Chapter 468: Get Back Here!

    Chapter 468: Get Back Here!

    Lan Jue quickly replied to his two brothers. Afterward, he stared for a moment on the next number on his list. His eyes narrowed.

    Sensing something wasn't right, Qianlin looked his way. "What is it? Are you alright?"

    He smirked bitterly and shook his head. He hesitated, but after a moment ultimately dialed it in.

    "Doooo... dooooo" The low ring sounded twice before someone answered.

    "When the tournament's over get your ass back here!" Click! One sentence and the connection was cut. Lan Jue just sat there in stunned silence for a moment. He shook just a little bit.

    "Lan Jue, are you..." She swung around to stand in front of him, and took his hands in to hers. They were cold and clammy.

    "It's fine. Qianlin, after the tournament would you mind coming with me somewhere?" His tones were soft and secretive.

    She didn't hesitate. "Of course," she answered with a nod.

    He breathed a heavy sigh. They lapsed in to silence, with Lan Jue chewing his lip as long-ago memories flooded his mind.

    Is he really ok? We should go back.

    Just then, Lan Jue quickly made another call.

    "Yeah." The voice on the other end was low.

    "He's called me back," Lan Jue said. He sounded defeated.

    Silence. After a second, Lan Qing answered. "When you plan to go back give me a call. I'll go with you."

    "Alright." His brother's assurances seemed to give him a little bit of backbone. He hung up, then swallowed his half glass of wine in one gulp. The cool and refreshing flavor of the beverage spread through him. He felt like he could breathe again. Lan Jue pecked the back of Qianlin's hand with a kiss.

    Hua Li and Chu Cheng arrived together. They had already been hanging out when they got Lan Jue's call, discussing the fights to come. They wandered in to the restaurant and looked around for a moment before spying their brother.

    The very moment Chu Cheng saw Lan Jue's get-up he burst in to laughter. "A-Jue! Looks like you've finally had your day, eh?!"

    "Gloating is hardly gentlemanly," Lan Jue muttered.

    "Congratulations," Hua Li added with a smirk.

    He nodded. "Truth be told, I won because of a fair amount of luck. I didn't expect him to suddenly get so strong."

    This made Chu Cheng frown. "Shit, the same could be said about you! You Easterners are shameless, you know that? The Pharmacist will win her fight, then the finals will be dominated by your Alliance."

    Lan Jue could only shrug. "The North took that chance when they hosted. It's not like they can stop us from participating."

    Chu Cheng's face only soured further. "This is gunna be trouble. Dad's already been summoned to some meeting. I have a feeling that if the East does sweep the finals, the North and West won't leave it at that."

    Lan Jue was suddenly fearful, remembering Jun'er a few blocks away. "You think they'll make a move?"

    Chu Cheng grunted. "Hard to say. At the very least, you guys need to be careful. I mean, you won't have to worry until after the tournament. They won't do anything with all of humanity watching. Those of you from the Avenue are probably fine, but that may not be the case for those two unaffiliated ones. I've heard those two have already been contacted by agents from the North and West - though I don't know what they said."

    "A-Cheng, I don't want you anywhere near this," Lan Jue said, suddenly serious. He didn't want his friend even remotely incriminated in something so dangerous if it could be helped. There was, of course, the possibility of betrayal - after all, Chu Cheng was a Northerner 1.

    Chu Cheng seemed to understand. "Alright, enough about that then. If anything happens I'll make sure you all get out ok, but you should prepare. You're already persona non grata out here. And **, son, talk about sneaky! When did you become a peak-ranked ninth level?! You're as strong as the big guy."

    "You scared? If it wasn't for this tournament, I'd have kicked your ass up and down Luo City already." Lan Jue grinned at his compatriot.

    Chu Cheng snorted dismissively. "If I can't win I won't fight, what are you gunna do about it? Now let's get some goddamn food, I'm dying over here. A-Li and I were about to grab some grub when you called."

    "Where's Lina?" Lan Jue asked.

    Chu Cheng shot a quick look Qianlin's way. "That girl is cunning as all hell. She's been stringing me along and I'm not gunna put up with that nonsense. There are always other fish in the sea. Anyway, what was up with Titan yesterday! I don't remember him being that strong at all. No doubt luck was at play, just like you said."

    Lan Jue nodded again. "He must have done something to raise his strength quickly, before the fight. He's about as close to Paragon as you can get, but has no real understanding of protogenia. That final step to Paragon status will not be at all easy for him. My guess is you'll break through to Paragon before he does."

    "Is this your attempt at comfort," Chu Cheng teased. "Don't you worry, when you leave I'm gunna really apply myself. I can't let you all leave me in the dust. I ran in to uncle, actually, and he taught me some of the cultivation methods he'd learned. He asked me to bring them back home and teach them to the family." When the discussion reached the Gourmet, Chu Cheng's eyes became red, ever so slightly.

    Lan Jue felt for his brother. "He didn't want to go back?"

    Chu Cheng gave him a biter smile. "He said he couldn't face his brother, my dad. He's acknowledged that what happened all those years ago was a misunderstanding."

    Lan Jue, moved by the situation, added, "Tell your father not to pursue it, A-Cheng. He has a whole lot on his plate, not the least of which is keeping trouble from your family. The relationship between the North and the Avenue is tricky right now."

    "I know," Chu Cheng replied. "Uncle said the same thing. We met in secret, you can relax. No one knew anything."

    The restaurant they'd chosen wasn't anything special, providing only traditional Northern fare; grilled fish, prawns in garlic sauce, salad and so forth. With the addition of the white wine, it was a fine meal.

    They ate until the four of them had reached their limit.

    Hua Li patted his stomach. "Now that you're in the finals it doesn't look like you have easy fights to look forward to. Don't let up! But on top of everything going on, you have to be extra careful since everyone knows who you are now. Now that I think of it you all can use the Gobi Entertainment ships for transport if you need to. Even the North doesn't want to upset us."

    That was an understatement. Gobi Entertainment and its parent the Poseidon Group was the largest business collective in all of Alliance space. They were based in the West, but they'd grown past the borders of a single Alliance. They were everywhere. He had single-handedly crippled Reims' economy after he'd heard about their assassination attempt against Lan Jue. Not even the Pontiff was able to solve that easily. They even had enough power that they could cause the powerhouse that was the North's economy to stumble if they really went for it.

    Lan Jue gave his friend a small smile. "If it comes to that then you'll hear from me. You both can relax, I've got it all figured out. Skyfire Avenue isn't an organization they can easily push around."

    Hua Li nodded. "Good."

    Lan Jue stretched. "It's getting late, I think I'm going to call it and head back. I have work to do for tomorrow."

    Hua Li smiled. "You've really put the pressure on A-Cheng and I, after advancing so quickly. At least it compels us to want to catch up!"

    "Then we're all gunna be working hard," Lan Jue urged. "One day we'll all be Paragons, then we'll really be the Four Divine Monarchs.

    Hua Li and Chu Cheng exchanged a glance. In one voice, they answered. "Looking forward to it!"

    Before long he and Qianlin were back at the hotel. He took up the Pharmacist's medicine, then they set about cultivating their abilities. Part of the reason he'd wanted to go out and eat instead of stay in and work all day, was to relax. Too much pressure inhibited a person's recovery time.

    Lan Jue uncorked the china bottle the Pharmacist's had given him, and it immediately filled the room with the distinct aroma of medicine. He poured its contents out in to his palm; a single pill.

    It was a dark, verdant green, about the size of a lychee fruit. Strangely, it glowed with a light that radiated out from within it.

    When he popped it in to his mouth, the sizeable pill immediately dissolved and slid down his throat. The bitter, acrid flavor slithered down in to his belly. Soon, however, the unpleasant flavor was replaced with a mellow, sweet aftertaste.

    The warm and relaxing feeling spread out from his stomach like he was sitting in a bubbling hot tub. His damaged meridians were quickly relieved, and those that had expanded from use were fortified. After only a short time, he could sense a sort of glossy sheen covering his energy pathways.

    He didn't need to ask. He knew it must have been some benefit from the Pharmacist's decoction. Although he didn't know what this medicine was, it was easy to guess its worth by how quickly it started to work 2. In the end it did just what the Pharmacist said it would do; support, not improve.

    1. Here, again, we have the important distinction that country > even very close friendships.

    2. An interesting shift going on in China now is the move from 'slow but healthy' to 'quick and easy.' It was a very clear trend in China that traditional, healthier lifestyles are quickly being discarded for more instantly gratifying western methods.
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