Skyfire Avenue, Chapter 428

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Chapter 428: Self-Confidence

“I’m sorry,” Lan Jue apologized. “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

The Pharmacist offered him a reassuring smile, and waved a hand. “Let’s go. Change your clothes and get rid of that mask while I get Jun’er. I’ll meet you at the arena gates in a little bit. She’s upset when you aren’t there in the morning, you know.”

Lan Jue chuckled helplessly. “I wish she was really my daughter!”

“You’re not lacking for willing girls,” the Pharmacist dryly remarked. “Your relationship with Zhou Qianlin seems to be going very well.”

Lan Jue shook his head, in part to hide the loneliness in his eyes. “Some things aren’t so easy to forget. I think you know that as well as I.”

She sighed. “Misery loves company. Get going!”

The final elimination round was the last chance for the Adepts to get in to the finals. The fights were far more dramatic – and dangerous – than those that had come before. Skyfire Avenue still had a very solid presence with the Pharmacist, Seamstress, Driver, and Bartender in the running the first twelve. The Pontiff’s Citadel had only Constantine while the Dark Citadel was represented by the necromancer and a tall lycanthrope. The Conclave had four after Chu Cheng’s defeat, the same as the Avenue. The remainder were unaffiliated.

Tomorrow the tournament would begin the Double-Elimination rounds. Winners would advance and the losers would fight again for their second chance. That would take the whole day, and the final day of the tournament before they got in to the finals.

Reports of the day’s events trickled out, in the end proving Chu Cheng’s prophecy to be true. Indeed, everyone was talking about his fight with the Pharmacist. Lan Jue’s own encounter with the woman was also widely speculated about. The Pharmacist and Zeus an item? Her presence had been such a deterrent to the crowd’s mocking cries against Lan Jue that the media didn’t even report on it. This was for good reason, too. Everyone had seen how strong she was in that fight – near enough to Paragon that making her upset was phenomenally unwise. Many experts agreed in interviews through the night. Who would dare pick on a potential Paragon’s lover? This wasn’t even considering Zeus’ own considerable strength.

Lan Jue spent the afternoon with Jun’er, taking her and the Pharmacist around town to sight-see. Together they didn’t need to fear anything short of a direct Paragon confrontation. Keeping Jun’er cooped up was the opposite of what they’d brought her here for. The Terminator seemed to be precisely what Jun’er had said – a good man.

Jun’er was still small and frail, and an afternoon of activity absolutely wipes her out. A simple dinner and Lan Jue’s soothing bioelectricity put her right to sleep.

“Go on,” the Pharmacist said, taking Jun’er in to her arms. She smiled at him. “You have people waiting.”

He could feel that the two of them had grown closer after today’s fights, more open. Lan Jue could feel their relationship changing from one of convenience to a genuine friendship.

“Well then I’m off, big sis,” he said with a smirk. The Pharmacist lead him to the door after putting Jun’er down and covering her in a blanket.

“If that scene in the arena upset your friend tell me, I’ll help you explain.” The Pharmacist offered.

Lan Jue smiled back at her. “I will. Sis is so pretty I’m not convinced Qianlin won’t be a little jealous.”

“You’re already so popular. If I remember correctly you have a gaggle of young girls following you around already. Make sure you handle that carefully. You don’t want things between a man and a woman to grow complicated, otherwise you’re just asking for trouble.” The Pharmacist advised.

Lan Jue shook his head, looking distressed. “Mika and the others are just friends, I treat them like little sisters. If it weren’t for their special set of problems, I’d have had them leave a long time ago.”

The young mother gave him a serious look. “If you treat them like sisters than they will see you as an older brother. Whatever relationship you have with those girls, you’ll want to make sure you deal with it or you’ll regret it.”

He nodded. “I know, I have to really think about it. It gives me a headache. But I saved them and promised protection, I can’t just throw them out now.”

The Pharmacist smirked. “Your problem, but I’m sure you’ll find a solution. It’s not something that will be solved in a day or even a month, I was just offering council. You should start thinking about it now, though.”

“Got it.”

Lan Jue wished her goodnight and returned to his room. He quietly pulled the door open and stepped inside.

“You’re back!” Qianlin smiled at him from the sofa in a pair of white pajamas. She was curled up with a throw pillow and a magazine. She greeting him with a wave.

“Hey,” he answered with a nod.

She unfurled from her perch and took his coat. She returned a moment later with a cup of warm water and directed him to the sofa, where she gave him a gentle neck rub. Very much like a wife would for her husband.

“Qianlin, about today…” Lan Jue wanted to explain the situation, but felt Qianlin press a finger to his lips.

“No need to explain,” she chuckled.

Lan Jue felt relieved and appreciative. “You trust me that much, huh?”

She smiled. “Not just you, I trust myself too. If a girl steals you away it means I wasn’t enough of a catch, or you don’t like the kind of girl I am. What’s the point of forcing things? I know that even if there were a hundred women around you, you’d still be with me.”

Lan Jue turned around and looked at her. He’d learned that she was soft on the outside with a core of iron, but he didn’t know she felt like this. She gave her a thumbs-up and a sigh. “The Pharmacist herself has lived a bitter life, what she did today though was to help me.”

Qianlin nodded. “That what I guessed. I’m sad I couldn’t be the one to help you. I really envy her strength – she’s something else.”

This earned a chuckle. Lan Jue’s voice grew authoritative. “What are you waiting for, then? Let’s get strong!” He wrapped an arm around her waist leaned in. Qianlin just felt the warmth of his lips for a split second, before dissolving in to radiant white light.

Lan Jue sighed as he felt the power flood through him. There was less and less resistance each time they joined, like she was water that flowed through every part of him. If only she were her, he thought, things would be perfect…

He sat cross-legged on the floor and began to meditate.

The cultivation he’d undergone in the last few days had served to firm up his Core considerably. The impurities within continued to be filtered out. In addition to this, he could feel the joining between him and Qianlin become more complete the more they did it. Their integrated powers were purer, and easier to command. Even when they were separated, he could feel a piece of her somewhere inside.

Lan Jue had had the unfortunate luck of facing ever-stronger enemies in the last few days of the tournament. It did, however, serve to help him get used to the limitations of his current rank. He was still pretty strong and ninth level second rank despite the considerable drop from seventh, but his Discipline sat on a much firmer foundation now. The Pharmacist’s explanation had helped ease his nerves, and now he was confident all he needed was time. This didn’t mean, however, that he could take his cultivation practices easily. Progress was only one by dutifully sensing one’s place in the world, and learning the subtle presence of protogenia.

Lan Jue felt the path forward was clearer now than it had been when he was seventh rank. Sometimes it felt like he was being swept along by a current. He felt positive that when he did finally encounter his bottleneck, he would break through to discover his Domain.

They spent the night like this. Before they knew it, the light of the next morning was filtering through their window shades.

 

ζ

 

Each passing day of the tournament made the spectators more excited, especially thanks to the extensive news coverage. Now that things were coming to a close, these last few encounters were sure to be something to watch. They were all looking forward to the next phase of the entertainment; round robin.

There was of course still interest in the Double-Elimination events of the day. The fights were certain to be hard-fought, especially considering the astronomical rewards at stake. But aside from all the tactile rewards, everyone wanted to be a winner. Those who earned their place in these final twenty-four contestants were truly heroes of the people, and exceptional talents. None of them would fall easily to defeat, and were ready to face the increasingly steep odds.

It wasn’t only Lan Jue who felt himself become stronger from the ordeal. It was a similar situation for many. It was very rare that an Adept would have an opportunity to test themselves against such strong and varied opponents. The benefits were especially important for the great Adepts organizations, and each would gather together at the end of the day to discuss what they’d learned and analyze the competition. Ten days of this meant that very many Adepts had enjoyed various levels of growth. Those that had already lost also remained to see what they could learn from watching more fights.

This tournament was a great benefit for the entire world of Adepts, and humanity as a whole. Now the next stage was set to begin. Twenty-four pairs of eyes rose to the sky.


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