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Chapter 496: BOSS!

    Chapter 496: BOSS!

    "Quick as the wind, this girl," Lan Jue muttered helplessly.

    "Boss!" He suddenly realized the customers had all gone. The four amazons all stood at his back, hands on their hips. He awkwardly plucked off his mask and coughed.

    "Em, do you girls want a hug, too?"

    "Hmph!" They shouted in unison.

    "Ladies," he said, his face spreading in to a winning smile. "It's so nice to be home, let's not ruin the mood, am I right? In fact, I think we should have a drink and celebrate, what do you think?"

    They couldn't hold it, and Ke'er bubbled in to laughter. "I don't care, but I do want a hug. You all going out and leaving me behind... you don't know how much work it was!"

    Mika replied. "It was no cake-walk for us, either. Running this way and that, hiding our identities, making deals and buying supplies... it wasn't easy!"

    They made their way toward the far counter of the jewelry shop. The ladies were careful to keep Lan Jue captured in the center of them.

    His shifty eyes flit in all directions. "I'll have you know, girls, that I'm a man of integrity!"

    "Like this is some sort of rare happening," Ke'er quipped. She stuck her tongue out at him, and the other girls tittered.

    "Alright," Mika said, "business to discuss. How has the store been these last few days, Ke'er?"

    She nodded. "Business has been unusually busy. Our stock is down to forty-three percent. Everything is selling like hotcakes, it doesn't matter the price."

    Lan Jue bobbed his head in understanding. "To be expected. In the face of a crisis, everyone wants to prepare, and make themselves as strong as possible. These gems are used in ships and mechs, but any Adept worth their salt knows that making their equipment stronger improves survivability. Down here, the ones who come to buy are the smart ones. You watch, soon these things will be strategic resources for the coming fight. I suspect personal sales will dwindle or stop in the near future. I think we should close the doors for a while, not for any profit reason, but to arm ourselves."

    "Yeah." The four amazons each nodded their heads. Beyond simply agreeing with their boss, they would follow his decisions unconditionally.

    Lan Jue went on. "So now that we know what we've sold, Mika, tell us what we got."

    A glimmer of excitement lit up the Stygian Succubus' eyes. She began with a dark chuckle. "Oh, we got quite the haul. Luo is the capital of the North and is fat with all kinds of resources. Under the boss' instruction, we went out to go look for power gems to restock. Thanks to the bets we placed on him during the tournament, we had no trouble getting everything we needed. We cleared out about thirty percent of all the stones in their market. Our focus was on A- and B-ranked gems. It's certain that after the Terminator's announcement, prices will skyrocket. Meanwhile we're got plenty of working capital. The boss was right, power gems are going to become a precious commodity, and we're sitting on a giant cache."

    Lan Jue cut in. "I need you to take stock of everything we have. Make a list, and make sure the Wine Master gets a copy. Whatever the Avenue needs, we sell at cost."

    "Yess, boss," Mika answered.

    "Boss, why did she leave?" Now that the important business was done, Mika switched gears. She scowled out the window to the Avenue outside.

    Lan Jue made his face unreadable. "You ran her off."

    Mika's eyes snapped back to him. "We never did anything to her! We may not like her all that much, but she was the one that set up the trap in the Starfields."

    Xiuxiu interjected. "Boss, don't be mad. Let me run out and bring her back."

    Lan Jue's displeased expression turned her way. "You're the good one, Xiuxiu. When did you start being so insincere?"

    This made Lin Guoguo chuckle. She tugged on her arm. "Because we all think four is enough! Any more and you won't be able to control us!"

    Lan Jue's stern expression collapsed at the joke. "Alright, that's enough innuendo. I leave and you all gang up on me. Anyway, Xiaosu's life has been a difficult one - much like all of you. Hell, she's had it worse."

    He went on to give a brief look in to the pirate leader's life. The girls listened dutifully, and when they heard about the dark underbelly of the Citadel, their faces changed.

    "Boss, we were wrong." Mika hung her head. "I had no idea the Pontiff's Citadel was even filthier than Satan! What a hypocritical bastard!"

    Lan Jue shrugged. "It's fine, I don't blame any of you. I just wanted you to know that Xiaosu's life wasn't so easy. So also didn't leave just because of you all. The remnants of the Moonfiend Pirates are still loyal to her, so she went to help them. I trust in her abilities. She built her clan up to the fiercest group in all of the Shattered Starfields, and they were the unquestioned masters of the place.. She's had constant battlefield experience, ever since she was young. We have to let her stand on her own feet. Oh, and I lent her Zeus-1, what do you think?"

    "WHAT?!"

    ζ

    Lan Jue slinked to his room, though perhaps it would be more accurate to say he was cast out of the store. As a boss, the last couple days had been a trail, but in the end a smile was on his face.

    Tough work, but comfortable!

    When he entered, Lan Jue immediately fell back on to his feet. His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling, and his mind began to wander.

    What a trip, and in the end it had been indispensable. He'd found two ancient gods of wine, saved Su Xiaosu, and walked away from the North as Champion of the Great Adept Tournament. His heart, mind and Discipline had all benefited tremendously.

    Emotionally, however, there was still uncertainty. Qianlin's rejection weighed heavily on him, and had his stomach tied in to knots. He was not once to force people, and especially not Qianlin. He needed time to straighten everything out in his head, and so did she.

    Lan Jue pressed his fingers to his temples and began to rub. His eyes lit up as a sudden thought popped in to his head; he should go see the A.R.C. students. Now they knew his identity. He could no longer continue his etiquette classes, but they insisted on keeping him on as a drillmaster. He would be needed to help these A.R.C. students continue their growth, and anything to help humanity prepare for the invasion was needed.

    Lan Jue dialed a number in to his communicator. It rang three times before connecting.

    "Yeah." A deep voice answered.

    "I'm back on Skyfire. How are things over there?" Lan Jue asked.

    "Right now, everything's normal. All three Alliances have turned their intelligence resources toward the monsters. The only thing we've been able to determine for sure is that they're headed our way. Sometimes they speed up, and sometimes they slow down. It makes it impossible for us to know exactly when they'll get here." Lan Qing delivered the report in a matter-of-fact tone.

    Lan Jue asked, "have we managed to learn anything new?"

    "They have surprisingly strong counterintelligence measures. We learned our lesson from the North, and keep our probes at a distance. From what we gathered, this is a deadly race. These three planets aren't planets at all, they're living beasts. They invade a world, suck its lifeforce dry, then use its husk to transport it to the next victim. Military personnel have discovered from Taihua that these creatures are capable of pillaging everything from a planet and use it for their own improvement; metal, power gems, anything. However, the energy they get from those is significantly less than from a planet's vitality. Somehow, they take this life force and convert it in to energy for themselves."

    Lan Jue couldn't help but suck in a breath at his brother's report. He knew what this meant. Humanity exploded across the galactic stage, and now sat pretty at five hundred billion strong. Add to that the plethora of flora and fauna on these planets, and it was clear why the pillaging aliens had their eyes pointed in their direction.

    "I want to help," Lan Jue said.

    On the other end, Lan Qing was silent for a moment. After a moment, his voice answered. "Don't."

    "Huh?" Lan Jue's eyes widened. It was only a word, but he knew his brother, and he could hear something else behind the word. Could the Supersoldier of An Lun be doubting humanity's chances? He could hear something different in his mood.

    He'd never heard anything like it from his brother before.

    Lan Qing changed the subject. "When are you going to see him?"

    "In a few days. You?"

    "It doesn't look like I'll be able to. Too much to do. You should head over there yourself, first."

    "Myself?" Lan Jue sounded almost scared.

    Lan Qing answered with some measure of comfort. "You had to go see him sooner or later. Me going would only be to help shore up your courage - I can't really do anything substantial to help. It's all on you."

    "Alright. I'll go see him. At least I won't show up without something to help me save face," Lan Jue joked.

    "You've grown quickly," Lan Qing affirmed, "have things been alright?"

    "Some, here and there," Lan Jue answered. He didn't hide things from his brother. He told him all about the issues between him and Qianlin.
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