Chapter 104: Lili
Both the moon and dream angels looked towards the first of their order, Metatron. He watched the exchange between the Pontiff and the Magnate helplessly. For him, strength was not something to fear – but insanity was. If there was one among the Paragons he would not wish to face in battle, it was the man before him now.
The Arcane Magnate might have been ranked low among his peers, his sheer destructive power was in the top three. Worse still, if the old man had his way no trace would remain of his enemies. If he were to really lose his mind, it was unlikely anyone existed who could stop him.
Skyfire Avenue, Public Airship Hangars.
Lan Jue trotted in to the welcoming lobby somewhat out of breath. It hadn’t yet reached rush hour, so there were only a few people present.
He was pleased to find he’d arrived just on time. He’d pedaled valiantly without stopping to make sure of the fact. That bicycle was great for environmental protection, but that lack of speed…
He stumbled to a nearby vending machine set against a wall and stuffed a few coins in to the slot. A water bottle rattled to the bottom, which he took and emptied to nearly half in just a few gulps. He sighed contentedly as the water refreshed him.
In order to recover from the wounds he’d suffered, he had to keep his Discipline tightly bottled up inside. Be it thunder or lightning, their destructive power was too high and his body couldn’t yet handle the strain. As a result his journey here by bicycle was completely dependent on his own physical strength – something which, also, was affected by his injuries. The wounds he suffered were indeed significant.
As he stood there, water in hand, his mind spontaneously thought back to earlier in the day. Lamentations filled him as he recalled the scene of him being helplessly dragged through the halls. Even the amusing visions of his disciples beating the piss out of each other couldn’t sweep that shadow from his mind. He could only pray that the none of the students who planned to visit his class tomorrow had seen the embarrassing display.
His self-pity was interrupted when the communicator on his wrist began to buzz. A-Jue, you here? The words scrolled across the screen.
Lan Jue immediately made his way towards the station exit to wait for his visitor. It wasn’t long before he spotted him.
The man who ambled from the exit was a strange sight to behold. He was almost wrapped in layers of thick black tweed. A bulky scarf was wrapped around his neck. His head was covered in a grey skullcap, and half his face disappeared behind a pair of massive sunglasses. From a distance it was difficult to tell if he were man or mummy.
Lan Jue smirked as he waved high to catch the pile of clothes’ attention. The man, presumably peering in all directions, though it was hard to tell, eventually locked on Lan Jue’s position. He trotted towards him, pushing a luggage barrow before him. As he did, however, he still looked clandestinely in all directions as though on the lookout. Or in hiding.
Lan Jue took a step forward to greet him. “Well well, Lili. Quite the appearance. I’m guessing ‘normal’ was not in your wardrobe?”
The mummy man covered his mouth with a hand. “Shh! Keep it down. Let’s get out of here, then we’ll talk.”
It wasn’t until they’d left the station the mummy stood up straighter, and heaved a sigh of relief. The two were of a similar height, though the strange man was a sight thinner.
“Alright, we should be fine here. So, A-Jue, where’s the car?” The man’s voice was soft, clear. It had a strange attraction to it – a voice one would find hard to forget.
“Em…” Lan Jue scratched the back of his head. “I came in sort of a rush, Lili, so transportation’s a little crude…”
“What are we wasting time for? I don’t need any nonsense luxury car. I don’t care what we’re driving – and stop calling me Lili! People’ll start thinking I’m a woman.1”
Lan Jue draped an arm around his companion’s shoulder and pulled him in to a hug. “Fine. A-Li, that good? I’ll go get our ride.”
Mummy-man was caught in the bear hug, and found it difficult to extricate himself from it. The display of affection dislodged his massive sunglasses and caused them to slip down his face. The brief glance at his eyes showed their surprise while looking at Lan Jue.
Said eyes were striking to say the least; clear, shimmering azure blue orbs which the word ‘deep’ would fail to describe. On a woman they would be almost too pretty, much less on a man. The long, curling eye-lashes only made it worse. Fair skin, straight thin nose, smooth forehead… even with the scarf, glasses and hat it was hard to hide his pretty face! Indeed his charming features couldn’t be described as handsome – only beautiful would cover it. Stunningly beautiful 2.
Lan Jue slapped his forehead. “Your dad sure knew what he was doing when he named you, huh A-Li. It’s a shame you’re a guy – as a woman you’d be quite the heartbreaker. You’d probably have been my Hera!”
“Get the hell out of here and get your damn car! 3” A-Li hurriedly replaced his sunglasses, trying to peer in every direction at once. Convinced no one had seen him, he sighed in relief. That relief quickly dissipated when he saw Lan Jue return with his bicycle.
“Wh-… where the hell did you find this antique?”
“Oh this,” Lan Jue said awkwardly. “Ah, A-Li, y’see… like I said I came in sort of a rush, so…”
Li cut him off, pushing past him to stand before the bicycle. He lifted his glasses to stare at the ancient thing in careful detail. “Oh man… beautiful! What a nice surprise, A-Jue. Such a thoughtful gift!”
“Hey, stop embarrassing yourself. Who said I was giving this to you?” Lan Jue said in agitation. “Get a taxi, I’m riding this back.”
“No way! I have to experience this marvel of ancient design! You’re taking me.” A-Li left no room for disagreement, as he hurriedly scrambled on to the back of the bicycle.
Lan Jue scowled at him. “Women usually sit on the back!”
“Then I’m a woman!” A-Li said softly, batting his eyelashes enchantingly at Lan Jue. Needless to say his flirtatious glances were enticing. But that was the problem.
“Uerg… A-Li, you keep this up, and we’re never hanging out again.”
“Got it,” he said. “So let’s get moving.” A-Li remained locked in place atop the bike.
“What about the luggage?”
“I’ll carry them,” he replied. “It’s got wheels, right? It’ll be fine.”
One Minute later.
The antique bicycle rapidly rattled along the roadway, pulling behind it two rumbling suitcases dragged by a mummy.
“Woo, this is awesome! What a joy ride! Hey A-Jue, pick up the pace!” A-Li wriggled elated on the back seat.
Lan Jue growled over his shoulder. “Did I call you out here for a sightseeing tour? Aren’t you here to look after me? You know I’m hurt, and still you’re here making me work!”
Li sounded genuinely surprised. “You’re really hurt?”
Lan Jue didn’t answer, the depression in his eyes hidden from A-Li’s view. Although the damage Michael inflected was serious, it was the scheming that cut deepest. A-Li, meanwhile, lifted his free hand and pressed it against Lan Jue’s back. An indistinct sapphire glow shone forth.
A moment later he retracted his hand. His previously excited mood had turned sour.
“It really is this bad? Six of your meridians have been badly injured. Your fu-organs have also suffered some wounds. Something your own Discipline can’t heal on your own, even with three or four months of down time. Who did this to you?”
“The Pontiff’s Castle,” Lan Jue replied. “Because of Mika.”
Li fell silent, as though in contemplation. After a moment he reached a hand in to his coat pocket and extricated a small, delicate silver communicator.
The face of the communicator housed a large blue gemstone which exuded a gentle sapphire light. A-Li pressed his finger down upon it, and after a second a fair-sounding feminine voice arose.
“Cancel any current commodities slated for deliver to the Holy City, and sever any further ties. Issue a trade embargo against Spiritus Sanctus. No matter the cost.”
He broke connection and returned the communicator to his coat pocket. Only then did A-Li’s mood normalize somewhat.
“There’s no need for that, A-Li,” Lan Jue said. “It must be an enormous loss for your family.”
“Nonsense, ride your bicycle.” A-Li’s tone was sharp. “Why didn’t you say something earlier? The morons at the Pontiff’s Castle must be tired of living if they dare to strike out at us. Something like this you can’t just decide and forget, yeah?”
“Warning! Warning! Stop your vehicle immediately and submit to inspection! Repeat: Stop your vehicle and submit to inspection!” Suddenly a piercing electronic voice shrilled from behind them. It took both A-Li and Lan Jue by surprise. They turned their heads to find the source of the startling noise.
A black-coated high-alt verti-car was descending from above. Brilliant blue letters adorned it’s side; Police. It spun in to a controlled drift and came to a stop a few meters in front of them. Lan Jue hastily squeezed the brakes, bringing the bicycle to a stop.
The door to the verti-car hissed as it swung open. A helmeted officer slipped from within, a woman judging by her figure.
“Hello,” the officer greeted professionally. “Please produce your IDs for inspection.” She spoke with official tones towards Lan Jue.
Lan Jue handed her his communicator, and muttered almost under his breath. “Did we break some law?”
The officer looked over his ID number. “Are you aware of how dangerous it is to haul cargo with an antique like this?”
Lan Jue blinked with realization. “Oh. I’m very sorry, this is definitely our fault. What should we do?”
The officer looked at the bicycle, then at the bundled man cringing on the back seat. “I’ll need your ID as well. We’ll need to confiscate your vehicle. You can come to the station to sort this all out.”
“No way!” A-Li scrambled from the back of the bicycle. “Pretty miss, don’t be so heartless. We didn’t do it on purpose. It was my first time riding this bicycle, and I didn’t know the rules. There’s no reason to confiscate it. Or how about this, help us with our luggage and send us to our destination and we can sort this all out there.”
The woman’s voice came cold and curt. “Sir, I’m wearing a helmet. How do you know what I look like. I repeat, give me your ID.”
“So be it.” A-Li dropped his head helplessly. He slowly began unwrapping himself; hat, glasses, and scarf.