"I am Ai Luo of Asura Palm. And you are?" The portly youth had a head of blonde hair; it didn't look dyed, but instead natural. He reached a hand to brush his blonde hair off his face, and asked earnestly.
"Garen. White Cloud Gate." Garen raised his hand, put on a Four Major Forms pose, and he instantly sharpened up.
"I'll just stand still and let you hit me, how's that?" the stout youth Ai Luo said, chuckling. "As long as you manage to injure me, you win."
"You idiot!" Jaden outside the ring covered his eyes as he couldn't bear to look.
Garen leapt forward, his elbow straight like a sharp arrow, piercing straight into the fats of the chest and abdomen of the stout youth.
The layers of white fat started to violently vibrate; fatty ripples formed in the parts that were hit.
Ai Luo's expression changed: his face was pale.
Garen's expression was composed. He gathered momentum with a twist of his foot, and thrust his entire body against the stout youth.
The force caused the hill-like body of the stout youth to fly out of the ring and crash onto the ground, creating a huge cloud of dust as he landed.
"Declare it," Garen said casually as he straightened up.
"…Yes…yes, very well." The referee snapped out of his shock. "The winner of this round, Garen from White Cloud Gate!" He rang the bell hard, but the sound produced by the small bell was too soft; it was completely muted by the gasps from the crowd.
Jaden stood in a corner with a somber expression.
"Looks like we underestimated his strength. He is already qualified to challenge Beo of Crimson Sand Sword. Asura Palm is ranked seventh. This stout one was one of their best: he was ranked eleventh in the previous meet. The fat all over his body was his best defense. His Secret Martial Art is the constantly activated tough Ripples of Fat to counteract Vibration. Vibration by average experts have almost no effect on him."
To a side, Long Er's petite face turned pale.
"So…so how did he take down the stout guy in such a short amount of time…?"
"His Strength, Speed, and his technique of consecutively concentrating power onto one point; he combined all these to directly break the surface tension and counter the Ripples of Fat Secret Martial Art. What a terrifying fighting spirit!" Jayden explained with a mumble. "His Vibration, his physical coordination, and most importantly the speed of his Explosive Force, is so much more powerful than average practitioners of Secret Martial Arts! I once saw the Secret Martial Art of White Cloud Gate, the Mammoth Secret Technique. Its general effects could not achieve the toughness that he had displayed. Is it possible that he is training in a new martial art technique? Something that's not from White Cloud Gate?"
"No! He did actually use the Explosive Force Technique from White Cloud Gate," a male voice could suddenly be heard beside them.
Jayden and Long Er were both startled. They turned around, and both instantly displayed reverence.
"Eldest Senior Brother!"
"Greetings, Eldest Senior Brother."
Both of them quickly greeted him.
Standing to one side, was the one-eyed Andrela, who had just rushed over to watch the tournament. He was the strongest disciple of their generation from Celestial Circle Gate, and the most prominent youth martial arts expert in the South.
He had a black eye patch over his left eye, and a crystal clear, dark golden pupil for his left eye. A head of long, jet black hair was casually draped behind him to the waist. This gave him a mysterious and gentle impression.
"19, 23, you're still fresh. With only a few years of training under your belt, it's natural that you can't recognize his true style." Andrela looked at Garen in the ring with a trace of admiration.
"If I'm not wrong, this Garen has mastered the highest level of Secret Martial Art of White Cloud Gate. How terrifyingly talented! Mammoth Secret Technique of White Cloud Gate is merely a third-rate Secret Martial Art; many sects have a similar training method for Secret Martial Arts. I can't believe he could actually train in a third-rate Secret Martial Art to such an extent."
"It can't be… Eldest Senior Brother, you mean to say that, the Secret Martial Art level of this Garen is higher than that of his master?" Jaden asked, aghast.
"I'm not sure. The true strength of the White Cloud Gate Master is known only to the masters who have dueled with him. But it's just a third-rate Secret Martial Art, so even if he's highly trained in it, the power would be limited. Not to worry." Andrela looked at Garen who was resting cross-legged, and shook his head regrettably. "What a shame. If he was discovered by Celestial Circle Gate first, his accomplishments would be unimaginable. Shame… His Secret Martial Art is limited; he has peaked."
He used the word 'shame' twice.
Jayden and Long Er understood what he meant. Garen had trained in the Secret Martial Art of White Cloud Gate to such an extent that his physicality had crystallized. It was impossible for him to change course and train in another Secret Martial Art. Moreover, the limit of a third-rate Secret Martial Art was the level on which Garen was at; there was no way to enhance it any further.
"So Eldest Senior Brother, in your opinion, what ranking does this Garen deserve based on his true strength?" Long Er asked curiously. With the strongest Eldest Senior Brother by her side, the trauma that Garen caused her seemed to completely vanish: she was instantly more relaxed.
"It should be the same as Eastern Saintcloth from Quicksand, around fifth or sixth—provided that the true strength of the rest hasn't changed much this year," Andrela replied casually.
"Fifth or sixth?!" Jayden and Long Er were both shocked; they couldn't believe it.
Garen did not notice Andrela in the corner of the crowd. It was as if he had an unusual magic: the people around him barely gave him a second look, as if he was utterly invisible.
Garen was breathing slowly according to the breathing rhythm of the Secret Martial Art to recover his energy. Even though he defeated the stout contender from Asura Palm in one blow, he still expended some energy. He still had to prepare himself to face the next opponent in his prime condition.
Unfortunately, after waiting for quite some time, his opponent for the next round didn't turn up. It wasn't just him, even the referee started to get impatient. He sent a disciple from Celestial Circle Gate to inquire, and found out that Garen's opponent for the next round was still in the middle of a tough fight. Apart from ongoing duels, some contestants had sustained severe injuries and required rest and treatment. All contestants for the fourth round had to continue waiting. The rest were martial arts experts who had already progressed to the fifth round. According to the rules, it was impossible to arrange a duel with them in that moment.
"That means I can have a little time to rest for now?" Garen stood up and asked softly.
"Yes. You have about half an hour to rest. In the meantime, you are free to move about," the referee nodded and politely replied. In the Secret Martial Art world, the strong was always revered. Garen's true strength had gained his respect.
"Very well." Garen planned to sit cross-legged again and continue his recovery.
After sitting only for a while, a disciple from Celestial Circle Gate clad in black handed a note to him.
"Senior Brother Garen, someone outside claims to be an acquaintance of yours. He asked me to give this to you."
"An acquaintance?" Garen took the note, opened it, and his eyes widened instantly.
There was only one line written on the note.
'Want to know how Gregor died? Meet me at two o'clock at night. I'll be waiting for you outside.' There was even an illustration of a familiar tattoo design below the words: it was the graphic on the back of the hands of those psychokinetics.
He crumpled the note in shock. Garen's eyes narrowed; there was a trace of coldness in them.
"Where is the person who passed you the note?" he asked the disciple who handed the note over.
"Still waiting outside…" Before he could finish his words, he saw Garen jump straight off the ring and dash out the door. The packed crowd around the ring did not impede him at all. He was like a moving reef; the crowd automatically parted wherever he went.
He was out of the room in an instant. There seemed to be a commotion in the room on the other side; it sounded like a crowd cheering.
"Shura! Shura! Shura!" The cheers were like the tide, coming wave after wave; the atmosphere was bustling.
Garen glanced around the corridor. Suddenly the corner of a black cloak at the far end of the corridor caught his eye.
He arched his body and instantly rushed towards it. He was at the end of the corridor in a few strides. Around the corner was a ten-odd-meters straight black corridor; there were no bends in the middle, but the person earlier had vanished, all in a matter of a few seconds.
"Traveling twenty to thirty meters in a few seconds…" Garen looked at the people walking around in the corridor. He grabbed a female disciple that walked past him and asked, "Did you see someone in a black cloak pass by earlier?"
"Ouch! That hurts! No! No I didn't!" the girl repeatedly answered in shock.
"I'm sorry, I've hurt you." It was only then that Garen noticed he was using too much force, so he released his grip on her. "You really didn't see?"
"I really didn't! Who wears a black cloak in broad daylight anyway?" she rubbed her shoulder as she finished replying, then ran off as fast as a rabbit.
Garen walked on along the corridor. He kept questioning passersby as he walked, but the answer was that no one had even seen a person in a black cloak.
The other disciples from White Cloud Gate rushed over too, and followed behind Garen.
Collin wanted to walk up and greet him, but was halted by Simon, who shook his head at her.
"It must be something important to Eldest Senior Brother. Let's help him search."
Apart from Rimridor who was nowhere to be seen, the four of them kept asking everyone they met, but no one had seen a person in a black cloak at all.
Garen walked into a break room along the corridor. He slowly sat on the bench and wiped the sweat and oil off his face. The note and that corner of a black cloak were haunting him.
Shouts and cheers kept coming intermittently from the rooms around them: those were the tournament venues of other contestants.
The other three from White Cloud Gate were also exhausted, so they sat down with Garen.
"Eldest Senior Brother…" Collin looked at Garen worriedly.
"It's almost time for the next tournament, right?" Garen looked up, and reverted to his usual calm. "Thanks for helping me out in the manhunt. Let's get back to the tournament."
"Okay!" Simon and the rest answered hurriedly.
Garen stood up and sorted through his emotions.
Ever since he enhanced his Mammoth Secret Technique to the level of Achieved Mammoth, even though he didn't feel anything then, eventually he realized that the Achieved level of the Mammoth Secret Technique made his every action more coherent. The Four Major Forms of White Cloud Combat Techniques, Vibration Technique in Strength Utilization under the Mammoth Secret Technique, and Techniques in Fundamental Wrestling Arts had all harmonized into one. It was as if he was a real mammoth: his every move was calm but powerful, and integrated.
He finally understood the purpose of the Mammoth Secret Technique: it was coordination.
Coordinated practitioners of the White Cloud Secret Method, Explosive Fist Arts, White Cloud Combat Arts and the like, would be able to meld all the techniques into one, and form a naturally coherent comprehensive force.