"It’s my fault." The expert’s face turned ghastly pale, he shook his head. "I was one step too slow, the strength needed to activate this trap was slightly higher than my expectations." He looked at the stone floor tile below his feet.
"Kelly is gone!" Ms. Si Lan suddenly shouted out.
"He will be fine. No matter who acquired that book first, Kelly will be safe. They both need him to identify the authenticity of it," the detective said, shaking his head.
"Who are you talking about?" The White Eagle lowered his gun.
"Behind us, behind Golden Hoop Number 9, there are people following us." Detective Dale whispered, "Let’s get going, keep walking. It’s too cold here, we won’t be able to hold for long."
"So earlier, you were purposely talking to Golden Hoop Number 9 like that?"
"Of course I was. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize this fast enough." The detective smirked.
On the spiraling stone stair case, there were two silhouettes sprinting and chasing after one another.
Someone was held under the arm of the first silhouette. It was Garen in his black suit.
The one sprinting and carrying him was Golden Hoop Number 9, who had left the scene earlier. His cloak flapped behind him like a dark cloud floating in the air. It covered Garen almost completely.
A gun’s barrel appeared around the corner of the stone wall, pointing at Golden Hoop Number 9. The silhouette made a few backflips on the railing, landing in front of him, and now stood with a pistol in each hand.
"I guessed it right, Number 9, you want to keep the Book of Silence to yourself." The man laughed grimly as he blocked the way. He lowered his head and stared at Garen and Number 9 with a sinister smile.
"So it’s you…" Golden Hoop Number 9 put Garen on the ground. "I didn’t expect the organization to be this suspicious of me. They sent you to spy. It’s a pity… I didn’t want to kill anyone."
"We’ve worked closely for many years, I didn’t want to do this either, but you betrayed us first." A golden ring hung on the man’s left ear, it was numbered 8. He was a rank higher than Number 9.
Both of them sneered without saying a word, and suddenly grappled each other.
There was no distinct sound of impact. They fought and tangled together, like two pieces of black cloth twisting and chafing. There was only the sound of friction as they jumped and dashed around the stairs.
Garen stood behind them on, watching the fight without blinking.
A while ago, he had let Golden Hook Number 9 take him hostage, so that he could find out where the potential qi was coming from. Now, he had it confirmed, it was from that book in a black cover.
It was the same type of antique as the Black Jade Disk, emitting Qi slowly instead of releasing it all at once.
"Should I wait for them to finish fighting and go plunder it then, or should I leave at once and wait for them to come to me for identification?" Garen hesitated.
The problem with waiting for them to bring the book to him for identification was that the Golden Hoop might have their own ways of confirming its authenticity. Thus, this method might not work.
He also didn’t want to get more involved in the Golden Hoop’s business. Pretending to be Mr. Kelly was only to find Antiques of Tragedy. But using brute force would risk his own safety, especially since the Golden Hoop already knew he was Garen. This could bring harm to his family.
"Catch!" Suddenly, a hurried shout came from the front. Garen didn’t get a chance to respond when he saw the Book of Silence hurled toward his face.
He franticly reached for the book, catching it. A flow of warm qi drifted from the book into his body, and the potential meter at the bottom of his vision started to slowly but steadily grow.
"Keep the book for now, whoever wins will come to you for identification!" Golden Hoop Number 9’s voice came from below.
After that, the two Golden Hoop members left Garen alone and fought their way down the stairs. Soon, they were three levels below Garen.
"Looks like I have to stay here for now."
Garen cupped the book in his hands. The Book of Silence had a pitch black cover with a white eye printed in the center. He flipped it open and found the cover to be made of stone.
Garen’s pupils narrowed as he turned to the first page.
That page contained a drawing. There was a man, a naked man. The weird thing was, the back of the man’s head was connected to a maggot’s body. It looked like a long white tube, and shared the same head as the man. The worm’s body was shining white, reaching down to the man’s thighs, and it was even slowly wriggling.
"It’s wriggling?" Garen closed his eyes and shook his head. When he looked again, the wriggling motion in the drawing had disappeared.
The strange man’s creepy green eyes were staring at him as if he was alive. It made Garen feel lightheaded.
When Garen finally composed himself and was ready to flip to the next page, a shadow flashed in front of him.
"Give it to me!"
A strong force gripped the Book of Silence, trying to snatch it from Garen’s hands. Suddenly, another silhouette raced toward Garen and quickly grabbed the Book of Silence by the other end.
Stunned, Garen instinctively held the book with all his strength. The sound of tearing came from his hands.
"If I can’t get it, nobody will!" Golden Hoop Number 9 ranted in an exhausted voice.
The Book of Silence was torn apart under the pressure of being pulled in three directions. The pages went flying in the air. Golden Hoop Number 9 held a short sabre in his hand and effortlessly slashed all the pages into pieces. A fireball emerged from his left hand, instantly igniting all the flying book scraps.
"Number 9, you’re insane!" Golden Hoop Number 8 tried to stop him, but was one step too slow. His fist struck Number 9, and the latter slowly slumped down against the wall.
It was a shame that the Book of Silence was destroyed and burned, but Garen did not want to get involved in Golden Ring’s internal conflicts. If he could find an Antique of Tragedy once, it was likely that he’d find another at some point too.
While regretful, he still backed off a few steps. As the two Golden Hoop members continued wrestling once more, Garen silently left up the stairs.
"What a mess." He was speechless. "But at least there were some gains. I found the picture of me traveling through an alternate reality. If what that book said was true, I must be the lucky survivor. It had to be at an exact time, and I was lucky enough to be there."
Things had taken an unexpected turn, and Garen’s primary target was destroyed. He didn’t get the Antique of Tragedy he came for, but instead got into a conflict with Golden Hoop Number 10.
He looked down the stairs at Golden Hoop Number 9 and Number 8. Number 8 was standing a few steps up, his face distorted with fury. Below him, Number 9 stood with a black stone in his hand. It was the white eye on the cover of the Book of Silence.
"Hand it over!" Number 8 said as he extended his hand.
"This is a legendary rune with mysterious power! You think I’ll just give it to you?" Number 9 laughed. "I had plotted for so long, and I’ve finally got what I wanted!"
Both of them had bloodstains on their bodies. But Number 8 looked quite normal, whereas Number 9 had blood streaming out of his mouth. Apparently, he had serious internal injuries.
Garen watched as they argued. His heart suddenly missed a beat when he realized that the flow of potential qi had not disappeared with the Book of Silence.
"Is it because of that rock?" His eyes landed on the white-eyed rock they were fighting over.
"The book was only about some cult’s legends and nonsense. The real treasure was this rock, you think I didn’t notice?" Golden Hoop Number 9 sneered. "I might not know what it could be useful for, but since it’s in my hands… don’t think about getting it back!"
Garen knew if he didn’t go right now, he would get involved in their internal conflicts. The more he knew, the more trouble he was in. As the two were still talking, he slowly backed off up the stairs.
As valuable as Antiques of Tragedy could be, he could not afford to get involved. Unlike last time with Number 10, this time they already knew his true identity.
Before he could walk further, Golden Hoop Number 9 acted first and erupted into a black shadow, racing up the stairs. Behind him, Golden Hoop Number 8 followed closely. The two were speeding past Garen.
Number 9’s face was as pale as paper, he couldn’t hold for much longer.
Garen squinted. To be honest, he had a favorable impression of Golden Hoop Number 9. Since the beginning, this guy had not done any harm to him, but protected him ever since they got into the lair.
At this moment, Number 8 was sweeping past Garen. His physique was larger than Number 9’s and could not get past Garen’s body on the stairs.
Number 8 was furious, his hand slapped at Garen with inertia. His fingers were gleaming with blue light; he must have learned a venomous technique. As his hand approached, a sharp and foul odor came with it.
Garen’s speed might not be faster than theirs, but he was able to block the attack at this range. He hadn’t wanted to fight them since he really didn’t want to get involved, but now that the opponent obviously wanted to kill him, rage surged in his heart.
"You’re courting death!" Garen growled as he raised his right arm and grabbed.
His arm instantly inflated and swelled up, doubling in size. His veins and muscles intertwined and inflated to at least a half-meter radius. It didn’t look like a human arm anymore.
His hand clashed against Number 8’s blue hand like the claw of a bear clashing with the hand of a baby.
The two immediately separated after the impact, but Number 8 still had the strength to grab Number 9 with his other arm and used inertia to throw him back.
Number 9 was dragged down and landed next to Garen.
As the two bumped into each other, Golden Hoop Number 9 reached into Garen’s arms, acting like he was giving something. He then pushed Garen away while shouting, "Take it and go!" He himself immediately turned and tumbled down the stairs.
Garen froze. Number 9 didn’t give him anything at all, and yelled like this only to mislead Number 8. He looked up at Number 8, who was furiously boring down on him like a dark cloud.
"He didn’t give me anything!" Garen shouted out.
"I’ll find out after I kill you!" Number 8 smirked.
"S**t!" Garen was livid. He hadn’t plan on fighting with the Golden Hoop, but now he was randomly involved. "You idiot! There’s an exit down there! He just wants me to slow you down! You really think he was injured that much?"
The two clashed with each other again. After the muffled sound of impact, Garen stood still, and Number 8 backed off a few steps.
"Indeed very strong, like it said in the intelligence report!" Number 8’s face slightly twitched, his left hand was shaking behind his back, but one couldn’t tell it from his straight face.
"That damned Number 9 framed me! I have nothing against the Golden Hoop! Let’s go down there and deal with him first, then you’ll find out where the antique is!" Garen said, enduring the prickling pain in his palm. He used the White Cloud Secret Arts on his hand, which made the skin too rough to be poisoned, but he still felt a slight uncomfortable numbing pain in his hand.
"You think I would trust you?" Number 8 replied.
"I’m coming along, what’s your problem?" Garen was now seriously angry. "I don’t want your stuff, but I can identify the item for you. You know who I am, you know where I live. Even if I run away, there’s still my family and friends. What are you so afraid of?"
Number 8 stared at Garen for awhile, then finally agreed. "Fine, I’ll trust you this time!"
"We have to hurry, he must know of a secret exit for him to fall down like that," Garen said ruthlessly. This was the first time he got used and framed by someone else. He quickly ran down the stairs.
Number 8 twisted and jumped down the stairs after Garen. The two quickly disappeared in the darkness.