“What are you implying Wang Zifeng?” The slow lazy drawl from before took on a silkier undertone, as if slowly dripping honey suddenly fermented into mead. There was still the honey sweetness present but now laced through with the dangerous tang of unknown spices.

“Not implying anything. Only stating a fact.” Zifeng replied without much inflection.

“Today I met a kitten and a young woodland sprite. Coincidentally enough, both bear the vermillion mark.”

Silence met those seemingly simple words. Indeed, they were said in a rather careless and indifferent manner as if only describing the weather.

But on the other end of the communicator Xie Yuze knew that that was far from the case.

Their respective clans were longtime friends and allies as two of the most influential aristocratic lines in the Sky Dynasty. It was not an exaggeration to say that all in Jinling only recognize Wang and Xie but do not recognize the royal name of Zhu.

While the royal clan change over the centuries, aristocratic lines remain long lasting, with some even having older histories than the current royal clan. And the clans of Wang and Xie were two prominent examples.

As two talented Magus born into the direct line of descent of these two formidable clans, the two of them practically grew up together.

They were family friends as well as rivals.

As two of the best in their generation they shared a grudging respect for each other.

Likewise, as rivals they also understood the other better than even their families.

So Xie Yuze could easily detect the discontent in Zifeng’s indifferent tone and heedless manner.

“Truly?” The word was pronouced in a drawn out manner, clear interest laced through each syllable.

“I did suspect there to be more than just the two of us. But now that they have shown up I take it this ‘Clancy’ should be in the same area?”

Zifeng paused.

Ah, how could he have forgotten. His longtime rival possessed an animal’s sense of smell.

“I take that as a yes then.” A low chuckle sounded from the other end of the communicator, silky and intoxicating like the honey mead it brought to mind.

“New Apple, huh? It just had to be on the other side of the world, tsk.”

❂❂❂

“The show starts at 7, don’t forget to bring the ticket!”

Clarence leisurely stroked Miss Maggy’s long and soft fur as he watched Leila rush out the door, an obvious nervous energy surrounding her petite figure. Even her high ponytail seem to whip around in the air with an excited sense of purpose.

Mikhail looked down at the slip of star stenciled purple ticket in his hand with interest. “The Star Witch from the New Apple Dance Troupe? Last time I heard, this dance troupe rarely accepts Norm performers.”

Clarence casted his new housemate a look. The young Slyva was still in the teddy print pajamas Dawn had found deep in the storage closet. He had completely forgotten he even owned the set of pajamas, having been buried under countless other pieces of clothing in his storage closet where he stashed them all after Dawn’s shopping sprees. Long silver hair was also tied up in a messy knot and on his feet were matching teddy slippers.

Clarence pursed his lips, if he hadn’t known better he would have thought the other to be the true owner of The Magpie, so at home the Sylva seemed.

“Leila may be a Norm without any of the fantastical abilities of Eximius dancers but she’s talented enough. The dance troupe founder personally accepted her as a student.” Clarence replied lightly.

“Last I heard Leila was being groomed to be the troupe’s next prima dancer. Today’s show will be her first in the main lead.”

Mikhail arched a brow, “You sound like a proud father.”

Clarence directed an eyeroll at the other. But privately he thought to himself, don’t mention just a father, I can even be your ancestor!

“So aside from the theater in the evening, what else is on the agenda?” Mikhail ignored the eyeroll and asked with interest.

“Well let’s see, the Central Gardens, School of Alchemy, Eximius Square…..” Clarence read off from the list Dawn had left for him, trailing off as he realized just how long it was. He decisively cut himself off, feeling dread at the prospect already. Why did Dawn have to list places that he can just imagine the levels of crowding there will be?!

Mikhail silently observed the other’s darkening expression in amusement. He hadn’t known the Alchemist long but just like Leila’s description of the man on his first night here, Clarence Light was very much a homebody and against socializing.

It had taken the combined efforts of conjoling from Dawn and Leila as well as his own superb acting for Clarence to allow his temporary stay. Mikhail shuffled over discretely and used scratching Miss Maggy’s chin as an excuse to be closer to the other.

He privately harumphed to himself, thanks to his quick-wittedness he now has an advantage over the likes of Ariel Fitzroy and Wang Zifeng. So what if they met Clarence first? He was still the only one to gain proximity to the handsome Alchemist.

❂❂❂

“Were you waiting for me?”

Dressed the simplest Clarence had yet to see him in, Wang Zifeng appeared in a long ankle length white silk shirt with a standing collar where it was held snuggly against his neck with a jade brooch. Slits on both sides of the long shirt revealed black trousers tucked into matching black silk boots embroidered with clouds and flying cranes.

A flash of surprise flitted across Zifeng’s face as he caught sight of Clarence standing outside The Magpie. He automatically ignored the presence of a certain Slyva leaning up against the shop’s window at Clarence’s side.

Clarence nodded, “Hnn, yes.”

Hearing this, Zifeng couldn’t help feeling pleasantly overwhelmed before privately laughing at himself in a deprecating manner. To think he would feel this flattered for someone waiting for him.

But then again, the one waiting for him was completely different from the lower officials or people trying to curry favor with him back at Sky Dynasty.

Put it this way, though Clarence seem to have a mild and amiable temper, but in reality, the young Alchemist often gave one a distant and difficult to approach feeling, not as friendly as he might appear.

As a high ranking official in the Sky Dynasty court Zifeng had much experience in analyzing others and so he could see clearly the inherent qualities in Clarence. It was actually in a way similar to his own personality – polite but distant, coldness born from indifference.

But while the young Alchemist inspired interest within him, it did not seem as if he held the same effect on the other.

Zifeng’s jet black eyes flickered unnoticeably before curving into smiling crescents.

But that will soon change, he was confident of that. His gaze swept past the imterloper in their midst before focusing back on Clarence.

Zifeng smiled, “It seems Clarence is also looking forward to today? I heard that this will also be a tour for you, if belated.”

“….Hnn. Dawn has a big mouth.”

The three of them got into Zifeng’s vehicle, a four wheeled metallic carriage inscribed discretely with Alchemist runes on the metal spokes of the four wheels. Inside the spacious area velvet seats lined the walls. In the center was a low table on which a plate of sliced fruits was placed. A glass cabinet in the corner also revealed delicate cakes and a tea set.

Taking a seat next to one of the windows, Clarence watched as Zifeng simply placed a colored crystal in the concave dip in the wall and immediately the vehicle began to move. If Clarence was observing the vehicle from outside then he would have seen the Alchemist runes inscribed on the wheel spokes light up as their energy was invoked to power the vehicle.

This kind of New Alchemist transportation device was quite common but Zifeng’s was an obviously more luxurious model.

On their way to the first location, the Central Gardens, Zifeng discussed with Clarence the origins of New Apple’s famous garden park.

“Even the Sky Dynasty has heard of New Apple’s famous Central Garden. According to rumors the Central Garden sprang from one of the few rare high leveled Alchemist relics that managed to survive over the millenia. Its form was that of a divinely beautiful flower, petals as white as snow and with a resemblance to clouds, its scent even more intoxicating than wine.” Zifeng said, “when the flower fields in the Central Garden bloom, the scene is that of a sea of flowers or a mass of floating clouds as far as the eye can see. And the Alchemical flower is said to be hidden amongst them, granting the most beautiful dreams to those who find it.”

Clarence let out a light chuckle, “It seems Mr. Wang makes a better tour guide than I could.”

Zifeng smiled at the gest asking in return, “Then do you believe my story?”

Before Clarence could respond, the up till now strangely silent Sylva finally piped up in a slightly contemptuous tone, “There could only be so many blooms in the Garden. If the Cloud Bloom did exist someone would have found it by now.”

Zifeng casted the other a light look. Though he didn’t believe in the story either but that didn’t mean he wasn’t displeased at the other’s undermining.

Oblivious to the charged atmosphere, Clarence looked out the window, announcing with obvious high spirits, “Well, why don’t we see for ourselves if it’s true? Maybe we might come across the Cloud Bloom.”

Both Zifeng and Mikhail looked in surprise at Clarence and his obvious difference from the start of the trip. Interest had replaced mildness and even the normally emotionless silver blues seem to flicker like two blue flames.

Stepping out from the vehicle, they came face to face with a scene the exact image of Zifeng’s description. Countless pure white blooms swayed in the spring breeze, stretching a distance that seem endless. In the backdrop of the surrounding glass and metal buildings it was as if large patches of clouds had decided to descend down onto the center of this busy metropolis.

“So this is the Central Garden.” Clarence gazed into the distance of this dreamlike scenery.

Even though they have yet to enter into the true heart of the Garden, he could still smell the strong and intense aromatic scent that lingered in the air around them. The aroma was that of floral plants but also of the rich, mellowness of aged wine. It immersed all those who take a whiff within, head becoming light and airy as if truly wine intoxicated.

It truly wasn’t an illusion, if one wasn’t careful they could actually become drunk just from breathing in the intense and pure aromatic scent, having the same effect as taking a swig of aged wine.

Clarence could feel his interest deepen, he had yet to come across flowers that have such a unique effect.

“Truly, the Central Garden does live up to all its stories.”

At his side both Zifeng and Mikhail sighed with amazement.

Especially Mikhail, who had on a contemptuous look the whole time Zifeng was telling the story but now seemed too eager to step foot into the Garden.

The further they went inside the Central Garden, the stronger the scent became, and the more intoxicating.

Mikhail’s snow pale skin was already showing the deep red blush of wine intoxication.

He seem to have thought of something, turning around he was about to speak but just as he was about to open his mouth, he noticed that both Clarence and Zifeng seem not at all affected. Eyes clear, breathing normal, and face lacking any sign of wine blush.

Catching sight of Mikhail’s surprise, Zifeng crooked a corner of petal pink lips. “You need to build your tolerance levels, Mr. Lebedev.”

In Mikhail’s eyes, that tiny smile practically oozed smugness and he could read the unspoken words ‘little brat’. It pissed him off to the extent that the light blush on his snow pale skin deepened even further. Heterochromatic eyes widened in a glare, appearing as round as cat eyes.

They walked for about 15 minutes on the path covered with fallen petals before stopping under a tree covered with Cloud Blooms.

Under the tree Zifeng first placed the wooden tea table he brought along. Then lifted a tea set from the basket in his other hand.

The three of them sat around the rectangular tea table, taking sips of tea as they watched the scenery.

Mikhail furrowed his brow, saying with distaste at the bitter tea, “Wine is a much better option.”

Zifeng swept him briefly with a heedless look, “The Central Garden itself is a natural wine spring, so it would be redundant to drink wine here.”

Turning to Clarence, Zifeng said in a much warmer tone, “In contrast, drinking tea here can dissipate the intoxicating effects from the Cloud Blooms.”

Clarence agreed, “That’s true, these flowers are truly special. More intoxicating than most wines even.”

Looking up and around, Clarence felt as if they were sitting amongst a sea of fluffy white clouds. These Cloud Blooms were already impressive enough. Just breathing in their scent was enough to fall drunk. What would the true legendary Cloud Bloom be like then?

Ancient Alchemists could transmute anything into special objects with all kinds of effects and uses. But this was the first time he had heard of a flower being transmuted into an Alchemical artifact.

When he looked back down, his cup was already filled with jade green tea. Looking in Zifeng’s direction, he saw the other with a teapot held in one slender hand, smiling warmly at him.

Dressed as he was in white silk, the Magus seem to be a part of the dreamscape around them, like a Cloud Bloom taken human form.

Silver blues glazed over, for some reason, Clarence felt as if he had experienced this scene before.

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