Chapter 250: Candidates
“One’s own home is always the most comfortable! Minding my own business when that old fox, Wu Junyi, snaps me up for this training. Just absolutely screwing with me.” The stream of complaints tumbled from Lan Jue in groans. Ke’er and Xiuxiu were surprised by the vocal displeasure. It was the first time they’d seen him like this.
Lin Guoguo humphed at him. “It looked to me like you were enjoying yourself out there, boss! It’s not as bad as you say.”
“It’s so dull,” he whined. “It’s so much nicer here with you girls. A leisurely life is a comfortable life. Anyway, has there been any more news about the castles?”
Xiuxiu shook her head. “Nothing. The date they’re arriving hasn’t changed, but the Barber did come by looking or you. He said he had something he wanted to discuss. The Driver came by as well, looking for a drinking partner. Strangely, we haven’t heard from either the Wine Master or the Gourmet in some time.”
“Got it. Do me a favor and set a time for tonight with the Driver. Then get in contact with the Barber and see if he’s in his shop. If he is, I’ll head over and see what he has to say. Ahh, I really am the absentee councilman aren’t I. Responsible for all this welcome party business and haven’t once gotten involved.”
Ke’er stuck out her bottom lip. “You’ve always been absent, boss, you know that.”
“Ehm…” Lan Jue’s easy smile froze on his face. After a quick moment, he recovered and snickered sheepishly. “You guys are too good at your jobs, that’s why. With you all so good at your jobs, there’s no opportunity for me to boss anybody around. So what’s the point of having me here?”
Xiuxiu quickly made contact with the gentlemen her boss had inquired over. “Boss, the Driver will come by and meet you tonight. He said he’d like to take you to dinner. As for the Barber, he says he’s in his shop. You can go find him there.”
Leaving Zeus’ Jewelry Shop, Ln Jue’s heart was full of helplessness. When did my life get so fast paced, he complained to himself. Never enough hours in the day.
Lan Jue shook his head, and laughed at himself as he made his way to the Barber’s shop.
The white storefront was attractive, with purple letters on the top to display its name.
This was the Barber’s shop, where he not only did hairdressing but also make-up. Lan Jue faintly recalled that many famed and important people would come to the high-priced Barber for a ‘treatment.’ Unfortunately, they were not members of the Avenue, and so were turned away.
The Barber was busy with a client when the Jewelry Master arrived. Much to Lan Jue’s surprise, his client was none other than the Beautician.
The Beautician’s eyes followed Lan Jue as she followed his entrance in the mirror situated before her. She flashed him a sweet smile. Presumably, she’d forgotten about the rage-inducing beating she and her colleague had received so long ago.
Lan Jue waved at her in greeting. He didn’t trouble the Barber while he was working, and instead took up position upon a nearby sofa. Of course, the Barber was aware of his arrival.
“The busy bee deigns to make an appearance. Such a rarity to see you out and about! So how can I help you today; a little cut and blow, perm, make-up?”
Lan Jue’s answer was delivered through a chuckle. “Unfortunately I don’t have the time. I have something in the afternoon that needs attending. What is being prepared for the big visit? Is there anything I can do to help?”
At first he didn’t answer. The snip snip snip of his scissors filled the air as he finished off his work on the Beautician. Once the errant hairs and split ends were dealt with, he turned to Lan Jue.
“We’re all aware of why the two castles are coming all the way out here. When they come, it won’t only be the Wine Master but also the Clairvoyant who greets them. I’m aware of the history between the Pontiff and yourself… this is a matter that affects the whole of Skyfire Avenue. You mustn’t be impetuous.”
Lan Jue nodded indifferently. “Alright.”
The Barber went on. “I’ve already done most of the preparation work. The actual reception is being handled by authorities with the Eastern Alliance. We need only wait here for them to arrive. The representatives of the Castle and Tower have been given lodgings in either the Skyfire Museum, or the Gothic Winery. We’re asking that you remain in the Museum during this time.
Excitement flashed through Lan Jue’s eyes. “Is that where Satan’s party will be staying?”
The Barber nodded.
“Very well,” Lan Jue said without pausing for thought.
“We’ll need to make sure we put this opportunity to good use,” the Barber instructed. “We have to face what comes, confront it. And we have their high technology to contend with. So far, the plan is to have five sparring competitions. Four will be one-on-one, and the final fight will be two groups of five. We need you to participate in at least two. Is this agreeable?”
Lan Jue nodded. “Sign me up for the one-on-one, and the group fight. So other than us here, who else is participating?”
“The Driver is back, and he took the initiative to join the group battle.” The Barber watched Lan Jue closely as he spoke. “We haven’t decided on the final one, yet. As for the one-on-ones, we’re also short-staffed. The Beautician and I won’t be participating in that exchange.”
Lan Jue nodded. He knew their combat abilities clearly, from the sparring exchange they had had. The Beautician was an expert in battlefield control, while the Barber was specialized in precise strikes. Together, they were a frightening team, but individually they weren’t up to snuff. As ninth-ranked first degree and second degree respectfully, fighting alone against the best the West had to offer was a gamble.
Of course the attending and resident Paragons would not be participating. With both Satan and the Pontiff in attendance, the entire exchange would have to be handled with special considerations. The Fallen Angel Lucifer, and the Archangel Metatron would be here, terrifying and contentious rivals.
“You’re telling me I’m the only one who’s signed up for the one-on-one fights?” Lan Jue balked.
“It’s not that bad,” the Barber assured. “The Driver said he’d also double-up. We’re still missing three.”
Lan Jue looked at him helplessly. “Do you think we’d be able to convince the Wine Master to participate?”
“And appear that incompetent? I have faith you’ll find an answer,” the Barber replied.
The Jewelry Master sighed at the prospect. “Alright, I’ll think on it. I’ll find some people for the job once I’ve come up with something.” Already, a few faces were swimming through his mind.
The Driver’s abilities were without question. Lan Jue was very familiar with his Talent. He shouldn’t have any trouble participating in two fights.
The missing member of their five-man team would also be a problem. With the Barber and Beautician among them, they’d need someone with pretty significant power to join in.
As for the individual battles, he’d also need a powerful candidate.
“Leave the selection process up to me,” he said. “And the rest will be your responsibility.” As Lan Jue made his determination, he rose to his feet.
They watched him leave. The Beautician – up until now silent as a mouse – suddenly let out a gentle laugh. “You’re so lazy. Guess, though… who do you think he’ll choose?”
The Barber chortled. “How can I know? The Avenue is too loosely organized. We’re not even sure of how powerful our own council members are, much less anyone else. Let the Jewelry Master handle this. After all, he’s had significant contact with almost all of the councilors, so he might know. Maybe he’ll surprise us.”
This caused the Beautician to shrug a lithe shoulder. “I’m not so sure. He knows a few, perhaps, but only them. The Gourmet, the Seamstress, the Coffee Master, the Wine Master… who else?”
“At least the Mechanist and Accountant,” he responded.
The Beautician frowned prettily. “The Mechanist, that meat-head, he hardly counts. The Accountant is worse still. None of them are council members. As for the Gourmet, I heard he’s never lifted a finger in violence, the whole time he’s been part of the Avenue. How he even got a spot on the council, I can’t imagine. Other than cooking food, he doesn’t seem to be involved in anything else. He does have an excellent relationship with the Wine Master, but who knows his strength.”
“Well, it’s no longer any concern of ours,” the Barber assured. “The Wine Master has said that it’ll be fine leaving it in the hands of the Jewelry Master. A pleasant surprise, I thought.”
Leaving the Redbud Scultpury, Lan Jue stood on the side of the Avenue proper. He appeared to be lost in thought, but after a moment began walking.
He had a habit; when there were things to do, it was best to handle them quickly. There was no point in dragging one’s heels. Since he’d agreed to handle it, what better time was there than the present?
The Gourmet’s Cabin.
“I’m hungry.” Lan Jue plopped himself before the Gourmet’s prized table and threw his feet on to it. He regarded the Gourmet with a lopsided smile.
If his students could see him now, their Prince of Devils so relaxed and accessible, it’d probably blow their minds.
The gourmet, sitting opposite him, stared blankly for a moment. He reached out, and shoved a plate of soda crackers towards his guest.
“I had no plans to cook this afternoon.”
Lan Jue sighed. “So I see. How about I cook you a meal, then?”
“You. Cook. For me?” The Gourmet just looked at him in shock.
Lan Jue nodded emphatically. Without any further argument, he stood and made his way towards the kitchen situated in the back of the Gourmet’s small shop.
The Gourmet looked as though he wanted to protest, but ultimately kept his mouth shut.
Before long, a hissing sound emerged from the kitchen. It was followed by a gust of aromatic steam, as though the ventilation system in the kitchen simply couldn’t contain it all.
There was a fresh, pleasant scent that followed. The steam caused him to sneeze, but his eyes lit up all the same. He replaced the soda biscuit in his hand upon the small tray before him. He leaned back against the back of his chair and waited, a small smile on his face.
Soon Lan Jue reappeared. He set the table with a trivet and a bowl of chili sauce. Then he placed the bowl before his friend.
The noodles within the steaming pot swam in boiled water and bean sprouts, with a dollop of chili sauce on top. The pungent scent quickly filled the whole room.
Lan Jue handed a pair of chopsticks to the Gourmet. He kept a pair for himself and, without any further courtesy, began stuffing his face.