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Afternoon, Pennington street.
Grey clouds covered the sky, not letting a single beam of light s.h.i.+ne through. It was a gloomy day.
Inside Dolphin Antiques, old man Gregor languidly sat in the chair behind the table. He seemed to be dozing off with his head tilted.
Suddenly, he heard a familiar footstep from outside the door.
"Garen?" the old man opened one of his eyes and asked listlessly. "Look at what time it is! I thought you weren’t coming today." He pointed at a white narrow-necked vase with two ear-like handles. "This is your mission for the afternoon, go take a closer look. Give me your appraisal report after."
Garen walked through the door in a red sports suit. When he saw the old man’s lazy att.i.tude, he rolled his eyes and shook his head in silence. He walked up and reached out to take the vase.
All of a sudden, he flipped his fingers and launched what seemed to be a black line.
The black line drew an arch in the air like a flying bug, speeding toward old man Gregor’s forehead like lightning.
It was too late for the old man to dodge, so he slightly tilted his head. Unexpectedly, the black line turned and struck down, stabbing into his left shoulder, and stopped there. It was a thin black needle.
"Garen, what in the world are you doing?" Gregor got up from his chair, took two steps back and pulled out the needle. He was both surprised and infuriated.
Garen was shocked. Suddenly, he had a pained expression and staggered two steps back. He spat out a mouthful of blood and his face turned pale.
"What happened? How are you?" Old man Gregor froze, but then immediately came around the table to hold Garen. His swift movements were completely contradictory to his elderly figure.
"My… my head hurts..!" Garen’s shouted out in a weak voice, his face twisting with pain.
"d.a.m.n it, it must be those guys! How dare they … ugh!"
Gregor’s voice suddenly stopped, his body shuddering next to Garen. He lowered his head and saw a short black dagger stabbed into his belly.
Garen sneered as he promptly pulled the dagger out, flipped it in his hand, and backed off a step without making another move.
"If I wasn’t disguised as that kid, I probably wouldn’t have been able to trick you."
He pinched the skin on his left cheek and gently peeled off a mask made of human skin, revealing a handsome yet sinister face of a man. "Long time no see, Gregor."
"It’s you… Sylphalan!"
Old man Gregor backed off two steps, holding his wounded lower belly. He had a complicated expression.
"Tell me, where is the thing?" Sylphalan demanded.
"The thing? Heh…" Old man Gregor smiled. "You still haven’t given up?"
Sylphalan laughed. "I know you’re strong, but there is no way you could escape after getting struck by my Duskhill Needle. Now come on, show me where it is…" He slowly approached Gregor.
Gregor unexpectedly started chuckling.
"Have you forgotten? No matter how many times you try, you will always eat my dust."
"We’ll see about that," Sylphalan mocked with a smile.
Garen flung himself at the bed after the shower, his hair still wet. He took a deep breath, the blankets had the most familiar and warm fragrance.
"I’m so tired…" he mumbled. "Got beaten up by master Fei at the dojo, then scolded by mom and dad after getting home. Thank G.o.d Ying Er was home early, else it could’ve been worse…"
A tranquil orange light lit the bedroom, dyeing Garen’s white bathrobe a faint yellow. Outside the window, the day was turning dark. It was almost dusk.
His parents and Ying Er went for a stroll after dinner, but Garen was too tired to go along, so he stayed and rested in his room.
He laid on his stomach and dug out the Black Jade Disk, carefully rubbing its rough surface with his hand.
The door abruptly opened.
"Brother, what are you doing with the door closed? Doing something sneaky?" Ying Er walked in holding a gla.s.s of water.
Garen hid the Black Jade Disc in a flurry.
"Could you knock on the door when you come in?" he complained, sitting up.
"Knock on the door? For what? How will I catch you doing your sneaky business if I knock?" Ying Er looked like she had just showered as well. Her skin was s.h.i.+ning pink from the heat.
She was wearing a white t-s.h.i.+rt and shorts, revealing her long and slim thighs. She stood at the door, her thighs level with Garen’s face.
"Didn’t you go out with mom and dad? Why are you back?" Garen asked while trying to avoid peeking at his sister’s legs.
"I never left. I was just saying that to deceive you, and I’ve finally caught you in action!" Ying Er said with an evil laugh. "If you don’t want mom and dad to know about your fishy business, you’ll have to promise me something!"
"Promise you something? You think you can threaten me?" Garen replied, acting stubborn. He had nothing to hide, but he was trying to tease Ying Er. "What do you want?"
Ying Er walked toward Garen and looked down at him with one arm on her hip.
"What I want is simple!" She hummed and sneered. "That is …"
Suddenly there was a thudding sound, and a violent rumbling came after.
The whole apartment started shaking strenuously, an eerie noise came from afar and numbed Garen’s ears.
Ying Er couldn’t even stand still. She fell into Garen’s arms, her legs spread out, and sat up straight in Garen’s right leg.
The two shuddered. Garen warily gripped onto Ying Er, but the latter blushed and ran out of the room in an instant.
Garen turned around to face up, still immersed in his sister’s refres.h.i.+ng fragrance as she fell onto him.
"I’ve been quite lucky recently…" He lightly chuckled and collected himself. He sat in front of his desk and started reviewing the antiques appraisal knowledge.
Suburbs of Huaishan City, inside a forest.
Old man Gregor covered his stomach and stood facing the burning woods. He quietly watched as the torching flames consumed the trees. The fire reflected on his face, coloring it red.
"If you still had the book, I might have been a little reluctant, but now…" From the searing flames walked out a man, Sylphalan. He had a wound on his left cheek, and blood was slowly streaming out of it onto his chin. "Gregor, you have become mortal … Your only hope is the sustenance."
"Even without it, I can still… Cough Cough…" Gregor coughed abruptly, his hand was still placed over his abdomen, blood gus.h.i.+ng from between his fingers.
"Weak and powerless, you even lost that book. The once glorious genius has turned into today’s tragic sight!" Sylphalan said, opening his arms. "It really is …. pathetic…" he murmured in a poetic tone. "What do you wish to accomplish by extracting your power? Do you want to give it to the boy? It’s no use, he isn’t gifted enough. He is a mere mortal who will easily perish with time."
"Whoever I’m giving it to, it’s my business. As for that book, I’ve placed it far far away, in a place you would never find…" Gregor panted and faintly laughed.
"We’ve lived together for all those years, brother. Do you really think I don’t know that you would give it to that old hag?" Sylphalan smiled.
Gregor’s face twitched a little. It was too late when he realized it.
"I knew it! Haha!" Sylphalan started laughing maniacally. "I was just trying to test you first, but your mind is still as slow as a turtle, even after all these years."
He stared at Gregor, his eyes full of sorrow.
"You’ve always put all of your life and power into someone else’s hands. Even until the day you die, you’re still like this. You think I can’t tell how many days you’ve left? Putting all of your vitality into the ritual, only you could do something like this."
"I was already a useless man, I just wanted to leave a trace of myself in this big world…" Gregor had a tearful smile.
It looked like he had been hit by something invisible; his body abruptly flew out and hit a trunk. Then rolled for a bit.
"Ugh…" Gregor covered his mouth with a hand, but blood flowed out from between his fingers and dripped to the ground.
"Why are you always this stupid! Why?" Sylphalan ran at him and fiercely hit Gregor’s stomach.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Sylphalan’s feet stomped and kicked, harder and harder.
It sounded like something hitting a leathered sack, the sound was clear even at the edge of this burning forest.
"Trace?" He finally stopped. "A sc.u.mbag like you wants to leave a trace in this world? Keep dreaming!" At some point during the kicking, his face had turned diabolical. "I’ve made up my mind. I will erase everything you’ve left! All of it!" he roared at the top of his lungs. His face was twisted, purple veins throbbing on his forehead.
Suddenly a hand gripped Sylphalan’s boot. Gregor desperately raised his head, his face covered in blood. He was completely mute, thick blood continuously welling in his mouth. He stared at Sylphalan with it wide open, unable to say a word.
"You want me to leave him alone?" Sylphalan stopped raging and regained his calm expression. This time he had a mysterious smirk. "You’re begging me? You are begging me, right?"
Gregor’s pupils were dilating, his eyes had gone blurry, and he could not see anything. But he kept his grip on Sylphalan’s boot.
"You’re really begging me?" Sylphalan’s smile turned into a wild laugh. "If you want to beg me, then lick my boots clean!"
He stomped on Gregor’s face.
"Lick it… the once glorious genius … my dear brother.. LICK IT!"
His face turned diabolical again.
He stomped and grinded Gregor’s face, again and again.
Suddenly he froze.
Old man Gregor, who was dying beneath his feet, really reached out with his tongue and licked his boot.
An inexplicable emotion filled Sylphalan’s chest. He raised his head and felt a sudden bitterness.
"It… was… my fault… back … then…" Old man’s voice came from below his feet. "Forgi… me…"
His head slid down to the ground, the last bit of l.u.s.ter gone from his eyes.
Sylphalan did not respond. He looked at the body at his feet. The cold wind blew and angered the flames in the forest, but they were starting to burn down.
Sylphalan silently squatted down next to Gregor’s body.
At the same time, Garen sat at his desk and felt a warmth in his chest.
He pulled out a necklace from beneath his collar. It was the book shaped one old man Gregor had given him.
"What’s going on?" He checked it again, but could not find anything abnormal. The necklace was as warm as his body’s temperature.
He decided not to overthink it, chucked the necklace back beneath his collar, and continued to study the appraisal cases.
As he stuffed the necklace back, a small line of text appeared on its surface.
‘Ain Gregoria, third life ritual – protection.’