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Chapter 492: Coming Home

    Chapter 492: Coming Home

    The Seamstress had left Luo shortly after her stint in the tournament. At the time, only the Gourmet knew why. Going to Luo was an opportunity for the Avenue. Not just in the tournament, but it gave them an excuse to purchase goods and military equipment that was only available in the North. They were purchased in good faith, under the edict of mutual aid in the fight against the monsters.

    The Seamstress brought the haul back to the Avenue herself. A short time later was when the Paragons began to notice the strength of the East. During the semi-finals, pressure had already begun to mount against them, and leaving would have been difficult. She got out with their purchases before getting swept up in the North's net. The Great Conclave's focus had been drawn by Lan Jue, the Pharmacist and the others. The Seamstress was small potatoes, comparatively.

    The Gourmet strode forward and wrapped her up in a hug. The two shared a wordless look and smiled affectionately.

    "Homeward," the Wine Master's low voice called. Everyone filed on to the bus.

    Ever since the Clairvoyant shut himself away, the Wine Master had become the leader of the Avenue. But, the entire ride home he never spoke a word. The old man sat as though in a stupor, with a sour expression on his wrinkled face. No one troubled him, or tried to help. This man was from another generation, and it was the place of youth to pester their elders.

    The bus hummed along the road back home.

    Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin sat together. He had his eyes shut, and a neutral expression that made his thoughts hard to guess. Qianlin watched the scenery pass outside her window.

    Did you have something you wanted to tell me? Lan Jue asked through the Soulcaller stone.

    Qianlin: Give me two days. I promise I'll tell you everything.

    Lan Jue opened his eyes and looked at her.

    Two days?

    She looked back apologetically.

    I need to prepare.

    Alright.

    Lan Jue hadn't been able to shake the memory of her rejection. It dug at him like a fishbone caught in his throat.

    The bus reached its destination, stopping outside the entrance to the Avenue. Every face on the bus broke in to a smile when the sight of home appeared on the horizon. Even the Wine Master's.

    When they got off the bus, Qianlin turned to Lan Jue. "I haven't been home for a long time. I'm going to head back."

    "I'll send you home," Lan Jue replied.

    "No, it's fine," she said, shaking her head. "I'll manage."

    She hurried off in the direction of Mount Tai.

    Lan Jue's brows unconsciously knotted. Ever since his confession, she'd been acting strange. She was disconnected. Had he known, he would have kept it to himself. It was better when the two of them were in harmony.

    "Is there something going on between you two?" The Pharmacist's voice interrupted.

    He looked down at Jun'er, tucked in her mother's arms, and shook his head. "Nothing major."

    She nodded. "Come with me to the shop first. I have something I need to discuss with you."

    "Sure," he replied.

    He then turned to Mika. "You all head back first. I'll be at the Hall of Supreme Harmony for a while. Get a room set up for Xiaosu, then inventory what we brought back from the North. I'll be back later."

    "Got it." Mika nodded, and shot a glance toward the Morning Star. There was a visible glint of hostility in her pretty eyes.

    She wasn't alone. None of the Amazons were tolerant of the former Bloodfiend Empress. How could they be? She had almost gotten Lan Jue killed, and Mika kidnaped. Xiaosu didn't appear to notice. She was quiet, but warm.

    Her Discipline was stronger than all the other Amazons, but the Morning Star was wiser than that. IF she wanted to stay here and serve at their side, she would need to at least be cordial. Otherwise, at their word she would be cast away.

    Xiaosu left with the Amazons, and the other Avenue denizens went their separate ways. Lan Jue took Jun'er from her mother and wrapped her in his arms as they left for the Pharmacist's shop.

    When they reached the underground, Lan Jue was amazed at what he saw. There was easily twice as many people now than there used to be - back when he thought it was crowded. Every shop was a buzz of activity. As they entered the Hall, he was floored. The press of humanity was crushing. He slipped on the face mask and gave the sunglasses to the Pharmacist by means of disguise.

    After the Pharmacist's incredible showing, her and her shop had become instantly famous. She was a household name overnight.

    Especially in contrast to outside, the inner sanctum of the Hall was blessedly quiet. If Lan Jue was forced to pick his favorite place on the Avenue, it would have to be the secluded, winding paths of the Hall. The old Chinese-style pavilions peppered throughout were all fastidiously crafted to the principles of feng shui, balance of the five elements and internal powers. It was a place rich with culture.

    They quietly walked the paths to the back, where they deposited Jun'er in to her room. Then, Lan Jue followed the Pharmacist to a small alcove. It had a strange construction, with eight equilateral walls much like the pavilions they'd passed. The moment he entered, he somehow felt different.

    It had a distinct energy within it, while also isolating them from anything outside. The primordial energies of the planet were gathered here. He didn't need to ask to know this was where the Pharmacist did her cultivation.

    She confirmed his thoughts. "This is where I temper myself. Here I have built a conduit of powers, gathering the five elements and eight trigrams. Even the spirit of heaven and earth can be felt. It is also protective, and even a Paragon's breakthrough can't be felt outside of this room.

    Lan Jue smiled. "Why all the mystery? Why couldn't you just tell me on the airship?"

    The Pharmacist, by contrast, looked at him with a serious face. "Because we have serious things to discuss. A Paragon could hear us anywhere but in here, so this is the safest place."

    He put his smile away when he saw her expression. Whatever she wanted to tell him, it wasn't going to be trivial.

    She motioned to a cushion on the floor. "Sit."

    He removed his shoes and settled down on the very traditional hassock, legs folded underneath. He felt a little self-conscious in the very sage-like posture.

    "This is a pretty incredible place, sis. It has got to have a serious effect on cultivation." Lan Jue praised.

    "You can come practice Taiji here," she offered. "Taiji, the five elements, the heavenly stems and earthy branches 1, purple star astrology, they all come from the same root.  They were born from the same source and supplement each other."

    "It would be disrespectful for me to decline," he said with a nod. The best way to advance was still to cultivate with Qianlin, however, they had earned tremendous gains this last month - too fast, in fact. They would need some time to themselves, to stabilize their Disciplines. Not to mention, things were a little tense between himself and Qianlin. At present, finding a place to cultivate on his own was a better option.

    The Pharmacist went on. "It's small, but it took five years of labor, and all the profit from the Hall of Supreme Harmony to realize."

    This took Lan Jue by surprise. It was common knowledge that the Hall of Supreme Harmony had the best income, much to the envy of many. Thanks to her personal strength, and the support of the Clairvoyant, no one caused her any trouble because of their jealousy.

    He knew at least that her profits were head and shoulders above Zeus' Jewelry Shop, but he was still reaping the benefits. What great gains, and he didn't even have to put in any effort! There was an old saying that claimed 'you could do nothing that's better than selling drugs.' All of that money was hard to imagine.

    She saw the surprise on his face. "Do you know why I did it?"

    "I imagine creating such a powerful array is difficult to construct and sustain," he said.

    She nodded. "That's part of the reason. The heart of it is an s-ranked gen, surrounded by a lattice of ten a-ranked. That isn't all that much money, however. Most of it was spent to suppress my own strength."

    "Huh?" Lan Jue blinked at her, confused. She was half a breath from Paragon, and still she struggled to control her own Discipline. What was she ultimately capable of?

    She smirked. "It's strange, isn't it? But it's the truth. It cost me tem times the resources to create an array that would do what I needed. The loss of Jun'er's father has made my Path longer, but repressing my strength has also been a major hurdle. But it isn't entirely a bad thing. The results are similar to the re-cultivation process you're going through. As I keep it down, I can polish and strengthen my Discipline, and master my Domain. When I do ultimately break through, my progress will be much faster than someone like the Gourmet, who broke through normally."

    "I still don't understand why you'd want to tell me this secret," Lan Jue apologized. "Does this have something to do with me?"

    "Not directly, but there is a correlation that involves you," she answered. "First, I'll show you what I am suppressing."

    Her final words were punctuated by a dim light. She spread her hands out, and the light filled the room with a graceful, majestic elegance. Lan Jue looked on as the walls reacted, shimmering with ancient runes. They shimmered, light as air, but there was a sense that their strength ran deep.

    1. This is a complicated system of calculation that's used to precisely pinpoint the energies of a year, month, day, even down to the minute presumably. We learned the fundamentals of it in school to help inform treatment times.
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