Skyfire Underground, Zeus’ Jewelry Shop.
Lan Jue was certainly surprised at who he saw. Instantly, he knew why Xiuxiu had him rush down here.
The Four Amazons were masters at the ‘imposing stare.’ This was especially true of Mika, who looked like her eyes were ready to belch fire. The air was positively heavy with her violent intent. The impression was a modicum of self-control was the only thing keeper her from blowing up.
“Zeus.” The newcomer’s tone was respectful.
“Why are you here.” Lan Jue’s response was cold, and hostile.
With their boss’ arrival, the four women almost unconscious stepped back and took up position behind him. Xiuxiu brought over a chair for him to sit on. Lan Jue thankfully accepted and settled on the chair, while Guoguo produced a small warm hand towel. He smiled pleasantly as he wiped his hands. Only once this had been finished, did Lan Jue return his attention to his guest.
“I’ve come to ask for your help. Only you can save the Empress.” The plea was genuine and urgent.
“Help? I think maybe you’ve made a mistake. After what happened when we met you the last time, you still have the gall to come ask us for help?” Mika almost screamed the challenge.
Of course, the target of Mika’s rage was none other than the man who inspired Zeus and his amazons to visit the Shattered Starfields – Gao Yong. The ninth ranked gravity Adept and second hand man to the Moonfiend Empress looked nervously at the five of them.
“Her Majesty had no choice!” He whined. “In truth this was her very last resort. Her sister has been captured, and she’s been forced to concede to their demands.”
Mika opened her mouth to say more, but Lan Jue waved her silent. Her overt anger subsided somewhat. The Pontiff’s ambush during their last visit was specifically to grab her. Forcing Lan Jue to become involved to protect her, causing him to get hurt, was all the Empress’ fault, and Mika’s resentment went to the bone.
“So what do you want,” Lan Jue asked dispassionately. Gao Yong chuckled nervously before continuing. “I’m sure you know that the Empress used to be part of the Pontiff’s Citadel. She was their angel of the morning sun. Disagreements arose and she left,wandering until she settled on the Shattered Starfields and became our Moonfiend Empress. Sadly, the Pontiff had no plans to let her go. They searched and searched, until eventually they found her.”
“I don’t know how the Pontiff learned of your relationship with Her Majesty, or how they planned that ambush. What I do know was that the empress fought them every step for the way – until the Pontiff sent two of his top angels to take her away. She looked calm as they led her away, but she did leave a letter for me to give to you. That is why I am here. Only you have the strength to save my Empress!” He produced the letter with that final sentence, and handed it to Lan Jue.
Paper letters were a rare thing in this day and age. Ke’er reached out and picked it from Gao Yong’s hand before giving it to Lan Jue. He took it up, and opened it to read the contents – a few scant sentences.
“I’m sorry, Zeus. That day when we met, it was like a knife to my heart. If there was ever one thing in the universe I cared for, its you. I don’t expect your forgiveness, and I do not ask for it. I just want you to know that I had no choice in anything I did. They are dangerous people hidden behind sanctimonious faces. They’re even more dangerous than the Dark Citadel. Signed, Little Yue.”
There was nothing in the note asking for help, and it looked like it had been scribbled hastily. He looked a little longer before folding the paper and putting it away. “You can go,” he said to Gao Yong.
The pirate shifted from one foot to the other. “What about my Empress…?”
“Our boss said you can go,” Mika hissed. “Are you deaf?”
Gao Yong was surprise, but remained persistent. “The planet is already falling to chaos without her around to keep the peace. We’ve been the top for so long, and entirely self-sufficient. We rarely go out to plunder any longer. If we don’t bring some order back soon, the Starfields will be a mess just like they used to be as someone seeks to fill the power vacuum. The three starfield planets will once again be homes to the most violent and depraved pirates alive – a galaxy of vice and murder. I’m sure you don’t want this to happen, and neither do we. I’m begging you to help bring our Empress back. We’ll pay whatever price you require.”
Lan Jue remained indifferent. “Go. I’ll think about it.”
Gao Yong still had more to say, but Mika quickly and fiercely removed him from the premises. Once the door was shut, she stomped back grumbling in irritation. “Messing with us the one time isn’t enough, he wanted us to show up for a second round? Does he thing we’re stupid? Boss, don’t let your soft-hearted nature win you over. Nothing good will come of helping that wretched ‘Empress’.”
Lan Jue shook his head. “No… in truth, there’s something I haven’t told any of you. We could have fled last time, before the Pontiff’s men had arrived, but it would almost certainly have led to terrible things for little Yue. She’d told me with her eyes, and if she hadn’t we’d have walked right in to their trap unprepared. Everything I said then was to confuse the Angels and throw them off little Yue’s scent.”
Mika was still not convinced. “You better not be falling for her charms, boss.”
To this, he laughed. “If not a Moonfiend, why not a Succubus, right?”
Mika’s face reddened, but she didn’t pursue the thought. “So what are we going to do? Are you really planning to go and save her? You’re talking about walking right in to the belly of the beast. You’d be facing the total power of the Citadel, and they’re stronger even than Satan’s men. That guy was right when he said they were a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites. There isn’t a halfway decent person among them. You shouldn’t risk it!”
Lan Jue huffed. “You’re assuming I’m all heart and no strength. And anyway, you think I’m stupid enough to take on the entire place by myself? I only was able to beat Michael with a steaming heap of luck. You all can relax, I’m not going to risk my life.”
Mika heaved a sigh. “Fine, fine. You want some water, boss? I’ll pour you a cup.”
Lin Guoguo tittered. “I’ll rub your shoulders, boss!”
Lan Jue could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise – danger! “What are you guys planning? Only the wicked hide their intentions behind unsolicited kindness!”
Xiuxiu offered a demure smile. “We aren’t planning anything. We just see you working so hard lately. We’re just trying to help!”
Lan Jue chuckled. “You think I can’t see through you guys by this point? If you want something, just go ahead and say it.”
It was Mika who spoke up. “Boss, look… we need an upgrade. Our mechas, Zeus one two and three, everything. We should have been doing this years ago. We haven’t talked to you about it because the shop’s been needing work. Now that we’ve had this sudden windfall of power gems, we have enough capital to get the project finished. Business is good enough that we have a surplus, so shouldn’t we be upgrading? You told us to pick a few out and use them before, if you remember. We’ve got some ideas.”
“So this is your secret,” Lan Jue said through a smirk. “Of course there’s no problem. I leave it up to you all. How could I say no?”
Mika, suddenly excited, went on. “We’ll handle it! Ke’er’s already started on the blueprints. What about Thor? Should we re-outfit it as well?”
He shook his head. “You don’t need to bother with Thor, I’ll handle that myself. Focus no your own suits. Remember that you should always handle your mechas by yourself. You shouldn’t rely on anybody to do or help you with it. Only in this way can you really understand every part of your suit. And them ore you know, the more it becomes an extension of yourself. Every top level pilot had made their suit a part of themselves, like a limb and not a tool. They may be made of metal, but mechas are almost sentient things. They have a spirit, a soul. The more you put in to it, the more it will give back.”
The girls nodded emphatically. They exchanged fiercely excited glances.
In some ways these ladies were still kids. Although they’ve been happy here, Lan Jue’s depression had effected them as well. Lan Jue had indeed been busy lately, but he was living. This filled them with vitality as well. In witnessing the strength of the Avenue, watching Paragons rise and fall, and witnessing the god battles, that excitement only grew. They were impatient to get better. They didn’t like to see him in such a rut – how could they help him then?
Lan Jue excused himself and returned his apartments. He laid on the bed and stared at the ceiling with half-lidded eyes. Was there really nothing he could do about the troubles in the Starfields? The amazons were only around because of his intervention.
He need to clear his mind. This trip to the West was starting to look fated. He’d take advantage of the school trip. But first, there were things to prepare.
Blood-red claws swiped at her face, so quick Zhou Qianlin couldn’t dodge. But she reacted quickly, and her right arm shot up to throw her hand between her and her attacker. The delicate bracelet on her wrist twinkled, and suddenly the hollow metal charm hanging from it burst with rays of radiant blue light. Before her eyes, a giant water elemental ten feet tall materialized.
It was the power of the Pelagic Pearl, the one Lan Jue had forced her to take.
This was the first time she’d seen it’s power. It hadn’t been needed during their fight with the pirates, but Lan Jue had required her to wear it before he’d let her participate in the fight.
Now, faced with Granny Bess’ sudden attack, her unconscious reaction had been to call on the pearl for help.
Splash! The red fingernails dug in to the body of the summoned beast. Then, in an impressive display, it froze around her hand and refused to let go. Then, a chilling scene unfolded. The massive elemental darkened until its entire form was a deep crimson, and began to emit a strange odor.
Half a second later, fingernails that had grown five times their size burst through the elemental’s back. It was too quick – and she too stunned – to dodge.
The Pelagic Pearl’s elementals were powerful enough to contest an eighth-level Talent in attack, and a ninth level third rankTalent in defense. This was to be expected, considering its outrageous price. And her pearl was of the highest grade!
And yet it collapse at the first swipe of granny’s wretched claws. It hardly slowed her at all, and the power she’d used had completely corrupted the creature. What sort of nightmarish power was this?
Qianlin shut her eyes tight and projected her will in to the Spirit Caller power gem. But nothing happened. Somehow, the stone had lost its efficacy. The great claws grabbed her, pierced her. She was filled with a freezing terror that sunk to the marrow.