Drinking excessively invariably lead to hang-overs. So it was, when Lan Jue finally regained consciousness in the early morning, he felt like his head was ready to split open.
He didn’t remember how much he’d ultimately had to drink. The night passed in a blur of joy and good tidings. The others were likely suffering as he was.
The first to fall to the alcohol’s charms was the Gourmet himself. Be you a normal man or a paragon, once you let yourself go no amount of special energy was going to neutralize alcohol. He drink’s numbing peace overcame him. But oh had he laughed – real laughter, as though he were trying to make up for so much lost time.
The Driver had also had entirely too much. Once discovering that the Gourmet had reached such heights of power, he knew his threats were nonsense. Pointless nonsense. He decided, then to show his strength and menace through the consumption of liquor. His ferocious coaxing of the Gourmet had ultimately lead to the Paragon’s downfall.
The chef accepted it all, and drank until he was full with mirth and happiness. The Driver was not far behind.
Lan Jue kept them company, and drank as they did. At his level of drinking proficiency he was able to handle the volume – so long as he poured for himself. But he didn’t.
Once the Gourmet was done, the Driver then turned his attention to Lan Jue. It wasn’t long after that the both of them were well sloshed.
He faintly remembered talking a lot with Wendy. She carefully tended to the Driver and the Gourmet, all the while talking through tears and laughter. She’d carefully placed the flowers the Gourmet had given her in a vase, and tended to them like a priceless treasure. She would return to gently stroke the silken petals throughout the night.
Most of their conversation was lost to the drunken haze, but Lan Jue did remember one thing. She said she couldn’t drink, not even one drop. She feared that if she drank and fell asleep, she’d wake up to find it had all been a dream. She wanted to feel, to remember everything. And when her man awoke, not to let him have any regrets.
Lan Jue had called Ke’er and Xiuxiu to come help him home – the first time he’d needed it since coming to the Avenue. He vaguely recalled seeing the gourmet pulling Wendy to the back as he left. As for the Driver, presumably he ended up in his car.
It had indeed been one crazy night! He stumbled from bed and poured himself a glass of water, and although his head was pounding he was in high spirits.
Driving while under the influence was an irresponsible and reckless habit, so he didn’t. Xiuxiu ended up being the one to drive him back to the NEU campus’ West Hill.
As he fitted the golden mask on his face once again, he pondered on whether he could keep a solemn exterior. The happiness he felt had spread to every cell in his body.
The students knew the moment they saw him that something was different.
What’s going on? They thought. The Prince of Devils is almost warm today.
“Were you drinking, boss?” Lin Guoguo asked quietly.
“Mnh.” He answered. He then turned his eyes towards the rows of students.
Today the students were vibrant and full of energy. They’d practiced all day the day before, and though they spent the night tossing and turning, they awoke excited to continue. They were dedicated to the far beyond ordinary training by this point. Further, waking in the morning and having a needle removed flooded them with that wondrous, warm sensation from before. Though they still didn’t have access to their powers, the sensation and power they obtained from the needle’s removal was beyond description. It was like they could feel themselves growing.
Finally, they felt like this was a serious training, not just torture.
As Lan Jue walked from student to student, pulling needles free, the students eyes lit up as they experienced that sense of release once again. Paired with the strange change in their drillmaster’s aura, they were starting to believe this Prince of Devils may not be so bad after all.
Unfortunately, they were wrong.
“We’re adding fifty percent to the training you did yesterday. If you can’t complete it, you won’t be sleeping.”
Their hell would begin anew. Sweat fell like rain, as the bitter exercises commenced. Now, though, the students were different from when they’d started. They had changed.
They had had their second needle removed. Eventually the third would come out, then all of them. They were like seals locking away parts of their bodies, their spirits. Once they were all gone, what awaited them? What would they find?
Expectation was alive in their hearts, and it was pushing back against excruciating pain of training.
“You go drinking yesterday and don’t invite us!” Chu Cheng viciously gripped Lan Jue by the neck.
Lan Jue, in response, rolled his eyes at his friend. “Let me go, I have something to tell you.”
Chu Cheng huffed. “Hell no. Not unless you bring me some of the stuff you had yesterday.”
“Want me to puke it out for you?” Lan Jue asked.
Chu Cheng hurriedly let his friend go. “A-Jue. When did you get so nasty?”
The masked Jewelry Master chortled. “I learned from you!”
Hua Li snickered. “You do look pretty happy today, A-Jue. What’s going?”
“His uncle’s found himself a wife,” Lan Jue said.
“Eh?” Chu Cheng looked at him in confusion, but eventually his confusion made way for something else. “You’re saying my uncle has a wife? That woman from before didn’t die?”
Lan Jue gave him a lopsided smirk. “No, not that woman – that’s certain. He fell in love with someone else, the Seamstress from Skyfire Avenue. Wendy’s loved him for a long, long time, but the Gourmet has never given her the time of day. That was until last night, when he chose her. Those two have found each other, so I’m happy. Very happy for them.”
Chu Cheng was struck dumb by the revelation. “You’re saying my uncle’s fallen in love with another woman? So… he’s gotten over his depression? Recovered?”
Lan Jue nodded. “That’s what I’m saying.”
Chu Cheng let out a long breath, he didn’t know how to react. Everything that had happened all those years ago had been a massive blow against his family. The worst of it had been his uncle’s disappearance. Were it not for the fact that Chu Cheng was also strong with Hades’ blood, their house would certainly have fallen in to decline.
“And what else? Did he find out who it was that killed her?” Chu Cheng asked.
“This I don’t know,” Lan Jue said. “I think you could probably go ask him yourself, if you liked. His mood is very different than it was before. Go to him, perhaps he’ll tell you everything. Maybe he’ll even go back with you… but who knows.”
“I’m going right now!” Chu Cheng was gone, barreling across the training field to find his uncle.
Hua Li ambled to Lan Jue’s side, watching Chu Cheng’s figure disappear.” This is very good news. No wonder you look so happy. If it were me, I’d do the same. In fact, more and more I’m enjoying life here on the Avenue. There’s so little back-biting and trickery. The atmosphere is loose, no one tells you what to do, but it’s… kind. In the West we have that bitter stalemate between the two castles. Even the Conclave in the North has got terrible internal strife. Skyfire Avenue really is an Adept’s Paradise.”
Lan Jue smiled at his friend’s description. “If you like it then why not stay here. No one will make you leave. The precondition is you couldn’t bring Mo Xiao with you – that’d be more than we could bear!”
Hua Li sighed. “If it were that easy, then I’d definitely stay here. Unfortunately, there are still some things that need doing. I lack a sufficient excuse to abandon them. So, yesterday we kept an eye on them – today it’s back to you. Go ahead and see where your students are at – their progress has been good. You should use the medicine again today. I’ll get everything ready.”
So it was, today they’d once again turn them all in to boiled eggs.
Skyfire Avenue had changed, adopting an imposing aura as the adept exchange approached. Everyone knew the West was coming for a visit. It was certainly big news for the Avenue.
Of the eighteen council members, fifteen were present. Three were unable to quickly make their way back. The remainder prepared to greet the West after their journey.
Chu Cheng’s trip to the Avenue had been quick, seeking out the Gourmet then leaving right away. He left a message for Lan Jue stating that he needed to go home for some family business. When it came time for the God-team battles, he’d meet them in DreamNet.
The words exchanged between nephew and uncle, Lan Jue was not privy to. It was telling, though, that Chu Cheng had left, but the Gourmet remained behind.
Today, in the early morning, Lan Jue made his way to the Gothic Winery clad in a fine blue suit.
The Wine Master was also dressed meticulously, in a wig and courtly raiment. His face was calm and stoic.
Besides the two of them, several others were in attendance; the Barber, Coffee Master, Doctor, Driver, Seamstress, Gourmet, Beautician, and Mechanic to name them. Ten councilors in all.
Several others not of the council were also in attendance. Among them were the Accountant, and the Pharmacist. The Pauper was also skulking about.
The Pauper stuck mostly to a distant corner, while the Account was at Lan Jue’s side. The Pharmacist stood a good distance from the crowd, clad in a gorgeous ancient-style qipao. She glowered dubiously at everyone and everything, like they owed her money.
The surface area of Skyfire Avenue had been closed to all traffic today. The streets were entirely deserted but for the welcome party. The Wine Master took a moment to regard everyone in attendance.
“The two Citadels will be arriving shortly,” he began. “Let’s go say hello.”
With that said, the Cosmagus lead them towards the far end of the Avenue, scepter in hand. The others fanned out behind them as they left the Gothic Winery behind.