Chapter 29: Beautician and the Barber

The Clairvoyant stood. “The welcoming committee has been selected. The rest of you may go. Thank you all for coming.”

The remaining council members stood and filed out. Once leaving the chamber they spoke quietly amongst themselves.

“Forgive me, Keeper. If I might bother you for a moment.” Lan Jue stood, addressing the elderly man who had been seated to the right of the Clairvoyant.

He looked an age comparable to the Clairvoyant, and wore an ancient Tang Chinese style gown. He looked quite scholarly, but at the same time frail and sluggish – like he had one foot in the grave. Still he was the second vice-chairman of the Skyfire council, and in fact may have been slightly older than the Clairvoyant himself.

Lan Jue moved to the Keeper’s side, gripping his elbow to help him stand.

“I must trouble you with something, would it be alright if I met you at the Library later?” Lan Jue helped the old man towards the door, speaking softly in his ear.

The Keeper gave a grandfatherly smile and nodded his head. “Of course, of course.”

Lan Jue thanked him, then returned to his seat in the council chamber.

Only the Clairvoyant, the Wine Master, the Jewel Master, the Barber and the Beautician remained.

“I am sorry to trouble the four of you,” the Clairvoyant began. “We must choose twenty shopkeepers to participate in the event. Wine Master, if you would.”

The Wine Master nodded. “I will choose them.”

“Then what about me? Just wait for the reception?” The Beautician looked stunning in a long pink dress. Her figure was breathtaking, the late-twenties beauty smiling alluringly towards the Wine Master.

“The reception itself will be handled by the government of the Eastern Alliance,” the Wine Master stated. “We are only responsible for the exchange.”

The Beautician shot a glance towards Lan Jue, sitting across from her at the table. “Little Brother* Jewel Master hasn’t said a word since joining our little committee. Come on kiddo, participate!”

Kiddo…

Lan Jue’s cool features stiffened for but a moment, but he did not respond. He wasn’t entirely familiar with all the members of the Skyfire Council, but he did know the Barber.

The Beautician’s taunting moniker of the Diabolical Little Clippers wasn’t baseless. According to what Lan Jue knew, the Barber had been an accomplished assassin in the Northern Alliance before coming to Skyfire. The most wanted man in the North. Not even thirty, but she teased and taunted the Barber in public. And he didn’t retaliate. Despite her young, sweet appearance, she wasn’t someone Lan Jue had any inclination to tussle with.

When compared to the Northern Alliance’s Great Conclave, even Skyfire Avenue and the two Citadels together couldn’t match their numbers. However, they did possess the most universally acknowledged top-grade Talents.

A member had to be at least a Ninth-Level Talent to be considered for entry in to Skyfire Council. Because the Avenue was only loosely managed, members coveted their specific abilities as a secret, and even the most senior members did know the abilities of the others.

It was frightening to think of a ninth level Talent one knew nothing about.

In the last year the only person who’d been able to make him loose his temper, to fail to control his emotions was that blasted girl who’d asked him to be her bodyguard.

The Wine Master spoke gently. “Know your enemy as you know yourself, and in a hundred battles you will have a hundred victories. Three will stay in the event they will be needed as comrades in arms. As a result, I ask that each of us clearly reveal our abilities so we can be familiar with them.”

The Beautician fiddled with her constellation-encrusted fingernails. “No problem. I don’t believe we know much about Little Brother Jewel Master either. My ability; Illusion. How about you, kiddo? Hehe.”

Looking upon the Beautician’s cunning and sweet smile, Lan Jue’s heart rate increased in trepidation. Illusion! To the average person the word held no special significance. But to his ears it was like a peel of thunder.

He’d heard of this ability once in a story. Twenty years ago a small girl’s family had been murdered. As the evil men approached the girl to finish the job, her innate Talent had awakened. Illusion.

Just awakened, a Ninth-Level Talent, she was unable to control her own powers. But in the blink of an eye her assailants were caught in a dreamscape of heavenly bliss and hellish terror. The young girl’s fears bubbled up from her mind. In the end, the ones who’d killed her family all succumbed to the phantasmagoria. None survived.

Shattered by the experience, the young girl then wandered out in to the streets of the city. There she enveloped the entire place in her dreamscape, inflicting upon it horrendous damage.

Later she had been overpowered by the forces of the Eastern Alliance. She was tested, the extent of her illusion powers determined, and then taken away. It is said she was quietly executed.

When Lan Jue was younger he’d once read several secret reports on Adepts, and this story was the one that stuck most in his mind. He still remembered clearly. He also recalled that illusion was a rare Discipline. To his knowledge it was only seen that once. Was this coyly smiling Beautician…

“Hey, kiddo? You?” Her elbows were perched upon the armrests, her face in her hands. She smiled as she watched Lan Jue.

“Lightning,” he said simply.

The Barber shot him a glance. “My ability is speed.”

Speed?

Lan Jue did not look down upon him for his simple speed ability. Any Discipline could be terrifying at the highest levels. Speed was no different. The Barber was considered one of the best among Skyfire Avenue, thus his speed certainly wasn’t anything to scoff at.

The Wine Master nodded. “Good. We’ll finish here for today. We are all now more or less familiar. In accordance with our customs, remember that what is said in the council remains with the council, or the culprit will become an enemy of Skyfire Avenue.”

The Beautician, the Barber and the Jewel Master each nodded their head in agreement.

The Clairvoyant smiled. “I am possessed of a simple prediction. This situation is threatening but not dangerous. It should be interesting.”

Lan Jue walked slowly from the Museum, making his way towards the Keeper’s Library when suddenly he heard the Barber’s voice from behind him.

“Jewel Master.”

“Hm?” Lan Jue uttered, turning around.

The Barber fixed him with a pair of gleaming eyes. “Let’s spar!”

*Little Brother is a sort of emasculating term, used for familiarity, to marginalize, and sometimes both.

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