As they moved from the atrium to a small, one level tract home, the old man's sandals made a whispery shsh-shsh sound as he shuffled forward.
"Most men seek strength and power," the old man said. "Few ever seek right kind."
Lucas stared at the man's feet, hypnotized by their sibilance. "Right kind."
"Man want to defeat other man, for gain or prize. But man, and prize, only transitory."
Lucas frowned. "Transitory?"
"Temporary. Here today, gone tomorrow. Most men never seek to defeat greatest enemy."
"What do you mean?"
They entered a living room that smelled like oranges. There Lucas saw plants in pots with Chinese writing on the side. On a table, a figurine of a fat man, legs crossed, held an incense stick. A tendril of smoke snaked into the air from its still-burning tip.
The old man said, "Death is man's greatest enemy."
Lucas nodded. Here was the story, just as Li Huang promised. "Yeah, okay," Lucas said. "But no one can really defeat death."
The old man shot him a look that Lucas had seen before on the faces of many teachers, a look that showed contempt for a lack of knowledge.
"You have never heard of Xu Fu and his quest?"
Lucas shook his head. Li had told him the story, but he didn't want the old man to know.
The old man turned and stared at a portrait on the wall. In it, Lucas saw a man whose appearance was similar to that of the old man. In the crook of his right arm, the man in the portrait carried scrolls; in his left hand, he held a walking stick.
"Many years ago, Xu Fu served as sorcerer for Qin Dynasty. One day, Emperor Qin send for Xu Fu. 'I do not want to die,' he say. 'Tell me. How do I defeat death?'" The old man turned to face Lucas. "Xu Fu tell the emperor about legend of elixir of life. He would need to climb Mount Penglai, the mountain of power, and talk with Angi Sheng, an immortal believed to have already seen one thousand years. Maybe, with enough money, he could convince Angi Sheng to share knowledge."
"And did he?"
The old man closed his eyes while he talked.
"Xu Fu left with three thousand boys and girls, to seek out what the Emperor desired. But that wasn't all. Xu Fu wanted the knowledge for himself, so he could share it with Emperor's daughter. Maybe then they could live together, forever."
"But he never found it," Lucas said, "Did he?"
The old man opened his eyes. "Found it he did. In fact, he killed Angi Sheng to get it. Froze him, and then ate him. That was the way, though it was never permanent." He shuffled over to a bar and opened a cabinet from which he produced several bottles and an empty cup. As he poured and mixed contents, he continued his story. "When Xu Fu returned, he discovered Emperor's daughter already given to another man. So Xu Fu never shared the knowledge. He lied and said he could not find the mountain of power. Years later, the Emperor died."
Finished with his mixture, the old man turned and handed the cup to Lucas. "For the power you seek." He nodded at the drink. "Waste not, want not."
Lucas stared at the cup. "Tell me," he said. "Whatever happened to the children?"
The old man frowned.
"You said Xu Fu left with three thousand boys and girls." Lucas looked the old man in the eyes. "What happened to them?"
"The same for all children. Some grow old and die. Some not."
Lucas stared into the cup again. Li Huang told him not to drink it, but only to have the old man mix it and pay attention as to how it was done.
He shook his head. "Unh-unh. I'm not drinking this."
"So... Li told you, did he?" A dark expression covered the old man's face. "But did he tell you everything?"
The question sent an electric current through Lucas's body. Li had said the old man was smart, but with a little luck they could outsmart him. Now, though, Lucas questioned who was who, and what role would he eventually play. And to think, it was all for a girl.
A smile curled at the corner of the old man's mouth. "Fine," he said. "You not drink, then I take cup."
Before Lucas could react, the old man grabbed his hand—lightning fast, which was confusing because of the way he shuffled earlier. Was that all for show? Lucas felt a sharp prick, and everything turned to ice—his hand, his arm, his chest, even his legs. He couldn't feel or move anything, but he could see and hear everything.
"Come out, Li," the old man said.
From around the corner, Lucas saw the young boy with the elven face enter the room, his hands behind his back. "Master Xu Fu."
"You disappoint me."
The boy looked at Lucas.
"And such a nice boy, too," Xu Fu said. "Such pretty eyes and delicate ears." He reached up and snapped off an ear. Lucas didn't feel it, but he heard the crack. Xu Fu put the ear in his mouth, like he would a potato chip, and chewed.
"It was never in the drink," Xu Fu said. He showed Li a stem with thorns on it.
"I know that now," Li said.
"Tell me. Is the student now to be the master?"
From behind his back, Li produced a gun. The loud crack pulsed through Lucas's frozen body. Xu Fu fell to the floor. He coughed once, twice, and died.
Li Huang walked over and stood in front of Lucas. Sadness filled his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I've been doing this so long, I honestly thought it was the drink." He reached up and snapped off the other ear. "Still... Waste not, want not."