He quickly tapped Wu Junyi’s number in to his communicator.
“Hello Professor Lan. Have we come to a decision so soon?” Wu Junyi, on the other end, was nervous after receiving the call. From his earlier trickery he discovered that Professor Lan was at least a ninth-level Talent. It was not a fact he could afford to disregard.
Lan Jue answered. “I do have an answer for you. I can teach your mecha combat class, but I have a few conditions of my own we need to discuss.”
“Go on,” the Director coaxed.
“First, you must swear to keep my identity a secret,” Lan Jue began. “You can’t tell a soul. Second, I wish to keep my etiquette class without any changes. In addition I’ll wear a mask when I teach to protect myself, and you will ensure that no one – no teacher, organization or student – find out who I am. Tell them I’m some visiting professor. In this way we can both work to limit the chance of exposure, preventing it from affecting my life.”
“Not a problem!” Wu Junyi didn’t hesitate in the slightest, accepting Lan Jue’s demands on the spot. All he and the Dean were interested in was that he worked for them. Who he pretended to be in the process didn’t matter to them at all.
Lan Jue went on. “So it is, then. Let me know once the classes have been arranged. Remember, not a word of this matter to anyone. I must warn you that, if my identity should become known… well, the consequences would be dire.”
Wu Junyi did not take the statement lightly. “You can relax, Professor. I give you my word.”
With that, Lan Jue severed the connection. He found his bicycle and returned to Skyfire Avenue without any further delay. The matter was what it was, he thought, but at least now he could hold his head up. Still, he thought, he better speak to the Keeper – f he could avoid this at all, it would be better. Truth be told, he was also curious how the old man was getting on with his rival. He was a little afraid of the trouble they could get up to.
Immediately Lan Jue made for the Library, upon arriving at the Avenue. However, he didn’t walk right in. Instead he waited outside for a moment to see if there were any waves of power coming from the building.
If something felt amiss, he still had time to run.
The Library was quiet, though, not a sound to be heard. He secretly breathed a sigh of relief. He pushed the door open and entered.
He climbed the stairs, careful to be as silent as possible, when suddenly a craggy voice filled the hall. “Why are you skulking around? Hurry up and get in here.”
“Oh.” Lan Jue hurried his pace.
He found his way to the Keeper’s office, and pushed open the door. What he saw, stopped him in his tracks.
The two old men were seated pleasantly, facing each other across a tale, sharing a plate of dried fruit.
Standing behind their respective masters, were Su He and the Accountant. Both were holding bottles. The Accountant was currently refilling the Keeper’s glass.
Su He turned his face to peer at Lan Jue as he entered. The Jewelry Master’s former classmate shot him a smile.
“It looks like you two are getting along,” Lan Jue began.
The Bookworm huffed. “We’ll be sure to take your marvelous deduction under account. I’ve already spoken with the old bastard, and from now on you’re gunna be my guinea pig. Once I get that sim pod fixed and running again, you’ll continue with our experiments. No excuses!”
Lan Jue chortled. “I won’t. I’m eager to continue.”
The Keeper’s face lit up at Lan Jue’s answer. “I guess the results have been good so far!”
Lan Jue nodded his head. “Excellent, in fact. There are some small detail adjustments that need to be made, and perhaps the difficulty could be increased, but overall it’s something really incredible. God-ranked pilots can finally find a place in DreamNet to further hone their abilities. It’d be even better if there was more variety in combat modes.”
“In the future the Bookworm and I will be conducting the experiments together,” the Keeper revealed. “We’d like to have a working prototype ready as soon as possible. Over the course of these trials we hope to improve everything about it, and we’ll need your help to do that.”
Lan Jue looked delighted. “Very well. I only ask you give me two of them when the bugs have been ironed out.”
The Bookworm shot him an angry look. “What’s the meaning of this? When we’ve got this squared away we’ll have the most advanced simulator in the universe. The price will be astronomical! You’re dreaming if you think I’ll just give you two.”
Lan Jue laughed. “Fine, one then. After all I’m the one in there expending my time and energy, am I right?”
“Hmph!” The Bookworm glowered dubiously. “I’ll think about it!”
Lan Jue could only smile helplessly. He knew this old man’s bark was worse than his bite. He was going to be using this thing anyway, once it was complete, and it wasn’t like they were going to be the pilots to test it.
Su He interjected. “Hey classmate, the Master’s already made up his mind. I’ve spoken with him, and later I’ll be leaving for my vacation. When I return I’ll come for the Master, and to express my gratitude.”
“I hope to hear news of your breakthrough soon, Mentor,” Lan Jue said. “Sometimes it’s important just to see the beauty the universe has in store for us.”
Su He beamed. “More and more I feel the same. Hopefully one day I’ll have enough ability to face you in the ring and hold my own. If I win, it’ll mean I’ve reached my ultimate goal.”
“Same here!” the Accountant blurted out.
The Keeper’s lips curled in to the ghost of a grin. “Such indelible self-understanding. Stop making us laugh.”
The Accountant glowered, hurt evident in his features. “What’s so funny about that?”
The Bookworm was the one to answer, his quavering voice soft. “For some things, talent is the biggest determining factor. Your Talents don’t lie in that area, so why would you waste your effort? With the skills your grandfather has taught you, how can mecha combat compare? Planning to steer a Bastion ship, are we?”
The Accountant’s eyes lit up. “I’ll be able to drive a Bastion ship?!”
The Bookworm looked embarrassed simply to be having the conversation. “Moron, it was an analogy. Do you think a single person can pilot a Bastion? Do you have any common sense? What has your grandfather been teaching you?”
The Keeper glared across the table. “Take it easy on my nephew! What’s wrong with the way I’ve taught him?”
The Keeper’s objection didn’t appear to dissuade the Bookworm in the least. “Your teaching’s are a waste, especially on this thick-skulled twit. Or maybe the concoction I gave him made him dim.”
The Keeper slammed a fist against the desk between them! Their respective glasses danced and threatened to topple off of the table. “You dare to continue down-talking my family?!”
The Bookworm slapped the table just as hard, and shot to his feet. “What are you going to do about it? Dimwit?”
Lan Jue waved to Su He, and made his escape before he could be dragged in to the argument.
These two old madmen! It was a phrase that described the both of them admirably. A love-hate- relationship if ever he’d seen one.
Lan Jue employed the nearby elevator once exited the Library, making his way to the Underground. Chu Cheng and Hua Li had spent the last few days in the warehouse there training. He went to check on their progress.
There were very many in the Underground today. Most of the stores on either end of the long street looked deserted.
Lan Jue made his way towards his own shop. On the way, however, his trek was interrupted by a figure coming his way. It was none other than the man the Beautician had called ruthless and sinister – the Barber.
Upon seeing Lan Jue the Barber stopped in his tracks, and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “It’s been a while, Jewelry Master! You’re quite the difficult fellow to keep track of, you know. In fact, the Council put me in charge of the reception for the big meeting coming up. Even when you’re here you aren’t attending meetings, so there’s no need for you to trouble yourself with these matters.”
Lan Jue couldn’t help but grin. “Didn’t they push the whole thing back a month?”
“And yet there’s still a mountain of work to do,” the Barber responded. “How we receive our guests reflects the honor of Skyfire Avenue, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
Lan Jue still seemed unconvinced. “Of course I do, that’s why I’ve been focusing on my cultivation! So you’ll be leading the welcome party when the two powers come knocking?”
The Barber’s face went stiff. The battle the two had those long months before had left a deep impression on him. He had been working on his own abilities of late, but he also knew his place before Lan Jue.
Lan Jue only smiled. “If there’s nothing else I guess I’ll be heading on. If you need something call me on the communicator.” With that he walked on towards the jewelry shop, leaving the Barber in silence.
It was nonsense, saying he had no need to participate. Nobody had said anything to him! Besides, the Wine Master would have told him if there were any preparations to be made. This was all the Barber looking for trouble!
Ding ding! The jewelry shop bell tinkled pleasantly as Lan Jue pushed his way in.
Mika was behind the counter, crouched down and looking at something. She lifted her head at the sound, and smiled as she saw her employer enter. “There’s our diligent boss. Just got back tomorrow and already here you are in the store. I heard you spent no small amount of money this trip! Where’s the stuff?” He reached out her hand expectantly.
“Most of it should be arriving soon,” he assured her.
Mika snorted. “I’m talking about the Tear of Neptune and the Pelagic Pearl! Those two are the pricey ones.”
Lan Jue could only shrug. “I gave the Tear to the Keeper for his experiments. To pay off my debt to the Avenue. I gave the pearl to someone else. The cost of those will be deducted from my share of any profits. That should be enough, right?”
Once again Mika huffed, clearly irritated by the circumstance. “You run the place and yet have no head for finances, boss. We have the money, but haven’t you ever heard of saving? You spend the money, so it’s done. And fine, you gave them away. Now buy something for our own store!”
Lan Jue laughed sheepishly. “Didn’t I put you in charge of stock?”
“Business hasn’t been so good,” Mika replied.
“Not just us?” Lan Jue asked. “I did notice there were only a few people out today, on my way here. What’s going on?”