Chapter 80: Class of the Seven Stars

“You’re here for that power gem, yes? It seems as though you’ve finally discovered what it does. So you tell me, what price do you think I should ask for?” The Empress smiled wolfishly at Lan Jue, a telling light in her eyes.

“Aren’t we the greedy one,” Lan Jue muttered.

The Empress simply laughed, swaying back towards her guests. “Aww, who says I’m greedy? You just want a star map? It’s yours.”

As she spoke she lifted her right hand. Empty, a light shone in her palm – dimly at first, but growing until it encompassed the appendage. When it receded she bore a silver disk, which she handed to Lan Jue.

Lan Jue made no shows of courtesy, taking up the disk and handing it to Ke’er, who stood at his side.

“Thanks. I owe you a favor. We’ll be on our way.” Saying his piece, he turned and began to make his way from the white chamber. He had no intention to linger any longer than he had to.

“Stop right there!” The Empress’ charming voice interrupted.

Lan Jue paused, and turned to see that her face had grown agitated.

“Unconscionable. Business is concluded and you simply run off!” She sounded resentful.

“Hey,” Ke’er began, her face sour, “watch what you say. Our boss is a decent person, no one’s taking advantage here.”

The Empress’ expression darkened. “Don’t give me that, little girl. Somehow I imagine you all wish he wasn’t so decent. Zeus’ Amazons… would any of you claim not to harbor an interest? You know he only pretends not to notice.”

It was Lan Jue’s face that darkened this time. “Ke’er, give her the maps back. We’re leaving.”

Ke’er stood stunned. Lin Guoguo and Mika were similarly stupefied, their faces adopting strange expressions. They knew their boss well. This time, he really was angry.

The Empress herself was taken aback, but she made no move to take the disk in Ke’er’s hand. Her eyes reddened at the edges, and as she spoke a lump grew in her throat. “So you protect them, then. Tell it true, Zeus – if I submitted, would you take me under your control as well? Would I become your fifth servant!”

Lan Jue’s brows raised, and he sighed as softness returned to his eyes. “Little Yue, you know that’s impossible. With a character like yours how could you not? Even then, my protection can only extend so far.”

The Moonfiend Empress hung her head. “I know. Your three years of seclusion wasn’t just because of Hera. It was to benefit the three girls with you as well. Did you know that, Mika? I really do envy you all – to have a man like him as your guardian. Sometimes the hard and harsh Lord of his castle, and sometimes the kind-hearted angel. Go then, I’m done speaking with you.”

Mika, Guoguo and Ke’er each turned their eyes to Lan Jue.

Lan Jue smiled indifferently, like nothing had happened. “We’re off.” The words still hung in the air as he turned to leave.

It was at this moment a figure appeared, hurriedly rising from the floors below. It was the golden-hooded man from before, who’d warned off Luo Shang – revealed now as Gao Yong.

“Your Majesty. They’ve sent another.”

The Empress had regained her noble façade in the space of an instant, and was once again the majestic leader of the Moonfiend pirates. “Show them to the reception room. I’ll be there shortly.”

Gao Yong took a quick look at Lan Jue and his followers before continuing. “Your Majesty, this purpose this time is… I’m afraid we can’t put them off any longer.”

The Empress sniffed dismissively. “They’ll wait until hell freezes over if I want them to. But fine, I’ll see to them.”

Ke’er fiddled with the disk in her hand and muttered, mostly to herself. “I knew this thing wouldn’t be so easy to get.”

Lan Jue chuckled. “It’s for the best, actually. Now I won’t need to worry about it later.”

Turning back he spied the look on the Empress’ Face. “So, what’s the problem, Little Yue?”

But she had grown obstinate, and waved him away with her hand. “It doesn’t concern you. Go on.”

Lan Jue turned then to Gao Yong. “Maybe you’ll be more forthcoming.”

Gao Yong looked to his mistress, then back to Lan Jue with uncertainty dancing in his eyes. He responded quietly. “Mister Lan, it’s the Purgatory pirate clan. We don’t know how they’ve gained power so quickly… they want to redistribute the territories. They plan to use the ancient pirate way –“

“A duel.” Lan Jue said.

Gao Yong only nodded.

“What manner of dual,” he followed.

Gao Yong answered. “Three bouts of adepts. Four for mechas. Seven contests all together, first to four wins. Here we call this ‘Clash of the Seven Stars’.

“I’m surprised,” Lan Jue said. “With the Moonfiend’s strength I’d assume you wouldn’t have such problems.”

Gao Yong’s smile was a bitter one. “Originally our power was absolute, but recently Purgatory has sent for several particularly powerful individuals to bolster their ranks. We suspect they were poached from the Three Alliances, brought over with six battleships. Before the clan was already not too far off in power to us, but now the gap has closed considerably.”

Lan Jue looked back towards the Empress. “Little Yue, this is something I can help you with. Call it your price, debts settled. Not just for the star map – understand?”

She looked quietly at Lan Jue for a long moment. The emotions in her eyes were numerous and complicated, but controlled. Eventually she spoke. “Up to you.”

Ke’er frowned at the proceedings. “Boss let’s just go. It’s like you’re begging to help her. What are we still doing here?”

Lan Jue did not answer, speaking instead to Gao Yong. “When does the Clash begin?”

“If it were up to them, in three days,” Gao Yong replied. “If Mister Lan agrees to help, we’ll respond accordingly.”

Lan Jue nodded. “So be it. In three days we’ll return to Moonfiend. In the interim we have our own business to attend to. Wait for our return, then we’ll fight in the name of the Moonfiend Pirates.”

Gao Yong’s face was elated. “Many thanks, Mister Lan!” Since learning of Lan Jue’s identity, Gao Yong had grown ever more grateful for Lan Jue’s decorum and restraint that day on the Avenue.

He made his way from the castle, a small smile ever present as a shadow on his handsome face. His three amazons followed behind.

“Boss!” Mika called.

Lan Jue paid her no mind, despite the fact they walked shoulder to shoulder. He arm pressed against her for just a moment.

She said nothing further, and walked along with him in silence. Quietly, she tapped a few buttons in to the communicator on her wrist.

As the four left, Lan Jue said not a word. The verti-car they’d hired waited patiently not far off, ready to depart.

“A moment, Zeus.” The exclamatory voice broke the silence of their trek.

Lan Jue stopped in his tracks, and his features changed, dropping that small smile. Quietly he addressed the voice. “Are you going to force me to kill someone?”

“It looks like my estimates were correct. If I let you leave today, I’m afraid you wont be coming back. The Empress remains as affectionate for you as ever, and though I don’t know what she insinuated, it looks like you understood.”

A large figure was slowly making their way towards them from afar. Reality almost appeared to swirl and bend around them. The various peddlers and pedestrians on the street all quietly vanished. It was clearly felt by Lan Jue’s three protectors that it was as though they’d entered another reality entirely.

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