought some tarts and two glasses of tomato juice, then he headed to the Dolphin Antiques store.
It was noon and the store door was open. Old Man Gregor sat on a wooden stool by the door, smiling and staring at some young girls passing by.
They were dressed in refreshing short red skirts and white stockings. From time to time, while holding up their fluffy pom-poms, these girls shouted out the slogan:
"Aria School! Forever the best!"
They were only around 16 years old and passed by the antiques store in a very neat queue, shining with youthful vitality.
Garen looked at the Old Man on the other side of the street across from the girls. He smiled and held up his food to him.
Garen really stood out with his tall figure, handsome face, dark-purple short hair, and maroon eyes. He had not stopped exercising and was becoming more robust. Like a heating furance, his Spirit outshined others. Some girls flirted with him, showing great interest.
A blonde left the queue and nudged Garen a bit. She had her dark blue eyes on him and looked coy. She flicked a note to Garen without anyone noticing and Garen caught it.
"You are beautiful, but…" said Garen. He pinched the note in his fingers, shrugged and shook his head.
Disappointment flashed in the blonde’s eyes.
The girls moved away and shouts of slogans would sound out occasionally. It was so packed that Garen had to push through the crowd as he went directly to the antiques store.
"How are you, Old Man? I mean for the Carnival," asked Garen. He sat down on the stairs beside Old Man Gregor, disregarding the dirt. He passed the tomato juice and tarts to him.
"Same-old, same-old. Ain’t the girls from Aria School beautiful? You feel tempted? I saw someone gave you a note just now!" said Old Man Gregor with an obscene laugh.
"Such an old age, yet still a pervert," said Garen speechlessly.
"Mom!" A little boy ran past Garen and lost his balance. He fell over in front of Garen.
Garen lifted the boy up. The boy didn’t even shed a tear and continued to rush forward to a beautiful woman’s embrace. The woman gave Garen a gentle smile to thank him and left with the boy.
"My grandson should be that age if he were still alive…"
Garen could hear the sorrow in the Old Man’s words. He did not reply and simply sipped on his tomato juice. He stared at the lively street, waiting for the Old Man to continue.
"It was my fault for getting my son and daughter involved. How regrettable…" Gregor sipped his juice and murmured, "It’s a pity… but there is no medicine for regret in this world…
"Is there even any sense in regretting?" asked Garen lightly. "Looking back, the only point is to learn from your lessons and grow up."
"You are still young. You don’t understand," said the Old Man with a smile. He exhaled deeply and said, "When memories of the past occupy half of your life, you will know."
"Maybe." Garen didn’t pursue the topic further. His face showed no expression.
"Garen, lad," said the Old Man who suddenly became formal, "Have you been curious why I would open an antique store here?
"Curious? Why would I be curious? Isn’t it nice living and ordinary life like that?" Garen gave the Old Man an odd look. "Right, do we continue our lessons today?
"Of course, learning is something you must stick to every day. No breaks," said the Old Man who eventually collected his thoughts and stood up. "Come on in. Today is the Carnival, so I have a special treat for you."
Mystified, Garen followed him into the Antique store. The Old Man closed the front door. Light came in through the small window above the door and illuminated the room.
Gregor carried two thick books from the back room and sat at the desk. Pointing at the books and he said, "These two are the textbooks that I will spend most of the time to guiding you through. You can go through them yourself now. There are hardly any errors in them, I’m sure. I proofread them myself very carefully so don’t worry."
"Thanks." Garen randomly picked one book on the side. The pages were full of red marks and notes, which covered the entire 2,000-page book.
He switched to the next one. It was the same.
"I annotated those two books a long time ago. All errors have been corrected. I meant to prepare it for my grandson. Well, who would have known that you’d get to use it first?" said the Old Man.
Garen smiled. He knew that the Old Man prepared these books specifically for him since the notes were still new. Old Man Gregor only told him that the textbooks were prepared for someone else out of the fear of pushing Garen too much.. Previously, Garen unintentionally mentioned that he wished to have more systematic textbooks. To his astonishment, Gregor actually took out two heavy dictionaries.
Garen was honestly touched seeing all those densely marked pages. God knew how long it took for the Old Man to complete everything.
"So these two books are all the rudiments I need to know?" he asked as he closed the book.
"More or less. The next step is to learn appraisal by hand. To enhance your level, you must feel the object in your hands. Plus, you have to know every detail and the history of all kinds of objects," said the Old Man, who took out a pair of glasses and started polishing.
Garen nodded. He moved a stool to the Old Man’s side and sat on it with his back straight.
"Where do we start today?"