Chapter 71: Zeus-1
The public-use section of Planet Skyfire’s Airship compound was separated in to several sectors. They included the normal docking area, long-distance vessels, and the VIP hangars.
Only the VIP hangar had individualized docks and warehouses, but it was reflected in the price – one they had to pay monthly. Further, one had to hire their own security.
Lan Jue and his beauties had parked the p12 beside the VIP hangar, one of the reason why the guards hadn’t dared trouble them too much about the speeding.
The standard color of the airship had been painted over in a brilliant sapphire blue, all but for the alloy door which retained it’s original silver finish. Above the door was something almost like a sculpture; a deep blue bolt of lightning jutting out to point the way. It was registered to Zeus’ Jewelry Shop specifically, for use in transporting particularly rare goods.
Lan Jue sauntered in to the hangar in his khaki windbreaker, followed by his ladies in single file. He walked lazy by, stopping to lean against one of the metallic walls and stuff his hands in the pocket of his windbreaker. He pulled a cigar from some
hidden breast pocket and stuffed it in his mouth, leaving it unlit.
Several deep-blue robots of various kinds bustled around the hangar, engaged in various activities. No human workers were seen. Everything appeared to be done by machine.
What occurred in these hangars was private, and he wished to keep it so. As a result no human employee possessed the qualifications he required. The interior of the hangar, thus, was a world of silver and blue with the occasional flash of a spark. The effort and result of a mechanized workforce.
Three ships were anchored within, all of similar size. The exteriors all looked exactly the same – all a luminous sapphire blue – with no outward emblem, marking or number.
The ships were seventy meters in length, and fifty meters port to starboard. The wings, slim and streamlined, swept back against the hull. Five engines sat dormant; two affixed to each wing, and one enormous one on the tail. It was, simply, a work of art.
Xiuxiu made her way to one of the silver platforms and
pressed a button. In response a screen and keyboard jutted forth. Long slender finger like flower stems flew over the keys. The sound of her steadily beating fingers fluttered through the hanger, and streams of data flew across the monitor screen like a waterfall.
“Zeus-1 Power Systems online. Weapons systems online. Hull integrity: 100%. Flight status approved, and ready for boarding. Boss, ready when you are.”
Lan Jue looked over the powerful, sleek frame of the ship, making no effort to hide the pride in his eyes. He nodded his head, and softly his voice issued forth. “Let’s do it!”
Xiuxiu’s fingers tapped at the keyboard, and the closest handful of robots lurched in to motion. They retreated from the area as a boarding ramp slowly extended. The robot workers stood diligently to one side in ranks, as the interior of the ship awoke.
Zeus-1 became bathed in light. It’s brilliant sapphire sheen was illuminated from head to tail. It looked for all the world like a great bird shaking itself from slumber.
The others didn’t wait for Lan Jue, who still leaned against the wall with the cigar in his mouth. Mika, Ke’er and Guoguo each made their way to the ship. Xiuxiu finished with the computer and joined Lan Jue as he made his way towards the ramp.
The engines of Zeus-1 began to rev up, thrumming as air passed through the intake. The gusts from the jets sent air swirling through the hangar. Lan Jue’s windbreaker flapped in response.
Xiuxiu could see the side of her employer’s face from where she stood. There was a melancholy in his eyes, and his hair was in a mess. However, he’d taken care not to appear too sloppy. The collar of his windbreaker was pulled up to conceal his neck, but it looked more like it was there to conceal something deeper.
Xiuxiu pursed her lips, but said nothing. She strode to Lan Jue’s side and boarded with him.
The bridge stretched three hundred meters, and the world without was visible through the light-blue window set at the front. The four beauties each took up positions while Lan Jue sat in the roomy captain’s chair behind them. Cigar still firmly
set between his lips, Lan Jue dropped his head to stare at the armrests. Regret remained in the depths of those eyes.
It had been a long while since he’d flown in Zeus-1. Ordinarily it was just the girls, and even then they were usually busy at the store.
He felt strangely separate from the place now. He turned to view the seat at his side, empty.
“Hera…” It was a name he said often, but one that never failed to bring a flash of sadness fluttering through his eyes.
But in the next instant it wasn’t Hera that flashes through his mind, but someone who looked just like her. That impish, dimpled grin hung in his memory.
“Energy fluctuations normal, hangar bay open,” Lin Guoguo said through her headset.
“Runway clear, we’ve got the go ahead from the tower,” Ke’er followed.
“Power, defense, mechanical and weapons systems checks all green. Good to go,” Xiuxiu reported.
Mika nodded. “Zeus-1 ready and waiting. Light her up!”
A rumble arose from the engines as they spooled up, and the cabin’s lights brightened while the hull shook from motion.
Lan Jue plucked the cigar from his mouth and placed it in his coat pocket. “Take us out. Destination, the Shattered Starfields.”
Zeus-1 slowly pulled from the hangar like a sapphire spectre.
It turned left onto the runway.
A pale blue light issued from the four roaring engines on the ship’s wings. A moment later, the intense fires expanded forth and Zeus-1 issued a deep roar. They shot forward, the engines leaving swirls of steam and fire behind them.
Three hundred meters later Zeus-1 rose from the ground like a great, blue, majestic bird. The main engine on the tail came to life, and a moment later they’d torn through the sound barrier.
They vanished in to the sky.
Somewhere on the other side of the strip an attendant gaped at the condensation trail where the ship had been. “Wow, that was fast! Whose ship was that?”
“I think it belongs to the jewelry shop.”
“Good money in jewels.”
“Yeah, lucky bastard!”
“They really were going too fast though. Did you catch the model?”
“Nope, fuzzy. It really had some speed on it.”
Chapter 72: The Voyage
“Zeus-1 has broken atmosphere, we’re space-bound.
Accelerating!” Mika’s voice echoed through the bridge.
“Maintain speed,” Lan Jue ordered.
“We’ll be arriving at the wormhole in seven minutes, and will proceed to jump to the alliance border.”
In the vastness of the universe Zeus-1 was but a spec. But it was it’s speed, not it’s size that protected it from military radar. It was simply too fast for them to get a lock.
If any of them knew the materials used to make the ship, or the sheer amount of energy gems that powered it, they’d be speechless.
The entirety of Zeus-1 was comprised like a gem. The blue coat on it’s exterior wasn’t to dazzle the eyes, but was actually created from a power gem called an indigo keystone. It was mixed with other items to give it texture. It served both to insulate the ship and aid in power distribution.
The primary reason most airships had their speed capped was from heat restrictions. Air friction from going that fast caused the hull to heat up to extreme temperatures, getting worse the faster you went. Zeus-1, with it’s coat of indigo keystone, didn’t have this problem. It was, in fact, capable of faster-than-light travel.
The result of it’s excellent power transference was the ability to use the natural radiation and x-rays of the universe to charge itself. When designing the ship, the concept was so long as you could see space, the thing would fly.
The coat had required a hundred kilos of indigo keystone to produce, which itself was a c-ranked gem. A hundred kilos would buy five ships the size of his own.
And it was only the most ordinary aspect of Zeus-1’s construction.
“We’ve reached the wormhole. Shields active. Commencing interstellar jump.” As Mika spoke, a series of photoshields enveloped each of the passengers.
Zeus-1 shook, and in the space of an instant the area around
them began to warp grotesquely. An envelope of white light expanded from the ship to surround it.
Energy shields have always been an important staple of modern ship assembly, prized for their ability not only to protect in combat scenarios, but more importantly for protection against hazardous flying conditions.
Now, under the protection of the shields, Zeus-1’s flight became steady once again. Outside, the shield was alive with bolts of multicolored light.
In what felt like a few seconds, and yet like a century, the ship shuddered and once more the skies outside became the comforting blackness of the universe.
“We’ve exited the wormhole. Nearing the boundary of the Eastern Alliance.” Mika’s voice crackled through the headsets.
Lin Guoguo’s voice was next. “Intelligence reports state that the Twelfth Galactic Battalion of the Eastern Alliance is currently patrolling the Shattered Starfield border. Reliance on East Lake Bastion for zone control. We’ll approach under cover of an asteroid on it’s left flank. Then, when we approach the
wormhole we’ll burn towards it.”
“Calculate delta-v,” Lan Jue ordered.
Silence, then Ke’er piped in. “Near-SOL.”
SOL – speed of light
“Ensure safety parameters, then go SOL.”
“Yes, boss. Three days ‘till jump point,” she replied.
Lan Jue couldn’t help but smile. “Alright ladies, go take a rest.
Put her on auto-pilot. We jump in three days.”
The photoshields lifted one by one, and Lan Jue unfastened his safety harness to stand.
The serious expressions upon the women’s faces melted away and they stood, with the exception of Ke’er who was setting the auto-pilot.
Lin Guoguo giggled. “It’s nice with the boss here, we get to experience SOL travel!”
Mika smiled, draping herself around her companion’s shoulders. She muttered something in her ear, which instantly turned Guoguo’s face red. “Bah! Stop talking nonsense!”
Mika gave a deep, throaty laugh.
Lan Jue’s hearing was excellent, and despite Mika’s low tones he’d heard it all. When these girls got worked up, their topics could be worse than any man…
“I’m off for a nap,” Lan Jue stated ,stretching.
A red lash struck forth like a viper, landing on Gao Yong’s body. The skin where the whip landed split, and a deep red rivulet of blood seeped forth.
Gao Yong grit his teeth, not daring to make a sound.
A woman in a long black dress was situated before him, her long hair pulled in to a bun on the top of her head. She looked to be in her twenties, with skin like snow and strange carnation- tinted eyes. They shone like crystal, with pupils red as the blood they looked upon. A beautiful, cunning demon woman.
She was tall, slender, standing at one hundred and eighty centimeters. Her black high-heels made her taller even than the towering Gao Yong.
“Do you know how stupid you are,” the woman hissed.
“You’re majesty, I just…”
Another welt grew red and angry across his skin.
The Moonfiend Empress continued in her cold, malevolent voice. “Worse than how stupid you are, is the fact that you don’t
REALIZE your own stupidity. If he weren’t a friend of mine, you’d NEVER have left Skyfire Avenue.”
Gao Yong was as intractable as ever, the welts had done nothing to rid him of that.
“That guy’s strong, but no stronger than you your majesty.
He’s just managed to restrain me, otherwise, I’d have…”
The Empress snorted disdainfully. “You think you’re a match for him, hm? I’ll tell you honestly, if he wanted to crush me he could. With little effort.”
“Huh?” Now he truly was astonished. “You’re Majesty, you.. you’re serious?”
She glared chillingly at him as she spoke. “In the whole of our universe, of the organizations with the power to destroy our entire pirate clan, Skyfire Avenue is ranked above them all. There are no less than three who live there with the ability to utterly destroy me. You have no concept of their capabilities. You wouldn’t, since they so rarely decide to act. But the one you met? He’s different – he doesn’t care. If he were to become angry, the whole of the Starfields would shake.”
“Who is he?”
The Empress stared at him with hard, cold eyes. “Three years ago, do you remember why the greatest pirate clan was destroyed?”
Gao Yong’s eyes grew wide with realization. He thought back to the power he’d felt, and a chill struck to his very core.
“You mean, he was…”
Chapter 73: SOL Jump
The East Lake Bastion didn’t look entirely unlike a Big Mac, floating silently through the expansive blackness of the universe. Military vessels frequently came and went from it’s docking port.
Space bastions had become a staple of the modern military, going so far as to be a fair indication of an organization’s strength.
The Northern Alliance possessed the most, numbering twelve, with the Western and Eastern bastions numbering only five each. Both the Eastern and Western alliances perpetually sought to increase their number, in order to compete with the North.
The East Lake outpost vessel was the weakest of the Alliance, and was primarily responsible for policing the wormhole to the Shattered Starfields. It facilitated long-term patrol of the area through offering reinforcements and soldier quarters. However, it only quartered two battalions, and thus wasn’t the most powerful bastion the East possessed. It’s primary function was to stem the tide of piracy from the Shattered Starfields.
The constitution of the starfield was complicated, to the point
where larger vessels couldn’t safely navigate through it. With the added threat of pirates familiar with the territory, few dared venture through the wormhole in the first place. The three alliances had once attempted to eliminate the pirate threat in a joint effort, but had only managed to strike at their outlying forces. Their main force wasn’t even touched. But the existence of piracy in the Shattered Starfields also had a political component, making the pirates useful in their own way.
“Three minutes until SOL jump point. Prepping for jump.” Lin Guoguo’s enticing voice echoed through the bridge.
The universe outside of the ship’s hull had already begun to change from dark to light. In addition to the indigo keystone’s protective coating, survey scramblers installed in Zeus-1 also protected it from radar, making it entirely invisible to anything but the naked eye.
“Current velocity is twenty times SOL, preparing for light speed,” Ke’er said.
Xiuxiu was next. “Main engine spooled. Shields jump ready.”
“Weapon systems ready,” Mika added.
“One hundred and sixty seconds to jump point. Sub-light a hundred seconds following.”
Lan Jue sat at his chair, looking over the bridge. His hands gripped two metal spheres which had risen from the seat’s armrests. The lethargic expression that usually covered his face was gone, replaced with a look of concentration.
It was a tense moment, hence his concentration. In this age of space exploration, it was entirely impossible for any single person to stand against the armed forces. The main barrage of one of these bastions was capable of obliterating a planet.
Of course it was not their aim to be disintegrated. Even the smallest mistake could spell disaster. All of the military warships possessed SOL capabilities, so if they were discovered it became a race to the wormhole.
Zeus-1’s bulk already made sub-light travel a veritable miracle.
SOL required more than just the ship’s own capabilities.
“Commencing jump in; ten, nine, eight, seven…”
“…six, five, four…”
“… three, two, one. Jump!”
The pale light surrounding Zeus-1 suddenly became unbearable to behold, a blazing cocoon. All five engines blazed at full power, making the ship look like a giant, flaming bird. The burst of light grew brighter still as Zeus-1 reached full velocity.
The sudden burst of speed caused the entirety of the ship to shake violently. The outer shields had gone from pale red to a deep crimson as they protected the ship from being torn apart.
“Energy levels normal, acceleration normal.”
Zeus-1 arced a graceful line across the back of the East Lake Military Bastion.
But reaching full power, the ship was no longer hidden from the outpost’s scanners. An alarm sounded, harshly shrieking through space.
“Warning: unidentified aircraft. You have entered East Lake Bastion airspace. Stop immediately, or we will be forced to fire upon you.” The electronic warning was clear, but Lan Jue and the four women proceeded as though they hadn’t heard.
Three patrolling ships from nearby had already reacted to the threat. They’d positioned themselves to cut off Zeus-1’s trajectory.
“Thirty seconds until sub-light. Distance calculated, judged safe,” Ke’er assured.
“Eastern Alliance White Tiger-class battle cruiser readying main weapons.” Xiuxiu was checking her instruments.
The words caused the atmosphere of the bridge to grow tense.
“Ten seconds until weapon fires, and twenty-three seconds until the first White Tiger intercepts our vessel. We can maneuver, but we can’t evade their weapon’s lock.”
Lan Jue’s face was as solemn as before, but there remained a distinct sense of calm.
“First Whit Tiger has fired a salvo,” Ke’er said, her voice having risen in apprehension.
From the port window a small white beam of light could be spied.
Any unknown vessel that refused a check was treated like a pirate by the patrolling military. It accountant for the speed of the battle cruiser’s response.
“Impact in twenty seconds!”
“Fifteen seconds to impact!”
“Firing auxiliary boosters!” Lan Jue’s voice rang through the bridge. In the same instant his eyes changed to an ominous azure blue. And in the next moment, his entire body followed suit.
His body vanished in a sea of lightning, the thunderous blast
only contained by the protective shield that had been dropped to defend the passengers from outside harm. It served to contain the frightening fluctuations of power.
The top of Zeus-1 suddenly revealed an odd electric glow. From within the center of the main engine, a smaller jet protruded – fitted with a diamond-cut violet power gem. Suddenly, a dazzling blue streamer erupted from it’s depths, swallowing the main engine’s burn into itself.
Zeus-1 shook violently, and in that instant it was as though everything simply stopped. The main engine’s flames became a luminous crystal blue, followed then by the other four.
The reddened shields surrounding the ship grew darker until they were an unsettling shade of maroon. The illusion of stillness dissolved, and the ship launched forward. They were instantly moving at sub-light speeds, but it wouldn’t be long before they pushed it even farther.
A beam of white light roared behind them, tearing through nothing but the vast nothing of the universe. The White Tiger battle cruisers looked on as Zeus-1 became an incorporeal blue light, and vanished. They had no option but to turn back to their outpost, stunned and defeated.
“Woo, go boss!” Ke’er, Guoguo and Mika cheered almost on top of each other. Even the significantly more modest Xiuxiu sat there with a grin on her face.
Ke’er sighed. “It’s great having the boss around. No need for weapons, makes things easier on them. Ten seconds to the wormhole.”
“Battle cruisers have abandoned pursuit,” Lin Guoguo added.
The tearing bolts of power racing across Lan Jue’s body slowly began to recede, and in response the ship began to slow back to sub-light. A grin curled the corners of his mouth.
Chapter 74: The Shattered Starfields
Once entering the wormhole, the concept of speed ceased to exist. Once more they were in a space of varying lights and warped visuals like they had been during the light jump. Zeus- 1’s five engines had returned to quietly emitting their fiery red glow.
Lan Jue sat slumped against the back of the captain’s chair, fighting to keep his exhaustion from being obvious in his half- lidded eyes.
It was a rarity among adepts to use one’s powers to manipulate a ship’s jump capabilities due to it’s risks and requirements. Even Lan Jue couldn’t rely solely on his own discipline to achieve what he did.
Aside from Lan Jue’s considerable power, the power gem fitted in Zeus-1 is what had ultimately granted it the explosive velocity that got them to light speed. His discipline had been channeled through a Core Power Gem fitted to the engines, which had served to greatly amplify output. It was a rare, special a-ranked gem – one whose value was equivalent to a five- hundred meter military cruiser.
Clearly, nearly every aspect of the ship’s system’s had been improved beyond it’s original construction.
A shudder passed through the ship as it exited the wormhole.
Once again, the black expanse of space spread out before them.
“Maintain sub-light. We’ll be arriving at the Shattered Starfields in three days,” Ke’er reported.
Xiuxiu was next. “Energy recovery normal. Beginning energy conservation speed control.”
“Expanding radar scope, effective range increased to spot incoming threats,” Mika reported.
No action was wasted, and no task botched. The four women worked impeccably, with the tacit understanding that this ship
– which would usually require around fifteen people to effectively operate – had to be managed with just them.
At this point forward, Zeus-1 had successfully left the scope of the Eastern Alliance’s control. They found themselves now in the expansive outer limits of the Shattered Starfields. What this
meant for them, was that they could encounter a pirate force at any moment.
Lan Jue closed his eyes. The area around him flickered occasionally with pale threads of electricity. Sitting there looking majestic and at rest, a pale blue light glowed indistinctly in the center of his chest.
Two days later.
Zeus-1 soared easily through space at stable speed, it’s wings wide. Ahead, there appeared an indistinct undulation of light and darkness.
The Shattered Starfields were vast, and their interior possessed some seventy-plus stars scattered throughout. They filled the starfields with light, heat and energy in spades.
The numerous planets unfortunate enough to populate the area were constantly subjected to meteor strikes. Some were so battered that they broke apart, eventually becoming scores of asteroids themselves. It was only the smaller planets that survived, hidden away within the center sectors of the starfields. Paired with the high amounts of radiation emitted
from it’s numerous stars meant the Shattered Starfields was one of the most inhospitable places in the universe. It was no wonder that time and again the three Alliances have abandoned it to piracy.
So it was that this had become a pirate’s utopia. The inhospitable environments have proven to be their greatest defense. And the three planets dominating the interior, those were the havens of all manner of scum and degenerate. Criminals from each of the alliances often found themselves stuck here.
“Entering Shattered Starfields peripheral galaxy,”Ke’er reported.
“Excellent.” Mika’s eyes flashed dangerously. Her excitement was clear even in the way she flipped her hair.
Lin Guoguo shot her a glance. “You’re always so violent, Mika. How do you expect to get married?”
Mika huffed dismissively. “And why should every woman get married? Isn’t it just as an accessory to some man? I don’t want to marry – there’s nothing appealing about a man. Oh, ‘cept the
Lan Jue had just come up from the cabin as she spoke the last sentence. He gave her a stern look. “Mika, do you need a spanking? You dare say I’m not a man?”
Mika chortled. “You said it, not me. I’m complimenting you!”
Lan Jue frowned, muttering as he walked to the window at the fore of the control room.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. I wonder if it’s still as chaotic as it’s always been.”
Xiuxiu spoke towards Lan Jue. “We’re heading towards SS-3, right? Should we also do some looking around for the shop?”
The three primary planets of the Shattered Starfields – the three that are within the belts and pirate havens – will be called SS-1/2/3 in subsequent translations
It was true that the Shattered Starfields were a dangerous and
unstable place, but it was also a fine market for many special power gems that were mined in the region. Only, the safety concerns made any business consortium hesitant to set up shop.
Lan Jue nodded. “We’ll deal with the business at hand, first. If everything goes well we’ll make the trip and see what we can find. The bigger the take, the bigger the split.”
The sound came from within the ship, soft and not unappealing. But the sound instantly caused Lan Jue and his four companions’ faces to grow serious.
Zeus-1 was their baby, manufactured to the last detail by them. As such they were intimately familiar with each aspect of the ship. That sound was the sound of the sleeping cabin’s door opening. But all five of the ship’s intended passengers were gathered on the bridge. So, that door had no business opening.
Lan Jue’s eyes grew cold and hard as he turned to investigate.
Mika had already reacted, crouching like a leopardess ready to
strike. The fire grew visible behind her eyes.
“What a great sleep! It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a deep sleep. It’s nice not having to worry about the date or time.” The voice echoed through the halls, quick and appreciative in tone.
At the sound of the voice Lan Jue’s expression changed from hard to confused. And then downright murderous.
Mika had curled herself in to a pounce position, then shot forth. A few moments later a shrill yell filled the air. “Ah! N-not so hard! It’s a misunderstanding, just a misunderstanding!”
Mika came storming back in, dragging someone behind her.
Their clothes had clearly suffered burns.
“Jewelry Master, you have to save me!” The yells continued, but they’d grown weak and faint.
“Accountant,” Lan Jue growled, glaring at the stow-away. “I’m going to need an explanation, otherwise I’m flushing you out the air lock. I wonder how long you’d last.”
“No, no don’t!” The Accountant coward pitifully, half-asleep and entirely frightened.
The women all looked shocked, Mika among them. How someone could inadvertently stumble aboard Zeus-1 and fall into Deep Sleep while totally evading their security checks and processes was simply baffling. It wasn’t just inconceivable, it was deeply shameful.
Like Lan Jue each of them had been around the proverbial block, but his was certainly a first.
“J-jewelry Master… don’t be angry. The Keeper asked me to come. I-I’m his spokesman. You wanted his cooperation, right? The Keeper’d ask me to tell you before, but I’d forgotten. Ah! Miss, don’t hit me, let me finish! Listen, ok, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so curious, but I found you hangar. A-and I know my curiosity should have ended there but I started fiddling with the controls. A-and my curiosity got away from me, and I know I shouldn’t have but I got on the ship. But, the ship, it’s planner – genius! Really just amazing construction. All of these power gems, it’s just luxurious! Jewelry Master, you’ve really got some bank account!”
Lan Jue’s face changed by degrees, eventually dropping his
hard stare for a small grin his two new disciples from the NEU were intimately familiar with.
“Mika, you can’t maim him. Otherwise…”
A wicked smile slowly spread across Mika’s face.
Chapter 75: Pirates?
By the time the Accountant was once again brought before Lan Jue, his face was so swollen as to be almost unrecognizable. Mika threw him atop one of the chairs before taking up her own, stony-faced.
“Right, now we can have a conversation. What did the Keeper send you here to do,” Lan Jue asked, settling himself beside the battered Accountant.
The Accountant responded, his words muffled and muddled from the beating. “Jewelry Master… treating me this way… it’s inhuman!”
“Mika.” Lan Jue looked towards the fiery woman.
“No! No wait, I’m sorry, I was wrong.” The Accountant stared wide-eyed at Lan Jue, terror clear in their depths.
Lan Jue turned his eyes back to the cowed man.
“The Keeper gave me some equipment, to help locate and
mine gem deposits.”
Lan Jue looked skeptical. “What’s your relationship with the Keeper?”
“Ehm… I can’t say.”
“Alright… alright… I-I’m his only grandson.”
Lan Jue blinked, taken aback. He knew for a fact that the only way the Accountant could have entered Skyfire Avenue as a resident was to undergo a series of stringent evaluations. There were no shortcuts.
“You’re the Keeper’s grandson.” His face said he didn’t believe it.
The Accountant’s anger flared. “What’s wrong with me being his grandson?! You think it’s a blessing being part of his family? Ever since I was small the old man has been brainwashing me
with floods of useless data. Trying to fill me with his knowledge and ideas. From when I was three to twenty-three, I only had four hours of sleep a night. Then, to Skyfire Avenue for the evaluations. You want to know why I talk so much? Because I wasn’t able to share my thoughts at all for twenty years! You don’t know how much I loved the outside world, but I couldn’t leave the geriatrics side. I’m twenty four, and still a virgin. How pathetic is that!”
Lan Jue spoke now in considerably droll tones. “And that’s why you snuck on my ship?”
“Eh…” the Accountant stuttered. “Jewelry Master, I know you aren’t one to stoop to pettiness. Let’s not fuss about it. I’ve always been a little hyperactive, since I was small. Sometimes I can’t help myself. I see something interesting and I want to study and look and examine…”
Lan Jue waved his hand, cutting him off. He didn’t have the time to listen to the Accountant talk all day.
“Seeing as you’re part of the Keeper’s family, I wont bother with you any more this time. But in return you have to go through the sip’s systems and patch up their loopholes, so that next time no one – not even you – can sneak on board. Then
we’ll be square.”
“No problem. O-only, how can you prove I wont be able to get back in?” The Accountant’s eyes shone with curiosity.
Lan Jue laughed. “Let me tell you a secret. See these four ladies? One of them is psychic. If I want to know anything at all about you, it’s as easy as asking a question. Take a guess… which one do you think it is?”
“Psychic?” The Accountant’s heart rate shot up. As the Keeper’s son he absolutely knew about the Psychic Discipline. And how horrifying it could be.
Regardless of the type of psychic ability, congenitally derived Psychic Discipline begins at no less than the seventh-level of Talent, with plenty of potential for growth. The Accountant hadn’t imagined Lan Jue commanded such a companion.
His eyes fluttered back and forth from Mika, Lin Guoguo, Ke’er and Xiuxiu. He’d already been acquainted with Mika’s fiery temperament. And with her degree of power, she was a downright Dragon Lady. It couldn’t be her, then, and thus must be one of the other three. But which one?
His own Talent was fairly useful in a fight, so combat didn’t frighten him too badly. But a psychic, those types were capable of controlling your mind in the blink of an eye. No amount of intelligence could protect you.
“Mika, from now on you’re in charge of the Accountant. Get him a computer, and make him prove his worth.”
Mika turned her face to shoot the Accountant a charming smile. “As you command, boss.”
The Accountant’s face grew sour at the prospect of being stuck with his tortures, and the pain in his body occasionally still caused him to twitch. Mika had left quite the impression on him.
“Boss, radar’s picked up a gunboat-class ship bearing down on us. Wait, no… three of them. Two on the original’s flanks.”
“Pirates? A-are they pirates? Is there going to be a fight?” The Accountant asked excitedly.
“Shut up!” Mika spat at him.
Ships in the tree alliances were broken in a class system. From high to low, they were; Bastions, Sovereign-Class Base Ships, Capital Warships, Expedition Battleships, common battleships, and gunboats. After those were carriers and mechas.
Generally speaking gunboats weren’t fitted for long-range expeditions, they needed to resupply at depot vessels. Any fleet required a range of ships to function effectively.
Zeus-1 was also, technically, a gunship, but compared to it’s unfitted cousins they were like night and day. It had no specialized mecha compartment, and could only house a crew of about ten. Regular gunboats, on the other hand, usually flew with a small mecha combat group. It was the best load-out for stellar assault missions.
“Signal the boats, affirm their identities.” Lan Jue said softly.
He made no move to return to the captains chair.
“Approaching gunships have refused signal,” Ke’er reported.
“Purpose unclear. Their speed has increased and their gun ports are opened,” Lin Guoguo followed.
“We’re getting demands to surrender,” Ke’er said.
Lan Jue chuckled. “Surrender? Ladies, which one of you would like the honors?”
“Oh! Me!” Other than Xiuxiu, the other three ladies all scrambled to speak at once.
The Accountant just watched the scene, speechless.
The three girls, each with a sharp look in their eyes, stared at one another for a moment before raising high their right hands. Together, they called out: “Odd One Out!”
This is actually called ‘Black/White Match’ in Chinese, and is played by shooting your hand out either palm up or palm down. The odd one out is the winner
The three women each shot their hands out, Mika and Ke’er palms down, and Lin Guoguo with her hand facing up.
“Hah! I win,” Guoguo called out excitedly. She immediately
typed something out on the keyboard before her. A silver helmet descended from the roof of the cabin to settle on her head.
“The enemy’s main battery is charged and ready. Estimated time to fire, ten seconds.” Ke’er was watching her control panel as the information streamed past.
“Ten seconds is enough,” Lin Guoguo affirmed. She’d quickly become all business. From the three meter tall conical bow of the ship, a firing tower slowly issued forth. A golden power gem was affixed to the tower’s apex.
Chapter 76: The Psychic Tide
“Turning off the shields!” Xiuxiu shouted at her monitor.
The Accountant whimpered in terror. “W-why are we dropping the shields?! Even if it’s just a gunboat, it’s main cannon is enough to obliterate us!”
“Shut up!” Mika lifted a hand and slapped the sniveling man in the back of his head. It caused the Accountant to lurch forward and smack his head on the monitor situated in front of him.
“Five… four… three… two… one. Enemy main cannon fired!”
In the distance, the three enemy ships shuddered as giant beams of light suddenly burst forth from their weapons.
The Accountant lifted his head from the screen just in time to witness the deadly fireworks.
As he watched, the blast from the two ships to either side actually fired inward, while the middle ship’s attack plowed in to the enemy on it’s left flank.
A blazing corona of light and fire filled the distance between ships. Each had their shields active, so this didn’t destroy them, but the display was enough to have the Accountant sitting there, mouth agape in wonderment.
“Mind control… my god! You’ve fitted this thing with a psionic amplifier. Jewelry Master, you’re a lunatic!”
Lan Jue had spoken true, one of his amazons was indeed a psionicist; Lin Guoguo, the Psychic Tide!
In this moment Lin Guoguo’s eyes had become entirely gold, with her psychic discipline channeling through the silver helmet. Anyone unlucky enough to be captured in her gaze would feel their consciousness slipping away in to their depths. Not only was her power tremendous and terrifying, but she exerted an incredible amount of control.
She’d employed the amplifier to directly control the enemy ships, a type of combat that – it went without saying – was highly unusual. Of course controlling the small ships was one thing, where it a battleship with many aspects and sections the difficulty of taking control would double.
Simultaneous control of three gunboats with the power of an amplifier. The Accountant’s quick calculations determined she must at least possess a level eight psionic Talent. It was horrifying. After all, psionic powers have always been hailed as wondrous abilities. An eight level psychic could match favorably against nearly any other first-degree, ninth level Talent.
The shields of the three ships sputtered and failed. Once more the guns fired, and once more the sky was filled with blossoming halos of light and fire. The explosive force issued a roaring shockwave, which diffused harmlessly in to the universe.
“Combat is finished. Enemy destroyed. Searching for depots or battleships,” Ke’er said.
Beside her Lin Guoguo had already removed the helmet, and the gold tint to her eyes slowly receded. She turned her head to
give Lan Jue a prideful grin.
Lan Jue gave her a thumbs up. “Beautifully done. Your powers are increasing.”
Guoguo’s grin became a triumphant smirk. It was clear the scenario didn’t take too much out of her.
The Accountant slowly lifted his hand to shut his open mouth. He swept his eyes back towards Lan Jue. “Jewelry Master… are all the council members as strong as you are?”
Lan Jue peered down on him. “You haven’t seen power,” he responded softly.
The Accountant’s mouth twitched as though he wished to say more, but he felt the malicious gaze of Mika and immediately thought better of it. Instead, he kept his thoughts to himself:
Such poise, so cool! Oh when will I be able to command four beautiful women such as these. It would be like heaven on earth!
“I’ve located a depot ship attempting to escape. Should we take it’s stores?” A pot-bellied depot-ship appeared on the main screen. It was clear the dusty thing was scrambling to flee.
“There’s nothing of use in that trashy thing. Mika.”
“Understood, boss.” A smile lit her face as her fingers tapped away at the keyboard before her. A series of gun barrels slowly rose from the wings of Zeus-1. They quickly shot forward to catch up with the fleeing ship.
Glimmering beams of blue light shot through space, arcing through the darkness before hitting their mark. The depot’s shields could not compare with those of the combat ships. In addition, though Zeus-1 had fired it’s auxiliary cannons, even those were like death’s sickle. They swept through shield and hell effortlessly.
By the time Zeus-1 passed by, a few thousand meters away, the ship had been reduced to twisted slag.
Three gunboats and a depot ship, your common pirate unit.
Destroyed in less than ten minutes.
The Accountant rubbed his cheeks, trying to free himself from his perpetually surprised expression. He tried to concentrate of the screen in front of him. His understanding of the ship he’d snuck in to was woefully lacking. It had the fighting power of a battleship, the speed of a capital ship, and the maneuverability of a common airship. There was simply too much to learn.
“Engage stealth, adopt pirate markings. Full speed to the Shattered Starfields. Port, thirty-five degrees,” Lan Jue commanded.
Zeus-1’s coating quietly adopted a grayish hue. Near the stern there slowly emerged the image of a blood moon. The ship’s engines grew bright, and Zeus-1 began to tilt.
One hour later.
A battleship and it’s six gunboat entourage surveyed the wreckage floating in space before them. A hefty, bald man fumed with rage on the battleship’s bridge.
A floating asteroid, an indistinct planet, rays of light flowing through it’s cracks. It was a fair visual representation of the starfields.
Here, no matter what classification of capital ship you possessed you couldn’t navigate safely. Only battleships or lesser crafts could manage the treks. Even then, only explicit knowledge of the area and an experienced captain could make it safely. And all of this in the face of a pirate unit attack…
The pirates of the Shattered Starfields relied on outside plunder, merchants straying from the borders of the Three Alliances. Otherwise, the area was relatively quiet.
You of course couldn’t exclude the occasional treasure hunter or adventurer scouring the starfields for prizes, trying to prove themselves.
The Accountant sat within Zeus-1, glued to the screen like a man possessed as he scoured the specs of the ship, thinking, the streams of data reflected in his eyes.
Chapter 77: Planet Of The Moonfiend
Lan Jue’s brows narrowed, and the expression on his face grew dark.
Once they’d adopted the colors, emblem and countersigns of the local pirates they’d encountered no further troubles. Zeus-1 deftly maneuvered between the racing asteroids as they hurtled through the dangerous region.
However, after three days, the small planet that was their objective still hadn’t revealed itself.
Here, everything but the stars and a few select planets moved in irregular orbits. Asteroids, planets, moons – everything changed. As a result, whether you were pirate or pioneer, you always needed the latest star maps to find your destination. And to find them, you needed to visit one of the steadily orbiting giants – except that they were pirate havens.
“We need to make our way to Moonfiend. It looks like we’ll need to get ourselves an updated star map,” Lan Jue commanded.
Planet Moonfied, largest of the static planets residing in the Shattered Starfields. It’s name had changed more times than anyone could remember. Perpetually in flux, the planet changed ownership whenever there was a power adjustment in the region. Whatever pirate clan emerged as the largest, took the planet for their own and invariable gave it their own name. The planet itself remained as it always had, regardless of name – quietly orbiting around Beelzebub, the Starfield’s largest star situated at it’s heart.
A day on Moonfiend was thirty six hours; a year, four hundred and twenty eight days. Significantly different than Planet Skyfire, to be sure. But the climate was suitable, and it had three times the surface area of Skyfire.
The Shattered Starfields had three stable-orbit planets hidden within the shifting bands of asteroids. Moonfiend, while the largest, was only one. The other two were known as Nefarius and Diablus. Their names never changed.
Looking down upon Moonfiend from the vacuum of space, it was difficult to imagine it was home to a ruthless pirate clan. Fifty percent of it’s surface was a clear, crystal blue. The
remainder was verdant green landscapes.
Zeus-1 slowly made it’s way to the massive docking port and came to a stop. After a few moments, Lan Jue exited, cigar chomped between his teeth and hands stuffed in the pockets of his windbreaker. Mika, Lin Guoguo and Ke’er were at his heels.
The Accountant had chosen to remain behind, immersed as he was with his work on the ship’s systems. Xiuxiu stayed as commanding officer in Lan Jue’s absence.
“So where we going, boss,” Mika asked.
The three women had already changed clothes, and no longer sported the revealing flight suits. Mika had chosen a white blouse, black coat and a black short skirt. Paired with her black- rimmed glasses, high heels and fiery red hair she looked like an intimidating business woman. Or a sexy secretary.
Ke’er had slipped in to a pair of white suit pants, peach high heels and a white jacket. She looked erudite with her pantsuit and bob-cut blue hair.
Lin Guoguo was dressed similarly to her sister amazon, changing out the pants for a long skirt. As they trailed behind Lan Jue away from the hangar they were the focus of many a wandering eye. Although it was a pirate haven, none dared to approach the women despite their beauty. After all, women were pirates, too.
The Moonfiend pirate clan had been in control of the planet for ten years. They were now well established as the rulers of the area. The result was actually a planet enjoying prosperity and safety. Of course, there were always the seedier parts of town, but those were generally easy to recognize and avoid. The Moonfiends had put a great deal of effort in to establishing a sense of order and propriety. This was in part due to their secret trade deals with the three alliances, which afforded them both the strength to fight off contenders and the funds to keep their populace content.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Little Yue,” Lan Jue said, “We’ll visit her first and see if we can’t procure a star map.”
Mika swept her eyes over to Lan Jue, but said nothing. Lin Guoguo took a step closer and giggled. “Boss, so arrogant! Waltzing directly up to the Moonfiend Empress!”
Ke’er nodded her head and huffed in serious tones. “Don’t worry boss, we’ll protect you.”
“He grinned. “What, you think she could take me in a fight?”
Ke’er gave him a sideways glance. “I was talking about your chastity.”
Lan Jue tripped on his own feet and almost topped to the ground. The three women behind him erupted in laughter.
“These girls…! I oughta fire them… fire them, I say!” Lan Jue’s face was red, either from anger or shame. It was hard to determine the root cause.
Mika squared her shoulders, her voice clear and righteous. “Boss, we’re only doing what’s best for you. The fact that the Empress has coveted you for some time isn’t lost on us.”
Lan Jue rolled his eyes. “Get a car.”
Mika huffed in response. “So ashamed he’s gone all pissy.
Fine, getting a car.”
The Moonfiend Palace. Where the Moonfiend Pirates handled their affairs, and home to the Moonfiend Empress.
The Palace area was like a small city. It was shaped like a crescent moon. The sole city on the entire planet, and as hard as it was to believe that was the simple fact. It was, in all actuality, the fifth largest city by acreage, even compared to the cities in the alliances.
Overhead, scores of verti-cars shuttled back and forth among the skyscrapers.
Lin Guoguo whistled appreciably. “Crescent City’s sure changed. Just a few years and it’s like any modern metropolis. The Empress really is something.”
Mika scowled. “I don’t see how. Too much power and expansion, and the three alliances wont have any choice but to come cracking down on them. What this is, is suicide.”
Lan Jue narrowed his eyes at her words. “Little Yue’s always been a prideful one, never wanting to back down. I think you’re right, I should say something to her.”
It would be troublesome for the three alliances to come after the pirates, true. However, only the foolish and prideful forget the sheer number of Adepts the Alliances commanded. If it came down to it, if the three alliances decided the pirates had to go, it wouldn’t take much for them to make it a reality.
An hour’s time in a verti-car got them within sight of the Palace. It was like an ancient city, with white parapets and a spindly white tower in it’s center. It was there the Empress called home.
As the verti-car reached the border of the Crescent City, it was compelled to come to a stop. It make it’s way to ground and delivered it’s passengers. Here, only mag-lev cars were permitted. Veri-cars, mechas and others like them were banned from use.
“Present your com’s code for scanning.” A man in a cyan hood blocked further passage.
Lan Jue produced a silver card in response. As the guard held his scanner up to the piece of metal a light issued forth and ran over it’s length. Moments later, a sharp beep, beep, beep rang from it.
“Coms code expired!” The Cyan-hooded man lifted his head, and the look in his eyes grew hard. The light and angle finally conspired to reveal his face, a hodge-podge thing half composed of metal. His right eye, itself some mechanical construction, glowed a menacing red.
In the blink of an eye a dozen more hooded men appeared.
They brandished their weapons at the small group.
“Expired?” Lan Jue looked at the card in his hand as though he were confused. After all, Zeus-1’s coms code had been fine – but, this was a card for the Crescent City.
Eventually his face betrayed a bitter smile, and he could only shake his head. “I guess it’s been too long since I’ve been out.”
“Hands above your head, and get on the ground! Any resistance will be met with lethal force!” The humming laser rifles were leveled at Lan Jue and his cohorts.
Mika, Lin Guoguo and Ke’er moved like a trio of lionesses, pulling Lan Jue in their midst to face the guns themselves.
Chapter 78: The Moonfiend Palace
“Drop your weapons, put your hands on your head, and get on the ground!”
The sound of weapons clattering to the floor followed, before every one of the cyan-hooded men netted their fingers atop their head and dropped to their knees. Denizens of the city who chanced by all invariably stared dumbstruck, unable to comprehend what was happening.
“Just can’t help yourself, can you Guoguo,” Lan Jue muttered helplessly.
“And who said they could point guns at my boss!” Lin Guoguo gave him a resentful look.
Ke’er snickered. “Guoguo did well! She was only just faster than us.”
He peered dejected towards the city interior. “Originally I’d hoped we could avoid this much noise.”
The ear-piercing notes of an alarm sounded, and from the apex of the palace gates gun muzzles rose up. From the outer sectors of the city several verti-cars were already making their way towards them.
Ke’er’s elegant brows shot up, but before she could make a move she felt Lan Jue’s hand on her shoulder. In the next moment an electric cloud arose, surrounding the three women and himself. By the time it dissipated, the area they once occupied was empty.
It was only a matter of seconds before the pirate patrol cars arrived at the scene. By the time they did, the kneeling guards had began to come back to their senses, but to a man had no idea what had happened. It didn’t matter, as there was no trace of Lan Jue or his amazons to prove they were ever there.
Somewhere else, twisted tendrils of multicolored light swept overhead. Ke’er spoke to the small group that had appeared there. “Boss, your electro-portation is better than it’s ever been! Haven’t you been cripplingly depressed for three years?”
Lin Guoguo gave her a reprimanding poke, while Mika struggled valiantly to hide a wry chuckle. “That’s our Ke’er, as frank and honest as you can get.”
Lan Jue gently slapped Mika on the back of her head. “Yeah, because you never talk too much.”
Mika stuck her tongue out at him. “Picking favorites!”
As the afterglow of the electro-portation faded they found themselves before the gate of the old city.
“And who are you?” The clearly confused voice of a silver- hooded guard wafted towards them. him and his partner glared at the four figures that suddenly appeared before them in a cloud of sparks and color.
Lan Jue lifted his head, and a burst of blue light filled the area. The silver hooded men collapsed. “Little Yue, if you would.” As he spoke, the sound was taken up by a strange blue light, which floated off in to the distance.
Lightning was, obviously, light. Through proper implementation and reception it was a better mode of sound transmission than a megaphone.
A great cry like the call of a bird rose from the palace interior,
and in the moments following a golden figure appeared before them.
“Who are you?”
She was a golden-robed girl, no older than eighteen or nineteen. She struck a strangely imposing figure, with her arms stretched out at her sides. But it wasn’t her stance that was surprising – instead it was the pair of wings extending from her back. They splayed out behind her, surrounded by a soothing white light. An ancient-looking bronze sword was clutched in her right hand. Despite her appearance, she exuded no sense of impending force or violence.
Lan Jue looked at the young woman, engrossed. “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure. You’ve probably joined the clan in just these last few years. What’s your Discipline?”
“Enough!” The girl’s voice was hard, and cold. The bronze sword clutched in her hand sprung in to motion. In the same instant the white light around her wings grew brighter, and began congealing around them. As the blade moved it, too, glowed with an incandescent white light. A distinct sense of holy righteousness swept over them. Great fluctuations of power burst out towards Lan Jue and his companions.
“Angelism. Acquired, not congenital? Something you’ve inherited from the Pontiff’s Castle, I imagine.” Lan Jue watched the young woman carefully.
She paused, taken aback, but the hesitation was quickly overtaken by a murderous look in her eyes. She rose to the tips of her toes, and in the space of an instant flashed towards Lan Jue. Her blade stretched out like a piercing white light, ready to separate his head from his body.
“Halt, Luo Shang!” The queenly command rang forth, but was unfortunately a second too late. That violent light had already reached Lan Jue.
“Stop!” Lin Guoguo’s voice arose, cold as ice. Her viridian green eyes had became as gold as the girl’s robes.
The young woman’s body shook visibly. She stopped in mid air, while in the same moment a fiery blaze erupted from beside Lan Jue. The wall of flame was like a shield, stopping the girl from advancing further.
White and red light collided. Nothing could penetrate the ensuing flash. The girl in gold had already retreated, and
hovered in the air with wings splayed wide.
A figure descend from above, clad in a flowing black dress. She was lithe, and her long black hair flowed freely behind her like a living shadow, falling to her calves. Her skin was white as cream. In fact, it was only her pale red eyes that bore any color. As she floated to the ground, she became the focus of everyone’s attention.
Scores of silver-hooded men began to pour from the palace gates as the red-eyed woman made her entrance. Among them, two men in gold arrived to stand beside the young woman. One, upon seeing Lan Jue, flinched visibly. Terror fluttered through his eyes.
“Empress.” The girl turned towards the woman and called to her respectfully.
“Luo Shang, I’ll handle this.” Her voice was hard, her expression worse, and she exuded a palpable sensation of majesty. With her presence alone, the area around them seemed stifled in her aura.
“As you command.” She fell back to stand behind her queen.
She took up position beside her two golden-robed compatriots.
The woman in black began to slowly, tantalizingly make her way towards Lan Jue. Each step increased the oppressive sense of her aura, filling the air until it was hard to breathe.
She stopped five meters before him.
In the next instant her icy expression melted away like frost before the spring sun. What emerged beneath the chill was an attractive smile. She gave him a light rebuke. “What are you doing here, bullying people?”
Lan Jue gave an apologetic laugh. “It’s been a long time, Little Yue. I didn’t want it to be like this. Unfortunately, the coms code you gave me for the Crescent City has expired.”
The empress began to walk towards Lan Jue once again, continuing to grumble coquettishly. “It has been a long time, and not so much as a word.” As she spoke her hand rose, and rested on Lan Jue’s arm. Were the elite members of the pirate clan in attendance not already looking on in stunned silence, they would be now. Their noble and majestic Empress, reduced to a flirtatious child?
“Not so close.” Mika thrust herself between them, face to face with the empress.
“Mika… still so hateful,” the woman cooed, her brows wrinkling.
Mika pushed her black-rimmed glasses higher on hr nose, and lightly shook her head. The motion caused her red hair – previously pulled to a bun atop her head – to tumble down past her shoulders. As they hair came down, it began to change, becoming a garnet red from the root down.
A palpable, horrific power arose and swept forth like a tide. The silver-hooded regimens could not stop themselves from retreating a step in apprehension. It was a monstrous aura that was no less throttling than the Empress’ own.
Such was the power of one of Zeus’ Amazons: Mika, the Stygian Succubus!
Chapter 79: The Daughter Of Satan
Long, flowing locks of maroon hair were complimented by a pair of sinister blood-red eyes. Flames arose, as dark as the fires of hell – and among this, that terrible suffocating aura! The entirety of the area grew bleak and dim.
This was Mika – the Stygian Succubus.
“The Dark Tower. This is Satan’s stink?” The young woman who’d moments before retreated at her mistress’ behest drew closer once again. The wings splayed behind her reacted to the scene, glowing with a dim white light. It pulsed and shook when confronted with Mika’s devilish aura.
The Moonfiend Empress looked on with narrowed brows, and a golden light shimmered behind her eyes. Her own presence – previously majestic and overbearing – changed. She grew bright, and exuded a sense of unfiltered holiness.
“Mika… are you sure you want to square off against me?”
The Succubus snorted derisively. “If you dare approach my boss again, I’ll tear your palace to the ground.”
“Alright, Mika… relax.” Lan Jue lifted his red hand and placed it soothingly atop Mika’s shoulder. The dancing, ethereal flames that surrounded her began to snake up his arm like a cancer.
Mika gasped, startled. The murderous light in her eyes and the flaming color of her hair gradually dissolved back to normal. The sense that had crawled over the area – that demonic oppression – also dissipated in to nothing.
The Empress bore a clearly displeased expression, and glared daggers at Lan Jue. “You fool. You come all this way, suffer all the pitfalls and bring three jealous little girls with you. It bores me. Enter, if you must.” As she spoke, she lazily turned that curvaceous form back towards the palace. She began to walk in, swaying tantalizingly as she did. It was enough to drive any man to do irrational things.
The lapping flames surrounding Lan Jue’s hand grew small and vanished. He patted Mika’s shoulder once more comfortingly.
Mika dropped her head a few degrees. “I’m sorry, boss,” she said sheepishly. “I saw the Pontiff’s lackey and… I couldn’t help myself.”
Lan Jue adopted a serious tone. “Over the last several years you’ve done wonders keeping that darkness at bay. Don’t let all that effort go to waste.”
“Yes boss,” she said dutifully. There was no further trace of that unrestrained evil from moments before.
Lin Guoguo and Ke’er were at her side, then. Each took up one of her hands in comfort.
Lin Guoguo leaned in. “Sister, there wasn’t any need for that,” she whispered to her. “You have me and Ke’er here. Together we can protect the boss just fine.”
Ke’er nodded her head in agreement. “That’s right! Sis, don’t give in to your impulses. I remember what you were like before, violent and unpredictable.”
Lan Jue shot them a bitter smile. “Last I checked I still have hands and legs, ladies. I’m perfectly capable of handling myself. Let’s go.” He rubbed his nose and made for the palace entrance.
Luo Sang looked on as the four left, walking towards the
palace. She watched carefully as Mika followed her boss. Her sharp, clear eyes never left the Succubus’ form, even after she disappeared through the gates.
“Such potent evil,” she muttered to herself. “How could it be? Even in the core of the Dark Tower there were only a few who could possess such pure vileness. Could she be close to that wicked Satan? Who on earth is she? And how is it she came to be that man’s servant?”
“Luo Shang.” The voice arose from beside her, and shook her from her reverie.
“Hm?” She raised her head, looking towards the golden-robed man at her side.
“There are some things that don’t bear looking in to,” he warned. “There is no benefit for you – only risk. All I can tell you, is even as dangerous as that woman is – her master is worse.”
Luo Shang looked to where they had vanished in to the palace.
Who was he?
The palace had no elevator or means of transport. The only way up was the ancient stony stairway, which the four ascended with the Empress in the lead. Eventually, they arrived at the pinnacle of the castle.
Here, there was no entourage of silver-hooded men. There were no guards or servants. Only the Empress and her guests.
The highest point wasn’t large, and after pushing open the wooden door there was revealed an area of only about two hundred square meters.
The floor was covered in a pure white shag carpet. Situated around the floor was antique furniture. On the walls, the eyes of countless portraits followed them as they entered.
Mika shuddered under their gaze, and the slightest hint of red light flickered behind her eyelids.
“Mika,” Lan Jue warned.
Mika gritted her teeth, and pushed her black-rimmed glasses higher on her nose. Her eyes cleared.
Lan Jue looked towards the Empress. “It’s been so long since you left the Pontiff’s employ, little Yue. Why do you still hang this gaudy things?”
Their host spoke softly in response. “Once mustn’t forget where they came from. They may have lost faith in me, but my belief in the Lord hasn’t changed. If it hadn’t been for that belief, after so many years I’m sure I’d have fallen to corruption.”
Lan Jue’s brows wrinkled. “And what of that girl, Luo Shang? Unless I’m mistaken she’s an acquired Talent, newer generation. And her Angelism is an Archangel, no less. How’d she get here? Aren’t you afraid the Pontiff’s Castle will come looking for trouble? I wouldn’t be surprised if they already know you’re here.”
The Empress’ tone took on a dark note of violence and disdain. “If they dared leave their lofty towers, there’d be little chance of returning to them. As a matter of fact, even if you hadn’t told me about their true selves – awakened me to their real intentions – I’d likely still have broken free of their control.
But that is what it is. I watched Luo Shang grow up, and convinced her to join me. That’s the gist of it. The Pontiff’s Castle has no idea. You should know that my control over this place is absolute. You’re the first person to have seen her and lived to talk about it.”
“Hmph.” Mika snorted angrily.
The Empress shot her a look. “And what are you grunting about? I left the Pontiff’s Castle at this man’s request – didn’t you do the same from the Dark Tower? You and I certainly aren’t alike – you are Satan’s daughter, heir to the Dark Tower. And still you turned your back on him and left. If the Dark Tower were to ever find him, I can only imagine the trouble. You don’t understand how enraged the tower was the day you left. But I am curious how you all managed to hide all traces of yourselves for so long. And controlling that evil nature of yours so well.”
“None of your business,” Mika spat.
Four eyes met, challenging, and again that dangerous fire welled up behind Mika’s eyes.
Helplessly, Lan Jue interjected. “Alright, you two don’t need to go toe-to-toe every time you meet, ok? You may have very differing beliefs but neither of you are what you used to be.”
The Empress rolled her eyes at Lan Jue, but even that action bore a distinctly flirtatious undertone.
“So what is it you want me from this time? There’s obviously something or you wouldn’t have bothered. You coward.”
Lan Jue continued as though he hadn’t heard the insult. “I need the most recent star maps of the Shattered Starfields. Name your price.”
Chapter 80: Class Of The Seven Stars
“You’re here for that power gem, yes? It seems as though you’ve finally discovered what it does. So you tell me, what price do you think I should ask for?” The Empress smiled wolfishly at Lan Jue, a telling light in her eyes.
“Aren’t we the greedy one,” Lan Jue muttered.
The Empress simply laughed, swaying back towards her guests. “Aww, who says I’m greedy? You just want a star map? It’s yours.”
As she spoke she lifted her right hand. Empty, a light shone in her palm – dimly at first, but growing until it encompassed the appendage. When it receded she bore a silver disk, which she handed to Lan Jue.
Lan Jue made no shows of courtesy, taking up the disk and handing it to Ke’er, who stood at his side.
“Thanks. I owe you a favor. We’ll be on our way.” Saying his piece, he turned and began to make his way from the white chamber. He had no intention to linger any longer than he had
“Stop right there!” The Empress’ charming voice interrupted.
Lan Jue paused, and turned to see that her face had grown agitated.
“Unconscionable. Business is concluded and you simply run off!” She sounded resentful.
“Hey,” Ke’er began, her face sour, “watch what you say. Our boss is a decent person, no one’s taking advantage here.”
The Empress’ expression darkened. “Don’t give me that, little girl. Somehow I imagine you all wish he wasn’t so decent. Zeus’ Amazons… would any of you claim not to harbor an interest? You know he only pretends not to notice.”
It was Lan Jue’s face that darkened this time. “Ke’er, give her the maps back. We’re leaving.”
Ke’er stood stunned. Lin Guoguo and Mika were similarly
stupefied, their faces adopting strange expressions. They knew their boss well. This time, he really was angry.
The Empress herself was taken aback, but she made no move to take the disk in Ke’er’s hand. Her eyes reddened at the edges, and as she spoke a lump grew in her throat. “So you protect them, then. Tell it true, Zeus – if I submitted, would you take me under your control as well? Would I become your fifth servant!”
Lan Jue’s brows raised, and he sighed as softness returned to his eyes. “Little Yue, you know that’s impossible. With a character like yours how could you not? Even then, my protection can only extend so far.”
The Moonfiend Empress hung her head. “I know. Your three years of seclusion wasn’t just because of Hera. It was to benefit the three girls with you as well. Did you know that, Mika? I really do envy you all – to have a man like him as your guardian. Sometimes the hard and harsh Lord of his castle, and sometimes the kind-hearted angel. Go then, I’m done speaking with you.”
Mika, Guoguo and Ke’er each turned their eyes to Lan Jue.
Lan Jue smiled indifferently, like nothing had happened. “We’re off.” The words still hung in the air as he turned to leave.
It was at this moment a figure appeared, hurriedly rising from the floors below. It was the golden-hooded man from before, who’d warned off Luo Shang – revealed now as Gao Yong.
“Your Majesty. They’ve sent another.”
The Empress had regained her noble façade in the space of an instant, and was once again the majestic leader of the Moonfiend pirates. “Show them to the reception room. I’ll be there shortly.”
Gao Yong took a quick look at Lan Jue and his followers before continuing. “Your Majesty, this purpose this time is… I’m afraid we can’t put them off any longer.”
The Empress sniffed dismissively. “They’ll wait until hell freezes over if I want them to. But fine, I’ll see to them.”
Ke’er fiddled with the disk in her hand and muttered, mostly
to herself. “I knew this thing wouldn’t be so easy to get.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “It’s for the best, actually. Now I won’t need to worry about it later.”
Turning back he spied the look on the Empress’ Face. “So, what’s the problem, Little Yue?”
But she had grown obstinate, and waved him away with her hand. “It doesn’t concern you. Go on.”
Lan Jue turned then to Gao Yong. “Maybe you’ll be more forthcoming.”
Gao Yong looked to his mistress, then back to Lan Jue with uncertainty dancing in his eyes. He responded quietly. “Mister Lan, it’s the Purgatory pirate clan. We don’t know how they’ve gained power so quickly… they want to redistribute the territories. They plan to use the ancient pirate way –“
“A duel.” Lan Jue said.
Gao Yong only nodded.
“What manner of dual,” he followed.
Gao Yong answered. “Three bouts of adepts. Four for mechas. Seven contests all together, first to four wins. Here we call this ‘Clash of the Seven Stars’.
“I’m surprised,” Lan Jue said. “With the Moonfiend’s strength I’d assume you wouldn’t have such problems.”
Gao Yong’s smile was a bitter one. “Originally our power was absolute, but recently Purgatory has sent for several particularly powerful individuals to bolster their ranks. We suspect they were poached from the Three Alliances, brought over with six battleships. Before the clan was already not too far off in power to us, but now the gap has closed considerably.”
Lan Jue looked back towards the Empress. “Little Yue, this is something I can help you with. Call it your price, debts settled. Not just for the star map – understand?”
She looked quietly at Lan Jue for a long moment. The
emotions in her eyes were numerous and complicated, but controlled. Eventually she spoke. “Up to you.”
Ke’er frowned at the proceedings. “Boss let’s just go. It’s like you’re begging to help her. What are we still doing here?”
Lan Jue did not answer, speaking instead to Gao Yong. “When does the Clash begin?”
“If it were up to them, in three days,” Gao Yong replied. “If Mister Lan agrees to help, we’ll respond accordingly.”
Lan Jue nodded. “So be it. In three days we’ll return to Moonfiend. In the interim we have our own business to attend to. Wait for our return, then we’ll fight in the name of the Moonfiend Pirates.”
Gao Yong’s face was elated. “Many thanks, Mister Lan!” Since learning of Lan Jue’s identity, Gao Yong had grown ever more grateful for Lan Jue’s decorum and restraint that day on the Avenue.
He made his way from the castle, a small smile ever present as
a shadow on his handsome face. His three amazons followed behind.
“Boss!” Mika called.
Lan Jue paid her no mind, despite the fact they walked shoulder to shoulder. He arm pressed against her for just a moment.
She said nothing further, and walked along with him in silence. Quietly, she tapped a few buttons in to the communicator on her wrist.
As the four left, Lan Jue said not a word. The verti-car they’d hired waited patiently not far off, ready to depart.
“A moment, Zeus.” The exclamatory voice broke the silence of their trek.
Lan Jue stopped in his tracks, and his features changed, dropping that small smile. Quietly he addressed the voice. “Are you going to force me to kill someone?”
“It looks like my estimates were correct. If I let you leave today, I’m afraid you wont be coming back. The Empress remains as affectionate for you as ever, and though I don’t know what she insinuated, it looks like you understood.”
A large figure was slowly making their way towards them from afar. Reality almost appeared to swirl and bend around them. The various peddlers and pedestrians on the street all quietly vanished. It was clearly felt by Lan Jue’s three protectors that it was as though they’d entered another reality entirely.