Chapter 11: The Cloudless Storm
Planet Skyfire, Skyfire City, Skyfire Avenue, Zeus’ Jewelry Store
Lan Jue sat upon the sofa, quietly looking at the black metal box in front of him. Beside it sat the slip of paper containing the passwords Chu Cheng had given him.
Three years ago Lan Jue, in his arrogance, would never have thought to open the box. He’d have presented it to his employer without question.
Then again if this were three years ago, he also would have absolutely refused the assignment, since the owner and his brother had a relationship.
Now he had to see what the box contained. He had to know what he owed his brother for.
Placing a hand atop the box a beam of light emerged, it’s rays creating the image of a keyboard hanging in the air. In the same instant, a sixty-second countdown began.
Lan Jue did not input the password during his first attempt. It was as though he was unaware the three-line code was needed within that minute.
Watching the red holographic keyboard, his eyes betrayed deep consideration.
A minute passed quickly, and it seemed almost immediately the final ten seconds were ticking down.
Lan Jue stirred, his fingers stretching forth. They weren’t thick, and his hands were smooth and fairer than most women, but also somewhat larger.
Ten fingers began to flutter, as though they were caressing the skin a lover. The naked eye was incapable of discerning where his fingertips pressed. The three-line code, completed in a single action, appeared upon the Cipher Box’s small screen.
An electronic ringing arose, the holographic keyboard dispersed, and two sides of the metal box drew out. They opened quickly, retreating layer by layer as the interior rose to reveal the goods within.
On Skyfire Avenue, Lan Jue was known as the Jewel Master – he was no stranger to the exquisite and masterful. But when he spied the contents of the box, the corners of his mouth couldn’t help but twitch ever so slightly. Muttering aloud, he said “A- Cheng, how will I ever be able to repay this favor?”
Within the box a pale gold piece of metal rested. It was twenty centimeters long, fifteen centimeters wide, and ten centimeters thick. Though the object was made of gold, it emitted a pale blue halo.
The average onlooker might think it pretty, but Lan Jue knew precisely what it was. No wonder it was protected by password and convoy. No wonder they hired a Chief-Ranked Mecha-Pilot and Sixth Level Adept. What they carried…
Technetium is the byproduct of uranium fission from nuclear
reactors. It is a metal that does not exist in nature, and can also be created by heating ammonium pertechnetate (Tc2S7) and ammonium sulfate in hydrogen gas at 500 to 600 degrees Celsius, then using electrolysis in a sulfuric acid solution to extract the metal. It melts at 2170℃, boils at 4877℃, and has a density of 11.5 g/cm3. It’s characteristics are similar to ruthenium, found in the same chemical family. At high temperatures technetium oxidizes to form Technetium Heptoxide (Tc2O7). It has a half-life of 2.13 X 10 years. It can be used a standard beta-emitter. A small amount (around 5 X 10 mol) in technetium ammonium sulfate used in steel plating can greatly reduce corrosion. Technetium, along with the molybdenum alloys, are also superconductive materials. It can only be produced in small quantities, with prices exceeding 2,800 New Era Dollars per gram.
In addition, refined Technetium is created when the metal undergoes intergalactic compression. One kilo of crude Technetium can produce between ten to twenty grams of it’s refined state.
Refined Technetium can be integrated in to any alloy, infusing it with two unique characteristics; self-repair, and energy amplification.
Through the special properties emitted by Technetium, or
perhaps some capacity of it’s morphology, it is capable of producing and amplifying a superconductive state, increasing available energies by a factor of three to five. The purer the refined Technetium, the more excessive it’s compression process, the greater it’s resulting power and amplification. In addition, a single gram of refined Technetium can endow ten kilos of metal with the capability of self-repair. Once melted and cast, only very specific types of destructive force could render it powerless – but it would never lose it’s shape. The lump of refined Technetium certainly didn’t look heavy, but in reality weighed more than twenty kilos.
In short, applying this element to the body of a Mech, would render it capable of repairing itself while simultaneously increasing it’s survivability and power exponentially.
Lan Jue couldn’t guess at the worth of the refined element. On the black market, one gram would fetch ten thousand New Era Dollars. But there was no market for it. The Three Alliances of the New Era together only produced less than a hundred kilos a year. And so, that piece of metal before him was the equivalent of two fifth’s a year’s output.
In general, refined Technetium was rarely used on Mechs. Due to their massive bulk there wasn’t ever sufficient quantities of refined Technetium to produce the desired effects. As a result
it saw most of it’s use in personal combat weaponry and equipment.
It was no surprise they wanted to sell it, a piece this large was a asking for trouble.
This piece of refined Technetium should certainly be given to A-Cheng. On all of Planet Luo, he’s the only one qualified to use it.
He closed the box, and the precious metal once more disappeared in to it’s interior. Lan Jue’s eyes were awash in emotion, but his features quickly returned to a flat stoicism.
Lang Jue motioned with his left hand, and a screen lit up adjacent to the sofa revealing a four dimensional menu. Thin and agile fingers moved with deft speed to enter a string of numbers. The image on the screen began to shift.
Pearl appeared upon the screen, smiling as she looked at Lan Jue.
“If Zeus does it, it will be extraordinarily done.” Pearl’s tone
was pleasant, but looking at her through the screen Lan Jue saw only her frigid expression.
“Tell me where Hera is.”
“The item?” Pearl’s eyes fell upon the box placed before Lan Jue.
Lan Jue responded. “Tell me a place, and I’ll have it sent by Interstellar Courier. Once I’ve confirmed your information on Hera I’ll give you the password.”
“Fine,” she responded without hesitation.
“Where is Hera?” Lan Jue’s eyes shone, arcs of blue lightning coiling in their depths. His impatience was clear today, a state he hadn’t experienced for a long while. A state he couldn’t control.
Skyfire Avenue was rich in shops, but even at the height of it’s nightlife there wouldn’t be many people. Occasionally a patron would saunter by, clad in finery, but none would break the relative peace of the street much less quarrel or do something
uncouth. If they did, they could lose their Skyfire Emblem at any moment.
Thrummm came the dull sound of thunder, and the avenue was suddenly illuminated by lightning. Not a cloud hung in the sky, yet lightning feel freely. The tumultuous roar of thunder filled the heavens.
It began with a single thunderbolt, but before long countless threads of lightning criss-crossed the sky, thunder surging. The sky was an undulating sea of electric blue, melting in to a forest of lightning which grew until the entirety of Skyfire City grew stark in the shadows of lightning.
A cloudless thunderstorm. Lightning from an undarkened sky!
Chapter 12: The Clairvoyant
It was a building of the late baroque period, it’s exterior displaying an array of elegant and distinctive arches, each one unique. The entire structure resembled a giant, open conch shell.
Following the line of the building’s crest, a sign hung. A sun, with the words COFFEE scrawled beside it.
The sun represents the day, so it was only natural that this very special structure full with the scent of eighteenth century French art, was called… Daybucks Coffee.
The interior was furnished with delicate-looking and attractive furniture which employed a curious asymmetrical technique. The theme was one which involved conch shells, hillstones, whirlpools and S-shaped arches. Rolling grass and unfurling flowers, lingering and intersecting, creating an organic whole. The ceiling and cambered walls join seamlessly, the rounded edges bearing a mural.
In order to imitate a natural style, the building was also constructed using mismatching materials which resulted in a multitude of inconsistencies. The walls were painted in vivid
shades of lime green, pink and rose red. The architraves are mostly painted gold. The interior paneling was made up of delicate wooden lattice, surrounded by lace with a light colored Oriental brocade at it’s heart.
There sat the Coffee Master, clad in a white shirt and brown overalls with a cup clutched in his hand. Tenderly he took a sip.
The sound of thunder rang out, and the coffee in the Master’s cup trembled, nearly spilling free. A shocked expression on his face, he hurried to the window and looked towards the skies.
“A cloudless thunderstorm, with lightning from an undarkened sky. What overwhelming ability! Is this his power? I had no idea he commanded a force such as this. I fear to know what he encountered to make him lose control in such a fashion.”
This was a room without any unnecessary furnishings, of a
size perhaps half that of what could be found in Zeus’ Jewelry Store. If it weren’t for the wooden door facing Skyfire Avenue, it was unlikely people would believe it was of a caliber to match the other shops along the street.
The shop wasn’t available for public use, instead intended for guests only. Within the room was a single long table of simple construction, square with four straight legs and a disconnected surface, and around it ten seats made of tree stumps.
Whether table or chairs, all shared the same texture, each carved out of a thousand year old preserved wood. If one were to look carefully at the grain, they would see either a multitude of strange faces, or a dense collection of spots akin to leopard skin. Thick, thin, ordered, messy, straight or crooked, all were present. Black lines were in the majority, but chocolate brown and red stripes were also visible. Scented Rosewood, from Previous Era Hai’nan.
The table top, however, was over five thousand years old. The Wine Master once said he would be willing to trade everything he owned – with the exception of what was in his Wine Vault – for that table, but the offer was refused.
Beside the table, by the window, the Gourmet stood looking
up at the sky. The incessant bolts of light played across his craggy features. He chewed absently on a soda cracker, his eyes narrowing during a lull in the blasts.
The Old Gothic Winery.
The Wine Master also stood by the window, Eva dutifully standing at his side. He looked out over the sky, then looked across Skyfire Avenue towards the shop marked with a lightning bolt. He gently shook his head.
“Master, i-is that…” Eva asked in a timid voice.
He lifted his hand, cutting her off. A dull silver light shone, and all sense of foreboding melted away. Eva, too, no longer felt anything strange, walking towards the window and thoughtfully looking towards Zeus’ Jewelry Shop.
A streak of lightning raced across the sky over Skyfire Avenue, and the skyscrapers around Skyfire Avenue reflected a dull golden light.
A palatial building in the baroque style loomed, it’s exterior bathed in gold leaf. Schematically it was shaped like an olive, with an emphasis on it’s decorative domed ceiling. It’s façade exhibited a separated pediment, the entablature curved, and the walls alternatively concave and convex. It’s adornments were ample, lending to an intense shadowy effect. It was the largest building on Skyfire Avenue.
The building bore no sign, but anyone with a Skyfire Emblem knew it to be Skyfire Museum. Inside was housed many treasures, available to view for a fee to anyone with an Emblem. However, it was only open to visitors from sunrise to sunset.
Within, an old man quietly stood. He was tall with rugged features, his true age difficult to discern. His eyes were blue, deep, and clear as though capable of reflecting the universe itself.
He was clad in a magnificent robe of white silk. It was covered in silver embroidery, threaded with precious gems. On his head was worn a peaked cap, and his right hand bore a large ruby ring.
A silvery light crept over him, and suddenly another stood beside the old man; the Wine Master in noble regalia.
“You’re nervous,” the old man said with a smile, his eyes never straying from the window.
The Wine Master nodded his head slightly. “I’m afraid he’ll change everything. Three years ago when he arrived, he almost immediately became one of us. He certainly displayed enough taste and ability. In these three years he’s blended well, but his power… it’s… “
Calmly the old man interceded. “Too strong, yes?”
The Wine Master silently nodded.
The old man turned to face the Wine Master, his sky blue eyes bright and sagely. “He is one of us. When we sanctioned his appointment to the Skyfire Council, he became an inseparable part of us. Regardless of what hardships he faces, we are his family.”
“Can you see his future,” the Wine Master asked.
The old man shook his head. “No. But I can sense the Thunderbolt’s integrity.”
The Wine Master continued, “With his disposition, so clearly infuriated, I’m afraid we might encounter some problems. Should we help him?”
The old man chuckled. “There’s no need. If he were originally someone who habitually brought trouble upon others, we would not have taken him in. Let nature take it’s course.”
Finally, a smile crept upon the Wine Master’s face. “Being a little bit of a troublemaker isn’t such a bad thing, I suppose. At least now he won’t come and drink all of my cherished possessions.”
The old man laughed. “Next time call on me. Although I can’t drink much, the taste reminds me of those olden days. Unfortunately I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to help you find where another bottle is kept.”
A light shone in the Wine Master’s eyes, but soon he asked with helpless tones, “Is it truly alright to use divination to find wine, Master Clairvoyant?”
With a small smile, the Clairvoyant looked at him. “How could it not?”
Chapter 13: The Beautiful Bride
Tianshan Mountain, situated fifty kilometers outside of Skyfire City, the highest peak of Western Skyfire.
The territory of Skyfire was situated by class and affluence. To the East lived the rich, with the noble class situated on the West. The poor lay to the South, and the ghettoes to the North. As a result the inhabitants of the Western section were Skyfire City’s – and in fact all of Planet Skyfire’s – political elite.
Tianshan Mountain was said to be the ‘highest’ peak of the West, but in reality it rose no higher than eight hundred meters. The reason for it’s fame was the more than sixty ridgepole villas dotting it’s surface, the abodes of Skyfire’s most illustrious elite. Here, the higher you lived, the higher your status.
From base to peak there was only one road, it’s other face a sheer cliff. Today appeared to be a special day, for the entire length of the twenty-meter wide street had been made pink.
The color was due to the fact that the entire stretch of road had been covered in butterfly orchid petals several inches thick. Stretching for hundreds of meters, the fragrance was intoxicating.
The trees lining the road had been decorated with… wedding dresses. Yes, wedding dresses, not white gauze. Each tree had been fitted with a custom-made dress, white as the driven snow, and wonderfully elegant with luxurious white pearls. They were meant to symbolize flawlessness.
The area three kilometers around the mountain had already been cordoned off. Clearly it wasn’t wealth alone that could achieve this, but significant political clout.
Thousands of robo-cleaners had already swept the area the night before, so that not a single mote of dirt sullied the premises.
Some ten-odd Climate-Control aircraft flew overhead dispersing clouds, making the skies as transparent as a sapphire so that the rising sun could shine it’s brilliance upon the mountain top.
On the other side of the cordon line a scattered number of people had begun to gather. Half peered toward the mountain, the other half whispered amongst themselves.
“Has it started yet? This wedding has been hailed as the
grandest cross-alliance wedding. It’s as massive as expected! Look up there, Climate-Control ships dispersing clouds and all!
“Yeah! It’s an important day, and I heard that later there will be a joint military parade, with mechs from both our militaries. They’re going to hold the wedding here first, then have another in the Western Alliance.”
“Ugh… lucky westerner. I heard the wedding is between the Chief of the Eastern Alliance’s daughter and the Western Prime Minister’s son. That’s why it’s such a grand wedding.”
“How could this be at all regrettable? A political union through marriage, nothing more than posturing. No one’s even seen what the Chief’s daughter is like, they just don’t know. I might even look better!”
“Hmph! The Chief’s daughter might be a mystery, but the Western Prime Minister’s son is always on the Interstellar Network channel. A young hero of his generation. For a political unification there can’t be too big a disparity between the image of either party.”
“Enough, don’t bother looking for me tonight!”
Unbelievably, on the peak of the mountain nearing the misty skies, rose a palatial structure of layered architecture. It’s style was a mixture of East and West, not at all lofty. It was white, in conjunction with the dominant hue of the day, and threads of splendid alabaster muslin were visible everywhere as though the building itself were clad in a wedding gown.
The building took up an area of seven hectares, it’s interior facilities absolutely extravagant. An outdoor pool rippled with faint blue water, it’s end tumbling in to a waterfall which flowed ceaselessly in to the palace’s lower level. Within the giant pool swam one hundred and eight silver arowana.
On the lawn adjacent to the pool, among an array of pure white flowers, milled guests who’d already arrived. A procession of high-end luxury verti-cars docked on the nearby helipad, and a queue of people in formal attire made their way inside the building. Among them were no lack of recognizable faces. Politicians, celebrities, business moguls…
Finely attired attendants shuffled between the guests bearing beverages, alcoholic drinks and delicacies.
In accordance with the traditions of the Eastern Alliance, the wedding must be held in the morning. As one of this century’s greatest weddings, it would also be held in the morning without exception.
Within the palace, two stylists nervously worked in an extravagant room. Two maids stood beside to assist them.
In the middle of all of them sat a woman.
The female stylist busied herself with placing make-up on the woman’s delicate features, while the man stood behind her. He held her jet-black shimmering hair in his hands, and thought deeply.
“Hehn…” The man held a Pink Finger’s Orchid between his fingers, speaking effeminately. “Sweety, you’re being impossible! If you wont let me put your hair in a bun, what am I supposed to do with it? With hair this long a bride absolutely needs a bun.”
The young woman shook her head. “No, no bun. If you can’t figure it out, then don’t. Let it hang naturally.”
“This…” the man began bitterly. “If you’re gunna be like this I simply can’t talk to you. How can you suddenly reject the bun? Today is your big day!”
The female stylist hummed. “What’s so strange about it. Miss Qianlin was born so beautiful, the most gorgeous I’ve encountered. Not an ounce of styling and you’d still be stunning.”
The man grumbled in agitation. “Hey! What are you talking about, a good stylist can make the beautiful sublime. Fine, fine.. let me think of something. The dual coiling dragon technique will work.”
The young girl smiled, like a hundred blooming flowers. “Thanks!”
Half an hour later.
The female stylist carefully placed the diamond-studded tiara atop the young woman’s hair, then clapping her hands together
said, “There! Sweety, you are absolutely the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen. Stand up and take a look.”
The young woman stood slowly, her hair already woven up, the two sides coiled layer on layer to hang down her back. An array of colorful gemstones twinkled in their midst.
The most important aspect of the dual coiling dragon style was to make the hair beautiful while leaving it’s length unchanged.
The lily-white dress shone like the Milky Way, twinkling with resplendent light, each diamond on it custom fit by Van Cleef & Arpels. Each diamond was flawless, larger than a karat each. The dress bore one thousand and one of them. The largest was set in the center of the chest, and cut in to the shape of a heart. The fifty-karat diamond was surrounded by a circle of small pigeon’s blood rubies.
Standing, her body tall and lithe, her wedding dress fitting to her like a glove, there was no flaw or blemish. The arc of her voluptuous chest swept downward, her waistline slender, the ridge of her backside enticing. Moving further down, her dress narrowed until she looked like a mermaid, her tail moving delicately.
The dress had no crinoline, instead setting off her flawless figure, flowing down past her lower legs to spread out in a bloom of white muslin.
The diadem upon her head was made of platinum, inset with diamonds and sapphires. If it were just like this, it wouldn’t be sufficiently grand for the occasion, but looking closer it was revealed that each exceedingly hard diamond and sapphire had been carved in to flowers using a special technique.
Peering upon herself in the mirror, Qianlin’s beautiful blue eyes began to mist. Her brow furrowed, bearing an echo of worry in her expression.
Her delicate lips parted. “Am I beautiful?”
Chapter 14: New Bridegroom Richard
The gardens of the magnificent building were swarmed with people, especially around the outdoor swimming pool. The immaculately dressed patrons were sampling the fine wines and beverages, while likewise engaging each other in conversation.
In these sorts of situations no one would dare speak loudly. It was essential to maintain one’s demeanor.
As the people milled, an enormous gemstone-blue verti-car appeared in the distance, cresting the mountain.
The airship was easily ten times the size of the average verti- cars docked nearby, comparable in size to a small airship. As it neared the peak of the mountain it began to descend. A reserved section of the parking area had been set aside.
“He’s coming,” people whispered.
As the vehicle drew nearer, the dual patterns on it’s sides became visible; two hearts conjoined, one red and one blue. The red heart represented the Eastern Alliance, while the blue naturally signified it’s Western Alliance counterpart. This
wedding would have major significance for both.
A man in his forties, his posture tall and straight, pushed through the crowds with an entourage of ten-odd people.
He stood straight in a fine suit, with short hair and a steadfast expression on his handsome features. He was a staple on all of the Eastern Alliance’s major television networks. Chief Minister Zhou Xue, the youngest Chief in the history of the Eastern Alliance, first among the Alliance’s luminaries.
And today he was the penultimate host. The magnificent estate in which this wedding was held was, in fact, his official residence.
To be more accurate, this residence was the home of all Eastern Alliance chief ministers.
Minister Zhou Xue walked to the distant verti-car, pausing about thirty meters shy. A small smile graced his features as he watched the vehicle’s door slowly open.
Average verti-cars had only one door, but this luxurious and
enormous vehicle had two. When the doors opened two bodyguards appeared from within, clad in black suits and sunglasses. They took up positions near the door, one left and one right, framing the entrance as a very tall man with grey hair emerged.
He was exceptionally tall, exceeding two meters, and though his hair was grey it was meticulously styled with pomade. He stepped from the car with a smile on his face, but he clearly bore himself with an air of importance.
A young man exited next. He wore a Steven Rich suit, goshawk pattern black crocodile leather shoes, and a black bow tie. His head was covered in fine blonde hair, styled to be aesthetically pleasing. He was a little thin, with two bright piercing blue eyes. He too was tall, very similar to the old man before him.
Seeing the two men, Minister Zhou Xue strode forward to greet them. The elderly gentleman similarly rushed to meet his host.
The two men met with open arms for a large embrace.
“Austin, we meet again. I see you’re as statuesque as ever,” Minister Zhou Xue said with a chuckle.
“Zhou, you haven’t changed a bit. You cheated me the last time!” The elder gentleman grumbled.
The Chief laughed. “This is an auspicious day for our children! Let’s not discuss business. We’ll talk later. From today, we’re one family, how could I cheat you? From now on how about I just call you Sylva, eh?”
Sylva Austin was head of the Austin family, and Prime Minister of the Western Alliance. The Austin family was the single most prominent family of the Western Alliance.
“Of course,” Austin chortled. He turned his head to look at the young man behind him. “Richard, come and greet your father in law.”
Chief Zhou smiled. “There’s no need for formalities. You’ve had a long and tiresome journey. Come in and rest, everything’s already set for the ceremony. We’ll wait a little while before we start, yes?”
“Indeed. It’s almost that time, you’ve gone through a lot of trouble yourself Zhou,” Austin replied.
From within the sapphire verti-car an entourage of more than ten individuals exited, silent as mice, moving with practiced instinct to surround the man and his son.
Sylva Austin found it difficult to relax. As Chief Zhou lead him through the crowds, the myriad officials and lauded guests lined up to greet them. He met each with poise and grace, returning their acknowledgements with flawless etiquette.
Richard Austin smiled courteously through the process, but concealed in his eyes was anticipation.
Originally, when he’d first laid eyes on Minister Zhou Xue’s daughter Zhou Qianlin, he mistook her for an angel. Though his father opposed, he was adamant in his affections for her. Zhou Qianlin herself never paid him any mind, until he spent a vast sum of money to conduct a romantic proposal. From then on she began to respond.
Both were descendents of prominent families, and it involved two powerful alliances. Sylva Austin and Minister Zhou Xue
discussed the matter seven times, eventually coming to an agreement both sides could accept, and the grand wedding was set.
Of the three great alliances, the Northern Alliances was clearly the strongest, followed by the West. The Eastern Alliance was considered the least dominant, but the difference between it and the Western Alliance was negligible. Both needed a powerful ally.
Faced with the prospect of embracing his beautiful bride, Richard could hardly contain his excitement. From the moment he’d begun pursuing Zhou Qianlin, their hands had never even touched! In this moment, his brain was filled with images of beautiful black hair, striking blue eyes and an angelic figure. In his heart, this wedding had absolutely nothing to do with the political implications.
Finally disentangling themselves from greeters and well- wishers, the Austins found their way in to the lounge. With little time before the start of the ceremony, Minister Zhou Xue left the two gentlemen to be with the bride’s family. He still had a few small things to prepare.
“Richard, I hope you understand the price I paid to help you
with this wedding,” Sylva Austin said with a sigh.
Respectfully, Richard responded. “Father, thank you for your help.”
Sylva shook his head. “There is no need for that sort of talk between father and son. If this woman is as Minister Zhou Xue has said, you mustn’t only marry her, you must thoroughly subdue her. Make her a part of the Austin family. The Eastern Alliance has grown swiftly these last few years, and Zhou Xue is a formidable man. Hopefully this marriage will benefit us in other ways.
Richard uttered not a sound. He was the groom, and in his heart, there was only his bride.
Chapter 15: I am ZEUS!
Melodious tones reverberated through the area. A round flower-covered archway gave way to a gallery, upon the floor a red carpet stretching fifty meters until it reached the ministerial residence.
On either side of the flowery arch were row upon row of chairs blanketed in white. Every one was occupied, the multitudes of party-goers each with their cameras ready to commemorate this grand occasion.
The Austin family was Christian, while Minister Zhou’s was atheist. As a result the wedding was designed to respect the Austin family belief. A priest already stood before the congregation, praying quietly with two others.
Richard Austin stood beside the priest, desperately trying to maintain an air of decorum. With the wedding about to commence, all he wanted was to see his new bride.
The Master of Ceremonies’ pleasant voice rang out, “Let the wedding begin!”
An almost musical hiss filled the gallery as ranks of mechas rose into the air from either side of Tianshan Mountain. On the left, the machines had been coated in red, whilst the right was in blue. Twenty-four mechas in all flew overhead.
They spiraled into the heavens, then each broke off to draw ranks on either side. The execution was perfectly uniform, and it was clear each mecha was operated by masterful Mecha- pilots.
The two sets of mechas gathered into heart formations, drawing closer to one another until they merged in to one.
At the same moment, a brilliant flash of golden light shone forth, piercing the two hearts like a golden arrow. In that split instant the two hearts both seemed to shimmer golden light, completing a wondrous pattern in the skies above.
“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests; We are gathered here today, before the eyes of God and men, to join Richard Austin and Zhou Qianlin in holy matrimony. Marriage is precious, a sacrament ordained by our Lord. In the Bible it is recorded that Jesus Christ attended a wedding at Cana in Galilee. It is also written: no matter the man, the holy bonds of marriage are of the highest importance. And so you must not act
in haste or neglect, but instead with reverence, with piety, and with faith adhere to the will of our Lord. Then will your marriage be true.” The priest’s voice hung gently in the air.
“Next, we request the bride make her entrance,” the Master of Ceremonies called.
To one side of the assembly a choir let their voices be heard, a group of thirty six young women between the ages of eight and twelve singing We Are One in the Bond of Love.
Minister Zhou Xue emerged, having changed in to a snow- white suit. Beside him, her face half hidden beneath a veil, Zhou Qianlin held on to his arm. The veil prevented anyone from seeing her fetching blue eyes. Her magnificent dress shone with a hundred thousand starbursts in the natural light.
The bride is the focus of any wedding, and this one was no exception. Zhou Qianlin, twinkling with light, was an unparalleled bride.
The Minister’s face wore a slight smile. Gently he patted her hand as they walked in tandem, peering down the red carpet to the priest and Richard waiting at the opposite end.
If it were possible, Richard would have rushed down the isle to meet them, taking his wife from Minister Zhou Xue on the spot. Each diamond on Zhou Qianlin’s dress reflected her beauty, and he was absolutely dazzled by her.
But he couldn’t, of course. He could desecrate this lovely wedding with his impatience. He was a representative of the Western Alliance. And so he could only wait.
Minister Zhou Xue moved steadily, each step the same as the one before, the expression of his face amiable and reserved.
Thus, with the choir singing beautifully, Minister Zhou delivered his daughter down the aisle. Richard made as though to step forward, but he immediately felt the hard gaze of his father.
Old Sylva was helpless. He was an intelligent man, and recognized the light of obsession in his son’s eyes. It appeared it wasn’t so easy to force the Minister to lose his daughter and riches.
Minister Zhou led his daughter towards the altar, pausing two meters before Richard.
“Richard, from this day forward I entrust my daughter to you.
I hope you will love her truly, look after her, and protect her.”
“Absolutely, I promise you.” Richard’s response was somewhat hurried. He felt as though his heart was going to burst from his chest.
As he looked on in anticipation, Minister Zhou finally relinquished Zhou Qianlin’s hand to him.
Quickly Richard advanced two steps, one hand behind his back and the other extended forward, employing the most traditional of Western noble etiquette.
Closer and closer the two hands drew. With baited breath the guests watched, each with their cameras and recorders poised to capture this wonderful moment.
Two hands joined!
Zhou Qianlin’s frail frame trembled visibly. Minister Zhou looked on dumbfounded. Richard, his face red, was likewise stupefied.
Zhou Qianlin’s diamond-studded, gossamer-clad hand did not embrace Richard’s.
It was a slender hand, fair-skinned and forceful.
None were able to tell where he had come from, and to all it seemed as though he simply appeared before their eyes, half a step beside Richard.
Gently did the man stroke the dual coiling dragons of black hair, tenderly saying, “Let’s go home.”
“W-who are you? Let go of her!” Richard howled, raising his hand to grab the intruder’s shoulder.
The man did not move, allowing himself to be grabbed. Serpentine tendrils of blue electricity burst to life, and Richard suddenly felt as though a high-voltage current had torn through him. His entire body was encased in dazzling arcs of electricity which raced over and out of him.
One of the man’s hands reached out to embrace Zhou Qianlin’s waist, lifting her up.
Now, shaken from their stupor, people began to take closer note of the man.
Tall and thin, his head wash covered in golden hair which hung freely to his ankles. He was clad in brilliant golden robes, with a collar concealing his neck and conforming to the contours of his face. A mask concealed his features below the eyes. But most notable, were those two glittering, impish blue eyes.
His lifted his left hand, over his head and pressing towards the skies.
The sunny skies rang with the abrupt sound of thunder, one after another, until the sky grew dark. Angry clouds converged from all directions, and lightning surged freely in their depths, as though the end times were nigh.
Minister Zhou had begun to react, the Chief Minister of the Eastern Alliance was surprised but not shaken. Retreating not a step, his deep voice bellowed, “Who are you!”
“I am ZEUS!”
Chapter 16: The Mecha Epoch
“Zeus?” Minister Zhou veritably quaked.
Without waiting for him to continue, the golden-clad man embrace Zhou Qianlin and began to rise. The wedding site was in chaos.
Who was this person? Who would dare to interrupt a wedding between the daughter of the Eastern Alliance Chief and the son of the Western Alliance’s Prime Minister, and further more steal the bride?
Prime Minister Sylva was already standing, his face somber. The body guards who’d arrived with the Western delegation finally burst in to action, two stooping to pick up Richard while the rest flung themselves at the man in gold.
Raagh, Oooagghh! Deafening blasts rang out. Two massive figures rose to cut off the man’s escape. Just then two guards of the Austin family, before the eyes of all, began to quickly expand. Their clothing tore, ripped and fell away, revealing the grotesque figures beneath!
The man on the left grew to a massive Gigantopithecus, an towering ape, over four meters tall. The right, too, grew to over five meters, his skin becoming splotched like tiger skin and bulging with enormous muscles. His face even shook and cracked, changing in to that of a tiger.
As the men grew to monstrous proportions the flowered archway burst apart, it’s severed petals dancing in the air. Their beautiful trek towards the floor was in stark contrast against the hideous faces of the guards.
Metamorphosis Disciplines! A specialty of the Western Alliance. Judging by the look of the two beasts, the guards were at least Fifth Level Talents.
“Protect the guests,” Zhou Xueguan bellowed. The residential guards had already rushed forth, guiding the wedding guests to safety.
“D-don’t hurt.. hurt Qianlin!” Richard was unharmed, but his tongue was numb from the shock. His hair had gone from sleek and shiny to dry and cracked. Luckily, the close-fitting protective gear he’d worn beneath his suit had protected him from the brunt of the electric charge.
Ooaaghh–! The Gigantopithecus howled, leaping ferociously towards the man in gold. The guests could not help but scatter and scream in fear at the hellish sight.
“Get lost,” the golden man growled.
Crack, crack, crack! A mighty bolt of lightning crashed down from the heavens, striking the Gigantopithecus. His hideous body burned and blackened, thrust away by the lightning strike.
Rushing forward to save Zhou Qianlin still caught in the grip of the golden man, the Ailuranthrope – or werecat, as they were colloquially called – staggered to a stop.
In that instant, a terrible rumble tore across the area. Scores of forked lightning bolts tumbled from above, striking everywhere. It looked very much like Armageddon. The blood- chilling bolts of lightning nearly blanketing the entire mountain top.
Tearing blasts of lightning, thunder, unidentified stabs of light… In this chaos, everyone was only concerned with protecting themselves.
The man in gold carried Zhou Qianlin in to the air, and before anyone could react he became a dazzling bolt of golden electricity. The light enveloped Zhou Qianlin, and then vanished in to the distance.
In the midst of that hellish rain of lightning, no one was capable of pursuit. Even the ten mechas hovering in the air were powerless, forced to retreat and land with shields up to avoid destruction.
The landing pad was the worst afflicted. No matter the model, no matter how luxurious, every verti-car sizzled and smoked in an inferno.
Within the mansion, every electrical appliance sparked and flickered. The beautiful surroundings, the fabled wedding, had in just a few short minutes become a hellscape.
The golden light encapsulating Zhou Qianlin soured thousands of meters in to the distance. It was then a flash of golden light appeared before her eyes.
The man in gold, who’d become lightning, stopped suddenly a few meters before the flash. He’d returned to his original form.
As before his arm was wrapped about Zhou Qianlin’s thin waist, and in fact it was that violation that gave her the ability to withstand gravity.
Another figure appeared beside them, an impressive mecha entirely coated in gold. Suddenly she realized, this had been Cupid’s Arrow – that golden light which pierced the two hearts created by the mechas at the mountain top.
When the other mechas were forced to land, this one had left to prevent the man in gold’s withdrawal.
The mecha was eighteen meters tall, sleek and smooth. It was devoid of weaponry, perhaps because it was employed in the wedding.
Aside from standard mechas, each humanoid model was personalized, custom made from beginning to end. In short, each was made the exact specifications of it’s pilot.
The mecha hovering before them, with feminine figure and golden battle dress, was clearly made for a young woman.
“Put Qianlin down, or die!”
The icy voice of the pilot crackled from the mechas megaphone. The lower back of the mecha split open, and it’s hand reached back to draw forth a three-meter long rod. Both hands gripped the weapon and it’s dual ends shot forth an intense golden light, humming as it changed in to a battle spear.
“Make way!” It would appear this man in gold was quite gentlemanly towards women.
“Put Qianlin down, and I’ll let you go. You should know, even your Discipline won’t have any effect on this mecha.” The frigid female voice was unyielding.
As the New Era had approached, changes had occurred to the environment, and the magnetic fields of the planets. People, too, were affected, a small numbered endowed with genetic abilities called Disciplines.
Adepts, or Talents – people with the ability for Disciplines – were far and away superior to the ordinary man. But this, this was the Mecha Epoch.
Adepts were ultimately human, whereas the standard mecha weighed over a hundred tons, ran on a fission reactor, were composed of a high-strength alloy an were fitted with the highest technology. It would be no exaggeration to state that, a mecha placed in the Former Era, could easily destroy an entire city on it’s own. And so in this era, to be a Mecha-Pilot was the dream of every young person.
The man in gold didn’t care to repeat himself, and only looked toward the mecha and shook his head.
A thick blast of lightning tore forth to strike the golden mecha.
A cold grunt issued forth, the radiant spear in the machine’s hands jabbing towards the sky, striking an impressive pose. The bolt reflected harmlessly to one side.
The cold voice shot back again. “You still don’t understand. The stronger your Discipline, the more you will kneel in the face of this mecha!”
“Ha!” The gold-clad man shrugged his shoulders.
“Huh?” Suddenly the golden mecha became aware of another figure which had soundlessly appeared behind it. Two massive hands grasped it’s shoulders.
Crunch, crack. The two crisp sounds hung in the air.
The armor plating of the golden mechas shoulders shattered beneath the grisly force, and the arms holding the battle spear falling to the side.
With that a powerful blast of energy shot forth, casting the mangled mecha in to the distance.
In the golden mecha’s cockpit, two large emerald eyes stared unbelieving to the air. Where she had hovered, the golden man and Zhou Qianlin entering it’s open breastplate, floated a massive thing. She looked on with red lips slightly parted, and eyes glassy.
Chapter 17: Let Me Be Your Antidote
The mecha towered twenty three meters, shimmering a brilliant sapphire blue. From shoulder to shoulder it stretched eight meters, with a tall and slender figure. It’s shoulder plates were three affixed layers; the topmost was the largest with spikes which rose skyward, the middle layer was smooth and slightly smaller than the first, and the third layer retracted into the joint.
It’s texture was markedly different from average mechas. It was as though it was carved from a single piece of true sapphire, a work of art. As the armor tapered towards it’s edges the color became a metallic purple. As lightning flashed in the sky above, the light from the blasts reflected magnificently off of the armor. In the instant it’s chest plate closed, it emitted a burst of intense violet light. It grew until it was as a ball of violet lightning rising in to the sky, vanishing in to the forest of arcing bolts above.
“That… that was…”
The golden mecha had already steadied itself where it had been left in the air. The blond-haired, green-eyed woman in the cockpit filled with a shock that was difficult to describe.
“Thor. That was Thor. I actually met Thor. Thor… Zeus? Was that Zeus? I actually… actually told Zeus that the stronger his discipline, the more he’d bow to my mecha? The Zeus who, by virtue of his Discipline alone, bested thirteen top-grade customized mechas!”
The stars shimmered in her eyes, as though she’d already forgotten all about the abduction.
She hovered stupefied for a long while, then again began to mutter to herself. “Why didn’t he take me away?”
Thor had risen with stunning speed, the upper atmosphere rolling past it like water off a duck’s back. In minutes it was floating in the vast, quiet expanse of space.
No radar in operation was capable of locating Thor. The special composition of it’s armor was legendary in the world of Mecha-Pilots.
The cabin within Thor was somewhat larger than average, but
was a little cramped accommodating two people.
Zeus withdrew the mask, revealing his long and handsome face. Only in this moment, he found it impossible to retain his traditional calm.
In this moment he wasn’t Zeus. He was Lan Jue.
He hugged his arms tightly around the woman in his embrace, as though afraid she would vanish.
“Jin Yu, we’re finally together again. Why… why didn’t you come looking for me? You’re my Hera!”
“I’m so hot.” Locked in his tight embrace, abducted, this was the first thing Zhou Qianlin thought to say.
“Huh?” Lan Jue paused, lifting a hand to press against her forehead.
Zhou Qianlin’s forehead was burning up, and her eyes had shut. Her brows were furrowed, and her body trembled slightly.
She had a fever?
Lan Jue’s face grew somber, noticing the red flesh of her neck. She was sick, and those people wanted her to suffer through a marriage?
Lifting his head, Lan Jue muttered, “Thor, take us home.”
“Affirmative, returning home.” The gentle, dignified voice reverberated through the cockpit. Thor began to transform, to wings extending from it’s back. Then, like a bolt of lightning, it shot in to the darkness of the universe.
Zeus’ Jewelry Store.
Ke’er was bored to tears, listlessly laying atop the bar.
Xiuxiu sat to the side, idly sipping the cup of warm water in her hands.
The jewelry shop rarely had visitors, a common reality on Skyfire Avenue. But even if there were only one or two customers, it was usually sufficient to keep the shop running.
“Hey Xiuxiu, where’d the boss go? Didn’t see him yesterday, still not here today.” Ke’er cantered her head towards Xiuxiu and whined.
Xiuxiu laughed. “The boss is a very important man. You think he’d just vanish? Don’t be such a nosy little thing!”
Ke’er giggled. “Me? Don’t tell me you aren’t curious what he’s doing. You came so early this morning, without waiting for me to come help. You even cleaned his house!”
Xiuxiu’s face grew red, as though she’d smeared it with rouge, adding even more charm to her classical beauty.
Just then, the earth shook beneath Zeus’ Jewelry Store.
The girls exchanged glances. “Speak of the devil,” Ke’er exclaimed. “The boss must be back, I’ll go check.”
As she said this, she skipped towards the VIP lounge.
As she pushed to open the door, however, she was surprised to find it wouldn’t budge.
“Xiuxiu, Ke’er, I’m a little tired. I’m going to rest for a while,” Lan Jue’s voice crackled through the speaker by the door.
“Eh?” Ke’er stood confused by the door, while Xiuxiu also drew near.
Ke’er turned to look at Xiuxiu. “The boss doesn’t sound quite right. Maybe he snuck a woman in, and is afraid we’d find out…”
Xiuxiu lifted her hand and rapped against Ke’er’s head in agitation. “What are you saying. In three years, have you even once…” She trailed off, a dismal look in her eyes. “I-If he really did bring a woman back, then I’m happy for him.”
Ke’er closed her mouth, and said nothing more.
Lan Jue carefully laid Zhou Qianlin atop his bed. Even in her state, she was still breathtakingly beautiful.
His brows furrowed in thought. Not half an hour since he discovered her illness and her temperature had already risen sharply. He’d used Thor’s onboard diagnostics to run a scan, but discovered no sickness or poison. It was a drug, one that could trigger desire in the victim.
Why? Why today, as a bride, would she need this sort of drug? Judging by the progress of her reaction, it was meant to last until the wedding had concluded.
Those wretches! Was this wedding forced by the Austins?
They DARE to force this drug on my Hera.
A thin hand softly rested atop his own, it’s heat and soft touch drawing him from his rage.
Zhou Qianlin’s body had grown red, and her body began to writhe.
It was a fierce, powerful drug.
Leaning down, he gently took her up in his arms. He felt the heat radiating from her, could smell the familiar scent of her body.
Softly he whispered in her ear. “My Hera. In this life, you are destined to be my bride, and mine alone. Let me be your antidote.”
Chapter 18: A Place Called A Hospital
She lay against his wide, sturdy chest, the kind that made people feel safe.
Her lily-white, gem encrusted dress; her exquisite tiara; her dazzling tecnicolor veil. All had been cast beside the sofa.
He gently stroked her hair, which had already begun to unravel. Three years of suffering, poured out in a day. Despite her illness, he shut his eyes in relief.
He didn’t see her brows furrow, or her bite her lip, but the shift in muscle was felt beneath his fingertips. “What is it, Jinyu. Why knit your brow?”
“Do you know who I am? Who’s here to cure you?” Lan Jue’s deep voice asked. “It doesn’t matter who it was, they’ll pay for what they did to you.”
“Do you really know me?” Zhou Qianlin quavering voice asked.
“Huh?” Lan Jue turned her over in his arms, looking in to her eyes.
Zhou Qianlin lifted her head to regard him, looking at him in earnest. It felt as though his face had been branded in to her mind.
“Of course I know who you are. You’re my wife. My Hera. My Jinyu. Zhou Jinyu.”
She shook her head. “I-I’m not Zhou Jinyu. I’m Zhou Qianlin.”
“Wha-“ Lan Jue started, moving to sit by her side and looking at her closely. No, it was definitely Hera! Black hair, blue eyes… How could she not know who she was? Even her scent, exactly as it was before.
“Beloved… Is it, amnesia?” Lan Jue asked with uncertainty.
Zhou Qianlin drew the covers closer, saying quietly, “Can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” Lan Jue replied.
Zhou Qianlin’s eyes shone as she looked at him. “You said this Jinyu is your wife… then… you’ve had relations before?”
“Of course! You really don’t know?” Lan Jue was unconvinced.
Zhou Qianlin nodded her head, then moved the comforter to the side. She pulled them from Lan Jue’s body.
Zhou Qianlin’s fair features grew red, and she turned her face to avoid looking at him. Her hand slipped from beneath the sheets and pointed. “Well, then look at this.”
A sense of trepidation filled Lan Jue’s heart. When he dropped his head to look, he was nearly petrified.
There, he saw a fresh smear of red.
It was quiet, quiet as the grave.
After a moment Lan Jue spoke, his voice strange. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were…”
This time, it was Zhou Qianlin who was speechless.
Her body trembled, her lip quivered, her teeth clenched. It was as though she were afraid a curse would burst forth from her lips.
After some time her mood stabilized. She hissed coldly through gritted teeth:
“This was my first time!”
Lan Jue was dumbstruck. How could this be? He shook his head. No… this can’t be true. His heart sunk to the pit of his stomach.
First time? What did she mean the first time? It meant… she wasn’t Hera.
My Hera, my Jinyu. She still hasn’t returned to me. Lan Jue
felt as though he’d been run through with a sword. The pain in his heart stole his breath.
Watching Lan Jue’s face drain of color, she too was dazed. The room sank in to a suffocating quiet.
Lan Jue’s pained voice arose as he spoke to himself. “Three years. Three years. Why would God play such a cruel trick on me? Why give me hope? Don’t you understand… the more you hope, the more crushing when it’s gone. My Hera… still hasn’t returned.”
“So what you’re saying is, what you just did to me wasn’t intentional.” Zhou Qianlin’s cold voice interrupted.
“Huh?” Her words snapped Lan Jue awake. Seeing here, this woman an exact replica of his Hera, somehow eased the suffering in his heart.
Yes! She wasn’t Hera, but she and her…
And, it had been her first time.
Further, the unification of the Eastern and Western Alliance leaders through this marriage.
Most important was that she knew who she was. Even if she didn’t know, her family certainly would. In his arrogance he’d let slip his name, sharing with her father regardless of the situation that his name was Zeus.
What to do?
Lan Jue felt his heart thumping in his chest. In all his life, he’d never encountered such an awkward situation.
But it was done. Other than facing it, what else could he do?
“W-well, Zhou Qianlin, you’d been poisoned. Were suffering from it’s effect. So, I was forced… against my will to…”
Zhou Qianlin glared at him, saying not a word.
Lan Jue was incapable of alleviating the situation. He knew of only one solution for the current problem.
The dead don’t talk.
Kill her, and the problem would be gone!
And yet, could he do it?
Zhou Qianlin uttered, “I have an older sister… I think her name is Zhou Jinyu. She disappeared when I was young. Where did you meet her?”
Lan Jue stared at her. “An older sister?” She was Jinyu’s younger sister, but Jinyu had told him she was an orphan!
A younger sister separated for that long?
He didn’t know what to think.
Even if he could do it, silencing her wouldn’t actually solve everything.
Zhou Qianlin shot him another cold glance. “You just said I’d
be poisoned. That’s why you did that to me?”
“Yes, yes!” Lan Jue nodded emphatically.
Zhou Qianlin’s expression changed, and she sat up abruptly. With eyes wide she glared at Lan Jue and yelled, “Have you never heard of places called HOSPITALS on this planet? What sort of poison could a modern hospital not cure? You could have sent me to the hospital. If I’m poisoned how does sleeping with me fix anything?
“I…” Lan Jue stared at her dumbly, dropping his head after a moment. Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, he muttered, “I thought you were someone else.”
Zhou Qialin’s expression was pained, possibly due to the pain in her body.
“Put your clothes on. I don’t want to look at your hideous self. I’m afraid I’ll get a stye.” She shook her head violently for him to leave.
Lan Jue scrambled to his feet, quickly pulling on his clothes.
As he did, his eyes fell upon the wedding dress crumbled atop the sofa. “It was probably your fiancé who poisoned you. To go so far as to poison your own new wife… this sort of scumbag, you’re better off not marrying him.”
Zhou Qianlin shot him a glare. “How do you know it was him? Before then, he had never even touched me. Scumbag? YOU’RE the scumbag! And even if he was, at least he didn’t break the law. You? You destroyed my wedding, and defiled my body. You tell me, what are we going to do about that?”
Chapter 19: Same Clothes, New Person
Zhou Qianlin glared at Lan Jue. “You tell me, what are we going to do about that?”
Lan Jue took a deep breath. “What’s done is done. It was my fault. All of this was because I mistook you for someone else. I don’t know how I can make up for this either. You tell me what I can do, and I’ll do it.” The mistake had been made. He was a man, and had to face up to his wrongdoings, doing everything in his power to make it right.
Zhou Qianlin stared at him, her eyes a tangle of emotions. Lan Jue had changed, no longer dressed in the clothes he’d worn when we abducted her.
He wore a white shirt, and paneled deep blue pants. His neat clothes and his tousled hair gave a strange merger of order and chaos.
That dangerous glint in his eye from before was gone, and he’d assumed a more apologetic stance, like a child who’d done wrong.
Nibbling her lower lip, Zhou Qianlin got up from the bed.
“Find me some clean clothes.”
“Right away.” Lan Jue spun on his heel and left without hesitation. He’d only gone a few steps before pausing, then went directly to the closet furthest inside the apartment.
He paused before the closet as though uncertain, opening it after a moment’s consideration. He quickly grabbed a few articles of clothing from within and returned to Qianlin.
Qianlin regarded him coldly. “You seem awfully practiced at bringing women home.”
Arriving before her, he gently placed the clothing at her side.
A spark of sadness shone in his eyes. “Your sister’s.”
Zhou Qianlin stared at him, catching that passing look. Though Lan Jue hid it well, his innermost anguish was too profound to hide completely.
Lifting the clothes by her side, she caught a whiff of a clear and refreshing scent. Each piece had been painstakingly folded. Lan Jue looked on, watching the clothes as though they were precious pieces of jewelry.
Even on Skyfire Avenue, even close friends, none knew that in the Jewelry Master’s heart the closet of clothes was more precious than his entire stock.
Lan Jue was shaken from his reverie. He lifted his head, looking directly in to Zhou Qianlin’s hard stare.
“I’m sorry.” He pressed his hand to his chest, an unconscious habit of his gentile mannerisms. He turned away and stepped aside.
A quiet rustling could be heard from behind him, but there was no excitement in Lan Jue’s heart. In truth it was drowned in disappointment and sadness.
She is not Jinyu, even if she looks just like her. She’s not my
Hera. Where it not for the grief in his heart, and the fact she was her sister, Lan Jue never would have opened that closet. Of course, it was merely to make amends that he opened it.
Footsteps approached, and Lan Jue subconsciously turned his head.
She wore a long dress, white as snow, and a little thin. Tight- fitting but modest, with no extra fabric. Though the spotless dress was unadorned, the gem-encrusted gown she’d worn to the wedding made it look downright plain.
However, that raven black hair melded beautifully with the white dress. Those deep blue eyes were like the most fetching gems on the planet. Her beauty was almost otherworldly, perfect in every detail. Such beauty that it took your breath away.
“Jinyu…” his voice trembled.
She rose to her feet and moved towards him. In an instant she found herself wrapped in a firm, warm, shivering embrace.
The hug was like a thaw, and though she should have been angry she instead found herself almost automatically returning the embrace.
“Jinyu, my Hera, I miss you so much,” Lan jue, his eyes closed as though trying to keep a hold on the past. He seemed unaware his body had grown so feverish.
Zhou Qianlin tried to admonish him several times, her mouth opening though no words came out. But in the end, she couldn’t bring herself to ruin what she saw in front of her.
What she saw was his intimacy, the fact that he still remembered her favorite color, an unblemished white. Contrary to the common woman she had no taste for fancy jewelry, in fact quite the opposite from Lan Jue. Moreover he kept saying she was the most precious gem he had. If a bottle of Romanee-Conti was considered some great treasure, then she could only be described as the most dazzling jewel in the crown of the gods.
Zhou Qianlin’s face softened, the chill leaving her features. In the face of today’s events any girl would have her rage clearly written on her features.
But that burning hug, as though magic, melted her cold exterior. Her rigid body eased, and thus so did her heart.
It is common for one man loves one woman, but it was unexpected to see this level of devotion.
The coldness receded from her expression.
One of his hands rested on her waist, the other gently stroking her messy hair. His tender ministrations helped settle it back in place.
This was care, a care derived from the depths of the heart. An adulation more precious than life.
“Hera, Hera…” he whispered. She never gave a response. That familiar body, with that familiar scent, but without her tender voice.
Lan Jue composed himself, suddenly standing straight and looking at the woman in his arms.
Zhou Qianlin looked like a frightened bunny, quickly extricating herself from his arms. She hugged her arms to her chest, features growing red from embarrassment.
Lan Jue looked as though he were in a trance. His clothes were the same, he appeared no different, but the man was changed. The woman before him looked for all the world exactly like Hera. But she didn’t have her eyes, eyes which could melt the coldest heart.
A silence fell over the room. Lan Jue uttered not a sound, Zhou Qianlin never opened her mouth. Their hearts each were flooded with conflicting emotion, but the emotions in each were as different as night and day.
Chapter 20: You Owe Me
“Where are we.” Zhou Qianlin was first to break the awkward stillness in the room.
“My home,” Lan Jue responded.
The corner of Zhou Qianlin’s mouth twitched. She’d been brought up from a very young age to be cultured and refined, but facing the guy in front of her, more than once she fought the impulse to curse him out.
Lan Jue started, aware of the mistake. “Oh. This is Skyfire Avenue.”
“Skyfire Avenue?” Zhou Qianlin certainly knew of Skyfire Avenue, in fact everyone in the Eastern Alliance knew of it.
It was a unique place, a sanctuary for nobility. It was independent from the outside world, the one area where machinery wasn’t permitted. An exotic oasis.
Even after many years, in the face of many former Eastern
Alliance dynasties, none were able to altar the avenue’s rules.
“Take me home,” Zhou Qianlin said softly.
The sky was dark, night had arrived earlier than usual. The two walked along Skyfire Avenue side by side, but with a foot of space between them.
“What do you plan to do?” As they reached the end of the two- thousand forty-eight meter Avenue, he couldn’t help but ask.
Of course he knew that after what had happened today, how could she face the stress and troubles.
Had she been Hera, of course there wouldn’t have been any problem. He’d have had a good reason for his actions. But she wasn’t. So the mistake was his, and a very grave mistake it was.
Zhou Qianlin stopped, turning towards him with a grim look. “It isn’t your concern.”
Lan Jue shrugged his shoulders. “Now’s not the time to pout.”
Zhou Qianlin glared at him. “Oh, can you turn back time then?”
“Ugh… you don’t need to worry about that.” Lan Jue didn’t possess that power. In fact, it was exceptionally rare to find someone with that Discipline. At best they were able to roll back time only a very little while, and even then only in a very small location.
Still less, some things simply can’t be undone…
Zhou Qianlin’s eyes grew cold. “I’ll handle it, it isn’t your concern.” She began to hurriedly walk away.
“I’ll send you back.” Lan Jue moved to catch up. Before them, they’d reached the end of Skyfire Avenue’s scope.
Zhou Qianlin turned her heard to look at him. “Do you want to be a public enemy of the Eastern Alliance?”
Lan Jue stopped in his tracks. That’s right! All of Skyfire City could be in turmoil because of her kidnapping.
“I’m not that fragile. I can handle myself. Go back,” Zhou Qianlin said.
He stared at her dumbly. From the obstinance in her eyes, Lan Jue could see the Hera he knew, the Hera who was gentle as water and a moment later throwing a fit. It was something he also dreaded.
“This is my interstellar communication number.” He produced a slip of paper and pressed it in to her hand. “If you need anything, let me know.”
The ambiguity of his statement caused Zhou Qianlin’s pretty face to redden. Lan Jue immediately recognized his error, but she didn’t wait for him to explain, instead turning and walking away.
“Your wedding dress is still at my place,” he called after her.
“I don’t want it. You’ve polluted it.”
“Well, when are you going to give me back that dress,” he asked.
Zhou Qianlin stopped, spinning to fix him with a burning glare. “I’m NOT!” She turned away again.
The corners of Lan Jue’s mouth twitched. This girl’s temper is worse than her older sisters, and cold as ice. Damnit! What did have I done?
Zhou Qianlin’s voice wafted from the distance. “You owe me, and you better pay me back! When I know what I want from you, you’ll hear from me.”
As her words dissipated in to silence, so too did she disappear into the dark.
He stood in silence for a long while afterward, staring in to the darkness where she left, stunned.
Gradually his face grew hard, and a pale light flickered in his eyes. A thick anger rose within him, from his very bones.
That woman.. Pearl!
If not for her information, I never would have arranged such an ordeal. Worse, it brought trouble upon a loyal brother. That precious block of technetium, and this is what I get in return?
“You don’t look like you’re in the best mood,” a deep voice uttered not far behind him.
Lan Jue turned to see the Wine Master at his back, clad in an impeccable and crisp business suit. Lan Jue walked towards him. “New suit?”
“One hundred sixty thread count.”
Lan Jue stared at the Wine Master. “I won’t bring any trouble to Skyfire Avenue. If something happens, I’ll assume all the responsibility.”
The Wine Master spoke after a moment. “Have a drink?”
Lan Jue’s eyes brightened. “What are we drinking?”
The Wine Master considered. “Your situation… red wine isn’t appropriate. Whiskey, I think.”
The edges of Lan Jue’s mouth curled. “We nobles are certainly capable of self-control.”
The Wine Master’s lips revealed the ghost of a smile. “You had quite the murderous look in your eye a moment ago. It looked like you wanted to something a noble shouldn’t do.”
“Compared with drinking, it isn’t urgent,” Lan Jue replied quietly. “A true noble must be responsible. At the same time, they have a responsibility to help those in need, bear their responsibilities. This benefits society, so how is it something an aristocrat shouldn’t do? If someone had taken your 1990
Romanee-Conti, would you be laughing?”
The Wine Master’s face stiffened, obviously recalling that unpleasant day.
Lan Jue grinned. “Whiskey then. Talisker, 1985 single malt, what do you think?”
“Henceforth you are persona non grata in the Gothic Winery. You’ll not see me again.” The Wine Master turned and began to walk off.
Smiling, Lan Jue hurried to catch up. “Take it easy, I’ll pay.”
“No!” he replied indignantly.
Lan Jue sighed. “I really am not in the best mood. If you want to hear my story I can tell you.”
The Wine Master glanced at him. “I don’t have 1985. I have a bottle of Talisker 18-year, though. You want it or not?”
“Off we go!” Lan Jue said categorically.
The Wine Master grinned. “Aristocrats have such high moral integrity.”
Lan Jue shot him a puzzles glance. “I do! I’m not going just for a drink. The Iberian ham from before has already been cut, if someone doesn’t eat it it’ll go bad. Whiskey goes well with ham. Yeah, the Gourmet’s method of heating it up really was something. In fact let’s call him, his meal preparation is deserving of your praise.”
The Wine Master sucked in a breath. “You are no noble, you’re a damn bandit!”