Skyfire Avenue Chapter 201-210

Chapter 201: The Journey To Lir

The Accountant scrambled off the back of the bicycle. “There was some talk of people greeting me when we got here, Jewelry Master. These must be them. Let me say hello.”

The younger man quickly tapped a few digits in to his communicator.

As if on cue, two gentlemen from within the security kiosk extricated themselves, and made their way over.

Just a couple of days ago Lan Jue would not have recognized the stocky man who trotted over, but now he recognized him immediately as Dean Xu Renjian. The teaching director, Wu Junyi, was hot on his heels.

“You must be our newest addition. Hello, hello!” Xu Renjian eagerly greeted the Accountant, and vigorously shook his hand.

Wu Junyi gave Lan Jue a curious look. “Professor Lan, how do you know this young gentleman?”

“Saw him on the way in,” Lan Jue began. “Thought I’d offer him a ride. You all look busy, so I’ll leave you to it.” He wanted to keep him interaction with them brief, otherwise too many questions about his relationship to the Accountant might arise. It would certainly have an effect on his work here in the university.

By now Xu Renjian’s attention had also swept towards the etiquette teacher. It was his first time seeing their newest instructor, but he knew him by reputation. “Ah, you must be Lan Jue. The one the grandmaster recommended. Let me think… etiquette, right?”

Meaning the Keeper

Lan Jue smiled politely, and nodded his head.

Xu Renjian was all smiles and propriety. “And hello to you as well, Professor Lan. You’ve been here for some time already and this is the first time we’re meeting. I am the Dean, Xu Renjian. If you should need any help, make sure you give me a call, or you can ask Director Wu here. Of course, the both of us will do our best to make sure our teachers have everything they need.”

This is a very common Chinese offer, which doesn’t really mean what it says. Connections are very important in Chinese society, and the idea of ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’ is one of the pillars of its societal foundation. However, you can also really ask for help from someone above your station if you have leverage; something they want, their respect, a mutual friend, etc. His insincerity is made clear when he mentioned’ or talk to Director Wu’, putting up a far more reasonable alternative for Lan Jue’s station as a junior teacher.

“Thank you very much, Dean Xu.” Lan Jue channeled his etiquette experience, engaging his superior with poise and politeness. He took this as his opportunity to leave and, waving goodbye to the Accountant, pushed his bicycle passed the gate and into the campus.

Grandmaster? Could Xu Renjian be the Keeper’s disciple? The Keeper must be even older than he looks… It’s no wonder he’s the shining star of the East’s scientific community.

Students weren’t required to watch the academic portion of their competition. By the time night rolled around and Lan Jue picked Zhou Qianlin up to bring her home, he saw that she looked despondent.

“What’s wrong? Did you lose?” Lan Jue asked with a smirk.

Qianlin nodded. “We might as well not even have showed up. We had a new student show up today, someone sort of twitchy. He said he wanted to compete against Su He. The issues they argued were so far over my head, I couldn’t even understand what they were talking about. After an hour, the new student ultimately lost. But, he didn’t seem bothered about it at all. He spoke a few words to Su He, who then quickly left. He didn’t seem overly happy about his victory, either.”

Lan Jue, of course, knew what was going on. Inwardly he scowled.

“Qianlin I… something’s come up, again, I’m sorry. It looks like I have to leave once more for a few days.” Lan Jue was genuinely put-out by his constant absences. This was the third time he’d had to ask for leave since joining the university staff. He was going out more now, than he had in the last three years combined.

Zhou Qianlin balked. “Again?”

“Planet Lir,” he explained. “Host to Lir University, obviously.

It’s very close to Skyfire, so I’m suspected it won’t be more than three or four days that I’m gone. I’ll definitely be back before a week.”

Qianlin nodded. “Go on then. Will there be any danger this time?”

Lan Jue just stared at her, stunned. He hadn’t anticipated this conversation would go so smoothly. Looking at her face, he saw no indication she was upset or displeased with the decision.

She smiled at him. A dazzling smile that disarmed the suspicious Lan Jue.

“Why are you staring at me like an idiot? Men are like eagles, and shouldn’t be constrained in a single place. At any rate I’m keeping track of your absences. We’ll add them to the end of your contract.”

Lan Jue smirked at her. “Here I was hoping my excellent demonstration yesterday might’ve shaved some days off my sentence.”

Qianlin rolled her eyes. “Is this such a painful prison for you? Let’s get going, it’s getting late. To Grace Hospital. I haven’t gone lately because of everything that’s been happening at school. I imagine my friends will be worried.”

Lan Jue nodded. “Alright,” he said through a smile.

The busy work they did at the old folk’s home always eased his heart, gave him a sense of comfort. Every time he went, for a little while he forgot all his pressures and responsibilities. In his estimation, charity wasn’t just about helping others. It also had a cleansing effect on one’s soul.

ζ

The next morning, Zeus-1 was slowly rising from the public air hanger. It slowly turned towards Planet Lir, then was off with a flash.

The Accountant was seated uncomfortable before the master controls. Occasionally, his eyes would flit to Xiuxiu and Goguo.

Smack!

A hand came out of nowhere, slapping the lecherous young man in the forehead.

“What the hell, Jewelry Master?!” The Accountant spat indignantly.

“Eyes to yourself,” Lan Jue muttered. “And get out of my chair.”

The Accountant grunted his displeasure. “I have a love of beauty, what’s wrong with looking?”

“A lot. Who says you can just willy-nilly stare at the girls of Zeus’ Jewelry Shop?” Lan Jue glowered.

The Accountant sneered at him. “Fine, as you wish. Anyway, I saw much prettier at the university campus. She was like an angel fallen from heaven. I was captivated the moment I saw her. If it hadn’t been for the distraction, I wouldn’t have lost like I did. Really, just so beautiful. Ugh, you just don’t know. Dark hair, soft and smooth like silk. Big beautiful blue eyes clearer than the sky, deeper than the ocean. Long, natural eye- lashes… all natural, no make-up or ‘enhancements’ necessary. Incredibly beautiful. You must help me woo that one, Jewelry

Master. If I were to have a girlfriend like that, I could die tomorrow and be happy.”

Lan Jue’s expression curdled as he stared down the Accountant. “You need talent to be good at chasing women. I guess I could teach you the three basic fundamentals, though.”

“Oh? What are they?” The Accountant stared wide-eyed and excited at his new pick-up coach.

Lan Jue counted them off with his fingers. “Be bold. Be careful. And be resilient.”

The Accountant’s brows furrowed. “What does this mean?”

Lan Jue explained, adopting his professorial air. “The meaning is this: If you like a girl, and you want to profess this to her, you need to take the initiative. You have a fifty-percent chance of success right there. But if you’re just sitting there, thinking about it, worrying over it, you have zero chance. Understand?”

Clearly the Accountant only half-comprehended the lecture.

“I understand. Are there any risks?”

“Of course there are,” Lan Jue replied. “For example, say for instance you’re pursuing a girl who is protected by a bodyguard. Tragic for you. You might get beat so badly your grandfather would beg to put you out of your misery.”

The Accountant chortled. “He’d never have the chance. I’m no slouch, I’ll have you know! It’s not easy to get the best of me!”

Lan Jue only smirked knowingly. “Oh yeah? You should give it a shot, then.”

Without hesitation, the Accountant shot to his feet and made his way towards Lin Guoguo with purposeful strides. When he spoke, his voice was thick with a sort of slimy charm. “Guoguo. I love you. Be my girlfriend, what do you think? The Jewelry Master told me to come over here and woo you. He said I had a fifty-fifty chance at success.”

Lin Guoguo didn’t even give him the benefit of looking his way. She focused on the control panel before her, but did speak as one might when dismissing a telemarketer. “I guess you’re

part of the other fifty percent. Get away from me before I make you regret it.”

The Accountant turned, giving Lan Jue a pained and indignant glare.

Lan Jue could only helplessly shake his head. “In old Earth they used to say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

The Accountant took a deep breath, getting his facial expression back under control. He shot his eyes towards Xiuxiu.

She knew what was coming, and her response was to lift her left hand. The motion summoned a fan-shaped array of impossible sharp light between them that, when it moved, sounded like it was cutting the air it passed through.

The Accountant spat fiercely. “My dark-haired angel is a vast improvement over the both of you! Not an iota of appreciation among any of you, hmph!”

“Increase to sub-light speed,” Lan Jue said softly, ignoring the Accountant’s impotent complaints.

“Roger!” Lin Guoguo coaxed the thrusters in to high speed.
The ship shuddered, and quickened.

Lan Jue stood with both feet planted firmly on the floor. The Accountant yelped as he was thrown clear across the bridge.

ζ

Planet Lir.

It was a beautiful planet, one they called the Sapphire of the East.

Ninety-percent of its surface was covered in sparkling blue water, while the planet itself was roughly three-fourths the size of Skyfire. It was possessed of a rich and abundant marine environment, and all the resources that came with it.

Specifically, the planet was home to many special sorts of power gems and undersea precious metals. Essential items for high-level mecha construction.

Zeus-1 hovered over Lir’s largest city, it’s capital Dwarka. Just below lay the public airship hangar for the city.

“Extend the boarding bridge in advance. Extinguish main engine reactor.”

“All stop.”

The ship began it’s slow decent in to the hangar. The girls took off their safety harnesses, while the Accountant moaned in pain. He pulled himself to his feet, casting a resentful glare towards Lan Jue.

“Off we go,” their captain stated, waving for them to follow.
He was the first to disembark.

The Accountant followed, careful to remain behind the former mercenary. Hmph, he thought, without me here they wouldn’t even know who to get in to contact with. I’ll make you beg me for the information!

A shuttle delivered them from the hangar to the pickup-area. The four of them walked out from the gate, with the two

beautiful women at the forefront. They gathered no small number of curious stares as they exited.

Today, Lan Jue was clad in a light grey suit. As ever, it was well fit and finely tailored. It made him look taller, and very handsome.

“Lan Jue.” The Accountant eagerly awaited the Jewelry Master’s request, ready to shut him down in retaliation for his poor treatment. Just as he was salivating at the prospect, that call shattered his dark fantasy.

Lan Jue waved towards the beckoning voice. Xiuxiu and Lin Guoguo followed dutifully as he walked over.

Su He was clad in a black track suit. He made a show of stepping forward to greet them, and embraced his former charge with a hug.

“You got here fast! We only just got back ourselves. I got your message and decided to just wait for you here. Just you three?”

“I’m invisible, I suppose,” the Accountant grumbled. “How do

you two know each other?”

Su He shot the Skyfire representative a glance. “Ah, my bested opposition. You’re here, too, I see.”

Chapter 202: The Power Of Skyfire?

The Accountant’s eyes nearly popped from his skull. “You dare address me this way? I was lenient with you yesterday. Plus that damn gorgeous girl was distracting me. Otherwise,  you think you’d actually be able to best me?”

Su He ignored him, turning to Lan Jue. “Let’s go. We have a car waiting outside.”

“Alright.”

“Hey, why aren’t you listening to me?!” The Accountant yelped, racing after them.

“Shut up!” Lin Guoguo muttered his way.

ζ

Lir was considered an ocean planet. As expected, then, it’s capital was a bustling port city. Dwarka was ideally placed to take advantage of the area’s natural resources.

Lan Jue faintly recalled the Lir Group, which ran the planet, and their reputed power. It was a shame, he thought, that he did not bring Hua Li or Chu Cheng. Hua Li was afraid Mo Xiao would find out, and Chu Cheng’s excuse was he wished to focus on his training. Lan Jue was still trying to puzzle out what the real reason was.

The mag-lev car waited for them outside of the arrivals gate.
It was large enough to suitably accommodate a dozen people.

“Would you prefer to rest in the dorms for a little while first, or shall we go directly to meet the professor?” Su He casually asked the question of Lan Jue, who sat at his shoulder. The Accountant didn’t appear to factor in to his considerations.

“First to bring us to your professor,” Lan Jue said. “We need to show our respect. Plus, the earlier we get through our business, the more time we’ll have to enjoy Dwarka and relax.”

The Keeper had always treated Lan Jue well, placed his trust in the young man. Lan Jue was intent on completing his old friend’s task quickly and effectively.

Su He smiled. “Alright, then we’ll head directly there. Just as

a precaution… the Professor doesn’t have the warmest disposition. Take care.”

Lan Jue nodded.

The mag-lev car gained speed, racing along the street. Lan Jue stared out of the window, and watched as all the culture and peculiarity of Lir’s capital city passed by outside.

The street itself kept with the nautical theme, composed of azure blocks. On each side of the concrete river rose spindly buildings which were blue of all shades. It was a world of blue that suited Lan Jue just fine. No wonder the whole place had seemed like a blue jewel when spied from Zeus-1 – it was almost impossible to differentiate the ocean from land when the whole city bore this color scheme.

“Well mentor, I guess you all like blue around here,” Lan Jue offered as he watched the city pass.

Su He nodded. “Yup. Lir is a very special planet. Every plant, every animal is blue. The whole place is infused with the water element. And while you might suspect we get a lot of storms and tsunamis, you’d be wrong. They’re a rare sight. All the sea life is

gentle as well. In terms of environment we can’t match up with the likes of Taihua, but Lir is definitely a unique place. And if you have a chance we have a number of island resorts for things like honeymoons. Remember that when you get married.”

The topic brought a sharp pain to Lan Jue’s chest. He nodded his head, though he made no further attempt to continue the conversation.

“Ah, by the way Lan Jue. Unless my memory fails me Dwarka will be hosting an auction tomorrow. It’ll be the biggest one in recent years, selling top-level items from around Lir. Reputedly the final item is an s-ranked power gem. Of course I can’t be sure. Naturally you know the strategic advantage of s-ranked gems. An auction isn’t permitted to sell one outside of the Eastern Alliance territories, or to outsiders.”

“An s-ranked power gem, eh?” Lan Jue’s eyes lit up at the prospect. It was a rare opportunity, to be sure. Although he did possess an s-ranked gem collection of his own, more was always appreciated. “If we have the chance we should go take a look,” he said.

Su He smiled cordially. “No problem. I’ll set it up, and we can go together.”

They sped along for a good half an hour, eventually coming to a halt before the façade of a simple building. The sight of it brought a hardness to Lan Jue and the Accountant’s eyes. It looked exactly like the Skyfire Library.

They filed from the car. Su He lifted his face to peer at the towering building, then sniffed. “The Professor’s obsession will never let him be. I imagine this looks a lot like the library on Skyfire Avenue, yes?”

The Accountant nodded his head vigorously. “Precisely the same!”

“Alright, let’s head in,” Su He said. “I’ve already let him know we’re coming.”

As he spoke, he led Lan Jue and his entourage in to the familiar structure.

Once again Lan Jue and the Accountant were taken aback. The interior, too, was just like the Keeper’s home – but for the fact the bookshelves were empty. Row upon row of shelves lines the walls with nothing upon them, just a large empty room.

Su He chuckled as he watched their reaction. “The Professor has said that one day, he’ll win back everything he’d lost. He would fill this place with his spoils of war.”

The words brought a heaviness to Lan Jue’s heart. It would appear this trip wouldn’t be as easy as it had first appeared.

They made for the stairs, and took them for the third floor. This was all very familiar, since the structure of the building was identical to the one he was just in. He saw now that the Keeper was right, and the Library was absolutely the product of this Bookworm. After all, his knowledge of the architecture would have to be immaculate to copy it with such detail.

The five people arrived at a small room. Lan Jue recognized it as twin to the one he had been in just a few days  before, speaking with the Keeper.

Su He lifted his hand, and knocked.

An aged, crackling voice called out. “Enter.”

Lan Jue pushed the door open, while simultaneously

gesturing to his two Amazons. Wordlessly they took up position outside the room, on either side of the door as their boss entered.

Inside, an old man sat opposite a desk. In his hands was a newspaper, which he was currently absorbed in reading. Sloppy would adequately describe his overall look, Lan Jue thought. His clothes were torn, and stained in several places.

The elderly man had lost most of his hair, a snowy ring the only thing remaining, leaving his scalp bare. Liver spots dotted his face. He stared at the newspaper through coke-bottle lenses, breathing laboriously. Like the Keeper, he looked to have one foot in the grave.

“I’m back, Professor.” Su He quietly addressed the elderly man.

“Ngh! Didja win?” The old man’s quavering voice asked. His eyes never left the pages of the newspaper.

“Yes, in fact, I did.”

“As you should have,” he grumbled. “The old man has no worthy successor.”

Hearing this, the Accountant stepped forward to share a piece of his mind. Lan Jue saw this, and yanked the young man back.

The old man continued. “What are you doing bringing these people here? They have nothing to do with this. Get them out.”

Su He hastily interjected. “Professor, these two are from Skyfire Avenue.”

“Get them out of here. Are you deaf?” The old man threw his newspaper against the desk in frustration, glaring at Su He. His yellowed eyes became sharp as daggers. The small room was suddenly filled with an oppressive sense.

The highest reaches of ninth-ranked Talent. Lan Jue could instantly determine this old man’s power by that feeling alone. He wasn’t as frail as he appeared.

Su He dare not move or speak. He glanced apologetically towards Lan Jue.

The Jewelry Master smiled disarmingly. “Bookworm. That was your designation, wasn’t it? I’m here not only to represent the Keeper, but on behalf of Skyfire Avenue as a whole. As I see it, you may think you have an enemy on the Avenue, but there are only friends. There is no benefit in keeping allies at arm’s length.”

The old man’s mouth curled in to a disdainful sneer. “You, practically a child, are here saying you represent Skyfire Avenue? It does not bode well. Clearly the little suburb you call home has lost a great deal over the years. I guess they’ll let just anyone in these days.”

Lan Jue gave the old man a capitulating smile. By way of a response, he extricated his Skyfire Council badge and placed it on the table in front of the Bookworm.

The old man glanced at the emblem, and a subtle change came over his features. He plucked up the insignia and peered at it intently, then unceremoniously chucked it back to Lan Jue.

“How does that mean you speak for the Avenue,” the crotchety old man grumbled. “I’ve had no interaction with Skyfire for years anyway.”

Lan Jue sighed. “Bookworm, forgive my lack of tact  but you’re not the young man you used to be. Clearly you’ve lost the desire to show up the Keeper. With your loss of faith, there’s no reason for me to be here. It was a mistake coming.”

The Bookworm tried to murder Lan Jue with his glare.

Two sets of eyes met. Lan Jue felt a strange, dizzying sensation wash over him. He wasn’t looking at a man, he was looking at the collected knowledge of humanity. He could see it in those sharp, attentive eyes. His tenacious, psychic force was almost palpable.

The dizziness lasted only a second. With some effort, Lan Jue dispelled the uncomfortable feeling. Then he turned, and slapped the Accountant.

It didn’t matter that the Accountant wasn’t prepared. Even if he was, how could he compete with the ex-mercenary?

The Accountant twitched uncontrollably as tendrils of electricity raced up and down his body. He stared wide-eyed and disbelieving at his fellow Skyfire denizen.

Lan Jue spoke quietly to the old man. “This is the Keeper’s sole blood relative. Hopefully this will help you convince you I’m interested in helping.”

Su He looked from one to the other, flabbergasted at the exchange. The Bookworm was no less confused.

“You help me? And how do you intend to do that, exactly?” The Bookworm’s challenge was cold and dismissive.

Lan Jue explained. “I am a part of the Avenue, but I’m also an Adept. An Adept with aspirations. I’m confident that one day I’ll get what I’m looking for, but for now my power isn’t sufficient enough to earn that. The Avenue is strong, but with your help I think we stand a chance. I’m confident you can easily handle the Keeper and take back what’s yours. My only request is, that when you have what you want, you help me get what I want.”

The Bookworm stared at the young man with shock evident on his liver-pocked face.

“You’re planning a hostile take-over of the Avenue.”

Chapter 203: Tribute

Lan Jue smiled, but did not answer.

The Bookworm’s voice betrayed his skepticism. “And how can I trust you, hm?”

“Let me answer by offering tribute. A gift, for our first meeting. I’m confident that, once you see it, you’ll understand why I think you have the opportunity to defeat the Keeper.”

Lan Jue placed something on the desk in front of the older man.

The Bookworm snatched up, turning it around in his fingers.
It looked like a precision data disk.

His pockmarked right hand tapped the armrest. Suddenly, the front and back of the desk in front of him separated from the body of the furniture. Large flat screens rose from the cracks. State of the art optical computing equipment followed suit, until the desk was a modern technological mainframe.

The Bookworm slipped the disk in to the computer. The towering screens flickered to life, revealing line upon line of seemingly disconnected data.

Watery eyes narrowed as the old man speedily read through the endless cascade of information. His hands raced across the keyboard, a blur of dancing digits until the information shifted and reordered across the six screens overhead.

Lan Jue watched the old man, suddenly alive with motion. His eyes were crisp and clear, and he moved like a man in his twenties. He stared at everything in front of him with a single- minded purpose. He could see the flows of data reflected in his eyes.

A flush gradually rose through the old man’s pallid cheeks. He stared wide-eyed at the screen, and a shiver had crept in to his hands.

“How in the world did you get this?” His hands stopped shaking, and his sharp eyes swung to Lan Jue.

The Jewelry Master grinned. “None of your concern. I suppose I can tell you, once you’ve confirmed you’re willing to

go along with my plan.”

The Bookworm’s breaths had started to come quicker. “I’ll need time to look this over in its entirety. Come back in two days. For now, you can go.”

Lan Jue nodded. He stopped to pick up the Accountant, who’s motor functions had completely shut down.

The young man was livid beyond expression, but that didn’t stop him from trying to share a few choice words. Unfortunately, his body wasn’t responding – he could only lay there in his attacker’s arms and glare daggers at him, twitching madly.

“Leave him here!” The Bookworm croaked.

Lan Jue nodded, visibly pleased by the request. He handed him over to Su He, then turned and left.

As Lan Jue exited, Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu fanned out behind him. They didn’t stop until they were well past the doors. By then, Lin Guoguo couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer.

“Boss, you can’t be serious. You don’t really intend to team up with this Bookworm to take on the Keeper.”

Xiuxiu just huffed incredulously. “Silly Guoguo. You still don’t understand our boss at all. You mustn’t ask such a stupid question. That was the boss making himself look needy and weak to lure in the enemy. Plus, he couldn’t even read the information.”

Lin Guoguo suddenly came around. “Oh, but we left the Accountant there. Aren’t you afraid the Bookworm’s salty relationship with his grandpa could lead to some trouble?”

Lan Jue shook his head. “He wouldn’t. If he did, he’d be far beneath the Keeper’s help. These men were involved in intellectual combat, nothing physical. And this old man himself was a committee member back in his day, he knows better! As for the Accountant, he’s a master at self-preservation. Don’t you doubt that.”

Lin Guoguo shrugged. “Alright, so what should we do now?”

“Wait. Someone will come and show us our rooms,” Lan Jue assured.

They hadn’t even finished speaking before the doors to the library opened and Su He came trotting out. He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw Lan Jue waiting outside.

“You scared the crap out of me,” Su He grumbled, giving his former classmate a sarcastic thumbs up. “But well done!”

Lan Jue chortled. “Seems like Mentor caught on.”

Su He shrugged helplessly. “We’re researchers. We analyze everything we come across. I weighed the possibility of your proposal’s success, and guessed less than fifty percent. If I still didn’t understand by that point, wouldn’t that make me a fool?”

“You’re a hateful bunch, scientists,” Lan Jue said with a helpless shrug.

Su He laughed. “Like you I’m no scientist. Obsessive maybe. At first I thought the professor would figure it out pretty quick, but he’s in there now pouring over everything. And don’t fret, I’ve arranged to have your friend brought out later.”

“Let the bookworm have his time with the data,” Lan Jue

said, “our job’s half done. We’ll be back in two days. Hopefully I could bother Mentor to help us find a place to stay. Then tomorrow we could all visit the auction.”

Su He nodded, and smiled. “Alright. And tonight we’ll treat you to a fine example of Lir cuisine. I think you’ll find it very interesting.”

“Excellent,” Lan Jue responded, smiling in return.

The hotel they’d prepared for Lan Jue and his crew wasn’t far from the Bookworm’s Library copy. It was located in a simple but sophisticated looking building.

The interior was furnished with fine antiques, none less than three decades old. The rooms were large, and like everything else were decorated in shades of blue.

By the time they were settled in, it was already night.

“Would we be able to bring the Accountant with us for dinner,” Lan Jue asked. “I don’t know if the Bookworm has wised up or not, yet.”

“Whether or not he has, I’m afraid that’s unlikely. It’s the professor’s custom to ask exhaustive questions as he goes over the data. After all, as the Keeper’s grandson he knows more about the paragon than anybody. I’m afraid your friend’s stuck in there for the next two days. It usually takes three or more to starve, so he should be fine.”

“The Keeper explained it to me before we left, that he wants his grandson to suffer some of what life has to throw at him. This is probably a good opportunity for growth, don’t you think?” Lan Jue nodded in agreement with himself.

Su He burst in to laughter. “Alright, let’s get something to eat.
I’ve already made reservations.”

ζ

Lir’s ‘interesting cuisine’ was indeed that.

Every living thing in the planet’s vast oceans was blue. They stayed that way, even after being cooked. They didn’t have the fishy flavor one would expect from seafood, instead bearing a taste and consistency more in line with vegetables. Very strange indeed.

Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu, who preferred lighter tastes, ate quite a lot.

After dinner the two girls left first, returning to their room to rest. Su He walked with Lan Jue back to his room.

“Would it be too bothersome if we spoke for a moment,” Su He asked.

“Not at all,” Lan Jue answered. He coaxed his former classmate on with an encouraging gesture.

The two of them entered Lan Jue’s room, Su He picking a seat on the couch.

Lan Jue sat across from him. With a wave of his hand, a silver light flashed, and floating before the two of them a silver box appeared.

Lan Jue plucked it from the air, and opened it with a practiced hand. He extricated two whisky glasses from within, along with a bottle full of golden-amber liquid. The bottle itself bore an elegant design, and its contents cast a pleasing amber hue as the

dim lights shone upon it.

“Single-malt?” Su He asked.

Lan Jue smiled and nodded. “That’s right! Alcohol is first among my many hobbies.”

Su He chuckled. “Not so many I think. I’ve a few myself. This eighteen year Macallan isn’t a product of the former era, but is no less a classic among classics. There’s a reason they call it the king of whiskies. Looks like I lucked out today.”

Lan Jue opened the bottle and poured out about an ounce of whisky each for him and Su He. “It got the title not just because of its pedigree, but also its outstanding yield. In reality it isn’t a particularly special whisky but it is mild, traditional and proper as far as whiskies go. Best to drink when one’s mood is calm and even. The alcohol content isn’t outrageous, either. Come, drink.”

The two young men raised their glass in a toast, then drank the whisky down.

Su He was first, and took a sip from his glass. It was smoky, with a malty undertone and a hint of cream. Breathing in, the flavor took on a freshness. As it slipped passed his gullet, a warmness sprang up from within him. More comfortable than he could express. Like being covered in a warm blanket.

“Good stuff. You certainly know how to enjoy life! In this aspect you certainly have me beat.” As the words left his lips, the shadow of disappointment flit across Su He’s face.

Lan Jue smiled. “Mentor. You’re a man, not a machine. You need to relax every now and again. When your full effort is needed, you should give it your all no doubt. But where does it come from? It comes from resting, recovering, so that you have the energy when you need it. You’re too high-strung, too careful. If you want my opinion, I think you need a good long vacation. At least three months. Find a girl you like, ramble around some… open up a little, let go. Don’t lay a finger on a mecha in those three months, don’t worry over some research problem or another. Just take the time to relax and be in the moment. After that, you come back rested with a better mindset, and your opportunity will come to you.”

Su He listened patiently as his classmate spoke. “I’m used to this robo-centric lifestyle.”

Lan Jue shook his head. “No. In fact your accustomed to being appreciated. You were the favorite one, all those years ago. But after you were beaten by my brother, you became exceptionally harsh on yourself. Ever since, all the time, you stretch yourself too thin. I remember my brother telling me once you weren’t far from God-ranked. But here we are, years later. I still trust my brother’s judgement. So why haven’t you broken through yet? Have you put your big brain to that?”

Su He didn’t answer. He sat in silence, thinking. Every now and again he’d quietly sip his drink. He felt like this sip was stronger, with more body. The malt flavors overpowered his taste buds. Once again that false warmth encroached upon his whole body.

Chapter 204: I Am Hera!

Lan Jue leaned back, making himself comfortable on the lounge chair. He took sips from his glass of whisky while watching the skies darken through the hotel window. His eyes narrowed, and a gentle sigh passed his lips. “You know, I’ve experienced quite a lot in the last few years. I’ve lived a life of decadence ever since joining Skyfire Avenue. Every day it’s been fine alcohol and delicious food, no need to ponder on life or times. I didn’t care about anything. And yet, not long ago, I discovered that my abilities and cultivation weren’t as rusty as one might expect. On the contrary, I was stronger. My will had matured.”

“Mentor. There are many, many wonderful things in this universe. Not just in our little corner, but everywhere. Get out, see new things. I can guarantee it’ll be beneficial for you. The path to perfection is built on understanding. A phrase that I give to you, which helped me find my way. You’re still young. Even way back then, I felt that God-ranked was not your ultimate end.”

Su He stared at Lan Jue in surprise. “But my Talent…”

Lan Jue shook his head. “See? Just like I said. It’s still the thing you’re the most concerned over. Even after I’ve pointed

out your hurdles, you have yet to find a way out from underneath them. Remember this, mentor; Anyone over seventh rank has an opportunity to reach Paragon status. It isn’t just mindless effort, either. Luck plays a role, but when you reach that epiphany it’s like crossing in to another world. I heard this from my grandpa, and I’m convinced every paragon in the modern age would agree with his sentiment.”

“Epiphany?” It was as though something just clicked in to place with Su He. He drank off the rest of his whisky in one gulp. He poured himself another glass, and took another drink.

Red had begun to creep up in to his cheeks, and his eyes adopted a far away look.

After about ten minutes, the internal fervor he was struggling with subsided. His eyes brightened as he returned his focus to Lan Jue.

“If one day I manage to reach those heights, remind me to treat you to the universes finest single-malt. I think I will take a vacation. I’m gunna do it!”

He shot to his feet, alive with inspiration, and made for the

door. He yanked it open, and was gone down the wall with lengthy strides.

Lan Jue remained seated, sipping his drink. The smile on his face refused to abate. “I wonder what heights he meant,” Lan Jue muttered to himself, “God-ranked or Paragon? This guy, still so sly. If he wants that bottle, he’ll have to work hard for it.”

Lan Jue poured himself another glass and meandered in to the balcony. The cool night air caressed his face. It was moist and cool, refreshing, filling him with a sense of cleansing renewal.

Lan Jue stared in to the distance. But he wasn’t looking at any one thing in particular, instead letting the world pass by with a thousand-yard stare. His mind was blank, empty. Always look forward, he then thought – easier said than done.

Simply give something up, and you may never truly be rid of it. The only way to progress, was through acceptance.

Yeah… I’ll give it a shot! Hera. If you can hear what’s in my heart, then teach me. Lead me to what I should do.

ζ

Planet Skyfire, Mount Tian.

He’s probably already on Lir. Zhou Qianlin peeked at the time displayed on the face of her communicator. She lay stomach- down on the bed, letting her long hair frame her pretty face.

He didn’t pick me up for school today. It was strange, I must be getting used to seeing him every day. I heard Richard suddenly gave up and left for the West, too, though I don’t know why. Now, without his interference, life is going back to normal.

When he comes back, picks me up and sends me home, then things are on track. Then things are perfect.

But will it be like I want? Will it happen?

“Beep beep!”

“What’s up?” A deep voice crackled through the unit on her

wrist.

Zhou Qianlin was shocked to discover that, at some point during her musings she’d actually dialed his number in to her communicator.

“Sorry. I, ehm, dialed the wrong number.”

There was silence on the other end.

Zhou Qianlin didn’t speak either. She could hear the sound of wind.

For a time, they remained like that, maintaining the silence.

After a long moment Lan Jue’s voice arose. It sounded drawn. “Tell me… you must be Hera.”

Zhou Qianlin was dazed by the accusation. A tear crept down her cheek from shimmering blue eyes. She took a long, deep breath. Her voice trembling, she replied:

“I am Hera!”

“I miss you.” Lan Jue’s voice was thick with sadness.

“I miss you too.” Zhou Qianlin quickly dropped the connection. She pulled the covers over her head, and broke in to tears.

ζ

It was early morning, and the wind was gently rattling the window. The sound roused Lan Jue.

The outside was already bright. Rubbing his aching head, Lan Jue pulled himself out from under the sheets.

The balcony door was still open, allowing the wind to race through the room’s interior. He spied the empty whisky bottle on the end table.

He shook his head, trying to clear the haze from his brain. The Jewelry Master was finding it difficult to remember the events

of last night. He faintly recalled something, maybe a dream. She said she missed him.

The corners of his mouth sketched the contours of a smile. He rose to his feet and, through a cleansing flush of his internal energies, expelled the hangover effects.

“I run in to you every time I’m drunk. That’s why I love drinking. It helps me find you, Hera. You’re still alive somewhere, aren’t you… at least in my heart.”

He walked in to the bathroom and turned on the shower. He stood underneath the nozzle as jets of cold water washed over him. It was numbing, but helped to wake him from his deep slumber.

By the time he exited the bathroom ten minutes later, covered in twinkling droplets of water, he felt ready to handle whatever the day had to throw at him.

“Hera, I promise you, I’ll snap out of it. I definitely will. Drinking brings me to you, which is great, but… I promise, I’ll scale it back. I’ll be strong, so that only you know how frail I really am.”

He got ready, choosing for today a pale blue suit. When in Lir, do as the Lirians do, he thought.

Lan Jue went downstairs to ferret out some breakfast, when he ran in to Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu.

“Ah boss, you’re up! Still haven’t had breakfast eh?” Lin Guoguo beamed prettily at him.

Lan Jue nodded and shot her a smile of his own. “You guys eat already?”

Lin Guoguo tittered. “Yup! But if you like we can stick around and keep you company.”

Lan Jue smirked. “Wouldn’t it make more sense for me not to eat, then?”

Xiuxiu looked at him in curiosity. “Why do you say that?”

“I’ve already got a feast for the eyes right in front of me,” he said with a wink.

Xiuxiu’s immediately flushed a shade of red Lan Jue had never seen before, while her eyes betrayed her appreciation for the compliment. Guoguo, meanwhile, was frowning admonishingly. “Not the slightest hint of sincerity, boss.”

The smile fled from Lan Jue’s face. “What! Of course I’m being sincere.”

Lin Guoguo moved closer to him like a tigress, a lopsided grin on her face. She placed her hands on his shoulder, rose until she stood on the tips of her toes, and whispered in to his ear. “If you are, we’ll be waiting for your knock on our door tonight.”

Lan Jue’s face was a mixture of shock and something else. He gave a nervous chuckle. “I-I’m a wholesome gentleman. Stop it!”

Lin Guoguo stuck her tongue out at him. “The worst kind of wholesome gentleman. Let’s go Xiuxiu, and let the good boy enjoy his breakfast in peace.”

Lan Jue watched the two of them go, speechless. He shook his head, and couldn’t help but laugh at her antics. These girls, he thought. Ridiculous.

He thought about the Accountant, and hoped things weren’t going too poorly for him. He knew it wouldn’t be a pleasant circumstance, however the younger man had made no attempts to reach Lan Jue on his communicator. It could be a lot worse than he thought!

Lan Jue ate his breakfast, then sat for a while with a glass of tea. After sitting in quiet contemplation for a little while, he tapped the Keeper’s number out on his wrist.

“Hello!” the Keeper’s hoary voice grunted in acknowledgement.

“It’s me,” Lan Jue said.

“Ngh. Have you met with the old coot yet?”

“Yup. He’s a little harder to deal with than you let on.”

He went on to relay everything that had happened with the Bookworm the night before.

“Very good. So be it. And don’t worry, he won’t do anything untoward to the Accountant. Leaving him there is a good thing. He’s always saying I’m too strict, so let him see what real strict is. He’ll come back praising my name.” Notes of smug pleasure resonated in the old Paragon’s voice.

Lan Jue blinked at the voice coming from his wrist. “Are you really the Accountant’s grandfather?”

“Stupid question! Alright, then if there’s nothing else. Now that he’s seen what you gave him, the next step will be much easier. I leave it up to you.” The Keeper didn’t give Lan Jue a chance to respond before severing the connection.

Lan Jue just stared at his wrist. This old man was crazypants, asking others to do his bidding while he sits in his library!

Just then two people stepped in through the hotel doors and attracted the Avenue denizen’s attention. They were a man and a woman, the man being Su He. Beside him stood an attractive, small woman. She looked to be of similar age to Lan Jue’s former mentor, and quite pretty. A small smile was spread across her face.

Su He himself looked like an entirely different person. He stood tall, veritably beaming with happiness and excitement. Compared to the despondent man he’d drank with last night, this was a miraculous change.

“Ah, Lan Jue. Here you are! I was just knocking on your door looking for you. Have you eaten? Su He pulled the young woman beside him as he took a seat across from his guest.

Lan Jue smiled pleasantly. “I have. Mentor, care to introduce us?”

Su He slapped his forehead. “Ach, my manners. Here, allow me. This is Ya Xiu. My girlfriend. Ya Xiu, this is Lan Jue. The one I spoke with you about last night.”

‘Elegant Beauty’ is the direct translation of her name

Ya Xiu’s face reddened, but still politely extended her hand towards Lan Jue. “Hello, Lan Jue. I’m very happy to meet you. I’m even happier you helped Su He come to his senses.”

Lan Jue laughed. “All I did was talk, the work was all Su He’s.

I can’t take the credit for any of that.”

Chapter 205: Sea Creatures

Su He said, “I’ve already bought myself a luxury cross-alliance tour. Once our business has been concluded here, I plan to take Ya Xiu here out for a vacation. We’re gunna start with a three- month tour of all the planets in the East. Like you said, it’s important to get out and see the galaxy. In the future I plan to take a few months off every year to travel. This time it’s the East, then I’ll visit the West, and finally the Northern Alliance. After that, who knows where the wanderlust will take us.”

Lan Jue chuckled happily. “You adapt quick, mentor! Truly your powers of comprehension and deduction are mesmerizing.”

Su He smirked. “Last night, after leaving your room, I had an epiphany. Somewhere in my thirty years of life I’d forgotten how to appreciate all the beauty around me. I’ve failed to appreciate the people around me. But I found this out while there was still time. That’s why, yesterday, I decided it was time to make some changes. So I proposed to Ya Xiu – this is to be our honeymoon.”

Ya Xiu’s face reddened as she smiled prettily. His friend’s proposal methodology was unorthodox, he thought.

Of course Lan Jue would not delve too deeply in to the young couple’s secrets. He just smiled and congratulated them heartily.

“Lan Jue,” Su He continued, “today’s auction begins in the afternoon, the biggest one of the year. It’s called the Tear of Neptune Auction. Unfortunately, the showing for the items on auction concluded already. They’d been going on the last few days. So we figured we’d take you on a stroll through Dwarka first. In the afternoon we’ll participate in the sale.”

“Sounds good! Thank you very much, mentor.” Lan Jue of course couldn’t refuse such a warm-hearted offer.

As one might anticipate, Lir’s entertainment revolved largely around water. Su He rented them a catamaran, large enough to comfortably house all five of them.

These sorts of boats were more stable than your average single-hull boat. While it was at the whim of the waves in bobbing up and down, it was absent the pitch and roll more traditional boats suffered from.

The sea breeze was calmer today, and the sun shone brilliantly

overhead. The sky-blue ocean was supremely clear, to the point where they could see various sea creatures leisurely floating about on either sides of their boat at varying depths. Sometimes it seemed like the whole ocean around them would shift and change color as particularly large shoals of fish swam by. It was a beautiful sight.

The oceans that planet Lir were famous for where famous for good reason. They were full of ‘anima’, of life and vitality. As the small crew bounced along the waves there was no scent of mold or fish. There was only a fresh, moist wind that caressed their faces.

Lan Jue stood on the upper level of the boat. He stared in to the distance, steadying himself with a grip on a nearby handrail. It was a feeling he couldn’t express in words.

Su He walked to Lan Jue’s side, and stared out over the ocean with him. His face bore an easy smile. “So those two girls, which one’s your girlfriend? Don’t tell me they both are! You’ve got some skill, to have them live in harmony!”

Lan Jue broke in to laughter. “Neither. They’re like my little sisters. They help me look after my store.”

“Can there even really be a purely platonic relationship between a man and a woman.” Su He pondered aloud.

Lan Jue’s response was genuine. “Of course.”

“In this respect I’m certainly not qualified to contradict you,” Su He replied. “I don’t have a lot of experience there. I trust in your abilities, they’ve proven to consistently be more effective than mine.”

Lan Jue’s features twisted in to a wry smile. Like I was never the beta male?

Lin Guoguo’s called up from below, interrupting their exchange. “Hey boss, look at this huge fish coming our way.”

“Huge fish?” Lan Jue narrowed his eyes and searched.

The Psychic Tide nimbly climbed up the ladder to the floor her employer occupied. “It’s at least forty meters long. So big. It’s coming right this way. Professor Su, are there any dangers from the sea life here?”

“There are always predators, in every ocean. The circle of life, after all. But for us, we’re very unlikely to run in to something dangerous. Worst case we scare them off,” he answered.

As he spoke, Su He launched himself over the railing. He landed on the bottom level of the boat as naturally as though he’d floated down. He looked out over the horizon, a dim red light surrounding him.

Lin Guoguo’s eyes flashed a brilliant gold, but only for a moment. She spoke softly to Lan Jue at his shoulder. “Professor Su’s Discipline is kind of like Ke’er’s.”

Lan Jue nodded. “That’s right, it is similar. His explosiveness is more severe than Ke’er’s, but he doesn’t have the sustain she does. His Discipline is Energy Detonation. Hers is energy tempest.”

Lin Guoguo nodded her head in understanding.

In the distance, the waves split. In that instant they spied the massive girth of a sea creature. It floated with the waves, rising and falling as the waters broke around it.

From the boat they could see it, a massive marine animal with a body entirely covered in spindles. They were largely concentrated along it’s spine, making it look like it had a saw sheathed on its back. It was swimming quickly their way.

Su He lifted his hands. Soon after the two appendages shone with a bright red light. The powers crackling around his hands congealed, until they formed two balls of energy. He didn’t seem to move, but nonetheless the two orbs of light raced off. They didn’t find their target, instead falling in to the ocean and exploding a few meters in front of it.

Boom, boom! The two rumbling explosions filled their ears. Plumes of frothy water shot in to the skies. Clearly Su He had employed his Discipline to scare the beast away.

Lan Jue smirked. “A kind soul. He doesn’t have the heart to kill a fish.”

“Ey? No way.” Lin Guoguo called out. Her eyes were fixed on the pillar of water, and the blue halo that extricated itself from it. It formed itself in a shard of crystalline water, that grew thicker and longer with each passing second then raced towards the boat.

Lan Jue was also surprised. “An element-controlling sea monster?”

In no time, the water shard had reached them. This was its territory, borne from the energies of the sea. From the time Lin Guoguo had seen that something was amiss, to when Lan Jue noticed it, the blade had already found them.

Su He was just as confused as they. He clasped his hands in front of him, and soon thereafter another orb of sizzling red shot outward. It stretched until it became a shield, protecting the front of the boat.

But something strange occurred. It was as though the sword had grown eyes, for as the shield appeared the spectral weapon changed course. It swept sideways, then viciously took a swipe at the side of the boat. It was a move designed specifically to avoid Su He’s defenses.

Su He, not to mention Lan Jue and Lin Guoguo, were stunned at what they saw. However, Lan Jue’s reaction was swift. He stretched out a hand, and pressed it in a downward motion. A crash of thunder, a flash of lightning, and the blade was intercepted by a charged bolt of electricity.

The impact elicited an ear-splitting blast. The shard of sharpened water shattered. The force of their collision nearly lifted the boat out of the water. It was pushed back, and bobbed furiously atop the waves.

Su He staggered, perched as he was at the bow of the ship. The red energies exuded out from him helped to keep his feet glued to the deck.

Two yelps from Xiuxiu and Ya Xiu bubbled up from somewhere below.

“Nasty critter!” Su He fixed the creature with angry eyes at it quickly sped away from them.

Just as he was preparing for another attack – this one likely to end the beast – he spied a golden light slowly wafted down in front of his face.

Dozens of indistinct golden halos separated themselves from the strange light. They raced outwards, surrounding the sea creature.

A second sword had been sent after them by the creature, but as the golden lights encompassed its creator the sword changed. It swung to the side, no longer set for a collision course with their boat.

Su He raised his head toward the light, and was surprised to discover Lin Guoguo suspended in the air within. Her whole body released a dim golden light, and it was from her that those strange bubbles had come. She looked like a mystical faerie come to earth.

Su He swallowed, then laughed at the circumstances.

Her abilities weren’t about flying, and yet here she was. That meant, he knew, that this young woman was at least a ninth level talent. But she still called Lan Jue boss? With such powerful companions under his command, Su He wondered just how powerful Lan Jue really was at this point.

Little by little, a calm overcame the fervent beast. Its head had risen above water, and as they looked on its two dark red eyes changed to a shimmering gold. It remained in place, slowly sweeping its tail this way and that through the churning waters. The waves of energy released from it felt weaker.

“Su He, it looks like our rudder was damaged. What’s going on!” Ya Xiu cried out to him, concern evident in her voice.

The captain they’d hired to sail the craft also made an appearance, his face a mask of confusion and anger. They stepped out to watch the amazing scene unfurl before them. Ya Xiu seemed to take it in stride, but the things happening on his boat were more than the captain could grasp. He was just a sailor, after all.

Lan Jue made his way down to the bottom deck, where he met Su He. The younger man looked at him apologetically. “I’m sorry. I had no idea we’d run in to something like this. Captain, call in for some assistance. I guess there’s nothing for it but to wait for a rescue boat to pull us back in to port.”

Lan Jue disregarded his friend’s apologies with a smile and a shake of his head. “No need. As we saw, Lin Guoguo has her ways.” By this time Lin Guoguo was making her way back towards the other on the boat. Strangely, the massive sea creature looked like it was following loyally in her wake.

“Ah! That’s a Nethermaw, and a big one too! Who’d have thought we’d run in to a fisherman’s nightmare today.” The captain watched with eyes wide and jaw slack.

Lin Guoguo finally arrived back on the ship, and settled on the deck. “I just had a nice chat with it. Actually this thing isn’t so violent. It just isn’t as perceptive as other fish. It heard out motor from far away and thought it had to protect itself.”

“Well, it broke our rudder,” Lan Jue announced. “Have it pull us back to shore. Save us the trouble of waiting for a rescue boat.”

“Alright!”

A few minutes later, and the Nethermaw was towing them in with mooring ropes tied to its spines. The catamaran bobbed in the beast’s wake as they made it back towards town.

Su He grinned at Lan Jue. “I’m sorry. We charge out on a whim and come back with our tail between our legs. This is actually the first time I’ve ever actually seen a Nethermaw. It was interesting, I just wish it was under different circumstances.”

Chapter 206: Tear Of Neptune

Lan Jue patted his friend’s shoulder. “We’re closer than that Mentor, no need for any of this formality. You’re a kindhearted soul, so you didn’t want to strike it. Otherwise I’m certain there’d be little left of it for us to admire. We’re having a great time, truly, and we’ll be back just in time for lunch. Then, the auction.”

Su He smiled. “It looks like the rigors of the real world have matured you, freshman. I remember back in our school days you were quite the celebrity. No small number of challengers, too, which you beat soundly.”

Lan Jue awkwardly rubbed his nose. “You know young people, full of piss and vinegar. Don’t hold it against me.”

The Nethermaw was considerably more powerful than their boat’s motor, so they were back to shore in half the time it took them to reach the point where they encountered the creature. Now, so close to the world of man, Lin Guoguo relinquished her control over the beast. It left, while Su He used his own powers to guide the boat to its allotted berth.

Lan Jue disembarked, shaking his head and laughing. Upon

first encountering the sea creature he was cursing his luck, images of Taihua looming in his mind’s eye. But Lir proved to be a safe place.

To make up for their unfortunate boating experience, Su He organized a particularly sumptuous lunch. Both he and his guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They abstained from drinking, since they had an auction to attend in the afternoon.

The morning had been warm and sunny, but now as afternoon approached the sky had grown overcast. A storm was brewing on the horizon, but the crisp winds still bore that strange fresh sea scent.

ζ

The auction took place in the heart of Dwarka, in an old art museum. It was a fabulous building, with a very interesting name; the Tear of Neptune.

The construction was blue, like everything else, with a crystalline façade that shone in gradients of color. The entire thing was an oval, making it look like a massive, masterfully cut sapphire. From the outside no metal was visible, leading the

viewer to surmise that the whole thing was made out of glass or crystal blocks placed together. There was no longer any sun, but the gorgeous building still refracted the dim light from its surroundings.

Lan Jue and his party made their way there after lunch. They took a picture before the doors of the modern architectural wonder, then entered.

There were already a fair number of people milling about the museum’s interior. Su He quickly made his way over to register their group, then returned and handed them each their name tags.

There was still some time before the auction, so Su He lead them to the museum’s coffee shop. They drank coffee and looked over the auction’s brochure. They had to decide which items they were interested in.

Lan Jue lazily flipped through the pages. Each one bore a single item plastered large on the glossy sheets. They were professionally photographed, and bore an introduction underneath. The more expensive pieces were given several pages.

Most of what was to be auctioned today was art. From time to time Lan Jue would not his head appreciably. Like most other high-culture hobbies, he was a fan. The vast majority of pieces held to the Lirian standard of blue everything. It was a preference Lan Jue shared.

“Take a look at this one, boss. It’s gorgeous. We should buy it and place it in the shop, what do you think?” Lin Guoguo leaned over and shoved her brochure in Lan Jue’s face.

It was a sculpture, blue, made of something like autinite in the shape of a mermaid. Its face bore a small smile, waves of long hair fell from its head, and every single scale on its tail was meticulously detailed. It was a masterful work of art, to be sure.

Lan Jue folded his hands in his lap, and smiled with a nod. “Not bad! If you like it, we’ll buy it.”

“Thanks boss!” Lin Guoguo tittered excitedly.

“Boss,” Xiuxiu entreated timidly. She handed him her own brochure, flipped to a page near the back.

Power gems! The words scrawled along the top of the page instantly drew Lan Jue’s eye.

Xiuxiu spoke. “The main draw is an s-ranked stone. Called the Tear of Neptune.”

Lan Jue raised his brows as he looked over the information. “Let’s see what it does.”

The worth of an s-ranked gem could never be measured by money. They were considered important strategic resources for every Alliance. As a result, the number of s-ranked gems circulating in the public market was exceedingly small. Most were powering mother ships and Bastions. Their enormous bulk required the powerful gems to operate.

For one to appear at auction was a very special event.

Now that Lan Jue had recognized the opportunity, it wasn’t one he wanted to miss. He still remembered that he owed the Avenue a gem. If he came back with this gem, the debt he owed for being saved would be repaid and then some.

Xiuxiu immediately began tapping away at her communicator. After a few moments, she stuck her arm in front of Lan Jue so he could see.

Tear of Neptune. It was a gem exclusively found on Lir, and the only one it produced.

Appraisal: Though the Tear of Neptune was indeed an s- ranked gemstone, it was the least regarded among them. Its function was the removal of impurities, possessing had the ability to purify any energy material. So, though it was s- ranked, it’s function was best when paired with an appropriate a-ranked gem.

Remove impurities?

Two simple words. But they were enough to strike a chord with Lan Jue. He quickly read through the remaining details.

In both its rarity and power level, the stone was considered s- ranked. To get one one-carat gem, one thousand tons of the unrefined rock was required. Only five thousand tons of rock were dredged per year. The unrefined stone itself was d-ranked. While this certainly couldn’t compare to five s-ranked gems, it

was more valuable than five a-ranked.

And so, even though it was the highest grade of stone available on Lir, it was still produced only in small numbers. And an s-ranked gem needed to be at least three carats.

The one they had on auction was five carats. It was a work of art among quality goods. Still, it was a Tear.

A year’s worth of rock for one gemstone! Its cost would surely take the manufacturing materials in to account, so surely it wasn’t cheap. And so, the main item wasn’t terribly exciting. It was the first time such a gem would be offered at auction, but the determination was to pass on it. It was seen as a disgrace to s-ranked gems.

Chapter 207: The Auction

Lan Jue carefully read through the Tear’s introductory paragraphs. As anticipated, the Tear of Neptune was reputed to have an exceptional ability to remove impurities.

Once energy was channeled through the gemstone, it would emit a gentle light. Any gem was easily perfected when paired with the Tear. Once the s-ranked gem’s work was done, only the purest forms of energy remained in its target. Everything else was unnecessary, and was removed.

There were certainly other gems that held similar properties, but none were as thorough as this. However, there were only b- ranked stones that were similar to this one! Clearly, there was a world of difference with regards to cost when considering a b- and s-ranked gem. However, even b-ranked gems were able to remove ninety percent of impurities.

Another reason why Tears of Neptune weren’t so highly sought after.

Finally, near the end, there was a closing note: The Tear of Neptune – chasing the perfect gem.

After reading through the introduction, Lan Jue flipped through the brochure in his hands. There were many other gems on offer, of many different sorts. They ranged from d-to a- ranked, though clearly there was significantly more lower end stones available. The d-ranked gems alone weighed in at ten kilograms.

Once more this underlined the pricing scheme for a gem that requires five thousand kilograms of the stuff.

“Boss, your black coffee.” Lin Guoguo came back from the coffee bar, bearing a mug for her employer. She placed it on the table in front of him.

The dark, thick liquid was bitter, full to the taste, but it was a flavor Lan Jue enjoyed. Plus, his stomach never digested dairy products well. A mild case of lactose intolerance. Hence the preference for black coffee.

He took several sips of the stuff, and almost instantly felt waves of refreshing energy course through him. He shut the brochure in his hands, closed his eyes, and enjoyed the relaxing sensations.

Just as he was taking the final sip of his brew, an announcement hailed the beginning of the auction.

The auction had lead the organizers to temporarily refurbish the large chamber in the center of the gallery. The second Lan Jue stepped inside, he could feel powerful waves of energy coming from all around him.

He took only the briefest look around. In that moment, he identified no less than thirty Adepts, at least sixth-ranked. There were ten more who were seventh-ranked. Two ninth- ranked adepts were backstage.

It was quite the powerful assembly, to be sure. There were powerful security measures to match.

The auction was soon to commence, and people were filling the seats. More than a thousand had already picked a spot.

Lan Jue and the others managed to finds seats on the center of a lane near the front of the hall. To his left sat Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu. Su He, and Ya Xiu sat to his right.

“So has anything caught your eye?” Su He asked in curiosity.

Lan Jue nodded. “A few things. Let’s see how many I walk away with.”

The great double doors leading to the chamber were closed. Two Adepts took up position on either side of it, their eyes sweeping over the crowd. The lights dimmed. Just as they did, before the onlookers could let their eyes adjust, a single blazing spotlight sprung to life. All eyes were on the stage.

An elderly gentleman appeared from backstage, clad in a masterfully tailored grey formal suit. His clothes were immaculate, without blemish or wrinkle. His silver hair was slicked back, and looked in fine condition for a man of his age. On the contrary, he seemed full of vitality. In a way, he was a lot like the antiques he was slated to sell. The more you looked upon him, the deeper the sensation went.

Lan Jue raised a brow. He could feel that this was one of the ninth-ranked adepts he’d sensed when first entering.

“Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, greetings and welcome. It is my great honor, to host this year’s annual Tears

of Neptune Auction. Out in the crowd I see many familiar faces, but I also see new friends I’m confident will happily join our community tonight. The Tears of Neptune Auction, is the largest auction held on Lir, occurring once a year. It has a storied, twenty-seven year long history of joining buyers with new treasures. This year, we have a more extensive – and more expensive – selection than any year prior. I can assure you, that you won’t regret your presence or future purchases.”

The elderly man’s voice was cast through the room by virtue of a microphone pinned to his lapel. It was magnetic, and pleasing to the ear.

Lan Jue leaned slightly towards Su He on his right, and spoke to him in low tones. “Mentor, are there any restrictions or requirements to participate?”

“Many,” Su He assured. “Clear proof of identity, enough money for a deposit, and a good standing within the Alliance for starters. Yesterday I set us up through the Bookworm’s name. With him in such good standing, there was no need for you to submit to a check. The Bookworm acts as our guarantor.”

Lan Jue cracked a smile. “So if we run around stealing stuff it’ll probably tick the old man off. He’ll be in a world of

trouble!”

Su He laughed. “Yup! He’d probably kill me. Or, more likely, reduce me in to a series of data matrices.”

“There are numerous items for us to bid on tonight, so this old man won’t take any more of your time. Let us begin. The first ten items were donated to us by people from all walks of life. All of the proceeds for these items will be given to local Lir charities. This is as good a reason to be liberal with your money as you can find – get something nice, and help people in the process. Now on to our first item, The Mergoddess Surveys Her Kingdom.”

Another individual made his presence known, pushing a large cart onto the stage. It was simple, lending itself to the quaint antiquity that surrounded them. Within it were scores of goods for sell.

The item indicated was quite simply a work of art; shell, pearl and stone had been expertly combined. However, the most expensive part of the piece was the massive blue Lirian pearl, flawless in every way. The shells had been cut and engraved in the shape of a young woman. She sat upon the giant pearl, which made her look like a maiden resting in the depths of the

ocean. It was remarkably true to life. Closer observation would reveal that her legs were in fact a fin, covered in meticulously detailed scales. All in all, it was a work of art one rarely came by.

The bid caller gave a brief introduction, then said “Since this is for charity, we’ll skip the lower offers, please. Ladies and gentlemen, your bids.”

Lan Jue nodded to Xiuxiu and his shoulder.

Xiuxiu lifted the small placard in her hand that read ‘#568’. “Ten thousand NED,” her melodious voice called. It was pleasing, but loud enough to be clearly heard.

The bid caller was certainly surprised by the bid. New Era Dollars were hard to come by in general, with the average monthly income hovering around three to five hundred. Ten thousand NEU was well beyond the asking price.

Chapter 208: Living Metal

The excessive offer sent mumbles racing through the auction hall. Everyone turned to look their way.

Upon seeing it was a beautiful woman who made the bid, their curiosity turned to well-meaning smiles and furtive glances.

“Clearly this beautiful young woman has a heart of gold. We humbly thank you for your charitable contribution. Ten thousand, going once.”

No one lifted their voice to contest the price.

“Ten thousand going twice.”

“Ten thousand… sold! The deal is concluded.”

He struck his gavel against its sound block, indicating the sale of their first item. Just as fast as it was brought on stage, Lan Jue’s new sculpture was carted off.

Xiuxiu allowed her arm to drop, when a young woman came to record the sale. The deal wouldn’t be complete until the end of the auction, but she needed to register her pledge now.

The bid caller nodded congenially towards Xiuxiu. “We’re off to an excellent start thanks to this young woman, who’s generosity will undoubtedly make the charities very happy. Alright! Next up is our second item…”

As the auction continued, Su He turned his head towards Lan Jue. “You know the price of that piece was set at…”

Lan Jue lifted a hand, cutting Su He off. “This is my first time on Lir. I just wanted to leave a little mark of my passage. Not just money, but goodwill. Moreover, charity is good for cleansing the spirit. So the amount isn’t entirely altruistic.”

Su He chuckled and said nothing more. He shot his friend a thumbs-up.

Xiuxiu’s example helped the other nine charity items sell at higher prices than their projected value. None reached the ten thousand mark Lan Jue had set, but they contributed no small amount to the cause. After all ten items were settled, they

paused to collect data.

The bid caller took the time to explain the charity, detailing its goal of putting the money towards fighting genetic diseases and cytological research.

The exciting commencement of the auction had raised the excitement levels of the gathered auctioneers. None had expected such a sky-high price.

Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu took turns picking out items they liked. The most expensive was thirty-thousand NEU.

Lan Jue simply sat, watching the parade of items pass by with appreciative glances. None, however, really seemed to catch his eye.

Su He also participated, bidding on several items. He purchased two bits of jewelry, which he undoubtedly did with the intent of giving them to his new wife. Ya Xiu watched, the affection in her eyes growing. She slid her hand in to his, their fingers interlacing. Their love for one another was clear.

“Now on to the rare metals.”

With that the older man stepped down. A young woman took his place as the bid caller.

“Remember that all of the items we see here today have come from our own planet Lir. These rare materials are no exception. We have thirty-seven items up for auction today, with six available in large quantity. I encourage our honored guests to pay close attention. Don’t let someone else snap up your opportunity.”

They were approaching the main event, with the rare metal section underway. The participants were growing more excited with each passing moment, salivating at the prospect of a good buy. Many of the more serious auctioneers were opening their eyes, and focusing their attention upon the stage.

“Our first item: seacopper. Ten times harder than brass, enough to rival gemstones. It is also a third the weight of brass. It is an integral material in the construction of alloys. Today, we have ten tons of seacopper on offer. The bidding will begin three million.”

The previous art section hadn’t seen an item surpass even one million. This was starting to get in to the big money.

“First lot of seacopper. Bidding commence.”

“Three million!”

“Three-hundred ten million!”

“Three twenty-five!”

The bid caller shouted out the numbers with the help of assistants below the stage. The seacopper was gone quickly.

All, that is, but for a single remaining piece of indigo blue seacopper. It bore the color of the sea that birthed it, and was such a hue that looking in to it was like staring in to the depths of the ocean. However, upon closer inspection it was revealed to be textured. This sort of copper was only found three thousand meters under water, which made obtaining it very difficult. It also made it valuable. She had spoken true, it was a fine metal for alloy construction.

One ton of this metal combined with another was enough to build a Sovereign-ranked mecha.

Lan Jue recognized the auction house’s strategy. The rare metal would further inflame the auctioneers, as it was one of the best rare metals they had on offer.

Each of the ten tons were sold for around four million each, carved up and separated to their respective buyers. A full four tons was purchased by one man.

As Lan Jue anticipated, the next item didn’t live up to the seacopper that had proceeded it. One after the other, items were paraded in front of him and sold but Lan Jue saw nothing that would compare to the seacopper in use or value.

“The next few items are rarer still, and their prices reflect this. And so, with your attention we’ll continue. First, we have refined technetium.”

Lan Jue’s face darkened at the mention of the metal. His mind filled with memories of Pearl, and the task he’d done to find who he thought had been Hera.

“Today we’re offering fifty grams of technetium, who’s miraculous effects need no introduction. If metal were given the same ranks as gems, this would be an A. Fifty million starting bid, let’s get going.”

At the bid caller’s instruction, numerous bidders throughout the hall began to cry their numbers.

Rare metals like technetium had the most utility when used in the construction of mechas. A single gram of the stuff was enough to give ten kilograms of alloy metal the ability to heal itself. It was most often used in and around a suit’s core mechanisms.

It was an amazing material, otherwise that woman Pearl would never have had the gall to trick Zeus in to getting some for her.

The technetium offered was ‘only’ fifty grams. But even in such small quantities, it was rare to find this metal on the open market. As a result, the hall was abuzz with excitement. In no time at all the bid had risen to seventy million, and was still going.

“Is this something you’re interested in boss,” Xiuxiu asked.

Her employer shook his head. “There are too many competitors. It’s final price will exceed it’s going rate. Besides, if ever I need anything like this it’s best simply to talk to Chu Cheng.”

Chu Cheng would certainly get him the lowest possible cost. Connections were important here, as this sort of item wasn’t obtainable by everyone.

At last the bid closed, with the price of the technetium skyrocketing to one hundred and ten million NED. The buyer was a gentleman in the front row.

One hundred and ten million dollars. It was enough to build two sovereign-class mechs. With the current buying power of NED, one can imagine how rankling the price was. It was already far beyond what it’d be worth if purchased straight. Most of that could be chalked up to its rarity.

The auction continued, with another six or seven rare metals on offer. The bid caller paraded them one by one, but there wasn’t anything Lan Jue found particularly interesting.

“Now we’ve come to the final three items in our rare metals category. The first we’ll discuss is very curious. It may very well be the only one of its kind. Ladies and gentlemen, if you would look this way.” As the bid caller introduced the next item, she indicated the cart on the stage beside her.

Upon it there was a velvet cover, which was pulled away to reveal a crystal box. Inside the crystal box was their prize.

The metal itself was a pale blue, however it’s quasi-liquid surface was dotted with a plethora of star-like impurities that were a dazzling deep sapphire. However, that wasn’t the strange part. Under the watchful gaze of the bidders, the metal began to move of its own accord, like it had a life of its own. It rolled back and forth within the box ceaselessly.

Dozens of pairs of shocked eyes followed it.

“That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, this is a living metal. The very first of its kind ever discovered in the Three Alliances. It is also a gorgeous piece, with an exterior pleasing to the eye. While we aren’t sure of its precise function, we are reasonably assured that it has powerful energy multiplication abilities. During our tests we injected the metal with our softest, gentlest energies. Immediately, we saw a return of over twice of energy

investment. Because the metal seems to slow down function when paired, so it has difficulty stabilizing the energy it produces.”

“This metal is a product of our very own planet Lir. It was discovered more than two thousand meters beneath the surface of the ocean, and is likely the only one of its kind. Subsequent attempts to find more like it in the area came up dry. This is an absolutely unique piece of history, and its price will reflect that. In addition to its auto-motive capabilities, our tests also revealed an inherent tenacity. We employed no less than ten lasers of various strengths and sizes in attempts to damage the metal, all to no avail.”

Curiosity danced in the expressions of every bidder present.
And yet, all were silent.

“Let’s start the bidding. Due to its unique nature, as a one-of- a-kind living element, we’ve set the opening bid at ten million. Please only increase bidding by no less than ten thousand.”

The reaction of the crowd was diametrically opposite to how they reacted to the technetium. After the bid caller finished her introduction, no one moved. No one spoke. Not a single placard raised.

There were several in the crowd who bore interest in the special metal, which danced and hopped on its own. After all, how interesting and entertaining it was to watch! If only it’s functions were understood in their entirety, then the metal would surely be the focus of a flurry of bids.

But as it was, no one wished to commit to the expense for something they knew nothing about.

Chapter 209: Dreams Of Astrum

One million NEU. Not a small number. Enough, in fact, to purchase a special c- or normal b-ranked power gem. Who would be willing to spend that kind of money?

The female bid caller looked out over the silent crowd, her face stoic. She called out the starting bid a few more times, with no takers, while secretly bemoaning the lack of interest.

The pricing scheme for the metal had been determined by its energy multiplication functions and its beautiful appearance. There was no shortage of auction goers, and the women among them especially should find the piece alluring.

And yet, judging by the scene before her eyes, the bid caller assumed they had judged the piece of unique metal and had found it wanting. No one, not even the women, seemed interested in paying the price. Some didn’t even raise their head to look.

Unfortunately, it was the movement of the thing itself that was causing the female audience members to fear it! The thing had a life of its own, how could they be sure it was safe, much less useful? They could get hurt. The fear was compounded by

the recent events on Taihua, which spurred a deep distrust – maybe even a hatred – of unknown life forms. That, the bid caller surmised, was the reason for their apparent disinterest.

As the seconds ticked by, the young woman’s face grew more distressed. Are we really going to be stuck with this thing?

As she was preparing to give in, a placard shot up from somewhere within the crowd. “One million, bidder 570 bids a million NEU for the living metal.” The relief was audible in her voice, and when she continued her volume had increased in power and octave. “No other takers? Perhaps the very only specimen in all the Three Alliances. This is quite possibly your only chance to own this very special item. Any other bidders?”

Lan Jue slowly allowed his arm to drop, resting his placard in his lap. The number 570 was scrawled across it.

Xiuxiu and Lin Guoguo exchanged a glance, full of curiosity, but said nothing. Whatever the reason for their boss’ interest in this, they stood by him unconditionally.

Su He was also surprised by the development, but like the two Amazons kept his piece. This was a public auction, who knew

what the people next to them were doing, if they were listening. Being inattentive could lose you the item and disrupt the proceedings.

It was common courtesy in a setting such as this to be quiet and respectful.

Still the bid caller cried the prices. For a full minute she fought to raise the items price, but none spoke up.

“Final call… sold!” The hammer cracked as it struck the sound block, the deal was done. Lan Jue was now the proud owner of a living metal nugget.

A small smile pulled at the corners of Lan Jue’s lips. In the same moment, a sliver of silver blue energy  soundlessly emerged from the ground ten centimeters away from him. It wriggled back into his body, merging with his discipline, unnoticed.

One million NEU. It was a hefty price tag, one Lan Jue certainly couldn’t afford to pay simply on a whim. He wasn’t a wastrel.

Just then, as the bid caller was recording the sale, he’d employed his lightning discipline to send out a small bolt of electricity. Quietly, without drawing attention, the extension of Lan Jue’s power slithered under the stage. It drew close to the cart where the living metal lay, but did not interact with it. He didn’t need to; Lan Jue could clearly feel the waves of energy the slab released.

Rare metals were expensive, but rarely surpassed the price of power gems. This was largely due to the fact that power gems came with enormous amounts of energy already within them. These rare metals were only possessed of their own special quality. Most didn’t have their own energy stores to speak of.

But this one, Lan Jue felt, was different. Through the extension of his Discipline he’d been able to feel pulses of energy being released from the chunk of metal. He couldn’t put a price on this thing. What’s more, the closer he got the more violent its shaking became.

An electric field! This was Lan Jue’s first determination. Somehow the material was releasing it’s own electric field. The revelation certainly affixed some value to the strange piece.

Lan Jue was an Adept who commanded the forces of

thunderbolts and lightning. It was certainly rare to find an Adept who possessed the power of two Disciplines – especially disciplines that complimented one another – but they weren’t impossible to come across. About ten percent of adepts above rank five were blessed in this way. The reason for Lan Jue’s dominance, was his commitment to developing both of his disciplines equally to the best of his ability. And then there was this piece of metal. Like him, it had two functions, a similarity he was growing steadily more interested in.

Lan Jue made the bid, and though he couldn’t be sure of the metal’s exact properties, he didn’t regret the purchase.

Experiences were different for everyone, and the resulting insights were as varying as the people who had them. Lan Jue knew several Paragons, and each one possessed a weapon that played off their strengths. He called them Astrums, and each were able to meld with and amplify their master’s abilities. However, the most difficult part of obtaining an Astrum was finding components that paired with one’s Discipline.

The Wine Master’s scepter was an example, and Lan Jue couldn’t imagine what the Paragon had to do in order to obtain it. It surely must have cost him, though.

Many Paragon’s codenames were actually the names of their Astrums, and the name of the power they commanded.

A million NEU, to try and make his own Astrum. Of course the cost was worth it.

Naturally, the bid caller wasn’t aware of any of this. All she knew was she’d made the sale, and sighed in relief. Essentially she was just here to take notes and keep a record of sales.

The final price was less than they’d hoped, but this wasn’t the first time they’d tried to sell it. Several other bid callers had given it their best in previous auctions, but were ultimately unsuccessful. Just getting it off their hands was a good thing.

“Next we come to the final items in our rare metals display.
Are we ready?”

The bidders began to come back around, giving the caller their full attention.

The second-to-last began at six million NEU, higher even than the technetium. However, Lan Jue made no effort to cast a bid.

The very last of the rare metals sold for nine million.

It wasn’t that Lan Jue wasn’t interested in these rare materials. He was. It was a matter of practicality, for he didn’t see much use for them in his situation. Plus, his interests lay in a later potential purchase.

Finally, the sales were done, and the deals recorded. Once again the level of excitement in the hall had begun to rise.

Eventually the bid callers and assistants got the room under control. Once she could be heard, the young man stated that they would adjourn temporarily. She went on to explain that those who’d made a purchase could see them about completing their transactions.

Lan Jue turned his face towards Su He, still seated at his elbow. “Excuse me a moment, mentor. I’m going to go finish up.”

Su He blinked. “There’s no rush. It’s fine, wait until the auction is over. It’d be an inconvenience if you buy anything more later.”

Lan Jue smiled. “That’s alright, I also feel like I want some fresh air.” Lan Jue stood, and left without  any  further discussion.

Naturally Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu rose to follow their boss. As he walked out from the aisle they fanned out protectively behind him. Neither spoke, but both bore hints of surprise in their eyes.

Both women knew their boss well, and they knew him to be relaxed and laid back. This rush was certainly uncharacteristic. He only got this way when it was important.

Xiuxiu was especially curious. She had caught sight of the look in his eye, that excitement therein. He hid it well but no one knew Lan Jue better than she, and it had been a very, very long time since she’d seen that look.

Items over a million NEU were watched over by individual receptionists responsible for their safety. It didn’t take long, under the receptionist’s guidance, to pay what they owed for their items. They left their purchases there, giving the staff their hotel address for delivery. Only the last item, that living metal, did Lan Jue take personally.

It was smooth, a titanium white now with sparkling blue dots interspersed across its surface. Closer inspection only increased its beauty.

Lin Guoguo gasped in appreciation, in spite of herself. “It’s so pretty! Soft-looking and fluid… like a big ball of snot!”

Xiuxiu tittered. “Ugh! Guoguo! So disgusting!”

As Lan Jue took the crystal box the metal was stored in, he stopped. A look of pleasant surprise overcame him, but he did not yet open his prize. Instead there was a flash, and the box was gone – stored in Lan Jue’s inter-dimensional storage space.

The receptionist who’d been assigned to look after the metal saw everything. When she looked back to Lan Jue, there was a light of respect in her eyes.

Inter-dimensional storage wasn’t something within reach of your average person. Not only was a Discipline rank of six or higher necessary, one also needed the financial resources to set the whole thing up. Those power gems which allow for the creation of a stable, spacious alternate dimension, were always top of the gem lists.

For example, creating a space large enough to fit a mecha would require nothing less than an a-ranked inter-dimensional power gem.

There were spaces created that were large and stable enough to house entire battleships, themselves the product of s-ranked gems. The largest known inter-dimensional space was under Northern Alliance purview; they called it the Glory of the North, and it was big enough for an entire capital ship.

However, the more commonly used pockets weren’t obscenely expensive – c-ranked, only. They were the most expensive c- ranked gems you could purchase, though.

They made their way back to the auction hall, with Lan Jue smiling the entire trip back. What he really wanted, was to head back to the hotel right away.

Sensing auras from a distance and actually getting your hands on something were a world of difference. The second he gripped the box he knew; this metal did indeed have a powerful electric field.

Chapter 210: Pelagic Pearl

It was certainly a startling field; weak, but complicated. The deeper he delved in to it, the more his thunderbolt and lightning Disciplines resonated. His own power was strong enough to counter-act the strange sensation, but a lesser man would certainly have difficulties controlling the chaotic powers.

The one million dollars was well worth it!

There were other metals that produced an electric field, of course. Lan Jue had even encountered several of them. However, this was the first time a metal had begun to influence his Discipline just by being close.

Lan Jue was well satisfied with his purchases. This metal alone would require more careful study when he returned to the hotel later. Years of experience and study have possessed him with a calm state of mind, but it would be best to examine the stuff in Skyfire Avenue.

After a while the remainder of wandering auctioneers returned to their seats. The show continued shortly thereafter.

The bid caller changed once again. The older man had returned to take over.

Now he was clad in a snow white suit, and a red shirt that gave him a sort of old-timey charm. A younger man wouldn’t have been able to pull it off.

“Thank you and welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. Now we come to the final section of the Tear of Neptune auction. I’m certain many of you have been waiting with baited breath for this very moment. That’s right, here we’ve come to the final leg of our time together; power gems! Today we have sixteen gems on offer, all of them the product of our very own planet Lir. Our basest gemstones are c-ranked, so we have something for everyone. Don’t miss your chance!”

“Please bring out our first item.”

An assistant pushed the cart back onto the stage. The scarlet velvet covering the item was removed, revealing a crystal display box. Within sat a twinkling pitch black pearl.

If they were sticking to their normal formula, then this item would their third major draw for this section, surpassed only by

their last two sales. They did this to keep the excitement levels high, and drive up competitive prices. It was a common practice in auctions.

“The Pelagic Pearl, an a-ranked gem. In total, we have three identical gems available for purchase. They’ve already been beautifully cut for your convenience and appreciation. It’s ready for any application, especially as the core gem for your mecha. The power gem has three special characteristics, making it a star among a-ranked gems.”

“First, the gem is chalk full of an enormous amount  of personal energy, making it an excellent source of alternative energy. As I’m certainly everyone is aware, Sovereign-class mechs have gems such as these to help with  energy consumption. The more prosperous the energy gem, the more powerful the mecha it can support. This single five hundred carat gem can power your top of the line mecha for three hours of uninterrupted combat.”

“Secondly, the gem has a pure and powerful water element power. Water Adepts who channel their power through it, will see their capabilities doubled at the least. A concrete number for how much more powerful one is when using the gem is difficult to provide, as it’s contingent on how well one’s Discipline melds with the gem. To our knowledge, a well-paired team of Adept

and gem can reach as high as five times their normal abilities.”

“The third and final ability of the pearl, is its regenerative powers. Drop it in the water, and the power gem will consume the water energies around it to heal. If the gem runs out of energy, keep it in the water for three hours and you’re ready to go again.”

“Amplification, preservation, regeneration, all  in  one balanced package. Let’s begin; we’ll set the opening bid at one million NED. Bids must continue in twenty-thousand dollar increments. Begin!”

The interest in power gems had always trumped lust for anything else in all three Alliances. As the bidding commenced, no less than ten auctioneers brought up their placards. The price rose frighteningly fast.

“Hey freshman, what do you think of this a-ranked gem?” Su He asked.

Lan Jue turned his head to reply. “Balanced, yet moderate.
It’d be much more suitable for water Adepts.”

Su He nodded.

An energy gem that’s reached this level didn’t even have a market price. It was uncommon enough that there wasn’t a previously set game or hardware situation for them to fall back on.

The pearl eventually sold to a gentleman in the front, for eighteen million NED.

Energy gems that reached a-rank were very rarely seen on the public market. They were rare enough so that price no object when those in need finally came across one.

Things continued as before, with the items following the Pelagic Pearl being significantly less interesting. In fact none were better than ‘mediocre.’

Xiuxiu and Lin Guoguo occasionally bid on pieces that came up, without needing to wait for Lan Jue’s input. As decent deals presented themselves, the two young women would involve themselves. Even still they didn’t buy much.

Before long, they’d come to the second to last item on auction.

“Next for your viewing pleasure, we have the last item before our main event. This is another a-ranked power gem. However, I must tell you, this is a gem that’s at the absolute peak of its class. Let’s take a look!” He swept his arm towards the cart.

A blue, opaque gemstone sat within a crystal display box. In all it was about the size of an adult fist, and round like a ball. It’s interior looked like a storm of rolling clouds and mist, accompanied by an indistinct halo of dim light. Even with the barrier of the crystal box between them, Lan Jue could still faintly sense the energy waves given off by the power gem.

Lan Jue’s face changed, just the faintest bit. Su He’s eyes betrayed surprise as he exclaimed “A Brine Orb. I didn’t look carefully at the brochure, I had no idea.”

Lan Jue’s quiet voice responded. “It was there, but the picture didn’t do it any justice. Looking at it now, it’s clear it’s an excellent specimen. Once again, very suited for Water Adepts.”

The bid caller continued with his introduction. “The Brine Orb. Storied, powerful. An a-ranked power gem that pairs well

with any Adept, especially when serving as part of a weapon. It gives the bearer the element of water to control during combat.”

“As I’m sure all of our illustrious guests are aware, the Brine Orb pairs well with the water element’s sustainability. I can tell you that, while testing the gem, it was able to sustain a stable emulsion of water element for thirty minutes. This is the longest recorded time for any Brine Orb. On top of that, the power it possesses rivals an eighth-ranked Talent! Whoever you’re facing, this power gem can protect you – unless you’re running around picking fights with Paragons. It’s like carrying around your own bodyguard who has no need for food or sleep, and is immune from death. After use, submerge the gem in water for twelve hours and you’re ready to go again. If you submerge it in the ocean, you’ll only need three hours.”

“I believe that’s enough of an introduction for us to get started. We underwent extensive testing, considering it over and over again before the auction. We’ve determined that the starting price for this wonderful power gem couldn’t be any less than twenty million NED, without doing it a disservice. Bids must increase at five hundred thousand NED intervals. Let’s get going!”

“Twenty-five million!” A hand shot up from the front few

rows. In a blink the gem was now one fourth more expensive.

The bid caller had been right by describing the Brine Orb as one of the best a-ranked gems. The bulk of its price tag came from the fact that it only took a very small amount of one’s personal energy to enervate the gem, and call on its elemental powers. What the introduction didn’t mention was that fresh blood was how one got the most out of the power gem. It created a link between the gem and the host, so that only one person was ever able to use that gem. The gem would remain under an individual’s whim, until that person died.

As for Lan Jue, at his level of power there were other a-ranked power gems of more use…

“Fifty million.” A calm voice called out their bid. The voice was soft, yet everyone in the room could hear them clearly. Stranger still, a strangely oppressive sensation filled the area as the voice called forth.

Everyone went silent. Everyone in the front turned their heads, looking for the origin of the sound. However, they were shocked to discover that everyone was looking in different places – the voice came from a different location for every listener. Fortunately they eventually found the raised placard.

570 was clearly written on its surface.

“Number five-seventy, fifty million NED.” Even the bid caller’s voice was somewhat surprised. It wasn’t an outrageous price for such a high ranked gem, however it was already twice the current price. With statistics like that, anyone would be shocked at the increase. On top of all of that, to possess such an overbearing sensation with just your voice, set even the  bid caller on edge. As a ninth-ranked adept himself, he knew clearly the sort of power that was. Number 570 was at least as strong as he was.

“Any other interested parties?” The bid caller asked.

Not a sound. Silence met the elderly man’s question.

Fifty million was a high number, by any metric. They also had no interest in testing a man who could command such power with his voice alone. Who he was, whether it was him or those at his side, none of that mattered. They had the power and resources to take what they wanted.

A high price to pay, and doing so would also potentially offend a powerful Adept. There were several things to consider, hence

the silence.

Most of those present were businessmen, merchants, traders. They understood the way worth and risk interacted. There wasn’t enough draw for them to take the risk.

Lan Jue dropped his placard. His face was calm, without expression. Beside him, Su He looked his way in curiosity. His new wife was similarly surprised. All she really knew about this man and his two female servants was that he was her husband’s friend. She had no idea he had so much money to throw around.

“Fifty million, going once!” The bid caller had no choice but to abide by the rules of the auction. He began to call out the final chances. The oppressive sense, paired with the fact  that  the price was near enough to the auction house’s goal for the item, meant he wouldn’t waste any further time  shouting  for increases.

Still, silence.

Suddenly, a voice in front shouted out. “Fifty-ONE million!”

“Sixty million!” Lan Jue raised his placard once again. His face still bore that calm mask.

The challenging voice was quiet, shot down by the cool and indifferent increase of nine million dollars. While the voice may have been calm, it was like a blast of thunder in their ears. The whole place shook uncomfortably. The faces of the many businessmen drained of color.

Such power! This is no ordinary ninth-ranked Adept. Such was the thought going through everyone’s mind.

“Sixty million, going once.”

“Sixty million, second call.”

“Third and final, sixty million. Takers?”

“SOLD. Sixty million.”

The hammer smacked the sound block. The deal was made.

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