Chapter 31: Harlequin Silver

The hulking man struggled to get to his feet after the Barber had thrown him aside. He knew precisely how strong he was, but he wasn’t stupid – if the Barber had been able to chuck him aside so easily, he knew better than to start anything else. He turned glumly, seeking to continue on.

“Halt,” The Barber called harshly.

Big Baldie turned back. “Whadda ya gunna do about it,” he said threateningly, but the fear was in his eyes.

The Barber regarded him listlessly. “I should be asking you that. Do you know where we are?”

An ominous glint lit Big Baldie’s eyes. “Skyfire Avenue.”

“So you do know,” the Barber said, “And yet you deliberately break the rules.”

Big Baldie growled. “I broke no rule. Where’s it written you can’t walk down the opposite side of the street?”

The Barber’s face adopted a shocked expression. “So you knew you were going against the crowd! That’s good. In fact you’re right, there isn’t any rule expressly forbidding walking against the flow of traffic. But that was before. From now on this street indeed has that rule. Because I said so. I’ll submit the provision when I return to the Skyfire Council. And likewise you will pay for your malicious disregard for the rules.”

Big Baldie’s features blanched. “Yeah right, how you gunna prove it!” As he spat this, he turned and ran down away down the street.

The Barber sneered derisively. “These thugs of the Great Conclave are as stupid as they come. Let’s go.”

As he spoke he started to move onward, seemingly losing interest in Baldie. Neither Lan Jue nor the Beautician bothered to follow the man’s departure either.

Big Baldie, meanwhile, pushed is way wildly through the crowd. A few moments later, he turned his head to ensure he wasn’t being chased by that little guy with the evil eyes and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Come with us,” a voice directed. A middle-aged man stood near him, hands tucked in to the pockets o f his grey suit trousers.

“W-who are you?” Big Baldie stammered. All around him half a dozen other grey-suited men had silently begun to draw closer.

“Skyfire Avenue Enforcement,” the man replied impatiently.

“What proof do you have to take me away?” The muscles all over Big Baldie’s body began to swell menacingly.

The middle-aged man heaved a sigh. “You’re blind, then? Do you know who you bumped in to? You probably could have caused trouble for anyone other than the Barber and been fine, you know. You’re lucky he was in a good mood, too, otherwise there’d be no need for us to come collect you.”

As he spoke, his hand shone with light. Big Baldie tried to call out, but the only thing that emerged was a chocking gasp before he collapsed to the floor.

“Take him away.”

Lan Jue saw the geodesic dome rise before him, his face betrayed his interest. “It’s my first time here. They call it the Reaper’s Arena, right?”

The Barber looked at him with a grin. “That’s right.”

The Reaper Arena, the place where Adepts brought their enemies for duels. It was as fair as you could get. Both parties signed a waver absolving the other of their death. Combatants fought to the finish, fate deciding who lived and who died. Revenge wasn’t permitted. Sometimes the Skyfire Council would host fights between combatants with particularly deep-seated hatreds. On those days gamblers came out in droves. Business was surprisingly good.

Lan Jue chuckled. “Suddenly my mood has improved. I’ll tell you what, Barber – we’re both respectable men, nobility, and have never fought before. What would you say to a wager?”

The Barber blinked in surprise. “You want to bet me?”

“Naturally!” Lan Jue grinned.

The Barber clapped his hands, their sound thrumming though the area. Smiling, he replied, “Excellent idea! How’d you know what I was thinking. Ahhh, I’m not worthy of being a Councilman – you understand me too well. Fine, to tell the truth I’ve had my eye on that Soulfire diamond in your shop, the fifty karat one. Unfortunately I’m embarrassingly short on funds. Seeing as we were never that close it would have been improper to ask you for it directly.”

Realization dawned on Lan Jue’s face. “You should have said something earlier. We’re all Councilman, and the shop’s discounts are at my discretion. But seeing you like this, I assume you hadn’t intended to spend the money anyway.”

The Barber nodded his head.

The Beautician stood nearby, smiling pleasantly. “Since you both have invited me to be the judge, I have to make sure the scales are even, and make this a fair contest. You want the Soulfire gem, Little Clippers, but you’ll have to offer something of equal value in return.”

“Of course,” the Barber replied. “I’m a fair and equitable businessman. What do think of this, Jewel Master?”

The Barber’s hand searched his jacket as he spoke, retracting a moment later with something in his grip.

A metal roughly the size of his palm emitted a ethereal glow, as though sunlight bloomed from within. It shone with the whole spectrum of color.

Lan Jue’s eyes grew wide. “That’s a fair bet,” he said, without hesitation.

The metal held in the Barber’s hand was called Harlequin Silver. Like Technetium it was superconductive, but rarer still. In addition to transmitting the vast majority of power used with it, mixing only a small amount in an alloy would produce a weapon that would greatly amplify any Adept’s power. A piece that size was worth far more than the Soulfire gem the Barber had requested.

There were several planets where technetium could be mined, but finding Harlequin Silver came down to luck. It was exceedingly difficult to gather, only traces could be found accompanying special metals. Very difficult to get indeed.

The Barber handed the Harlequin Silver to the Beautician. “Then it’s decided.”

As he spoke, he entered the Reaper’s Arena.

The Reaper’s Arena was in fact many arenas together. From outside the building itself didn’t look so large, but the arenas inside were all built with specific characteristics. Whether one entered to fight or spar, a fee was always required. This provided a professional referee, registration, and record keeping. Only then could you fight.

Of course, for Lan Jue and his companions as members of the Skyfire Council, they had no need to pay. They also had free use of the best arena. Necessary for such a top-level fight.

The Barber registered them for a sparring session. Despite their status as Councilmen they were still required to register and enter in to the records. As for bets, however, that was up to them. If they wanted the arena to act as arbiter, they would have to put down a ten percent deposit against the value of the winnings.

“You want to make a deposit with the Arena, Jewel Master?” The Barber asked, shrugging his shoulders.

Lan Jue responded with a small smile. “Up to you.”

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