Chapter 105: The Superstar
“I wanted your ID, I didn’t ask to see your fa-“ The female officer stopped suddenly when she realized who was before her. She stood as though frozen, eyes wide and mouth agape.
Li had risen his head. Locks of pale blue hair ruffled majestically in the breeze as eyes as brilliant as the starry heavens fixed the woman with their enchanting gaze. A small, coy smile played across his fair-skinned face. Perfection, that is what people called it.
When he fixed her with that smile, it was as if everything around them faded in to the background. There was only him, as perfect as a statue, staring in to her soul. Lan Jue’s strength lay in his heroism and nobility, but in raw looks his companion had him solidly beat. A-Li didn’t have the same courageousness, but he made up for it in enticing warmth and empathy.
“Why miss… this is my ID.” A-Li pointed a thin finger at his face, his charming smile spreading wider with a wink.
“Y-you… you.. you… !” The officer’s voice grew higher by degrees with each stuttered word. Lan Jue looked on helplessly from a small distance away. He shook his head at the scene, realizing now that calling this guy over probably would end up being more trouble than it was worth.
“AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!” The sudden, violent shriek that nearly shattered the woman’s helmet nearly scared the two gentlemen from their skin.
“Poseidon! Y-you’re Poseidon! Aaahhh!!” She shivered uncontrollably as the screams shot through the air. She fumbled manically with her helmet, eventually managing to free her charming face. She wouldn’t be considered terribly pretty, but she was possessed of a certain strength that made her attractive. Although now her eyes was practically heart-shaped, and her courage was hard to picture while she was hoping up and down like a school girl.
“Hush!” A-Li pressed his finger to his lip. “Be quiet! Otherwise you wont be able to enjoy our little meeting just you and me. Do you still need my identification?”
“No, no need, it’s fine. Your face is the best kind of identification. You’re even more gorgeous than on television! Your eyes are just so amazing, and how are your lashes so long! Almost two centimeters. Oh gosh! I’m actually here with you, face to face! I’m so lucky, so so lucky!”
Li turned temporarily from his adoring fan to extricate a small box from his luggage. Like magic, a pen appeared in his hands, with which he signed the box and handed it to the woman.
“This here is my latest acousto-optic three dimensional album special. Here, this will be our fine, how’s that?” He patted the woman’s hands as he took a step back.
“This… this is for me?” Her quivering hands pressed the box to her chest. A-Li had already begun to replaced his hat, scarf and glasses. In response to her query, he stepped forward and patted her shoulder – but making sure to keep a respectful distance. After a brief moment he motioned towards Lan Jue.
The forgotten Jewelry Master swung his leg over the bike and mounted once again while A-Li got one behind him. Poseidon waved majestically at his fan as they pedaled in to the distance.
“Get going. I think it’ll be fifteen minutes or so before she recovers, but after that every cop in Skyfire’s going to be searching for me.” A-Li muttered quietly as he bounced along behind Lan Jue. It sounded like it was something he’d experienced often.
“And what’s there to be proud of anyway,” Lan Jue muttered.
“Usually the people who say such things are just jealous,” A-Li said through a smirk. “Anyhow ninety percent of the people in the three Alliances are like you, hyper masculine. The other ten percent like real men.” A-Li leisurely sat swinging his legs beside the churning bicycle wheels.
“Careful you don’t get disfigured,” Lan Jue hissed maliciously.
The voice that came up from behind him was not the A-Jue he knew. Instead it was soft, plaintive and crystal-clear. A woman’s voice. “And if one day this one should lose their good looks, would you still love me?”
“Holy flaming crap on a pogostick 1 Shut your mouth and stop with that voice changing nonsense or I swear on my life I’ll boot you right back into orbit!” He just narrowly missed sending them both careening in to a ditch.
A-Li’s voice had returned to normal. “Have some dignity. You’re injured. If you tried to throw anything it’d probably just be yourself in to an early grave.”
“What kind of brother are you?”
A-Li’s voice changed again, that unsettling feminine quality returning. “We should both go have operations, then we can be sisters!”
“What the… no wonder your dad called you Hua Li 2. Go do your operation then. So tell me then A-Li, if you’re a woman what’s the first thing you want to do now that you’re here.”
“Make the boys feel gooood,” he said timidly.
Lan Jue was silent for a long time. After what felt like ages he seemed to come out of the haze. With a profound look in his eyes, he resolutely said, “A kind brother!”
It was after dark by the time they arrived at Skyfire Avenue. Lan Jue used his status as a Councilman to fix Hua Li up with a temporary badge. The evening lights hung over the street as the sun slowly began to dip behind the mountains. The magic hour gave the Avenue a classic sort of mystery and beauty.
“Wow, it certainly is nice here. I like this antique feel. I can see why you lived so easily here for three years. A-Jue, your taste has only improved with age.”
Lan Jue responded lazily. “If my taste was ever anything but impeccable, it was because I was spending time with you philistines.”
“I’m hungry, what’s for dinner?” Hua Li muttered as he cast his eyes around the quickly dimming Avenue.
“What do you want?”
“Anything’s good!” Hua Li said. “I’ve eaten most of what this world has to offer already, so it’s all the same to me.”
Lan Jue shot him a glance. “Sure, because that’s not bragging at all.”
Hua Li’s eyes lit up mischievously. “Like this then. You bring me something delicious I’ve never eaten before, I’ll owe you a favor. Anything you want.”
“Become a transsexual?”
Hua Li plucked his sunglasses from his face, and fixed Lan Jue with that unsettling plaintive stare. As tears welled up in his clear eyes, his voice again took on that moving, feminine quality.
“So long as you’re willing to part with the male me.”
“Sod off! 3” Lan Jue shoot a foot towards Hua Li, who hopped nimbly out of the way with a self-satisfied grin on his face. “Stop using this play-acting garbage on me. If you make me worse I’ll have you feel what it’s like to be burnt to cinders by lightning.”
Lan Jue half-heartedly spat the threat while dialing a number in to his communicator.
“What’s up.” A deep voice answered.
“Got something delicious cooking? Something rare, for two.”
“Come.” The connection dropped.
Lan Jue had become accustomed to that baritone, laconic voice. “Your luck’s pretty good. Looks like there is indeed something good for you tonight. I guess we’ll see what in a minute.”
Hua Li nodded. “Not knowing is best. Now I got something to look forward to.”
Before the small, simple door of a cabin.
As they pushed through the narrow entryway a faint, refreshing aroma greeted them. It smelled something like osmanthus, but not quite. It was a smell that almost seemed to fill you up.
“Scented rosewood?” Excitement lit up Hua Li’s face as he rushed forward. He pressed his nose to the expansive table and took several long, deep breaths. He straightened and stared at the table in surprise.
“Absolutely beautiful. Look at the heartwood grain, twisted like specter faces. Man! It’s almost like tigerskin, and so large. So many beautiful figures in it – no, not beautiful. This is magnificent! Just so amazing, how is a piece this large even here?”
“Please keep it down,” the deep voice entreated.
Hua Li lifted his head towards the voice. The man who stood before him now wore a pair of brown trousers and a black shirt, covered by a brown waistcoat. The Gourmet entered from the kitchen beyond.
The two looked at each other, though it was the Gourmet who was more distinctly taken aback – likely because of his guest’s striking appearance.
“Hello, I’m Hua Li.” He stood straight, and nodded politely to his host.
“Are you… a man, or a woman?” The Gourmet looked at him in utter turmoil.
Lan Jue’s peals of laughter rang through the small room like a thunderstorm.
Hua Li responded by glaring daggers at him. Then, lifting his head, he pointed dramatically at his adam’s apple.
The Gourmet nodded. “Ah, good. Otherwise we’d have some real chaos on our hands.”
Lan Jue’s grin nearly split his face. “Not much different from now. You’re about the only person who doesn’t pay attention to things outside the planet, otherwise you’d know who he is.”
“Has nothing to do with me,” the cook replied. “You’re a fan of rosewood, then?”
Hua Li’s face underwent a quick and drastic change, from upset at the earlier exchange to excited once again. “Hainan Scented Pear tree, one of the most precious of trees from the home planet. Many household objects were made from their bark, and then were subsequently passed down within the family as priceless heirlooms. A memory of ancient China. It’s official name is Dalbergia odorifera. They aren’t difficult to grow, but their growth rate is exceptionally slow. Only fragrant rosewoods which have been left to grow for hundreds of years are suitable for use in furniture. This table of yours is about one and a half meters wide and four meters long. The tree it was made from had to have been at least five thousand years old! Even in the ancient times this would be considered an absolutely priceless treasure, much more so now.”
“Take a seat. It’s no wonder the Jewelry Master brought you here. You’ve clearly got taste.”
Hua Li sat before the table as instructed, though his features bore a slight uneasiness. “I know there’s no way you’d be selling something as precious as this. But how about this, if there was ever anything in the future you couldn’t handle… something you needed a large favor for, suitably difficult… you can come right to me. If I’m able to help you, then I hope you could allow me to come often and admire your table. And if at any point you are interested in parting with it, I will give you everything I possess.”
“The last person who tried to discus a price with me,” the gourmet said softly, “went flying right out of the Avenue. Luckily I haven’t quite reached that point with you yet.”
Lan Jue, still standing to the side, spoke towards the man in a conspiratory voice. “There is one thing he said that’s undoubtedly true, Gourmet. If indeed there comes a day you start looking to sell this table, he would be your best choice. There simply isn’t anyone with his level of obsession for rosewood. As for his own treasures, very few in the Three Alliances can match him there, either. Eight, ten s-ranked gems… not an issue.”