The Accountant’s eyes nearly popped from his skull. “You dare address me this way? I was lenient with you yesterday. Plus that damn gorgeous girl was distracting me. Otherwise, you think you’d actually be able to best me?”
Su He ignored him, turning to Lan Jue. “Let’s go. We have a car waiting outside.”
“Hey, why aren’t you listening to me?!” The Accountant yelped, racing after them.
“Shut up!” Lin Guoguo muttered his way.
Lir was considered an ocean planet. As expected, then, it’s capital was a bustling port city. Dwarka was ideally placed to take advantage of the area’s natural resources.
Lan Jue faintly recalled the Lir Group, which ran the planet, and their reputed power. It was a shame, he thought, that he did not bring Hua Li or Chu Cheng. Hua Li was afraid Mo Xiao would find out, and Chu Cheng’s excuse was he wished to focus on his training. Lan Jue was still trying to puzzle out what the real reason was.
The mag-lev car waited for them outside of the arrivals gate. It was large enough to suitably accommodate a dozen people.
“Would you prefer to rest in the dorms for a little while first, or shall we go directly to meet the professor?” Su He casually asked the question of Lan Jue, who sat at his shoulder. The Accountant didn’t appear to factor in to his considerations.
“First to bring us to your professor,” Lan Jue said. “We need to show our respect. Plus, the earlier we get through our business, the more time we’ll have to enjoy Dwarka and relax.”
The Keeper had always treated Lan Jue well, placed his trust in the young man. Lan Jue was intent on completing his old friend’s task quickly and effectively.
Su He smiled. “Alright, then we’ll head directly there. Just as a precaution… the Professor doesn’t have the warmest disposition. Take care.”
Lan Jue nodded.
The mag-lev car gained speed, racing along the street. Lan Jue stared out of the window, and watched as all the culture and peculiarity of Lir’s capital city passed by outside.
The street itself kept with the nautical theme, composed of azure blocks. On each side of the concrete river rose spindly buildings which were blue of all shades. It was a world of blue that suited Lan Jue just fine. No wonder the whole place had seemed like a blue jewel when spied from Zeus-1 – it was almost impossible to differentiate the ocean from land when the whole city bore this color scheme.
“Well mentor, I guess you all like blue around here,” Lan Jue offered as he watched the city pass.
Su He nodded. “Yup. Lir is a very special planet. Every plant, every animal is blue. The whole place is infused with the water element. And while you might suspect we get a lot of storms and tsunamis, you’d be wrong. They’re a rare sight. All the sea life is gentle as well. In terms of environment we can’t match up with the likes of Taihua, but Lir is definitely a unique place. And if you have a chance we have a number of island resorts for things like honeymoons. Remember that when you get married.”
The topic brought a sharp pain to Lan Jue’s chest. He nodded his head, though he made no further attempt to continue the conversation.
“Ah, by the way Lan Jue. Unless my memory fails me Dwarka will be hosting an auction tomorrow. It’ll be the biggest one in recent years, selling top-level items from around Lir. Reputedly the final item is an s-ranked power gem. Of course I can’t be sure. Naturally you know the strategic advantage of s-ranked gems. An auction isn’t permitted to sell one outside of the Eastern Alliance territories, or to outsiders.”
“An s-ranked power gem, eh?” Lan Jue’s eyes lit up at the prospect. It was a rare opportunity, to be sure. Although he did possess an s-ranked gem collection of his own, more was always appreciated. “If we have the chance we should go take a look,” he said.
Su He smiled cordially. “No problem. I’ll set it up, and we can go together.”
They sped along for a good half an hour, eventually coming to a halt before the façade of a simple building. The sight of it brought a hardness to Lan Jue and the Accountant’s eyes. It looked exactly like the Skyfire Library.
They filed from the car. Su He lifted his face to peer at the towering building, then sniffed. “The Professor’s obsession will never let him be. I imagine this looks a lot like the library on Skyfire Avenue, yes?”
The Accountant nodded his head vigorously. “Precisely the same!”
“Alright, let’s head in,” Su He said. “I’ve already let him know we’re coming.”
As he spoke, he led Lan Jue and his entourage in to the familiar structure.
Once again Lan Jue and the Accountant were taken aback. The interior, too, was just like the Keeper’s home – but for the fact the bookshelves were empty. Row upon row of shelves lines the walls with nothing upon them, just a large empty room.
Su He chuckled as he watched their reaction. “The Professor has said that one day, he’ll win back everything he’d lost. He would fill this place with his spoils of war.”
The words brought a heaviness to Lan Jue’s heart. It would appear this trip wouldn’t be as easy as it had first appeared.
They made for the stairs, and took them for the third floor. This was all very familiar, since the structure of the building was identical to the one he was just in. He saw now that the Keeper was right, and the Library was absolutely the product of this Bookworm. After all, his knowledge of the architecture would have to be immaculate to copy it with such detail.
The five people arrived at a small room. Lan Jue recognized it as twin to the one he had been in just a few days before, speaking with the Keeper.
Su He lifted his hand, and knocked.
An aged, crackling voice called out. “Enter.”
Lan Jue pushed the door open, while simultaneously gesturing to his two Amazons. Wordlessly they took up position outside the room, on either side of the door as their boss entered.
Inside, an old man sat opposite a desk. In his hands was a newspaper, which he was currently absorbed in reading. Sloppy would adequately describe his overall look, Lan Jue thought. His clothes were torn, and stained in several places.
The elderly man had lost most of his hair, a snowy ring the only thing remaining, leaving his scalp bare. Liver spots dotted his face. He stared at the newspaper through coke-bottle lenses, breathing laboriously. Like the Keeper, he looked to have one foot in the grave.
“I’m back, Professor.” Su He quietly addressed the elderly man.
“Ngh! Didja win?” The old man’s quavering voice asked. His eyes never left the pages of the newspaper.
“Yes, in fact, I did.”
“As you should have,” he grumbled. “The old man has no worthy successor.”
Hearing this, the Accountant stepped forward to share a piece of his mind. Lan Jue saw this, and yanked the young man back.
The old man continued. “What are you doing bringing these people here? They have nothing to do with this. Get them out.”
Su He hastily interjected. “Professor, these two are from Skyfire Avenue.”
“Get them out of here. Are you deaf?” The old man threw his newspaper against the desk in frustration, glaring at Su He. His yellowed eyes became sharp as daggers. The small room was suddenly filled with an oppressive sense.
The highest reaches of ninth-ranked Talent. Lan Jue could instantly determine this old man’s power by that feeling alone. He wasn’t as frail as he appeared.
Su He dare not move or speak. He glanced apologetically towards Lan Jue.
The Jewelry Master smiled disarmingly. “Bookworm. That was your designation, wasn’t it? I’m here not only to represent the Keeper, but on behalf of Skyfire Avenue as a whole. As I see it, you may think you have an enemy on the Avenue, but there are only friends. There is no benefit in keeping allies at arm’s length.”
The old man’s mouth curled in to a disdainful sneer. “You, practically a child, are here saying you represent Skyfire Avenue? It does not bode well. Clearly the little suburb you call home has lost a great deal over the years. I guess they’ll let just anyone in these days.”
Lan Jue gave the old man a capitulating smile. By way of a response, he extricated his Skyfire Council badge and placed it on the table in front of the Bookworm.
The old man glanced at the emblem, and a subtle change came over his features. He plucked up the insignia and peered at it intently, then unceremoniously chucked it back to Lan Jue.
“How does that mean you speak for the Avenue,” the crotchety old man grumbled. “I’ve had no interaction with Skyfire for years anyway.”
Lan Jue sighed. “Bookworm, forgive my lack of tact but you’re not the young man you used to be. Clearly you’ve lost the desire to show up the Keeper. With your loss of faith, there’s no reason for me to be here. It was a mistake coming.”
The Bookworm tried to murder Lan Jue with his glare.
Two sets of eyes met. Lan Jue felt a strange, dizzying sensation wash over him. He wasn’t looking at a man, he was looking at the collected knowledge of humanity. He could see it in those sharp, attentive eyes. His tenacious, psychic force was almost palpable.
The dizziness lasted only a second. With some effort, Lan Jue dispelled the uncomfortable feeling. Then he turned, and slapped the Accountant.
It didn’t matter that the Accountant wasn’t prepared. Even if he was, how could he compete with the ex-mercenary?
The Accountant twitched uncontrollably as tendrils of electricity raced up and down his body. He stared wide-eyed and disbelieving at his fellow Skyfire denizen.
Lan Jue spoke quietly to the old man. “This is the Keeper’s sole blood relative. Hopefully this will help you convince you I’m interested in helping.”
Su He looked from one to the other, flabbergasted at the exchange. The Bookworm was no less confused.
“You help me? And how do you intend to do that, exactly?” The Bookworm’s challenge was cold and dismissive.
Lan Jue explained. “I am a part of the Avenue, but I’m also an Adept. An Adept with aspirations. I’m confident that one day I’ll get what I’m looking for, but for now my power isn’t sufficient enough to earn that. The Avenue is strong, but with your help I think we stand a chance. I’m confident you can easily handle the Keeper and take back what’s yours. My only request is, that when you have what you want, you help me get what I want.”
The Bookworm stared at the young man with shock evident on his liver-pocked face.
“You’re planning a hostile take-over of the Avenue.”