Chapter 65: The Gourmet’s Boutique
Elegant dinner jacket, knee-length white skirt, all the same hue, all masterfully made. Her pretty face was lined with silken black hair, and her blue eyes – the color of the sea – twinkled radiantly. She was like a painting, beautiful and moving.
“Not bad.” Lan Jue nodded his head approvingly.
Zhou Qianlin’s face grew red. No young woman could resist pretty clothing. “Thank you.”
“You’re young. It wouldn’t do to accessories with jewelry that’s too fancy. A simple necklace will suffice.” Lan Jue smiled softly.
She shook her head. “I’m not interested in any jewelry.”
“Jewelry is a woman’s best companion. Wearing jewelry isn’t about displaying wealth or luxury, but to set off your own natural beauty. Your clothes are cut with a v-neck. It’s not deep, but it requires a necklace. It’ll show off your complexion, and even further improve the disposition you exude.”
“I guess I’ll wear one then.” Zhou Qianlin fumbled through her bag to produce a small pouch. She opened it and produced the Soul Speaker gem Lan Jue had given her earlier.
Lan Jue looked surprised. “I’d actually prepared you a nice sapphire necklace.”
“No need, I’ll wear this,” she insisted.”
“Help me put it on.”
“Lan Jue took up the necklace and positioned himself behind Zhou Qianlin. He slipped the necklace around her throat and fastened it.
It was simple, unadorned, with no fine metals or ornamenting gemstones. The soul speaker gem itself emitted a gentle yellow light, but it did not clash. It added the final touch, highlighting Zhou Qianlin’s pure and simple temperament.
“Let’s go.” Lan Jue offered his right arm, and Zhou Qianlin responded by slipping her hand around his elbow. They pushed the door open and stepped out.
“I really had no idea Hera had a little sister,” Ke’er was saying. She turned her head when Xiuxiu offered no response.
Xiuxiu’s frail form, stooped over the counter, jerked suddenly.
“Xiuxiu, what’s wrong?” Ke’er hastened to her side.
“I’m fine,” she responded, though her voice was hoarse.
Realization came over Ke’er suddenly as she looked at her co-worker. “You’re worried about the boss and miss Zhou. She isn’t Hera! Don’t think too much.”
Xiuxiu gently shook her head, sitting a little straighter. She rubbed away a tear that had begun to creep down her face. But it didn’t hide her reddening eyes.
“But she looks exactly like her.”
Ke’er spoke softly to her. “But that doesn’t make her Hera. Think about it. Her voice, her mood, her mannerisms all are different. Not to mention younger. But I don’t know why the boss found her.”
Xiuxiu shook her head sheepishly. “I’m sorry Ke’er. I think too much.”
“Ke’er wrapped her arms around Xiuxiu and gave her a hug. She sighed as she continued. “Xiuxiu, I’ve actually been wanting to tell you… when the boss looks at us, every time you can see how much he cares!”
Xiuxiu lifted her head, and that normally tender light in her eyes was undercut by a current of determination.
If one were trying to find the most unimpressive structure on Skyfire Avenue, the old Chinese-style shop with it’s carved purple door would probably be it.
It couldn’t accurately be described as a shop. Only a minority of Skyfire’s residents understood that this particular building held the greatest delicacies on the planet. It was, after all, the Gourmet’s personal boutique, not open to the public.
The store here on the Avenue and it’s sister in Skyfire Underground were as alike as apples to oysters. While this one was small and narrow, the Undergrounds was no less expansive than the Keeper’s pharmacy – and that place served nearly all the Adepts who visited Skyfire. This place was simply used for the Gourmet to entertain friends.
Lan Jue pulled open the door and motioned for Zhou Qianlin to enter.
As Qianlin entered she was immediately met with a distinct fragrance. It wasn’t pungent, but unique. It almost filled her up.
A long, simple wooden table stretched the length of the room, and at it’s sides sat five people. As she made her way inside, every pair of eyes turned to fall upon her.
Zhou Qianlin felt like a pauper beneath their gaze, but each rose politely to greet her. They all nodded and spoke kind, respectful greetings.
Lan Jue had entered at that point, and stood at her side. “When there’s good food you all certainly don’t waste any time! Introductions, this is my friend Zhou Qianlin.”
“Hello everyone,” she greeted with a small smile, nodding to those gathered.
Lan Jue pointed to the one furthest from them, dressed meticulously with the head of silver hair. “This is our Wine Master, who manages the Gothic Winery on the Avenue.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said again politely.
“Welcome, beautiful lady.” The Wine Master stepped forward, and in accordance with noble custom bent to kiss her hand.
Lan Jue continued, indicating a tall and stocky man in his forties. He rose a good head taller than Lan Jue, and his white shirt was stretched taught over his stalwart frame. His face was craggy, his skin tanned bronze, covered with a finely sculpted beard.
“This is our Mechanist. We also call him the Blacksmith.”
“Hello,” she said gracefully.
The Blacksmith bubbled with laughter. “This is the first time the Jewelry Master has brought someone along, welcome!” He did not move forward, but instead gave her an amicable nod.
“This is our Coffee Master.”
“And our Tailor.” Lan Jue indicated the other woman present besides Zhou Qianlin.
The Tailor was herself a beautiful woman, of medium build with long brown hair. She was clad in a simple white blouse with the sleeves rolled to her arms and a tight black skirt.
Upon introductions her eyes grew bright. “Qianlin, you really are gorgeous. I simply have make you some clothes.”
Zhou Qianlin laughed prettily. “Thank you very much, miss Tailor.”
“Please sit,” Lan Jue said, pulling free a chair for her.
Zhou Qianlin hesitated. “But there’s one other you haven’t introduced.”
“That one doesn’t need an introduction,” Lan Jue said casually, “so as to save us all his blathering.”
“Jewelry Master! My best friend!” An agitated voice bubbled up from across the table, a pale man with indignant expression. His voice was muffled from the lollipop stuck between his lips.
He stood and made his way towards Zhou Qianlin, his expression changing to adopt a wide smile. He began speaking fast enough to make Zhou Qianlin dizzy. “Hello there pretty lady, I am the universally popular and wisest among us. You an call me: the Accountant! Do you have a boyfriend? It’s can’t be this Jewelry Master right? Don’t be fooled by his finery, inside he’s all rubbish. A normal plebian. But me, I’m the young one with all the potential!”