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Chapter 637: Return

    Chapter 637: Return

    For those in positions of power, the mystery and danger of the alien invaders was of no importance. Their single-minded interest was whether they could get their hands on enough vital crystals. At least for now, the exuvium process didn't look like a privilege everyone would have access to. For many, there was nothing taboo in their pursuit to join that lucky group. They were desperate to extend their lives at any cost. Eventually humanity would puzzle out a way to achieve the same ends without vital crystals. However, you had to live long enough to see the technology succeed.

    Every politician's imagination was on fire with the possibility of eternal life. How could they not scramble at the chance?

    Word of the auction had spread quickly, and everyone's attention was on the East. Clearly, this meant the data they had on these aliens was true. If it were not, how could they have so many crystals?

    "Chairman Zhou, we would be very happy to participate in your nation's auction. However, we will need to examine the cargo, to verify the quality of its contents." A patriarch from one of the North's ruling families grinned at Zhou Xueguan.

    The Chairman responded with a smile. "Of course. We hope to put everyone's misgivings to rest before the auction begins. Take heart, you will have an opportunity to verify the cargo."

    "Thank you very much, Chairman Zhou."

    Zhou Xueguan was surrounded by representatives from the North's financial and political elite. He had patiently answered every one of their questions, including the origin of the crystals. However, there was ever an air of secrecy about him.

    On the second day, the rules of the auction were announced. It sent the Northern dignitaries into an uproar.

    Money would not be an accepted form of payment throughout the auction. That was not uncommon for auctions of particularly treasured goods. In those cases it was more common to use power gems in exchange. However, the East had taken things to a new extreme. This time, the chosen method of payment would be measured in war ships.

    Yes, war ships.

    More specifically, every time someone bid higher on an item the minimum increased bid would be a standard scout ship fully equipped for duty. Ten scout ships equaled the value of a standard battleship; ten battleships added to an expedition ship; ten expedition ships equaled a dreadnought. Ten dreadnoughts were equivalent to a Capital Ship.

    To add insult to injury, the East also offered a buyout option; all one hundred crystals, for one top-of-the-line Bastion. When the auctioneers saw that, they had to fight their first instinct to just walk away.

    The worth of these war ships to any nation was clear. This was especially true with the threat of alien invasion on the horizon. Certainly the East was leveraging their surplus crystals to shore up their strength. It put everyone else in a very difficult position. Trading in ships was very different from exchanging war assets.

    But the East had them beat psychologically. It wasn't only government officials who had been invited, but any organization with the money to participate. After all, everyone dreamed of a longer life. Even though they were all from the North, there were too many people with too much money, too desperate to let their chances be dictated by others.

    With all of the drama, no one paid any mind when a small scout shipped slipped virtually unseen into the Skyfire public airship terminal. No one paid any mind when the small group walked out.

    Walking at the head of the group was Lan Jue, who'd changed into a smart blue suit. He disembarked hand in hand with Zhou Qianlin. The Epochrion, Wine Master, Pauper, Driver, Zeus' five Amazons, and the Accountant followed in a quiet procession. Naturally, Jue Di and Luo Xianni were the last to quite the ship.

    Star Division had been left on An Lun to train, but Lan Jue and his scouting team had come to back to Skyfire to deliver the vital crystals. Considering how much these crystals were worth, Lan Jue felt they needed a sufficiently strong escort.

    "Have you arrived?" Lan Jue muttered into his communicator.

    "Yeah I'm here," came the response.

    A smile spread across Lan Jue's face. "Good, we'll see you in a bit."

    "Right to business the second we touch down? When are we going to have time to cultivate? This is no time to dally! The longer we wait the slowly the transformation becomes." The irritated complaint was, of course, from the Driver.

    "The impatient burn their mouths of hot burn curd," Lan Jue instructed. "I'm more anxious than you are, but you need time to process everything. I'm heading out for a moment then I'll be back, I'm not dallying. You're being too hasty. Remember that the strength of your foundation directly affects your chance to breakthrough to Paragon. Besides that's not even our limit. Not unless you want to stop at the Realm of Protogenia? Aren't you interested in how far you can go? Take it easy."

    The Driver rubbed his beard and stared off into the distance as though thinking. "I understand."

    He had indeed been impatient lately. Excitement from absorbing even some of the thunder essence thrilled him. Although the growth of his Discipline had slowed, the quality of it was evolving continuously. Any Adept would fall head over heels in pursuit of a chance like this. If he were being honest, he'd felt the instability within himself even before Lan Jue pointed it out. However, the Driver figured that making small adjustments once his Discipline became primordial lightning would not be too difficult. Lan Jue's words brought him back to reality and caused him to break out in a cold sweat. If he rushed now, it would only create bigger problems after he achieved Paragon status.

    When Lan Jue saw the consideration and contrition in his friend's eyes, he knew he understood. Adepts at their level were all intelligent, they didn't need much explanation.

    Verti-cars from Skyfire Avenue were already waiting. They filed into the vehicles and headed back toward home.

    Lan Jue led Qianlin and his Amazons back to the Jewelry Shop. The rest of the scouting party went their separate ways. The Wine Master and Epochrion took the vital crystals under their watch. Nothing short of an army would have a chance at taking them.

    As the hours ticked down to the auction, representatives trickled into the Avenue. More detailed information wa revealed about the auction. The entire thing would last two days. Day one would consist of registrations. In addition, every interested party was permitted to send their own appraisers to verify the auction items. The second day would be the actual auction.

    Joining in the auction wasn't so easy, even with an invitation. In order to ensure the safety of the items, and to ensure a smooth auction, everyone was required to put down collateral. It was mandatory in order to confirm participation. If there was even a hint of trouble, the East had promised to cancel the auction without returning this holding payment.

    But, what would count as collateral? War ships, of course. In addition to reserving a party's place in the auction, it also served to prove their capability in paying. Only then could they make a bid. Northerners found no fault in this. After all, this was the first time an auction like this was being held - it was wise to be cautious. For Westerners, however, it was a different story. This was because the East's rules for them were completely different.

    Other than Poseidon Group and Gobi Entertainment, the East did not extend an invitation to any government official or rich family from the West. Initially the West maintained their instance that the news was fake, but assurances from the North changed their tune. Over time the clamoring from Western dignitaries only grew louder.

    The exuvium process and the vital crystals it needed were a budding science, but the rich and powerful had already caught the scent. They knew how important they would be for all of humanity. No one wanted to pass up a chance for a longer life, especially the rich. They were all just as keenly aware of how hard getting their hands on these crystals was.

    The exuvium process wasn't complete, but the fundamental principles had been proven. Scientists knew the vital crystals were its most necessary component, needed to complete study of the process and ultimately employ it. Without them, any study was a waste of time. To get them, though, you needed to kill aliens. Easier said than done. No one was going to be putting these crystals on the market, so a rare auction like this was the only opportunity for the rich and powerful to get the jump on a longer life. Their clamoring was justified.

    Paying one's dues in war ships may have been hard to swallow, but compared to the benefits of the crystals it was a price worth paying. Ask any of the old leaders wringing their hands as the auction neared. No amount of money or weapons of war could extend their lives. At least, not until now.
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