Chapter 163: The Gourmet’s Story
Lan Jue beamed in admiration. “Copper kettle, charcoal fire, black pottery… the perfect combination for millet wine! Add a few slices of ginger while boiling the alcohol, and that’d be especially beneficial.” As he spoke, he took the initiative and plucked up the kettle. He poured out a glass of wine for the Gourmet first before filling the others’ cups.
He followed this by taking a smoked plum from the tray, and dropping one in to each glass.
“Drink the stew while it’s hot,” the Gourmet instructed.
“Alright,” Lan Jue said. He pulled the lid off of the bowl and was immediately met with a blast of steam and a pleasant scent. He peered inside, but despite his love of food was unable to determine what the clear stew was made of.
The stew was a pale yellow, and boiling hot. A single spoonful, and Lan Jue felt it like a flood through him, a clean rejuvenating sensation. It warmed him to his core.
He even felt as though his internal energies were revitalized by the tasty soup. A small amount of steam was even lifting off from his forehead.
“What is this?” Lan Jue asked inquisitively.
“Wild grown dendrobium officinale, left untouched for a hundred years, is the main ingredient.,” he replied. “In addition we have phoenix chicken from Taihua, and a dozen sorts of medicinal herbs. It serves to nourish the five primary organs, as well as the qi and blood. 1 Make sure you drink it all.”
Lan Jue blinked. “Pheonix chicken? You actually found some? And where’d you get the mature dendrobium officinale? It was one of the Nine Immortal Herbs used in Former Era traditional medicine. Didn’t they die out a long time ago?”
The Gourmet shook his head. “All of this good food, and here you are occupying your mouth with nonsense. Just eat!” He punctuated the order by taking a sip of his wine, picking up his chopsticks, and getting to work on the meal.
Lan Jue took another sip of the soup, whose warmth filled him up. He then took a sip of the pleasant wine. Its own warmth, the ginger slices and the smoked plum all served to raise his temperature.
The various dishes arrayed around the table looked simple, but each were specially crafted delicacies. The stifling atmosphere from moments ago was entirely dispelled as they tucked in to the amazing food. Hua Li and Chu Cheng were happily munching away with the rest of them.
Lan Jue’s favorite was certainly the crab and noodles in wine sauce. It was thick with juice, an amalgamation of high-grade Shaoxing wine and crab juices. Spread over the smooth, pleasantly textured noodles it’s taste defied explanation.
It ended up Chu Cheng and Hua Li both squabbled over the final piece of the braised pork and soy sauce. Eventually they settled on splitting the final piece in half. In no time at all, all six dishes were empty. Even the sauces and juices weren’t safe, for the three young visitors sopped that up with rolls of steamed bread.
The Gourmet chuckled at the display. “Be a little careful, next time. I’d hate to lose such a foodie and drinking buddy. Once you’re full you guys can head out at your leisure. The next time try to avoid bringing outsiders…”
“Alright,” Lan Jue said with a small chuckle. “We’ll head out first, then. How about you, Seamstress?”
The pretty women looked up from her plate to reply. “I’ll help the Gourmet tidy up some before heading out. Something we ladies are quite adept at.” 2
Chu Cheng shot an inconspicuous glance towards the Gourmet before wordlessly jabbing Hua Li in the side with an elbow. His friend knew the indication, and both wandered out from the Gourmet’s boutique together.
By this time the Seamstress was already standing, and gathered several plates with her slender arms. The Gourmet remained seated, chewing on a cigarette that had somehow appeared in the interim. It hung unlit from the corner of his mouth.
“Go on and smoke, it doesn’t bother me,” the Seamstress said.
The Gourmet snapped a finger and, with the motion a flame sprang to life on his fingertip. He lit the stick and almost immediately the room filled with the scent of burning tobacco.
The Seamstress continued to work in silence, with no statements or questions offered. She just grabbed up the soiled plates, and moved them to the kitchen.
“All arranged and where they’re meant to be,” the Seamstress said once everything had been put away. Make sure to get to bed early, and don’t smoke too much. I’m on my way out.”
The Gourmet nodded, following her with his eyes as she left.
He sat alone in the boutique, coiled plumes of tobacco smoke swirling around his narrowed eyes. The light living in them was complicated, but a clear pang of discomfort was easily discerned.
Hua Li, Lan Jue and Chu Cheng slowly ambled down the Avenue towards Zeus’ Jewelry Shop.
“Nightcap?” Chu Cheng looked at his two dinner companions.
“Alright.” Lan Jue pushed his way past the store in to apartments. He returned a moment later with a bottle of brandy and three glasses.
Chu Cheng helped himself by snatching the bottle from an Jue’s hands. He poured himself a glass and downed it right away. “Ah, brandy really is something special! Millet wine’s too weak, not suitable for me.”
“What the hell was that about,” Hua Li piped up, cutting through the garbage. “Your uncle? Your real uncle?”
Chu Cheng nodded his head. “I never would have thought to look here. No wonder we haven’t been able to find him. He disappeared two years ago.”
Lan Jue looked over his way. “If it involves some secret of your family, you don’t need to share it.”
Chu Cheng smiled indifferently. “Something I can’t share with outsider, but you two? You’re family. As a matter of fact, my uncle’s story is now almost more a legend. Are you aware of his strength, A-Jue?”
Lan Jue shook his head. “Only that it’s fire based. I’ve never actually seen him use it seriously. Still, he’s one of the Avenue’s eighteen councilmen so that has to mean something, even if he is lower on the tier list. Really all we know is that he’s an amazing cook. It’s strange, though, that he only ever cooks on occasion. He’ll go for weeks without cooking anything nice. I’ve probably been his most common guest these last few years.”
“That’s because he feels the two of you are similar,” Chu Cheng revealed.
The red haired man continued. “My uncle’s story is almost like something out of a book. His generation only had him and my father. You know about my family and the inheritance that comes with it – this is also true for the power of our blood. Only for their generation there was something… different. My father only inherited a small bit of Hades’ power, to which my grandfather was very disappointed. He started with my dad right away, to cultivate his powers to a useful point and train him to look after the family business. Then my uncle was born, and my grandfather discovered he was stronger than any Adept in their family in the last hundred years.”
“What about compared to you?” Hua Li asked curiously.
Chu Cheng’s voice dropped. “According to grandpa, uncle’s powers are even purer than mine.”
Both Lan Jue and Hua Li couldn’t help it, and sucked in a breath in surprise. Both of them were quite familiar with Chu Cheng’s level of power. Today, with the help of the amazons, Lan Jue may have soundly defeated Hua Li and Chu Cheng. But this was a game, a test. If it had been a real life-or-death battle, one where their full abilities were employed, Lan Jue’s situation would have been much more dire.
During those early years, when they first met, Lan Jue was only just unlocking the secrets of his Ascension. Chu Cheng was only in his early twenties then, but was already able to command the Spirit of Hades.
Now he’s saying the Gourmet’s powers are even purer than his? What did it mean? The Gourmet was also at peak age for an Adept, and had years of cultivation over Chu Cheng.
“He isn’t a Paragon, is he?” Hua Li asked.
Chu Cheng shook his head. “I don’t know. What I do know is that when he left twelve years ago, he was already a ninth level eighth rank adept. Much stronger than I am even now. I’m only seventh rank currently, and he’s got fourteen years on me. Judging by this information, I’d say it totally possible that he’s a Paragon.”
“So what happened back then,” Lan Jue encouraged.
“Uncle’d become pretty renowned when he was younger,” Chu Cheng said. “The family had placed all their hopes in him. As you’re well aware, my family and Satan’s line are mortal enemies, always have been. His power forced us to flee to the North. Otherwise without their bastard lineage, our family would be the greatest Force of Darkness in the West. The Dark Tower really should be Hades’ Tower. It was grandpa’s hope to train my uncle, to make him in to his generation’s greatest Paragon. Satan was already old then, and it was his hope that with a new Hades, we could recapture our old glory.”
“Until he was twenty, uncle never left the family. He had all the resources of the family at his disposal, but he also had to bear tremendous hardships in his training. He grew hard and cold from it. After he was twenty, grandpa finally allowed him to leave the compound. He wanted to toughen his son up out in the real world. He wanted him ready for the shock his body would go through once he became a Paragon. In truth, age plays only a small role in an Adept’s power. However, it is common knowledge that breaking through to Paragon before forty is best. That is when an Adept is at their most potent. Such was grandpa’s plan.”
“At first everything was fine. Uncle would leave, travel for a year, then return home for a few months. Almost every time he’d come back significantly stronger than when he’d left. He grew stronger, and the family’s hopes and dreams grew brighter. And then, fourteen years ago, when uncle was twenty-eight, they encountered a problem.”
“Grandpa had lost sight of what was important. After all, my uncle was a man, not a machine. The stress and expectations were too much. He had no freedom, no way to channel or release that pressure. Grandpa never even considered finding uncle a partner or wife. To him and the family, their only concern was that they’d finally have a new Hades.”
“But he was a thinking, feeling man! And by that time he was already very strong, handsome. Naturally he’d attract some female attention. Of course for the first twenty years, he’d never even been out of the house. He was a stiff, and it was difficult for him to get his head around things from the outside world. But as time went on he grew up, became accustomed to the sensations real life had to offer. When he left at the age of twenty-seven, he’d found a girl he liked.”
The fiery glint of gossip sparked behind Hua Li’s eyes. “So your grandpa finds out about this woman, and forbids them to be together. It’s like the plot of a movie.”
Chu Cheng laughed wryly. “Even more melodramatic, in fact. When he was twenty-eight, he brought the woman back home to the family. At that point their relationship had had no negative impact on his cultivation, so even though grandpa was unhappy he still allowed it. He knew uncle was getting older and needed a family of his own. But in true tragic fashion, eventually grandpa discovered the truth; the girl uncle had chosen, had Satan’s blood pumping through her veins.”
- Medicinal culinary arts are a popular thing in china. Chinese Traditional Medicine differentiates a food or herbs’ efficacy based on its taste and reaction. For instance, chrysanthemum tea is often drunk in summer because of its cooling and heat-draining abilities – drink some chrysanthemum tea and you can almost taste it’s clearing and soothing ability. Some restaurants, even ‘fast food’ chains, will put a dishes’ medicinal effect next to it on the menus. The primary organs are what they call the five Zang organs; the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys and spleen. They are paired with the six ‘fu’ organs with which they exchange qi energies and consolidate healing effects. Those are the pericardium (the ‘bag’ that surrounds the heart), the stomach, small intestines, large intestine, the gallbladder, and the Triple Burner/San Jiao (the three empty cavities in the trunk of a person, i.e. the plueral, thoracic and abdominal cavities.). If anyone is interested in Chinese medicinal theory let me know, I love this stuff. ↩
- Sexism! A discussion for another time, but you’d be shocked at how institutionalized male dominance is in China. ↩