While Clarence became distracted with his musings, it was another story for the other three occupants in the shop.

If it had been anyone else caught up in this strange three way power exchange, they would surely not be as unconcerned as Clarence currently was, let alone become distracted!

Silver blues stared unfocused into space while slender fingers fiddled with the shiny gold occulars that hung on a chain around his slender neck. Completely unaware of the undercurrent of energy flowing around the three men in front of him.

The first to break the silent observation amongst them was Ariel who was used to taking on the leadership role. “I am surprised to see Lord Wang in New Apple. I didn’t expect the Sky Imperial Court could do without its Minister for this long.”

Viridian eyes swept over Mikhail’s lazy sprawl next to the harp before falling on the elegant and poised figure of Wang Zifeng, obviously taking the other as a bigger threat.

“Oh? It seems Major Fitzroy has caught me red handed. I must admit to taking a short vacation from my duties. Now, what will Major Fitzroy do about that?” Petal pink lips curled into a half smile and starry night eyes similarily curved into crescent moons.

Old fox!

Viridian eyes narrowed slightly and cupid bow lips pressed tighter into a line. “Sky Dynasty is out of my jurisdiction. But. New Apple happens to be within my jurisdiction.”

Wang Zifeng continued smiling pleasantly as if having completely missed the underlined threat in those words, “So sorry, it is indeed remiss of me. I only just sent a calling card to the Fitzroy manor this morning. Did Major Fitzroy not receive news?”

Ariel twitched a corner of his lip at the old fox currently affecting a convincing show of apology and gentle confusion in front of him. “I must have left the house too soon then.”

“Well, there you go. We would never be so impolite as to enter another’s dominion without paying a visit. Wouldn’t you agree as well, your Highness?” Wang Zifeng directed a gentle smile in Mikhail’s way, demeanor as pleasant as a spring breeze.

Unfortunately, Mikhail could not feel it at all, nearly falling off the stool he had been sprawled on as he watched the other two men exchange barbs.

Any Schadenfreude amusement was thrown out the window as he tensed in nervousness, peering carefully in Clarence’s direction.

Only to let out a soundless relieved sigh as he noticed that the other for some reason was spacing out, lost in his own world.

Looking back, Mikhail met smiling starry crescents. Finally standing up, Mikhail flashed a lazy smile, “So the rumors of the fourth and youngest Minister of the Sky Imperial Court have their merits. Well met, well met.”

Wang Zifeng demured with a humble incline of a graceful neck, “How can I be compared with such young and talented gentlemen. Why, all the young ladies of Lux admire their-“

“Ai! Ai-ai-ai!” Mikhail raised his voice to cut off the other, all the while amber and turquoise surreptitiously flicked in Clarence’s direction.

Mikhail was truly scared of this smiling Magus. The man was simply an old fox in disguise! He didn’t dare try and provoke the older man anymore.

Ariel had no such compunctions, lacking a weakness for the other to threaten with. “Lord Wang is too humble as one of the most eligible bachelor in the Sky Imperial Court. I cannot imagine how many young ladies are lining up to marry into the Wang clan.”

“Then I must disappoint Major Fitzroy, I have no intention of dabbling in such frivolous matters just yet. As one with similar ambitions and aspirations, I advice Major Fitzroy to spend less time on such frivolous pursuits.”

“Lord Wang is very right. It would not do to waste time on frivolous pursuits. Unlike us younger generation, we have yet to establish ourselves, naturally frivolity should be avoided.”

Ariel flashed a rare brilliant smile, wide enough to show off an endearing pair of parentheses on either side of cupid bow pinks. “But, that does not seem to apply to one of Lord Wang’s esteemed standing and older age.”

“…….”

“Pfft.” Mikhail tried his hardest but the snort still left him. It was in a completely new light that he looked at the normally cold and expressionless young Fera Major who had just made such a caustic remark. Practically, an arrow to the heart!

Forgive him for thinking the other to be an inflexible and old fashioned military officer.

The gentle smile playing on petal pink lips stiffened but soon softened even more, along with the rest of Wang Zifeng’s features, emphasizing his warm jade like appearance. Slightly shaking his head, Wang Zifeng tapped an elegantly crafted folded fan against the palm of his hand.

“It would seem that as the only esteemed and elder one here I must teach you youngsters a lesson on behalf of your family seniors.”

Petal pink and starry black curved into gentle crescents.

❂❂❂

Clarence blinked back into focus, only to come face to face with a brawl happening in the middle of his shop.

“……”

Did he miss something? Weren’t they just having a friendly chat just now?

Clarence shifted minutely, only for an obsidian glass arrow to bounce off the shelf he was leaning on. He could feel clearly the icy current of air it left behind.

“……”

Clarence no longer cared to make sense of what just happened.

“Enough! What do you take The Magpie for?!”

Clarence slammed a button on the Guzzler which immediately stretched out an elongated pipe and sprayed iced lime water on the three scuffling Eximius.

Clarence stared with narrowed eyes and folded arms at the three drenched figures in front of him.

Ariel immediately retracted sharply sinister claws while Mikhail did the same with his archery bow.

Wang Zifeng gracefully snapped his folded fan close, the jade beads and silk tassel hanging from the handle glowing in the afternoon light.

“Well? I’m still waiting for an answer? Last time I checked The Magpie was not a seedy pub where brawls are the norm?”

Clarence raised a condemning brow, silver blues flinty as they swept the three in front of him.

“Apologies, Clarence. The recklessness of young Eximius makes it hard for them to control their forms. I could only try to prevent any damages with a shield ward.” Wang Zifeng replied apologetically, all the while ignoring the indignant looks from the other two at his side.

He held up a palm sized open hinge box that looked like a compact mirror but instead of having a glass mirror inside the concave space, it was set with a circular metallic disc inscribed with golden runes.

To Clarence’s surprise, it was an old warding Alchemical artifact. A true artifact made by ancient Alchemists. But then again, with Wang Zifeng’s background as a member of the Sky Dynasty Wang clan, it was not too impossible he possessed such a rare relic.

And, yes, Clarence was not completely deaf and blind to the world when he had been spacing out.

Clarence twitched a corner of pale lips. The only reason he hadn’t had the Guzzler do more to them beyond an icy lime flavored shower was because nothing in his shop had been damaged in the scuffle.

But that didn’t mean he wasn’t irritated!

“Remind me why all of you are gathered here instead of wherever it is you came from?”

The three Eximius exchanged furtive looks.

Mikhail piped up in a tiny and aggrieved voice, “Clancy said I could stay until my injuries were better. I remembered!”

Clarence cut him a sharp look, “And I remember as well. Someone who has the energy to engage in a brawl surely recovered already.”

Mikhail immediately fell silent.

Wang Zifeng smiled pleasantly, “Clarence, I do apologize for my rude behavior today. It was my fault for showing up unannounced. Please let me make it up another day?”

Clarence’s frown softened somewhat. It was hard to stay angry in the face of Wang Zifeng’s gentle smile and sincere apology. “No, I did say Mr. Wang could visit The Magpie whenever. And I won’t go back on my promises either.”

“Thank you, Clarence. Then we will see each other for a proper tour of New Apple soon?”

After receiving an affirmative nod, Wang Zifeng gracefully excused himself and left without any pestering or unsightly shameless behavior.

Clarence raised a pointed brow at the silent Sylva curled up in the corner as if to say ‘did you see what a gentleman Wang Zifeng was? Follow his example!’

Mikhail averted his face and pretended to be part of the air.

Clarence rolled his eyes.

“And Major Fitzroy? Why are you here? It can’t be to pick a fight with your fellow Eximius?”

Ariel peered at Clarence with large and clear viridian eyes, appearing rather aggrieved despite maintaining an expressionless face.

Don’t ask how Clarence could decipher it from the stony mask the other had on. Strangely, he just knew the other was feeling rather dejected.

Ariel shoved a maroon colored invitation card into Clarence’s hand, “I only wanted to personally drop off an invitation to the charity function the Fitzroys are holding this coming weekend.”

Without waiting for Clarence to respond, the young Fera had already abruptly turned on booted heel and charged out the door.

Ahhh! So embarrassing! Wang! Zi! Feng! I won’t let you get away with ruining my image in front of Clancy!

❂❂❂

A spritely young figure in bright canary yellow silk robes crouched behind a crop of orchid bushes. Slender pale fingers gingerly parted the elegant blooms to peer through the cracks and into the courtyard where a white brocade robed figure sat at a round stone table.

Pearly teeth bit at shell-like coral pink nails as their owner watched the figure in the courtyard fiddle with an elegantly crafted folded fan.

“What are you doing?”

“Eeep!” The cool voice that suddenly sounded from behind had the canary yellow figure nearly fall face forward into the orchid bush.

“Sister! You gave me a fright!” The canary yellow figure swiveled around to reveal a young woman with large eyes and adorable features. Those same large eyes gave the newcomer a massive eye roll.

The newcomer, dressed in pale blue robes but identical in appearance to the young woman in canary yellow, looked disapprovingly at her twin sister. “Yan er, what are you up to peeking on Master?”

Yan er stood up huffily, “I’m not peeking on Master. I’m just worried. Ever since he came back earlier Master has been acting kind of scary.” Yan er tugged on the other’s pale blue sleeve, “say, Wan er do you think someone angered Master?”

Wan er also couldn’t help peering into the courtyard and the figure sitting within. “Is that why you’re unwilling to even step foot inside?”

Yan er played with the silk pouch hanging from her waist in a rather sheepish manner, “Who said! I just don’t want to disturb Master when he’s thinking!”

Before Wan er could respond with more than a raised eyebrow, a melodic voice reached them, “Yan er, Wan er. What are you two doing in the bushes over there?”

Yan er jumped slightly, before scowling miserably at Wan er, “It’s all your fault Master discovered me!”

Wan er didn’t bother telling her silly twin that Master had been aware of her presence behind the orchid bushes from the start.

“Master, there is a call from Lord Xie.” Wan er held up a bronze octagonal shaped flat object the size of a grown man’s palm and embedded with agate rocks.

Wang Zifeng paused briefly, before reaching for the object. Looking down, the bronze surface was indeed flashing a soft light. Waving a hand Wang Zifeng dismissed the twins, his attention now taken up by the object in his hand.

Yan er left quickly with a relieved look, canary robes fluttering behind and causing her to resemble the tiny bird even more.

Wan er shook her head as she followed at a more sedate pace.

“So it’s true? Our Minister Wang actually took a 2 week vacation?” A low drawl like dripping honey or dark molasses immediately sounded after Zifeng pressed on one of the agate stones.

Though the bronze object could only relay voice and not appearance, just the voice alone was enough to let one’s imagination roam.

It was a rich and opulent voice, and at first impression brings to mind luxury and splendor.

But underneath the refinery was a dark undercurrent of subtle menace. Like a razor sharp blade hidden inside a sheath made of precious metal and encrusted with priceless jewels.

“Are you that idle?”

Before the other could reply a shrill, tormented cry interrupted, traveling through the bronze Alchemical artifact to echo in the courtyard he was sitting in.

“Xie Yuze! You’ll meet your sticky end! I curse you -”

The shriek immediately cut off, so sudden it was as if someone had cut the strings to a puppet, leaving only silence behind.

“Ai~ these fellows. Can’t they come up with more original last words? Something special to mark the last major event in their lives.”

“Xie Yuze, are you that bored? It seems even murder can’t even shut you up.”

A low whistle sounded. “What’s got an old fox like you this irritated? How rare, how rare!”

Wang Zifeng smiled as pleasantly as always but starry jet eyes appeared cold and unreadable.

Two vermillion marks flashed through his mind, one half hidden under a golden mane and the other peeking out from a rolled up sleeve. Their appearance was brief as their owners moved to avoid the path of celadon gales.

But Zifeng was positive on what he had seen in that split second.

“Having to share the same fate with a rogue like you is vexing enough. But also with two barely weaned whelps? Can you still smile now, Xie Yuze?”

“……”

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