Chapter 1: Zeus’ Jewelry Store
A brilliant light was bursting forth from afar.
When it first started, it was nothing more than a simple dot. Slowly, it grew until it became a line. Once the ray of light had begun to fully burst forth, the brilliant light had become so dazzling to behold. It seemed to fill and nourish the entire world, and yet it seemed to destroy the entire world as well.
The universe. Infinite and boundless.
Behind the light, there would always be darkness.
Staring at that boundless light in his field of vision, he laughed.
An enormous shadow appeared behind him. He gracefully retreated, merging into it.
The shadow flashed, and in an instant, it travelled far away.
Skyfire Star. Skyfire City. Skyfire Avenue.
This famous lane didn’t permit any vehicles or any robots to cross it, much less mecha. Even the patrolling police must patrol on foot, the most ancient of methods. That’s because this is a street for pedestrians, a lane for nobles, hidden away within this high technology world.
Fresh yet uniform stones covered this 2048 meter long lane. The buildings on each side of the lane were of completely different types, but every single building had its own unique aspects and history. There was ancient French gothic-style pointed buildings, the sprawling and majestic jade-carved buildings of ancient China, and were even Roman-style buildings.
This street, which seemingly had no high technology present, was set within the most central, most developed area within Skyfire City. Supposedly, here, every single square meter of earth was worth as much as one of the newest, top-tier Michaely
[Mai’ke’li] P12-class high atmosphere hovercar.
In the center of Skyfire Avenue, there was a rather unremarkable little store. The reason why it was described as ‘little’ was only because it was little by comparison to the enormous, noble structures surrounding it. The storefront was only seventeen meters wide, and it was designed in accordance with a combination of the luxurious, classical style with the simplistic neo-classical style. The mirror-like deep blue walls, the brilliant display windows, all showed off several dazzling, gleaming jewels. In the middle of the top of the store, four letters, glowing with a sapphire light, formed the name of the store.
Z, E, U, S.
The door was made from some sort of unknown deep blue metal. It didn’t have any decorations, save for an imprint of a jagged lightning bolt.
Zeus, the King of the Gods in ancient Greece, the controller of the power of lightning.
Thus, this store was also named Zeus’ Jewelry Store.
The insides of the store was a world of sapphire blue. Sapphire blue carpets, sapphire blue velvet covering the walls…even the bottoms of the jewelry display cabinets were sapphire.
Behind the front desk of Zeus’ Jewelry Store were two young ladies. They wore identical, low-cut white gowns. They were very beautiful, but in different ways.
One was tall and slender, with eyebrows high like mountains, a face like a rose, her fine black hair trailing over her shoulders. Whether from up close or from afar, she looked like a clear, beautiful painting, and she had a rather classical feel to her.
The other was endearing and lovable, with neat, short, light blue hair. The low-cut dress revealed her spectacular ‘mountain range’, but the look in her deep blue eyes changed constantly. She appeared…a bit weird.
“Boss, I want to eat ice cream.” The short-haired girl called out coquettishly, her voice so sweet that it could kill a man from a sugar overdose.
A lazy voice rang out. “Are you going to eat mine, or am I going to eat yours?”
The voice came from behind the front desk. So there was actually a third person in the shop as well. He looked to be in his twenties, and was seated on a leather swivel chair. His hands clasped behind his head, he leaned there comfortably. He had short black hair, a black shirt, black pants, and a white vest with the diagram of an ancient Greek temple on it.
“Either works.” The short haired girl giggled.
“Ke’er, stop messing around.” The long-haired girl said somewhat resignedly.
The youngster sat up straight, his movements smooth and graceful. Although his hair was a mess and his face had some unshaved stubble on it, he didn’t give the impression of being disheveled at all.
His eyes were very bright, but he had a rather languid cast to his lips. Every single movement he made, however, was very graceful and pleasing to behold. At a glance, one could tell that he was someone who had received the finest lessons in noble etiquette for many years, and thus had gained these habits.
From within his breast pocket, he withdrew a silver pocket
watch, which was covered with many small, yet exquisite gemstones which formed a beautiful diagram of a starry sky.
“It’s about time. I’m going to freshen up a bit, then I’ll go out to have a drink. Xiu Xiu, Ke’er, it’s about time for you two to head back as well.”
The long-haired girl, Xiu Xiu, laughed very gently as she looked at him. “Boss, you go do what you need to do. The store has us.”
The youngster smiled warmly. “Xiu Xiu is always so well- behaved.”
The short-haired girl instantly pursed her lips, and the youngster had to add, “Um, Ke’er is very well-behaved as well.”
“Dingdingding.” A sound like silver chimes rang out, and the door to the shop was pushed open. A woman walked in from outside.
Upon seeing this woman, the youngster’s eyes shone even brighter.
This was a very beautiful woman. Her makeup was a bit heavy, and it was hard to tell what her age was. She was 1.7 meters tall, had a slender body, and on her feet she wore a pair of extremely extravagant, custom-made silver and crystal heels from VanCleef & Arpels, which perfectly showed off her slender, straight calves. A white pleated skirt which extended below the knees. A white mini-dress. Long hair coifed on her head. She looked extremely tidy.
The color of her eyes was very special. They were a jade green color, the color of an emerald. If one looked closely, one might find that they could ensnare your very soul.
After walking into the store, her feet paused for a moment as she swept the display cabinets with her gaze.
Xiu Xiu went to welcome her, smiling as she spoke. “Welcome to Zeus. Can I help you with something?”
The woman didn’t look at her, her gaze instead falling on the youngster. “I want to buy a royal blue star sapphire necklace that is at least fifty carats in size or larger. Do you have it?”
The youngster walked over from behind the front desk.
Smiling, he said, “Of course. Xiu Xiu, lead this lady to the VIP room.”
Xiu Xiu made a gesture of invitation towards the woman, while on the other side, Ke’er had already opened the door to the VIP room, covered in genuine fur that was deep blue in color.
The VIP room wasn’t large, only ten square meters or so in size. It also had blue carpets and blue walls, while at the same time, it had a row of six blue security cabinets lining against the walls.
Aside from these, the VIP room also had a table and three chairs. One chair was towards the inside, while the other two were outside.
This was the place where the real deals were made. The most top-class jewels would never be put out on display on the cabinets outside.
The youngster invited the woman to sit, and she sat down on one of the two chairs on the outside of the table.
Xiu Xiu poured a cup of warm water and gave it to the youngster, who then placed it directly in front of the woman. For the owner to personally deliver refreshments was naturally more meaningful than an employee. A small detail, but then, it was often the small details that determined success or failure.
Xiu Xiu quietly shut the door to the VIP room, not making a sound. The store had an unspoken rule. So long as the boss was present, he would personally handle all of the guests who were led to the VIP room.
The youngster walked to the woman’s side, delivering the cup of water to her. “Please, have some water.”
The woman accepted the cup of water, but then raised her head and looked at him. “Zeus!”
The youngster’s face still had that graceful, indolent smile on it. “You mistake me for someone else. My name is Lan Jue, not Zeus. Or perhaps, you are calling out the name of my shop?”
The woman didn’t seem to have heard him, as she stared at him with her scorching gaze. “Zeus, I want to ask you to do something for me.”
The smile on Lan Jue’s face vanished, and he took the cup of water back from the woman’s hand.
The cup of water lit up, and the clear water within it suddenly transformed into blue, the blue of countless tiny little thunderbolts.
Lan Jue looked calmly at her. The woman’s body shook slightly, as though she had been affected by some sort paralyzing force. She didn’t move at all.
After fully draining the cup of electric water in one gulp, Lan Jue pushed open the door to the VIP room and walked out.
“She isn’t here to buy things. Please escort her out. I’m going to go get a drink.”
Chapter 2: The Old Gothic Winery
There weren’t many pedestrians on Skyfire Avenue, because this was a place where one had to be qualified to be here. It wasn’t just a matter of money. It was also a matter of taste.
Only after one passed through seventeen linked evaluations would one receive the Skyfire Badge. But of course, it would cost money as well. The reason was: ‘Skyfire Avenue Public Maintenance Fund’.
Lan Jue walked out of Zeus, his face returning to its normal, faint smile. The events in the shop apparently hadn’t impacted him at all.
He walked to the opposite side of Skyfire Avenue. There was an ancient, French-style gothic building there.
Tall, sharp towers, arched doorways, stained glass windows depicting stories from the Holy Bible, gothic arches, flying buttresses, slender columns…they produced a light yet lofty sensation, as though one was flying in the sky. The framework provided the entire structure with abundant support and strength, with the directly rising lines contributing to a grandiose and spacious appearance.
Compared to Lan Jue’s Zeus Jewelry Store, this Gothic structure was like a leviathan. In the entire Skyfire Avenue, in fact, it was the most arresting sight.
Pushing open the door and going inside, Lan Jue rubbed some of the stubble on his face. He couldn’t help but let out a hint of a bitter smile. He was about to be criticized again by that strict fellow.
“Jewel Master, you came.” A tall, slender, beautiful young lady, with long golden hair, dressed in an ancient French full- length court dress, came to welcome him. She gave Lan Jue an absolutely proper French curtsey.
Lan Jue nodded at her slightly. “Eva [Yi’wa], hello. Is the Wine Master here yet?”
Eva smiled slightly, displaying those eight pearly white teeth. “He’s here. The Gourmet and the Coffee Master are here as well.”
“Oh?” A hint of surprised delight flashed past Lan Jue’s eyes. “The Gourmet is here as well? That’s wonderful.”
Eva smiled. “I’ll bring you there.”
A luxurious, long French palace table that could easily seat twenty for dinner. Several people were seated next to it. In the head seat, there was an old man who seemed to be in his fifties or sixties. He was dressed in an exquisite French suit, with a wig on his head. He sat there, upright yet graceful, his face very solemn.
On each side of him, there were two others seated as well. One was tall and thin, dressed in a white shirt and a black vest. His short hair was exquisitely done. He was around forty or so, and there was a gentle smile on his face.
The other person was around thirty five, of ordinary stature. He wore a white suit, and his long golden hair was perfectly brushed, falling from both sides of his temples to his shoulders, dazzling to behold. His eyebrows were quite thick, and his eyes were very large, but in his eyes there was an undisguised hint of laughter, making him look a bit ‘naughty’.
Three men were seated on the other side of the table. An old man, a middle-aged man, and a youngster.
Compared to the three people in the host’s seats, they seemed to be slightly uneasy.
“Hey, is it the evaluation time again today?” Led by the young lady, Eva, Lan Jue arrived at that long table. He pulled a chair next to the man in the white suit.
“Jewel Master, you didn’t shave or comb your hair.” The old man in the head seat said with a frown.
Lan Jue slapped his forehead. “I knew you’d say that. Fine, I’m at fault. Even though I just came because I wanted to show that I’m making changes, and wanted to draw a bit closer to you old fogeys.”
The Wine Master said coldly, “If you are at fault, then you need to accept the punishment. You understand our rules.”
The man in the white suit next to Lan Jue lowered his head, and said in a very ‘cool’ manner, “Support.”
Lan Jue glanced at him sideways, then looked at the Wine Master. “What’s for dinner?”
The lips of the man in the white suit trembled. In the end, he couldn’t refrain from laughing.
The Wine Master laughed as well. “We can talk about what we’ll eat later. Since you are at fault, then you’ll handle the interviews for the next few people. You are more skilled in this regard than I am.”
Lan Jue shook his head. “No. That’ll cost me too much brain power.”
One of the seventeen evaluations in order to be admitted into Skyfire Avenue: Wine.
The Wine Master said, “If the results of your interview are satisfactory to me, tonight’s wine will be on me.”
“Done.” Lan Jue said.
The man in the white suit pursed his lips. “Can’t you be a bit more reserved?”
Lan Jue said calmly, “Then don’t drink.”
The youngster dressed in a black vest on the other side of the man in the white suit spoke for the first time. “Support.”
The man in the white suit said unhappily, “Gourmet, why are you always on his side?”
Gourmet said, “Because he has more taste than you.”
The Wine Master, in the head seat, nodded as well. “He does.”
Lan Jue cast his gaze towards the front. “The three of you, let’s begin. First one.” To him, the opportunity to sample fine wine was something he definitely didn’t want to delay if at all possible.
The face of the old man seated in the first position immediately grew solemn. “Please ask.”
Lan Jue said, “This is the Old Gothic Winery. Do you know where the wine from here comes from?”
The old man clearly had prepared early on. He immediately responded, “The Old Gothic Winery was one of the very first businesses opened on Skyfire Avenue when it was first developed. It engages in the sale of fine wine from various former nations of the previous era. These wines are preserved through spatial technology and can essentially be preserved in the state they were originally in year 2020. Actually, the most valuable thing about them is that once a bottle is drank, a bottle will be gone forever. Thus, the price is extremely high, but the ability to enjoy and sample these ancient wines is the mark of a true noble.”
Lan Jue neither assented nor disputed. He continued, “What is your favorite type of red wine?”
The old man spoke with seemingly great fluency. “Chateau Lafite. An ancient French wine from 1855, from one of the five first class Chatueaus in the Medoc, the Left Bank of the Bordeaux region.”
Lan Jue asked, “If the seven of us were to share a bottle of Lafite today, and you were the host, what would you do? Please explain in detail.”
The old man said, “I would carefully open it, then pour out a
tiny bit, look at its color, smell its aroma, then taste it. After verifying that it hadn’t gone bad yet, I would them divide it amongst everyone, so that we can all enjoy this bottle of fine wine.”
“You can leave now.” Lan Jue leaned back against the back of the chair and said calmly.
“I passed?” A look of surprised delight was on the old man’s face.
Lan Jue shook his head. “No. You’ve been eliminated.”
The old man said with surprise, “Why? I didn’t say anything wrong?”
Lan Jue frowned as he spoke. “You’ve just prepared in advance. You don’t actually like wine, nor do you know how to drink. If a bottle of ancient Lafite wine were to be drunk in the manner you described, that would be an absolute waste.”
“Lafite, no matter what year it is from, is stored in a horizontal state. Before drinking it, the very first thing to do is
to put it upright and keep it in the wine cellar for three days, allowing it to settle. When opening it, you do indeed have to first test the time, but it isn’t just to test for whether the wine has gone bad or not. The more important thing is to determine the status of the wine through tasting it, and determine how long it needs to be decanted for. One of the most important things for connoisseurs of wine is the question of how long the wine needs to be decanted. A normal bottle of Lafite would need to be poured into the decanter to be decanted for at least two hours. Otherwise, it wouldn’t taste much better than vinegar. It needs time to release its aroma. If you don’t even know that, you clearly don’t know how to drink wine. In fact, you’ve never even drank any fine wine. Thus, stop wasting my time.”
Unwilling to accept this, the old man said, “But the books all say…”
Lan Jue quirked his lips. “The people who wrote about Lafite in your books had never tasted it before. They just were writing based on what they had heard. To immediately uncork a bottle of Lafite and drink it is a form of disrespect to it. To drink it like that, you might as well dump it into a humidifier instead.”
Chapter 3: Previous Era, New Era
In year 2235 of the previous era, the first group of humans migrated to the solar system of the Skyfire Star. From that day forward, humanity entered the era of stellar migration. This was the beginning of a new era, and was thus referred to as the ‘New Era’.
In but a hundred short years, humanity, including Skyfire star and humanity’s mother star, in total administered a territory of twenty three star systems.
Skyfire Avenue. The Old Gothic Winery.
The old man had left with his head hanging down. The expressions on the faces of the middle-aged man and the young man became even more nervous.
Lan Jue turned his gaze towards the middle-aged man. “In the previous era, France’s red wine was primarily divided into which two production districts?”
The middle-aged man replied, “Bordeaux and Burgundy, with Bordeaux being divided into the ‘right’ and ‘left’ banks.”
Lan Jue said, “The ‘Big Eight’ chateaus of Bordeaux referred to which eight?”
The middle-aged man replied, “They refer to the five great ‘first class’ chateaus of 1855 in the previous era, located on the west Left Bank of the Medoc, and the three major wineries of the Right Bank of the Medoc. The five on the Left Bank are Château Latour, Château Lafite, Château Margaux, Château Haut Brion, and Château Mouton. The three on the Right Bank are Château Ausone, Château Cheval Blanc, and Château Petrus.”
Lan Jue said, “Excellent. Just now, we discussed how generally speaking, around two hours would be needed to decant the wine of Château Lafite from the Left Bank. In that case, generally speaking, how long would the top-tier red wine of Burgundy need to be decanted for? For example, the ‘La Tache’ wine produced in the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti?”
“This…” The middle-aged man hesitated, then said probingly, “Decanting depends on the state of the wind as well as the storage conditions, so it’s hard to say.”
Lan Jue laughed. “You must think you are quite clever.”
The middle-aged man’s heart tightened.
“You can leave now.” Lan Jue said.
The middle-aged stood up with a bitter smile, then said, “What was my mistake?”
Lan Jue said, “Burgundy wine and Bordeaux wine are completely different. It only needs a little bit of decanting; generally speaking, no more than half an hour. What’s more, the finest Burgundy wine actually doesn’t need any decanting at all. The point of drinking it is to enjoy the taste it has once it encounters the air and begins to constantly transform. You might have drank Burgundy wine before, but you definitely have not drank much.”
The middle-aged man nodded seriously. “Thank you for the lesson.” He nodded towards Lan Jue and the other three, then left.
The youngster who had been seated next to the middle-aged man stood up as well, a bitter smile also on his face. “I think it’s best if I leave as well. I’ll come back after I come up with a way to drink a bit more wine.”
The Wine Master looked at Lan Jue. “Each time you administer the interview, you are able to resolve the situation in the shortest period of time. Although you do rather take it hard on them.”
Lan Jue smiled. “But it gets straight to the heart of things, right? You don’t want to be too unkind, because that’s your style. I’m the Jewel Master, not the Wine Master. Which is to say, I’m nothing more than an alcoholic who wants to drink some fine wine as fast as possible. Today, what do you plan to treat us to drink?”
The Wine Master said, “Go to the spatial wine cellar yourself and pick a bottle casually. Limited to one bottle, though. If you take more than one, please pay for it.” While saying these words, he placed a piece of silvery-white metal on the table in front of him.
“Fine.” Lan Jue immediately stood up, and as he passed by the Wine Master, he picked up that silvery-white piece of metal and walked to the rear.
After passing through the thirty meter high walkway, he went down a flight of stairs, circling down another thirty or so meters until he arrived in front of a large, ancient, unadorned brown
Before entering, Lan Jue opened his palm. The piece of metal in his hand seemed to have sensed something, and flew into the air, agilely pressing itself against the door.
The door ‘rippled’ as though it was made of water. It didn’t emit any light, instead just bizarrely disappearing into nothingness, as though having evaporated.
Lan Jue smiled slightly, then slowly walked in.
When he stood without moving, everything around him seemed to be gently contorting and distorting. After walking straight for roughly half a minute, the sense of distortion finally disappeared, and everything returned to normal.
This was an extremely large underground wine cellar. The wine racks were made from the finest quality French white oak of the previous era, and they were laid out neatly, stretching so far into the distance that one couldn’t see an end to them. Nearby, countless enormous oak barrels were heaped atop each other, taking up an entire section of the wall.
Although this wasn’t his first time here, Lan Jue still couldn’t help but sigh in praise. He really had no idea how the Wine Master had originally procured so many fine wines of the previous era and brought them to Skyfire City. And then, the Wine Master had used such incredible spacetime manipulation techniques to store them all here. Just the white oak wine racks alone were each worth over ten thousand New Era Dollars. The normal salary of a family living in Skyfire Star would generally only make a thousand New Era Dollars each month.
In this place, both space and time were frozen. If Lan Jue didn’t have that piece of metal floating atop his head, which constantly cast a soft glow around him, he would have been a frozen part of this place as well.
Only by freezing both time and space was it possible to keep these fine wines of the previous era in perfect condition.
Lan Jue slowly walked deeper inside. While walking, he stared at the rows of antique wine bottles and labels.
“Every single bottle here is top class! Truly, one bottle drank is one bottle gone forever.” While inspecting the bottles, he sighed in praised.
Suddenly, he seemed to sense something. Halting, he raised his head to stare in front of him.
There was a small lamp there, casting off a dim yellow glow. To an ordinary person, it was nothing more than a lamp. But Lan Jue was able to notice something tiny and minute regarding that lamp.
It was just a lamp, but halo of light it cast seemed to be a bit too large.
A faint layer of soft blue light began to shine in the area around Lan Jue’s body, and he began to levitate off the ground. When his body came into contact with that yellow halo of light, space suddenly began to distort itself once again.
He arrived in a different room. Compared to the outside room, this room was a bit smaller, roughly around five hundred square meters or so in size. The layout was identical to the outside.
The walls were lined with rows of standalone wine racks,
filled with bottles of red wine.
When Lan Jue saw this, his eyes suddenly turned blue, a blue that was filled with electric light.
“What a fine fellow. This is the Wine Master’s treasure room!
What a pity that I can only take one bottle.”
He, normally always so calm and graceful, couldn’t help but speed up his footsteps as he moved towards a wine rack. He lifted up a bottle of red wine and looked at that pure white wine label. His eyes were filled with infatuation and adoration, as though he were staring at an absolute beauty who had moved his heart.
Turning, he walked towards the yellow halo of light, but after but a single step, he halted.
A slightly evil smile appeared at the corner of his lips. “For its sake, the Wine Master might actually be so stingy as to renege on his word. I can’t give him that opportunity.” With a flip of his hand, from some unknown place, he retrieved a corkscrew specially designed for removing red wine corks.
Chapter 4: Romanée-Conti
She looked like she was eighteen or nineteen. Her skin was as white as jade, and her neatly combed, long wine-red hair flowed down her head. She wore a white French Romantic-period palace-style flower dress, which perfectly showed off her figure.
Only, this young lady was panting just slightly. Her head was lowered. Her fair white face and her neck, as elegant as that of a swan, were all slightly red. Her long eyelashes were trembling slightly, and she had a look of embarrassment on her face.
“Forgive me. I came late.”
The Wine Master stared at this young lady with a severe look on his face. He said calmly, “You can leave. Tardiness is an unpardonable mistake.”
“Why not give her a chance?” Lan Jue’s voice rang out.
The Wine Master sat there, unmoved. “Tardiness represents discourtesy.”
Lan Jue said, “When we were young, we also cared about spending time on our appearance. Why not just give her a chance. Consider it as just giving me some face.”
The Coffee Master, dressed in a white suit, said, “He’s calling us old.” He had a faint smile on his face, as if to say, ‘I’m not the sort of person to cause trouble.’
The Wine Master furrowed his forehead.
The Gourmet spoke. “Jewel Master, for the sake of that bottle of wine in your hands, I’ll support you this time.”
The Wine Master unconsciously turned to glance towards Lan Jue, but when his gaze fell upon the bottle of wine in Lan Jue’s hand, he was no longer able to remain calm.
The normally always sedate, solemn Wine Master rose to his feet. Both his lips as well as the finger he was now pointing at Lan Jue began to quiver at the same instant. “I told you to pick a bottle casually!” He all but ground out these words, gnashing his teeth.
Lan Jue said seriously, “But I’ve never been a casual person.”
“Give it back to me!” Like an arrow, the Wine Master shot towards Lan Jue, immediately grabbed the bottle of wine in Lan Jue’s hands.
Lan Jue didn’t dodge. The bottle of wine arrived in the Wine Master’s hands, but in Lan Jue’s hands, there was an undamaged cork, a cork which emanated with the faint, fragrant scent of wine.
“You bastard! You actually opened it!” The Wine Master said with frantic fury.
“Cursing is an unpardonable mistake for a noble.” Lan Jue waved the wine cork in his hands admonishingly at the Wine Master.
The young lady in the white dress raised her head as well, and saw the bottle of wine. Her sky-blue eyes seemed to flash with brilliant, gem-stone like light.
The Wine Master’s breathing as rather ragged. After taking
several mighty breaths, he snatched that silver piece of metal in Lan Jue’s other hand. “Eva, warm water and slices of white bread. Spanish Iberico ham, cured 72 months, shaved into slices.”
“Wait a moment.” The Gourmet called out to Eva, rising to his feet. With a smile that wasn’t a smile on his lips, he looked at the Wine Master, still clutching that bottle of wine tightly. “So you have something as fine as Iberico ham that has been cured for 72 months. Only, you normally were too stingy to bring it out.”
The Wine Master said viciously, “The old master had only brought over to here nineteen hams in the past. There are only fourteen left. I was planning to enjoy them myself. You are taking advantage of me.”
The Gourmet smiled. “Don’t be angry. Sampling fine wine and delicacies requires one to be in a good mood. In addition, a single ham will last for many eating sessions. Eva, bring the entire ham over, and also a larger serving platter, as well as twenty candles. I’ll handle it.”
Eva looked at the Wine Master, who nodded at her. Perhaps because of words of the Gourmet, the anger on the Wine Master’s face was slowly subsiding.
Lan Jue walked towards his seat and sat down, then glanced at the young lady, who was secretly drooling. “Do you recognize this bottle of wine?”
The young lady immediately nodded vigorously.
Lan Jue smiled. “Tell me about it.”
The young lady didn’t hesitate at all. “This is one of the finest types of wine, Romanée-Conti. It is the ‘king’ of the wine production area of Burgundy of France. It was the pride of Burgundy, and a wine master once said that Burgundy, just by relying on Romanée-Conti alone, was superior to all eight of the chateaus of Bordeaux. In the previous era, it was the most exalted red wine in the world.”
Lan Jue said, “Tell me about its taste.”
The young lady’s eyes suddenly revealed a hint of
intoxication. “This is a sort of flavor that can sink into your taste buds and your teeth. It is a flavor that feels as though it could burrow into every single cell of your body. The fragrance of it is a long lasting one, and it is both exquisite and heavy, both delicate and strong, both balanced and condensed. It has the smooth, graceful texture of velvet. It is virtually the distilled essence of the finest strengths of Pinot Noir grapes. It is an inimitable, fantasy-like wine. After entering the New Era, due to the environmental changes and damages in our home planet, no more true Romanée-Conti was ever produced again, after year 2025.”
Hearing the young lady’s words, Lan Jue, the Wine Master, and the Gourmet all revealed looks of surprise on their faces.
The Wine Master said. “You’ve drank it before?”
The young lady nodded gently, somewhat embarrassed. “I was once lucky enough to sample a cup of Romanée-Conti of the 1981 vintage. Although that wasn’t the finest year for Romanée- Conti, the flavor of that wine still lingers in my soul.”
The Gourmet smiled. “This is a girl with fine taste. It seems the Jewel Master is right yet again.”
Lan Jue looked at the Wine Master, who nodded and said, “For the sake of Romanée-Conti, I’ll consider you to have passed the interview. Remember, in the future, no matter what you are doing, as a noble, you cannot be late, regardless of the reason.”
The young lady made a deep curtsey. “Yes.”
The Wine Master said, “You can go now. Eva will take you through the procedures.”
“Thank you.” The young lady curtsied yet again. Pausing for a moment, she finally summoned her courage and asked, “In the future, after I obtain the Skyfire emblem, can I come to your place to purchase Romanée-Conti?”
The Wine Master, his face cold, waved dismissively towards her. “Romanée-Conti is only for my friends to drink.”
A hint of disappointment appeared on the young lady’s face.
She curtsied yet again, then turned and left.
Several servers came, bearing four Pinot Noir wine glasses, a platter of white slices of bread, four cups of warm water, a
square white tray, and an enormous ham that was a meter long and thirty centimeters thick at the thickest part.
The Wine Master stared coldly at Lan Jue. “In the future, I will never let you help me interview again.”
Lan Jue smiled. “Wine Master, you need to learn to be more charitable. Fine things need to be shared with friends.”
The Wine Master snorted. He picked up the Romanée-Conti bottle with one hand, his thumb pressed against the neck of the wine bottle and his other four fingers pressing against the other side.
Looking at the label on the bottle, he murmured to himself, “Romanée-Conti from year 2005 of the previous era…you punk, you are too vicious.”
Lan Jue stared at the wine glass in front of him. “I saw that you also had Romanée-Conti of year 1990.”
The Gourmet’s eyes bulged. “Then why didn’t you take it? Although 2005’s product was top-tier, 1990 was a legendary year
Lan Jue said seriously, “A person can never go too far. I don’t want to be blacklisted by the Wine Master.”
A not-quite-smile on his face, the Gourmet arranged the twenty candles into place. “Don’t worry. Perhaps others might do that to you, but we definitely wouldn’t.”
The Wine Master said unhappily, “Are you getting revenge on me for some reason?”
Lan Jue and the Gourmet shared a look and a smile, and said in almost the exact same breath, “Drinking buddies are hard to find.”
Chapter 5: Heavenly Treasure
The scarlet red wine that had been poured into the cups were very tranquil, not a hint of a ripple to be seen. The fragrance of the wine wasn’t too strong, as though all the flavor had been tightly locked into that sparkling, translucent, blood-red, ruby like wine.
The Wine Master’s hand didn’t tremble at all. He filled all four cups to an exceptionally equal level, up to two fingernails height in each cup. Just by looking at the cups, couldn’t tell the difference between any of the cups at all.
Lan Jue stared at the wine, but the Gourmet was staring at the enormous ham in front of him. Both sets of eyes were mesmerized.
Twenty candles were set up in orderly fashion, just slightly smaller in total size than that square serving tray. The Gourmet swept his right hand towards the wicks of the candles, and at the same instant, all twenty candles lit up at the same time. The flames didn’t burn very high, but they were very bright.
Holding the serving tray by the edges, the Gourmet held it at a straight level above the candle flames, allowing the heat of the
candle flames to evenly heat up the tray.
The Coffee Master said, “Isn’t that too much trouble? Why can’t you just use your own fire?”
The Gourmet didn’t even look at him as he spoke. “That’s why we say you have no taste. If it weren’t for the fact that you are extremely lucky, there’s no way you would have the chance to drink this wine today, or eat a ham like this. My flames are positive energy flames, but of a dry and explosive type. Candle flames are positive energy flames that are gentle, soft, and evenly distributed. The latter is what I need right now.”
The Coffee Master said somewhat argumentatively, “Why is there no way? I don’t believe it! Wine Master, is he telling the truth?”
The Wine Master didn’t say a word. He lifted up the long- stemmed wineglass in front of him by its long, crystalline stem. Raising it high, he caught the light of the candles within it and stared at the scarlet red wine within.
The Coffee Master next turned to look at Lan Jue. “The Gourmet looks down on me! On what basis did he criticize me
Lan Jue’s gaze was focused on his wineglass as well. His movements were almost identical to the Wine Master’s. He lifted up his wineglass, staring at the ruby color within.
“He speaks the truth, and he has a very good reason. The reason the Wine Master didn’t say anything was because he didn’t want to hurt you. However, I can tell you the reason. We’ll just treat it as my revenge for you stirring up trouble earlier.”
“Fine. Tell me.” The Coffee Master said in a dissatisfied way.
Lan Jue laughed calmly. “If you want to learn something, you have to pay a price. Give me the wine in your glass, and I’ll tell you the reason. Otherwise, where’s the ‘revenge’ part?”
The Coffee Master said with some anger and embarrassment, “Fine. If your reasoning convinces me that I’m not worthy of drinking this Romanée-Conti, then I’ll give you my glass.”
Lan Jue put down his own wineglass, then turned to look
towards the Wine Master. “You aren’t allowed to fight with me over it. He asked me the question. It’s your own fault for not saying anything earlier.”
The Wine Master let out a sigh. “For him to be willing to give up this glass of Romanée-Conti, in and of itself, is already a sufficient reason why he isn’t qualified to drink it.”
Lan Jue smiled as he spoke. “But this isn’t enough to convince him, because he could always make up the excuse that his desire for learning exceeds his desire for delicacies.”
Lan Jue raised the glass of water and took a sip before finally turning to look at the Coffee Master.
“Actually, the reasoning is very simple. It is because you are the Coffee Master. Although you know how to appreciate wine very much, and you also know how to appreciate gourmet food very much, in the end, you are a Coffee Master.”
The Coffee Master, somewhat bewildered, said, “How can this be considered a reason?”
Lan Jue said, “Of course this is a reason. Compared to red wine, you like coffee better. Might I ask, how many cups of coffee do you drink every day?”
The Coffee Master said, “Three cups.”
Lan Jue said, “Drinking coffee has already become the most important habit you have in your life. The better the coffee, the stronger and the longer lasting its flavor is. However, it will also dominate your taste buds. Before sampling a truly top-class red wine, in order to be able to enjoy all of its fragrance to the fullest, one has to avoid eating anything with strong flavor for at least three days in advance. Coffee, tea, chocolate…these are all definitely forbidden. Otherwise, your taste buds will have already been occupied. Although you can use white bread to try and absorb those flavors from your mouth, there will be at least a little bit that remains. It will impact the sublime feeling which this fine wine will transmit to your soul. This is a form of blasphemy towards the wine.”
Pausing a moment, Lan Jue smiled as he looked at the Coffee Master. “Then, in the past three days, have you drank coffee?”
The Coffee Master laughed bitterly. “Of course I have.”
“Thank you.” Lan Jue gracefully picked up the glass of wine in front of the Coffee Master, pouring all of the wine within into his own glass, then returned the empty glass to the Coffee Master.
The Wine Master let out a sigh. He gently swirled the glass in his hand, then delivered it to his nose for a sniff. Instantly, the solemn look in his eyes disappeared, and was replaced by an intoxicated, mesmerized look.
He took a rather large sip, keeping it in his mouth for a rather long moment before swallowing it.
Lan Jue also took a drink. Lowering his head, with a gentle sip, the gentle sound of liquid entering his mouth could be heard. And then, he once more lifted his head up, swallowing the wine.
Only a long moment afterwards did the Wine Master’s expression return to normal. “A pomegranate glow makes clear its quality; the fragrance of classic Romanée-Conti, the smell of roses and sweet peppers; gentle and harmonius, in the mouth, one can sense how the strength of the taste is rather reserved, but an extremely long aftertaste remains.
As he spoke, he turned his gaze towards Lan Jue. “You picked very well. This bottle of Romanée-Conti is right at the perfect time for drinking.”
Lan Jue let out a soft breath. “It fuses both a spicy fragrance and a floral fragrance, is refined and joyous; in the mouth, it shows off its astonishing suppleness and harmoniousness. The taste of haw fruit mixed with cherries, plentiful and exquisite. This existence of this wine and its exquisiteness is a sort of pleasant surprise to us! It indeed lives up to its reputation as being acclaimed as a ‘heavenly treasure’, the king of wines! I think, in the next three days, my taste buds and even my teeth will still be filled with this wondrous flavor. I can’t drink wine for the next three days.”
The Coffee Master looked at the expressions on their faces. He couldn’t help but say, “Is it as good as all that? Wine Master, give me a little bit more.”
The Wine Master let out a sigh. “I originally had prepared that plate of white bread especially for you. I wanted to have you use it to absorb some of the flavors saturating your taste buds. After doing that, given how powerful the flavor of Romanée-Conti is, you should be able to just barely appreciate the flavor of it as well. However, you’ve already lost it to the Jewel Master. I had only intended to offer you a single glass to begin with. Thus, I’m
very sorry, but today, you don’t have a share.”
The Gourmet removed the tray from above the candles and placed it on the table. He patted the Coffee Master on the shoulders and said, “This is what the revenge of the Jewel Master is like. This fellow really knows how to hold a grudge.”
The Coffee Master turned his head to shoot a vicious glare at Lan Jue.
Lan Jue once again took a sip of that heavenly treasure, that wondrous wine. “The other day, Miss Camille [Ka’mei’er] went to my store. Although she didn’t buy anything, from her eyes, I could already tell what she liked.”
The Coffee Master’s face frozen. He let out a gloomy sigh. “You win.”
Lan Jue inclined his glass towards him. Slowly, the Coffee Master’s face returned to his previous calm. “But I won’t leave just like that. Although I didn’t have the chance to drink fine wine, I’m still going to eat some of this ham.”
The Gourmet had, at some point in time, taken a slender, long, yet narrow knife into his hands. With a gentle cut, a paper-thin slice of ham drifted down into the plate.
His hand suddenly transformed into a blur, and soon, several dozen slices of ham filled up the plate.
“Why did you have to roast it a bit first?” The Wine Master asked the Gourmet.
The Gourmet said, “This so-called ‘black pig’ should actually be called an Iberico boar. Generally speaking, in the previous era, they were raised in the mid-west forests of Spain. That place was one of the most classic, natural environments. It included wide pastures, oak trees, and the acorn trees which made up most of the foliage in Spain. The pigs which were raised in these wide pastures primarily ate the seeds of the oak trees and acorn trees. As for oak seeds, true oak sees were an indispensible part of the feeding for true Iberico ham.”
“This is the manufacturing process; Slice open the pig, then chill the pig meat to six degrees Celsius; cure it; clean it; after the curing for one section is complete, use cold water to wash away the remaining salt of the ham, then place it in a storehouse for two months while salting it evenly; it will
naturally dry. Afterwards, hang it in a natural cave for at least twenty four months without disturbing it, and it will be ready to eat. The finest of Iberico ham actually needs to be quietly cured for at least forty eight months.”
“This ham that you brought out is an exquisite specimen even amongst Iberico hams. Only a 100% pure Iberico pig that was completely fed on oak seeds can possibly be cured in a mountain cave for as long as seventy two months. Even in the previous era, this is something that one cannot buy with money alone.”
“But this sort of ham has a problem. The problem is that its natural fat is too thick. Although the flavor is pure and beautiful, the fragrance will be somewhat masked by the fat. While chewing it over, although you’ll be able to taste it, in the end, it will still be flawed. I first heated up the tray, then chopped the ham into slices, so that the temperature of the tray will cause the fat to melt, allowing it to permeate into the meat and for the fragrance to completely come out. Look. The white fat has already turned translucent.”
Indeed, in the originally white-and-red ham, the white fatty parts were already translucent, looking like frozen crystals. A faint fragrance came out from the platter which thickened but did not dissipate.
Lan Jue reached over to take a slice, delivering it to his mouth. Instantly, his face changed. The flavor was strong and pure, and it lasted a long time in the mouth. After taking another sip of Romanée-Conti, he was utterly intoxicated.
The Wine Master also ate a slice, and his reaction was almost the same as Lan Jue’s. And then, he let out a bitter laugh. “It seems my previous manner of eating it was a waste.”
The Gourmet smiled as he ate the ham while drinking the wine. “I’m eating your food, drinking your wine, and being praised by you as well. How wonderful.”
Lan Jue sighed leisurely. “Heavenly treasure, a top-tier Iberico ham. Wine Master, in the future, I will often come.”
The Wine Master didn’t look at him, but his eyes had a bitter look in them. He knew that the Jewel Master wasn’t by nature an immodest person, but when he decided to act immodestly…
The Coffee Master also had a bitter look on his face. The aroma of the Iberico ham far exceeded his imaginations, but unfortunately, he didn’t have the ‘heavenly treasure’ to pair it with.
Chapter 6: Letter, Pearl, Hera!
Walking out of the Old Gothic Winery, Lan Jue’s mouth was still filled with that abundant, meaty flavor, as well as the pure fragrance of that ‘heavenly treasure’. The Coffee Master, having received a satisfactory answer from him, had left earlier.
Turning his head, he looked at the Gourmet who had left alongside him. Lan Jue couldn’t help but want to laugh.
In the previous era, Iberico ham truly did have rather thick fat. But the method which the Gourmet had selected for them to eat had another effect; it reduced the amount of grease. After reducing the amount of grease, naturally it was a little bit tastier.
At this moment, Lan Jue’s mind was still full of that look of hidden bitterness in the eyes of the Wine Master when he stored away the remaining ham.
“I’m off.” The Gourmet waved at him, then merged into the night.
Lan Jue passed through Skyfire Avenue. He saw, to his
somewhat astonishment, that the lights in his store were still lit. It was already very late at night.
Pushing the door open and entering, he saw Xiu Xiu, standing there with a smile.
“Xiu Xiu, why haven’t you gone home to rest yet? It’s very late.” Lan Jue looked towards her questioningly.
Xiu Xiu smiled as she went to welcome him, handing an envelope over to him. “Boss, this is the letter which that young Miss Mao left behind. I was afraid of delaying some important matter, so I waited until you came back. Ke’er originally wanted to wait alongside me, but she was sleepy, so I had her go home first.”
Lan Jue gave her a courtly hug. “You are always so thoughtful.”
Xiu Xiu smiled. “Then I’ll go home now?”
“Right. Good night. Be careful on the way home.” Lan Jue lightly kissed her on her cheek.
Xiu Xiu walked to the door, turned her head towards him, smiling beautifully. “The wine fragrance you are wearing today smells very good.”
Lan Jue laughed. “If I smelled this good every day, the Wine Master would try to kill me.”
Xiu Xiu shut the door after walking through it. Lan Jue stayed at the store at night. Not for the sake of standing guard or working at night, but because this was his home.
Holding that letter, Lan Jue strolled into the VIP room. He pressed a button on one of the side walls of the VIP room, and the wall slide away, revealing the room behind it.
Lan Jue’s residence wasn’t very large, only a hundred square meters or so, but it had all sorts of necessary equipment. Every day, Xiu Xiu and Ke’er would volunteer to help him keep it clean, so this place was always spotless.
The room still had the faint, natural fragrance left behind the two girls. Lan Jue didn’t like the smell of strong perfume, which Xiu Xiu and Ke’er both knew.
Sitting down on the sofa, Lan Jue pulled open the envelope. He actually didn’t want to read it at all, because he didn’t want to ruin the good mood the ‘heavenly treasure’ wine had given him, but…all people are affected by curiosity. He was no exception. In addition, he had the faint sense that this letter wasn’t a simple one.
Opening the envelope, he only saw four words, but these four words caused him to instantly forget about the flavor of the ‘heavenly treasure’.
Lan Jue’s eyes, slightly intoxicated after having drank wine, suddenly turned blue, and electricity crackled within them. The originally bright lights in the room began to flicker and turn dim, sometimes bright, sometimes dark, while emitting a nonstop crackling sound.
Hera! Is! Not! Dead!
Those were the four words on that piece of paper.
Hera was a name. In the previous era, on the home planet, she was the Queen of the Gods in Greek mythology.
Zeus was the King of the Gods. His wife, naturally, was the Queen of the Gods, Hera.
In the New Era, Hera Mao was Lan Jue’s wife. The wife who had disappeared in what was, to him, an utterly calamitous event. The explosion which had ended the event had destroyed an entire star. No one believed that Hera could have survived.
It had happened three years ago. After it happened, he had arrived here and settled down here.
Dragons have their weak points. Zeus did as well.
Lan Jue sat there for a full quarter hour, not moving at all.
After the quarter hour passed, he flipped the letter over. On the back, he found a contact number.
With his left hand, he pressed down in mid-air. The electronic screen on facing the sofa immediately lit up, and a holographic 3D image appeared. The image was that of Skyfire Star. Lan Jue’s left hand was now covered with a layer of light as well.
His elegant, agile finger transformed into a blur as he entered a lone line of numbers, and the holographic image in front of him rapidly moved.
Seconds later, the image of Skyfire Star disappeared. The woman who had come to the store before appeared in front of him, still dressed in white. But of course, this was just her digital hologram.
“Zeus, can we have a chat now?” The woman had a smile on her face as she spoke. She was very confident; perhaps even a bit coy.
Lan Jue’s face was very calm, and the blue color had vanished from his eyes. “Do you know what the price of lying to me is?”
Although they were separated by a great distance and only speaking through a communications device, upon hearing those words, the woman’s face couldn’t help but change. Strong heart palpitations caused her to suddenly feel as though her chest was under great pressure. Still, she quickly managed to calm down. “When Zeus is angered, the heavens and the world will know it. I know. My name is Pearl [Yue].”
Lan Jue said coldly, “Show me the evidence.”
“Alright.” Pearl agreed easily. Raising her two arms, she made pulling motions in mid-air, and an image appeared.
The image was that of a picture. It seemed to be a classroom in a school. The students were all dressed in school uniforms, and they were walking in line, preparing to go to class.
Suddenly, Lan Jue stood up. The blue light which had just disappeared from his eyes appeared yet again.
He saw a person. A person who, for him, had been engraved deep into his soul long ago.
The first thing he saw was her head of long, black hair. Her black hair was somewhat naturally wave, utterly black and glossy, rolling down to her waist. Her school uniform revealed her orchid-like, pure white arms, long and tender. Because the table obstructed the view, one couldn’t see anything lower than mid-skirt.
The most shocking thing was, her eyes had pupils that were
different from that of ordinary people’s. They were sky blue, like the color of the sea, without a hint of impurity. Her long eyelashes blinked, and those sky-blue eyes became the most soul-stirring part of her exquisite features. Anyone who she looked at would feel that their soul was enchanted by her two beautiful eyes.
Black hair, blue eyes. It was her!
The picture disappeared, and Pearl’s voice rang out once more.
“Zeus, can we talk about our partnership now? The school uniform which Hera is wearing, in the area of Skyfire Star alone, is used by the students of over two hundred schools. In addition, the star she is at isn’t necessarily Skyfire. I can tell you a secret beforehand. Within the next ten days, if you aren’t able to find her, then, you will definitely regret it all your life.”
Lan Jue, or, to be precise, “Zeus” Lan Jue, said, his eyes flashing coldly, “Terms!”
Chapter 7: Leng Lingxi
Pitch-black and boundless. Two phrases that shouldn’t be put together. But if you were to use them to describe the universe, it would be appropriate.
But even in the pitch-black universe, on occasion, there would be some beautiful sights. For example, right now!
A ray of silver light streaked past the dark space, flying off into the distance.
This was a spaceship. A passenger spaceship that was quite frequently seen in the New Era, also known as an interstellar shuttle. It was usually around 534 meters long, 168 meters wide, and colored white. This was the color of the Northern Alliance, the most powerful of the three great powers which arose after humanity entered the New Era.
This interstellar shuttle was capable of simultaneously carrying both passengers as well as large amounts of cargo. It had a pre-determined route. It would jump through the safe wormholes which humanity had discovered during the past hundred years which led to each of the stars which humanity governed.
Not too far away, an enormous planet was visible. This was the capital planet of the Northern Alliance, the planet of Luo. This was an administrative planet which was even larger than the planet of Skyfire, and half of its surface was suitable for human life.
Drawing near its target, the interstellar shuttle’s speed began to lessen as it prepared to make an atmospheric entry into the planet of Luo.
When entering the atmosphere, the speed couldn’t be too fast, as otherwise, even an interstellar shuttle would break apart.
Just as the interstellar shuttle was slowly down to roughly three times the speed of sound, the empty space to its left suddenly distorted slightly, and a faint shadow suddenly, silently attached itself to it.
What was even more astonishing was that the interstellar shuttle didn’t react at all. Its sensitive radar seemed to have been completely unable to sense the presence and arrival of this shadow.
Suddenly, the interstellar shuttle shook powerfully. Its left
side began to reveal traces of faint blue electric bolts, and the entire shuttle began to shudder violently.
“DIIIII! DIIIIII! DIIIII!”
Within the interstellar shuttle, ear-piercing warning klaxons were going off!
Bosen [Bei’seng] was an interstellar shuttle pilot of thirty years, who had over a hundred thousand hours of piloting experience. This captain was an old pro. Hearing the warning klaxon from the ship, he picked up the communication tool in an unhurried, unpanicked manner.
“All employees, please take your seats and fasten your seat belts. We have encountered some static electricity in the atmosphere, and will temporarily postpone our passage through the atmosphere. Everything will be fine soon. At the same time, please temporarily refrain from engaging the procedures for waking our passengers from deep sleep.”
Captain Bosen’s judgment was extremely accurate. Moments later, the interstellar shuttle’s vibrations halted and everything returned to normal.
Most interstellar shuttles had roughly 70% of their renovated space reserved for holding cargo. Only the remaining space was used for holding employees, and of course the passenger cabin.
The passenger cabins were divided into three types. The first class cabin, the middle cabin, and the economy cabin, which was also known as the commoner class.
The three different cabins naturally had astronomically different prices, and each had their own services.
Each person in the commoner cabins only had a square meter of personal space, a simple seat, and were locked in place by metallic bonds, as though they were being chained up for punishment. When reaching light speed, the only support their heads had for when they were in deep sleep was a helmet which definitely couldn’t be described as comfortable.
The middle cabins was slightly better. At least, it allowed for a person to lie down while wearing the helmet. Thus, when waking up out of deep sleep, at least they wouldn’t feel as miserable as those people in the commoner cabin, whose entire bodies would feel sore, as though they had been beaten.
As for the first class cabins, it could only be described using the phrase ‘lavish’. Every single first class cabin had twelve square meters of space, including a proper, comfortable sleeping berth, a lavish seat that could be sat on or reclined on, and a shower as well as a changing room.
When sleeping within these sleeping berths during interstellar travel, not only would they receive the best rest, more importantly, these sleeping berths were equipped with nutritional liquids that could allow their bodies to be in a state which used up very little energy, to the point where the aging process was greatly slowed. After all, every single long-distance journey would take perhaps more than a month. Compared to those in the commoner cabins who over the course of the journey would perhaps lose at least a terrifying ten pounds of body weight, the first class cabins would actually help their passengers be in peak condition.
The price of a first class cabin was ten times that of a middle cabin, and a hundred times that of a commoner cabin!
Most standard interstellar shuttles only had around thirty or so first class cabins. After all, very few people would choose to pay such an astronomical price. The middle cabins were already enough to satisfy the needs of most ordinary people, who only wanted their bodies to not be damaged during the passage.
Leng Lingxi, undergoing the deep sleep awakening protocols, slowly escaped from his deep slumber.
“Uhhh….what a wonderful sleep.” She murmured, then looked through her mask and found the green button which opened and closed her cabin. With a gentle push, the cover above her sleeping berth opened.
Leng Lingxi sat up from the middle of the viscous nutritional fluid, revealing her slender, fine lines. She removed the mask on her face and took a deep breath of fresh air. Instantly, she revealed a relieved look on her face. However, she immediately began to brush off the liquid on her arm with a look of some disgust.
“Sleeping in a first class cabin is comfortable, but these nutritional liquids are really unpleasant. Can’t they improve it to something which is similar to clear water?”
There were partitions to every single first class cabin. Even if the first class cabins were all full, as long the partitions weren’t pushed open, nobody would be able to see anyone else.
Climbing out of her sleeping berth, she rinsed off the rest of
the nutritional liquid in the shower, then put on a clean set of clothes. Leng Lingxi immediately felt much better.
She made several stretching motions and did a few yoga movements, then walked towards her seat while opening her partition.
The partition next to her slowly opened with a gentle, metallic sound, revealing the walkway for her cabin as well as the outside scene.
Hey, someone was even faster than me? Leng Lingxi looked with some surprise towards the left partition. That partition was also opened, and there was someone sitting on a seat.
This was a young man with short black hair, deep blue exercise clothes, and an extremely handsome face.
Someone seated in first class was wearing exercise clothes? This discovery caused Leng Lingxi to be unable to retrain her curiosity. This was the first time she had seen a guest like this in first class. Generally speaking, shouldn’t most people change into crisp suits or chic apparel, so that they would be ready to start working as soon as they disembarked the shuttle?
Leng Lingxi herself was an exception, because she herself was wearing a set of white exercise clothes. Thus, another exception easily attracted her interest.
“Hi, how are you. I think I didn’t see you when we boarded the ship?” Leng Lingxi’s temperament was completely different from her surname Leng, meaning cold. Not only was she not cold, she was very warm and generous.
A faint smile drifted onto the face of the young man. In a very gentlemanly manner, he inclined his head towards her. “Greetings, beautiful young miss.”
What proper etiquette, and not seeming affected or pretentious at all. “To be able to see such a handsome gentleman by my side as soon as I woke up truly is a happy event. My name is Leng Lingxi.”
The young man seemed to have been somewhat intrigued by the ambiguous meanings in her words. His lips curved upwards. Smiling, he said, “My pleasure. I am Zeus!”
Chapter 8: Womanly Secrets
“Zeus?” Leng Lingxi laughed, revealing a beautiful smile. She was beautiful, delicate, with wine red hair that was cut short and brown eyes accompanied by an exquisite body. Enough to garner the attentions of any man.
“What an interesting name, I think I’ve heard it before,” Leng Lingxi said though her smile.
“Oh?” The young man watched her with interest.
“Ever since the first time someone was called the name, many have since imitated. Only, though the name is Zeus, it certainly doesn’t mean you are he!”
“Haha,” the young man chuckled.
The expression in Leng Lingxi’s eyes abruptly grew sharp. “This space shuttle is fitted with thirty two first-class cabins, and they’ve managed to fill fifteen, including my own. I know clearly the identities of the other fourteen passengers. Can you tell me, where are you from? Choosing this time, recently awakened from deep sleep to sit beside me, it seems as though
you have a reason. Don’t think because you’re attractive you can flirt with me. In this case, you have no opportunity to flee. And yet I merely must acknowledge, you’re quite amazing. On this trip we have more than twenty people, separated in to different cabins, and you come from Middle Class to sit beside me specifically. But unfortunately, you’ve encountered me. And if you think us women are easily bullied, you have another thing coming!”
“Ha ha!” The young man laughed again.
Leng Lingxi leaned casually in her chair. “You’re in such high spirits, but let’s see how long that lasts. Tell me who you are, your rank, then give yourself up without a fight and at least I wont have you executed. I’ll have you remanded directly in to the custody of the Luo Interplanetary Police. If you don’t want to get hurt, you’ll obey!”
Leng Lingxi’s smile melted away. “Hey, ass! If you’d have avoided this in the first place, I’d have let you off. However, you deliberately called yourself Zeus. If I can’t beat you until you’re senseless, I can’t call myself Leng!
The young man looked at her in astonishment. “Why?”
Leng Lingxi unfastened her seatbelt and, standing, shot him a cold glare. “Because you have the audacity to try and pass yourself off as my idol, calling yourself by his name!”
“Haha!” The young man again let loose a peel of laughter.
Leng Lingxi responded scornfully, “I’ve seen through your ruse, and still you laugh?”
A small smile spread across the young man’s face. “You want to know why I’m laughing?”
“Why?” Leng Lingxi retorted rashly.
The young man replied earnestly, “Under certain special circumstances, the sounds ‘Ha Ha’ mean something different; stupid!”
The stupefied expression on Leng Lingxi’s face gradually darkens to a thunderhead. “You want to die? Then I’ll help
It has been ages since Leng Lingxi had been this furious. She had to admit, the man before her had expertly stoked her rage!
An icy chill suddenly filled the air, and the border of Leng Lingxi’s eyes instantly became white. Her right hand groped toward the man, five fingers extended, and five streams of white air burst forth to surround him. A close examination of the white blasts would reveal their icy constitution. Instantly, the temperature of the First-Class cabins dropped more than ten degrees.
Frozen in ice! A crystal prison!
Power is the root of confidence, and Leng Lingxi was nothing if not confident. She questioned herself, but knew that even a large elephant she could freeze almost instantly. She detested this stupid fellow, and decided to teach him a lesson he’d remember for the rest of his life.
Looking on, Leng Lingxi saw that hateful smile soon to be frozen in ice, and at once ceased. Now there was no evasion, no defense – there was no way for him to run! Nor was it permitted to carry any weapons on to a space shuttle.
She was clearly pleased with herself, but in the midst of her gloating suddenly her beautiful brown eyes shot open, their depths full of disbelief. Because that man, the one who had called himself Zeus, suddenly broke in to pieces.
In the instant before the Ice Disciplines’ power fell over him, the man’s body unexpectedly fractured in to countless bolts of bluish-purple lightening that forked through the ice prison, and swept over Leng Lingxi’s body.
How could this be? No!
As she grew conscious of her mistake, Leng Lingxi lost control of her body and began to shake violently before she gently collapsed. A slender, strong hand fell upon her shoulder, arcs of lightning racing along it’s length.
The young man, recently smashed to fragments, stood behind her in perfect condition, allowing Leng Lingxi to rest gently in his arms.
Leng Lingxi’s eyes popped open, feeling as though her brain had crashed like a computer system. I lost? I actually lost this quickly? Even so badly that I don’t know how he did it.
No, it can’t be!
An adept in the Ice Discipline, a Level 6 Genetic Talent. Escort for the Luo Heavenly Auction House of the Northern Alliance. Me, the most talented Chief-Ranked Mecha-Pilot in the Northern Alliance. And yet.. and yet I lost like this?
At three, the Ice Discipline awakened within me, and I was evaluated as a Level 6 Genetic Talent, a genius among geniuses. I piloted my first mech by eight, and by twelve enrolled in the Institute of Mecha-Aeronautics despite their regulations. At fifteen, became the sixteenth youngest Rank Three Mecha-Pilot on Planet Luo, Rank Two at seventeen, and Rank One at eighteen. At nineteen, a Special Grade. Now I, twenty-one, Chief First-Class Mecha-Pilot.
How could I have lost?
In her heart Leng Lingxi screamed, but outwardly she could not say a word. From behind, a slight hint of top-grade Giorgio Armani Triple Crown eau de toilette filled her nostrils, not thick, containing West African incense and Somalian frankincence to leave quite an impression.
“You’re so young, so delicate.” The young man’s voice reverberated in her ears, and at the same moment his slender fingers find their way to the slipper of her track suit.
Gently he began to pull the zipper down, the chill air eliciting an involuntary shiver from Leng Lingxi.
Within the track suit, aside from an sapphire-bordered brassiere, was also…
“I have no intention to offend you, only… you’ve hidden something in your cleavage. I can only say I’m sorry.” The young man’s voice whispered in her ears, no different from that of a demon.
Those slender fingers pulled forth a silver necklace, inevitably brushing against her white unblemished skin which blushes in response, blossoming like a peony flower.
It was the first time in her twenty-one years a man other than those of her family had lain a finger on her, it was…
The silver chain bore a pale golden pendant of exquisite craftsmanship, and in it’s center a chestnut-shaped transparent gemstone.
Supporting her body, the young man placed Leng Lingxi back in her seat, and considerately fastened her seatbelt. His finger remained on the pendant, gently stroking the gemstone.
The atmosphere began to distort slightly, and a small wormhole no greater than a foot in diameter opened in the air before them. Inter-dimensional technology!
Leng Lingxi struggled desperately, yet her body still would not comply to the demands of her mind.
Extending his hand searchingly in to the hole, the young man
produced a small box from it’s depths.
The box was not large, composed of black ferrous metal, three coded locks on it’s surface. The electronic locks were among the most precise, requiring input of three thirty two character passwords within one minute to open. One mistake, and you’d have to input them all again. Three mistakes, the destruction mechanism would activate.
The young man once again held the pendant between his fingers, the portal behind him closing, and with it the pale light emanating from the pendant ceased. He moved closer to Leng Lingxi’s face, replacing the necklace upon her neck, going to far as to replaced the pendant upon her cleavage. He moved to zip up her track suit.
Ferociously did Leng Lingxi glare at him, anxious to destroy the man so near.
“Don’t think you’ll get my password,” Leng Lingxi frigidly spat. Saying this, she realized suddenly her capacity for speech had returned.
The man shrugged his shoulders. “You understand nothing, of
course I won’t get it from you.”
“How do you know?” Leng Lingxi nearly blurted out.
“Bastard!” Leng Lingxi, in her twenty-one years, had never hated this word so much!
The young man was not angry, and looked upon her with eyes filled with pity and regret. “I’m sorry our encounter had to be this way. You’re a girl of quality, a girl of vision. Goodbye.”
Chapter 9: The Four Divine Monarchs
The room was exquisitely decorated, a hundred square meters, and yet uncomplicated and luxurious.
Decorations lined the walls, fine examples of old French décor, sporting hand-polished copper wall sconces plated in gold which bathed the lavish quarters in light. The large pendant lamp hanging from the ceiling was itself copper and plated gold, but with the addition of gold inlay, enamel and more. Above it’s oval make burned over a hundred candles, their stems veined with pale gold coiled dragons, and each topped with a gentle flame.
In the middle of the chamber was a long table, capable of accommodating twenty people. The head and foot of the table were curved, becoming straight as they drew towards the ends and extending.
The table top sported a simple decorative pattern, bestowing a vivid and lively sensation. Under closer inspection, the pattern didn’t appear burned into the wood, but rather raised. In fact it was composed of various splinters of bark, of many different colors, polished and joined flawlessly into the surface to create the beautiful and classical pattern.
The twenty chairs on either side of the table were made of a single piece of wood, the backs of each deliberately carved into arches to completely conform with the human figure. Even after sitting for lengthy periods, one would not feel exhausted or uncomfortable. The hollowed-out decorations of the chair were carved into the likeness of two standing eagles, their eyes and feathers detailed perfectly, and like the tabletop composed of polished bark fragments fused together.
The table came from the Francesco ‘Black Dragon’ line. In the previous era, the brand was Italian, and produced a myriad of furniture exclusively for European royalty.
At present, many of the chairs lining the table were occupied. At it’s head sat an elderly gentleman in his sixties, with sleek and meticulously kept long silver hair. His black formal attire delineated him as nobility.
The atmosphere of the room was oppressive, no one spoke, with only the faint sound of breathing in the air. Upon the table sat seven cups of water, untouched.
Bang, bang! resonated from the door of the chamber.
“Enter,” the old man’s deep voice responded.
The door opened and a scholarly middle-aged man entered, clad in a white Armani suit, a rim of gold around his eyes. He moved quickly to the elderly gentleman’s side, and placed a piece of paper before him on the table.
“Did you find out?”
The scholar nodded his head slightly. “Yes, President Luo.”
“Tell them.” The old man waved his hand for him to proceed.
The middle-aged man stood beside the elderly gentleman, sweeping his eyes over those gathered at the table. Ultimately his gaze landed on a beautiful, pale face, with pity in his eyes.
“Greetings ladies and gentlemen. I am Guo Xin, Head of the Heavenly Auction House Intelligence Bureau. In regards to the theft of the Cipher Box, we’ve completed our preliminary investigation.”
Upon hearing this sentence, the previously inattentive Leng Lingxi suddenly bolted to her feet. Grinding her teeth she growled “Who? Who was it?”
Guo Xin looked sympathetically upon Leng Lingxi, her first important mission and she was robbed. He understood well this special young woman’s feelings.
“Please be patient, Miss Leng.”
Director Luo raised a hand towards Leng Lingxi, indicating she sit. The young woman took several deep breathes before returning to her seat.
Gui Xin continued. “From our analysis of the scene, the Number T-25 Space Shuttle ferrying Miss Leng Lingxi and her twenty-two person convoy suffered no damage, but for a temporary malfunction in it’s internal controls. Thanks to meticulous attention to detail and a faint trail, we were able to issue a preliminary report.”
“The culprit likely approached the shuttle mid-flight via Mecha, drawing near under cover as the ship decelerated for atmospheric entry. Then, through some unknown means, he
simulated an interplanetary magnetic current which permitted him to enter the shuttle’s hull without a trace. The Mecha itself was attached to the shuttle’s frame.”
“Our suspect then entered the ship, moving directly to First- Class. His sense of timing must have been exemplary, as he arrived just as the First-Class passengers were being revived from Deep Sleep. Employing electric current, he managed to incapacitate everyone with the exception of Miss Leng. He then proceeded to paralyze Miss Leng, and abscond with the Cipher Box.”
“In the process of the robbery he engaged in combat with Miss Leng Lingxi. None of the other passengers were hurt in the process. At present the only thing we aren’t sure of is how he managed to pass through the shuttle’s hull, enter the ship and leave without haste.”
Director Luo tapped the tabletop with a finger, interrupting Guo Xin’s report.
“You’re conclusion. I want to hear your deduction.”
Guo Xin paused, his previously impassive expression
becoming more serious. “At present, our conclusion is that what the culprit told Miss Leng Lingxi was no falsehood – he truly is Zeus. Zeus, of the Divine Monarchs.”
The previous silence of the chamber became a cacophony, with shock clearly written on nearly everyone’s face.
“Impossible, it’s impossible! That bastard… how could that bastard possibly be Zeus?” Leng Lingxi sprung up once more, like a cat who’d had their tail stomped on. “How could Zeus have done such a despicable thing, robbing like a common Space Pirate! Inconceivable, my Zeus would never do such a thing!”
Her voice was nearly hysterical, drawing everyone’s eyes to her.
“Your Zeus?” Director Luo looked at her quizzically.
Leng Lingxi’s face grew red. “Zeus is my idol. How could he know…” It was then it seemed, before her very eyes, that detestable laughing face appeared.
Guo Xin interjected. “Zeus’ sphere of control is Electricity. If
someone wanted to covertly enter a shuttle to commit a crime, and overpower you, I’m afraid it could only be accomplished by someone of his Level.”
The expression in Leng Lingxi’s eyes was lifeless. She suddenly remembered the young man’s words as he departed.
“You’re a girl of quality, a girl of vision.”
Sure… Surely it couldn’t be true? But… but he kept saying I was an idiot! The scoundrel!
“Silence!” Director Luo’s commanding voice brought stillness once more to the chamber. “With the loss of the Cipher Box, my Heavenly Auction House has suffered greatly. The envoy responsible, Leng Lingxi, is demoted to Rank Two. Cancel all protection missions, and suspend all escorts for three months. As to the identity of the culprit, I will proceed with verification. Dismissed!”
Director Luo was the first to leave, followed by Guo Xin. The others followed afterward.
Leng Lingxi sat, unmoving.
Her left index finger gently rapped the tabletop, and in her heart she thought, He is Zeus!
Her right index finger gently rapped the tabletop, and in her heart she thought, He is NOT Zeus!
Over, and over, and over.
Chapter 10: Red-Haired Chu Cheng
Planet Luo, Astro-Continental Hotel, Executive Suite, Balcony
Lan Jue quietly leaned against the balcony balustrade, peering into the distance. As a platinum member of the hotel, he could enjoy the executive treatment from any Atro-Continental while only paying a pittance.
Held between the thumb, middle and index finger of his right hand was a Former Era Cuban cigar from the El Laguito factory. A 6.5 inch, 56 ring gauge Cohiba cañonazo extra, also referred to as a 1966 Edición Limitada, a rare and precious limited edition. While red wine required different spaces and techniques to properly store, this cigar needed only a humidifier to last for a few hundred years, with a pronounced smell like nanmu. In reality it’s date of production wasn’t 1966, but was in fact 2012 of the Former Era. As to why it was called 1966, no one knew for certain. One flawless, limited edition 1966 was worth one-third a bottle of Romanée-Conti, King of Wines.
Lan Jue had never known poverty, but this sort of precious, rare commodity he rarely deigned to partake in. But today, the end of this 1966 Edición Limitada glowed intermittently with fire. A deep inhalation, the smoke never passing the throat, remaining in the mouth to roll from the tip of the tongue to the
root, savoring, then gradually exhaling.
The intense flavor of coffee beans and the marvelous, burning taste in his mouth was mesmerizing. The entire cigar was covered in cream flavor, and the taste of leather, but once smoked for a time became full of the sweet taste of milk chocolate. It was irresistible. A moment of intense satisfaction filled his heart.
Though the high-grade cigar would mean abstaining from wine for at least a week, to immerse himself in the taste of the 1966 Lan Jue was as ever powerless to resist.
“So fragrant, so fragrant, only… ‘tis better to enjoy together than partake alone, Third Brother. Surely you don’t plan to keep it all to yourself?” a languid voice wafted forth. Suddenly there was another beside Lan Jue, bent over the balustrade and peering with him out over the distance.
For those unfamiliar, oriental families take considerable stock in seniority, with the elder siblings often bearing the brunt of responsibility. Thus, Third Brother Jue is third of his familiar, and Second Brother Cheng must sadly deal with more of the headaches of familial strife.
The man appeared comparable in age to Lan Jue, with medium-length red hair that hung freely to his shoulders, and pink eyes that made him look like some evil spirit. The corners of his mouth were turned in a impish grin. He wasn’t as handsome as Lan Jue, but his features weren’t without their own charm. Black shirt, black jeans, black shoes; it was as if he intended to blend in with the night, only his red hair bobbing like a flame through the darkness.
“If you really want me to call you by this method also, keep calling me Third Brother.” Lan Jue didn’t look at his companion, his voice faint.
The grin upon the red haired man’s face suddenly slipped away. “Why would I possibly want to be a few months older than you? Why would I want to be second? Fine, A-Jue, I wont call you Third Brother!”
A-Jue is an affectionate term for a brother or companion, used as one might call their brother Stewart ‘Stewey.’ It’s deceptively difficult to find a cutesie way to say A-Jue.
At last Lan Jue turned to face the red haired young man, who was of similar height to him. “A-Cheng, I apologize.”
The red haired man shook his finger in admonishment. “You meant to let your feelings slip, just as you meant to stay on Planet Luo to wait for me. You aren’t sorry. If you wanted to conceal your feelings no one would be able to guess them. I’m just curious… You’ve lived in seclusion for three years, what price inspired this legend of the mercenary world to come out of retirement?
Lan Jue took another drag of his cigar, then gently exhaled the plume of smoke. He then said the four words on that piece of paper that inspired him to leave Planet Skyfire. “Hera is not dead.”
The red-haired man’s body shook visibly, and he unconsciously stood a little straighter. “Really?”
Lan Jue nodded his head. “This price that drew me out, is her whereabouts.”
The red-haired man took in a breath, raising a hand to pat Lan Jue’s shoulder. “Right. Your older brother will help.”
Lan Jue looked up at him and smiled, warmth in his eyes. “How bad was the loss?”
Casually the man responded, “My family only holds a thirty percent stake in the Heavenly Auction House.” As he said this, the man snatched the 1966 from Lan Jue’s grip, placing it in the corner of his mouth. “And this is mine. When you do wrong, there’s always a price!”
Lan Jue’s face twitched. “I only brought the one.”
“Nonsense.” The red-haired man reverently puffed the cigar.
Lan Jue lifted a hand to his forehead. “Chu Cheng, ya nothing short of a bandit!”
Chu Cheng’s eyes grew large. “Ya JUST stole from my family, and you call me a bandit? Aren’t ya a noble? What kind of noble says ‘ya’?
Lan Jue puffed out his chest. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“Hera’s there, do you need my help?” Chu Cheng said.
Lan Jue shook his head.
Chu Cheng let loose a peel of laughter. “Yeah, if you couldn’t manage, neither could I.”
“Joining me tonight?” Lan Jue shot him a glance.
“Alright.” Chu Cheng took another drag from the 1966, nodding emphatically.
Lan Jue returned to the room, while Chu Cheng leaned against the balustrade once more, the smile on his face never wavering.
After a short while Lan Jue returned, bearing a bottle of brandy and two glasses. He stood beside Chu Cheng, placing the glasses on the ledge between them before pouring. At once a heady, fragrant aroma wafted forth.
Chu Cheng’s eyes shone. “A-Jue, luckily you still remember your older brother’s fond of spirits, brandy especially. This bottle of Hennessy XO isn’t the highest caliber, but it’ll still go down well.”
Lan Jue offered a small smile. “Aren’t you always on about the
disadvantages of being older? How are you going to drink this in one gulp. Do you think this is the Former Era? Finding an XO bottle of brandy is already very difficult. The X means ‘exceptionally’, and the O means ‘old’. Exceptionally old brandy is already quite rare.
As he spoke, he poured approximately thirty milliliters in to each glass.
“Bring some ice cubes!” Chu Cheng said, lifting his glass.
Lan Jue shot his brother a disdainful glance. “We of the nobility always appreciate brandy a little warm.”
“Brandy can be heated?” Chu Cheng said with astonishment.
Lan Jue indicated the glass before him, saying nothing.
Chu Cheng flicked his left wrist, and two small flames appeared beneath the brandy glasses. After a moment, Lan Jue extinguished the flames with a flourish.
Lifting the glass in his fingers, Lan Jue lightly sniffed the contents, the full-bodied mixture of grapes and alcohol filling his nostrils. Taking a sip, the aromatic grapes and warm current slipped past his throat. Indeed you couldn’t enjoy wine after a fine cigar, but pairing it with brandy was beyond compare.
“Not bad at all!” Chu Cheng praised the brandy while taking a drink.
Chu Cheng continued. “A-Jue, you know… When I’d learned a person named Zeus had stolen from the Heavenly Auction House, my first reaction was joy. But seeing you here now, makes me even happier. My brother’s back.”
Lan Jue drained his glass in one gulp. “I’m sorry I worried everyone.”
Chu Cheng looked shocked. “Oh I was fine. But Elder Brother… you haven’t kept in touch with him at all? Surely you don’t still blame him? You must know he realizes what you did.”
Lan Jue trembled, and shook his head. “Drink.”
“Right, drink! Tonight I’m here with you, let’s get wasted!”
Chu Cheng had left, leaving only a slip of paper.
“I know you have the ability to open the Cipher Box, but why go through the trouble of doing it yourself? Find Hera, tell me the good news. Bring her back to drink with me.”
Under the sentence was a three-line password.