Chapter 252: The Pharmacist

    Chapter 252: The Pharmacist

    With the young associate's guidance, Lan Jue crossed a cross over a small lake and traversed a lengthy corridor.

    Each step of the way was accompanied by the quiet, peaceful sounds of a guqin 1. The hallway itself ended in an octagonal pavilion, which was host to a woman. She sat behind a square table, upon which rested the ancient Chinese instrument he'd heard while approaching. She played it slowly, her long and delicate fingers dancing over the silken strings like flowing water. 2.

    One corner of the table bore a censer, with a single joss stick poking free. Its pleasing aroma filled the area, as tendrils of fragrant smoke curled through the air.

    The woman looked to be in her twenties, garbed in a long purple dress. Her dark hair was held up in a bun by a jade hairpin, keeping it up and away from her bright and pale face. She was pretty as a picture, an image of ancient Chinese culture and refinement. The music, the smell, the outfit... it certainly made an impression.

    Once they reached the pavilion, the assistant stopped in his tracks. He turned, and once more indicated for Lan Jue to enter. The Jewelry Master did so, and waited with a look of silent appreciation as he listened to the young woman continue her song.

    When she eventually did finish, the final pleasing notes hung in the air like a memory. Resting her delicate hands on the strings, she looked up to regard Lan Jue. With a small, gentle smile, she spoke. "It's been quite a while, Jewelry Master. How have tings been? Is there a problem with my medicines you've come to discuss?"

    Lan Jue smiled pleasantly. "A joke, certainly. If our Pharmacist's medicines are problematic, then there are no decent pharmaceuticals in the whole of the Eastern Alliance. Expensive, perhaps, but nothing can be said with regards to quality."

    The Pharmacist watched him carefully. "I'll admit, I am curious as to why you might require so much high-class medicine. Are we training an army?"

    "Lan Jue offered a lopsided smirk. "It's a secret."

    The Pharmacist indicated the stone stool by the table. Lan Jue approached, and sat. She placed an elbow on the table, and supported her head in her palm.

    "You didn't bring your contingent of girls this time? A solo visit today - it makes me think you aren't here for pleasant conversation."

    Their exchange was temporarily halted as a young girl - dressed similarly in old-style garments - arrived with a couple glasses of tea. The contents were a thin green tea, and as they each took a sip of the refreshing brew it was like a cleansing wash.

    Lan Jue took a second tentative sip. "Excellent tea. You certainly know how to enjoy life."

    The Pharmacist smiled prettily. "Do I? You are daily surrounded by four grand beauties."

    Lan Jue chuckled. "They're friends... more like sisters."

    The Pharmacist's lips curled in to a pout. "Men. Such duplicitous creatures. You think I don't notice the look in their eyes when these young women speak about you? I know what I see."

    Lan Jue's face twitched ever so slightly. He wanted to say something to the contrary, but chose instead to refrain.

    "What do you want, no more beating around the bush." The Pharmacist set her teacup upon the small table and stared at Lan Jue.

    He complied. "The West's two great Adept organizations are coming, and we're going to celebrate their arrival with a friendly competition. A team battle, and four single combat bouts. We're still missing a single challenger for the one-on-one fights."

    The Pharmacist's laugh was as pleasing to the ear as her guqin. "Alright. Things have been feeling stuffy as of late. Let's say... an s-ranked gemstone, and I'll throw my hat in the literal ring."

    Lan Jue snorted with bitter mirth. "Of all those on Skyfire Avenue, you're probably the wealthiest. What do you need all of this for?"

    "To enjoy life!" she said, matter-of-factly. "No one to cause me pain, no one to live me, just me and my work. Hoarding for my funeral, one does suppose. If the mighty Skyfire council should agree with my payment, I'll participate. Otherwise I suppose there's nothing to be done for it - you can find someone more qualified." The pleasant smile on her face was gone, replaced with a frigid expression and an equally chilly tone.

    This woman, he thought - he was a visitor sharing tea, and she so suddenly had become hostile. "Fine. I'll find someone else." A loose organization like theirs, even if they had those kinds of resources, wouldn't pay so rich a price.

    "Stop." The Pharmacist called out as Lan Jue rose.

    "Hm?" The Jewelry Master just looked at her.

    "If you won't give an s-ranked gemstone, that's fine," she began. "You can do me a favor instead."

    Lan Jue regarded her, surprise evident on his face. "You have money, you have power... what else is there that you can't handle on your own? Much less that I can deal with."

    At this, the Pharmacist expression grew... strange. It changed quickly from one of harshness and displeasure, to soft and inviting.

    "Only a man can do what I need. I can't do it alone."

    Lan Jue's eyes widened as he took a tentative step backwards. "I'm afraid I'm not for sale for your entertainment!"

    "Idiot!" A malicious lit flashed through the Pharmacist's pretty eyes. She picked up the tea cup she'd relinquished, only to viciously throw it at Lan Jue's head.

    Lan Jue, out of breath, laughed sheepishly. His hand shot out and grabbed the cup from midair. Not a drop was spilled.

    "What then, speak." He said.

    Suddenly, there was a hesitation in the way the Pharmacist held herself. She rose to her feet as she continued. "Come with me."

    She lead the Jewelry Master along the corridor, the opposite way from which he'd approached. A building loomed at the end of their trek.

    Lan Jue watched her incredible figure as they walked. Narrow hips swelled in to a pert and firm backside that swayed from side to side. By any metric, she was quite the woman. And yet Lan Jue was not drawn in by her allure. He stared calmly ahead, and appeared to have no urge to look her over. He didn't want to be indecent!

    Further, the words of the Wine Master rang through his mind. They were warnings and things of note, that were revealed to him when he'd first arrived at the Avenue and was undergoing his tests. Among those important bits of information was one concerning this very Pharmacist.

    Even in a loose organization like the Avenue, the Pharmacist was a special case. She was not a council member, bet held more authority than any junior member.

    Do not provoke her, the Wine Master had warned. If he did, no one would be able to help him.

    Lan Jue only knew that she was more powerful than him - maybe ninth-ranked eighth-degree... maybe ninth-degree, he couldn't say. Whatever the case, she was strong.

    Certainly, this was the reason the Gourmet had suggested the Pharmacist in the first place. She was definitely a powerful enough Adept for what they needed.

    The Pharmacist led him to the building, and inside. The passed through a courtyard, then entered a second. She stopped when they faced the entrance to a room.

    The room - and in fact the entire building - closely adhered to the architectural principles of the pharmacy, all very ancient Chinese. The wooden doors and window frames were exquisitely designed, and the windows themselves were composed of rice paper.

    Once more, the Pharmacist looked hesitant to proceed. She turned to face Lan Jue.

    "Unless I'm mistaken, you come from a Former Era Chinese Bloodline, Jewelry Master. Is that correct?"

    Lan Jue nodded.

    "What I need," she said, "is for you to pretend to be my husband, for a little while."

    "Huh?" Lan Jue's gigolo comment had been a joke. He had no idea she was actually asking to purchase him.

    The Pharmacist shot him a look so cold it nearly froze him in place. "Put it out of your mind this instant. The whole thing would be a farce. More than a husband, I need you to pretend to be a father - my child's father."

    Lan Jue stared at her in silence. She had no idea the Pharmacist had a husband, much less a child. It was big news!

    "Your child doesn't know their own father?" he asked.

    The Pharmacist shook her head, sending the long silken tresses trembling. Her face was a mask of bitter resentment. "Her father died while she was still in the womb. Because of my sorrow, the poor child was affected, and she was born blind. I've thought for years, searching for any way to return her sight, to no avail. All I can do is keep her close. Lately, though I don't know why, she's been calling for her father. But where am I supposed to find her a father? I was hoping this is where you could help me."

    Lan Jue looked at her doubtfully. "Why me?"

    "Because of your power," she said, "and your pure Chinese bloodline. My daughter may be blind, but she possesses senses no ordinary person could understand. I couldn't just randomly select someone for the position, otherwise she'd know. This is 'why you.'"

    "Then, what do you need me to do?" he asked.

    The Pharmacist went on. "Just spend time with her, every now and again. If you do this, I won't just help the Avenue this once. If in the future there is anything you need from me, I'll happily oblige. On top of that, I'm willing to offer you a special medicine. You're probably aware that my cultivation came as a result of the ancient Chinese Taoist alchemical arts. There is no cultivation method better for reaching the pinnacle of human capacity. The first among these methods, is the Pill of Immortality."

    Lan Jue considered this for a moment. "How long would I be helping you with this?"

    The Pharmacist laughed bitterly. "I can't tell you. Until she figured it out, or is old enough to understand..."

    "This is a very difficult thing you ask of me," he said, a helpless tone to his words. "especially with no deadline. I can't make this promise."

    The Pharmacist stood in silence for a moment. When she looked at him again, two glistening tears were rolling down her porcelain cheeks. "Help a pitiful mother, won't you? I won't impose any limits, there will be no requirements. All I beg is that sometimes you come to give my little one a father. Just... so that she knows a little bit what it's like. A child needs their father, and hopefully with your help she can grow up healthy. I no longer harbor hopes to return her sight, but... but I hope at least you can make sure she doesn't grow up with a broken heart."

    Hearing her quavering voice, seeing her tears, Lan Jue was nodding even before he could stop himself. "Very well. I can't promise a result, but I will help the best I can. As for remuneration, don't worry about it - just help out the Avenue in the upcoming exchange. After all, we are family here."

    "Yes." The Pharmacist nodded her head, ever so slightly. "Thank you. No matter what comes, I will always remember your kindness."

    1. As performed on a very popular Chinese television show

    2. This may also be a reference by the author to guqin music, where Flowing Water is one of the most popular songs from the instrument, and is incidentally the song being played in the video linked above.
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