Skyfire Avenue Chapter 31-40


Chapter 31: Harlequin Silver

The hulking man struggled to get to his feet after the Barber had thrown him aside. He knew precisely how strong he was, but he wasn’t stupid – if the Barber had been able to chuck him aside so easily, he knew better than to start anything else. He turned glumly, seeking to continue on.

“Halt,” The Barber called harshly.

Big Baldie turned back. “Whadda ya gunna do about it,” he said threateningly, but the fear was in his eyes.

The Barber regarded him listlessly. “I should be asking you that. Do you know where we are?”

An ominous glint lit Big Baldie’s eyes. “Skyfire Avenue.”

“So you do know,” the Barber said, “And yet you deliberately break the rules.”

Big Baldie growled. “I broke no rule. Where’s it written you can’t walk down the opposite side of the street?”

The Barber’s face adopted a shocked expression. “So you knew you were going against the crowd! That’s good. In fact you’re right, there isn’t any rule expressly forbidding walking against the flow of traffic. But that was before. From now on this street indeed has that rule. Because I said so. I’ll submit the provision when I return to the Skyfire Council. And likewise you will pay for your malicious disregard for the rules.”

Big Baldie’s features blanched. “Yeah right, how you gunna prove it!” As he spat this, he turned and ran down away down the street.

The Barber sneered derisively. “These thugs of the Great Conclave are as stupid as they come. Let’s go.”

As he spoke he started to move onward, seemingly losing interest in Baldie. Neither Lan Jue nor the Beautician bothered to follow the man’s departure either.

Big Baldie, meanwhile, pushed is way wildly through the crowd. A few moments later, he turned his head to ensure he wasn’t being chased by that little guy with the evil eyes and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Come with us,” a voice directed. A middle-aged man stood near him, hands tucked in to the pockets o f his grey  suit trousers.

“W-who are you?” Big Baldie stammered. All around him half a dozen other grey-suited men had silently begun  to  draw closer.

“Skyfire Avenue Enforcement,” the man replied impatiently.

“What proof do you have to take me away?” The muscles all over Big Baldie’s body began to swell menacingly.

The middle-aged man heaved a sigh. “You’re blind, then? Do you know who you bumped in to? You probably could have caused trouble for anyone other than the Barber and been fine, you know. You’re lucky he was in a good mood, too, otherwise there’d be no need for us to come collect you.”

As he spoke, his hand shone with light. Big Baldie tried to call out, but the only thing that emerged was a chocking gasp before he collapsed to the floor.

“Take him away.”

Lan Jue saw the geodesic dome rise before him, his face betrayed his interest. “It’s my first time here. They call it the Reaper’s Arena, right?”

The Barber looked at him with a grin. “That’s right.”

The Reaper Arena, the place where Adepts brought their enemies for duels. It was as fair as you could get. Both parties signed a waver absolving the other of their death. Combatants fought to the finish, fate deciding who lived and who died. Revenge wasn’t permitted. Sometimes the Skyfire Council would host fights between combatants with particularly deep- seated hatreds. On those days gamblers came out in droves. Business was surprisingly good.

Lan Jue chuckled. “Suddenly my mood has improved. I’ll tell you what, Barber – we’re both respectable men, nobility, and have never fought before. What would you say to a wager?”

The Barber blinked in surprise. “You want to bet me?”

“Naturally!” Lan Jue grinned.

The Barber clapped his hands, their sound thrumming though the area. Smiling, he replied, “Excellent idea! How’d you know what I was thinking. Ahhh, I’m not worthy of being a Councilman – you understand me too well. Fine, to tell the truth I’ve had my eye on that Soulfire diamond in your shop, the fifty karat one. Unfortunately I’m embarrassingly short on funds. Seeing as we were never that close it would have been improper to ask you for it directly.”

Realization dawned on Lan Jue’s face. “You should have said something earlier. We’re all Councilman, and the shop’s discounts are at my discretion. But seeing you like this, I assume you hadn’t intended to spend the money anyway.”

The Barber nodded his head.

The Beautician stood nearby, smiling pleasantly. “Since you both have invited me to be the judge, I have to make sure the scales are even, and make this a fair contest. You want the Soulfire gem, Little Clippers, but you’ll have to offer something of equal value in return.”

“Of course,” the Barber replied. “I’m a fair and equitable businessman. What do think of this, Jewel Master?”

The Barber’s hand searched his jacket as he spoke, retracting a moment later with something in his grip.

A metal roughly the size of his palm emitted a ethereal glow, as though sunlight bloomed from within. It shone with the whole spectrum of color.

Lan Jue’s eyes grew wide. “That’s a fair bet,” he said, without hesitation.

The metal held in the Barber’s hand was called Harlequin Silver. Like Technetium it was superconductive, but rarer still. In addition to transmitting the vast majority of power used with it, mixing only a small amount in an alloy would produce a weapon that would greatly amplify any Adept’s power. A piece that size was worth far more than the Soulfire gem the Barber had requested.

There were several planets where technetium could be mined, but finding Harlequin Silver came down to luck. It was exceedingly difficult to gather, only traces could be found

accompanying special metals. Very difficult to get indeed.

The Barber handed the Harlequin Silver to the Beautician. “Then it’s decided.”

As he spoke, he entered the Reaper’s Arena.

The Reaper’s Arena was in fact many arenas together. From outside the building itself didn’t look so large, but the arenas inside were all built with specific characteristics. Whether one entered to fight or spar, a fee was always required. This provided a professional referee, registration, and record keeping. Only then could you fight.

Of course, for Lan Jue and his companions as members of the Skyfire Council, they had no need to pay. They also had free use of the best arena. Necessary for such a top-level fight.

The Barber registered them for a sparring session. Despite their status as Councilmen they were still required to register and enter in to the records. As for bets, however, that was up to them. If they wanted the arena to act as arbiter, they would have to put down a ten percent deposit against the value of the winnings.

“You want to make a deposit with the Arena, Jewel Master?” The Barber asked, shrugging his shoulders.

Lan Jue responded with a small smile. “Up to you.”

Chapter 32: The Sparring Arena

The Beautician gathered two badges from the staff, handing them to the others. “Let’s go on in. I can’t wait.”

Peering at Lan Jue, the Barber pressed the badge in his hand. Instantly a silvery light enveloped his body, and he stepped through a barrier of light with the number 23 above it.

Lan Jue, in turn, bowed towards the Beautician. After giving his regards he employed the badge and entered the arena.

With a flash of light, the scenery changed before his very eyes.

The arena was circular, with a diameter exceeding three hundred meters. The Barber had already made his way to the far ends of the arena. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, smiling.

As it was Lan Jue’s first visit to the Reaper’s Arena, he took it all in earnestly.

The circular arena’s floor was fabricated with a special

material. It was surrounded by walls that rose a hundred meters in to the air. It was like the entire arena was covered in a some sort of case.

A robotic voice filled the air.

“Welcome to the S-Rank Sparring Arena. There are no rules: surrendering, or activating your Arena Badge will terminate the match. Whoever terminates the match is declared the loser. The results will be entered in to record.”

“Participants are; the Jewel Master; the Barber. This match will not exceed sixty minutes.”

“Match, begin!”

The series of announcements repeated, going over the rules.

“From the look of you, it really is the first time you’ve been here Jewel Master,” the Barber said, in no hurry to attack.

Lan Jue nodded in affirmation. “That’s right, first time.”

The Barber smiled. “I’ll make sure to leave you with a good impression. No crying, though!”

Lan Jue returned the smile. “We are nobles; fair, modest, astute, intelligent. We certainly aren’t puerile.”

He stood about a hundred and fifty meters from Lan Jue. The smile fled from his face. “Are you calling me childish?”


The Barber glared at him, and lifting his right hand palm upward. Without any clear motion, the Barber caused the entire arena to warp , and a strange buzz issued forth.

Boom! A violent blast was heard. All that could be seen was an orb of crackling blue light that surrounded Lan Jue. The barrier undulated like it had been struck by some great force.

It flickered, undulating like choppy seas, and shimmered from the pressure.

“Quite the display, not bad at all,” Lan Jue praised, honesty in his voice.

And it was. The attack had come from the Barber slapping his hand, the impact causing an explosion. A blast of a hundred and fifty meters, produced only by a palm – it must have been nearly the speed of sound.

“Not bad yourself, though it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a blue turtle shell,” the Barber taunted. In the next instant, he’d disappeared.

Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom… ! A succession of thunderous blasts erupted, and the lightshield surrounding Lan Jue shuddered like it had been fed through a wood chipper. Countless bursts of light appeared where the invisible attacks landed. The terrifying attacks left deep ravines in the arena floor.

Lan Jue’s brows had drawn together, and he stood quietly never moving from his spot. It was like he didn’t react at all, or he had no way to react. He only suffered the mad blows of the Barber, who’d disappeared in to thin air.

Whoosh! The Barber appeared anew, this time fifty meters in front of Lan Jue.

“Are you planning to sit there and defend until I run out of power? We’ll see just how strong your defense really is.” The Barber glared at Lan Jue.

Bzzt bzzt bzzt! A deep hum wormed from around the Barber’s body. The power coursing through him covered him in a dim cyan light.

Looking on, Lan Jue’s face took on a strange expression.

Cyan represented wind-element Disciplines. The Barber’s power was derived from wind.

The Barber’s body shimmered and flashed, suddenly dropping down from the skies. As he began to descend a dull blast filled the air.

He broke the sound barrier! Sound!

In the space of an instant the Barber’s fist appeared before Lan Jue’s face. His luminous shell began to cave, crack, then shatter with a loud crash in to countless motes of light.

But it was the Barber’s scowling face that froze in shock. A large, powerful hand was gripping his fist.

“How could you be this fast?” The Barber looked at Lan Jue, stupefied.

Lan Jue looked at him, shaking his head apologetically. “Your genetic Talent just barely reaches the Ninth level. Your ability has only reached sound. I’m guessing the best you can achieve is four times the speed of sound. Once you’ve reached the ninth rank, your strength doubles with each  subsequent  degree. You’re just a first degree Ninth-Rank Talent, and though your control is excellent it isn’t enough. I once knew a ninth degree Ninth-Rank Talent, also a wind-element Adept. Not only could move at the speed of sound. He could move at the speed of light. Your Talent is quite good, but you’ve used too many drugs, and they’ve limited your potential. Continue to work on your foundation, keep striving. After all, you’re still young.”

Though he certainly appeared younger than the Barber, in the midst of his lecture he looked for all the world like a professor.

“Ninth degree Ninth-Rank? It’s impossible for the Wind Discipline to grow that high!” The cyan light surrounding the Barber bloomed suddenly, employing all his power to wrench his fist free from Lan Jue’s grasp.

“It brings you no shame to be uninformed, but I didn’t want to say anything. You’ve lost, and I appreciate your gift of the Harlequin Silver.” Lan Jue offered a small smile, and the power surrounding the Barber became a deep blue. In the next instant, his entire body sparked as bolts of lightning spat out from him.

Clap, clap, clap. The sound of applause prefaced the Beautician’s arrival, though no one knew how long she’d been in the arena. “Splendid, Little Brother! I hadn’t expected you’d be so strong! You certainly opened your Big Sister’s eyes. It’s just, you only said his own power wasn’t sufficient. How is it as a Lightning Disciple you are so fast?”

Lan Jue spotted the Barber struggling to catch his breath, freeing himself from the incapacitating lightning. He looked up at the grinning face of the Beautician. “Both of you now.”

Chapter 33: Never Told A Lie

“Both of you now,” Lan Jue said.

“Huh?” The Barber and Beautician looked at him, stunned.

Lan Jue asked flippantly, “Wasn’t that your plan from the start?”

The two exchanged a glance, surprise evident in their eyes.

The Beautician ran her hand through her hair and smiled. “And how’d you figure that out, Little Brother?”

Lan Jue shrugged. “It wasn’t difficult. I knew you two were a team once he started his attack. You’re always calling him the Diabolical Little Clippers, but his style of confrontation is always head on. Clearly you’d been trying to deceive me from the start. Moreover, were you two not a team why would you come in once the fight was finished? It may be my first time, but I know the rules don’t permit noncombatants to enter during a bout.”

The Beautician glared at the Barber. “I told you! You should have held back, don’t rush in guns blazing. You don’t listen. You’ve shown your hand.”

She turned back to Lan Jue, that devilishly cunning smile once more lighting up her features. “Little Brother, you really are something. I simply must know what degree ninth-rank you are.”

Lan Jue blinked his eyes. “I’m not sure what degree I am myself.”

The Beautician pursed her ruby lips, malcontent written across her face. “Little Brother, don’t be so dishonest.”

Lan Jue sighed. “I’ve never told a lie. In fact, Sister Beautician, I must tell you that my degree isn’t menial.”

She responded with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, and in that moment a pink light exuded from the center of her body. In the space of an instant, the arena had become a world of pink.

The air filled the shrieking howls, bloodcurdling cries, as a

host of wraiths clawed their way out from the ground with bony hands. The world of man had become hell, adrift in the river Acheron

Acheron was one of five rivers in the Greek myths of Hades, the River of Woe. Here, it may also refer to hell in it’s entirety

The Barber disappeared, and the hellish shrieking of the wraiths lapsed in to silence. He had become the deadly blade in the bowels of hades.

Lan Jue, meanwhile, simply lifted his hand and shouted. “That Silver’s mine!”


Skyfire Museum.

“Ahh,” the Clairvoyant sighed, and gave a halfhearted smile.

The Wine Master grinned at him. “What’s all that noise about?”

The Clairvoyant replied. “Are we going about this the right way?”

“What’s wrong about it,” the Wine Master inquired. “If we didn’t do it this way, they would find a way. In this case to do is better than to restrict. It will take more than a day or two before they accept the Jewel Master. After all, when he’d first arrived in the Avenue we broke our fair share of rules. But these three years he’s kept a low profile, gained prestige in the council. These are good things.”

“This morning I saw the Barber, his face sour,” the Clairvoyant said. “Like he’d lost something valuable. The Jewel Master’s face, meanwhile, was aglow – like he had a hot date, a good sign.”

Smiling, the Wine Master rejoined, “Let them work it out among themselves. Though the Jewel Master’s heart isn’t entirely pure, but his actions are measured.”

“I wouldn’t call that measured. Economical so as to avoid shortage, maybe. Take care of your precious liquors.”

The Wine Master snorted. “The guy’s quite rich, but

exceptionally stingy. I haven’t the slightest idea what he’s planning with all of that money. And when choosing alcohol he’s even more sinister than the Beautician. In these three years he’s opened up more of my treasures than I care to count.”

The Clairvoyant responded with a full-bellied chuckle. “The fault also lies with you, good drinking buddies are rare! Were you to give me fine liquor I wouldn’t know what to do with it. No, it seems you quite like the boy. Although he takes advantage of you, there will certainly come a day when he’ll pay you back double.”

“Oh?”The Wine Master raised a brow in curiosity. With the Clairvoyant, this sort of talk was never to be taken lightly.


Skyfire Underground.

It felt incredible to switch up his mood. Lan Jue toyed with the Harlequin Silver in his hand, throwing it up and catching it. As he left the arena all his worries, his anger over Zhou Qianlin, melted away. It was like taking a long drink of ice water after leaving the sauna.

Not long after he left, the Barber and Beautician followed.

The Beautician had become like a peasant woman, her reddish-brown hair tousled and tangled.

She looked like a lion after viciously defending it’s territory.

She ground her teeth as she watched Lan Jue leave.

The Barber looked even more wretched. He lurched with a hand over his stomach, and his face looked like he’d been constipated for more than a month. He looked like he wished he were dead.

“Shameful loss, that guy trounced us,” the Barber nearly bellowed, flustered and frustrated.

“It’s your fault,” the Beautician hissed, trying in vain to get her hair under control. “Who made you so useless! My Harlequin Silver!”

The rage painted across the Barber’s features gradually

disappeared, replaced with a stern and dignified look. “The Jewel Master was far stronger than we had assumed. By my estimation he’s at least a fourth degree Ninth-Rank Talent. What do you think?”

The beautician nodded in agreement. “Seems about right. I’m a second degree, and you’re a first. Our powers complement each other. No one but a fourth degree or higher could crush us so quickly and easily.”

The Barber’s face twitched in anger. “We weren’t crushed.
We’ll persevere one day.”

“Oh absolutely… ONE DAY!” The Beautician spat sarcastically.

Lan Jue, meanwhile, had paused in his route to escape the Skyfire Underground and walk towards a shop.

In the center of Skyfire Avenue, there was a rather unremarkable little store. The reason why it was described as ‘little’ was only because it was little by comparison to the enormous, noble structures surrounding it. The storefront was only seventeen meters wide, and it was designed in accordance

with a combination of the luxurious, classical style with the simplistic neo-classical style. The mirror-like deep blue walls, the brilliant display windows, all showed off several dazzling, gleaming jewels. In the middle of the top of the store, four letters, glowing with a sapphire light, formed the name of the store.

Z, E, U, S.

The door was made from some sort of unknown deep blue metal. It didn’t have any decorations, save for an imprint of a jagged lightning bolt.

Indeed it was Zeus’ Jewelry Shop, a mirror image of the one that sat above them on Skyfire Avenue.

He pushed open the door and entered.

Ding ding ding, the pleasant ringing of silver bells heralded his entrance, and a young girl greeted him. “Boss, you’re here!”

The young woman wore a black skirt that fell to her knees, revealing thin fair-skinned legs. Her torso was hugged by a

snow-white blouse, and her short green hair framed her shimmering viridescent eyes. A sweet smile spread across her face.

“Guoguo… how’s business been lately?” Lan Jue called at her in greeting.

Goguo responded with a charming giggle. “Bad.”

“Bad?” Lan Jue responded, slightly taken aback.

She snickered. “The boss hasn’t been around to see us! Of course things have been bad! Really though business is alright.”

“Not great, but at least there’s peace and quiet!” A disgruntled voice interjected. Another shop assistant appeared, fresh from entertaining a customer and clearly not in the best mood.

She wore the same clothing as Guoguo, but the two were as alike as apples and oysters. She rose a hundred and seventy centimeters on long thin legs. Her deep breaths caused her figure to strain against the confining blouse. Her fiery red hair was tied in a bun, and the black rimmed glasses perched on her

nose lent her titillating aura an decidedly intellectual flavor. Her pink eyes glinted, like a pair of captivating gemstones.

Chapter 34: The Power Gem

“Mika, you didn’t miss me even a little?” Lan Jue smiled charmingly, leaning against the counter. His eyes swept over the fiery salesgirl.

Mika huffed. “A boss who neglects his duty for over half a month? What’s to miss?”

Lin Guoguo also spoke up, her own voice somewhat grouchy. “If you keep this up, boss, Mika and I’ll apply to work with Xiuxiu and Ke’er. We’re down here all day long, dead tired with no sunlight and you don’t even come to see us. It’s heartbreaking!”

Lan Jue rubbed his forehead and smiled. “Fine, fine, girls. My mistake, alright? I’ll change my ways, and definitely come more often to see you.”

Mika’s anger turned to delight, and she fixed him with a softer gaze. “That’ll do.”

“Ah, right. You showed up just in time boss. There a matter you need to tend to.” Lin Guoguo’s changed gears, all

businesslike. Even like this, with her sweet flushed face, it could almost drive a man to bite her.

“Oh?” Lan Jue asked. “What is it?”

“Yesterday a guest came in with a gem to sell,” Lin Guoguo began. “Mika and I both had a look, but it was hard to tell. He wanted a lot for it, and we didn’t want to proceed without asking you.”

Lan Jue nodded. “Let me see it.”

Zeus’ Jewelry Store didn’t only sell jewelry, but also purchased some, though of course at a lower price than they would at the market place.

The shop above offered the flashy, the opulent, the magnificent. The Avenue underground, however, was different. Jewelry was also sold here, but they weren’t only for looks. In fact each was fitted with a power gem for practical use.

With the onset of the New Era humanity proceeded to excel at planetary development. Eventually they discovered a number of

special gems which possessed special qualities. Their specific abilities were as various as the stones themselves, but they all became known as Power Gems.

Regardless of whether they were affixed to mechas or forged in to weapons Adepts used directly, they advanced the abilities of whatever they touched. Particularly rare were the giant Power Gems, which often fetched exorbitant prices.

An example was the Soulfire Diamond he’d bet against the Barber’s Harlequin Silver. The diamond’s function was energy compression. In condensing energy by a factor of five the original volume was reduced by a fifth, but it’s power was increased three-fold. The greater the size of the diamond, the greater it’s one-time use. The gem held in Zeus’ Jewelry Store was sufficiently large to compress the entire power of a ninth- level Talent in to a single blow. Although the Power Gem would fracture after use, it was certain that single blow would be the deciding factor in any battle.

In truth single-use gems like the Skyfire Diamond weren’t exceptionally valuable. Of much higher worth were the re- usable gems. Generally speaking, power gems of equivalent effect compared to precious metals increased functionality by a factor of ten. In terms of price, the difference could be a hundredfold.

Therefore, the highest level mechas were often a combination of precious metals and power gems.

After a short time Lin Guoguo returned, bearing a silver metal box. The box was small, and unadorned, but Lan Jue knew at a glance it was composed of heavy lead. This sort of box was only used for intense, radioactive gemstones. And most of those gems were harmful to people. Of course it would also be capable of stimulating an Adept’s genetic abilities, strengthening their Discipline. That sort of gem was invaluable.

“Boss, we’ve already analyzed the radiation. It’s emissions are strange; they aren’t harmful, but also don’t seem to have any benefit. But, the intensity of the radiation itself is quite large. It has a high metal penetrability. The man seemed like he desperately needed the money. If you wait a little while he’ll probably return. He’d said that if we didn’t take it he’d go sell it to someone else.

Lan Jue took up the box, opening it gingerly. A gentle blue light crackled around his hand, growing until it coated the box. Lin Guanguan and Mika had long ago grown accustomed to Lan Jue’s power, and so were not surprised by the display.

A precious stone the size of a ping pong ball rested in the box.

It was a light brown, and clearly unrefined. Still, it’s crystalline façade displayed no impurities, and light flowed easily through it’s center. But it’s surface appeared somewhat opaque. All in all, it didn’t look worthy of much attention.

The radiation it emitted was indeed strong, and his body tingled from the sensation.

“How much did the man want for it?” Lan Jue muttered.

The saleswomen had reverted to a more professional demeanor, retiring their playful smiles. “He wanted fifty thousand NED,” Li Guaguan replied.

New Era dollars. Future translations may refer to them as ‘bucks’ or NED unless otherwise specified

“Give it to him,” Lan Jue said eagerly.

Mika’s eyes glinted in the pale glow of the stone. “Boss, you know what this stone does?”

Lan Jue, in turn, shook his head. “No idea. But judging from the strength analysis, his power gem is at least a-rank. This radiation is directly derived from it’s power. It’s power is quite pure, and it seems the compression abilities in it are hidden deeper in. The power itself doesn’t come to the surface to dissipate, instead presenting as radiation with no distinguishable power fluctuation.”

A-rank? Hearing this, the two women’s eyes shone like luminous diamonds.

The value of a Power Gem, from high to low were S-, A-, B-, C-
, E-, and F-rank.

The discrepancy between rankings was tenfold. Generally, It was accepted that a gem’s value and rank were directly proportionate to it’s volume.

Only a few s-ranked gems were uncovered a year in the Three Alliances, and nearly all were subsequent favorites at top-level auctions. It would be fair to say that a-rank gems were the best the average man could hope to encounter. The Skyfire Diamond, by comparison, wasn’t even considered d-rank. The capabilities of a single A-ranked Power Gem could rival that of an elite mecha. In fact any ‘elite’ mecha that wasn’t fitted with

an A-rank power gem wasn’t elite at all.

Mika and Lin Guanguan were both quite experienced in the industry, and new all S- or A-rank power gems on the market. Neither had seen this one before, but that didn’t shake their confidence in their boss. If it was indeed an A-rank gem, then the thing was worth a hundred million dollars.

“I’ll contact the seller,” Mika stated promptly. She turned on her heel and left.

Lan Jue wasn’t in a hurry to leave, confronted with the A- ranked power gem. He played with it in the palm of his hand. Fifty thousand NED meant little to him – the cost of a fine bottle of wine – but even if this gem was a fake, it still required some investigation. And in the event it was real, this was the deal of a lifetime. But above all, since this gem wasn’t known on the market, it could mean he’s found information on a new vein. And a place to build a mine. Of course the possibility was extraordinarily remote. Gems of power were almost never found together.

Chapter 35: Mika’s Fire

The owner of the brown gem was a tall man, who wore a green hoodie to conceal the majority of his face.

“The gem belongs to you?” Lan Jue queried.

The man nodded in affirmation.

Lan Jue’s face spread in a slight smirk. “You’re aware of Skyfire Avenue’s rules,” he said, not really asking.

Again the man nodded, but said nothing.

“Then we can proceed with the deal. Mika, give the man his money.”

“Yes, sir,” Mika replied. She produced a handful of yellow notes; the highest denomination of NED available, ten thousands dollars a note. She gave the man five.

The hooded man took his money, his face hidden in shadow.

Wordlessly he turned, and made to leave.

“Wait a minute,” Lan Jue called after him.

“Our business is concluded,” the man replied. His voice was strange, clearly altered by a voice modulator. “According to the rules of Skyfire Avenue, we have no further association.”

Lan Jue nodded in agreement. “Absolutely, but if I offered to pay you for information about the origin of that stone, we’d be entering in to another business arrangement.”

The hooded man seemed to sigh, and shaking his head pushed open the lightning-emblazoned door of the jewelry shop. However, he did not pass through it. In the contrary, he retreated several steps, his body rigid.

From without three men entered through the door he’d opened.

The foremost man was clad in black leather, a hooded jacket over all and a black mask. All that was revealed was a pair of shining, intelligent eyes. The two men behind him were dressed

similarly, though they wore no hoods.

“Where is it, Oliver?” The resonating voice of the leader asked the man in green. Though he asked, his eyes caressing the box set before Lan Jue revealed the question as rhetorical.

Without warning, the man in green side-stepped the leather- clad intruders and threw a single punch at the leader, trying to knock him out.

Bang! The black-hooded intruder raised his arm to block the attack, and in that moment a squall of wind tore through the store.

“Enough!” Mika’s clear voice rang through the shop, and she approached them indignation clearly written on her face. “Are you not aware of the rules here?!”

The two hooded men dropped their hands. The one in black growled, “Mind your own damn business. I know you can’t fight in Skyfire Avenue. But we aren’t on the Avenue, are we.”

Lan Jue, sitting a short distance from them, sighed faintly. “It

would appear our safeguards against rule-breakers have been insufficient of late. Where are all you troublemakers coming from. Mika, if you would please show them the door. Have the enforcers deal with them.”

“Absolutely, sir!”

Her right leg shot out. In her tiny skirt, the gentlemen thought they might be granted a quick peek. However, before they could have the opportunity to appreciate the view, they found the world before them engulfed in red.

All of them, including the man in green, found themselves enveloped by the flame-red light to the point where they didn’t even have room to struggle before collapsing to the floor.

Mika waved her left hand, and in response the door to Zeus’ Jewelry Shop opened of it’s own accord. One by one, she literally kicked the four prostrate men from the store.

Mika strode towards the door, hands on her hips. She shouted out in to the street. “Are the enforcers all on lunch break? Come fetch this garbage!” She turned, disregarding the host of stares earned from the Adepts wandering the street, and walked back

inside slamming the door behind her.

“So fierce,” Lan Jue teased, covering his face with his hands in feigned discomfort.

Lin Guanguan giggled. “You’ve spoiled her, boss!”

Lan Jue chortled. “A little fierce is good! You have to protect yourself from bullies. I must say though, Mika, you should employ a different method next time. Kicking your legs in such a short skirt is so unbecoming of a lady.”

Mika responded with a flirtatious look. “Oh boss, they didn’t see anything… I just wanted to give you a show.”

“No thank you,” he said, standing. “I’m terrified you’ll burn me too. I’m heading out, but by the way I ran in to Chu Cheng a few days ago. You know he thinks about you all the time! Would you not give my poor older brother some consideration?”

Mika’s playful expression shifted, a bitterness crept in to her voice. “If you aren’t interested don’t throw me away to just anyone. If you force me to go with him, I might as well die right


“All right! Pretend I didn’t say anything,” Lan Jue said, rubbing his forehead. He felt pity for his brother. But more, if his brother was just ‘anybody’, what did that make him? Ugh, this girl!

Lin Guanguan and Mika accompanied Lan Jue to the surface elevator. Mika spoke to her counterpart. “Look after the store, Guanguan. I’ll go to the enforcers and follow up.” For many things she was able to make the proper decisions and didn’t require Lan Jue’s direct instruction. Among Lan Jue’s four employees, she was certainly the most qualified in all aspects.

Lan Jue returned topside, the lead casing clutched in his hands. This power gem would require some careful research to verify.

The elevator went directly to Zeus’ surface shop, but didn’t stop, instead moving on until it reached the Library. He and the Keeper had made an appointment.

Despite his good disposition from obtaining the gem and Harlequin Silver, his mood darkened when he remembered

what he wanted to speak with the Keeper about. More than two years he thought, two years of my life!

The Library situated on Skyfire Avenue’s upper level was very small, about the same area as Zeus’ Jewelry Store. But compared to the Winery, or the Museum, it was miniscule.

What the unaware would never suspect, however, was that what lay beneath the surface was a building dedicated to the cultivation techniques of all the Avenue’s Adepts. And it was massive.

The Keeper sat upon a recliner, rocking back and forth before the door of the Library. A rattan tea table was situated beside him, and on it sat a dark red teapot. In comparison to the pot Lan Jue’d used at the Luo Yun teahouse, this one had a thicker and smoother lacquer coating, making it clear it was used quite often.

“Come, take a seat. Now what reason would you have to come talk to an old man like me! A young fella like you, I doubt you’d come knocking for no reason.” The old man smiled amicable towards Lan Jue as he spoke. No matter the guest, the Keeper always greeting everyone with a smile.

Lan Jue offered a small smile of his own. “Originally it had been only one thing. Now I’m afraid there’s a second matter I need to ask about.”

Chapter 36: You Don’t Get Capital Punishment For Annoying Someone To Death, Right?

“Two things,” the Keeper rejoined. “Go on.”

He handed the box in his hands to the old man. “This is a power gem I’ve recently acquired. It emits a rather powerful radiation, and after some investigation I found that it’s internal power of compression is A-ranked. But this gem isn’t in any record. You are the wisest man on Skyfire Avenue. I was hoping you could offer some insight.”

The Keeper took the box in his hands and opened it without hesitation. A faint light pulsed from the box, shimmered, and then ceased completely.

The Keeper relieved the box of the gem and examined it closely. After a moment had passed, he frowned. “If you aren’t in a hurry I suggest you leave it here. I’ll examine it more closely. It’s nothing like I’ve seen before.”

“Sure,” Lan Jue responded without hesitation. After all, the Keeper didn’t simply sell books. He was also an accomplished

scientists, and the stone had clearly piqued his interest.

“And the second matter,” the Keeper inquired, replacing the stone and setting the box absently upon the tea table.

Lan Jue began, “I remember you have a good relationship with the greatest schools of Three Alliances. Do you happen to be familiar with the National Eastern University?”

The Keeper shot him a glance. “What. Are you planning to get your doctorate? Don’t bother, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – and they have nothing to teach you anyway! Hehehe.”

Lan Jue’ face scrunched in exasperation. This old guy, just a few Alpacas short of a herd.

“Well you’re not wrong, I’m old hat. I was hoping to enter the University as an instructor.”

“An instructor?” The Keeper blinked in astonishment and the smirk slipping from his face. He stared at Lan Jue in amazement. “You want to be a teacher? Did I hear that right? You aren’t going there to corrupt the youth of our nation, are


Lan Jue forced a wry smile. “Keeper, is that honestly what you think of my character?”

“Oh not at all,” The Keeper replied, “It’s just that not long ago I saw something about a man stealing another man’s wife. Terrible business.”

“Eh…” Lan Jue’s face grew rigid. He’d certainly blocked Skyfire’s Satellite Network at the time. Had the Keeper been there?

“I’ve some connections,” The Keeper continued nonchalantly. “Getting you a job as an instructor wouldn’t be a problem. It’s just an old man like me who’s spent his life enlightening the inquisitive, I hope the teacher I recommend doesn’t end up being a poor influence.”

Lan Jue once more smirked towards the old man. “In fact I’m really not a good teacher. I’m actually going there to act as a bodyguard, so some official post with no real responsibility would be best.”

“Then what were you looking for,” the Keeper asked.

Lan Jue, in response, leaned close to whisper in to the old man’s ear.

When Lan Jue had finished speaking, it was as though the Keeper’s craggy face had deepened. “You’re serious?”

Lan Jue rejoined with serious countenance. “It’s an area I’m skilled in, and I can promise you I wont be a bad influence or shoddy instructor. Students who learned these skills certainly wouldn’t be at a disadvantage.”

The Keeper gave him a strange look. “Interesting,” he muttered. “Very interesting. Very well, then you go ahead and give it a shot. But be assured, if you hurt my relationship with the university, I won’t forgive you.”

“Be at ease. I know the implications.” Lan Jue dare not offend the man before him. He’d heard stories about the old man from the Wine Master. He had apparently perfected science to the point of a Discipline, becoming an Adept of science. Rarely did he deign to act, but when he did it was world-shaking. A mad scientist capable of firing positron explosions from his hands

while suspended in mid-air, probably not the best idea to make him mad. The Wine Master had once told Lan Jue that Skyfire Avenue had only known two synthetic Tenth-Level Adepts. The Keeper was one of them. He was also considered Skyfire Avenue’s ultimate weapon. His power was considered synthetic because it was not derived from genetic Talent, but from intense learning and cultivation. His natural Talent didn’t exceed Sixth-Level.

The second Tenth-Level was naturally the Clairvoyant. On the surface the two looked incapable of holding their own in a fight. Only the inner council members knew the truth; they weren’t bad at fighting, just bad at skirmishes. When they fought they couldn’t help but rip the heavens and drown the earth…

“Remember young man, when the time comes to show your powers don’t hold back. Sometimes, the best way to avoid trouble is letting people know exactly what you’re capable of.”


Three days later, a letter of appointment from the National Eastern University arrived at Zeus’ Jewelry Shop.

“Boss, you’re really going to be a teacher?” Ke’er’s bright eyes watched Lan Jue closely.

Lan Jue nodded his head half-heartedly. “Uh-huh.”

Ke’er sighed wistfully. “Then you’ll definitely be the most handsome teacher there! It’s just… why?”

Lan Jue smirked. “I’ve got nothing to do in my spare time.”

“Blach!” Ke’er seemed to be choking on her own saliva. “I’ll send you, okay! Oh and by the way, the gourmet wanted me to remind you that the Bluefin Tuna will be ready to eat in two days.”

“Mmhm,” Lan Jue said, his eyes lighting up. It was certainly good news. “I’m going in to the back to rest for a while. I have to prepare to report for duty.”

“Do you need me to start packing some things?” Xiuxiu’s gentle voice inquired.

Lan Jue shook his head.

Returning to his room, Lan Jue extricated his interstellar communicator and input a number.

After a moment, a pleasant voice rang through the speaker. “What are you doing?”

Softly, Lan Jue answered. “At your request, I will be reporting to your school this afternoon. Do you need protection?”

The fair-sounding voice on the other end fell silent for a moment. “Keep in touch. This afternoon I’ll take you around the campus. After you’re more familiar with the place we’ll talk more.”

“Fine,” Lan Jue torpidly responded.

“Oh right, and what’s your name?” Zhou Qianlin asked.

Lan Jue truly didn’t understand why it was so easy to upset this girl. “Didn’t I tell you, that day?”

“Did you? I forgot. I tend not to bother with unimportant things or people.”

“My name’s Lan Jue,” he growled through the receiver.

Zhou Qianlin continued. “I was thinking, it would be better if we pretended we didn’t know each other in public. You can protect me from behind the scenes. How you do that is up to you, it shouldn’t be my job to tell you how.”

Lan Jue was confounded. “Why? What’s with the sudden change of heart?”

“Because,” she said, “If my classmates discovered I knew you, they’d be bound to question my taste.”


“By the way, I wanted to ask you a legal question,” Zhou Qianlin said. “You don’t get capital punishment for annoying someone to death, right?”

“Zhou Qianlin, do you happen to know what I’ll be teaching at your university,” Lan Jue said, the indignation eating away at him suddenly dissolving and replaced with a sly grin. Annoy me to death? Sh*t, you haven’t even seen what I can do.

Chapter 37: Etiquette Teacher

“Zhou Qianlin, do you happen to know what I’ll be teaching at your university?” Lan Jue’s question confused Zhou Qianlin. Wasn’t he going to be a mecha instructor?

Lan Jue unfolded the acceptance letter in his hand, and read from it’s contents. “We are happy to accept Mister Lan Jue as an associate professor of National Eastern University, hereby responsible for the ad-hoc curriculum of… Etiquette.” The communicator clicked off, his words still hanging in the air. Expected a mecha teacher, eh? How quaint.

Zhou Qianlin stared at the quiet communicator in her hand, her once proud demeanor now dumbfounded. “Etiquette? Since when did the University have this course? What is he even going to teach?”

Lan Jue saw the communicator strapped to his wrist hum, but all it accomplished was to make him laugh and shake his head. Since when did these mood swings become so common, he thought. Probably because she looks so much like Hera.

His memory conjured up that charming face, so like Hera’s, and he couldn’t help but feel a pang in his chest. And yet, at the

same time he was looking forward to taking his post in the University.

He knew very well she wasn’t Hera, but in the deep recesses of his heart he still anticipated seeing her. At the very least, seeing her will remind him of his time with Hera.

Looking at the map, the University didn’t appear too far from Skyfire Avenue, but it would be quite a distance on foot.

Tomorrow I report to school. Think, when was the last time I enrolled in any classes? Ten years or more now. I was in my teens, and I was a pretty well-known problem child!

A smirk spread unbidden across his face. His memories were precious, recalling his wild and carefree youth like it was yesterday. And tomorrow he’d enter in to university again, but as a different person. The student had become the teacher. But what sort of teacher would he be?

The depression that had had accompanied Qianlin’s request had dispersed, what with the happenings of the last few days. He was adjusting to the rigors of life, or perhaps, it was the beginning of a new chapter. It was the desire of every man to

shed the veil of sadness.

He pressed a few digits in the to the communicator on his wrist, and soon a lethargic voice arose on the other end.

“Eyy, A-Jue, what’s happening! Did you find Hera?”

A crooked smile split Lan Jue’s face. “The greater the desire, the greater the disappointment.”

The voice on the other end seemed to awaken. “It sounds like someone cheated you.”

The muscles of Lan Jue’s face jerked. “And it sounds like you’re gloating.”

“I’m not, really!” Chu Cheng’s voice solemnly swore from the receiver.

Lan Jue smirked. “Fine. I’ll deal with my own business. Give me an address, I have something for you.”

“What’s that,” Chu Cheng asked curiously.

“Some Harlequin Silver. You know the kind of person I am.”

“You know you don’t have to repay me,” Chu Cheng responded in agitation.

“Unacceptable,” Lan Jue stated categorically. “If I take too long to repay a debt I wont be able to. Besides, I don’t want to cause you any trouble. Although the silver isn’t as significant as the refined technetium to you, you might be able to use it to trade for a batch.”

Chu Cheng’s voice rejoined. “A-Jue, you really need to get out.
It’s no good being shut in all the time.”

Lan Jue acquiesced. “I know. I’m trying, I even found a job.”

“A job? You coming out of retirement, back to being the Mercenary King?” Chu Cheng’s excitement was apparent. “That’s excellent! We’ve got a few missions that need tending to, all S-Ranked. They’re yours if you want ‘em. Price is no object. I remember your rules, you only need to ask. Whatever

gem you need you’ll get, I’ll have the whole family out looking.”

During his time as a mercenary, Lan Jue never accepted money. He preferred to be remunerated in the form of power gems. It was the take from those days that allowed him to corner the gem market in Skyfire Avenue.

Lan Jue chuckled. “I said I was looking for a job, not that I was going back to merc work. I’m going to be a teacher!”


“Te.. teacher…” Chu Cheng’s mouth dropped open, and the cigarette that had lazily burned in his mouth tumbled to the floor instantly burning the shag carpet.

“Mmhm, a teacher. An Etiquette teacher, actually. Come on, give me an address.”

As if in a trance Chu Cheng muttered the address, and even when Lan Jue’s communicator went silent, he still didn’t know how to react.

Teacher? He’d said teacher, right? He wants to be… a teacher?
Why did he sound so relaxed?

After a few moments of blind confusion Chu Cheng gradually came back to his senses. A wry smile spread across his face by degrees.

It appears A-Jue was finally letting go of what had happened the last few years, he thought. At least he’s getting out and letting go of his pain. It doesn’t matter what he’s out doing, so long as he’s doing something. And with his abilities, he’s sure to make an excellent teacher.

But what did he say he wanted to teach? I suddenly can’t remember…

“Chuuuu Cheeeeeng!” A wild voice suddenly rang out, full of bile.

“ You DARE smoke in my house again?! AGH! MY CARPET! You abhorrent little punk, do you have any idea how rare this carpet is?! Your father just bought it at auction. Don’t go running you awful degenerate, time for a whooping!”

“My fault mom. Pretend I don’t exist!”


National Eastern University.

It was one of the top ten schools in the Eastern Alliance, situated right here on Skyfire, in the city itself. It was particularly known for it’s mecha program, and though it wasn’t a military institution it’s piloting curriculum was known through the Alliances. Not only that, it was first among the Alliances in alloy research and application.

The school itself was enormous, constituting a tenth of the Western part of the city. At it’s back was the Western mountain, which itself had been incorporated in to the university. It provided the mecha students with a place to train.

Rays of early-morning light splayed across the campus, setting the morning dew to twinkling and bringing with it a vividly fresh scent. A figure slowly approached from the distance.

He was tall, clad in a three-piece azure blue suit. He wore a

white shirt, pink neck tie, and a pink handkerchief folded in his breast pocket. And he came rolling in on a two-wheeled bicycle.

Chapter 38: The NEU

The bike leisurely meandered towards the school, Lan Jue sitting straight atop it so as not to wrinkle his finely pressed suit.

The fine black bike had been procured for him by the The Wine Master. He had always been a fan of antiques. Apparently this bike the Wine Master had been riding was a relic from Former Era China. The brand name – Forever – could be made out on it’s crossbar. It was a good name, denoting it’s quality. The bike was veritably soundless as it rolled along.

A soothing, cool breeze caressed his face. Occasionally he would ring the bell, and the crisp ding ding ding would waft upon the wind. It was certainly a novel experience for Lan Jue.

Today, in order to appear more the professor, Lan Jue had chosen to wear a pair of black-rimmed spectacles. Naturally they were lens-less, but they lent a certain air of culture and gentleness. His clean and kept face wore a genial, elegant smile. It was a scholarly look, contrary to what one might expect.

I don’t know about the other places in the world these days, but rimless glasses are a ‘thing’ in China. A fashion statement

aimed at making you look cute or scholarly. I mean, you forgot to put actual glass in your glasses, so I dunno how smart you are, but that’s just me showing my age I guess…

From far away he could make out the towering sign of the National Eastern University. The front gates of the campus were tall, and made of fine wrought metal. In fact, they were composed of an alloy, though it was difficult to determine which with the naked eye.

The National Eastern University. The letters were bold and brazen, written in a forceful hand that demanded attention. They caused Lan Jue to think back on that old geezer, reclining easily on his deck chair. He couldn’t of been the one to write this, could he?

And yet Lan Jue knew clearly that though the man looked older than God, he’d probably go another hundred years before kicking the bucket. He was the world’s greatest scientist! Was there anyone else who understood the workings of the human body better than he?

It wasn’t long before Lan Jue and his antique Forever bike arrived before the campus’ lofty gates.

He’d arrived just as the students were showing for morning lessons. The school’s gates were thrown wide to accommodate the occasional maglev vehicle. As the levitating cars drew near they would slow, rapidly shifting from speeding bullets to full stop. Before the gates they would be scanned, and only then were they permitted entrance.

Aside from the maglevs, pricey high-altitude verti-cars were also seem from time to time. Like their inexpensive cousins, they also had to stop and get scanned before they could enter. In fact, the air above the university was entirely devoid of verti- cars or other traffic. At least, not on the campus. Such were the rules, and any who dared break them ran the risk of being shot out of the sky.


A number of the maglevs arrived at the gate and went no further. Parking on campus cost a pretty penny, so most of students were sent to school by family. They would be dropped off at the gate and walk in from there.

Dumb-mutt Jin was such a student. His family’s maglev arrived at the gates and descended until he could jump out. He slipped his backpack over his head and walked towards the gate.

The backpack was something that survived the inevitable march of progress. Personal inter-dimensional pockets existed, but only for those students whose families were particularly well off.

Dumb-mutt Jin’s family was middle class at best. A maglev itself was an achievement.

He made his way through the gates, nodding his head to the rock and roll blasting through his headphones like he did any other day.

He wore a black school uniform that was fairly well kept, but the white shirt beneath was undone to the third button revealing his underwhelming pectorals. He wore a diamond earring in his left ear that lead the eye to his pink spiky hair. It made him look rather like a rooster. He certainly didn’t look the part of a model student.

Mecha Pilot. Junior. Problem child. Those were the words to describe Dumb-mutt Jin. His name was actually Jin Tou, but his emphatically miserable behavior earned him the moniker Dumb-mutt. He was like a cur, they said, biting anyone he came across. And with his current academic record, graduating was starting to look like a crazy pipe dream.

As he made to traverse the gates Dumb-mutt Jin looked up in time to see something that stopped him in his tracks.

A man in a pressed suit rode towards the school on an ancient two-wheeled bicycle. He was a few meters away from the school when he threw his right leg over the back of the bike, balancing on his left foot perched atop the pedal. He swept by like that, standing to one side as the bicycle rolled on. His  casual entrance, fine suit and gaunt stature was quite the attention- grabber.

Dumb-mutt Jin had fostered an interest in novelty items, and his eyes grew wide at the sight. He immediately pinched thumb and forefinger together, placing them in his mouth to produce a shrill whistle.

The man soon pulled up the university’s gates and dismounted.

“Hey brother, not bad! Where’d you get the wheeler? Pretty sweet ride. All mechanical, right? Manpowered?” Dumb-mutt Jin appeared a fan of the past, and walked a circuit around the man.

The man offered a refined smile, and gave a reserved nod of his head. “It’s called a bicycle. All manpowered.”

“It’s got character! Lemme get a ride on it.” Dumb-mutt Jin moved closer still in zeal.

“I’m afraid not,” the suit-clad mad responded with a shake of his head.

“Pfft,” Dumb-mutt spat disdainfully. “Well that’s not fair, ya stingy bastard. Whatever.” As he spoke, he turned and entered the campus. He wasn’t a good student, true, but making trouble before the university gates was just plain stupid.


Lan Jue followed the chicken-head punk depart with his eyes, a laugh bubbling unbidden from his chest. Memories of his own time as a student came rushing back, and it appeared this university had it’s own problem kids. The exaggerated hairstyle reminded him of a young A-Cheng, who’d experimented with something similar. But, sadly, that ended when his mother came storming into the school with a pair of scissors. Snip, snip!

“Beep! Attention unregistered vehicle, you are prohibited from going further.” An emotionless digitized voice pulled Lan Jue from his reverie. Two men in uniform were already watching as he approached.

The two men were clearly campus security, and were clad in uniforms made to look like military fatigues. Both were quite tall, and quite burly.

“Unregistered vehicle, you are not permitted to enter the campus grounds. Please await processing, and produce your student identification for inspection.”

Lan Jue certainly wasn’t as old as Zhou Qianlin had tried to assert. Freshly shaved he looked quite young, no different than a post-graduate student.

Lan Jue smiled, and spoke to the uniformed guards politely. “Good morning, to the both of you. Please excuse me, but I haven’t got a student ID. This is actually my first day reporting to the university. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the rules.” As he spoke, he pulled out a dark blue envelope from the basket affixed to the back of the bicycle. He opened the document and produced the letter of appointment.

One of the guards took the red paper from Lan Jue’s grip, while at the same time whipping free some instrument from his waist. He drew the apparatus over the document, scanning it. Only afterward did he open it to read.

“Etiquette teacher? What’s an etiquette teacher?”

Chapter 39: The Office

The letter of appointment was real and, despite the query as to his curriculum, he was permitted to enter the university unmolested, along with his bicycle.

As was expected, students and teachers operated under different rules, and teachers were given a designated area to park their vehicles free of charge. Lan Jue decided, by the way, to register the antique bicycle for entry.

In contrast with the strange alloy of the university’s gate, the interior gave the distinct impression of communion with nature, all fresh and new.

Old trees grew together in to a towering canopy that shaded the campus grounds, guarding the roads and walkways. Each area was unique in it’s foliage, and it was clear even at a glance that they were all painstakingly kept. The fragrant smell of mowed grass, the heady fragrance of fresh flowers, both mingled together and filled the nostrils. Walking the meandering paths of the campus was like reconnecting with nature.

What a wonderful place! Lan Jue silently praised.

The buildings, layout and tenets of the school were all in line with it’s teaching ideology. And, of course, the preferences of the administration.

But more than that Lan Jue felt drawn the National Eastern Campus and it’s adherence to nature. If he had to describe it; tranquil. That would do it.

Earlier whilst being directed through the campus he’d easily found the teaching affairs office where he’d registered. He was given his office key, as well the key to his apartment. He was indeed treated like an honorable associate professor.

Stepping out the teaching affairs office, laden with his things, he freed a hand to push his glasses up on his nose.

“I guess I’m a teacher!”

The quality of the NEU was well appreciated, and the pursuit of knowledge was rigorous. The dean of the teaching affairs office had subtly hinted that it didn’t matter what connections got him in to the university, and he didn’t know how he’d managed to get the administrators to agree to the so-called Etiquette Classes, but he wouldn’t be paid for doing nothing. As

a result, his first class was scheduled for this afternoon, and the school would broadcast the advertisement for this elective course. Further the Teaching Director himself would attend the class to determine for himself whether Lan Jue had what it took to teach. If he didn’t, he’d have to face the administration, and have his class cut.

Simply put, his first test at the National Eastern University was just around the corner!

Recalling the stony visage of the dean, Lan Jue’s face couldn’t help but suffer a brief twitch. Why was it all deans of the world seemed exactly the same – or, at least, shared the same face, like they were cut from the same mold.

The thought turned over in his mind, although it was none of their business he certainly couldn’t allow himself to be dismissed. Otherwise he’d never hear the end of it from Zhou Qianlin.

It had been ages since Lan Jue had felt this eager about something. He still had the morning, how would he prepare?

The NEU was vast, and separated in to numerous areas. The

most significant of these was the R&D Department, a place only teachers and graduate students were permitted to enter. Three large, white, circular buildings sprawled across it.

The rest of the campus was standard, separated in to various area like the Mecha Combat department, and the Mecha Manufacturing and Service department.

The departments themselves were separated in to many smaller units. To put it simply, the Mecha Combat department had units dedicated to combat exercises and mecha application.

Mecha Manufacture and Maintenance, meanwhile, dealt largely with research and mecha building.

The NEU was laid out so that the further reaches of the campus were considered of higher status than the front. After all, it’s how they displayed worth.

These two departments took up an area of roughly 150 hectares, and was separated in to the teaching building, research labs and so on.

Lan Jue had been assigned an office here, in the third teaching building with all the other elective courses.

What were known as elective courses here where all after school courses, mostly set up by students according to their interests and needs. Things like art, music and others. And now, etiquette.

The students themselves you could separate in to various ranks, and the difference between the status and future prospects of exceptional and average students was tremendous.

Teachers were no different. The income inequality and status of normal course instructors versus elective teachers was just as vast. This was especially true for post graduate and research instructors.

And so it was that all elective teachers were huddled here in the third teaching building. It was an open office, shared among some ten or more teachers. Their dormitory was nearby as well, in a small building behind the one their office occupied. It was without a doubt the shabbiest structure in the entire university.

Compared to teachers of normal subjects elective instructors

weren’t treated very well, but when examined against other normal professions outside of the campus they still were paid quite handsomely. After all, of all the universities in the Eastern Alliance the NEU enjoyed the most appropriated government funds. Teachers benefited from that.

In the end, though, it wasn’t the salary that was an elective teacher’s greatest source of income. It was bonuses. How much was earned depended on how many students attended the class. Joining an elective required payment, of course, and a portion of those profits were given to the teacher in question. The better their class, the more students they got, the more money they earned. It was a decent incentive method.

As for the dorm, Lan Jue didn’t much care. He had no intention of living there. And so he went directly to the offices.

The door of the Number Three Teaching Building’s offices was cast open. It had been a difficult place to find in the round campus, and his bicycle required a fair amount of effort to maneuver.

Knock, knock. Lan Jue rapped his fist against the office door. He smiled at the milling instructors as he made his way inside, nodding in greeting.

“Hello everyone,” he began politely. “I’m the new etiquette teacher, Lan Jue.”

Few occupied the office at the moment, and to Lan Jue’ surprise the majority were women. The office was approximately three hundred meters with a few dozen desks. Nearly half lay empty. Of the occupied cubicles only eight teachers were present. Two were male, the rest women. Most appeared in their twenties, but for one older woman.

Every eye turned to Lan Jue. Regardless of gender each took in his tall, lithe frame and gentle demeanor. His gentle smile and elegant conduct immediately set people at ease.

Chapter 40: Mr. Lan

Lan Jue had made a good impression with his polite and gentlemanly introduction.

Closest to the door, a pleasant looking woman rose to greet him. She gave him a friendly smile. “Hello, I’m Jin Yu. You’re the new Etiquette teacher?

Jin Yan was small, but had an excellent figure. Paired with her delicate facial features she was definitely the best looking teacher in the office. She looked about the same age as Lan Jue.

“Hello, I’m the new Etiquette teacher. Is there somewhere I can place my things?” Lan Jue asked.

Seeing that graceful smile Jin Yan’s face reddened visibly. She had known some very handsome guys, but she couldn’t quite place it… The man before her had a certain special quality, noble but accessible, an elegant demeanor that made him seem almost perfect. Her heartbeat quickened, and so lost was she in her reverie that she forgot to answer.

“Mr Lan, you can pick anywhere so long as it isn’t occupied,”

a middle-aged man stated politely.

Mr. Lan… Lan Jue ruminated over the title for a moment. He nodded towards Jin Yan and found a table near the corner. He organized the office materials given to him by the school atop the small desk, then sat before them in silence.

The other teachers in the office gave him curious glances, but none chose to speak. They were content to busy themselves with their own things.

“I’m sorry about just then, Mr. Lan, I was distracted,” Jin Yan’s pretty voice intruded. Her station wasn’t far from Lan Jue’s.

Lan Jue smiled, and shook his head. “It’s fine, I found  a place.”

Jin Yan’s curiosity grew stronger. “I’d heard yesterday from the teaching affairs office we were going to add a new Etiquette elective. We figured it was nonsense, so we didn’t expect you would arrive today. So tell me, what is your etiquette class about, Mr. Lan?”

Lan Jue smiled, and replied, “Nothing much. It’s a course covering things related to your every day life, like proper decorum, lifestyle choices, perspectives of dealing with things, and perhaps some appreciation for the rarer things like an introduction to antiques.”

“It teaches a bit of everything! Heh,” came a sharp voice from nearby. At was another male teacher within the  office. Compared with the genial middle-aged man who’d greeted Lan Jue, this man was somewhat younger and more handsome. However his face was pale and bloodless, and his hair had a waxy texture that even flies would disdain from approaching. He appeared distressingly foppish.

“Why are you even talking, Wang Hongyuan,” Jin Yan replied grouchily.

“It’s fine. In fact I do teach a little of everything.” Lan Jue didn’t seem to mind the slight, and indeed cast Wang Hongyuan a small smile.

Wang Hongyuan’s mouth curled disdainfully but he said nothing more, suddenly occupied with something in his hands.

“Mr. Wang sounds a little grating when he talks,” Jin Yan said apologetically, “but he’s a good guy.”

“Hm hm,” Lan Jue chuckled politely.

Seeing that Lan Jue didn’t have any further interest in talking, Jin Yan nodded politely and returned to her own desk.

Lan Jue opened his communicator, quickly typing in a message.

‘I’m already at the school. Where are you?’


The roomy classroom was excellently lit. Even during the day, the solar powered lights affixed to the ceiling glowed brightly.

The graduate school students were all especially gifted. There were no tricks or shortcuts to entry, if you passed the entrance exam then you were smart enough to be there. After graduation they were all Eastern Alliance National Scholars – a title every

young student dreamed of one day acquiring.

Zhou Qianlin was stooped over her desk, working diligently on an equation. She was a sophomore Scholar, but her workload was already greater than a Junior bachelor’s student. Not only was she required to complete her own studies, but she also had to work through research projects with her tutor.

Bzzzzt. Her communicator vibrated gently. While in school your communicator was always set to silent, no matter who you were, so as not to interrupt the studies of others.

Reading the message a smile crept across Zhou Qianlin’s pretty face. Both hands combed through her dark hair slung along her shoulders, and used a simple white handkerchief to sling her hair in to a ponytail.

It was a simple motion, but one that garnered the attention of all the boys in class. A few were audacious enough to stare at her outright, some merely stole a glance. Some veritably snarled, but of course those were the jealous girls.

Zhou Qianlin was already used to the attention, and ignored it while she tapped her response in to the communicator.

‘Are you in the Electives division? When do you start teaching?’

Lan Jue: This afternoon, first class. Dean said if it’s not good enough I’m fired. Think you can help give me a leg up?

Zhou Qianlin: The universe helps those who help themselves.

Lan Jue: … you’re so cruel!

Zhou Qianlin: Oh! How’d you know my nickname was Cruel!

Lan jue: …..

Zhou Qianlin couldn’t contain herself, and snorted back a laugh after seeing Lan Jue speechless. Her laugh was like a hundred flowers blooming, and even the blazing solar lights of the classroom dimmed in comparison.


Elective course teachers office.

“Cruel,” Lan Jue sighed faintly. “It’s a pity you aren’t called Hera!”

Lan Jue’s chosen seat in the corner was next to a window, and leaning against the back of the chair he looked out to see the blue sky, white clouds and drifting leaves in the sunshine.

In this moment his mind was empty, a smile lighting his face as he enjoyed the scenery. It had been ages since he’d known this sense of stillness.

Most electives classes were held in the afternoon, so teachers spent their mornings in the office preparing class. The competition amongst elective teachers was far more intense than for normal professors. Their livelihood depended on having students not only enjoy the class, but applying it. As a result instructors diligently prepared their curriculum.

Other than Lan Jue lazily staring out the window, the only other instructor who appeared to be taking some leisure time was the one called Wang Hongyuan. Sitting quietly at his desk he appeared to be reading a magazine. His spectacularly waxed

hair was polished enough to occasionally reflected the blue sky and white clouds from outside. He moved methodically, gracefully. But, as he turned the pages his fingers naturally held it delicately as though he were holding a flower…
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