Chapter 390: Hua Li and Mo Xiao
Chu Cheng smirked. “Shouldn’t be a problem during the tournament. You’re right – since the Conclave is hosting, they’ve certainly taken security in to consideration. I know for a fact that Adepts have been told to settle their score in the ring only, no matter the situation. Anyone who breaks that rule will have the Conclave to answer to. Of course that’s only until the tournament ends. After that, we don’t care what people grumble about. The Avenue has sent a good group, but I’m still not sure they can protect you.”
Lan Jue laughed. “Alright, don’t go looking for devils where there aren’t any. I’ve got things under control.”
“Well if you have a plan then so be it,” Chu Cheng remarked. “There are still eight days before the tournament, though. Why’d you come so early?”
To this his friend shrugged. “No reason, really. Prepare for the fight. Let me get in touch with Hua Li and we’ll all go out for a meal tonight.”
He dialed Hua Li’s number in to his communicator as they spoke. A moment later his friend’s voice answered.
“A-Jue? You got here?” Hua Li sounded happy to hear from his fellow Monarch.
“Yup. You got some time tonight for a meal?” he asked.
“Absolutely.” Hua Li replied without hesitation.
But just then a second voice could be faintly heard in the background. “Absolutely my ass! You still have to prepare for the tournament’s opening ceremony!”
“Alright, alright – I’ve given you enough face lately. Give me a damn second to myself, will you? A-Jue and A-Cheng are both here. Worse comes to worse I leave early for rehearsal.” Hua Li complained.
“Fine, I need to eat too so I’ll go. That way I can make sure you don’t run off again.” The woman’s voice continued.
Hua Li could only sigh. “Looks like Mo Xiao’s coming too, A-Jue. Is that alright?”
The Jewelry Master laughed. “Of course, of course. I brought a couple female friends, they can talk.”
The connection ceased, and Lan Jue wondered out loud. “Poor Hua Li sounds like he’s living a nightmare. Mo Xiao has him locked down.”
Chu Cheng laughed at his friend’s misfortune. “You think this isn’t your fault? Mo Xiao was uber pissed when he ran off last time, so much she almost quit. Hua Li’s had to make up for that ever since. Alright, well, you go ahead and rest first. I know a good place for dinner, I’ll make the reservations so you don’t need to run around.”
With that, Chu Cheng left. Lan Jue then took a shower, laid on his bed and pondered the tournament to come. Like he’d told his friend, he could only represent himself this time, and mustn’t show his face around the Skyfire Avenue team. If he didn’t, a discerning observer might be able to guess who Zeus really was.
Although Lan Jue didn’t fear any of the Adepts who would attend the tournament, he didn’t want to bring trouble to the Avenue. This was especially true after his little excursion to the Pontiff’s Citadel. Even if he had to use his Taiji abilities in the fight, the Pontiff’s men wouldn’t be able to link him to the Avenue. He’d only b representing himself.
He didn’t know who the Gourmet brought with him to the tournament. From what he could gather, though, the most likely candidates were; the Driver, the Coffee Master, the Beautician, the Barber, the Seamstress, the Pharmacist and the Accountant. If there were more, he wasn’t aware. The Doctor would probably make an appearance as well.
It was a very strong showing, and certainly enough to properly represent the Avenue in the tournament. While none where peak-level Adepts, it was important to remember that all of them were natural Talents. They got to where they were through hard work alone, without any shortcuts.
The North and West had their own methods for creating Adepts, remolding people in to powerhouses. However, when it came to one-on-one battles a natural Talent had a slight advantage. That was one reason why he had been able to employ his dual Disciplines effectively against Michael and survive. Those Adepts that used these methods were not only inferior in a fight, but also found breaking through to Paragon status significantly harder.
These competitors from the Avenue were their top fighters. They weren’t many, but they were all of appropriate age, and all were higher than ninth level. Then there was the newly minted paragon, the Gourmet himself.
Lan Jue tried to contact the Gourmet, but there wasn’t any answer. It was likely they’d already left for Luo, since coms weren’t used during interstellar travel. This was true for civilian travel of course – military vessels didn’t have this restriction.
Dusk fell across Luo City, and only then did Chu Cheng reappear at Lan Jue’s door. He told the Jewelry Master to gather his two female friends and they would leave for the restaurant.
Chu Cheng had chosen a traditional Eastern eatery. Hua Li arrived not long after they’d been seated, with a woman in blue business attire at his heels. Just as she threatened, Hua Li’s Agent and the famous emcee – Mo Xiao – had come along.
“Hey hey, A-Jue! A-Cheng!” As ever, Hua Li was covered from head to toe. He only removed his glasses and facem ask after walking in to their private room [1. Many restaurants in China – especially the nicer ones – have separate dining rooms for guests]. Mo Xiao walked in behind him, and removed her sunglasses. Though they were large enough to conceal half her face, they were far less extreme than Hua Li’s costume.
“We aren’t late, are we?” Hua Li asked. He didn’t look any different from the last time they met. He was working more, but it didn’t seem to affect him all that much.
Lan Jue smiled. “Nope, right on time. We just got here ourselves. It’s nice to see you, Mo Xiao – it’s been a while.” He smiled amicably at his friend’s agent.
Her face was a frigid mask, and she only acknowledged him with a nod. She never uttered a word.
Hua Li scowled at her.
Chu Cheng was wise enough to skirt the awkward pause. “Take a seat, guys. Let me introduce everyone; this is Hua Li’s agent and the CEO of Gobi Entertainment. If you pretty ladies were ever interested in how business, then Mo Xiao here is the one to talk to. Best agent in all three Alliances, without a doubt.”
“Hello.” Zhou Qianlin beamed her a pretty, friendly smile.
When her eyes fell on Qianlin they grew even colder, but there was surprise behind them. “Hello. You look quite a lot like someone I knew!”
Qianlin shot Lan Jue a glance. “You mean my older sister. We were very much alike. Lan Jue’s made the same mistake.”
The memories caused his face to redden ever so slightly in embarrassment. ‘Made a mistake’ was an understatement.
Wrinkled marred Hua Li’s brow. “Stop acting like everyone owes you money, Mo Xiao. If you keep acting like this how are people supposed to eat?”
Mo Xiao stared hard at him. Her tone was thick with anger. “Who made you run off the last time, huh? Do you know what kind of damages your disappearances caused the company? Lan Jue was the reason for the whole thing.”
Lan Jue chortled. “You think we were going to elope or something? Relax Mo Xiao, alright? Hua Li’s cute but I’m for more conventional fare.”
Hua Li’s face twitched at the underhanded comment. It caught Mo Xiao off guard for a moment too, but she recovered with the same venom as before. “I don’t care about whatever nonsense is going on between you. So long as it doesn’t affect my job.”
Hua Li had had enough. His voice rose. “Will you give it a rest?! We’re here as friends having a meal. If you don’t want to be here then you can get lost – I’ll be back before it affects any of your precious company plans.”
Mo Xiao was silent for a moment, then moisture began to creep in to her eyes. “Y-… you yelled at me! Fine! I’m leaving!” She shot to her feet and did as she promised.
The jovial atmosphere was gone, destroyed by their emotional display. Hua Li’s face was pale, and his features angry.
“You just gunna let her go?” Lan Jue prodded.
The entertainer hesitated, but eventually rose to his feet and followed after her.
Lan Jue sighed. “These two… Mo Xiao’s a good lady, she treats him well. Hua Li’s just projecting.”
“Sounds like gossip,” Chu Cheng urged. “Let’s hear it.”
“It was Hua Li himself told me,” Lan Jue began. “He said he likes someone, but it isn’t Mo Xiao. I think that’s probably the real reason Mo Xiao’s upset. She’s an amazing lady who’s been with him for years, I really don’t get what Hua Li has a problem with.”
Su Xiaosu interrupted, unexpectedly. “Feelings like that don’t come up just because you’ve been with someone for a long time. Especially you playboys, with a heart of iron!”
Lan Jue winced, and Chu Cheng openly laughed. “There’s wisdom in that. But there’s clearly something wrong between the two of them – it’s not that simple. It was pretty terrible of her to embarrass him that way when out with friends.”
Lan Jue motioned toward the table. “Let’s order. We’ll eat when they get back.”
Chu Cheng lookedh is way. “You think Hua Li will bring her back?”
“Yup,” he replied, without hesitation.
Chu Cheng raised a brow. “What makes you so sure?”
Lan Jue winked back. “Wanna bet?”
Chu Cheng waved a hand. “Nope. You’re a right bastard, and I only gamble when I’m sure to win. Alright let’s get some grub.”
Lan Jue was proven right a few moments later, and Chu Cheng was wise not to gamble on the result. It was only a minute or so before Hua Li and Mo Xiao returned to the table. Mo Xiao’s eyes were red like she’d been crying, but the chill in her expression was gone.
“I apologize. I’ve been too tired. It’s made me uptight and hard to be around.” Mo Xiao addressed the group. She said it with a demure smile, but it was clearly forced.
Lan Jue grinned back. “It’s no problem, of course. Let’s eat!”
The comforting food of home made for a fine meal. They partook of heavy meals and light snacks arrayed atop the table. Once they were done, they topped off with a plate of fruit [2. The preferred desert for Chinese.]
“A-Jue, are you afraid participating in the tournament as Zeus will cause problems?” Hua Li asked. Like Chu Cheng, he had his doubts.
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