Skyfire Avenue Chapter 321-330

Chapter 321: Ruinous Blow

Lan Jue picked off his cloak and wig, then calmly walked to the battleship’s control panel. He flooded it with current, and the ship came back to life.

He wasn’t happy with the obliteration of the pirates, on the contrary his brows were furrowed ominously. He conncted to Zeus-1 on the planet below through a secret cipher code.

“Jewelry Master? Everything went smoothly? Don’t worry, everything on the surface is normal. Beta squad has found fifty- six Eastern women who had been held hostage by the enemy. They’ve already escorted them to safety. The remaining teams are cleaning up the stragglers.”

Lan Jue’s quiet voice responded. “Relay my command, Accountant: Everyone is to fall back to Zeus-1. Take off and pick them up. Once you’ve got ‘em, come and get me. Quick, now.”

The Accountant felt nervous as he heard Lan Jue’s urgency. He didn’t dare dally, and performed his task without hesitation. The students, as well, felt strange as the commands were relayed. Didn’t he say not to give any quarter? Wasn’t their job to eliminate all of the pirates? They were well in control of the

battle, and the pirates had no chance at victory. What’s the idea?

Although their were uncertain, their time on An Lun had taught them a little something about following orders. So despite their confusion, they did what they were told as fast as they were able.

Zeus-1 rose quickly under the Accountant’s command. Flashes of light sputtered from its thrusters as the  ship  swept  by, landing just long enough to gather up the rescued women and the students. The ship – already near capacity – was downright crowded with the addition of fifty more souls. The students had to remove their suits before boarding, obviously, though it slowed the escape process.

The seats were all given to the captives, who all looked relieved to be freed from their ordeal. But one could tell they were scarred. There was a vacuity in their eyes, like their souls were dead or locked away. A few wept silently, or stared blankly at nothing. Seeing them, the students couldnm’t help but clench their fists and gnash their teeth. Who knew how much torment these poor women had to endure from these despicable pirates.

“Quick!” Lan Jue’s urgent voice pulled their minds back to the

present.

“Everyone’s here,” the Accountant said. “We’re in flight, en route to your position.”

Lan Jea, meanwhile, was watching the the screens at the battleship’s control panel. Sweat dotted his forehead.

Lan Jue had used his Ascension powers and protogenic abilities to quickly deal with the pirates. Doing so that quickly, of course, drained a good deal of energy.

Of course, his command to recall the troops wasn’t a pointless endeavor. Despite his handling of the situation, a terrifying sensation washed over him as he did. Something that made it hard to breathe.

It was a sensation he hadn’t even felt on Taihua during the invasion. The fighting there had been more or less within his ability to deal with, however the feeling he had now was enough to rattle him. There was something… deadly.

It was a feeling he felt only once before. The day Hera died.

This was why he was so quickly commanding his students to retreat.

Zeus-1 tore through the air under the Accountant’s expert flying, headed for Lan Jue and the battleship. Lan Jue wasted no time with explanations, sending the ship on a speedy trip in to the recesses of the Starfields. The two boats followed the same path, one in front and one behind. The Crimson Star shrunk as they raced away.

“We’re boiling up in here, Jewelry Master. We’re like a bowl of dumplings. Why don’t you  take some people with you on your ship! I can barely breathe!” The Accountant’s voice was a little irritated.

In fact, he was downright depressed. As far as he knew, the Starfields were positively rife with pirates but at least here they’d be handled. But they were ordered to leave before they could even divvy up the spoils!

The students didn’t care – they hadn’t done this for riches. It was enough for them to have saved these women, some of whom clearly would need years of help to get over what had happened.

Lan Jue didn’t answer. He kept up the speed, forcing Zeus-1 to push full throttle to keep up. Before long both Zeus-1 and the battleship were at light speed. The ships weaved between the countless failed planets and fractured asteroids as they made their escape.

The Accountant glowered with his brows knotted as he watched the pirate battleship. The Jewelry Master was too cautious, he thought to himself. There was nothing going on! According to the star maps, there weren’t even any other pirates clans in the vicinity. What’s more, how could any of these piddling pirates stand up to the Jewelry Master and his awesome power?

As the confusion in his heart grew, the Accountant’s eyes were stabbed by a fierce light outside of the window. It was pure white, and so powerful that the whole of Zeus-1’s interior was blanched by it.

The women cried out in alarm with one terrified voice.

They could see it clearly from the windows. As they sped away a massive column of light – fifty kilometers long – tore through the darkness of space, right toward the Crimson Star. As the pearly light struck it, the entire planet adopted the pallid hue.

The Accountant’s eyes grew large, and threatened to pop out of his head. The lollipop in his mouth tumbled to the floor. The planet disappeared in a stupendous explosion before the lollipop even stopped rolling.

It was a small planet, but it was a planet. The Crimson Star disappeared as this enigmatic attack reduced it to space dust. So powerful was the blast, that even the errant asteroids in the vicinity were instantly vaporized. The resulting displacement of energy condensed in to a powerful wave. Both ships had their shields up and full of energy by the time it hit them.

The Accountant’s face was a sickly white, and his heart was absent any further doubt or blame. How could he even describe what he was seeing? Terrifying didn’t cover it.

The students were equally stunned by the display. Never had they seen something like this before. What the hell was that white light?! An entire planet was erased by this light, to the point where even the asteroids around it were destroyed.

The women had stopped crying. They had been rendered speechless – had not these people come for them, they would have suffered the same fate as the Crimson Star.

Lan Jue, meanwhile, took deep gasping breaths as the light show concluded. Finally, safe at least for now, he wiped the sweat from his forehead.

Though the students and the rescued women didn’t know what that light was, the Accountant and Lan Jue were well familiar. The Savage Goddess and Wang Hongyuan could guess some of it as well.

Nothing in the natural universe could produce an attack that powerful. This was something beyond that, a supernatural power with enormous destructive power. In the realms of men there was only one thing that could produce power like that: A Bastion ship.

The battleship slowly began to decelerate. When it slipped behind Zeus-1, it listed to the side and took the brunt of the shock wave. Immediately the souls on Zeus-1 felt her stabilize considerably.

In all the vastness of the universe, the power of man was infinitesimal. But Bastions, those were different. Not even the strongest Paragon could survive a blast from a Bastion’s main battery. It had the power to effect galaxies.

“Boss!” Mika and Xiuxiu shouted as they saw the battleship shudder violently from the impact of the wave. There was nothing they could do.

The harshest part of I was coming. If they could survive this, they would make it home.

The students were stunned, and afraid. They could see the battleship on the main screens, protecting their rear and being pummeled in the process. It looked as though its shields would fail any second.

It was more than fair to say that these students had endured torturous conditions since the beginning of the ARC classes. Especially Lan Jue’s needles and electricity, it was a living nightmare. How could there not be a bitter hatred for their Demon Drillmaster?

Eventually, however, they discovered the sweetness after the bitter. They saw what this cruel training had forged them in to. There would always be hatred there, but that and the fear were reduced as they got stronger. Now there was also respect.

As they watched that ship behind them, protecting them from

the worst of the blast, their fear grew but their resentment disappeared.

They were smart, talented youths. They knew Lan Jue must have considered these things before making his decision. There were limits to the shields of a battleship that had already been boarded. Plus, who knew how long they’d have to  defend against this aftermath? Regardless, he  put  himself  between them and danger without hesitation, and they knew what that meant. There wasn’t just respect now; he was like a strict father who – although stern – came to their defense in their hour of need.

Zhou Qianlin watched with large, frightened eyes. Her hands held on to Tang Mi with a white-knuckle grip.

Tang Mi grabbed her in a hug and held her tight.

Chapter 322: Arachnid Class Bastion

Zhou Qianlin was truly scared, but it wasn’t because of the shock wave.

For almost a full minute, the violent shaking continued. Eventually their speed helped them escape from the diffused destructive energy. As they stabilized, the passengers gradually calmed.

Sweat soaked everyone in the airship. They had felt the cold chill of death at their shoulder, and knew they had just narrowly avoided destruction. Had their reactions been even half a second slower, they’d all be space dust.

The Accountant was more affected. He’d performed his earlier task begrudgingly, but he also knew how important following instructions was in situations such as this. Thinking back, if he would have dragged his feet their bodies would have remained in the Starfields for ever.

Anyone who claimed to not be afraid after staring death in the face, was a liar.

Lan Jue was also shaking slightly, though he wasn’t as fearful. Most was rage. The only thing capable of carnage like that was a Bastion ship. There was only one group in this area that had one.

The Northern Alliance.

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Deep Space.

A colossal silhouette hung in the emptiness of space. It spread out like an enormous spider, with it’s spindly legs crawling through the black. It was over ten kilometers long, and weighed in the hundreds of millions. It stalked the recesses of the galaxy in darkness and in silence.

The Arachnid, one of the Northern Alliance’s seven Bastion ships. It defended them from the Starfields, and any sneak attacks that might try to pierce their borders. It was equipped with the strongest military weaponry available to mankind, and housed the North’s Seventh Cosmic Fleet. The fleet was composed of a Sovereign-Class Mothership, four Commandships, and a large number of battleships. And yet all

of this comprised only one-seventh of the North’s total military power. The armed might of the North was unquestioned.

Within the blly of the massive spider sat a silvery-haired man. Slowly, he dropped his finger from the large, blood-red button.

The distinguished gentleman sat straight and tall, in a crisp white military uniform. He was a towering man, with steely blue eyes that made people uncomfortable. An hooked nose hung over a thin mouth that gave him a distinctly vulture-like appearance.

Three golden stars adorned the labels on his shoulders. They glinted in the fluorescent light.

This was the commander of the Arachnid, Admiral Holmen.

He represented the more hawkish faction of the Northern military. Since the beginning he’d advocated for a firm and combative stance toward the East and West. He was a legend among soldiers.

He was seventy-six years old this year. At eight he’d begun his

training in mecha combat. By fourteen, he was a full-fledged pilot. He transferred to battleship command training when he was eighteen. By the time he was twenty-two, he was in the army and wracking up commendations. It took him forty years to earn the title of Admiral, where he committed himself to exploring the frontiers of space for mankind. The Seventh Fleet under his command was the North’s trump card, and was known for it’s strength.

Eight years ago he had achieved his latest promotion – Chief of National Defense. That was when he was given command of the Arachnid. Now he was among the top echelons of Northern command.

His political leanings were certainly more hostile toward outsiders. His techniques were always raze and occupy, and would crush any indigenous populations he came across. There were constantly calls for his removal from the more peace- loving factions, so in the end he was given command out here. Let him destroy pirates, they thought, and his proximity to the East would certainly frighten their neighbors.

Ten years ago Admiral Holmen had proposed a military campaign for An Lun, but was ultimately denied due to vociferous opposition. Lately, however, the more military minded had begun to grip the political majority. With the

recent attacks on their exploratory expeditions, the calls for action were growing louder. Already there were plans put to the Ministry of National Defense for an eighth Bastion ship and three more Cosmic Fleets.

“Admiral!” A colonel shot to his feet and saluted. He was always shown the utmost respect.

“Speak.” Holmen’s voice was deep, rich, and cold.

“Our long-range satellite imaging confirms, designation Crimson Star has been destroyed. The nearby planets and asteroid belt were also destroyed or displaced by the resulting shock wave. The test fire of our main battery has completed successfully.”

“Excellent. Commence radiation recharge.” Holmen rose to his feet, slapped a military cap on his head and left the bridge. The red button he’d used to erase a planet retracted, and disappeared in to the admiral’s chair. Only admirals had the right to fire a Bastion’s main weapons.

Holmen’s face revealed a cold satisfaction as he traversed the halls. Zeus? Even someone like him was destined to become ash

in the face of a Bastion. One pirate clan for one of the East’s top adepts was more than a fair trade, he felt.

Feng Ling’s calls to help had been sent to the Arachnid. Of course, why should they have any cause to listen to him? Only Holmen gave the commands here. Once the Admiral had heard of Zeus’ presence, things changed.

There were simply too many pirates on that cursed planet who had evidence of the North’s involvement. It was unallowable, they had to be silenced. He advocated war, yes, but on their terms. Sometimes it was best to avoid conflict while you prepared to strike. He was bound by congressional regulations, like everyone else, and they were always hungry for more evidence. But with all trace removed, along with that nuesance they call Zeus, how could anything be brought back to him?

With his pirate influence, and the ever present fear of the Arachnid hanging over them, Holmen was certain it wouldn’t take long to put together another batch of reprobates for his purposes.

ζ

The passengers from Zeus-1 were transferred to the battleship, and its controls were relinquished to the Accountant. Clearly this was his area of expertise. Mika and Xiuxiu were more than capable of piloting Zeus-1.

Lan Jue was less than pleased. It was not because of his brush with death, but because of how the pirates were destroyed.

He sat in the commanders chair in the cockpit of Zeus-1, mulling over memories from three years ago.

ζ

“Run! Jin Yu, RUN!”

“It’s too late, Lan Jue… it’s already too late. Goodbye, my heart. I love you. Please forget me… fare well.”

Boom– — –!

ζ

Lan Jue squeezed his eyes shut. He’d unconsciously curled his hands in to fists. Those past wounds still festered, and now he knew at least part of what happened. The difference from today, was that was a fixed planet Hera was on. There was no way anyone survived.

That powerful light from the distance had re-opened old, deep scars.

Could this all be some sort of coincidence? Although all of evidence said it was an accident, but how could it have been so sudden? What if it wasn’t?

After Hera’s death, Lan Jue lost himself for a long while. When he finally came to, he set out for any indication of what happened. But with the planet’s destruction, any hope of following a trail was gone.

So it was that he hid himself on Skyfire, and chose a quiet life on the Avenue. But for more than half a year, he would dream of that explosion every night. Now he had seen those nightmares come to life.

It had been a small planet, the Crimson Star, but it was still

home to thousands of pirates. But while they certainly deserved death, their families were innocent.

Even during Lan Jue’s own pirate purge, he’d never visited harm upon their families, nor plundered their belongings. Bringing those things back had no meaning anyway. Their families needed to eat, so he left them their ill-gotten goods.

This time there was nothing left. Every living thing on that planet had vaporized in the blink of an eye. Tens of thousands of lives, gone.

If he’d thought pirates were cruel, what about the ones responsible for this? There were no words to describe this monstrous act.

These were innocent lives!

“Jewelry Master… Jewelry Master do you read?” Lan Jue’s coms crackled to life. He connected, and isolated it from the outside noise.

“What is it?”

The Accountant’s nasaly voice answered. “Guess what I found. Hehehe, these pirates were some really crafty bastards. You know they hid their entire cache of stolen goods on this ship? This whole thing’s a damn treasure vault! This is the first time I’ve ever seen this much wealth in one place, and I live on the damn Avenue. They got mecha suits, power gems… so many power gems. It looks like they traded for them, for convenience. We’re rich! Ah-hehehehe! We’ve got enough here to outfit an army.”

“Shut up.” Lan Jue’s voice was curt, he didn’t have the patience for the Accountant’s nonsense. He cut the connection without another word. Riches had never been his goal. If all it took was money to bring back that one person, he’d give up everything he owned.

Chapter 323: Training Ends

At long last, the training was done!

Zeus-1 led their trophy, the pirate battleship, back to Planet Skyfire. When they arrived, the ship remained in orbit as Zeus-1 shuttled her occupants back to ground. It was, after all, rife with pirate markings and was an unregistered warship. The planet’s defensive systems would be on it immediately I they got too close.

This was also the seat of the Eastern government, and home planet to the Alliance. You could guarantee its defenses would be a great deal more troubling than the Crimson Star’s.

Lan Jue immediately got in to contact with the Wine Master, and they deliberated on what to do with the women. They would need a good deal more manpower at the very least. That went double for the battleship.

Through testing the Accountant had discovered that the battleship had undergone a series of significant adjustments. First, it’s energy stores were comparable to Zeus-1, and that was impressive. It was armed to the teeth, too, but unfortunately a lot had been damaged by Feng Ling and Lan jue’s acquisition. In

its current state, they certainly couldn’t get the most out of the ship’s impressive armaments. Most importantly, though, was that its shields far outstripped anything else of its class – enough to ward that terrible blast.

Lan Jue stood with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes glinted with a cold light that flashed intermittently, and each time it did space seemed to warp around Lan Jue’s face. It only appeared to calm when he watched the soldiers take away those poor women to safety.

The Wine Master stood at Lan Jue’s shoulder, and watched as well. He nodded his head, ever so slightly. “What you all did today was a great service. However, it would be very difficult to officially commend you, considering the fact this was done of your own accord. Still, private remunerations can be arranged. What do you think would be appropriate?”

He was obviously appraised of the situation by this point. There was nothing in it he felt inappropriate; in fact, if not for the fact Paragons had to be careful about revealing themselves he’d have done the same.

Lan Jue answered by shaking his head. “Nothing. Just look after these poor women. I can’t imagine what they’ve gone

through. Also, help sell the power gems we recovered, and make sure they get all of it.”

The Wine Master shot his young friend a surprised look. “Are you aware of how many power gems you brought back?”

Lan Jue’s brows furrowed. “Is that important? Will any number be enough for these women to forget what they had to live through?”

A small smile appeared on the old man’s craggy face. “You know, it’s really no wonder the Clairvoyant was always ranked higher than I. Even his ability to read people was damn near superhuman. He told me once that although we couldn’t understand you, he knew you had a good heart. This kind of personality roots you, keeps you grounded. Anyway, you don’t have to worry. The Alliance will make sure they’re very well taken care of. They’ll have specialists in traumatic psychosis on hand as well, using state of the art medical and psychological treatments. They’re families will be alerted and trained in how to help them reintegrate in to society. They will also be given compensation. So take those power gems you captured, and maybe you’ll find out why they say too much wealth can be a bad thing.”

Lan Jue’s features relaxed. “As for the battleship, I’d ask that you help me donate it to the Alliance. Don’t mention my name – I don’t want them snooping around.”

The Wine Master laughed in spite of himself. “Very well, I’ll have someone take care of it. I’m starting to feel like a fence.”

For those who may not be aware: A fence is someone who specializes in moving stolen goods Thieves will come to them with their ill-gotten gains in exchange for untraceable cash.

Finally a bemused smirk cracked Lan Jue’s glower exterior. “It’s not such a bad job, I reckon. In that case I’ll probably make another few runs in the near future.”

The Wine Master’s face suddenly grew serious. “Now considering what you’ve done here I’m willing to forgive your past transgressions. Except for that horse-pucky with the Gourmet and that vagabond. If you hear anything about it, you tell me right away!”

Lan Jue suddenly remembered the news, that the Gourmet and Pauper had stolen away with some extraordinary wine from the Wine Master’s vault. He gave a wry smirk. “Look, I didn’t

benefit from any of that. I’m just suffering the result. Those fellas have definitely drank it all by now, anyway. Just don’t dwell on it.”

Lan Jue could actually see the Wine Master’s face twitch. “’Don’t dwell on it’? Did you know they took the single most prized bottle of my entire collection? But at least I can be sure that no, they haven’t opened that bottle.”

Lan Jue chortled. “Fine. You’ll be hearing from me soon anyway, to help find one of the Three Great Master’s descendants like I promised. Lately things have been… hectic, but they’re slowing down. Have you been able to discover anything?”

The Wine Master’s eyes flashed excitedly. “Yes, in fact. I’m organizing things now, and I’ll let you know when we’re ready. It looks like we’ll be taking a little trip to the West.”

“Alright,” Lan Jue answered with a nod. “I’ll wait to hear from you.”

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The students had all been sent home to their families. They were exhausted, and after being gone from home for so long they deserved a good long rest with their family. It had been Wu Junyi’s suggested after hearing about the entire ordeal.

Lan Jue’s first order of business had been to seek out the Wine Master and deal with the poor women they’d rescued, so he hadn’t seen the students as they left. He didn’t mind – after the explosion at the Crimson Star, and the memories they brought up, he wasn’t in the best of moods.

“Boss.” Mika’s voice at his shoulder caught his attention.

“Hm?” He said, turning his head.

“The students asked me to bid you farewell on their behalf,” she said. “That Tan Lingyun woman was looking for you, too.”

“I swear to God, I can’t get away from that woman,” Lan Jue moaned. “Anyway, this training regimen seemed to have gone very well, but they have to keep it up. If not, the whole thing will have been a waste. Let them rest for a little while, then Wu Junyi and I will see whether or not this training needs any work. I’m leaving those power gems to you to deal with. Might

as well put them in the store first. After processing, we’re give a third to the Skyfire Council.”

Lan Jue had a great deal of experience in cultivating how to deal with people. Failing to share a windfall with others was not appropriate behavior, and he prided himself on propriety in this regard. The Avenue had its own needs, and he was happy to contribute. He had a clear conscience, but they shared in times of rain or shine.

As for the Accountant, he’d already grabbed one of the larger gems and disappeared. More than likely he was going to present it to his grandfather, to make himself look good.

When Lan Jue entered the doors of Zeus’ Jewelry Shop, he immediately felt himself begin to relax. That familiar scent filled his nostrils as he made his way to the back apartments. He took a shower, then sat on the bed to rest. Physically he felt fine, but mentally was another matter. They’d all gone through a great deal these last couple of months.

The god-battles, the Citadel visit, the ARC classes, then An Lun and the Starfields… one thing after another, entirely contrary to the life of comfort he’d sought on the Avenue. And although the entire experience had been an enriching one, he

was certainly fatigued.

He slipped in to a deep sleep, and in his dreams he was once again assailed by the visions of that terrible explosion. He could still see Hera’s warm eyes, full of tender affection. She reached out with a spectral hand, as though to grab him, but was always just out of reach.

ζ

When sunlight touched his window, Lan Jue awoke. He felt refreshed, but the shadow that had crept in to the back of his mind was darker now, and clearer. He felt haunted.

With a bitter smile he took a cold shower, to wake him up for the day. He changed his clothes, then exited out in to the shop.

He still had a great deal he needed to do. The follow-up to the god battle was of the highest priority currently. He also had to visit the school and see what needed to be done there. His etiquette class was a total mess he’d need to deal with.

Thinking about normal classes, the smile on his face grew.

More and more he was enjoying the life of a professor. It was never more true than when he was in class.

There was only one etiquette teacher on staff, and that was him. Everyone thought he was a normal man, and treated him as such. The life of a ‘normal’ professor was a nice one, relaxing and enriching. The dark cloud that hung over him dissipated somewhat when he was teaching.

Yeah, I have to go to school and check things out tomorrow. There are classes to prepare. Today, I’ll have to figure out what I want to teach them.

His leisurely stroll quickly brought him to his destination: Sunbucks Coffee.

Lan Jue pushed his way inside. It was early still, so the shop was empty. Two pretty young women were busily preparing things behind a counter. Both were clad in fine white button- down shirts and coffee-colored suit pants.

The Coffee Master was nearby as well, quietly enjoying a steaming cup of a pungent brew. He jumped a little when he spied Lan Jue, then smiled.

Lan Jue approached and took a seat without invitation. He was smiling, as well. “You know, I really want to kick your ass.”

The Coffee Master’s face dropped. “What the hell?! You just got back yesterday and already you’re talking about beating people. You’re the leader of the Star Aliance now, too. Is this how you treat your compatriots? Your fellow warriors? Do you have any humanity?”

Lan Jue just chuckled. “Humanity? I guess it depends on who I’m dealing with. A clown, for example. I think I have the least humanity for clowns.”

The Coffee Master dropped it. He knew there was quite a large difference in ability between he and the Jewelry Master. Outside of a mecha suit, he was like a toothless tiger. His muscle speed and Lan Jue’s lightning were an unfavorable match-up, regardless.

“So did you just come here to threaten?” The god-ranked pilot asked in agitation.

Chapter 324: Blue Mountain

“No actualy,” Lan Jue said. “I haven’t had breakfast yet. Fetch us a little something yeah?”

“Shit!” The Coffee Master used his quick hands to deliver to Lan Jue the international symbol of displeasure. “You’ll be lucky if I don’t poison you!”

Lan Jue chuckled. “I trust your moral quality, Mister Knave.”

The Coffee Master rose to his feet in a huff. He stomped to the counter and shared a few words with the women there.

Lan Jue, meanwhile, simply sat with noble air upon his chair. He politely nodded in greeting to the ladies. “If you wouldn’t mind, I would love some Blue Mountain Coffee. I’d also like a sandwich and some greens as well, please.”

The Coffee Master turned back around and shot Lan Jue a venomous look. “No Blue Mountain!”

To this, the Jewelry Master sighed. “Fine. Might as well

cancel any plans you might have with the Wine Master or Gourmet, I suppose. I’ll be sure to tell them about your sudden lack of inventory. They’re probably low as well.”

“Ruthless,” the Coffee Master snarled.

Blue Mountain coffee was considered among the best of brews. It was a rare product of a place called Jamaica, on former era Earth. It was still sold today, though modern Blue Mountain was a simulated approximation of the real thing. They had to reproduce the conditions on former era Jamaica, and that contributed to its higher cost. Even the Coffee Master couldn’t as much as he’d like, much less enough to sell. He only ever brewed a pot on particularly happy occasions.

The Coffee Master didn’t return to his seat beside Lan Jue. Instead, he walked behind the counter and busied himself with other things. The entire process – grinding the beans, filtering the coffee – wasn’t quick and it wasn’t slow. Each movement the Coffee Master made was purposeful, and graceful. His eyes were especially focused.

Watching the man at work dispersed some of the gloominess that still hung around Lan Jue. Coming back to the Avenue was always pleasant. He got to watch a master at work.

Lan Jue rarely drank milk due to his lactose intolerance. Too much undoubtedly aggravated his stomach, and he couldn’t each for the whole day. His preference was for straight black coffee, and since it was high-grade coffee there was no need for sugar. It would adversely mask the coffee’s natural flavor.

After a short while, a waitress arrived with a plate, upon which sat Lan Jue’s sandwich and assorted greens. The Coffee Master eventually returned with another tray.

His was occupied by two delicate china coffee cups, and their saucers. A sophisticated silver coffee pot steamed between them. The Coffee Master placed the tray on the table, and extricated the cups. The white porcelain cups seemed exceptionally thin, almost transparent.

It was Lan Jue’s first time in the many he’s visited, that he saw such fine chinaware. He nodded in satisfaction. “Very nice. Sixty degrees centigrade, more or less, to ensure it doesn’t adversely affect one’s body temperature when you drink it. It also keeps the aroma, and Blue Mountain is especially good when boiling hot.”

The Coffee Master lifted the silver pot and filled their glasses. Immediately their noses were filled with the rich fragrance of

the coffee. It was warm, and refreshing, and Lan Jue could feel all his pours opening from the scent alone.

The Coffee Master lifted his own glass to inspect it’s contents. Without fear of being scalded, he took an appreciative sip of the dark liquid. Lan Jue did as well, despite his hunger. He wanted a taste of the coffee while it was still fresh. As it slipped passed his lips, Lan Jue could taste the bitterness on his tongue. That was part of what made Blue Mountain special, and he could feel it sliding from the tip of his tongue to the root like silk. As it poured down his gullet the bitter flavors became subdued, and complicated. The heat filled him, causing the hairs on his arms to rise. The comforting sensation was like being swaddled.

Lan Jue’s eyes brightened right away. When he looked to the Coffee Master, he was much the same as when Lan Jue entered; eyes closed, smiling, enjoying the flavor. Almost like he was drunk off the stuff.

Neither paused, or wasted the moment with idle chatter. They sat in silence, sipping the excellent coffee from equally exquisite glasses until they were empty.

As he’d mentioned, Blue Mountain was best served in white china at sixty degrees Celsius. It was best to finish it off quickly,

before it got too cold. And yet, every detail of every sip was important, otherwise it was just a waste.

When Lan Jue reached for the pot to refill his glass, he was surprised to find it empty. The Coffee Master had made enough for two cups; no more, no less.

“Is the handle to your refrigerator broken?” Lan Jue complained as he lifted his sandwich. He was as yet still hesitant to eat, savoring the lingering flavor of the coffee.

“Eh?” The Coffee Master opened his eyes, awoken from his appreciative coma.

“You’re stingy!” Lan Jue whined.

The Coffee Master almost bound out of his chair. “You’re a damn beast! Finish your food and get the hell out of here! I share a glass of my Blue Mountain and you still call me stingy? Have you no shame? You’re just like the Wine Master – you sure look like a gentleman, but you’re really just a damn thief.”

Lan Jue continued to eat, unperturbed. “You don’t offer

enough to satisfy, which is a minimum of three cups. I’ve been far too kind before, I thought to even that out with some authentic Blue Mountain. I never expected you to get so bent out of shape about it. At the least I’ll bring you out for a meal.”

“And when are you going to let me have some of that finer liquor,” the Coffee Master asked with a huff.

“When you abstain from coffee for a while,” Lan Jue answered.

“That’s impossible,” the Coffee Master returned. “Coffee is my life, alcohol takes a back seat.”

Lan Jue smirked. “Not all fine alcohol is forbidden, I guess. Wine, with it’s rich flavors, is a waste if your taste buds are dulled. Single-malt whisky is another story. Smoking a cigar and sharing a bottle is a lovely experience. I’ll call you over the next time I visit the Driver and Seamstress. They have a good stock. I hear he’s supposed to be back soon.”

“Indeed, in a few days,” the Coffee Master confirmed. “He left when you did, just saying there was a competition. Now don’t think we went about trying to fool you, because between you

and me we didn’t know who anyone was before the fight. We only figured it out when we got together in DreamNet. I had no idea he was Thunderclap. I’ve wanted to test my strength against him many times. After you, he was my second target. After the god battles the two of you have since swapped places. You’re eighth on the total aggregate power scale now.”

“Not important,” Lan Jue said. “What is important, is when DreamNet’s going to be ready.”

The Coffee Master shrugged. “This, I have no idea. I’m looking forward to it. If DreamNet can actually pull it off, it’d be revolutionary. There’s already a year-long waiting period for the new generation of sim pods, and that’s with production plants in all three Alliances churning them out night and day. Someone’s made one hell of a lot of cash.”

Lan Jue raised a brow. “You mean the Keeper and Bookworm.”

But the Coffee Master’s expression spoke otherwise. “You can’t really not know… DreamNet is used by all Alliances, true, but it’s also publicly owned. The Clairvoyant and Bookworm own twenty-eight percent of its shares. The Keeper came later, but his contributions for the last upgrade were so integral that

he was given five percent of the shares. All together they comprise one-third of DreamNet’s total stock. So who profits, you ask. Well, the Clairvoyant transferred his fifteen percent to the Avenue, setting it up as part of the organization’s fixed assets. Since that news was published the other Alliances have lifted some of the economic restrictions they’ve had in place for Adept exchanges and so forth. Don’t you feel like there have been more people around lately?”

Lan Jue was surprised indeed. Just yesterday he’d given a great deal of power gems to the Council. Compared to the wealth from those DreamNet stocks, his power gems were like trying to get meat from a mosquito’s legs. When he spoke, it was with a bitter note in his voice. “It really isn’t conducive to happy living to be so kind. How am I supposed to know how many people have been wandering the Avenue, though. I just got back last night. I still haven’t been to the underground.”

The Coffee Master sat back in his chair. “The two Citadels failed pretty badly with their visit. They failed to find out anything about us, and failed to apply the pressure they’d hoped. Though the Clairvoyant is busy staving off death, the Avenue now have five Paragons! This is more than the West and North put together. Granted, the Bookworm and Gourmet are new to the power, but they’re Paragons nonetheless. In fact, we received an invitation from the North. They want us to send an Adept to participate in the Great Adept Battle they’re

preparing.”

Lan Jue shot him a glance. “Are you going?”

Again, the Coffee Master shrugged. “Why should I? To be disgraced? Nothing will make me face that sort of embarrassment. I heard there’s an age limit as well, ostensibly to increase cooperation among the younger generation of adepts. Something about raising the foundation for humanity.”

Lan Jue’s lips curled in to a sneer. “I’m definitely getting a ‘bad premonition’ kind of feeling from this whole thing.”

This caused the Coffee Master to chuckle. “Well, if they ask for my recommendation it’s going to be you! Young, strong in Discipline and piloting ability – ‘able men are always busy’, isn’t that what they say? You may as well volunteer, really – I don’t think you’re going to have much of a choice.”

Lan Jue glowered. “Give me another cup of Blue Mountain, then!”

“No!” The Coffee Master returned without an ounce of

hesitation. “I can’t have any fine red wines, so there’s nothing you can threaten me with!”

A sinister smile spread across Lan Jue’s lips. “Alright, your decision. You’re right, anyway, I should probably take the initiative. It’s our duty to share the burdens of the Avenue. The Wine Master leads us now, and I’m sure he’ll respect my opinion, since I’ll be recommending several people come along with me. I don’t want to be angry. You know, you have an average Discipline, but who knows where you could be with a little training…”

Chapter 325: God Of Wine

The Coffee Master’s face hardened. “You can’t do that!”

Lan Jue rose to his feet. “Why not? I’ll go do it now.” He made for the door.

“Fine! I’ll make more Blue Mountain.” The Coffee Master’s voice was urgent.

“Too late! I’m a gentleman of moral integrity. I won’t accept gifts given in contempt.”

“Rrrggh!”

Lan Jue cackled.

Clearly he felt torturing the Coffee Master was an enjoyable past-time. Lan Jue was in a much better mood leaving Sunbucks.

The Coffee Master’s words had made a great deal of sense; if

age was a factor, he was the most likely candidate. There were also other considerations. The Citadels were likely surprised when, during their bullying, so many high-class Adepts responded. In truth, Lan Jue himself was surprised by the sheer number. With the addition of the Gourmet and Bookworm as Paragons, the Avenue was certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Of course the North, with their storied high-handed nature, were not happy with this situation. This was likely a large part of their decision to hold the Adept tournament. Going would be nothing but helpful, and the patterns would be insightful. There was still a month to prepare.

If he didn’t go, he’d then have to find the descendant the Wine Master was after. The Wine Master was a…. tenacious fellow, so their trip was unlikely to be without incident. So much to do!

Despite the negative line of thought, he didn’t feel upset. Perhaps it was because he’d spent three years wasting time. In these last few months, with everything going on, he felt life to be more enriching. The crippling sadness he’d felt was slowly abating, the busier he became.

Beep! Beep! Beep! Lan Jue’s communicator started to buzz. He

lifted his arms and smiled ever so slightly when he saw the number. He answered.

“You’re back?” A familiar voice greeted him.

Lan Jue chortled. “Yeah! Why, you didn’t save me any alcohol?”

The Gourmet’s voice was direct, and without mirth. “Come by.”

Lan Jue, who had been heading for the Underground, changed directions.

He found his way to the small building. When he arrived, he found the door shut and the lights off. However, with closer inspection he could see a screen blocking the light from inside. He pushed the door open, moved the curtain to one side, and entered.

He was greeted with the sight of several people, seated on either side of the Gourmet’s pride table. Among them was one of his more surprising recent discoveries – Windbreaker, the

Seamstress. Her face bearing a bewitching smile, she waved him over. The Gourmet and the Pauper were on the opposite side. The newly minted paragon smiled warmly at Lan Jue.

The Jewelry Master pulled out a seat and joined them. “You two… so honest, so much integrity. You succeed, and then off you go leaving me in the Wine Master’s warpath. Luckily I had important business, otherwise he’d still be grilling me.”

The Gourmet smirked. “So we were supposed to wait around for him to catch us? You know as well as we do, the Wine Master’s famous temper. But in the end that stingy and crotchety exterior is an act – he’s a good man. At worst, we’ll find ways to compensate him in other areas.”

“Well if you haven’t drunk it yet, let’s take a look,” Lan Jue offered. For the Gourmet to result to outright thievery, it had to be a particularly special acquisition.

The Gourmet answered by rising to his feet, and walking to the back. He returned a moment later, holding a bottle.

It looked very similar to former era French bottles, from the burgundy area. The rich, dark red fluid was filled to the bottle’s

shoulders. Clearly, someone had had a taste already.

The label was faded and yellow, but Lan Jue could still make out some of the lettering. At the very top was a coat of arms, but the ink was too worn for him to make out any detail besides an animal on its back legs swinging some sort of flag.

Beneath the image was a string of words: Vosne-Romanée. Lan Jue’s knowledge of fine wines immediately revealed it as a wine’s location – Romanée!

Beneath that was another: Cros Parantoux. It was a smaller area within the larger Vosne-Romanée.

In Ancient France, wines were labeled differently. Bordeaux, for instance, was labeled according to Chataeu. Chateau Lafite Rothschild, or Chateau Letour were examples. Burgundies were labeled by their region, often going from large to small. Romanée was a larger swath, with the second name being a smaller region within it. That was considered the wine’s name.

“Cros Parantoux!”

He read it out loud, his voice rising with every syllable. He could feel his whole body tingling.

There were so few people who spoke the ancient French dialect, but his basic knowledge allowed for a passable translation. What this meant, made Lan Jue’s heart start racing. He quickly snuck a peek beneath the foot of the bottle. That was the name that would confirm it all.

As expected, stamped there in the glass was indeed a name: Henri Jayer!

Lan Jue let out a low gasp. “This is really it. It’s a bottle hand made by the legendary Henri Jayer. No wonder you resorted to thievery, who knew the Wine Master was hiding such a treasure!”

Henri Jayer. The name reverberated like thunder in Lan Jue’s ears. He was one of the three great vintners from ancient France
– in fact, he was probably the greatest of them all! All with only a few choice fields.

Two of those fields were considered special, and one was ‘first class’. Richebourg and Cros Parantoux were those special

regions. Once his Richebourg wine hit the auction, it was immediately adored, and fetched sky-high prices.

However, those who truly understood Henri Jayer, knew that the richebourg was not his masterwork. No, this master’s true magnum opus hailed from that first-class vineyard, a place they called the Vintner’s Jewel; Cros Parantoux.

The Wine Master always use to say that drinking was an never-ending hobby. He meant that there were always better wines out there. But this one was legendary. This was the wine the Wine Master was really talking about.

It indeed was special. In wine, the year it was produced is important. Only specific wines on specific years were really classified as legendary wines. They were uncontested treasures of the wine world.

For example, the Bordeaux 1941 and 1961 Chateau Letour. The 1941 and ’82 Lafite were also spectacular. There were a dozen perhaps, in all the thousands of years and types of wine.

There were a few burgundies, however, that are lauded as eternally special. No matter the year, this wine is the top of its

class. One, was the Romanée-Conti he’d forced the Wine Master in to sharing. The bottle before him now was another.

If that Romanée-Conti was the King of Wines, than the Cros- Parantoux was God. Lan Jue couldn’t compare their flavors, since he’d never before been lucky enough to sample a Cros- Parantoux. What Lan Jue did know was that only roughly three hundred bottles had been produced for that year,  and exceedingly small number. The Romanée-Conti, by comparison, was a lo yield but still produced six thousand bottles. That quite clearly underlined how uncommon a discovery like this really was.

For the longest time, Lan Jue had thought Henri Jayer was more legend than man. The likelihood of him ever coming across one of his storied bottles was nonexistent. The demand for this was astronomical, and so few remained. But here it was, made by the hands of a master. A 1993 Henri Jayer Cros- Parantoux.

Lan Jue almost felt dizzy. This thing would fetch enough at auction to buy a battleship. It would still not be enough to do it justice.

“What do you think? Was it worth it?” The Pauper finally

chimed in, his face split in a wily smile. “I’ll tell you, I had to call on every ounce of willpower when nabbing this thing not to steal a swig or two!”

Lan Jue shot him a glance. “Oh this was worth it. This is like a glimpse of heaven.”

The Pauper took an appreciative gulp. “Well we’re all here, Gourmet. I say it’s time to start. You know how hard its been to wait!”

The Gourmet nodded. “People usually drink at night. The Wine Master wont expect anything if we’re missing during the day.”

“No! You can’t open it!” Lan Jue blurted out.

“Why?” The Pauper asked, incredulously.

Lan Jue sighed. “This is all so sudden. I had coffee this morning.”

The Pauper’s face suffered an irritated tick. “What coffee?
Ugh, that taste wont be gone for a whole day.”

“tomorrow,” Lan Jue offered. “I’ll come back tomorrow morning, and we’ll enjoy the spoils of our misadventures.”

The Gourmet and the Pauper exchanged a glance. They each swallowed again, this time trying to choke down their regret. Together, they sighed. “Alright.”

The Seamstress finally let out a small laugh. “Look at you guys, all afraid of backbiting like little thieves. Relax, I wont drink your precious grape juice. On another note, Jewelry Master, what are your plans for the Star Alliance? The Clairvoyant put it in your hands, and that means you lead the way.”

Chapter 326: Returning To University

“I just got back, and haven’t even had time to settle in,” Lan Jue explained. “Now that I’m one of you our numbers are back to five. A small group, but each one of you are impressively strong. I believe we should focus on expanding, making our group the largest gathering of god-ranked pilots in the universe. If the threat mankind is indeed on its way, a team like that could stand to do some real good. No task would be too difficult.”

The gourmet nodded his head, sagely. “The elitist approach, it may work. Under certain conditions, skill can trump any odds. And the more you keep striving for perfection, the more interested and hard-working your fans will become.”

It was Lan Jue’s turn to nod. “After DreamNet’s upgrade we’ll be sure to see some restructuring around Dreamburg’s god pilots. The real ones will quickly rise to the head of the pack. We can start taking a closer look then.”

“Also,” the Gourmet went on, “the Northern Alliance has sent out an invitation for us to join in their pan-alliance Grand Adept tournament. Did you know about this?”

Lan Jue grunted. “I just heard about it from  the  Coffee Master. It’s pretty unlikely I’ll be able to weasel out of this one, huh.”

“What do you think?” was the Paragon’s response. “Really, this shouldn’t be such a terrible task to accomplish. There’s quite a lot of tasty things to sample in the North. I’ll show you around.”

Lan Jue lifted a brow. “You’re going as well?”

The Gourmet grunted. “I’ll be the chaperone. If there wasn’t a Paragon there, what would you do if things go south? If I’m there, they’ll at least have to be less blatant about trying to murder you.”

Indeed, the presence or absence of a Paragon was a strategic aspect for these sorts of visits. They were a deterrent from more overt and violent action, simply due to their immense destructive capabilities. A Paragon with no concern over his own life could destroy an entire planet! The gourmet’s assurances were no boast, but fact.

Lan Jue chortled. “I guess I had no real plans to escape

anyway, and now that you say that I’m happy to go. Just let me know when we’re supposed to leave.”

“It’ll take place on Planet Luo, rather far away. We’ll probably be leaving in around twenty days,” he said.

Lan Jue nodded. “How many of us will be going?”

The Gourmet leaned back in his chair. “The rules state that the participating Adepts can be no older than forty. We’re planning to send around ten. With myself as the chaperone, we’re looking at the Seamstress, the Coffee Master, the Driver, you, the Barber, the Beautician, and the Bartender. We’re still considering people for the remaining spots.”

Lan jue snickered. “Sounds good to me. I shall obey as ordered.”

“I saw you and the Pharmacist getting on famously,” he said. “Perhaps you can convince her to come along as well. She is exceptionally strong, and with her on the team we’re sure to fare well. Remember that we’ll be representing the Avenue – we have to make a very good showing.”

“I’ll try,” Lan Jue promised. “I can’t make any promises.”

The Gourmet smiled. “Very good. If there’s nothing else then you’re free to go. Remember to keep our secret, though. We mustn’t let the Wine Master find out before we have a chance to drink this wine. If he does, losing this opportunity will be the least of our worries.”

Lan Jue shot him a roguish grin. “He’s really sore over this whole thing. We should invite him when we open it up. If we don’t, he’ll never forgive us. What do you think, should we also prepare something tasty to go with such an exquisite wine?”

The Gourmet grunted. “With this sort of wine, you don’t need anything at all to go with it,” he explained. “I’ll prepare some fine cheeses – those will go well. Make sure you don’t eat anything else with a strong taste today. If you do, we won’t be able to wait for you. I’m not used to all this sneaking around.”

At this, Lan Jue laughed openly. “Alright, alright. I’m out of here.”

Drinking this fine wine without the Wine Master would likely turn out very poorly, he felt. It was entirely possible there

would be a fight. So, after leaving the Gourmet’s tiny shop, Lan Jue left immediately for the school to deal with those matters quickly. He had his own classes to prepare for. In truth he was a pretty terrible part-time teacher. He’d just taken a long leave of absence, and was about to request another.

He got his antique bicycle from the store and lazily made his way to the university. Rickety tires brought him down the road as a light breeze caressed him. It was a very comfortable and satisfying ride.

This is the life! Lan Jue could certainly get used to this feeling.

By the time he arrived at the school, it’s large gates had already been shut. It was long past the normal time for students to be coming in for morning lessons. Of course, as a teacher he had no trouble, and the guards let him right in. He made directly for the electives department. As his antique bicycle rattled along the small pathways, he shot a quick call to Wu Junyi to tell him know he’d arrived.

The Director’s response was swift. He said he’d come find him in the offices soon. When Lan Jue arrived, the electives offices were practically empty. Only four or five teachers were there. His friend Jin Yan was not among them, and neither was Wang

Hongyuan. It was likely the latter was still recovering; the last couple months were hard on him as well.

The few teachers present couldn’t hide their surprise when they saw him. They were absolutely flabbergasted that this teacher would have so much leeway! He was polite enough, but the man barely showed up for classes! They’d lost count of how many times this etiquette class was cancelled. This last time – over a month – was almost too much to bear. They guessed – maybe hoped – he was here to clear away his things.

When Lan Jue made his way to his desk, he was surprised to find it very clean and in order. Most likely, Jin Yan had helped him keep things neat in his absence. A small smile crept unsuspectingly across his face.

As he settled into his seat, he began to ponder on what he would teach. Although he would be leaving again soon, he wanted to speak with Director Wu and see if he couldn’t fit a few classes in before then.

Before long, the director’s serious face peeked around the office door.

“Professor Lan. Could I speak with you privately for a moment?”

Lan Jue complied. As he walked to the door, he could clearly feel the other teachers’ eyes following him. They looked sympathetic, obviously believing their determinations had been correct. Surely this was the last they would see of Lan Jue the etiquette teacher.

What they could not see once Director Wu shut the door, was the man’s joyous expression. “Professor, you’ve worked so hard. You should really take a couple more days off. Are you sure you’d like to come back so quickly?”

Faced with Wu Junyi’s warm smile and kind words, Lan Jue felt strangely melancholy. After all, all this ‘business’ was a direct result of this cunning fellow before him.

Chapter 327: Military Uncertainty

“I’ve brought everyone back, and the training has been completed,” Lan Jue said. “You can check on their improvement yourself. My responsibilities for the ARC are completed, so I’m getting back to my etiquette courses. Unfortunately, though, I’ll need to be leaving again in about half a month. Perhaps we can fit a few more classes in to these couple of weeks.”

Wu Junyi quickly nodded his head. “Not a problem. We’d have you in for classes every day if that’s what you wanted. Just let me know what schedule you’d like, and we’ll see it done.”

Lan Jue nodded, appreciative of how helpful the Director was.

Then, a cunning smile spread across his face. “Professor Tan was telling me earlier about the training, and how much improved everyone is. Apparantly, every single one of your students has shown incredible gains. It only makes sense that we should keep this going, don’t you think? But relax, we won’t bother you too much with it. Just some instruction on how to run it would be grand.”

Lan Jue knew that some the Director was here for some self-

serving purpose. He frowned openly as he replied. “It is entirely unacceptable for you to copy my training methods. And if I’m being honest, I’m surprised at how good it all turned out. A lot of it was due to luck, and unforseen access to beneficial resources. Do you think you’ll even be able to rustle up another group like this, with their level of talent? If you managed to pull together another batch, then another training wouldn’t be out of the question – the school would have to cover all expenses, though.”

While this is true everyone, China is a culture of professional secrecy. ‘Ancient Chinese Secret’ is a trope you see often in older kung fu movies and the like, and it’s rooted in reality. Especially for things like this, Chinese masters are famously tight-lipped about their methods. Even while I was in med school, I was told by no small number of people to find a ‘lao zhong yi’ or old Chinese doctor to be my mentor. If I was lucky, he’d teach me all I’d ever need to know about Chinese medicine.’

The training had been a massive expense for Lan Jue, both mentally and monetarily. Between the materials, medicines, and cost of flying Zeus-1 all the way to An Lun, the costs were enough to make a normal man blind. And he’d assumed it all himself.

Wu Junyi struck a more conciliatory tone. “Ah Professor, you’ve sacrificed a lot for us, we know this. Take it easy, the school will definitely make sure you’re compensated. Once all the checks and determinations have been finished we’ll refund whatever you’ve spent.”

Lan Jue’s brows rose. “Director… that’s quite a lot. Where will the school get the money?”

“From the training class, evidently,” Director Wu explained. “Apparently one of the big shots opened his mouth. The military has explained that they will be giving out monetary compensation for every student that joins up after graduation, to pay for training.”

Now, Lan Jue was truly surprised. “The Army? Those sneaky bastards. I bust my ass to turn these kids in to soldiers, and all the Army has to do is say they’re interested before you toss them away?”

Wu Junyi was taken aback by the young professor’s response. “These pilots are being turned in to warriors, isn’t that what we wanted? Certainly this is beneficial for everyone.”

Lan Jue’s face crinkled in displeasure. “You should also pay attention to where they’ll be serving. The military doesn’t just train bodies, but minds. You shouldn’t seek to recoop losses like this. If you’re really interested in making money, the best way to do that is to train your charges properly. Think about it, how difficult will it be for them if they decide they’re not interested, but the university is obligated? The administration should really think this over.”

Wu Junyi was an astute man. His face hardened from the unspoken indication. “You’re saying someone’s worried about these students becoming Easern assets? Every aspect of the training was a strictly-kept secret – how could anyone from the outside have learned about it?.”

“How precisely the information leaks is a question that needs answering,” Lan Jue said. “I know that none of my charges could – every opportunity to communicate outside of the training was blocked. It’s the university that has to consider resources. I’m sure that whoever has agreed to pay your price for these students will likely test their skills to determine payment.”

Director Wu was beginning to understand the problem. “Alright, I’ll dig a little deeper. If there are any problems, I’ll let you know.”

“Be careful where the money comes from, Director,” Lan Jue said. “That’s all they need to steal our bright minds away, and obligate our students in to service. If you don’t accept, you – and the students – will have more options. The second you accept, that’s it.”

Wu Junyi looked back at him hesitantly. “So should we continue their assessment?”

Lan Jue nodded. “Yes, that would be good. It’ll help ease doubts and shore up confidence. Give the students a week to recover, and we’ll keep our ears open for any news. When you have the results, come to me immediately.”

“I will.” The happiness with with the Director had begun their exchange was gone. He left without another word.

Lan Jue did not remain in the office. This was a matter he’d have to think deeper on. With all the work and effort that had gone in to the training, a leak seemed impossible.”

Lan Jue exited the electives building and pushed his bicycle toward the campus exit. He continued to ponder on the issue. If things really were problematic, he thought, he could rely on the

Keeper’s influence to get more information. As for the students, he had a couple routes to consider. First, he had to ensure that the rest of their time in school was suitably intense to keep their skills sharp. If they did choose to join the army then An Lun would be the best destination. That was Lan Qing’s turf, and most important was they were a cohesive and unfractured unit. There was no room for internal strife, or disobeying orders. His students would need to be iron both body and mind before they were ready to be true An Lun soldiers. Then they would reach their true potential.

So he would wait for news, and learn who this bigwig was. If he was a trustworthy person, then the possibility of a military deal wasn’t out of the question. After all, service to the nation was a noble obligation.

A rough voice interrupted his trek. “Once again you just saunter ahead without looking where you’re going. What the hell are your eyes for, anyway?”

Lan Jue was rudely brought to the present. He lifted his head to see Tan Lingyun – clearly ready for a fight – just ahead.

Lan Jue’s face immediately darkened. His voice was deep and displeased. “Who do you think you are talking to?”

Lan Jue was immediately and violently struck with regret. The moment the words left his mouth he remembered, he was no longer the masked Demon Drillmaster. He was the meek etiquette teacher Lan Jue!

As might be expected, Tan Lingyun’s reaction was as quick as it was fierce. She traversed the distance between them in a single stride. “To you actually. Your blind ass is staggering down the street with that rusty piece of garbage and not even looking forward. Do you have a good reason for trying to run me off the path? Not only are you a piece of shit with no real skills, but you routinely run around pissing women off. People like you are the basest scum of the earth!”

“I-I didn’t see it was you.” A wise man knows when to retreat. Lan Jue had to resort to placative language to keep from blowing his cover.

Tan Lingyun’s brows shot up. “Oh! And if it wasn’t me, you think it’d be fine to just tear in to randomly people you nearly hit on the street? Hypocrites like you make me sick.” She snarled, then whipped her leg at his shins with force enough to break them both.

“Eeeeeiiii!”

Chapter 328: You?

“Eeeeiiiii!”

The shins had no skin to soften the blow, and yet were densely covered in nerve endings. Lan Jue couldn’t help but yelp pitifully from the blow.

Tan Lingyun just glared at him, as one would something disgusting. She sniffed at him – her final insult – then sashayed away.

Lan Jue hugged his shin and hopped in place for a good minute. Eventually the pain eased, replaced with an anger so violent Lan Jue felt like his could spit blood. This was that obedient assistant he could command at will not a week earlier. The change on the other side of the mask was intense – this Savage Goddess was certainly a unique character.

“Just wait… oh wait, and one day you’ll see how I’ll deal with you.” Lan Jue snarled the words under his breath.

“Oh? And how are you going to do that?” Tan Lingyun stopped dead in her tracks.

Lan Jue’s face scrunched and froze. He forced the expression away, replacing it with a sheepish grin. Then, everything started spinning.

The sky was a lovely shade of blue as – to Lan Jue – it slowly slid passed his vision. The clouds were a beautiful fluffy white. It hurt like hell when he hit the floor.

“Remember this – if you’re going to talk shit, have  the strength to back it up!” Tan Lingyun shook her red-knuckled fist in the air above his nose, ruining the picturesque scene.

Once she left, Lan Jue picked himself up off the floor and awkwardly stumbled to the campus exit. He hoped on his bike and started the ride home. All the while, the scene played out in his head. The more he thought about it, the more depressed he became. Was there no solution for dealing with this woman?

He dialed Wang Hongyuan’s number in to his communicator.

“Eh? Professor Lan.” Wang Hongyuan’s surprised voice answered.

Lan Jue replied. “Professor Wang. There’s some business concerning the ARC classes I needed to ask you to handle. Something we have to nib in the bud…


Good. And make sure you tell Tan Lingyun. It’d be better if she also appeared to deal with this personally.”

“Alright, got it.” Wang Hongyuan said. “By the way, Professor, I just got this message from the university. They’re planning another trip for the teachers who went to Taihua. We’ll be gone for about a weak.”

“Ah? Another trip?” Lan Jue’s lips curled in to a frown. Their last vacation had almost claimed his life! It’d turned out a blessing in disguise – one he inexplicably recovered very well from – but it had certainly made an impression. So now there was this, and then the competition in the North. He just got back, he was hoping for at least a few days of rest!

“Yup! The school’s trying to make up for what happened.” Wang Hongyuan explained gleefully.

“Sounds like you’re excited to go,” Lan Jue said.

“It’s free, why the hell not?” He answered. “They’re giving us play money and sending us to the West.”

The Western Alliance? Upon hearing this, Lan Jue’s brows raised. Wasn’t the West where the Wine Master had said the descendant was hiding?

“So you going?”

“I have to think about it,” Lan Jue said. “I’ve been skipping classes for so long. It’ll look terrible if I’m gone again.”

He could hear Wang Hongyuan grunt. “How? At this point, even if you restarted the classes you wouldn’t have that many students. It makes no difference if you come back in a few days or weeks. And with the clout you hold, the school will certainly help publicize when you’re ready. Just be consistent from then on.”

From Lan Jue’s mind to his mouth. It’s like he knew I need to leave again! They exchanged a few more words, then Lan Jue

cut the connection. So they would be going to the West. According to Wang Hongyuan, it would be a famous travel destination. The planet was called the Barrows, a beautiful place said to resemble Former Era Earth.

A Journey to the West? He would have to ask the wine Master where, precisely, he wanted to go. They would be drinking the Cros Parantoux tomorrow, and perhaps the fine wine and his promise to help with soothe the flames of the Wine Master’s fury. It would be closer to the North as well, making it more convenient to leave directly for the tournament afterward. It wouldn’t delay or inconvenience anybody.

He decided to return to the Avenue and seek out the Wine Master first thing. He’d need to know if the Barrows was close enough to where he suspected the descendant to be. If so, he’d just separate from the other teachers and make a little side stop during their trip. So long as he let Director Wu know, there wouldn’t be any problems.

He trundled along the road toward the Avenue. His shins still throbbed and ached, but inwardly he smiled. If Hua Li and Chu Cheng could see him today, they’d say the same thing: karma, bitch.

Beep! Beep! Beep! Lan Jue’s communicator called for his attention. He looked down to see Xiuxiu’s number.

“Xiuxiu, what’s up?” He sounded a little surprised. It was very rare that Xiuxiu troubled him on his communicator. She only used it in emergencies.

Xiuxiu’s voice seemed strange. “Boss, you need to come back right away. We have an uninvited guest.”

Lan Jue’s pleasant bike ride was no longer so pleasant. “Alright, I’m on the way. Avenue or Underground?”

“Underground,” she answered. “And don’t worry, all four of us are here.”

“Got it.” Lan Jue hung up, then hopped off the bike. A light flashed from his hand, and the antique bicycle disappeared in to his interdimensional storage space.

Satellites were rarely trained on a single person, but even if one was it would be completely impossible for it to follow his speed. The scenery passed in a flash, and before long Lan Jue

was back on the Avenue. A quick jog and elevator ride later, and he was in the Underground.

Just as the Coffee Master had claimed, the Underground seemed particularly busy. The streets were bustling with activity, surging with adepts from all over.

Lan Jue fought through the crowd until he reached his store. The door bells chimed as he entered. He was immediately greeted with the sight of his four Amazons, surrounding a very nervous looking man.

“What? You?” Lan Jue’s brows shot up.

ζ

Grace Hospital.

Zhou Qianlin had already been busy all morning helping the tenants. She’d arrived early to make up for having been gone for so long. She missed all of her friends. With so much to do, she’d decided to take a week off of classes. She’d report in and tell her parents she was at school, and that would be fine.

After returning from the training, her parents asked her all about it. She replied with understatements and half-truths. Some were outright lies, like when she claimed it was just a normal school training. She was thinner, certainly, but they couldn’t tell anything from her face or mood to contradict what she was saying.

“Hey, Qianlin! You know your boyfriend is a fine young man. He’s come several times since you’ve been gone to look after us. Well, not so much this last month. Is he doing alright?” A kindly old granny asked.

Qianlin’s heart was filled with warmth, and she smiled pleasantly. “He’s doing very well, Granny Li. He’s been so busy this last month, but I’ll make sure to bring him soon to visit.”

“Good, good! It makes all of us old coots feel a little younger with you two around. You know when I was your age, I also had quite an umber of handsome suitors pursuing me. For example, when I first entered the service…”

The elderly never had too much to say, and Qianlin didn’t interrupt. She always listened attentively with a smile, and helped when they got stuck. She’d heard many of these stories several times, so she knew most of them by heart. She felt like it

helped them remember the past.

Despite her busy morning, she didn’t feel the least bit tired. She couldn’t help but laugh – it looked like that training even helped her with housework!

Eventually Granny Li’s story concluded. Zhou Qianlin politely excused herself, then picked off her ruby gloves and went upstairs. She used them for cleaning, and to protect her delicate hands from becoming coarse. Although she didn’t care, her parents might notice and grow worried. Once she realized this, she’d started using gloves.

She made her way down the hall to the last door, and gently knocked. “Granny Bess?” She called. “Can I come in?”

The quavering voice of the tenant called back. “Come on in.”

Qianlin pushed the door open to see Granny Bess in  her normal position beside the window. She stared in to the middle distance with an expressionless face.

Zhou Qianlin dexterously made her way to the elderly

woman’s side, and spoke with her in a quiet voice. “I’m going to clean the room a little for you, if that’s alright. Then I’ll go clean your clothes.”

“Alright,” Granny Bess answered.

Qianlin wasted no more time in polite conversation, and busied herself with cleaning. She tried to be quick, but quiet so as not to disturb Bess. She deftly cleaned every corner, for she knew Granny Bess appreciated cleanliness.

It didn’t take her long to clean the tiny room. She gathered up the woman’s clothes and brought them to the laundry room, then returned. “Granny Bess? The clothes are washing now. I’ll bring them back in when they’re ready. If you’re ok here, I’m going to look in on the others.”

It was their tradition. She would pop her head in and explain, then leave without interruption. This time was different, however, as Bess waved her over with a hand. “Come.”

There was a moment of hesitation, but Qianlin quickly complied. Bess fixed her with those unusually clear eyes.

“You’ve changed a lot.”

“Oh?” Qianlin replied.

The old woman lifted her right hand with surprising agility, and grabbed at Qianlin. Her fingers were more like claws, and a sanguine light shone from her red-painted fingernails. A supernatural gloom blanketing the small apartment, until it seemed like the light was devoured completely.

Chapter 329: Seeking Help

Skyfire Underground, Zeus’ Jewelry Shop.

Lan Jue was certainly surprised at who he saw. Instantly, he knew why Xiuxiu had him rush down here.

The Four Amazons were masters at the ‘imposing stare.’ This was especially true of Mika, who looked like her eyes were ready to belch fire. The air was positively heavy with her violent intent. The impression was a modicum of self-control was the only thing keeper her from blowing up.

“Zeus.” The newcomer’s tone was respectful.

“Why are you here.” Lan Jue’s response was cold, and hostile.

With their boss’ arrival, the four women almost unconscious stepped back and took up position behind him. Xiuxiu brought over a chair for him to sit on. Lan Jue thankfully accepted and settled on the chair, while Guoguo produced a small warm hand towel. He smiled pleasantly as he wiped his hands. Only once this had been finished, did Lan Jue return his attention to his guest.

“I’ve come to ask for your help. Only you can save the Empress.” The plea was genuine and urgent.

“Help? I think maybe you’ve made a mistake. After what happened when we met you the last time, you still have the gall to come ask us for help?” Mika almost screamed the challenge.

Of course, the target of Mika’s rage was none other than the man who inspired Zeus and his amazons to visit the Shattered Starfields – Gao Yong. The ninth ranked gravity Adept and second hand man to the Moonfiend Empress looked nervously at the five of them.

“Her Majesty had no choice!” He whined. “In truth this was her very last resort. Her sister has been captured, and she’s been forced to concede to their demands.”

Mika opened her mouth to say more, but Lan Jue waved her silent. Her overt anger subsided somewhat. The Pontiff’s ambush during their last visit was specifically to grab her. Forcing Lan Jue to become involved to protect her, causing him to get hurt, was all the Empress’ fault, and Mika’s resentment went to the bone.

“So what do you want,” Lan Jue asked dispassionately. Gao Yong chuckled nervously before continuing. “I’m sure  you know that the Empress used to be part of the Pontiff’s Citadel. She was their angel of the morning sun. Disagreements arose and she left,wandering until she settled on the Shattered Starfields and became our Moonfiend Empress. Sadly, the Pontiff had no plans to let her go. They searched and searched, until eventually they found her.”

“I don’t know how the Pontiff learned of your relationship with Her Majesty, or how they planned that ambush. What I do know was that the empress fought them every step for the way – until the Pontiff sent two of his top angels to take her away. She looked calm as they led her away, but she did leave a letter for me to give to you. That is why I am here. Only you have the strength to save my Empress!” He produced the letter with that final sentence, and handed it to Lan Jue.

Paper letters were a rare thing in this day and age. Ke’er reached out and picked it from Gao Yong’s hand before giving it to Lan Jue. He took it up, and opened it to read the contents – a few scant sentences.

“I’m sorry, Zeus. That day when we met, it was like a knife to my heart. If there was ever one thing in the universe I cared for, its you. I don’t expect your forgiveness, and I do not ask for it. I

just want you to know that I had no choice in anything I did. They are dangerous people hidden behind sanctimonious faces. They’re even more dangerous than the Dark Citadel. Signed, Little Yue.”

There was nothing in the note asking for help, and it looked like it had been scribbled hastily. He looked a little longer before folding the paper and putting it away. “You can go,” he said to Gao Yong.

The pirate shifted from one foot to the other. “What about my Empress…?”

“Our boss said you can go,” Mika hissed. “Are you deaf?”

Gao Yong was surprise, but remained persistent. “The planet is already falling to chaos without her around to keep the peace. We’ve been the top for so long, and entirely self-sufficient. We rarely go out to plunder any longer. If we don’t bring some order back soon, the Starfields will be a mess just like they used to be as someone seeks to fill the power vacuum. The three starfield planets will once again be homes to the most violent and depraved pirates alive – a galaxy of vice and murder. I’m sure you don’t want this to happen, and neither do we. I’m begging you to help bring our Empress back. We’ll pay whatever

price you require.”

Lan Jue remained indifferent. “Go. I’ll think about it.”

Gao Yong still had more to say, but Mika quickly and fiercely removed him from the premises. Once the door was shut, she stomped back grumbling in irritation. “Messing with us the one time isn’t enough, he wanted us to show up for a second round? Does he thing we’re stupid? Boss, don’t let your soft-hearted nature win you over. Nothing good will come of helping that wretched ‘Empress’.”

Lan Jue shook his head. “No… in truth, there’s something I haven’t told any of you. We could have fled last time, before the Pontiff’s men had arrived, but it would almost certainly have led to terrible things for little Yue. She’d told me with her eyes, and if she hadn’t we’d have walked right in to their trap unprepared. Everything I said then was to confuse the Angels and throw them off little Yue’s scent.”

Mika was still not convinced. “You better not be falling for her charms, boss.”

To this, he laughed. “If not a Moonfiend, why not a Succubus,

right?”

Mika’s face reddened, but she didn’t pursue the thought. “So what are we going to do? Are you really planning to go and save her? You’re talking about walking right in to the belly of the beast. You’d be facing the total power of the Citadel, and they’re stronger even than Satan’s men. That guy was right when he said they were a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites. There isn’t a halfway decent person among them. You shouldn’t risk it!”

Lan Jue huffed. “You’re assuming I’m all heart and no strength. And anyway, you think I’m stupid enough to take on the entire place by myself? I only was able to beat Michael with a steaming heap of luck. You all can relax, I’m not going to risk my life.”

Mika heaved a sigh. “Fine, fine. You want some water, boss?
I’ll pour you a cup.”

Lin Guoguo tittered. “I’ll rub your shoulders, boss!”

Lan Jue could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise – danger! “What are you guys planning? Only the wicked hide their intentions behind unsolicited kindness!”

Xiuxiu offered a demure smile. “We aren’t planning anything. We just see you working so hard lately. We’re just trying to help!”

Lan Jue chuckled. “You think I can’t see through you guys by this point? If you want something, just go ahead and say it.”

It was Mika who spoke up. “Boss, look… we need an upgrade. Our mechas, Zeus one two and three, everything. We should have been doing this years ago. We haven’t talked to you about it because the shop’s been needing work. Now that we’ve had this sudden windfall of power gems, we have enough capital to get the project finished. Business is good enough that we have a surplus, so shouldn’t we be upgrading? You told us to pick a few out and use them before, if you remember. We’ve got some ideas.”

“So this is your secret,” Lan Jue said through a smirk. “Of course there’s no problem. I leave it up to you all. How could I say no?”

Mika, suddenly excited, went on. “We’ll handle it! Ke’er’s already started on the blueprints. What about Thor? Should we re-outfit it as well?”

He shook his head. “You don’t need to bother with Thor, I’ll handle that myself. Focus no your own suits. Remember that you should always handle your mechas by yourself. You shouldn’t rely on anybody to do or help you with it. Only in this way can you really understand every part of your suit. And them ore you know, the more it becomes an extension of yourself. Every top level pilot had made their suit a part of themselves, like a limb and not a tool. They may be made of metal, but mechas are almost sentient things. They have a spirit, a soul. The more you put in to it, the more it will give back.”

The girls nodded emphatically. They exchanged fiercely excited glances.

In some ways these ladies were still kids. Although they’ve been happy here, Lan Jue’s depression had effected them as well. Lan Jue had indeed been busy lately, but he was living. This filled them with vitality as well. In witnessing the strength of the Avenue, watching Paragons rise and fall, and witnessing the god battles, that excitement only grew. They were impatient to get better. They didn’t like to see him in such a rut – how could they help him then?

Lan Jue excused himself and returned his apartments. He laid on the bed and stared at the ceiling with half-lidded eyes. Was

there really nothing he could do about the troubles in the Starfields? The amazons were only around because of his intervention.

He need to clear his mind. This trip to the West was starting to look fated. He’d take advantage of the school trip. But first, there were things to prepare.

ζ

Blood-red claws swiped at her face, so quick Zhou Qianlin couldn’t dodge. But she reacted quickly, and her right arm shot up to throw her hand between her and her attacker. The delicate bracelet on her wrist twinkled, and suddenly the hollow metal charm hanging from it burst with rays of radiant blue light. Before her eyes, a giant water elemental ten feet tall materialized.

It was the power of the Pelagic Pearl, the one Lan Jue had forced her to take.

This was the first time she’d seen it’s power. It hadn’t been needed during their fight with the pirates, but Lan Jue had required her to wear it before he’d let her participate in the

fight.

Now, faced with Granny Bess’ sudden attack, her unconscious reaction had been to call on the pearl for help.

Splash! The red fingernails dug in to the body of the summoned beast. Then, in an impressive display, it froze around her hand and refused to let go. Then, a chilling scene unfolded. The massive elemental darkened until its entire form was a deep crimson, and began to emit a strange odor.

Half a second later, fingernails that had grown five times their size burst through the elemental’s back. It was too quick – and she too stunned – to dodge.

The Pelagic Pearl’s elementals were powerful enough to contest an eighth-level Talent in attack, and a ninth level third rank Talent in defense. This was to be expected, considering its outrageous price. And her pearl was of the highest grade!

And yet it collapse at the first swipe of granny’s wretched claws. It hardly slowed her at all, and the power she’d used had completely corrupted the creature. What sort of nightmarish power was this?

Qianlin shut her eyes tight and projected her will in to the Spirit Caller power gem. But nothing happened. Somehow, the stone had lost its efficacy. The great claws grabbed her, pierced her. She was filled with a freezing terror that sunk to the marrow.

Chapter 330: The Military Quandary

Beep! Beep! Beep! Lan Jue’s ears were pierced by the harsh call of his communicator.

“Professor Lan.” It was Director Wu. His voice was uncharacteristically quiet.

“Results already?” Lan Jue asked.

“Yes! It’s the goddamn Lir University if you can believe it. After my investigation everyone came out clean except for one, who ended up being a scout for the school. He must have caught sight of part of the training before you left for An Lun. I suspect he made a report to some lieutenant friend in the military and that got the ball rolling. Word is he was instructed to check whether the training was truly effective and, if it was, steps would be taken. More than that, this spy must have told them about you, too. When I was inquiring with the military office, they told me they would gladly call you in to train their soldiers.”

First, Lan Jue was surprised. However, that quickly turned in to a chilly sneer. “ A lieutenant? Missed the mark there, fellas. It doesn’t matter, Director. It isn’t something you need to worry

over. Just don’t accept any money from anyone and you’re fine. More important as that we don’t delay their testing. Call them all back and do it as soon as possible. It’ll really solidify where they were and what they achieved.”

“Hm?” Director Wu replied. “Do you have an idea on how to deal with this?”

“If I didn’t, how could I call myself these kids’ teacher?” Lan Jue answered. “This isn’t some military black op or political game – this is a university trying to be cute. I’ll have someone politely remind them to mind their own business.”

“Alright.” Director Wu trusted in this young man’s ability to handle the situation. This etiquette teacher was definitely stronger than he liked people to think. With such a man in his corner, what did he have to fear from a lieutenant?

Their conversation concluded, Lan Jue cut the connection then dialed in another number.

“Ey? What made you think of calling me up, underclassman?” Su He sounded calm, relaxed, and groggy.

Lan Jue smirked. “Upperclassman. How’s your vacation going?”

Su He answered with a lazy laugh. “I have forsaken my life and duty, and sink in to a sea of self-serving pleasure. I can’t even remember the last time I felt so relaxed. Out here, having fun with the people I love, what more can you ask for? There isn’t much more that’d make life better.”

“Well, unfortunately I have to bother you with something,” Lan Jue said.

“Oh? What’s up?” Su He sat up a little straighter. Lan Jue’s voice was calm, but he could hear the seriousness in tone.

Lan Jue quickly relayed the information he’d been given from Wu Junyi.

“What?!” The moment Su He heard the news, he was upset. He was a guest teacher in high standing at Lir, so this tarnished his reputation as well. And he even had to get the Bookworm to help get him there. He was the respected Paragon’s apprentice! How could they do this?

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll handle this. I’ll get in contact with the university leaders right away. They must have a goddamn problem in the brain, and they’ll regret it. Thanks for bringing this to my attention! I owe you a favor.” And he meant it. It was no surprise he would react this way. Lan Jue had a dozen ways he could have solved this, but Su He was his first thought. It would give him face, and he knew Lan Jue had his back.

Lan Jue gave a placating laugh. “Don’t let this darken your holiday, upperclassman. It’s not a big deal. I just didn’t want to see your improving spirits spoiled on someone’s whim.”

“It’s fine, underclassman. I know how to take care of this,” Su He said. “Oh, by the way, I watched your god battles. I’ve got to say, I really admire you. I had no idea you’d grown that strong. You and your brother are getting to be about the same.”

Su He had known for a long time that he was Zeus, and that Lan Qing was Prometheus.

“Ugh, stop cursing me,” Lan Jue said through a chuckle. I’ve really got a long way to go before I catch up to my brother. He’s at the choke-point.”

“Ah?” Su He was clearly very surprised by the news. Of course he knew what Lan Jue meant. It was something to be feared, because if an adept failed to break through they would never improve further. And yet, it was still a symbol of an Adept’s mastery. Of course, they were talking about ninth-rank, ninth- degree Adepts. Those who hit the bottleneck, were preparing to break through to Paragon status.

Su He knew precisely how old Lan Qing was, and for him to reach this point was entirely unprecedented. It would go down in history.

“Ah, there really is a lot to envy. Jealousy, is what it is. I’m not talking to you anymore, it hurts my pride. I’m going to handle this business with the university right now.” He ended the talk on a somewhat helpless note.

“Ah wait upperclassman,” Lan Jue answered. “I do have some good news for you.”

“What’s that?” He was genuinely curious, since he couldn’t think of any news Lan Jue might have that would involve him.

Lan Jue smiled. “I can tell you haven’t heard. Your master

broke through.”

“He did? Wow, that’s damn impressive to achieve at his age!” Su He almost absentmindedly answered, but as the last syllable rose it stuck in his throat. “Wait. He… he broke through?”

Su He had suddenly remembered how strong his teacher was.
He was at the peak of ninth rank, and that meant…

Lan Jue could hear him swallow on the other end of the communicator. For a moment, he was more excited than if he’d broken through himself.

The Bookworm had been deep in to the winter of his life. He’d known it for a long time, and he’d even discussed plans should the Bookworm pass. He never thought the old man would achieve this, and now that he had the promise was that his life would be extended greatly. Even at his age, this would be significant. At the very least, he’d have nothing to worry about for another ten years. He was very excited, and why not? He was his disciple!

Hearing his friends’ reaction, he couldn’t help but feel joy for them both. He couldn’t help but laugh. “It looks like the

Bookworm was also concerned with interrupting your holiday. Anyway, he’s been very busy lately. No doubt you know about the DreamNet upgrade, which he helped orchestrate.”

“Well that settles it,” Su He said resolutely. “Vacation’s over, it’s time to go back and help my teacher.”

Lan Jue could only shake his head. “I really shouldn’t have said anything. Your wife’s already going to hate me.”

“Nah,” Su He assured. “I’ll make it up to her when this stuff is settled. We’ve been out here a long time already. In the future I’ll make sure to give myself a break, so we’ll both benefit.”

“So long as you’re happy,” Lan Jue answered.

They exchanged a few more words, where Su He asked about the details of his master’s breakthrough. All the way until they hung up, he could sense Su He’s happiness for his master. That was a true teacher-student relationship.

Lan Jue was also very happy for the old man. Not only was the Avenue stronger for it, but all of humanity had a great scientific

mind to its benefit.

Having Su He deliver the message to Lir was enough. But the military wasn’t something you tried to bully. But it would be an issue easily resolved, nonetheless.

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