Chapter 391: The Psychic Projection Helmet
Lan Jue scratched his nose. “It’s fine. It’s very unlikely I’ll win, but it won’t cause me any problems. These fiends… let them search. There have only ever been a few who know who Zeus is behind the mask. Escape as Zeus is also easier, if that becomes necessary.” No matter who or how many of the Pontiff’s men came, he didn’t worry over it.
They exchanged small talk for a little while, then Hua Li and Mo Xiao left first. They still had preparations to make for the ceremony. Chu Cheng wanted to take Lan Jue out on the town, but he refused. The Jewelry Master didn’t have any aspirations of becoming champion, but he still wished to take it seriously.
These sorts of large-scale Adept events were few and far between. It was very likely he’d run in to Talents from all over the spectrum, and some of the biggest names out there. It would undoubtedly be a good opportunity to polish his own abilities.
He’d already encountered quite an array of powerful Adepts since reappearing on the scene – including new Paragons. The Gourmet, the Bookworm, Bize and Aubert were all familiar with Lan Jue. All of them had been great motivation for the Monarch, pushing him toward a breakthrough of his own. He took great stock in the Clairvoyant’s words from before, but not completely. After all, who could say what destiny truly held, or if there was such a thing? Still, becoming stronger was certainly his goal.
The next few days were spend training with Qianlin. He taught her even more about using his Discipline in combat. More and more they ere working like a cohesive unit. Lan Jue’s own manipulations helped reveal some combat uses for Qianlin’s Queen of Heaven powers as well. Aside from its inherent Protogenic powers, her support-based Discipline could be aggressive under certain circumstances.
Su Xiaosu was rarely seen outside of her hotel room. She spent her days in silent contemplation, cultivating her powers back to their former glory. Lan Jue asked her several times about the prison hidden beneath the Citadel – about its purpose, and what happened – but she never answered. She just looked at him with a strange light in her eyes. She would shake her head and say nothing, like it was some secret burden she dare not share.
Lan Jue reluctantly let the matter lie. If she was unwilling to tell him, so be it. He’d already delivered her from tragedy.
He got in touch with the Skyfire Avenue. The Wine Master and the Pauper had returned by then, and he’d heard that the beggar had locked himself away. After his experience with the Gods of Wine, he vanished from the public eye, and no one knew how long he would be gone. Whatever it was, it had to be important.
He listened as the Wine Master told him about a present that was given after he’d left the Gods of Wine – a crate of aged wine. They were choice picks from their personal cellar, and though they were all several hundreds of years old they would still be magnificent.
Three days before the tournament was set to begin, the Gourmet and his entourage arrived.
“You aren’t joining the team?” The Gourmet asked in wonder.
At Lan Jue’s suggestion the Skyfire Avenue team had booked rooms at the Intercontinental as well. They sat together in one of the hotel’s grandiose event rooms discussing the tournament. Lan Jue leaned against the back of his chair with a beautiful girl on his knee, leaned against his chest. A contented smile was on her face.
Lan Jue spoke while stroking her hair. “Right, I don’t want to participate as myself. There aren’t many with my Discipline at the higher levels – really just the Driver and I. The less people know, the better. Zeus makes more sense.”
“I’ll help, daddy!” Jun’er declared fiercely from against his chest. He’d persuaded the Pharmacist to bring her along, just to get her out. She was a natural choice for the team, and was the single strongest contender in their group under forty. She was very nearly at the peak of ninth level, and her powers were only barely understood even by the Paragons. Reputedly, no one had ever seen her employ her full strength.
Lan Jue continued to gently stroke Jun’er’s hair. “Man, lucky me! I’ll definitely win, now. Oh – I almost forgot. Daddy got you a gift.”
The moment Jun’er called Lan Jue daddy, the whole of Skyfire Avenue’s team broke in to beaming smiles of surprise. The Driver’s cigar dropped right on to his very expensive suit, and the Accountant’s jaw dropped so low you could fit a fist in it.
However, despite their various reactions not a word about it dared be uttered. The Pharmacist’s glare was the very essence of bloody murder at anyone who looked like they might speak. Her imposing manner even gave the Gourmet pause.
“Really?! Whadja get me?” She tittered excitedly.
“Guess,” he teased with a wink.
Jun’er thought for a moment. “Is it a stuffed animal?”
He shook his head. “Guess again! It’s something you can use…”
“Oh! Bunny slippers!” She cried with a little shiver.
Lan Jue shook his head again with a laugh. “Nope. Let me tell you – it’s a psychic projection helmet.”
Jun’er blinked. “What’s that?”
With a grin, he explained. “It’s the newest technology from here in the Northern Alliance. My friend helped me find it. It turns images from the camera on top in to brain waves – right in to your brain. This will help you see in your mind what’s happening around you. You can see your mommy and daddy!”
Jun’er gasped at the last sentence, and it was echoed by the Pharmacist from behind. She covered her mouth with trembling hands, and her eyes threatened tears.
“Really daddy? Really?! I… I’ll be able to see? I can see you and mommy?” Jun’er’s voice trembled with emotion. Her tiny hands her curled in to fists of Lan Jue’s clothes.
Lan Jue wrapped her in a hug so she wouldn’t fall. “Of course really! Mommy will help you try it later, ok? But you have to promise that you’ll only use it an hour at a time. Then you have to rest, alright? I promised you I’ll help you fix your eyes, and until then you can use this.”
“Thanks daddy! Thanks, I have the best daddy!” She cried out. She couldn’t wait, and the Pharmacist took her and the helmet away to give it a try.
Watching the mother and daughter go, the Coffee Master was the first to recover his wits and speak. “What’s all this, Jewelry Master? Since when have you and the Pharmacist been an item, and with a child that big! That’s quite a secret you’ve been keeping from us!”
It wasn’t unheard of, either. The loose organization of the Avenue meant that members knew very little about one another unless they had a close personal relationship.
The Pharmacist’s Hall of Supreme Harmony was one of the most successful enterprises on the Avenue, but she kept all her contemporaries at arm’s length. She had no friends to speak of.
“If you want to live a long and productive life, don’t breathe a word of your curiosity to the Pharmacist or Jun’er. It’s a sad story…” Lan Jue went on to briefly explain the situation.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the Coffee Master began to mutter. “I’m a handsome guy, right? Why didn’t she pick me? What’s so good about? All these women around you…”
Lan Jue reached over to rap his knuckles on the man’s head. “Cut the garbage. Now where do you think you’ll end up on the ladder?”
The Coffee Master chuckled. “I’m just here to participate. My guess is the Pharmacist takes it.”
The Pharmacist had also joined in what was supposed to be the friendly exchange with the Western Citadels. The shock of her performance was still fresh in their memory.
“So are you just here to putz around?” The Gourmet Complained.
The Coffee Master’s response was quick and shameless. “Not with so many beautiful women in attendance. This is a grand Adept tournament, right? I hear the North’s women are molded in to picture perfect figures and I’d like to experience it for myself. I am a lover of beauty.”
“That’s enough,” the gourmet grunted indifferently. “What you appreciate doesn’t matter, but our standing does and everyone needs a target. If you don’t get in the top one hundred you’ll have me to answer to.”
“You’re going to punish me?” The Coffee Master asked incredulously. “You never said anything about this before!”
The Gourmet cast him a withering stare. “I just thought it up, what of it?”
Under the Paragon’s intense glare, the Coffee Master could do nothing but nod his head. “Fine. Of course it’s fine. Whatever you say. What’s the punishment, anyway?”
The gourmet shrugged. “It’s nothing significant. I happen to be in possession of occult knowledge, that could seal off a man’s… potency. Fail to break the top one hundred and you’ll see what that’s like for half a year. Not bad, right? And it leaves no lasting effects.”
The Coffee Master nearly fell from his chair. “What?! You’ll make me a eunuch?! You’re a monster! I’ll defect, I’ll turn traitor. I’ll –“
The Gourmet lifted his hand, and immediately it was wreathed in dark flame.
“- I-I’ll absolutely get in the top one hundred.” The jittery man finished.
The Infernal Vanguard nodded in satisfaction. “Good enough. Same goes for all you gentlemen. The ladies get a pass.”
The Coffee Master looked as though he wanted to burst in to tears. His own big mouth had caused this! He had no control, who wanted to talk themselves in to chastity belt!?
The Gourmet turned back to Lan Jue. “If you want to participate alone then that’s your prerogative, I won’t stop you. Just be careful.”
Lan Jue answered with a resolute nod.