Garen applied direct pressure to his chest and tried to hide his injury. He thought he needed to go to the Dojo and ask for Master’s help.
"Ying Er, I will have lunch at the Dojo so don’t wait for me. I will take the groceries back home first," Garen said.
"Dojo again… Mom and Dad are home today," Ying Er said, disappointment etched on her face.
"Don’t be upset. I heard they got a better job and we’ll be able to spend more time together now." Garen patted his sister’s head and smiled. He asked Master to move his parents to a better position, and it seemed as if Master had already done it.
Garen’s uncle could do something like this easily, but for some reason he never helped his parents. He arrived home and put everything down, then went straight to the Dojo.
There were a lot of repairs going on in the city, and many infrastructures were being rebuilt. Garen could see workers and bullock cars that carried materials everywhere. The downtown area had become messy, no longer as clean as before.
He kept thinking about the three people he met earlier, while quickly walking down the street, and just felt that something was not right.
"If the invisible force field was the talent the old man talked about before, the key to all the questions would be the book he asked me to read that day." Garen thought he finally found a clue. "After watching me read the book, the old man looked disappointed and said I was not talented. I’ve not seen that book since. It may contain the answers to all my questions…"
Garen slowed down a bit. He saw a pancake stand moving towards him after turning at a corner. The owner of the stand smiled and handed him a small piece of paper before passing.
Garen stopped for a second and looked at the piece of paper. A Golden Hoop was drawn on it, and there was a sentence written below the graph: ’28-3 Stone Bridge, Willow Street. Urgent.’
Garen put the paper into his pocket and took a deep breath. He then turned back and crossed the street.
East of the Huaishan.
A yellow river slowly ran across the city area, and it looked like a wide yellow ribbon dividing the city in half. But it was a dirty one.
There were many square shaped light-yellow houses on both sides of the river. Some of them were tall and some short. They looked like a bunch of unorganized blocks. Sometimes, people in the houses could be seen through the windows.
There were many dark yellow stone bridges built over the river. Many pedestrians and cars were going across them. There was a silver black bust standing in the middle of one bridge that was far from the downtown area. The bust with its stand was about three meters tall, and it was a man with a moustache surrounded by flowers.
There was a bronze introduction panel in front of the bust, and a man in check sweater was standing beside it. The man was about 30 or 40 years old. He had brown eyes and an aquiline nose. With his short grey hair, he looked ruthless.
A strong young man with short purple hair appeared on the left side of the bridge and slowly walking toward the bronze panel. He was wearing a black sweatshirt, though the shirt was large, it could barely hide his muscles. The sunlight was not strong, but the young man’s arms still looked shiny.
Garen heard the voice and looked at the man’s aquiline nose. The man revealed a golden earing he was holding with his right hand.
"Nine?" Garen scrunched his eyebrows and stared at the man. He then realized he just took over position of Number Nine. "What’s the matter?" he asked.
"Master Six was checking the retrieved bodies, and he thought you would be interested in the results. He asked me to inform you about them," the man answered respectfully. His voice was low, just enough for Garen to hear him.
"The bodies… Lead the way." Garen’s expression changed, and he said with a deep tone.
"Sure, please follow me."
They went across the bridge and left the downtown area. There were many oxcarts and carriages on the road. Garen barely saw any cars around, just ox feces by the roadside from time to time.
They crossed two streets and walked into a narrow path beside a small hill. On the other side, there was a black wall separating the living area from the path.
The two had already left the city area, and Garen could hear insects making noises in the bushes on the side. He followed the man with an aquiline nose and kept checking the surroundings.
Garen saw several white-feathered ducks crossing the path after turning a corner. An old farmer with a straw hat was guiding them with a branch. He looked relaxed. Garen and the man went around the procession and kept advancing. They saw an empty ground by the end of the path, and behind the empty ground, there was a small building that was surrounded by green trees.
The sunlight was blocked by the trees, and the building was covered in shadows.
"That’s it." The man stopped by the entrance of the building. "This is one of our bases in Huaishan. Please go to the second floor. The other masters are waiting for you there."
Garen looked at him but did not say anything and just entered the building. A lady with black hair walked out of one of the rooms on the second floor. She looked sexy dressed in a tight leather suit. The lady had a ponytail, and was tall and slim. Her eyes were dark purple, and they caught Garen’s attention.
The lady was pretty, but she seemed hard to approach. She saw Garen going upstairs and walked back into the room without saying anything. He felt a bit speechless.
"No.10 is here too… I guess she knows who I am." Garen shook his head and kept moving. There was a strong man standing by the entrance to the second floor.
"This way, please. According to the rules, please put on your earring," the strong man told Garen.
Garen nodded and took the golden earring out of his pocket. He hesitated for a second, rubbing his earlobe. He decided to just put it on his left little finger, turned the number side up, and entered the room on the right.
It was the only room on the right side of the second floor. It was big with a rectangle table, two bookshelves, and several high backed chairs. All of the furniture were made of some red wood. Garen could smell its light fragrance.
A man and a lady were standing in front of the bookshelves. The lady was Number Ten, while the man was blonde and had only one eye. They were talking about something.
Number Six and a pale man with a black cape were playing cards on the table.
"You’re here? We can start." Number Six stood up and laughed, he put down his cards. "Sorry, Number Eight, I win again."
"Bullshit!" Number Eight cursed. He stood up and looked at Garen. "You’re a bit late," he said.
"Sorry, I am not familiar with the route," Garen replied, nodding to him. Number Eight had invited Garen to join the Golden Hoop, and he was the only one Garen was familiar with. So he walked toward him and stood by his side.
"So, what’s the matter?" Garen asked.
Number Six smiled but did not answer the question.
He clapped and said, "Okay everyone. We’re here to discuss the thing about the Silversilk Castle. There are five members from the top ten here, and we haven’t met like this in years."
"Cut the crap!" Number 10 barked, stopping Number Six from saying more unnecessary things. "We’re busy organizing our territories and aren’t here to waste our time."
"Fine." Number Six scratched his head. "First, I would like to introduce our new member, Number Nine!"
They clapped their hands several times but no one seemed to care.
"I still have no idea about the Golden Hoop." Garen shrugged.
"Take those," Number Eight handed Garen a stack of paper. "Leave them here after you finish reading. Someone will burn them."
Garen grabbed several pages, and found out they contained the information about the Golden Hoop.
He read through the information quickly, and learnt some basic knowledge about the Gold Hoop.
It was a large organization that sold antiques and jewelry. The top ten members of the Golden Hoop created an information network that collected rumours about antiques. If there were requests for certain items, the organization would do whatever they needed to get them for the buyers.
The top ten members were responsible for the organization, but they were not ranked with the numbers, and they all had their own territories and networks. They joined the organization just to make more profit.
Each of the top ten members oversaw a certain task: some needed to collect information about antiques while others needed to communicate with buyers. They could buy the antiques they wanted, or they could also get them from the others’ territories. They would work together as long as there were benefits.
Number Six spoke again while Garen was still checking the information. "Recently, our customers have shown a great interest in Antiques of Tragedy, and Number Nine is an expert of Antiques of Tragedy. He will make sure the antiques we get are real. This is the main reason I agreed to take him in."
"Also, Number Nine is a Martial Adept, and he is very close to rank E," Number Eight added. "We’ve already voted to confirm his membership and don’t need to discuss it anymore. Number Six, get to the point."
"Fine." Number Six nodded and looked at Number Ten. She did not seem to care about any of this. "We sometimes make changes to our top management, like Number Seven, who just joined us about two years ago. Well, let’s get down to business." His face got serious.