Chapter 93: Lan Qing
With a flash of silver, the figure appeared amidst the gathered Skyfire guards.
“What’s this?” A frigid, clear voice broke the silence. As the words rolled along the wind, the temperature around the small group dropped distinctly.
The guards finally reacted, snapping to attention as the figure passed. “Captain!”
Silver hair cut to her ears framed silver eyes, complimented by a silver uniform. It was like she was made of metal – metal, or a block of ice.
“It was you who called?” She turned her frigid eyes to the man in black.
“Indeed it was. I’m looking for someone.” The man’s response was cool, collected. He seemed almost disconnected, relating news as though from a note card.
An Liu continued her questioning. “That’s how you call people?”
“I was told I can’t enter without a badge,” he responded. “When I stated I would call for him, the guard claimed that was fine. So I called.”
“Is that right,” she said, turning to look at the indicated guard.
“Yes, captain,” the guard hastily replied.
An Liu’s brows wrinkled as she considered the situation. “Very well. As that is the case no rules were broken. You’re free to leave. However the use of your Discipline has disrupted the peace of our Avenue. This isn’t something we can permit. Should this occur again, my response will be decidedly less polite.”
“I’m only here to speak with someone,” the man in black affirmed.
“And who is that?”
“There is no ‘Lan Jue’ here,” An Liu offered flippantly. “And if there was we still wouldn’t know. We don’t ask such information of our Adepts here. As you aren’t of the Avenue, you must acquiesce to a badge examination. Register, pay the fees, follow the rules.”
“Is there a way to enter without this badge,” he asked once again, still calm and polite.
An Liu nodded. “One other way.”
“How is that?”
An Liu turned once more to face him. “As you disturbed me, causing me to come deal with this matter personally, your method will be more difficult than average. Survive an attack from me, and I’ll consider you cleared for entry.”
“Very well,” he answered.
An Liu raised a hand, and lightly reached for the man. The guards, as though fearing for heir safety, quickly moved to clear the area.
The man stood still, silent. He hadn’t moved, and the stony expression on his face hadn’t altered a hair. His dark eyes watched as her hand drew nearer.
Just as it seemed her hand would touch his face, the air suddenly suffered a dip in warmth. From the young woman’s palm, a blast of arctic wind shot forth and enveloped the mysterious gentleman.
Finally, he moved. Swift as a cool breeze, he retreated from the cone of cold. Her glacial grope was quick, but he was quicker. But while his movement was brief and simple, the location he’d so recently vacated had changed. In his wake there appeared a vacuous void. The freezing winds were harmlessly devoured in to it.
An Liu watched him withdraw, saw the void appear. The power of her cold discipline was drawn away in to the darkness, and then was gone. So strong was the resulting pull that it caused her to stagger forward.
“Hm?” Surprise crept in to An Liu’s silver eyes. She reached out again, and this time a beam of icy-blue light shot out towards the man in black.
He made no move to dodge. The beam raced towards him, but as it came within three inches of his person it suddenly fractured and split away. Bolts of blue light reflected in every direction, as though repelled by some invisible force. The black-clad man remained, unmolested. He stood now in a field of icy crystals, ten meters in diameter.
“I thought you said one attack,” the man said flatly.
The woman paused, looking him up and down. “So I did. I suppose you’ve passed. We still have some registration formalities, but you’re cleared for entrance in to Skyfire Underground.”
“Thank you.” He offered her a nod, a simple gesture of regard. His features and movements bore no excess effort. Only just enough as was needed.
An Liu watched him carefully. She knew her powers, could control their force. Though she had held back, that second blast would have caused a seventh-level adept to struggle. Of course, it would only really freeze them temporarily.
But he shrugged it of like it was nothing. If it was so easy for him to deflect, then his power must be something considerable…
An Liu felt she could handle the man if needed, but decided it still would require some looking in to. If he turned out to be a ninth-level talent, she would need to report his presence to the Council.
The man finished his registration procedures quickly, and was led by a guard to the Underground’s elevator. An Liu looked over his information as he did so.
“Lan Qing. Discipline; wind.”
The Avenue’s registration process was brief and cursory. They did this for the Adept’s secrecy and protection. However, there was something about the name An Liu recognized. She just couldn’t put her finger on it…
She needed to discover more. She turned to join the man in black, relinquishing the data to the guards.
The man in black, Lan Qing, strode from the elevator and paused to spy his surroundings. He watched in silence at the bustling, boisterous scene before him.
“Worthy of the name. Skyfire Avenue… it’s larger than expected.” There was praise in his eyes now, jostling for space amid his icy glare.
He walked slowly through the Avenue, his eyes sweeping along the storefronts. He took each one in carefully, as though searching for something.
“So who is this person you’re looking for? By the name I’m guessing someone from your family?” The frigid tones tickled his ear from behind.
“My younger brother,” he responded, though he did not bother to turn his head.
“I’ve checked the records,” An Liu stated. “There has never been anyone of that name who visited here.”
Lan Qing paused, then, and turned to look at her. “Thank you,” he said, but there was no trace of a thankful expression. Still, it put An Liu at ease.
“But he isn’t a visitor. He is one of your own number.”
An Liu blinked. “A shop owner? Then I certainly wouldn’t be able to find him by name. It would be a waste of time to try. Here our shop owners are known by titles. Are you familiar with your brother’s?”
Lan Qing paused in thought. “I believe I might. Ah, yes… I think he goes by, the Jewelry Master.” The name tumbled through the back of his mind, likely mentioned by Chu Cheng the last time they’d met.
“The Jewelry Master?” This caused An Liu to stop her lazy gait as well, and look towards the older man.
“Is there a problem?” Lan Qing fixed An Liu with his dark eyes.
But it was her eyes that bore more interesting facts, for aside from their inherent icy depths, curiosity bubbled behind them.
The Jewelry Master? This is the Jewelry Master’s older brother? No wonder he’s so strong… but the Jewelry Master is lightning. His is wind?
“Nothing. We do actually have a Jewelry Master here. But I’m afraid you might have made the trip for nothing,” she said.
“Why’s that?” Lan Qing raised a brow at her.
“Because he isn’t here.” She shrugged a shoulder before continuing. “He left not long ago. I think there was something he needed to get done.”
“He left…” Lan Qing took the news with some level of surprise. Could it be his brother had finally gotten over his hardships?
“That’s right.” She nodded in conformation. An Liu couldn’t be sure everything the man before her had told her was true, but it was his appearance and power that convinced her to stick around a while longer.
“Would you mind directing me to his shop, so I can have a look for myself?” Lan Qing said after a moment.
“Not a problem,” she said without hesitation. This was no strange request. They walked in silence as An Liu lead them to the Underground’s iteration of Zeus’ Jewelry Store.
The Avenue was only two-thousand and forty-eight meters in length. It was an attribute shared between both the underground and Skyfire Avenue proper. Thus it didn’t take long before that telling blue façade and flickering lightning-bolt sign came in to view before them.
Sure enough, the store was closed. A sign had been hung on the door, confirming suspension of business.
“He took those four women, workers, with him. Maybe they went to restock.” An Liu suddenly caught herself, surprised at her words. She’d only just met this man, and yet she was telling him all she knew. It certainly was out of character. Was it simply because he claimed to be the Jewelry Master’s brother?
“Thank you again.” Lan Qing stood before the door of the jewelry shop and stared in to it. He remained there, silent, as though in thought.
After a few moments he turned his attention back to An Liu. “When he returns, will he be coming back here? As far as I’m aware there is also a store on the upper Avenue.”
An Liu looked back at him. “I’m afraid I can’t answer that.” She was determined to answer no further questions from this man. She already feared she revealed too much.
“Oh.” Lan Qing paused once again. “Am I unable to visit the other shop?”
An Liu nodded her head in affirmation. “The avenue above is reserved primarily for citizens. Citizens of means. There are a number of evaluations required before you can enter.”
“About how many, do you suspect? What sorts of evaluations?”
“Etiquette, style, wine and food appreciation…” An Liu rattled off the simplified list by rote.
Lan Qing listened earnestly. “Would I be able to undergo these evaluations now?”
An Liu was taken aback. “Take the evaluations? Those aren’t just about the strength of your Discipline.”
“If Lan Jue could pass them, so can I. We grew up together, after all.”
“I’d have to ask,” An Liu stated. “Is there a way you can prove your relationship with the Jewelry Master?”
Lan Qing said nothing, only reached for something in his coat pocket. He handed it to his inquisitor.
An Liu took the offered proof. It was a metal star, with five points. The surface had been polished to a mirror shine. It was surrounded with a pale blue radiant light. At a glance, it was clear this was composed of something special.
An Liu turned it over, and what lie behind suddenly caught her eye.
“You’re…” She looked back up at Lan Qing, her eyes wide. Disbelief caught her tongue.