Chapter 324: Blue Mountain
“No actualy,” Lan Jue said. “I haven’t had breakfast yet. Fetch us a little something yeah?”
“Shit!” The Coffee Master used his quick hands to deliver to Lan Jue the international symbol of displeasure 1. “You’ll be lucky if I don’t poison you!”
Lan Jue chuckled. “I trust your moral quality, Mister Knave.”
The Coffee Master rose to his feet in a huff. He stomped to the counter and shared a few words with the women there.
Lan Jue, meanwhile, simply sat with noble air upon his chair. He politely nodded in greeting to the ladies. “If you wouldn’t mind, I would love some Blue Mountain Coffee. I’d also like a sandwich and some greens as well, please.”
The Coffee Master turned back around and shot Lan Jue a venomous look. “No Blue Mountain!”
To this, the Jewelry Master sighed. “Fine. Might as well cancel any plans you might have with the Wine Master or Gourmet, I suppose. I’ll be sure to tell them about your sudden lack of inventory. They’re probably low as well.”
“Ruthless,” the Coffee Master snarled.
Blue Mountain coffee was considered among the best of brews. It was a rare product of a place called Jamaica, on former era Earth. It was still sold today, though modern Blue Mountain was a simulated approximation of the real thing. They had to reproduce the conditions on former era Jamaica, and that contributed to its higher cost. Even the Coffee Master couldn’t as much as he’d like, much less enough to sell. He only ever brewed a pot on particularly happy occasions.
The Coffee Master didn’t return to his seat beside Lan Jue. Instead, he walked behind the counter and busied himself with other things. The entire process – grinding the beans, filtering the coffee – wasn’t quick and it wasn’t slow. Each movement the Coffee Master made was purposeful, and graceful. His eyes were especially focused.
Watching the man at work dispersed some of the gloominess that still hung around Lan Jue. Coming back to the Avenue was always pleasant. He got to watch a master at work.
Lan Jue rarely drank milk due to his lactose intolerance 2. Too much undoubtedly aggravated his stomach, and he couldn’t each for the whole day. His preference was for straight black coffee, and since it was high-grade coffee there was no need for sugar. It would adversely mask the coffee’s natural flavor.
After a short while, a waitress arrived with a plate, upon which sat Lan Jue’s sandwich and assorted greens. The Coffee Master eventually returned with another tray.
His was occupied by two delicate china coffee cups, and their saucers. A sophisticated silver coffee pot steamed between them. The Coffee Master placed the tray on the table, and extricated the cups. The white porcelain cups seemed exceptionally thin, almost transparent.
It was Lan Jue’s first time in the many he’s visited, that he saw such fine chinaware. He nodded in satisfaction. “Very nice. Sixty degrees centigrade, more or less, to ensure it doesn’t adversely affect one’s body temperature when you drink it 3. It also keeps the aroma, and Blue Mountain is especially good when boiling hot.”
The Coffee Master lifted the silver pot and filled their glasses. Immediately their noses were filled with the rich fragrance of the coffee. It was warm, and refreshing, and Lan Jue could feel all his pours opening from the scent alone.
The Coffee Master lifted his own glass to inspect it’s contents. Without fear of being scalded, he took an appreciative sip of the dark liquid. Lan Jue did as well, despite his hunger. He wanted a taste of the coffee while it was still fresh. As it slipped passed his lips, Lan Jue could taste the bitterness on his tongue. That was part of what made Blue Mountain special, and he could feel it sliding from the tip of his tongue to the root like silk. As it poured down his gullet the bitter flavors became subdued, and complicated. The heat filled him, causing the hairs on his arms to rise. The comforting sensation was like being swaddled.
Lan Jue’s eyes brightened right away. When he looked to the Coffee Master, he was much the same as when Lan Jue entered; eyes closed, smiling, enjoying the flavor. Almost like he was drunk off the stuff.
Neither paused, or wasted the moment with idle chatter. They sat in silence, sipping the excellent coffee from equally exquisite glasses until they were empty.
As he’d mentioned, Blue Mountain was best served in white china at sixty degrees Celsius. It was best to finish it off quickly, before it got too cold. And yet, every detail of every sip was important, otherwise it was just a waste.
When Lan Jue reached for the pot to refill his glass, he was surprised to find it empty. The Coffee Master had made enough for two cups; no more, no less.
“Is the handle to your refrigerator broken?” Lan Jue complained as he lifted his sandwich. He was as yet still hesitant to eat, savoring the lingering flavor of the coffee.
“Eh?” The Coffee Master opened his eyes, awoken from his appreciative coma.
“You’re stingy!” Lan Jue whined.
The Coffee Master almost bound out of his chair. “You’re a damn beast! Finish your food and get the hell out of here! I share a glass of my Blue Mountain and you still call me stingy? Have you no shame? You’re just like the Wine Master – you sure look like a gentleman, but you’re really just a damn thief.”
Lan Jue continued to eat, unperturbed. “You don’t offer enough to satisfy, which is a minimum of three cups. I’ve been far too kind before, I thought to even that out with some authentic Blue Mountain. I never expected you to get so bent out of shape about it. At the least I’ll bring you out for a meal.”
“And when are you going to let me have some of that finer liquor,” the Coffee Master asked with a huff.
“When you abstain from coffee for a while,” Lan Jue answered.
“That’s impossible,” the Coffee Master returned. “Coffee is my life, alcohol takes a back seat.”
Lan Jue smirked. “Not all fine alcohol is forbidden, I guess. Wine, with it’s rich flavors, is a waste if your taste buds are dulled. Single-malt whisky is another story. Smoking a cigar and sharing a bottle is a lovely experience. I’ll call you over the next time I visit the Driver and Seamstress. They have a good stock. I hear he’s supposed to be back soon.”
“Indeed, in a few days,” the Coffee Master confirmed. “He left when you did, just saying there was a competition. Now don’t think we went about trying to fool you, because between you and me we didn’t know who anyone was before the fight. We only figured it out when we got together in DreamNet. I had no idea he was Thunderclap. I’ve wanted to test my strength against him many times. After you, he was my second target. After the god battles the two of you have since swapped places. You’re eighth on the total aggregate power scale now.”
“Not important,” Lan Jue said. “What is important, is when DreamNet’s going to be ready.”
The Coffee Master shrugged. “This, I have no idea. I’m looking forward to it. If DreamNet can actually pull it off, it’d be revolutionary. There’s already a year-long waiting period for the new generation of sim pods, and that’s with production plants in all three Alliances churning them out night and day. Someone’s made one hell of a lot of cash.”
Lan Jue raised a brow. “You mean the Keeper and Bookworm.”
But the Coffee Master’s expression spoke otherwise. “You can’t really not know… DreamNet is used by all Alliances, true, but it’s also publicly owned. The Clairvoyant and Bookworm own twenty-eight percent of its shares. The Keeper came later, but his contributions for the last upgrade were so integral that he was given five percent of the shares. All together they comprise one-third of DreamNet’s total stock. So who profits, you ask. Well, the Clairvoyant transferred his fifteen percent to the Avenue, setting it up as part of the organization’s fixed assets. Since that news was published the other Alliances have lifted some of the economic restrictions they’ve had in place for Adept exchanges and so forth. Don’t you feel like there have been more people around lately?”
Lan Jue was surprised indeed. Just yesterday he’d given a great deal of power gems to the Council. Compared to the wealth from those DreamNet stocks, his power gems were like trying to get meat from a mosquito’s legs. When he spoke, it was with a bitter note in his voice. “It really isn’t conducive to happy living to be so kind. How am I supposed to know how many people have been wandering the Avenue, though. I just got back last night. I still haven’t been to the underground.”
The Coffee Master sat back in his chair. “The two Citadels failed pretty badly with their visit. They failed to find out anything about us, and failed to apply the pressure they’d hoped. Though the Clairvoyant is busy staving off death, the Avenue now have five Paragons! This is more than the West and North put together. Granted, the Bookworm and Gourmet are new to the power, but they’re Paragons nonetheless. In fact, we received an invitation from the North. They want us to send an Adept to participate in the Great Adept Battle they’re preparing.”
Lan Jue shot him a glance. “Are you going?”
Again, the Coffee Master shrugged. “Why should I? To be disgraced? Nothing will make me face that sort of embarrassment. I heard there’s an age limit as well, ostensibly to increase cooperation among the younger generation of adepts. Something about raising the foundation for humanity.”
Lan Jue’s lips curled in to a sneer. “I’m definitely getting a ‘bad premonition’ kind of feeling from this whole thing.”
This caused the Coffee Master to chuckle. “Well, if they ask for my recommendation it’s going to be you! Young, strong in Discipline and piloting ability – ‘able men are always busy’, isn’t that what they say? You may as well volunteer, really – I don’t think you’re going to have much of a choice.”
Lan Jue glowered. “Give me another cup of Blue Mountain, then!”
“No!” The Coffee Master returned without an ounce of hesitation. “I can’t have any fine red wines, so there’s nothing you can threaten me with!”
A sinister smile spread across Lan Jue’s lips. “Alright, your decision. You’re right, anyway, I should probably take the initiative. It’s our duty to share the burdens of the Avenue. The Wine Master leads us now, and I’m sure he’ll respect my opinion, since I’ll be recommending several people come along with me. I don’t want to be angry. You know, you have an average Discipline, but who knows where you could be with a little training…”