Chapter 154: Ninth Level Seventh Rank!
Lan Jue sat cross-legged upon the bed, his chest rising and falling with each breath as he meditated. He focused his power through him, following it as it filled every corner of his body. He watched carefully for signs of injury.
In truth this was his third check, and so far he was surprised to find not a hint of trouble. No wounds, no hidden dangers.
It was like he was reborn! Without any training or cultivation, he was back to peak condition with only a few hours’ rest. What’s more, he felt like he may have even gotten stronger.
A breakthrough? Once an Adept got to ninth level, each subsequent improvement came with a considerable leap in power.
He felt as though even his Discipline was gentler, that was the greatest indication. Thunderbolt and lightning were well known as among the more destructive and explosive Disciplines. However, as the Adept’s power grew he was able to distill the Discipline in to liquid form. This would stabilize it without sacrificing any power. This was, in truth, the goal he’d been chasing for ages.
Making the jump from ninth level six rank to ninth level seventh rank was like traversing a glorious threshold. It was important not just due to the effect it had on an Adept on his road to perfection. It was also the bane of many a Talent with dreams of being a Paragon.
Lan Jue was indeed happy with the discovery, but he had his doubts about the whole thing.
The phylactery stone embedded in his hand was an s-rank gem, and for good reason. Still it’s benefits did not lie in improving or enhancing an Adept’s powers. So if not the gem, then the Doctor. The young man brought him back from the brink of death, and improved his overall ability. But that would be incredible, miraculous in fact. Then could this mean that the jump in power came from him alone? No – no, it couldn’t be that simple. No matter how he tried there were no more answers forthcoming from either the Wine Master or the Doctor.
It also wasn’t wise or proper to interrogate them further. The Wine Master alone must have expended an obscene number of power gems to come to his rescue. That was the only way he’d able to stride from one planet to another like he claimed. Hell, the only time he’d ever heard of anything like that being performed before was in old stories!
Regardless of the how, the fact of the matter was he was stronger. And now, that meant things could stabilize. Even better, his physical condition was better than ever. Before, where his meridians glowed with only a dull gold light, now they shone brilliantly. This was a change Lan Jue only expected at around ninth level ninth rank. His bones and organs weren’t spared the metamorphosis either. He felt like he’d not only survived, but came out like a jackpot winner.
Three days later.
Knock knock knock! The gentle sounds of someone rapping on the door filled the room.
The golden aura around Lan Jue slowly dissipated. He stood and pulled open the door.
Xiuxiu’s pretty face greeted him. When she saw him in his pajamas, her face adopted a sense of concern. “Boss, are you alright?”
He answered with a smile. “Take it easy, I’m fine. In fact, I’m better than fine.”
The uncertainty melted from her face, replaced with a sweet smile. “That’s good. The Wine Master asked that I invite you to visit him.”
Lan Jue nodded. “Alright, I’ll go meet him.”
“And we got your communicator repaired,” she continued, handing it to him.
Lan Jue snapped it to his wrist and beamed her a smile. “Xiuxiu, ever so thoughtful.”
His eyes glanced down to the screen, where he discovered no small number of messages; Chu Cheng, Hua Li, Wu Junyi, Jin Yan and others.
Chu Cheng’s message was something about helping Hua Li prepare for his concert – though God only knew what that waste of space was doing to ‘help.’ Wu Junyi was asking over his health, imploring he take a few more days of rest and reorganization before returning to class.
Hua Li’s message contained specific information concerning the concert. Three days from now, or so the message assured.
“Let me go change,” Lan Jue said after reading through them.
“Sure. Uh, and boss… maybe by the way take a shower,” Xiuxiu replied softly.
“Eh…? Do I have a scent?”
Did he ever. In fact, he hadn’t washed himself since getting back from Taihua. He’d been focusing primarily on getting better.
Half an hour later.
The familiar chime of Zeus’ Jewelry Store rang as a refreshed and put-together Lan Jue exited the store. He wore a blue shirt and black pants, and walked down the avenue with an agile gait. The fresh air was revitalizing. He stopped long enough to take a deep, long breath so that it filled every part of him before making his way towards the Gothic Winery.
He pushed the door open and stepped inside. He was greeted by Eva, who smiled welcomingly. “Ah, we’ve been expecting you, Jewelry Master. The Wine Master is in the tasting room waiting for you.”
“Alright.” He nodded, then made his way inside.
Today, the Wine Master was clad in a brown formal suit. He sat quietly at the head of the tasting room’s giant table. A bottle of red wine waited in front of him.
Lan Jue walked to his side without any pomp or ceremony, pulled out a chair, and took a seat. He glowered disappointedly at his host. “Just one bottle?”
The old man shot him a disapproving glance. “And when do you plan on delivering that Conti you owe me?”
Lan Jue blinked. “Owe you? You were being serious?”
“What do you think,” came the Paragon’s answer.
The younger man chortled sheepishly, revealing a row of pearly white teeth. “I guess I owe so much it’s just not registering.”
The Wine Master reacted with a smile of his own. “No rush. In fact, you may just have an opportunity to pay it all back. We’ll talk about it.”
“What is it?”
“Your punishment, of course,” the Wine Master replied.
“Punishment?” Lan Jue was genuinely taken by surprise. “Why am I being punished?”
The Wine Master glowered through his explanation. “Because your antics nearly cost Skyfire Avenue dearly. Do you think something like that warrants punishment? The cost in powergems that were consumed for me to teleport to another planet you can owe me, we’ll call it part of the job, but your carelessness almost led to the death of a Skyfire Councilman. That must be answered for.”
Lan Jue smirked. “Somehow I feel like I’m going to end up owing you something else.”
“You think this is something disregarded to easily,” the Wine Master asked. “Ever since you decided to become a Councilman, you became part of a team. Sometimes being a team member means receiving, but it also means you’re available to back the others up when they need it. Otherwise what’s the point is Skyfire Avenue? Our organization is loosely established, yes, but we help and protect every Adept under our collective wing. As for this recent matter, if you’d have informed us right away of the situation on Skyfire I’d have made my way there at once. You wouldn’t have needed to take that decoction, and all of this trouble could have been avoided 1. And even more lives could have been saved.”
Lan Jue listened in silence, his face becoming serious as the gravity of his decision became clear.
The Wine Master went on. “In the future I hope you remember your role. If there is a problem you can’t handle on your own, the first thing you should do is call on the Avenue. We’ll do all we can to help.”
Lan Jue’s serious countenance broke in to an appreciative grin. “I hadn’t expected someone to almost literally move space and time to deal with this. I honestly didn’t expect the Avenue to react any faster than the East’s reinforcements. I thought the only option was for me to face it on my own. Still you’re right, and in the future I’ll certainly let the Avenue know first thing, if there’s a problem I can’t handle. I’ll accept any punishment you deem necessary.”
The Wine Master nodded approvingly. “In this aspect at least, you’re a reputable man. Too impulsive on occasion, but your ability to learn and self-direction are a step above our average member. It’s important that we recognize our own failings, and work to correct them. Once our little discussion is finished, we’ll begin by revoking your status as a Councilman. You’ll be put on suspension. In addition, when the Avenue comes calling for assistance you must offer it unconditionally. If and when that happens, you’ll regain your Council seat upon completion of the task.”
“Very well,” Lan Jue agreed without hesitation. “By the way, Wine Master, how is the Doctor doing? Unfortunately, I don’t have any s-ranked gems on hand to offer in payment. It may be a little while.”
“Not something you need to worry about just now,” the Wine Master replied. “The Avenue will see to compensating him for his time and effort. It was necessary for what we needed, and so the Avenue will assume responsibility for the cost in your place. If you still feel the need to repay him, you can when you have a power gem of suitable quality to offer. Or perhaps you can give him a cut of your store’s revenue.”
Lan Jue thought about it for a moment. “Allow me to handle this myself. The store is being taken care of largely by Mika and the other girls, and they hold sixty percent of the stock. I can’t simply make a decision without their input. Nor can I expect them to pay my debts.”
“Up to you,” the Wine Master answered. “There are still a few more things we need to discuss which concern you. For instance, the imminent arrival of the Dark Tower and Pontiff’s Castle’s representatives. Our most recent reports suggest the Pontiff and Satan might come themselves.”
“What?” Lan Jue’s eyes widened at the information, slivers of lightning arcing behind his lids. He hadn’t forgotten the sins of the Pontiff and his people. After all, things on Taihua would have been very different if he hadn’t had been injured in his battle with Michael.
Now they were coming to his home turf. It was time they had a serious discussion.
The Wine Master continued. “The Keeper went himself to call on the Pontiff about what happened. Used it to coerce the Castle’s Paragon. The Pontiff came to us afterwards about diffusing the conflict. Is this something you can do?”
Lan Jue’s brows furrowed at the thought, clearly pondering the matter. If it wasn’t for the crisis he’d encountered on Taihua, he’d absolutely refuse outright. Lan Jue wasn’t one to hold a grudge, but this was different. They had knowingly laid a trap for one of his family, planned to kill her. If he didn’t seek revenge for something like that, he couldn’t call himself Zeus.
But after everything that happened – after the Doctor and Wine Master spent so much to save him – his thinking changed. Skyfire Avenue’s needs were more important to him now. He had to think of things from a different point of view, now. What would benefit the Avenue most?
What’s more, with the events of Taihua behind him it was time to look at all things differently. At the end of the day, the Adepts of the Castle and Tower were all people. There were differences that needed handling, certainly, but in the face of this danger to all of humanity it was a small thing.
“I am willing to do this for the Avenue, and defer to the Council’s decision.” Lan Jue nodded firmly, fixing the Wine Master with his gaze.
- He has a damn point, doesn’t he! ↩