Sitting in the car, Garen glanced at the driver and Jaden sitting in front. Both were silent. It didn't seem like they intended to speak.
He turned to look out the car window. The buildings in Hela City were similar to those in Huaishan City, but taller. Some were even tens of meters tall, straight and boxlike, like huge pieces of stacking blocks. The shadows they cast were massive and black.
The motorcade seemed to drive from under the shadow of a building immediately into another. Garen could vaguely make out that there were external lifts on the sides of some of the tall buildings. They were those old-fashioned ones made of wood and metal with an extremely slow speed.
Pedestrians on the streets were fashionably dressed. Some girls and rich ladies even wore slightly revealing clothing, displaying their slim figures.
The motorcade kept going forward. Time passed. The buildings on both sides became less dense and older. The scene outside gradually resembled Huaishan City, and the pedestrians seemed to dress more modestly as well.
This was the first time Garen left Huaishan. Previously, he had thought it was one of the more modern places of this era. He didn't expect Hela City to be so much more developed than it.
The car slowed as it drove into this area. Soon it turned a corner into an underground carpark within a housing area.
The car gradually slowed to a halt, and the engine was cut off.
"We're here. Please step out," Jaden said in a low voice.
Garen nodded, pulled the handle and stepped out. He scanned the whole underground carpark—it was filled with silver-striped cars. There were a few still driving in, yet to park, and some with car doors open and the passengers standing around the cars taking in their surroundings.
The sound of car doors closing echoed around the carpark. His master Fei Baiyun stepped out accompanied by two Celestial Circle Gate disciples. Garen quickly walked over to follow behind his master.
"This way please." Jaden bowed respectfully, then walked toward the elevators in a far corner of the carpark.
A few Celestial Circle Gate disciples trailed behind, leading Garen and his master.
"What a grand display by the Celestial Circle Gate. They escorted us with police cars and sent so many disciples to receive the practitioners of Secret Martial Art from all sects," Garen said.
"This is normal. The Gate Master of the Celestial Circle Gate has several disciples who serve as senior officials in this province and a few other neighboring ones. He has a lot of soft power," Fei Baiyun explained softly. "You'll be directed to the student area later. Take care, don't get into trouble."
"Yes, Master." Garen nodded.
They followed Jayden into the elevator.
The inner walls of the elevator were made of mahogany. It was spacious inside. The floor was covered with a square black rug with "The Celestial Circle Gate" printed in calligraphy on it.
The few of them were silent inside the elevator. The movement of the elevator could barely be felt.
The elevator announced its stop, and the doors slowly opened. Beyond the doors was a black corridor with stone floor and walls. Every few steps along the corridor, a disciple in a sharp black suit stood in attention, lending a sense of formality to the atmosphere.
The corridor was linked to others at both ends. From time to time, there would be people in all manner of dress passing through the corridor, escorted by the Celestial Circle Gate disciples. All of them went toward the left.
Jayden led Fai Baiyun and Garen into the corridor, then turned left into a wider one.
Garen walked along the passage. He could feel the cold hard stone surface beneath his feet. There was a faint scent of incense in the air.
He had a vague sense of excitement. It was his first time being at a grand event like this. Putting aside all else, just by look
ing at the two rows of disciples in black suits standing in attention—sharp and alert, with fingertips like sharp spikes, emitting a faint white glow—one could tell that they were not mediocre.
His master in front started greeting peers upon turning the corner. It seemed like he had met some close acquaintances. Fei Baiyun put his arm over the shoulder of a short and stout man and walked with him. They greeted each other affectionately.
Garen lowered his head and looked solemn.
He walked into a small hall with a circular fountain.
"Senior Brother, please follow me," a Celestial Circle female disciple walked over to Garen and politely said. She led him away from Fei Baiyun and the rest, toward a corridor on the right. Several disciples from other sects, like Garen, were led toward the same direction.
They followed the female disciple to the end of the corridor and entered a spacious square black hall which was filled with large mahogany round tables and chairs. A lot of people were already seated inside.
By a wall in the hall, a few clowns in colorful clothing were performing an act, attracting bursts of laughter from the crowd.
No one noticed as Garen walked in. The female disciple handed him a sign with 'The White Cloud Gate' written on it and left.
He found an inconspicuous corner to sit down and stuck the sign into the placeholder on the table. Full-length windows spanned one side of the hall. Even though Garen sat in an inconspicuous corner, but it was right by the full-length windows. He could look out down below.
He turned his gaze there. He saw the middle floor of the grey building opposite. There were three more floors below that. That meant that he was on the fourth floor. He could vaguely make out the e Celestial Circle Gate disciples escorting people and constantly walking around in the building opposite. They entered another large hall.
"What a grand event…" Garen couldn't even begin to speculate how many similar large halls there were, but it was clear that this wasn't the only one.
Not long after he sat down, a muffled commotion seemed to come from the corridor’s entrance.
"Beo is here…"
"Such a big reputation. I'd like to see how great this so called 'one of the two stars of the South' is," a bald man sitting at a round table toward the front right of Garen sneered.
"One of the two stars of the South?" Garen looked up toward the entrance.
After a few seconds, a blue-haired youth wearing casual dark blue clothes walked in. He looked indifferent. His eyes, brows and hair were all blue, even his skin had a blue tinge to it, which gave him an ice-cold impression. The youth scanned the hall and walked straight toward the front-most table on the right. A group of people in white automatically stood up and gave him their place. They moved to an empty table at the back and sat down.
"Thank you," Beo calmly said, then sat down.
"I can't believe…" a middle-aged man said woefully. He was sitting with a woman of similar age to Garen's right.
Garen looked at the sign on their table. It read "Orthogon Sword".
The man who sighed had black hair, black eyes, white skin and a tall nose. He seemed to be of a mixed race.
Garen hesitated slightly, then poked his head over and asked, "Sir, who is this Beo? Why is he blue from top to toe? And they call him 'one of the two stars of the South'? Do you mind enlightening me?"
The middle-aged man was stunned for a moment, then a smile broke across his face. He glanced at Garen's sign on the table.
"I see you're from the White Cloud Gate. Our Orthogon Sword Gate is right by your dojo, we've heard of your sect. I'm Raydon. It's an honor."
Garen was stunned. He saw a room full of foreign people with all types of hair and skin colors speaking in a Chinese-martial-art-world tone. Even though they were speaking different languages, it still felt bizarre.
"I'm Garen, brother Raydon. Can you tell me more about the Secret Martial Art scene in the South?"
"Of course." The man looked like a talkative person. He came over and started explaining in detail about the whole Secret Martial Art situation in the South.
"Looks like you're a new disciple. I'll explain it to you in detail. The strongest sects in the Secret Martial Art world in the South are the Celestial Circle Gate and Crimson Sand Sword. I don't have to say much about the Celestial Circle Gate. They train in the Celestial Circle Fist. Their fingers are extremely powerful. You will see it in the next few days. Crimson Sand Sword is another large sect. They occupy two provinces in the South, but are slightly weaker than the Celestial Circle Gate. This Beo is currently the most outstanding disciple in Crimson Sand Sword, comparable to Andrela of the Celestial Circle Gate. It is rumored that he has trained in the Secret Martial Art of his sect to a terrifying stage. His true strength has almost surpassed their masters and elders."
"Surpassed masters and elders? Is it possible? This Beo doesn't look a day older than twenty-five. His true strength is that powerful?" Garen was slightly surprised.
"You should know, in the Secret Martial Art world, strong youths have the physical advantage. Experts who are a generation older can only rely on their rich experience. In order to achieve a higher level, if they don't do it in their youth, by twenty-five or so, they wouldn't have a chance after that. But before then, it all comes down to talent and effort. Andrela of the Celestial Circle Gate and Beo of Crimson Sand Sword are the type of geniuses who are not lacking in both. Coupled with the best Secret Martial Arts, it wouldn't be difficult for them to become powerful," Raydon lamented. There was a hint of envy in his eyes. "The body weakens with age. No matter how you maintain it, your true strength would start declining. Such is the law of nature. There is no way of resisting."
"You have worked hard enough," the middle-aged woman comforted Raydon, gently holding his hand.
Garen seemed to be deep in thought.
"So Andrela and Beo are the two strongest people from the South?"
"That I'm not sure of, but it should be the case." Raydon nodded. "It is a widely recognized fact that Andrela is the top Secret Martial Art practitioner in the South. Beo lost to him in the previous tournament. But from the looks of it now, he seems to have had a breakthrough. It's apparent that he is prepared to compete for the top spot again."
"There's going to be a good show then!" Garen said excitedly. "I haven't witnessed the true strength of a real Secret Martial Art expert. This is the perfect chance."
"You look quite young. I'm sure you're very talented. No wonder your master brought you here to gain experience," Raydon said with a smile. "But you may have gotten the wrong idea. Before they fight, we from the smaller sects would have to duel first."
"We have to duel first?" Garen was confused for a moment, then instantly understood. "That's right. If the strongest duel first, who would still want to watch us fight?"
"It's great that you can understand that." Raydon smiled and didn't say more.
Garen then asked about some common knowledge in the Secret Martial Art world.
There weren't many people in the Secret Martial Art world, but every one of them was at a strong level envied by general martial art enthusiasts. Not to mention, there was much sway and power involved behind every sect. With so many of them gathered in one place, even though it was the era of firearms, the government still had to increase the scale of security to be able to provide a timely response if and when conflict arose.