Chapter 368: Why Didn’t You Tell Me?
Indeed, just as Lilou Bize-Leroy said, he could feel the arrow strengthening him from within. The image of the Arrow of Compassion hung behind his eyelids, as though a mere thought would bring it back in to being.
Aubert de Villaine slowly made his way to Bize’s side. “Bize,” he began, “I…”
She cut him off with a sideways glance. “Remember what you said! Slave, those were the words – starting right now!”
Aubert was perhaps happier than any person who’d ever been coerced in to slavery before. After centuries, she had forgiven him – after a fashion. It meant they would finally be together again.
“I swear to you I will not repeat my past mistakes. No matter what – you could curse me, beat me, it doesn’t matter – I’ll be half a step from your side until the end. I’ll use the remainder of my days paying you back for the wrong I committed. Wherever you go, I’ll be there. Whatever you need me to do, will be done.”
Lan Jue barely contained the wince he felt. He was all over her like white on rice.
It was, however, what Bize wanted to hear. Her features softened almost immediately. “You all may go. Come by once a year perhaps, we’ll share the vintage we create. You can help bring us a few comforts that are difficult to get out here.”
Aubert’s brows shot up, then, as a thought came to him. He looked toward the Wine Master. “Actually, I was hoping I might beg a favor.”
“Of course,” he replied.
After a moment of consideration, Aubert continued. “My… plans get me in bed with some powerful people in the Western Alliance. With things as they are now, I have no interest in continuing that course of action. I suspect that with your power, together with Bize and my own, we could move Beaune to another location. Just somewhere else here on the planet. If you were to open a dimensional pocket for it, no one would come to trouble us.”
There was a note of misgiving in the elderly vintner’s voice. It was the Wine Master’s time to mull things over, but after a second he replied. “If I may, predecessor, this cooperation you had with the West…”
Aubert shook his head. “I may have decided to change plans, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sell out my former business partners. Find out for yourselves if you must, but you won’t hear it from me. You’re also under no obligation to help us move, we can manage otherwise I’m sure.”
“Not a problem,” the Wine Master said hurriedly. “I’d be happy to lend my assistance. It looks as though my friend needs some more time to meditate regardless. Perhaps we could ask you for your hospitality for a few days.”
The two old wine maker’s nodded their wrinkled heads.
Three Paragons working in concert were capable of miraculous things. Beaune was no small town, but between the three of them, moving it would not be an issue.
The Wine Master turned his attention to Lan Jue. “Jewelry Master,” he began. “Will you making preparations to stay, or will you be returning to the other teachers?”
He didn’t need to think very long for an answer. “I’ll be heading out, there are some other matters I need to take care of. Once they’re settled I’ll leave directly for the North. There’s still the tournament to prepare for.”
“Alright, then safe travels to you. The Pauper and I will return to Skyfire Avenue once business it concluded here. Keep safe,” the Wine Master urged.
Lan Jue nodded. He turned, then, to the two gods of wine. “Congratulations on finding each other again. I have to be going.”
Bize gave him a black look. “Lan Jue, Jewelry Master… whatever you name is, puppet, I don’t care. Qianlin is my protégé, and if you upset her I’ll chop your legs off. Understand?”
He could only grin awkwardly. “Not to worry. I’m off!”
Aubert reached out with a hand, and the mirror-flat bottom of the lake overhead split down the center. The beautiful sky of the Barrows was revealed. Lan Jue thanked them with a bow, then changed himself in to lightning and darted away.
The lake closed behind him. Once things were back to normal, Bize brought her eyes over to Aubert. The old man had a smile plastered on his craggy face. “Are you hungry, darling? I can make you some food.”
The Wine Master was the very picture of poise, but even he couldn’t suppress a chuckle at the cute old pair. In the end, it all worked out well – better, for in fact two of the great gods of wine still lived! He was terribly excited to stay here for a few days. Then there was this storage room Gates mentioned, with wines from over three hundred years ago…
Water exploded outward from the lake like a fountain, as Lan Jue blasted through the last few feet of water. In a flash, he was on the banks. His features were strange, struggling with a host of conflicting emotions. Microscopic bolts of lightning crackled behind his eyes. Silkworm Dharma… Mystic Raiment… Qianlin, you-
He pulled free a set of clothes he’d borrowed to give to Qianlin. He then shut his eyes. There was a flash of light, and the young woman appeared to separate from Lan Jue and appear at his side. She quickly scrambled to pluck up the clothes and put them on.
“Alright,” she said, her voice thin and timid.
Lan Jue opened his eyes to find Zhou Qianlin staring right back. For a long time they just looked at one another.
He didn’t even know how to begin, or how to face her. She’d given up a lot for him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked.
“What would that have achieved,” she said, as though she’d expected the question. “To earn some sympathy? Like it or not, I used my power. It’s done, so what’s the point in discussing it. I wasn’t even using it, really, and at my speed I’ll be back to ninth level in no time. I’m at no disadvantage, since Bize ensured that our powers are joined. With you here now, I can use a more offensive Discipline if needed. That’s a net gain in the end.”
Her words were soft, but the longer she went on the harder Lan Jue had to hold back. Seeing her like this – with her twinkling impish eyes and half-smile – he couldn’t stop himself, and grabbed her up in a hug. She found herself pressed tightly against his warm chest.
Zhou Qianlin didn’t know how to react. One second she was on the defensive, and the next she was caught in a bone-popping hug. A small turned the corners of her lips, while her head rested comfortably on his shoulder. Her fingers laced together behind his back.
“It was quite a scene. I wouldn’t have thought Granny Bize would have spilled the beans, but here we are – I’m embarrassed. Should I go speak to her?” Qianlin asked.
Lan Jue shook his head. “There will be other opportunities to meet with her. Qianlin… thank you, for everything you’ve done for me. Thank you for saving my life.”
Qianlin’s body stiffened as she pushed him away. “This is why I didn’t tell you – because I don’t want your thanks. My sister would have done the same thing. I’m just here to help, and I know that the only woman in your heart is my sister. That’s proven by the fact that you’re still single, even despite being surrounded by beautiful girls. It hurts sometimes, but it also makes me happy for my sister. At the very least, she picked a good guy. If she were still alive, you two would be very happy.”
“If you are really grateful for the help I’ve given, then I beg you not to say you like me as some sort of payback. If we do get together someday, I want it because we grew to that point naturally. I don’t want it to be because you feel like you owe me something. Love shouldn’t be built on compensation. Alright?”
As Qianlin lectured him, her features were calm and even. She stared at him with an earnest look. It was a look that silenced Lan Jue. There was a lot he’d wanted to say, but under her stare he simply pursed his lips and nodded.
“Alright, I promise.”
“This was a very unexpected thing,” Qianlin said. She drew closer to him again, smiling sweetly. “Who could have predicted this would have happened? Poor Granny Bize, harboring a three hundred year old heartache. Well, where to next? I don’t know if the tourist party has gone yet or not.”
Lan Jue shrugged. “Whether they have or not, we can’t go back. We’ve got somewhere else to visit – to save someone.”
“Save someone?” Zhou Qianlin gave him a strange look. Quickly, though, her face returned to normal. “It isn’t another girl, is it?”
“Ehm… yeah. Yeah it is,” he replied.
“I figured. This guy…” Qianlin said with a frown.
Lan Jue almost sputtered, trying to get his response out as quick as possible. “That’s why I’m bringing you! Under your supervision, I’ll toe the line, right? If I mess up you can beat me up. What do you think?”
She snorted a laugh at his expense. “Fine, just remember you said it. I won’t go easy.”
“Alright. Just don’t hit so hard you hurt yourself,” Lan Jue said with faux concern. “And proper ladies don’t curse.”
“You’re a proper lady!” Qianlin pouted.
“Off we go!” Lan Jue grabbed her hand without warning, and the two of them were off like a streak.
As they tore through the sky, Lan Jue ruminated on the new information he’d received. The first thing he noted, was his growing affection for Zhou Qianlin. More importantly, though, that wall between them felt as though it was much thinner.
Maybe all they needed was time. Lately, there was evidence enough for Lan Jue to take heart.
It didn’t take them long to find a public use air terminal. Lan Jue was worried he’d run in to Richard, but he was nowhere to be seen. Apparently the Pauper’s methods had been effective. A peak-level Adept’s threats were not to be taken lightly. It appeared as though Richard’s own ninth-ranked Adept protector had convinced the young politician’s son to leave. Hence their lack of trouble.
But before they boarded the ship for the next long leg of their journey, Lan Jue decided to take Zhou Qianlin out for a nice meal. Things had been strange and emotional, so some good food would be appreciated.
It was a wonderful dining experience, even considering the fare was entirely vegetarian. Still, a shadow of anxiety still lurked in the recesses of Lan Jue’s heart. Where they were going next, would be a lot more dangerous than Beaune.