Chapter 51: Fresh Meat
Bang! Tang Mi’s fists viciously pounded the control board of the simulator, her face twisted in to a mask of rage.
She’d changed her account , chosen a saber-mecha, all to satisfy an urge. Lots of people did it, and they called them landmines; if you stepped on one, you’re in for a bad time.
There have been those who have suggested action against this kind of behavior, adding a real-name system to DreamNet. This would ensure each Id number had only one account, but until now the DeamNet management authority hasn’t approved. This was something that would affect all three Alliances. It wouldn’t be an easy change.
Tang Mi definitely didn’t expect to be the one stepping on a landmine. That Nooblet guy, who was he? He’s a bastard is what he is, an outright bastard!
had never been in a situation like this. She thought about the replay, about how he’d chopped her up in to tiny cube-sized pieces, and she just wanted to disappear in to a hole somewhere.
“Who! Who! Who!” Tang Mi screamed at the screen, alone in the virtual cockpit. She knew at the very least it was someone from the school, else they wouldn’t have been able to enter the sim training yard. You could only get here by using one of the school’s special simulators.
But the school was huge, how would she be able to find this Nooblet?
Tang Mi took a slow, deep breath to even her temper.
She could not suffer the presence of this enemy. He needed to be destroyed.
Her arm raised, and in the space of a moment her communicator was ringing a number.
“Little Mi, what’s up?” A man’s voice, simple and sincere, sputtered from the communicator.
Tang Mi audibly ground her teeth as she spoke. “I don’t care where you are, or what you’re doing. Find a simulator and log in to DreamNet immediately. Find me in the university novice arena. There’s someone we need to humiliate.”
“Huh?” Surprise was evident in the man’s tone. “The novice arena? Tang Mi, you’re playing the landmine again, aren’t you. I told you before not to bother with that boring garbage. Why don’t you listen. And what? You run in to another landmine that gave you a spanking?” The man knew almost immediately what had happened from Tang Mi’s voice alone.
“Are you coming or not?!” she screeched.
“You wouldn’t be that way right?” The man’s voice sounded more surprised as the conversation continued. “Spend all your time by the river and you’re bound to get wet. Go cool down. I’m in the middle of something.”
“Tang Xiao, your little sister was just turned to scrap metal by someone using the Brunois Assault. If you don’t come in here right no and avenge me, you’ll wish you were dead. I’ll tell Qianlin all about how you wet the bed until you were ten, and you wont have a ghost of a chance with her. You have an opportunity now that her engagement has broken off. I may not
have much to offer to help get you two together, but at a word from me you’ll die alone! HAHAHAHA!”
“… give me three minutes.” The voice had suddenly turned serious. The communicator went silent, and Tang Mi re-entered DreamNet.
Just you wait Nooblet. If I can’t beat you, then I’ll call someone who can! Tang Xiao’s a Master-Ranked mecha pilot and he’ll deal with you. You can bet your ass!
Lan Jue expertly stabbed his titanium blade through the brain box of his ninth opponent, bringing the match to an end.
That’s number nine! One more and it’s off to the intermediate arena.
If A-Cheng and them knew I was in here messing with
newbies they’d have to pick their jaws up from the floor. Lan Jue’s face twisted in a strange smile. Man being a landmine was fun! Hah! It’s been a long time since I’ve seriously trained in a mecha. Next time I come in here I’ll have to do it with a higher level account. This novice area hardly even counts as a warm- up. But it’s good practice for skills and mind-hand coordination. Give me a month and I’ll be back at peak ability.
In the last three years he’d undergone almost no effort towards cultivation or training. His Discipline may still raise of it’s own accord, but he’d hardly practiced mecha operation. A lot of his skill was already deeply ingrained in his muscle memory, but he’d still grown somewhat rusty.
Tenth fight, begin.
A light flashed from somewhere, and he appeared once more in a fresh arena. Once more his opponent was a saber-mecha, unfitted and fresh. It was the same as all the others, only that one fight with the Brunois assault had stirred him at all.
Fresh Meat. The name flickered above the saber-mecha’s head.
The guy must be shameless, Lan Jue thought. A smile touched his lips. Shamelessness was good. It meant they had a good mentality.
“You’re that landmine, eh?” The voice that echoed across the field was honest, simple, and carried in it a sort of quiet magnetism.
This was the first time since beginning that someone had spoken to him with the intention of holding a conversation. Lan Jue did not reply.
“You want to be a landmine, you better be prepared for the consequences. You’ve been bullying my little sister, and that means I’m going to have to chop you in to little pieces!” Fresh Meat’s Saber-Mecha strode forward, cross-stepped, then turned a full circle to stop with it’s shield across it’s chest and the titanium allow sword pointed towards the heavens.
“Not bad eh?” His adversary’s voice was had a fair measure of pride.
The guy really is shameless, Lan Jue thought.
“You didn’t answer so I assume you agree. Time for your betters to get started.” As he spoke, his mecha suddenly picked up speed, racing headlong towards Nooblet in a straight line.
Lan Jue narrowed his eyes, his curiosity clear. The guy had superior control over his mecha. There was no wasted movement, no wasted speed. He certainly liked to talk nonsense, but he had some skill.
“Ah hey buddy, by the way something interesting happened today,” Fresh Meat said as the distance closed between him and Lan Jue.
Lan Jue rasied a brow. Wasn’t he here for revenge? What did he hear that could have anything to do with me?
Fresh Meat continued. “We had a guy in class today who really needed to fart. Definitely a fart. Then she came upon an excellent idea; she’d fart, and clap her hands at the same time to hide the sound. She reeled back and clapped… and just as everyone turned their head to look at her, she let ‘er rip!”
“Pfft!” Lan Jue couldn’t help but snort a laugh. At that moment the magnificent glint of a blade filled his vision,
blinding him to the figure racing towards him and any means of escape. Lost in that split-second glare, Fresh Meat’s leg shot out and viciously connected with Nooblet’s mechanical groin.
Chapter 52: Outrage And Oscillation
Lan Jue was caught off guard. He did not expect Fresh Meat to go through an entire tyrade before his assault. He couldn’t help but laugh at the story, and in that split second he’d let his guard down.
Fresh Meat’s attacks were instantaneous and vicious. Even with his abilities, controlling this factory-level mecha under this sort of assault was proving difficult.
The tips of his toes raised, and suddenly he was shooting backwards. In the same moment the blade in his hands was cutting an arc, barely managing to deflect Fresh Meat’s own weapon. His right leg raised to meet his enemy’s kick and push it aside.
“Some good reaction time buddy!” Fresh Meat’s voice sounded fullof praise.
“I’ll poke your eyes out,” he shouted, and suddenly his mechanical legs were shooting out to entwine Nooblet’s.
Nooblet was unstable, his hurried retreat causing him to
stagger. He couldn’t avoid being caught by his adversary’s trip. The body of Fresh Meat’s mecha then twisted with the agility of a monkey, in attempts to bring Nooblet to the ground.
Jiujitsu! Fresh Meat had learned to incorporate jiujitsu in to his mecha fighting techniques.
“You know though I’ve come across some bad luck myself lately,” Fresh Meat continued through the grapple. “I’d gone to the cafeteria for some grub yesterday and there in my food was a piece of pork covered in hair. I though to myself, man this school’s cafeteria really doesn’t care for cleanliness. So then I carefully pulled the hairs out one by one, cleaned it off and popped in my mouth. And goddamnit, wouldn’t you know, it was a piece of ginger!”
Where someone present to see Lan Jue’s face in the sim pod, they would have discovered the look of disgust on his face.
Nooblet’s mecha had been pinned to the ground by Fresh Meat, their legs wrapped together. It appeared Fresh Meats pointless stories were giving him a definite advantage. Even with Lan Jue’s many experiences on the battlefield, this was the first time he’d come across an opponent like… this.
Taking advantage of the situation, Fresh Meat extricated himself from the grapple and plopped his metallic girth directly on to Nooblet’s back. He then proceeded to lock up Nooblet’s sword arm with his hands.
“Heh! Whada ya think buddy, cool story right?” Fresh Meat sounded exceptionally proud of himself. Or maybe you’re not convinced. Tell you what, if not you go ahead and hit me. Go on, hit me! Hehehe!”
“Don’t think you’ve won just yet,” Lan Jue growled.
“Eh?” Fresh Meat sounded surprised. “Won? Oh don’t worry, I wont let you off so easy – I just don’t want you to hurt your mecha! That way DreamNet can’t interrupt us while we continue our little chat.”
Suddenly Fresh Meat felt Nooblet’s mecha shaking beneath him. It was of no great intensity, but quite sudden. More, surprising, however, wasn’t the shaking itself – but the fact that it had unexpectedly loosened his grip!
“No… !” Fresh Meat yelled. Nooblet twisted and, in a way Fresh Meat couldn’t even determine, suddenly he was the one
entangled. For with a metal-crunching blow Nooblet threw him to the floor, and pinned him there.
“Oscillation! You’re using oscillation!” Fresh Meat was too shocked to even attempt a counter.
Oscillation, he’d been attempting to train in that for ages!
Fresh Meat was indeed Tang Mi’s older brother, Tang Xiao. He was well known, one of the best students in the mecha combat division. Already a Sovereign-Level First Class pilot, and one of the top ten in the entire combat department.
Once one was evaluated as a Sovereign-Level mecha pilot they were immediately conferred the title of Lieutenant by any state in the three Alliances.
The graduation requirement for even National Scholar pilots was only Second Class. Sovereign-Level Second Class pilots were often called upon to command mecha squadrons of ten suits.
But even with all these ranking and expectations – Sovereign- Level, First Class, top ten – Tang Xiao still wasn’t capable of
executing the Oscillation technique.
The Brunois Assault was a show move, worth little in actual combat. But Oscillation, that was a close combat maneuver that was highly prized. It was fair to say it was that level of ability every pilot dreamt of.
In truth Oscillation was something even the lowest Third- Rank pilots trained, but even Sovereign-Ranked pilots… maybe even God-Ranked pilots couldn’t master it. It took a certain level of talent not everyone possessed.
The technique knows as Oscillation caused the entire mecha to begin vibrating at high-frequency. The result was traumatic injury to the opponent, or to extricate oneself from difficult grapples. Brain waves are important in mecha manipulation, but Oscillation – that required an unfathomable speed of hand!
Chapter 53: Lose Weight!
The lawn behind the Electives Teaching Building wasn’t anything magnificent. It lay in the shadow of the building before it, so nutrition was a limited resource for the sparse grass.
It was afternoon, and the elective courses have already finished. As a result the lawn was particularly peaceful.
Lan Jue stood with his hands behind his back. He was straight-backed, in a three-piece suit devoid of any wrinkles. His antique bicycle was set not far to the side.
His features were calm, serene, as though he were a garden statue set amongst the shade.
Suddenly, an odd smile replaced his stoic façade.
“Ah! Professor, here you are! I’ve arrived!” Tang Xiao breathlessly trotted towards him, excitement clearly written on his face.
Slowly Lan Jue turned to find an overweight man huffing headily as he bore down on him. His flight suit stretched valiantly against his girth. Lan Jue quietly wondered whether he could actually fit in a mecha cockpit.
Tang Xiao was tallish at one hundred and eighty centimeters, with a waist of similar diameter. His fat jiggled as he jogged closer. With his short hair, small eyes, and pudgy features he was really rather adorable. As for his facial features… well, everyone looks more or less the same under a certain layer of fat.
“Introductions,” Lan Jue said in frigid tones in lieu of greeting.
“Oh.. ok. Em, go ahead.” Tang Xiao grew silent, respectfully waiting for Lan Jue to continue.
Lan Jue’s face fell in embarrassment for this young man. “I want you to introduce yourself!”
“Ah!” Tang Xiao’s pudgy face jiggled. He hurried to speak. “A misunderstanding, professor. J-just a misunderstanding! My name is Tang Xiao, and I’m a third year national scholar in the
mecha combat division. Sovereign-Rank second class. Reporting for duty!”
“Tang Xiao?” Lan Jue rolled the name around on his tongue, and walked a circuit around the young pilot. “How much to you weigh?”
“What… ? F-five hundred and fifteen pounds,” Tang Xiao replied with pride.
“Sixth-Level. Professor, my Discipline is very honed, only… if you’d like to know what it is I must first ask you to show me some identification.” Tang Xiao laughed nervously, his little pig eyes shinning.
“Fine,” Lan Jue replied. He produced the letter of appointment the Dean had sent him.
“Etiquette? Associate Professor?” He looked slack-jawed at the letter, then back up at Lan Jue. “Professor. You’re… this is a joke right? What does an etiquette professor even teach…”
Lan Jue gave a small, private smile. “Common sense. Your Discipline?”
Tang Xiao spoke up. “Metalmorphosis. I make the surface of my body change in to an incomparably tough metal. Great, right!”
Lan Jue’s face hardened. “At this weight, it isn’t just your Discipline – the added weight increases the efficacy, doesn’t it.”
At this, Tang Xiao’s face lit up. “Professor, you really are the kind of master capable of Oscillation! I see it now. That’s exactly the reason for my weight. An eighth-level talent taught me this.”
But the revelation only caused the corners of Lan Jue’s mouth to slink in to a frown. “The guy who said so was messing with you. If you want to improve, increase your metalmorphosis, you’ll need to increase your weight tenfold. But then, how will you even walk? Will you become a shield? Moreover, if your Discipline continues to evolve to eighth-level you’ll be able to change to titanium – and how heavy is that? What the hell is the point of so much weight then?”
“You think,” Tang Xiao whispered, “You think I could become and eighth-level Talent?”
Lan Jue lifted a hand to pat his forehead. “There weren’t any Adepts in your family before you, were there.”
The youth earnestly nodded his head. “That’s right. My family is in politics.”
“That figures,” Lan Jue muttered. “But we’ll save that for another time. Let’s talk about the matter at hand first.”
“What matter?” Tang Xiao listened raptly as Lan Jue spoke, terribly excited at the prospect that his natural abilities could improve. It was the first time he’d heard it was possible.
Lan Jue gave him a flat look. “Aren’t you here to study Oscillation?”
“Absolutely!” Tang Xiao nearly leapt for joy.
Lan Jue began. “This is no problem, I’m sure we can get you
where you want to be. A short period of special training and you’ll have the ability to Oscillate. However, you are definitely too overweight. So much so that it impacts your hand speed, coordination and kinesthetics. It stifles the development of your abilities. And so, the very first thing you need to do is lose weight. Until it no longer effects your Talent. Improve your coordination, then cultivate your Discipline.”
“Right, right, so tell me what I should do?” Hearing Lan Jue’s plan for success, Tang Xiao’s face was aglow with excitement.
“Your current weight has already far outstripped the line for morbid obesity, you’ve huge stores of fat. But fat is simply a form of energy for the body. You can’t just directly lose the weight – that will cause loose skin and marks, and thus the effect of your metalmorphosis. So, at the same time as we extract this excess energy from your body, we must also increase muscle mass and improve the condition of your skin, it’s elasticity and so forth. This will also increase your body’s sensitivity. After a while, when your in better shape and your body’s back to normal, then you can learn to Oscillate.”
Tang Xiao took note of Lan Jue’s serious expression. “Professor,” he pleaded, “but how?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Lan Jue responded. “I actually do know a method that can speed the process up. But, it’s painful. Would you be able to handle it?”
“No problem,” Tang Xiao immediately responded, nodding emphatically. “A little pain is nothing! Real men can take it, bring it on.” His mind was flooded with dreams of Talent cultivation, and a longing to learn the secrets of Oscillation.
Lan Jue looked impressed. “Not bad. Worthy of my disciple. We can achieve this by me patting your body. It will hurt, and you can tell me when you can bear no more. You must also control your Discipline and keep it from emerging, else all the effort will be wasted.”
“Alright, so when do we start professor?”
Lan Jue’s eyes flashed. “No time like the present. Are you ready to begin?”
“Ready!” Tang Xiao squared his shoulders and puffed out his chest. Resolution was etched clearly on his face.
Crack! A streak of brown leather whipped across his face.
“Gaah!” Tang Xiao screeched. But the sound was quickly lost with the thunderous sonance of a thousand blows.
“Ah, Professor! AH! It hurts.. !”
“Stay resolute! We’re extracting all that extra energy!” Lan Jue shouted.
To make you humble, make you strong, I must beat weakness out of you!
Chapter 54: The General’s Memoirs
“The teacher’s first lesson; be grim, be fierce, be forged in blood, improve my motivation and endurance to pain.
Only then will my power grow.”
Memoirs of the Metal Fox, Army General Tang Xiao
Lan Jue threw a leg over his bicycle, preparing to return to the simulation warehouse when he ran in to another familiar face.
“Professor Lan! Lookin’ good!” His teased pink mohican hair all a-quiver, Jin Tao’s excited voice cut off Lan Jue’s escape. He’d come looking for his sister, but upon hearing the screams chanced upon the scene on the lawn.
The brakes squealed as Lan Jue brought his bicycle to a stop and dismounted. “Hm?” He turned his eyes on to Jin Tao.
The young man failed to notice the odd light in Lan Jue’s eyes. He pressed on excitedly. “I saw the whole thing, you beating on Fatty Tang. The guy’s a bully, you don’t know how many times he’s bugged innocent people like me. I stole a lollipop from him once when I’d just enrolled in college. Man that was satisfying…”
Lan Jue fixed Jin Tao with a hard gaze. “What’s this about beating someone? You think you understand? I was trying to teach Tang Xiao how to better cultivate his abilities.”
Jin Tao looked confused. “Cultivate?”
“Mmh.” Lan Jue nodded solemnly. “Your classmate Tang Xiao has a very special Discipline. With the proper stimulation of his abilities his powers could advance quite quickly. The process is painful, but if successful he could become far more powerful than he is now.”
Suddenly Jin Tao’s eyes shone as though they were stars. “Really? Can my Discipline evolve too? My own Talent is only First-Level. At first I wanted to learn your method of beating Fatty Tang, but if you could evolve my own genetic abilities that would be great! You know today I almost got promoted to intermediate in the sim area. Who knew I’d come across that
Nooblet guy, must have been a Sovereign-Rank pilot. I was seckilled like a chump. If my Talent were stronger, I’d definitely be able to handle my mecha better, too. Hey man, help me out too.”
’Seckill’ is a gaming term in which a player manages to defeat their rival in a manner of seconds
“What’s your Discipline,” Lan Jue asked softly.
Jin Tao’s lips curved in a smile. “Metamorphosis. I can turn in to a dog! Only… a very weak dog. You think my talent has room to grow?”
“Of course,” Lan Jue responded flatly.
“The teacher’s first lesson; be grim, be fierce, be forged in blood, improve my motivation and endurance to pain. Only then will my power grow. Even were I Snoopy, he said, he could make me in to a Tibetan Mastiff.”
Memoirs of the Frenzied Lion Mastiff, Army General Jin Tao
“Where are you?” Zhou Qianlin had sent off Tang Mi, who’d had a peculiar look in her eye. She stood now in the door of the simulation department’s third classroom. She spoke through her communicator to someone.
“Look to your left. The handsome guy in the blue suit, about fifty meters away,” Lan Jue responded jokingly.
Zhou Qianlin turned her head to look, and spotted Lan Jue leaning idly against the wall. He waved at her.
The faintest hint of a smile threatened to break her serious expression. “I don’t see any handsome guys, but I see an old man. Go, keep about three hundred meters between you and me.
“No problem.” Contrary to what she expected, Lan Jue made no fuss.
In truth Lan Jue stood somewhat in awe. Zhou Qianlin wore her flight suit, and – as they are wont to do – it outlined her slender figure perfectly.
She didn’t have the exaggerated legs of Tang Mi. The combination of her legs and body lay right in the golden ratio. Her long black hair was tied up to reveal her pale neck. The suit strained against her chest, round and supple. The pleasant curve tapered down to a slender waist, not an ounce of flab. Sky-blue eyes like translucent gemstones looked right back at him.
And it wasn’t only him who noticed. Everyone who entered, everyone in the class, man or woman, had their eyes drawn to her like a magnet.
That was the kind of beauty Qianlin was in her flight suit.
Lan Jue wandered outside. His mind hummed with the memories of that time when Qianlin rested in his arms, Thor tearing through the heavens under his control.
Zhou Qianlin exited soon after, her alluring body now covered with a long coat. The hood was raised over her head, and she
exited with her eyes towards the floor. The shadows concealed her face.
“Your family wont send a car for you?” Lan Jue looked towards her in curiosity.
She looked up. “It’s no concern of yours. Just do your job.”
“So do I send you home,” he asked helplessly.
Qianlin shook her head. “Take me to Grace Hospital.”
It was a name he wasn’t familiar with. “You don’t feel well?” Suddenly, though, it was as though a shock rocked through him. Wide eyed and slack jawed he looked at her. “You’re not… you don’t have a…”
Zhou Qianlin’s face flew through a rage of confusion, shock, then went red with embarrassment. “You wish! Stop talking nonsense and hurry up.” She shoved him towards his bike as she spoke.
Lan Jue was possessed of a very keen level of perception, and notice Zhou Qianlin’s heart rate increase to at least double.
But seeing her reaction, it was unlikely it was as he thought.
He secretly let out a sigh of relief.
Lan Jue pulled himself on his bicycle, and looked towards Zhou Qianlin. “How are we going? Do you have a way to get there?”
Zhou Qianlin dropped her face, hiding it from Lan Jue. “Don’t you?” She pointed at the frame on the back of the bicycle.
Lan Jue blinked at her. “You, miss money bags, agreeing to sit on the back of a bicycle?”
She raised her head, casting him a withering glance. “I have never been a ‘moneybags’.” She sat herself on the protruding frame of the bicycle.
Lan Jue began to peddle, and Qianlin suddenly found herself groping for the seat below her.
The two figures peddled in to the distance, lit by the golden rays of the setting sun. They cast a long shadow.
They continued in perfect silence for ten minutes before Lan Jue slowed and pulled his bicycle to a stop at the side of the road.
“Why are you stopping?” Zhou Qianlin spoke up suddenly, as though she had been lost in her own memories.
Lan Jue looked back at her abashedly. “I don’t know the way.”
A grin tugged at the corners of Qianlin’s mouth. “Keep going straight, then turn right at the third junction. I’ll tell you what to do next when we get there.”
“Got it,” Lan Jue replied. He resumed peddling forward.
“Oh, by the way…” Lan Jue suddenly spoke up.
“You’re so heavy.”
A pair of pale slender fingers deftly reached forth to lay upon his waist. They found a bit of flesh, gingerly held it betwixt them… and twisted a hundred and eighty degrees.
The bike veered left and right, and suddenly that pale hand reached out in a panic to wrap about the injured waist…
Chapter 55: Little Elf Girl
“You’re telling me you’re my older brother…” Tang Mi looked at Tang Xiao’s swollen face pig-like face in surprise.
Tang Xiao winced. “Have a little compassion, why don’t you.”
“You want me to be compassionate?” Tang Mi spat. “I called you over to deal with that Nooblet, and instead you’re calling me on the communicator to come and save you. What are you doing letting someone beat you in your pig face anyway?”
Tang Xiao stuck out his chest and, choking back the pain in his body, spoke with pride. “You don’t understand. I’m cultivating my powers. You’ll understand later!”
“You don’t understand!” Jin Tao said to a visibly panicked Jin Yan.
“If you tell anyone about what we’re doing here, you can forget about cultivation. And don’t bother coming to find me,” Lan Jue warned.
Lan Jue found it hard to imagine how this hospital had become so run-down. It was a shabby stone building of simple construction, with decorative iron bolted to the wood-framed windows. It had to be among the oldest architectural styles on Planet Skyfire.
A distinctly modern crucifix’s green neon glow flickered over the large door. The twinkling green glow radiated around the cross like a halo, sometimes there and sometimes not. Even from a good distance you could still make it out.
Lan Jue brought his bicycle to a stop. “You’re sure this is the place?”
Zhou Qianlin answered by dismounting from the backseat of the bike and wordlessly making her way in to the hospital.
He pulled his bike to the side and entered after her. After all, it was his duty as her body guard.
The scent of disinfectant fluid swirled around him as he entered the hospital. This sort of low-cost cleaning method was rarely seen in the three alliances anymore.
All the facilities he passed look exceedingly worn-out, with the exception of the odd doctor or nurse’s coverall.
Despite this, however, the hospital was host to many patients. Without exception each was clad in simple clothing, some as worn as the building they stood in.
It was a poor district hospital. Lan Jue knew this even before stepping foot inside, because Grace Hospital was located right in the middle of Skyfire’s most famous ghetto.
What he couldn’t understand is why Zhou Qianlin would want to come to a place like this. Looking at her lithe figure moving in front of him, It was clear she was familiar with the place.
Zhou Qianlin didn’t pause, continuing on in to the heart of the hospital. She proceeded until passing through a simple wooden door.
They stepped in to a small, pleasant flower garden, no more than two hundred square meters. The vegetation within wasn’t anything particularly special or rare, but they were vibrant and well tended. Vibrant green filled the eyes, and the fresh smell was invigorating. Twenty or so elderly patients sat or stood among the flora.
As Zhou Qianlin entered, every pair of yellowed, rheumy eyes drew towards her. Their faces lit up, their wrinkles deepening as each adopted a smile.
“Linlin!” A wrinkled woman in grey clothing smiled at Zhou Qianlin and weakly waved her hand.
In China, repeating the last part of a person’s name is a cutesy nickname denoting familiarity
Zhou Qianlin hurried to the woman’s side, a radiant smile blossoming upon her face.
“Granny Meng! Why are you sitting on this stone bench with no cushion. You mustn’t let your legs get cold.” Zhou Qianlin knelt before the elderly woman and took her hand, a look of mild admonishment on her face.
Grenny Meng chuckled. “It’s fine, it’s fine. The weather today isn’t bad. I’m not cold at all. Here, I got this special for you. Eat it quick while it’s fresh.” As she spoke her trembling hands fumbled for her pocket, extracting an apple from within. She passed it to Zhou Qianlin.
The skin of the apple was already distinctly shriveled, but the smile on Zhou Qianlin’s face was wide and genuine. “Thank you Granny Meng. Oh, it smells lovely,” she said as she took it in her hands.
She ignored the shriveled and dusty exterior of the apple and took a big bite.
The other elderly occupants of the garden had begun to gather around.
“Little Linlin, come here to granddad. Here, I brought you some bread.”
Granny and granddad are used to denote a close relationship with an elder person – not necessarily blood relation
“Don’t bother with that bread. Here, Linlin, this is some tea my grandson brought me. I knew you were coming today so I brewed you a cup, still warm. Here have a sip, wet your whistle.”
“Linlin, I brought you this…”
Almost every one of the twenty-something patients presented something to Zhou Qianlin. She took each item in turn, praising the giver and looking upon each item as though it were precious.
Lan Jue stood not far off, silently looking on. He keenly felt the warmth and friendliness of the older patients as Zhou Qianlin ate their gifts and gave them hugs in return.
Why? What relationship do they have to her? What is this place?
A quavering, aged voice interrupted his thoughts. “Did you
come with Linlin young man?”
Lan Jue turned his head and spotted an old man clad in an old green army coat, clutching a walking cane in his hands. He looked back at Lan Jue in curiosity.
“Yes. Greetings,” Lan Jue politely responded. “Pardon me sir, but what is this place?”
The old man’s eyes softened visibly. “This is Grace Hospital Retirement Home, serving the slums here. Linlin comes here once a week to volunteer. She’s our little elf – we say that when she comes it’s like our own festival.”
Zhou Qianlin pulled her hair up with practiced hands and tied it with a simple piece of cloth. He didn’t notice when in her hands suddenly appeared a pair of nail clippers. One by one she knelt before them, and one by one careful clipped their nails. Concentration filled her eyes, and from beginning to end her face held a gentle smile. In between she’d speak a few sentences to her charges, which would invariable cause their faces to light up in smiles.
“Young man, come have a cup of water if you’d prefer not to
talk.” The old man from before offered a mottled tea cup, filled with steaming clear water.
“Thank you very much.” Lan Jue hurriedly took the cup and brought it to his lips.
The old man began to chuckle, but the phlegm is his throat set him to coughing. “It’s my turn to get my nails clipped, eh!” He turned towards Zhou Qianlin with a youthful vigor.
This green-eyed girl, smiling as she works… she really is the garden’s little elf. A flawless, perfect little elf.
Chapter 56: Kindness Should Be Preserved
“Excuse me a moment everyone, I’m going to get some water and wash your feet. Please come in one by one.” Zhou Qianlin turned and motioned Lan Jue over. It was the first time she’d acknowledged him in the half hour they’d been there.
Lan Jue was still surprised with the scene, but managed to make his way towards her.
As he did, he felt all eyes on him.
“Ey, Linlin, is this your boyfriend hm?” Granny Meng’s eyes lit up mischievously with this new piece of potential gossip.
Zhou Qianlin’s face grew red, and she quickly shook her head. “Not at all, he’s a friend of mine.” She spoke then to Lan Jue. “Come and help me with the water.”
She gripped his sleeve and pulled him away through another door on the opposite side of the garden.
They found themselves in a long corridor beset on each side with scores of doors, a number above each one.
“What are you yanking me for,” Lan Jue inquired as he was pulled along.
“They all care a lot for me. If I didn’t pull you away you’d never have escaped,” she responded. “With you to help me today getting the water should go faster.”
As they spoke she pulled him in to a simple room. A wooden chair and a steel frame with hangers affixed to the ceiling were it’s only adornments.
“Usually they use this room to give the patients injections.” She offered the simple explanation as they moved towards the water heater in the back. A washbasin had been set beside it.
Zhou Qianlin took up the basin and began pouring the hot water in to it. “The cold water pipe is outside. Go bring some in so we can adjust the temperature.”
“Why are you cleaning these people’s feet anyway,” Lan Jue
asked with genuine curiosity.
“They’re old and have trouble stooping down,” she responded without hesitation. “And washing their feet with warm water helps with circulation.”
The basin had filled during their exchange, and she carefully placed it onto the ground. She removed her backpack and put it to the side.
Standing over her, Lan Jue could clearly make out the contents of her backpack as she opened it to rifle through.
There was no make-up, accessories or playthings as you might expect; only books, and two bags – one big, and one small.
First she removed the small back and replaced the nail- clippers she’d used earlier. Besides those, there was also a pair of scissors and hair clippers.
She then opened the larger bag. Lan Jue peered in, and couldn’t help but lift his brows and interject.
“What are all the orange peels for?”
Zhou Qianlin smiled, and her response was filled with no small measure of pride. “Don’t you know? Using orange peels in the water not only helps with circulation, but can also clear the cuticles, softened the skin of the feet, and guard them from cracking.”
“You’re a homeopath, too,” Lan Jue muttered in wonder.
The smile on Zhou Qianlin’s face widened. “Go get the water.”
“Right,” he said, and turned to do so.
The first batch consisted of four elderly patients. They entered orderly and took their seats. When Lan Jue returned, their eyes immediately fell upon him, curiosity plain on their faces.
“Hey son, who are you anyway?”
“You really aren’t Linlin’s boyfriend?”
“Hey kiddo, you’re a handsome fella but ya still aren’t a match for our Linlin. Keep at it eh!”
“You mess with our girl and you’ll have to answer to me!”
Lan Jue felt overwhelmed with the questions, but he keenly felt how much these people cared for Zhou Qianlin.
With Lan Jue’s help, four orange-peel infused basins of warm water were quickly produced. Each were placed before the patients before their shoes and socks were carefully removed and their feet placed inside.
Her motions were practiced, fluid from beginning to end. Each of the retirees beamed down at her as she worked, appreciation and enjoyment filling their pale yellowed eyes.
“Do you usually come by yourself,” Lan Jue asked as he helped her pour the water.
“Xiao Mi usually comes with me,” she said. “Today she had something to do, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked you to come. This is probably the first time you’ve done something like this,
huh. You aren’t accustomed to it.”
Lan Jue nodded in confirmation.
“Well today we’ll be using up some of your time,” she continued. “They’ll be warming their feet for about twenty minutes each. Until they begin to sweat a little is best.”
“Why do you do this?”
Zhou Qianlin gave him a strange look. “No real reason! These people need looking after, so here I am. I’m happy when I’m with them. I lost my grandparents in the war, but here I have many grandparents to share my time with. They have so many experiences, I love hearing them talk about their lives. If my studies weren’t so busy I’d be here more often.”
Soak, wash, wipe. And so it continued.
For two hours it proceeded, washing the feet of every tenant,
but Zhou Qianlin did not waste the time. As they left she would also gather their laundry, bringing it in to the washroom to rinse and dry.
It was night by the time they left Grace Hospital Retirement Home. Lan Jue stood at the door, holding Zhou Qianlin’s bag as she placed her hands on her head and stretched. Her supple figure beneath the dim lamplight was a sight to behold.
Lan Jue shouldered her back and began to push his bicycle. “Tired?”
“No, I’m used to it. Are you? You got the hang of it pretty quickly, and they seemed to like you. I hadn’t suspected the great nobility would be able to handle this sort of work, hehe.” Zhou Qianlin’s smile had flowered significantly. Except for the very beginning, Lan Jue had stood at her side and helped for the whole two hours, his fine three-piece suit becoming hopelessly wrinkled in the process.
He smiled. “Helping the elderly is showing respect. It something we all must do.”
“Time to go home,” Zhou Qianlin said.
Lan Jue patted the bike’s back seat before straddling it himself. Zhou Qianlin sat upon it as though she’d done it a hundred times before, and immediately wrapped an arm around his waist.
As the bike began to creep forward Lan Jue spoke over his shoulder. “How long have you been coming here?”
“More than two years.”
“Are you doing anything tomorrow night?”
Zhou Qianlin’s response was guarded. “Why?”
“A friend of mine invited me to a meal, and I can bring someone along. Would you like to come?”
A flash of surprise passed though Zhou Qianlin’s pretty eyes.
But something else lay deeper still.
“Why would you invite me to go eat with you?”
Lan Jue smiled. “Kindness should be preserved.”
Chapter 57: The Mundus Crystal
“Hey fella come here. We have the results of the stone’s inspection.”
Situated in the Skyfire Underground, the library stood as it always had. The Keeper sat upon his rattan deck chair with his fingers playing over the clay teapot in his hands. He looked at ease.
Lan Jue had come directly from his jewelry store after sending Zhou Qianlin to the base of her mountain-top home. It had been a full day, one that had filled him with a sense of contentment, and now that he’d heard from the Keeper he was beginning to think today was indeed his lucky day.
“What was the result?” Lan Jue stuffed his hands in his pockets and moved to the Keeper’s side.
The Keeper shut his eyes for a moment. “I’ll start simply by saying that if you found the vein this come from, you’d make an unimaginable fortune.”
“Oh?” Lan Jue’s eyes lit up. “What did you discover?” For the Keeper to even start with this sort of evaluation, he must have found something significant.
The Keeper continued. “I wont go through the entire analytical process, you wouldn’t understand anyway.”
Lan Jue smiled as his elderly counterpart went on. “As for the results, we did discover that were this ore to be refined, it would create a particularly special crystal. The crystal’s capabilities would be immense, and beyond that it would be possessed of a truly astonishing peculiarity in energy transformation.”
“Simply put, energies injected in to the stone will have its impurities extracted, releasing only energy in it’s purest form. I call it Mundus Energy. If you were to incorporate it with some sort of procedural structure, you could create an astounding energy purification system. And the mundus energy it exudes could be used in any form of modern scientific pursuit.”
“What about conversion speed and power grade,” Lan Jue inquired.
“Conversion is exceptionally fast,” the old man responded.
“You could charge a tenth-class mecha from empty to full in ten minutes. I went through my databanks, and no power gem like this has ever been recorded. It is quintuple the capabilities of the closest equivalent gem. It had to be recorded, so I called it the Mundus Crystal. Were we able to find a suitable means to develop this, it would catapult human science and technology in to a new era.”
Even Lan Jue’s trademark composure was shaken following the Keeper’s explanation. It took all he had not to gape like a moron.
“However,” The Keeper proceeded despite Lan Jue’s stupefaction, “make no mistake that this Mundus Energy isn’t without it’s dangers. Converting energy at it’s quickest rate gradually causes the gem to weaken. Through my experimentations I’ve determined that were this stone of yours refined in to a Mundus Crystal it would enervate a top-level mecha three times before being irreparably damaged, and rendered useless. As a result I thought it cannot be classified as an A-level stone – a C at best, though of course a very special C. The analysis shows it’s stored energies aren’t any different from a normal A-ranked stone. It has no capability of self-repair or other function – simply it’s one special quality.”
Lan Jue was not disappointed by the Keeper’s designation of
C-rank. On the contrary the fire in his eyes only grew as the old scientist went on. He had no shortage of stones to compress energy, strengthen attack or harden defenses. But this stone, with it’s ability to restore energy so quickly, was something altogether different, something he needed.
“Another interesting aspect we uncovered, however, is the energy it produces is pure enough that even our Disciplines can absorb and assimilate it. This caused my original C assessment to be upgraded to a B. Regrettably the sheer enormity of it’s energy output means only seventh-degree Talents or higher would be capable of using it. Otherwise it would likely be A- ranked.”
“I’ve already submitted the results and the name to the Power Gem research association. I hope you don’t have any objections?” The Keeper looked at Lan Jue.
“None,” Lan Jue replied. A history making power gem with a name they patented, certainly it would be beneficial to him. Once it became known to the populace everyone would want to mine it for themselves. They’d be bound by the rules of the patent, and would need his authorization. It was a policy adopted by all of the great alliances to incentivize exploration and public benefit. And with the Keeper’s help, the whole process was sure to go off without a hitch.
“You’d better hurry and find the vein, then. When you do you’ll be a rich man. I’ll be fine with thirty percent of the final sales.” The Keeper had sat up at this point, his eyes glimmering.
Eeeeeeeee–! At that moment the harsh resonance of an alarm blasted through Skyfire Underground.
“Hm?” Lan Jue and the Keeper shared startled expressions.
It was an alarm rarely heard, a red alert indicating a conflict the Skyfire Enforcement Team couldn’t handle. It meant the Skyfiire Council itself had to intervene, requiring at least one member to make their presence felt.
It was the responsibility of a Council member to drop what they were doing immediately and tend to the problem.
“I’ll check it out,” Lan Jue growled. There was a flash of electricity, and suddenly the Keeper was standing alone.
A blazing halo of crimson fire stormed around Mika, but it was a fire devoid of heat. The Zeus’ Jewelry Store of Skyfire Underground rose behind her.
Beside her stood a dozen officers of the Enforcement Team.
Several more in uniform lay scattered on the ground.
Opposite them stood six figures. Five were clad in silver leather, their faces concealed with hoods. They appeared to be lead by a man in similar uniform, though his was gold.
“Hand over the ore. We’ll pay ten times your asking price. We have no interest in causing trouble in Skyfire Avenue, but if you continue to deny us I can’t promise we’ll remain so polite.” The rumbling voice of a silver-clad assailant wafted towards the others.
The ridicule on Mika’s face was clearly apparent. “The nerve! You dare to cause trouble on Skyfire, in our shop. If you want the stone you’ll have to deal with me.”
A chilling voice hissed from beneath the golden hood. “If that is the case, then this establishment holds nothing of interest to us.”
“This toad’s halitosis is making my eyes water.” Lan Jue’s lackadaisical voice matched his easy stance, having appeared without notice. He placed a hand upon Mika’s shoulder, and immediately her roiling fires extinguished.
“Boss.” A look of pleasant surprise dawned on Mika’s features. She grinned as she greeted him. “What are you doing here. It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
Lan Jue sighed. “How could I not! When a tiger sleeps too long others forget he has claws.”
Chapter 58: Phantom Of Lightning
Lan Jue’s appearance caused the gathered Enforcers to heave a quiet sigh of relief. Outsiders may not know have known of his status, but they certainly did. One of the eighteen Council members, newest of their ranks, but in a short time capable of rising to great heights. It was a poignant display of ability.
“Jewelry Master,” the Enforcers respectfully greeted.
“You’re the owner of this establishment?” The golden hooded man’s voice sounded almost metallic, strange and tinny.
“That I am!” Lan Jue appeared at ease, a lopsided smile on his face. He turned then to the Enforcers. “Take the wounded for treatment. I’ll handle things from here.”
“Right away.” From among the gathered Enforcers a few stepped forward to gather the injured. The remainder waited respectfully behind the Jewelry Master, awaiting his orders.
“Relinquish the stone from the other day, and we’ll leave immediately.” The golden man’s voice was as cold as ice.
Lan Jue shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s impossible. You’ve hurt my people. To leave now would be running away from the consequences. As for the stone, it’s already turned to dust.” As he spoke the final sentence he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of regret in his chest.
He hadn’t lied, for in fact the stone had been reduced to powder. Such was the result of the Keeper’s experimentations, in finding the stone’s limitations.
“What did you say?” The golden man took a menacing step forward. It was a small motion, but one that spoke volumes. A step that spoke murder. Though no face was visible, the man’s homicidal intentions were palpable as he faced Lan Jue.
To enter Skyfire one had to possess awakened Talent. In the face of this man’s dark aura, everyone present – be they Enforcer or onlooker – allowed their Disciplines to exude forth.
Standing beside Lan Jue, Mika’s brows raised at the scene. She made a motion as though to engage, but was cut off by her employer.
As ever, Lan Jue’s face only betrayed that signature
indifference. His right hand lifted, slowly and purposefully, to snap his fingers. At once an azure photosphere appeared floating in the air. But it did not rush towards the golden man, instead floating to about a meter before Lan Jue before bursting in to oblivion.
At the sight of the explosion a pale red flame hung in the air. Stranger than that, however, is the fact that the flame raced towards the golden man as though it had a life of it’s own. At was as if an invisible cloud of gasoline had ignited in the air, and the flame was racing back to it’s source in the golden man.
The murderous aura suffocating the area dispersed almost immediately, like the fires had burned it away. The golden man howled and retreated a step, his right hand raised and flailing to shield himself. A sanguine light cut through the link the fire had established.
“Phantom of lightning, who are you!” The golden man lifted his head, revealing the contours of his face. Unfortunately, it was further hidden by a golden mask, but a pair of light-blue eyes were visible. The pupils dilated, then began to stretch vertically, emitting a palpable field of fear.
Still Lan Jue held his lazy smile. “I see you are of the
Moonfiend Empress. Each of you shall leave a finger, and five million in medical expenses. Then you may go.”
“Now that you know our identity, you should understand the Way of the Moonfiend Pirates. Give us Oliver and the stone, or we’ll hunt you until death even if you are phantom of lightning!”
As the name of the Moonfiend Pirates hung in the air, nearly all the onlookers took a collective step backwards. The crowd that had surrounded Zeus’ Jewelry Store had suddenly grown thinner. No small number of lookers wordlessly dropped their heads and fled.
Flippantly, Lan Jue responded. “You came today of your own accord, am I right?”
The golden man was taken aback, but responded harsher than before. “I’ll ask for the last time, give up the stone!”
A sigh fell from Lan Jue’s lips. “Disasters from the heavens can be forgiven and avoided, but the sins of man must have consequences. Even were it the Moonfiend Empress herself standing before me, she’d lose more than a finger in payment.
Do you believe even you, relying on your ninth-level Talent, can afford to cause trouble on Skyfire Avenue?
At this he turned to a spot in the gathered masses and nodded. “Wine Master, if you would indulge me. These gentlemen are subordinates of someone I know. I intend to exact payment.”
“Very well,” responded a deep voice. Though it came from a great distance, it was as clearly heard as though it had come from right beside him.
Suddenly, the sky grew dark. Skyfire Underground’s controlled climate never saw such shifts, but in this moment the entirety of the avenue was plunged in to darkness. On that dark canvas suddenly bloomed a great purple light, spreading like an enormous halo.
For an instant it was as though the whole of Skyfire Avenue warped violently, and just as quickly all was bright was more, back to as it was. All except for Lan Jue and the hooded assailants, who had vanished.
“Back to your duties,” a harsh voice commanded. A silver-clad woman had appeared from nowhere, and stood before the
Enforcers barking commands.
She was tall, slim, and symmetrical. Beautiful, with silver hair cut at her ears. Her eyes bore the same metallic shine, and a shimmering aura of energy surrounded her lithe frame.
“Yes, Captain.” The gathered Enforcers snapped to attention before slinking sheepishly in to the crowd.
Adepts native to Skyfire knew to retreat with the appearance of the silver-clad woman. To them seeing her was like facing a nightmare. Those who were not familiar still stood, mouth agape in wonder and fear at the strange singularity they had witnessed.
“You think you can react any slower?” Mika stared sardonically at the young woman.
The silver woman shot her a hard look. “I was topside.”
Mika’s lips curled. “Well you can head out. It looks like things have been handled.”
She shook her head in response. “I’ll wait for the Jewelry Master’s return. This needs an explanation.”
Mika raised a brow. “You expect an explanation from our boss?”
“I do,” came her response, without hesitation.
Mika’s eyes shown devilishly. It was as though a fire was alive in their depths. “And who are you?”
The silver woman lifted her hands to pull down the hood of her trench coat. Those shimmering silver eyes then grew transparent and dark, like dual whirlpools of tarnished silver swirling in their sockets. Fearlessly she stared back at Mika. “I am the Vice Captain of the Skyfire Avenue Enforcement Team. I have the authority to monitor all of the shops here.”
Mika snorted irreverently, and her body grew covered in ominous hyacinth flames. The overpowering scent of gunpowder arose suddenly between the two great beauties.
Chapter 59: The Moonfiend Empress
“Alright, alright sister. If miss An Liu wants to wait then she can wait.” The pretty voice came from behind, and Lin Guoguo’s slender figure approached to block Mika’s approach.
Her body was enveloped in a faint pink aura, making her appear strange and ethereal. Blanketed in this rose light and exuding her trademark sweetness she was like a faerie. Mika’s angry red flames seems to shrinking the face of Lin Guoguo’s presence.
“Enough!” Mika huffed, causing the flames around her to leap higher. “Let’s go then. If someone wants to sit and look after the mutt on our doorstep then let them.”
Lin Guoguo gave An Liu an apologetic look. “I’m very sorry miss An Liu. Mika really does have an awful temper. You shouldn’t take it personally.”
An Liu’s features remained hard and cold, but she nodded her head and moved to the side of Zeus’ Jewelry Store to wait.
Lin Guoguo then turned to follow Mika inside.
“Mika, why is it you get so mad every time you run in to miss An Liu? Didn’t the boss tell you to avoid using your power as much as possible?” Lin Guoguo stood at Mika’s side and spoke no higher than a whisper.
Mika grunted. “It’s nothing, just looking at that bitchy face makes me angry. You shouldn’t bother with her either, she’s no good.”
It was a white world. The sky, the ground – everything was washed white. It made everything flat and two dimensional, difficult to judge distance.
Confusion was clear in the eyes of the golden hooded man and his six silver-clad cohorts.
None had any clue where they were.
As moonfiend pirates, on their own planet they were the judges and executioners, masters of life and death. As a result they had grown overbearing, arrogant, proud.
This was particularly true for the golden man. He felt, as a ninth-level Adept, he was above the common rabble and their rules. There was very little in his world that could cause him fear. It was this fearlessness that sent him to Skyfire Avenue despite it’s reputation.
Lan Jue stood as he did before, hands stuffed in to the pocket of his jeans. Though now there was a clear dissatisfaction in his eyes.
He lifted his hand and punched a string of numbers in to the communicator strapped to his wrist. Soon after the connection stuttered to life.
“Eh? What are you doing calling me? I thought you’d died ages ago.” The voice that wafted through the communicator was soft and quiet.
“Your subordinates wanted to tear my shop down,” Lan Jue responded. “I thought I should let you know.”
“Huh? You’ve opened a shop, where are you? This poor woman has been looking for you for three years with no luck, so imagine my surprise to hear you’re a shopkeeper. What do you sell?” The woman on the other end sounded as though she’d woken up, her previously lazy intonations becoming clear and sweet. Surprise was also clear in her voice.
Lan Jue spoke to his wrist. “I was no longer interested in my old life. I just wanted things to be nice and quiet, so I opened a place on Skyfire Avenue. As for the other matter, you should speak with your people.” He removed the communicator from his wrist and handed it to the golden man.
“Empress.” The man spoke in to the item with trepidation.
“Which one is this?” The sweet and gentle woman’s voice had changed again, this time bearing a chill that cut to the bone.
“I’m Gao Yong.” A bitterness crept in to the golden man’s mouth.
“What happened,” The woman known as the Empress asked.
Gao Yong dare not slight his mistress, and so briefly recounted the circumstances.
“Alright, very good.” Despite the words, the Moonfiend Empress’ voice had grown markedly chillier.
“Empress, that stone is very important. We suspect it holds enormous energy, an energy that hasn’t been tapped in to.” The golden man hurriedly tried to offer his explanation.
“And this is your reason for leading men in to Skyfire Avenue?”
Gao Yong was silent, as if he knew what was to come.
“Give the communicator back to that guy,” the Empress snapped.
Gao Yong lifted his head to look at Lan Lue, who was standing calmly to the side as though nothing had happened. The golden man took a deep breath and, with a dark glint in his eye, took a step forward to stand before Lan Jue. He handed him the communicator.
“Would you like to handle this, or should I?” Lan Jue asked indifferently.
The Empress’ sweet voice once more rang from the communicator. “I really never would have imagined in these three years you’d have run off to Skyfire Avenue. It is, in fact, quite a nice place. Thank you, I’ll deal with it.”
The corner of Lan Jue’ mouth curled in to a smile. “I see you’ve finally grown a little conscientious.”
The Empress laughed. “I know you feel for me, you don’t want to weaken my organization.”
“Gao Yong,” she barked.
The golden man lifted his head and looked directly at the communicator in Lan Jue’s hand.
“In accordance with his wishes you all will cut off one finger and pay him what he asked. Then you’ll get your asses back here. You’ll forget this whole issue with the stone ever happened.”
Gao Yong stood in stunned silence. Although in his heart he knew it was coming, he almost couldn’t believe it coming from his Empress’ mouth. This was the Moonfiend Empress, destroyer of cities! Arbiter of life and death, with a heart of stone who would shatter any opponent who dared defy her like an uncaring bolt of thunder. Yet in the face of this man before him, she orders a senior general to injure himself. It was beyond belief.
“Gao Yong!” The Empress’ powerful voice burst out.
“I refuse!” he blurted out, his voice full of indignation. Yes, he refused, how could he possibly be convinced to do otherwise.
“Empress, I’ve done no wrong. I’ve done nothing but what’s best for the Moonfiend Pirates. How could you treat me like this? You don’t fear disappointing my brothers?” Gao Yong shouted angrily at the communicator in Lan Jue’s hand.
The Empress was silent.
Lan Jue sighed once more. “Some people are so stupid there isn’t any medicine in the universe that can save them. Empress, let me help you teach them a lesson.”
The Moonfiend Empress sighed as well. “What’s your status on the Avenue?”
“Councilman,” Lan Jue replied.
“Then I appreciate you taking the trouble,” she said. “Keep that one alive, but the others I leave up to you. If they continue to cause you trouble then deal with the lot.”
Lan Jue smiled. “So be it. I’ll speak with you later.” He hung up.
His eyes rose to fix upon Gao Yong. “You refuse to submit?”
Gao Yong glared daggers back at him. “Why should I submit?”
“Very well then. I’ll give you all a chance,” Lan Jue said. “Beat me, and you all can leave Skyfire Avenue unmolested.”
Chapter 60: Gravity Manipulation
Gao Yong’s eyes veritably filled with evil intent. It exuded from his every pore, filling the air though it could not be physically seen.
The place they found themselves in, this world of white, was simple and bleak but did not effect the abilities of the Adepts that inhabited it.
Gao Yong wasn’t stupid, he knew that trying to escape from this place with his henchmen would be futile. The legends of Skyfire Avenue were true, he knew, and likely greater than he even expected. As for the young man before him he’d learned from listening to his exchange with the Empress that he was a Skyfire Councilman, and a ninth-level Talent.
But so was he! What was the difference? How had he gained such favor from the Empress? Gao Yong had never heard such mild and sweet words from his mistress, she who was so noble, beautiful and powerful. This guy before him, what was it he had?
He was angry and indignant, yes, but beneath that swam a current of jealousy!
His right foot took a step forward, and a terrifying rumble exuded from Gao Yong’s position. Around them, the color of the entire planet began to change.
Lan Jue very slightly lifted an eyebrow. “Gravity manipulation.”
He felt as though his body had become lead. Gravity tore at him, trying to crush him to the ground.
Gravity manipulation, certainly a powerful Discipline. Cultivated to it’s highest levels, it could effect even the smallest hair. One could make themselves light as a feather, and increase the effects of gravity a thousand-fold on their enemies. It was a powerful ability, even were you to fight single-handed against a mecha.
At Gao Yong’s motion the six silver men behind him also began to move.
They crossed their legs and sat, a mighty fluctuation of energy pouring forth from their bodies.
And as the undulating powers of the six mingled with Gao Yong’s own energies, they began to blend in to one.
The golden man’s skin began to blacken. It was stark against the white backdrop of the world around them, and made him look like he had been infused with ink.
At that, even Lan Jue couldn’t help his feelings from being written clearly on his face.
“Gravity overlay… your power expanding so long as you’re near your people,” Lan Jue observed with surprise.
“That’s right.” Gao Yong’s pride was clear in his voice. “Though none of them exceed a six-level Talent, they have been with me for years. Their similar abilities when supplementing mine empower my Discipline from a third degree ninth-level to a fifth degree or higher. To beat me in the midst of my brothers will require no less than three top-level Talents.”
“No wonder you so blatantly entered Skyfire Avenue,” Lan Jue stated.
Gao Yong continued in his cold metallic voice. “Regardless of your ninth level Talent, under my powers of gravity you’ll find even moving to be difficult, much less to endure with gravity compressing you. You would be crushed and broken by my power of gravity before you even knew who did it to you.”
Lan Jue heaved yet another sigh. “Yup, that is indeed the power you hold.”
“Then let me see what powers you hold,” Gao Yong stated cruelly, “Lest I reduce you to dust.”
“I know you’re thinking, deep in your heart, why your Great Empress would speak to a man such as me in such a polite fashion,” Lan Jue said. “Am I right?”
Gao Yong paused, causing his manipulation of the gravity force around them to change. Not weaker, but stronger still.
The area around Lan Jue had began to warp perceptibly.
“Then I’ll tell you.” Lan Jue smirked, as though the crushing field of gravity around him had no effect. “It’s because she’s
scared of me!”
His allegations were punctuated with a dazzling blue light, bursting forth from his body.
The pale white world was as paper, and the field of gravity stains of ink. Lan Jue was the brush, sweeping through the ink to add an azure hue.
A violent peel of thunder arose, and the light encompassing Lan Jue became a great globe of roiling lightning.
The black field of increase gravity fled broke against the sudden burst of power and fled from around the Jewelry Master. Then, in an instant, he appeared before Gao Yong as though he’d been there all along.
He broke out of my control? He was a master of battlefield control, an adept of domination. This sort of situation was precisely the kind he feared the most. It meant not only was this man more powerful, but that he also had the specific ability to obliterate his power of manipulation.
The world grew bright, and once more Lan Jue soundlessly vanished. He reappeared, but not beside Gao Yong. Instead he stood behind the golden man’s silvery compatriots.
Six twisting bolts of lightning reached out like snakes, striking at the six hooded figures. The six-level Talents groaned in unison, then fell to the floor.
Gao Yong felt his gravity manipulation weaken considerably with the loss of their amplification. In that moment he dared not turn to see what had happened.
In a flash the world was afire in blue light, then Lan Jue appeared once more. The Phantom of Lightning was hunched beside the fallen bodies of his henchmen.
“Gao Yong, had you chosen to accept from the onset I wouldn’t have had anything further to say to you. Due to my words your Empress has offered some good advice. These last few years I’ve grown, and my heart isn’t as it once was.” As he spoke, Lan Jue slowly lifted up the right hand of one of the downed henchmen. Deftly, he severed a finger.
“You… !” Gao Yong felt his chest tighten. Gravity around him
shifted, and in the space of a moment he was beside Lan Jue. He launched a fist at the phantom of lightning, surrounding it with the weight of seven times normal gravity. He knew if he could land even one punch, he’d tear the bastard asunder.
But his fist merely tore through the air. Lan Jue was already beside the second subordinate, exacting the due punishment.
Since attaining the ninth rank of his talent, Gao Yong had never felt so humiliated. He roared at his shame, at Lan Jue, and launched himself forward.
But Lan Jue only stood. His eyes fixed upon the golden man, and flashed an ethereal blue.
Two beams of light radiated from those unsettling blue eyes.
The white world became blue. A deep, royal blue from heaven to earth. It was no forest of lightning, but a sea. An ocean of all- consuming electricity.