Skyfire Avenue Chapter 121-130

Chapter 121: Jin Yan’s Trust

Lan Jue chuckled. “So afraid of death! In this aspect, your in much better straits than Jin Tao – thanks to your natural talent. You’ll suffer, to be sure, but don’t worry. Your path is considerably less dangerous. His Talent is simply too weak to match up to yours, unless we take steps to change that.”

Tang Xiao’s mouth hung agape. “Professor, surely you aren’t saying that with these measures Jin Tao could reach ninth rank?”

Lan Jue fixed his pupil with a stare. “Interesting response.”

“Man…” Tang Xiao almost looked dizzy from what he’d learned. “This guy’s making out like a bandit. If you had a method to get someone to ninth rank almost anyone would be willing to give it a shot, no matter the dangers. To reach the very pinnacle of human ability! Dumb-Mutt sure as hell is a lucky one.”

Lan Jue’s response came in quiet, earnest tones. “What I require from you is simple; don’t let him surpass you. If you do, it’ll prove to me you don’t have what it take to be my pupil. Do you understand? Alright, that’s all for you today. We’ll begin

tomorrow, and your training will officially commence. We’ll find somewhere else to meet as well, away from the school. This place is no longer suitable.”

“Yes, Professor.” Tang Xiao rose, letting his respectful answer serve as goodbye.

But as he turned to leave, he suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Professor,” he began, his voice low, “If one day I’m strong enough, do you think I’ll be able to beat that man from yesterday?”

The question took Lan Jue by surprise, but it quickly became a smile. “If one day you’re strong enough to do so, you’ll have earned my pride and respect.”

Tang Xiao’s knuckles whitened as he tightened his fist. “It’ll happen.”

He quickly made his way from the small yard.

“Oi, this fatty. He actually wants to beat on me.” An indignant voice arose from nearby.

“What’s wrong with having such lofty ambitions? If there does one day come a time when you can’t best my pupils, you’ll probably have to give up the title of Poseidon.” Lan Jue hadn’t expected the intrusion, and grinned broadly.

“He’s dreaming,” Hua Li muttered in agitation. “But it looks like you’re really gearing up to train these guys properly!”

Lan Jue nodded. “If what Piao Hong said was true, then we ninth ranked Talents have a responsibility to all of humanity.”

“Should we wait here a while before we respond to them?”

Resolution shone in Lan Jue’s eyes, and nodded in agreement. “What are personal gains and losses when the fate of our galaxy lies in the balance? Moreover, in the last three years I’ve done nothing to improve myself. Thor will also need some polishing. When this competition they’ve concocted is over, I’ll really need to make myself stronger. I can’t keep losing out to him.”

“Good! Then we’ll train together. Without you trying to run ahead I wont have the motivation to improve myself.” Hua Li stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels, the picture of leisurely cool. Of course, this was somewhat offset by

his giant facemask and ridiculous sunglasses.

It was then Jin Tao returned with the clearly confused Jin Yan. Upon seeing that it was indeed Lan Jue upon the bench, she visibly relaxed some.

“Professor Lan,” she greeted, smiling.

Lan Jue rose and returned her greeting. “Hello Professor Yan. I apologize for being bold in asking Jin Tao to call you here. It is something important we have to discuss. I felt it only prudent that I consult with you and his family, as close relatives, before any further action was taken.”

“Professor Lan, don’t frighten me,” Jin Yan stated. “What could be so important? Dumb-Mutt! What terrible thing did you do this time?” It appeared Jin Tao pulled her here directly without explanation – probably because he wasn’t sure himself of what his teacher was planning. He wouldn’t be able to explain it to her clearly even if he knew.

Lan Jue hastily waved his hands. “He didn’t do anything wrong. Professor Jin. Take it easy, and listen carefully to what I have to say. I’ve decided to take Jin Tao on as my personal

disciple.”

Jin Yan looked at him in surprise, but it quickly changed to joy. “This is excellent news! This kid’s always needed a good guide. You probably didn’t notice, Professor, but that first time in your class I noticed how engrossed Jin Tao was in your lecture. I knew from that instant you’d be the only one to get through to him. Frankly speaking neither me  or  my  parents have ever really had any success with him, we just hoped he’d grow to be a useful member of society. If you’ve agreed to teach him then that’s amazing.”

This time it was Lan Jue who was struck silent. He looked at Jin Tao. ‘Dumb-Mutt’ resolutely held his gaze.

No wonder he rushed headlong towards any opportunity. Even his family, the people who cared for him, expected nothing to come of his life. As a man, an adult, so much was hidden away, buried within him as a result of his treatment. Behind his flippant nature, there was deep insecurity – and an iron stubbornness.

“I plan to train his Discipline, Professor Jin. But during the training process he’s likely to encounter some risks. I cannot guarantee his safety. Of course, I’ll do everything in my power

to protect him, and reduce the risk of harm. This is why I needed to speak with you. If you all agree to have him study with me, he’ll probably have to leave school for a time as we work on his foundation. From there he’ll rise quickly. It’ll take about three months. We’ll say he needs sick leave. This, too, will require you and your family’s agreement.” Lan Jue spoke clearly and slowly to ensure Jin Yan understood the gravity.

“Sick leave? Three months?” Questions were clearly written on jin Yan’s face. After a moment, she resolutely nodded her head. “You’re right! Jin Tao absolutely needs work, from the bottom up. You’ll need to start from the beginning. Professor Lan, I’m very sorry for all the trouble you’re going through to help my brother. This is no problem, I’ll have him set for sick leave as soon as possible. If it weren’t for our family connections he’d never even have made it in to the school, much less have graduated. Professor, thank you so much.”

Jin Yan bowed earnestly before Lan Jue. “I’ll take him now.” She grabbed Jin Tao and pulled him away without another word. Lan Jue watched them go, flabbergasted.

“She agreed awful quick,” Lan Jue muttered to himself.

Hua Li’s faint voice intruded on his soliloquy. “Sounds like

she chose not to hear about that whole ‘dangerous’ thing. The kid hasn’t taken anything serious in his life, a big disappointment to his family. It’s also pretty clear this lady fancies you. Unconditional trust from the onset.”

“Stop spreading rumors,” Lan Jue hissed.

“Pfft,” came Hua Li’s dismissive response. “When it comes to reading people, you got nothing on me. And I guess I have to admit, if I weren’t here you’d be an attractive option.”

Lan Jue twisted to look back. “A-Li, you hide behind my lack of strength, without fear of repercussion for your obstinance.”

This caused Hua Li to chuckle. “And when you recovered whadda ya gunna do? Think you can take me on in a fair fight?”

Lan Jue shook his fist in his direction. “When I’m better we’ll give it a shot and see. Ah, right, and in two days the school is organizing a teachers trip to Taihua. I don’t think I can get out of it. I doubt you, as a late-arriving student, will be able to take leave either.”

Hua Li’s brows knitted in concern. “You’ll leave Skyfire? You sure you can’t get out of it?”

“What,” Lan Jue said, “You afraid they’ll hunt me down or something?”

“Your discipline has only partially recovered,” Hua Li said. “If you really do run in to something, you’ll be in significant danger.”

Lan Jue lifted his left hand, revealing the glowing Thor’s Promise. “Don’t worry, Thor’s with me. His damage isn’t so serious any longer. More or less finished with the repairs. And Taihua’s close, there’s no need for worry. And besides, if he can’t handle the fight, what’s stopping me from running? The whole thing should only be a couple days. And there’s another reason you can’t come with me. Tomorrow I plan to give Jin Tao the Fantascia Genetica decoction. You’ve got to help me keep an eye on him, to make sure nothing happens.”

Hua Li lapsed in to quiet thought for a moment. “Fine. I suppose it’s unlikely you’ll run in to trouble on Taihua. Just be careful. I’ll have someone erase any trace of you leaving Skyfire. Go early, come back soon.”

Lan Jue nodded. “I know my limits.”

“So if you got nothing going in the afternoon, how about we head back? We can get to Dreamburg ahead of schedule, that’d be good.”

Suddenly, Zhou Qianlin’s figure emerged through his memories. He nodded. “That’s fine. Let’s head home. If something happens I’ll come back.”

Hua Li and Lan Jue made their way back to Skyfire Avenue, proceeding immediately to the warehouse and the simulators stored within.

ζ

“Your reply?” Piao Hong was a little surprised to see Zeus standing before her. It had only been a day, and already the Four Divine Monarchs had an answer for her. The prize pool was massive, to be sure, but for any god-team to participate in an open competition before the three alliances – and thus revealing the scope of their abilities – was taboo to say the least.

“We agree, but not for DreamNet, and not for the reward,” Zeus replied. “It’s because of what you said yesterday. We hope what you said is true… otherwise what will befall the Guardians will be terrible. In addition, as partial payment for our agreement I hope you can assist me with something. It shouldn’t be anything DreamNet can’t handle.”

“Speak.” Piao Hong didn’t even ask, immediately ready to offer assistance.

Zeus lifted a hand, and a beam of light floated towards Piao Hong. A data-stream. More specifically, a video.

“Help me find the whereabouts of this woman. She deceived me once, and took something she shouldn’t have.”

Chapter 122: Lan Jue’s Doubt

“Alright. I’ll send new as soon as possible. I must confirm once again – you two represent the Monarchs as a whole, and confirm that you agree to participate in the open competition?”

“Yes, we will participate.” Zeus and Poseidon each made their affirmations.

“Thank you.” Piao Hong, Guardian of DreamNet, a god- ranked pilot herself, actually bowed low to the two Monarchs. “Now that you’ve agreed, we’ll begin advertising. Our plan is already in place. We’ll begin by introducing you, and at the same time this competition. It will resound to ever corner of the Three Alliances.”

“Good.” Now that the two young men had agreed, there was no further room for hesitation.

“The decoction you desire will arrive at your DreamNet delivery location tomorrow morning. You’ll find it enclosed within. In thanks for your support of DreamNet, and your defense of humanity, we’ve sent a second vial as well.”

“Excellent.” Lan Jue was blunt, but thankful. It was an overly generous gift to give two of them. A single draught of Fantascia Genetica was comparable in value to an s-ranked power gem. Even despite being a product of the relatively rich Western Alliance, only a dozen were made a year. It wasn’t something that could be mass produced.

ζ

Dusk was approaching.

Lan Jue was clad in a pure white track suit. He waited at their normal corner, just outside of the NEU with one foot on the pedal of his antique bicycle. Eventually he spied Zhou Qianlin approach in her school uniform. Richard was not in tow. Apparently he’d abandoned his efforts.

Zhou Qianlin arrived and settled on the bike. “Let’s go.”

“Yup.” He waited for her to get settled before pushing off.
They glided down the road.

“Zhou Qianlin.”

“Hm?” She raised her brows at his back.

“In two days,” he began, “the school has organized an outing for the teachers. I’ll have to go with them, away from Skyfire for a while. I’ll have someone else pick you up in the interim. They’ll also be able to protect you. Is that alright? We’ll add the time to contract when I return, just keep track of what I owe.”

“It’s fine.” She shook her head. “You go ahead. This is normal circumstance for the university, so I wont add it to your time. And there’s no need to find someone else to look after me, I’ll just have Tang Mi close by for a few days.”

“Oh.” Lan Jue didn’t press the matter.

The bicycle continued to roll along, casting a long shadow. “Are you headed to the old-people’s home today?”

“Yup.”

“I’ll go with you,” he said.

”With me?” She sounded surprised.

He nodded. “It’s a good place to clear your head. Doing good deeds isn’t solely for the benefit of others, it’s good for oneself as well. Seeing that smile from helping people is a reward all it’s own.”

“Alright.” For the first time in what felt like ages, a smile crept upon Zhou Qianlin’s pretty face.

ζ

Grace Hospital

“Ey? This guy with Qianlin again. He’s a good fella. Hey there son, what’s your name?”

“It’s nice to meet you miss. My name is Lan Jue.”

“Ah, ah… Lan Jue. Nice name.”

Their time in the old people’s home passed quickly. By the time they’d finished, however, it had already grown dark outside.

“Wait for just a minute. I’m going to go in and check on Granny Bess again for a moment.” Zhou Qianlin nodded to Lan Jue, rolling down her sleeves.

“No worries, I’ll go with you.”

“Alright, but no talking,” she replied. “Granny Bess likes things quiet.”

“Alright.”

The two walked up the stairs side by side. Once they reached the landing, Zhou Qianlin led the way down the hall to the final room. The walkway was already dim.

Lan Jue stuffed his hands in his pockets, the very picture of casual. He walked a few steps behind Qianlin. Long, dark hair. Tall, slender body. She was beautiful, and yet at any moment one could sense the goodness in her. She was indeed a fine

young woman. But he’d hurt her, and in that moment guilt flooded through him. Lan Jue quietly reiterated his promise to protect her, no matter what.

Zhou Qianlin walked along the hallway. She heard his steady gait behind her. To her it was like she had a lofty mountain at her back in support. A blanketing sensation of comfort and security surrounded her. In that moment she wouldn’t have minded if that hallway went on forever.

But, unfortunately, it did indeed come to an end. Two short, quiet raps on the door elicited a raspy response from within. “Come in.”

Zhou Qianlin carefully opened the door, Lan Jue at her heels. The room was a sight darker than the hallway. A closet, a bed, and a desk where all the comforts that could be found within. A single lamp upon the desk was the sole source of light.

An old woman was settled on a stool beside the desk. White hair as pure as snow fell down her back. It looked carefully groomed. In comparison to most of the elderly, who abandon meticulous self-grooming in their golden years, this woman still appeared dedicated to the art. She was thin, and was clad in a deep pink suit of fine material. Her clear eyes stared out of the

nearby window, watching nothing, and yet appearing as though they could see all.

She didn’t turn to look their way, remaining precisely as she was.

Zhou Qianlin tenderly approached, doing her best to make not a sound. She deftly made her way to the woman’s side and took up the empty cup on the desk. She returned to the door and quietly spoke to Lan Jue. “I’m going to head out and get her a glass of hot water. Don’t alarm her. I’ll be back in a moment. Granny Bess needs to have her clothes replaced every day, and I’ve already cleaned tomorrow’s outfit. Wait here while I go get those as well and put them away.”

“Got it,” he quietly replied.

Zhou Qianlin left Lan Jue in the dim room. He stood silent, pleasantly awaiting her return and watching the meticulously kept older woman. As he waited he felt something strange. He didn’t know why, but he sensed an odd aura around the woman. There weren’t any clear pulses of Discipline coming from her, but an almost pervasive sense of ‘cleanliness’ surrounded her. It was a purity, from the inside out.

From where he stood Lan Jue could only see the woman’s side, and her eyes. As he looked at her clear eyes, he once again felt strangely moved. It was a mysterious sensation, one he hadn’t felt in a while. The first time he had, it was when he’d first arrived in Skyfire Avenue and came face to face with the Keeper. His aura, though, hadn’t been pure. It was… profound. The sense he got from this woman was different, but he knew intrinsically that this woman was different.

Grace Hospital really had such a special woman under their care?

It was just then the woman slowly turned her eyes to Lan Jue.
He kept the gaze, nodding his greetings.

She said nothing, but her eyes brightened as they met his. She pressed a finger to her lips, imploring silence. Lan Jue understood, and nodded again.

She relaxed, and turned again to stare outside. Her frail figure began to move then, as she lifted her hands. She gently began to stroke her long, white hair.

Zhou Qianlin had wasted no time, and returned quickly with

the woman’s glass of water and fresh clothes. She placed the folded garments in her closet.

“Granny Bess, your clothes have been cleaned and placed in the closet. Get to bed early, ok? Remember to eat dinner. The others have been telling me you haven’t been eating. That’s really not good for you. You need your nutrients to keep healthy, yeah? You’re already so thin. If you need anything just tell me.”

Zhou Qianlin assumed she was lost in memories of bygone days, as she often was. But as she finished, the old woman suddenly turned her face to stare at Lan Jue. Her aquiline nose twitched ever so slightly.

“Bring me a glass of red wine. You smell of burgundy.”

Lan Jue was taken aback by the accusation. It’d be days since he’d had any wine. How could this old woman possibly smell the burgundy he’d enjoyed so long ago? Indeed very strange! Burgundy was possibly the most important location for former era wine making, the Romanee-Conti he’d had so long ago at the Wine Master’s chief among it’s exports.

“Alright.” Lan Jue answered easily. He couldn’t sense her power, but he was even more convinced now that she was considerably more than she appeared.

After the exchange the two young people left the hospital. It wasn’t long before they were once more quietly rolling along the street on Lan Jue’s bicycle.

“You can’t be bringing Granny Bess any wine, you know. She’s an old woman, how can she be drinking alcohol?” Zhou Qianlin spoke to his back from her seat on the bicycle.

Lan Jue shook his head. “No… this Granny Bess is no ordinary woman, I think. You don’t feel anything’s off about her?”

Zhou Qianlin gave him a strange look. “She likes quiet and cleanliness. She doesn’t talk much with the others, but she always takes care of herself. Every time I come she’s looking out the window. I don’t know what she’s thinking about, but I do feel rather peaceful whenever I’m around her. No matter what’s troubling me, it’s better when I see her. Granny Bess hasn’t been at the hospital long, so that’s all I know really.”

“That’s already quite a lot,” Lan Jue said. “Whether or not

she’s your average elderly sort, she doesn’t seem to care much for the world around her. I’ll bring some wine for her next time. This discipline and fear of disorder of hers, something must really have their hooks in her.”

Lan Jue went directly to Zhou Qianlin’s home on the mountain and dropped her off. He then proceeded back to the Avenue.

Tomorrow he’d be teaching another course, and in preparation he chose something from his shop as a display. He then retired to his apartments.

After dinner Lan Jue left to his room, and sat cross-legged on the bed. Hua Li sat behind him. The air rippled around the entire room as though they were under water. A pale blue light washed over everything. Everything was saturated with the sense of gentle power. The source of the blue light was Hua Li himself, and as the light issued from him, it soaked Lan Jue through to his bones.

Chapter 123: Have Someone Special

On the surface, Lan Jue didn’t look any different from any other man. His powers of thunder and lightning were well hidden, constrained. They remained inside, as Hua Li’s mastery of water penetrated Lan Jue to help him heal.

An hour later, Hua Li allowed his powers to dissipate. He let out a long breath, the sound strange, like the sound of crashing waves. The sound was not loud, but it washed through the room to the point where if one closed their eyes, they’d swear they were at the seaside.

“Not bad, you’re recovering quickly. At this speed, by the time you go off to that teacher’s retreat, you’ll be about thirty or forty percent back to normal. You should be able to handle anything that comes your way.” Hua Li shuffled off the bed.

Lan Jue followed suit, a small smile on his face. “These last three years I’ve undergone almost no training or cultivation. Luckily, at our levels Talent rises somewhat on it’s own. Sitting idle for three years may not have been such a bad thing. Before, my improvement was so quick it didn’t allow my foundation to settle as strong as it should have. This downtime might have solved that problem. Had I kept it up, my level would certainly be higher than it is now, but with an unstable foundation it’d

sure to have an adverse affect.”

“Pfft, stop giving yourself excuses. You’ve allowed my own discipline to catch up with yours. There’s no good reason for that. You gotta hurry up and get back at it. Whatever the circumstances of next month’s competition, we absolutely mustn’t lose.”

Lan Jue chuckled. “Of course we wont! By the way, how long until A-Cheng’s supposed to get here? Have you heard from him?”

“Another few days,” Hua Li said. “He’s coming from Planet Luo, and it’s not close. Not to mention the hostilities between the Northern and Eastern Alliances makes inter-alliance travel troublesome.”

Lan Jue nodded. “So about when I come back from this teaching thing, he’ll be here. Your lady friend?”

Hua Li’s handsome face grew stern. “Lady friend my ass. Stop talking nonsense. Ours is a simple platonic relationship. Just a friendship!”

Lan Jue smirked at his friend’s discomfort. “Alright, take it easy. You think I don’t know what’s going on with you? How long has Mo Xiao been following you around? At least a dozen years. In all that time there hasn’t been spotted one other woman at your side. A beauty like that at your elbow and you say there’s nothing going on. Who’d believe it. Not to mention the way she looks at you is the same way Hera used to look at me in the beginning. You think I’m making this up?”

Hua Li suddenly grew impetuous and whiny. “Alright, alright! Stop flapping your gums about it. You gotta promise me, A-Jue, not to go on like that in front of her. Not on your life! She’s sensitive. I’m her best friend. She’s like a sister, but really there’s nothing else going on.”

Lan Jue raised his brows in surprise. “Nothing, really? Mo Xing’s been following you around ever since you were young. Always your agent. Now, CEO of Gobi Entertainment. Frankly speaking you’re more a figurehead. All Gobi business is run through other people, helping you to get things done. She likes you that much, all that work, and this doesn’t get your heart pumping at all?”

Hua Li’s eyes slowly lifted as Lan Jue spoke, as though he’d struck a cord. Silence followed Lan Jue’s question, but after a moment he spoke up. “A-Jue, later we aren’t to speak about

this, especially about Mo Xing. In my heart there’s always been someone special, but it’s not Mo Xing. I know what I owe her. But those emotions, that I can’t give. Like you with Hera. Even though she’s no longer here, your love hasn’t faltered.”

It was clear to Lan Jue that Hua Li’s mood was serious, and sad. He dropped the topic. “Alright,we wont talk about it. Right, A-Li, tomorrow I’ll be bringing Jin Tao back to the Avenue with me. We’ll need to do some preparation, then it’ll be time for him to take the Fantascia Genetica. I’ll need you to help look after him while I’m gone.”

Hua Li had recovered quickly from the funk their previous conversation had put him in. “Don’t worry about it. The first stages of the decoction require strong nourishment and support from the body. In this I’m stronger than you are. It’s the later, more critical stages where your power will be necessary. If the two of us are here and he still fails to protect himself from the decoction, it means he didn’t have the willpower. Now, though, I’m tired. I’m off to bed.”

With that declaration, he marched outside and flopped directly onto the sofa.

As he watched Hua Li leave in the wake of their exchange, he

felt a little bewildered. A-Li had a love interest? It was the first he’d heard of it. With his appearance, and the world he lived in, what sort of woman must she be to have moved him so deeply? Who could be better than Mo Xiao?

ζ

Early Morning.

Lan Jue arrived again at the mountain, waiting to meet Zhou Qianlin and bring her to school. Again, he spied Richard’s thin figure not far away. After throwing his fit yesterday, Hua Li hadn’t accompanied him this time.

Richard hadn’t arrived by verti-car today, and had chosen to wear a track suit in lieu of his formal attire from yesterday. In fact, he’d actually arrived in much the same fashion as Lan Jue – by bike. The old thing even looked similar to the professor’s own. Such an antique, and in just a short time he’d managed to find one for himself!

“Hey cousin!” Richard waved affably in his direction.

Lan Jue pulled up beside him, pointing at the bicycle. “What’s this?”

Richard chortled. “Now that I know my lady likes bicycles, I’ve brought one with me to meet up with her. Eh, cousin… this is a family matter – you know, between husband and wife. I’d appreciate it if you don’t get involved.”

Lan Jue simply couldn’t believe what he was wearing. This guy’s dedication was inhuman! Shaking his head, he pushed his bicycle to the side, out of the way.

Richard watched him move aside, his brow scrunched.

A short time later Zhou Qianlin come walking down from the mountain top in her school uniform. There she saw Richard, in his track suit and pushing his bicycle, and  was  struck speechless. Still, she hardly missed her stride. She made her way without pause to Lan Jue’s side and hopped up on to her familiar spot.

Lan Jue looked at Richard, shrugged, and pedaled away.

Richard would not be denied, and in good spirits he leapt on to his bike and gave chase. He caught up in short order. “Qianlin, you’re probably thinking my bike isn’t as new as you’re cousin’s, right? I’ve already sent people out to see if they can find one in better condition. When they do how about you take a spin on mine, what do you think? That way we don’t always have to trouble your cousin! Or maybe you can sell me yours, cuz. Name a price and you’ll have it.”

Zhou Qianlin’s sculpted brows grew taught. “Richard, I’ve already told you a dozen times. We’re just not going to happen. Stop coming here. Alright? When you’re like this you make me feel worse. I just can’t be with you.”

Richard looked shocked. “Qianlin, don’t say such things in front of your cousin. If you want to talk, let’s go home and talk about it.”

Qianlin only shook her head, and refused to speak further.

Richard pedaled harder, pushing his bike forward until he was beside Lan Jue. He smiled as he spoke to him. “Hey, so how much you think for me to buy that bike from you?”

“Sorry, not for sale,” Lan Jue responded.

Richard opened his mouth to speak further, but Lan Jue cut him off. “Look out.” His left hand shot out to grab Richard’s arm and yanked the younger man towards himself. Richard was slow to react, but quick enough to keep his feet. Luckily his center of gravity had adjusted enough to shuffle him to the side. His bike was not so lucky,and dashed against the large tree in his path. The bike rebounded and tumbled to the floor, it’s front tire ruined.

Clearly the young man had failed to pay attention to the road, obsessed as he was with Qianlin and her ‘cousin’. Lan Jue could only shake his head as he pedaled on. Richard stood beside his mangled bike, looking dejected.

“That one is stubborn. He sure is trying to do right by you, though.” Lan Jue chuckled ruefully to himself.

Zhou Qianlin, however, replied in frosty tones. “If you’re thinking of telling me to get together with him, you better keep your mouth shut. You are the last person with any right to speak about it.”

Lan Jue smirked bitterly. Indeed, he was the one who ruined their chance at a family. What right did he have to say anything a all?

“I apologize.”

Zhou Qianlin chose silence, and only nodded in response. Her eyes had grown noticeably more red at the edges.

Suddenly, much to Lan Jue’s surprise, she wrapped her arms around his waste and buried her face in his back. The sudden motion almost caused him to lose control of the bike, and a jolt of shock ran through him. Before he could speak, he felt her thin figure trembling behind him. He didn’t have the heart to break her grip.

He continued, quiet, unsure of what to say.

A few kilometers short of the campus, Zhou Qianlin finally separated her hands. She settled back on the back of the bike like nothing had happened. By the time they reached their normal corner, it was as though nothing had happened. Her face revealed no expression and, as she pulled her backpack unto her shoulders, she made for the university gate without

speaking a word to her bodyguard.

For a moment Lan Jue watched her go. He gently patted his forehead, then began pushing his bike towards the school as well.

As he approached, the air whipped around him as a fire-red surface car raced passed, quick as the wind. It was quick, but nimble. Despite the numerous pedestrians dotting the street, the car was able to wave between them without causing any danger.

Vroosh! The car came to an abrupt stop before the gate as effortlessly as it had arrived. The doors spread open, and charming figure stepped out.

She had long, fiery red hair and legs that went on for ages – Tang Mi. Immediately following, a second car raced up and stopped. This one was white, and from within stepped forth a young woman with long purple hair.

She was just as pretty as the young woman she arrived with. Small features, pale skin, and purple hair. Full of vitality, and full of allure.

It could be said Zhou Qianlin was as beautiful as a spotless snow lotus. If that were true, Tang Mi was the fiery appeal of a rose, and this new girl was the impish violet.

Chapter 124: Shui Zhongdie

“Hah! Little Butterfly, you lose again!” Tang Mi called teasingly towards the young woman from beside her car.

The violet-haired girl sniffed dismissively. “Only because I don’t have a death wish. You know what they say; those with great courage usually have something very wrong with their head.” She shook her own, causing her shimmering hair to flow like water as she walked towards the school entrance. Her car started and slowly made it’s way in to the distance on autopilot.

Tang Mi chuckled anew. She bounded to her friend’s side, opening her mouth to speak further, but then saw Lan Jue making for the campus entrance. Her eyes brightened, and she waved emphatically. “Professor Lan!”

Lan Jue stopped, and nodded politely to her.

She left ‘Little Butterfly’s’ side to quickly make her way to the etiquette instructor. “Hey Professor. You’ve got class today, right? I’ll definitely be there this afternoon to listen. What sort of things are we going to be learning about jewelry? Power gems?”

Lan Jue smiled at her enthusiasm. “Of course not. We’ll only be discussing jewelry used to accessorize. I’m pretty sure the school has another class specifically dedicated to power gems. I’m just an electives teacher, how could I teach such things?”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” Tang Mi stated categorically. “As far as I’ve seen you’re practically an encyclopedia.”

Butterfly saw her friend stop suddenly, and race off to speak with the young man. Her curiosity was understandably piqued. There were no two closer friends in the school, and Butterfly knew all about Tang Mi – and her famous temper. Yet here she was speaking to the man. Who was he? A teacher? Lan- something? How did she not know of him?

As she considered the scene, she swept her eyes over the professor.

As ever, Lan Jue had arrived for class in a suit. However, in contrast to his last arrival, this suit was considerably more sedate. It was a grey two-piece, with a simple shirt inside. The material of the suit was fine, and was covered in a checkered pattern composed of light-blue thread.

Butterfly eventually arrived at Tang Mi’s side. “Hey, aren’t you going to introduce me to your boyfriend?”

Tang Mi only shot her an exasperated look. “Professor Lan, this is my classmate. We study in the same group. Her name is Shui Zhongdie. I call her Butterfly.”

Lan Jue gave Shui Zhongdie a gentlemanly nod. “Hello,” he greeted, “I’m Professor Lan. I’m an electives teacher here. You have a very interesting name.”

Curiosity was clear in the young girl’s eyes. “An electives teacher? What do you teach?”

“Mostly how to live a more cultured life. The class is Etiquette 101.”

“Etiquette? Well, that sounds interesting.” Shui Zhongdie shot him a pretty smile.

Many of the students coming and going from the campus entrance stopped to watch as two of the school’s famed beauties stood speaking with him. For many of the young men, their

envious eyes glared daggers at the handsome teacher.

“You two should go ahead and get to class. If you’re interested come listen in on my lecture this afternoon.” It was evident Lan Jue didn’t want to spend too much time out in the open speaking to the two young women. In truth, he was still preoccupied with memories of his ride here, that trembling figure clutching him tightly from the back of his bicycle.

“You should come along with me to the class,” Tang Mi said to her friend.

Shui Zhongdie emphatically nodded her head. “Sure! I’ll go with you this afternoon and give it a listen.”

Lan Jue bade the two girls farewell an left for the campus. Shui Zhongdie stood by Tang Mi’s side and watched him go. “You’re acting weird, is this professor really that good?”

Tang Mi’s reply was almost a whisper. “Actually he’s really interesting. He’s really a man of high quality. Only…”

“Only what,” Shui Zhongdie urged.

“Only he’s not that strong in combat.” Tang Mi quietly elaborated. “A few days ago that savage goddess dragged him off to the offices for some reason, without a fight. If only he were stronger, then he’d be absolutely perfect.”

The purple-haired girl tittered. “Tang Mi, are we developing a little crush? Not an easy thing for a guy to catch your attention. I guess he’s handsome. By the way, after a few days Gobi Entertainment’s going to have a press conference for Poseidon’s new album. There’s supposed to be a concert after. Are you going?”

“Of course! I already have someone out buying tickets for me.
Ten VIP tickets no less. And you can be my entourage.”

“Woo! Long live Tang Mi! I love you!”

ζ

By the time Lan Jue arrived at the office, Jin Yan and Jin Tao were already waiting for him.

“Professor Lan,” Jin Yan offered in her customary greeting.

Jin Tao stood beside her, a zealous light in his eyes. To Lan Jue’s surprise, the young man’s trademark mohican was gone. Now at that was left was a buzz-cut head of black hair. Infinitely better put together than before.

“In a little while I’ll be leaving Jin Tao in your care.” Her words her soft, deliberate. A sense of worried pervaded where yesterday there was none. Her response yesterday had been one of impulse, excited at the prospect of an opportunity for her brother. But later, once she’d calmed and thought about Lan Jue’s warnings, how could she not be a little anxious?

Lan Jue offered her a comforting smile. “You don’t need to worry, Professor Jin. No matter the result, I’ll take good care of him. I’ll make sure he stays out of danger.”

Jin Yan let out a small sigh of relief. “Alright then. Where are you planning to take him for his studies? Will we be able to come and see him?”

“Sis, I’m an adult. There’s no need for you to come look in on me.” Jin Tao stood at his sister’s side, sounding impatient.

Lan Jue shot him a glance, and instantly the young man fell in

to a complacent silence.

“Everything has it’s conquerer,” Jin Yan said, looking at her younger brother, “And it looks like you are Jin Tao’s, Professor Lan.”

Lan Jue offered her a smile. “At first, for a short time it’s best if you don’t come to visit him. He’ll need to direct all his effort and attention to training. After a month should be fine to come by. By then I’m confident you’ll see a significant change in Jin Tao. He’ll be studying with me in Skyfire Avenue – he wont be leaving the planet.”

“Alright. Thank you very much.” Once more she offered her heartfelt thanks to the man who was to train her brother. But here, she stopped suddenly as though she’d just thought of something. She looked at him with confusion. “Professor, did you… did you say Skyfire Avenue?”

Lan Jue only smiled. It was clear to him the young woman was still apprehensive about the arrangement. Revealing where her younger brother would be was likely to have a positive effect.

The pretty woman chewed her red lip, looking at Lan Jue with a strange mixture of feelings on her face. “You live on the Avenue?”

He didn’t reply. He didn’t need to.

Jin Yan took a breath. When she spoke again, her voice was resolute. “Well Professor, he’s all yours.”

Lan Jue turned to his young pupil. “Come attend my class this afternoon. Afterwards you’ll be leaving with me. Have you already put together everything you want to bring with you?”

“Everything’s ready.” Jin Tao remained as stoic and determined as moments before. He, after all, had no notion of Skyfire Avenue or what awaited him there.

“By the way,” Jin Yan said, smiling towards Lan Jue, “we got the information from the head off yesterday. We’ll be leaving in a couple days for our cooperation training on Taihua. I’ve already helped you sign your name.”

In fact he’d already forgotten about it. Since stirring from his

languid stupor there had been much on his proverbial plate. He’d already taken a month off after his first class, so skipping out on this was out of the question. But, at least Professor Yan was helpful.

“Thank you very much for that,” he replied. “We’ll be leaving from the school on that day right?”

Jin Yan nodded. “That’s right! We should have somewhere around forty teachers leaving together, including all of the electives teachers. Even the mecha instructors. We’re leaving early in the morning, eight o’clock at the big gates.”

“Got it.”

The afternoon came quickly. He made for his class, and as he pushed open the door to enter his heart skipped a beat. His class held even more students than the last time, the majority of them young women.

Jin Tao and Tang Xiao were also in attendance, seated squarely in the front row. However it was the three pretty faces at their side that surprised him. Beside Tang Xiao was the first, his vivacious sister Tang Mi. Beside her, Zhou Qianlin. The next

seat down was home to the purple-haired girl he’d met earlier that day, Shui Zhongdie.

A host of earnest glances floated behind them as the young male students shuffled to get closer seats. Though it may have been a blow to his estimation of his class, clearly the amount of students present and the arrival of these three girls were inexorably tied.

Hua Li was spotted, once again in the corner he’d chosen from the last time. He’d elected to remove his hat, but the face mask remained in place to keep his identity secret.

Director Wu was not among the listeners, but Jin Yan was as promised. Beside her, in place of the director, was the dance teacher Wang Hongyuan. His beady eyes watched Lan Jue with interest.

With all the people gathered, the place was certainly bustling.
Lan Jue swept his eyes over the gathering.

“Hey Professor!” Tang Mi waved at him, and Lan Jue smiled pleasantly back at her.

In the next instant, his and Qianlin’s eyes met. It was only for a moment, not too long for fear the other students would notice. Afterwards Lan Jue felt the spirit-caller gem grow warm.

I didn’t have any classes in the afternoon. Tang Mi dragged me here.

Lan Jue smirked, just enough for her to notice. Her cheeks reddened. The brief pang of embarrassment she felt could be seen in her eyes.

Compared to Zhou Qianlin next to her, Shui Zhongdie’s expression was dauntless. Her eyes were the same color as her long hair, a royal purple that was gorgeous to behold. Of course Lan Jue knew well that no normal person was born with eyes like those. It must have had to do with her discipline.

The three great beauties of the school sat dead center, and it was as though a great ray of light was shinning down upon them. Many of the students who’d come this time were attending for the first time, so the class was appreciably more chaotic than normal. This was compounded by the lack of Director Wu’s intimidating presence. It was certainly a test of Lan Jue’s competency. And there in the back, with his shining eyes, Wang Hongyun watched and hoped he would fail.

Chapter 125: Diamonds

Lan Jue did not stop to greet the gathered students. He made his way towards the podium, and placed the tray he’d brought with him atop it. Next, he fumbled through his coat until he pulled out a small cloth pouch, removing it’s contents. He placed this upon the tray.

He spun around to face the board, and scrawled something across it’s surface: Who wants to win a prize?

At first only the students in the front noticed, but word quickly spread. Attention turned to Lan Jue, and the volume decreased.

He continued to write: It’s too noisy to hold the raffle.

Quiet washed over the room. Wang Hongyun was curious at the promise of a raffle. It was certainly a novel approach. It was quiet now, he thought, but these were college students – stickers and candy weren’t going to cut it. If the prize wasn’t good enough in their estimation, he was going to have a classroom of angry students on his hands.

The dance instructor had only been teaching a few years, but he knew more or less the mind of the elective student. He’d struggled with classroom control at the outset himself.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” Lan Jue began. He stepped from behind the podium, and bowed to the gathered student body.

Jin Tao was the first to stand – a show of respect for his professor. Tang Xiao was half a second behind. But it wasn’t until after the three beauties followed their example that the other students joined in. Soon nearly the whole class was on it’s feet.

“Hello, Professor Lan.” Jin Tao shouted the greeting towards the podium [1] The other students echoed his call.

[tl: [1] = In China, it’s customary – mostly in primary/middle/high school – to stand and say hello to the teacher in this fashion at the start of class. It’s really only done in universities for teachers that are highly respected. ]

Lan Jue motioned for them all to sit. “Please return to your seats.”

The students did as instructed. Jin Yan lightly kicked the man at her side. “Why didn’t you stand, Professor Wang? We’re here listening to the class, so we’re no different than students. More than that, we’re his colleagues. If we don’t show support for Professor Lan, how can we set a good example for the students?”

Wang Hongyun smirked, shrugging his shoulders. “I wasn’t feeling it.”

Jin Yan scowled, but said nothing further.

Lan Jue returned to the podium and pointed to the board. “That’s right, a prize. No tricks. So take a guess, what do you think it will be? I’m pretty confident you wont be disappointed. Does anyone remember what I said we’d be discussing today?”

“Jewelry!” A female student belted the answer from somewhere in the crowd below.

Lan Jue gave her a thumbs up. “That’s right. Today we’re discussing jewelry. In regards to jewel knowledge, there’s a lot of complicated information to go over. Jewelry comes in all shapes and sizes, numerous types and categories. I wont be able to cover them all in one class, so today we’ll just be covering one

kind. If this is a topic you all find interesting, I’ll continue with the other kinds at a later date.”

Lan Jue lifted the tray from the podium as he began the lesson. The velvet covering was a deep mazarine, identical to the one used to display products in Zeus’ Jewelry Shop. A gemstone shimmered alluringly within it. The gem itself was crystal clear, and pure white. Twinkling against the velvet, it was like a star set against the midnight sky.

“Who can tell me what this is?”

“A diamond.” Shui Zhondie at Qianlin’s shoulder was the first to answer, her pleasant voice wafting up towards him. It was almost musical, and though lacking the softness of Zhou Qianlin’s, was far more melodious.

“That’s right.” Lan Jue nodded at her. “This is one of the gems we often come across when considering jewelry. Diamonds. This is our topic for today. Further, this particular piece is the prize for our raffle.”

“Ooohh…” The students’ appreciative cooes filled the lecture hall. Using a diamond as the prize? It was something entirely

new for the university.

The sneering, self-confident contempt on Wang Hongyun’s face froze. From where he was sitting that was a one-karat gem. He couldn’t speak as to it’s value, but he knew that at least it wasn’t cheap. Meanwhile, Lan Jue pointed at the second sentence he’d written on the blackboard.

The silence came quicker this time, and the students settled down to continue. It wasn’t long before he had everyone’s rapt attention.

“There’s that old adage; a diamond is forever. I imagine you’ve all heard it before. It’s actually a slogan, but it also serves to elucidate the gem’s character. Namely, a diamond’s strength and resistance.”

“I’m no chemist, no physicist. I wont go in to how a gem in made, or it’s component parts. I will tell you that a diamond is hard. If we don’t consider power gems, then diamonds are the strongest precious stones there are. If we were to assign a value of ‘ten’ to how hard it is, then the other gems we know such as rubies and sapphires would be a nine. Jadite would be seven. Specifically those types of jade – as they were collectively referred to in the ancient era – which were at a hardness of

seven or more were Jadeite. Under seven were called nephrite.”

“It’s our first class on the subject, and as such I don’t want to inundate you with information. Just know that for the classic gems, diamonds are the hardest. As a result they are the preference for engagement and wedding rings. They resist damage and wear, and represent the endurance and eternity of a couple’s love.

Lan Jue’s voice was magnetic. Not too fast, not too slow. His words were plain, his delivery solid. The students listened easily as he continued.

Lan Jue stepped from the dais and handed the tray to Jin Tao. “Pass this around and make sure everyone has a chance to look.” He smiled a little. “And if everyone wouldn’t mind showing a little restraint. In fact losing this diamond wouldn’t affect me, as it’s meant to be given away regardless, but it would take the opportunity away from your fellow classmates.”

A soft chuckle trilled though the students. The atmosphere grew a little more relaxed.

Lan Jue paid no further mind to Jin Tao and the diamond,

and returned to the podium to continue the lecture. “So that’s it concerning the hardness of a diamond. Today, what we’ll discuss is how to assess the quality of a diamond, if you are so inclined. First, is the size. Generally speaking the size of a gem is directly proportional to it’s cost – the same holds true for power gems. I suppose it’s fair to say that the bigger the gem, the more it’ll cost you. Conversely the smaller, the cheaper. It certainly applies as a rule to diamonds.”

“If your interest in a diamond is for it’s value as an item later, then you’re looking for something in the range of one karat or more. The price difference between a point ninety-nine and one karat diamond is significant. The one being passed around class right now is precisely one karat. The size of a diamond, though, doesn’t not entirely determine it’s price however. If this diamond were two karats the price would not be doubled, necessarily.”

“Other than size, in an effort to determine the quality of a diamond, there are a small number of other criteria to consider. Could one assume that two, one-karat diamonds would be of similar prices? This would be false, as their quality could be vastly different. The price, then, could be just as volatile.”

The tray had begun to make it’s way back from the far recesses of the class. The students were all familiar with

diamonds, but it was the first time for most that they saw one up close, much less with an explanation. They examined it with interest as it passed.

“There are three others ways to determine a gem’s quality, aside from size. They are color, clarity, and cut. We’ll start with color. For diamonds, it’s simply the whiter, the better. Their ranking in the order of color is indicating by alphabet, with the lowest letters displaying inferior color. The highest, is D. This indicates one hundred percent, pure white. Perfection. Next is E, nearly perfect. Then F, approximately ninety-eight percent white. These three are the top of the color scale. Lower letters are G, H, I, J, and K. The further down the list you go, the more yellowed the gem appears, and the price suffers as a result. A D- colored gem could be triple the price of an I-colored gem of the same size. Clearly, the color has a significant impact on value. Of course when seeking a purchase you don’t always need to chase after perfection. D, E and F gems are immaculately colored, and just as rare.”

“The gem before you today has a color rating of F, nearly entirely white.”

As the gem passed from hand to hand, Lan Jue continued to elaborate on the intricacies of diamond identification. He followed with clarity, and cut, delivering the information with

ease and approachability.

“The perfect diamond would be one whose color, cut and clarity are the top of it’s class. These are what are  called Flawless Diamonds. This is where the phrase ‘flawless beauty’ comes from.”

Time passed quickly as the class proceeded, Lan Jue carefully providing the knowledge to the gathered students. The diamond and it’s tray made the rounds, finishing it’s journey back on his podium.

“And now for the moment you all have been waiting for. You all have been patient and attentive. It’s time for the lottery.”

He picked up the tray before him. “Our method will be simple, to ensure fairness for all participants.”

Lan Jue passed out scraps of paper he’d prepared in advance. “Please write your names on the paper, then pass them back up when you’re finished. We’ll place your tickets in a box and draw one slip. Whoever has their name on that paper, that’s the diamond’s new owner.”

The slips were quickly written and recovered. Lan Jue placed them all in a box he’d prepared earlier, and set it on the podium. He stuck his hand within, rustled the contents, and pulled out a single scrap.

“Alright, and the winner is… Zhou… Zhou Qianlin!” Lan Jue stuttered ever so slightly, surprised by the unlikely result.

What are the chances? But there it was, the winner, Zhou Qianlin.

She herself was taken aback, and her numerous male fans seated behind her waved their arms in excitement. Still Lan Jue felt something was amiss. A flash of blue light crossed his eyes as he employed his psychic force to probe the interior of the box. In the one hundred or so tickets he found, forty-two bore Zhou Qianlin’s name…

Chapter 126: College Exchange Competition?

Forty-two tickets with the name Zhou Qianlin! Holy hell with these guys – I’m going to drown in the sea of hormones here. Lan Jue could only sigh in defeat. He hadn’t expected what was normally an entirely fair raffle to turn out this way. The young men valiantly waving their arms in triumph each must have written her name on those papers in lieu of themselves. It certainly served to prove how important she was to the male half of the student population. But it was what it was, and there could be nothing for it now.

“Would Miss Zhou Qianlin please approach the podium and claim her prize.”

She did as requested, and approached Lan Jue. Her brows were wrinkled. He looked towards her and understood. He hoped she understood the truth, but he understood how it looked.

Zhou Qianlin plucked the diamond from the tray, pinching it between her fingers. He lifted it to her eyes and took a closer look, then put it back.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t accept the diamond. If you would, Professor, please donate it to Grace hospital instead. Call it a donation from the students of your etiquette class.”

“Very good,” he said, nodding.

Cheers arose from behind them. Of course there wasn’t an absence of jeers and shouts of resentment. No small number of young women scowled openly at the situation, likely assuming this was some ploy to ingratiate herself to the public.

However Lan Jue knew better. This was no ploy, Zhou Qianlin was honestly just a good woman. Her conscience wouldn’t allow her to take something she didn’t earn.

Though the result of the lottery had not proceeded as expected, for most it was the perfect end to the lesson. With it, the class successfully came to an end. Zhou Qianlin turned and exited, Tang Mi close at her heels. Shui Zhongdie was with them, but as they passed she slowed just enough to stare with interest at the diamond a final time. She playfully stuck her tongue out at Lan Jue before hastening to catch up with the other two.

“Jin Tao, Tang Xiao, if you two would come with me,” he said to his young pupils.

“Yes, Professor.” Anticipation was written clearly on their faces. They knew it; today was the day their training really began.

As Lan Jue passed, he looked pointedly at Hua Li sat in the back of the room. Poseidon rose and followed.

ζ

“Qianlin, why didn’t you just take the diamond? It certainly wasn’t a cheap bauble. And according to what Professor Lan was saying, it was above average.” Tang Mi walked at her friend’s side, firing off the line of inquiry.

“What kind of woman accepts diamonds so easily? Are you really such an air-head or do you just pretend?”

Tang Mi pouted at the harsh words. “What’s stopping a woman from doing just that! You’re just being stuffy. It was a prize! Luck of the draw.”

“From what I saw, it wasn’t so much luck.” Shui Zhongdie finally managed to catch up to the two. “I saw the guy next to me write Zhou Qianlin’s name on his paper. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one as well. Otherwise what a coincidence! Hhm, with Qianlin here the two of us don’t amount to much. I’m so jealous!”

Tang Mi sputtered. “Knock it off. You with your Student President boyfriend. And yet you’re still the flirty one.”

Shui Zhongdie chortled. “What about him. He just fancies himself as my boyfriend. I haven’t hung out with him recently at all.”

“And what has our illustrious chairman been so busy with lately?”

“Still with all the meetings,” she said. “Lir University once again wants to show off how much better they are. I really don’t know what the university’s higher-ups are thinking. Lir University is for mecha piloting, and ours is focused on research and development. What are they thinking with these endless mecha combat competitions? It’s so boring! Just thinking of that smug face of his makes me wanna squish it.”

Tang Mi echoed the sentiment. “You’re right! The last time we lost terribly. We were lucky to have Professor Tang with us that time. Otherwise it would have been an absolute embarrassment. And we’re doing it again this year? The school agreed?”

“What I hear is that the school hopes our constant losses to Lir University we’ll make us want to strive harder. Our mecha combat department isn’t the strongest, to the consternation of our school bullies.”

Tang Mi’s plaintive cries followed. “They’re upset, so much the worse for us! But us girls can’t be cowardly, bring those LU punks on. If any of ‘em say anything I’ll show em what’s up!”

Shui Zhongdie pumped her fists in the air. “You and me both, sister!”

Zhou Qianlin shot them a hopeless look. “It’s gotta be tiring being such war-hawks. In fact Professor Tan and I have been working on a new type of laser cannon. How about I give you guys a first-hand demonstration?”

Shui Zhongdie almost tackled her with a hug. “Qianlin, so

catty! Do all your suitors know that?”

ζ

The McCrary high-alt verti-car slowly came to a stop just outside Skyfire Avenue. The doors rose, and out stepped Lan Jue, Hua Li and the two young disciples. The car had been brought today by Hua Li, though it was Lan Jue who insisted on a different sort of transportation after sending Zhou Qianlin. When he picked up the key from his friend, he couldn’t help but sigh in appreciation, returning to modern society.

“Man, sweet! When’ll I be able to get me one of these? I had no idea you had so much money, teach!” Jin Tao looked at the car in excitement.

Even Tang Xiao, who himself come from a family of means, looked on in appreciation. What man didn’t enjoy his sports cars?

Lan Jue suddenly grew serious. “Come on.”

He took them directly to Skyfire Underground. The Avenue’s

overworld section was a sight more stringent, and Lan Jue feared even his status as a councilman wouldn’t be enough to get them in.

As the elevator doors opened, Jin Tao and Tang Xiao stared – struck dumb.

Jin Tao was appreciably better off. He was fearless in the face of the unknown. But Tang Xiao was different. He knew about the Avenue, about what it meant, and his excitement could hardly be contained at finally being here. But what he didn’t know was that there existed a second Avenue.

His eyes filled with the old-style buildings, the crowds of people, and he couldn’t help but blurt out. “Am I in heaven?”

“Not far off,” Lan Jue replied. “Skyfire Avenue is indeed a real place. A place for Adept exchange, and the largest gathering of Talents in he Eastern Alliance. It’s loosely managed, free. Here, an Adept can get anything at all that they need.”

“I’ve heard of it,” Tang Xiao assured, “But my dad said I had to wait until I graduated before I qualified to be here. The rest I can’t recall. I had no idea it would be like this – it’s amazing.”

Lan Jue revealed a strange smile. “Amazing? We’ll see if you still feel that way later.”

Chapter 127: Skyfire Necklace

The first time Tang Xiao and Jin Tao entered Skyfire Underground’s Zeus’ Jewelry Store, their reaction was just as severe as when they entered the underground itself. They were stunned, but not by the jewels. Before them stood Mika and Lin Guoguo.

“Boss.” The two women called to Lan Jue in greeting.

He smiled. “How’d it go? Is your cooperation improving?”

Lin Guoguo shook her fist dramatically. “We’re making progress! But don’t come looking yet boss. Give us some time to get better, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

“Alright.” Lan Jue nodded with a chuckle. He indicated to the two young men beside him. “These are my two newest students. They’ll soon become common faces around here. This is Tang Xao, the other is Jin Tao. Jin Tao will be staying with us for a little while.”

“So the decoction I fetched,” Mika offered, “was for them, I assume.”

Lan Jue nodded. “Jin Tao will use one. Tang Xiao has no need for it. We’ll use it tomorrow. Today we’ll be spending our time prepping. You’re all done with what I asked you to do?”

It was Mika’s turn to nod. “All set.” As she spoke, she walked over to the young flabbergasted disciples. “I’m Mika. You can call me Miss Mika. Work hard, and don’t disgrace the boss.”

“Yes, Miss Mika. We’ll do whatever the Professor requires, and soon be strong enough to make him proud!” Tang Xiao stuck out his flabby chest as he made the declaration. His normally fluttery eyes were full with determination.

One of Jin Tao’s primary advantages over Tang Xiao was his fearlessness towards the unknown, and while he wasn’t timid around his new surroundings, he did feel as though he’d entered an entirely different world. It was the first time meeting these two gorgeous women, and yet he felt none of the instant disdain he was used to from others. The feelings this called up in him were too difficult to describe.

“Yes.” His response was simple, but the emotion within them gave them power.

“Jin Tao’ll go with you. I’ll take Tang Xiao,” Lan Jue said to Hua Li.

“Mm.” Ever since last night, he appeared considerably less upbeat.

They entered the giant warehouse at the back of the store. Thor was conspicuously absent. The warehouse  seemed deserted.

Lin Guoguo took over the store business for the time being while Mika joined the others, leading the way. The way was lit by wall sconces, their tungsten light illuminating the strange world they found themselves in. Their mouths were dry from nerves.

Lan Jue fumbled in his coat and produced two small boxes. He handed each of his disciples one. “Wear them. These are the badges that will allow you to enter Skyfire Underground unmolested. Next time you wont need me to bring you in.”

The boys opened their respective boxes and spied the necklace within. It was no fancy thing, just a simple golden chain with a pendent. It was round, and in it’s center was inlaid a

translucent gemstone.

“It’s a Skyfire Necklace, be sure not to lose it. If you do, you must tell me immediately.”

“Got it!” Jin Tao and Tang Xiao answered with one voice, slipping the necklace around their necks.

Hua Li took Jin Tao out, while Tang Xiao and Lan Jue remained in the warehouse. Lan Jue looked towards him. “If you want to become powerful, your personal powers are the foundation. As I’m sure you know, in today’s world of modern technology a person’s discipline and ability determine their success as a mecha pilot. Because an Adept’s endurance surpasses that of a normal human, they are able to better control and suffer the strains of a mecha suit. So, every single top-level mecha pilot is the product of a perfect symbiotic relationship between man and machine. And the proper power gems. These are the single greatest soldiers at an army’s disposal. Because of this, whether you or Jin Tao, our first priority must be your personal abilities.”

“I’ll tell you, the risk Jin Tao are undertaking by imbibing this Fantascia Genetica medicine is to employ acquired Western assistance to improve his Talent. Therein lies the danger. But

you, your situation is different. You need to be strengthened, forged in the fires. To search for every opportunity, to the very limit, to improve upon what you were blessed with. If there comes a day you think you can’t keep going, where you can’t handle it, then quit. But if you do, you can no longer call me your teacher. Understood?”

Tang Xiao took a deep breath. He nodded resolutely at his master. “Professor. I will call you teacher for the rest of my life.”

“Just words,” Lan Jue said indifferently. “Show me you mean it. Today, you’re task is to hold your own against your new colleague. Mika, if you would…”

“Yes, Boss.” Mika shoved her black-rimmed glasses higher on her tiny nose. She made her way to the center of the warehouse, and turned. Her eyes locked on to Tang Xiao’s.

He looked at the woman in her business attire, with her fiery temper. He couldn’t help but gulp in fear. His heartbeat rang in his ears. If I’m to take a beating, at least being whipped by a woman like this isn’t so bad.

He shuffled to a spot twenty-some meters in front of her, and stopped. The distance was one he’d chosen deliberately. In general it was accepted that an adept’s range of discipline had it’s limit. Even if their focus was ranged attacks, twenty meters was enough to give him time to react.

“Are you ready?” Mika looked pointedly at Tang Xiao.

“Ready, Miss Mika. Go easy on me.” Tang Xiao laughed nervously. His feet shook ever so slightly beneath him.

Wordlessly Mika took off, rushing headlong towards Tang Xiao. However, just before she landed her strike, the ground shuddered from beneath her and a metal barrier flashed to life. She cut off her charge. Tang Xiao sidestepped to the left and stamped the ground with his left foot. A hearty boom arose in response. His skin coagulated, hardened, and took on a silvery look.

With his level of metallic control, he not only possessed the ability to manipulate himself but also – by virtue of metallic malleability – employ it as an attack. The warehouse itself was entirely composed of metal, which gave him the advantage in that regard.

But, just as he was getting ready to feel proud of himself, the smile melted from his face.

As Mika rushed again at the barrier he’d created, her body began to burn a fiery, translucent red. Her flaming figure crashed against the metal cover, penetrating it. As she did, it melted away behind her in to a pool of molten iron. Tang Xiao didn’t have time to react before Mika’s fist was barreling towards his face.

Bang!

Tang Xiao’s face went askew as the fist landed. Mika’s scorching fist had been burned in to his cheek.

However, to Mika’s surprise the violent strike hadn’t caused Tang Xiao to be cast away as she expected. He only stumbled slightly. How heavy WAS this kid, she thought. With the question rumbling through her mind, she took advantage of his stagger to launch herself unimpeded in to the air. One foot connected with his stomach, and she arced around to connect her other foot viciously with his head.

Chapter 128: Roasted Tang Xiao

Tang Xiao’s massive girth tumbled to his backside, as though all the muscles in his body had vanished. Suddenly, his body morphed, changing in to a large pedestal. The sudden shift in position hadn’t just been to avoid Mika’s violent assault, but also an opportunity to attack. Two large iron rebars lashed out like whips at the woman as she soared overhead.

“Tang Xiao, don’t go easy. Give it your all.” Lan Jue’s gentle voice called out from a short distance away. He stood calmly to the side, hands clasped behind his back, and watched the two exchange blows.

“Who needs him to go easy!” Mika’s voice was cold and dismissive. She glared down on him, hovering in the air. Suddenly, two molten balls of fire burst from her palms and began to revolve around her.

The whipping bars of iron came in contact with the fiery orbs. The moment they touched, the iron became red-hot. They melted away, not unlike Tang Xiao had moments ago.

The column that was Tang Xiao suddenly flashed. From it, scores of metal barbs and cutting splinters shot forth. They

barreled towards Mika like a cutting wall of debris.

Mika, in response, twisted easily in the air and headed to ground. A half-circle of light a meter across sprung to life near her, and as the metal spikes smashed against it they turned to slag and dropped away.

Her descend continued, and with each inch she grew nearer to Tang Xiao the heat and pressure of her fiery presence increased. The column once more changed, this time dissolving in to a metallic river and dispersing around the warehouse. The titanium white light it was had emitted softened visibly, but the move did manage to avoid Mika’s rush.

The fiery succubus smirked. She landed, the tip of her left root resting on the ground while the rest of her floated in a fiery haze. Her right arm raised, and she extended her index finger. She turned, three hundred and sixty degrees, and as her finger moved the air around it caught aflame. When she came full circle, she was surrounded by a wall of fire. It took only a small motion, and the living inferno lashed out to incinerate the liquid metal wherever it fled.

“Miss Mika! Spare me!” Tang Xiao cried.

Mika stopped, her raging fires diminishing a hair, but that didn’t stop her fires from their insatiable hunger. They raced through the warehouse chasing the metal. However, strangely, as they made contact the fires were snuffed out, a though swallowed by the ground itself.

“Hm?” Mika looked on in confusion. Tang Xiao didn’t wait for her to recover. Taking advantage of her temporary confusion, she didn’t notice when a massive metal hand came reaching up at her from just below her feet. It viciously snatched her up.

Mika was pinned, and though her fierce aura was keeping her from being crushed, the strength and pressure of the hand took her by surprise.

“Miss Mika, how about I tell you a joke?” Tang Xiao’s affable voice filled the warehouse.

Mika smiled prettily. “Sure! Go on then.” Her voice was kind, inviting, but her pretty eyes took on a dangerous red light. That familiar, creeping terror of her aura began to slither out over everything like a nightmare.

Tang Xiao said nothing further, for as he proceeded to try and

crush Mika, her entire body burst in to a raging column of fire. Her left foot stamped against the ground and she was launched upwards. Where her foot made contact, and with her fiery figure at it’s center, a massive lotus composed of flames bloomed to life. The flowers of the hellfire lotus reached out to all corners, it’s liking fires lapping towards the ceiling, a hundred meters in all directions. The warehouse became a sizzling world of fire.

The pedals landed over the floors, the red-golden light undulating like lava. The floor began to bubble. The distant walls had grown red from the heat that was threatening to melt the entirety of the warehouse.

“Aaahh!” Once again, Tang Xiao cried out.

A jiggling ball of silvery-white liquid bubbled up from the ground below. It’s surface, too, was red from the intense heat. A white light fired from it towards the distant ceiling, and the ball of melted metal followed.

Mika called after it. “Still trying to run?” Mika swept her arm. This time it was her turn, as a fiery hand appeared from nowhere and snapped up the fleeing orb. The hand squeezed.

“Miss Mika, mercy!” Tang Xiao’s pitiful voice wafted towards her. “I can’t take it! Ah, ah, Ah, AH!”

Tang Xiao’s circular form was visibly compressed. Gradually the heat increased until the entire orb was a simmering red. Tang Xiao’s screams also increased.

Mika looked at her boss. Lan Jue’s soft voice answered her unspoken question. “This fatty’s a cunning one. If he’s got enough energy to scream this loud, then he’s fine.”

“Oh.” Mika grinned devilishly. Those familiar with her would know that expression, and would shudder at what came next. She was the Stygian Succubus, what mercy was there in her?

A golden spout of fire appeared, and rushed to join the fiery hand, slithering through it’s finger’s to the rapidly heating ball in it’s palm. “Think you’d grab me, ‘ey pig-boy? Miss Mika’ll make things hotter for you!”

The entire hand of fire became a dazzling gold. Tang Xiao glowed a bright red, caught in the center of the golden hellfire.

“Ah! Don’t!” Surprisingly, Tang Xiao still had the ability to scream despite the searing fires. At the same time, a tiny twinkling fought against the golden light as a drop of silvery liquid separated from the orb. The light spread out, diffusing over the ball of silver liquid like a membrane. It attempted valiantly to isolate Tang Xiao from the fiery prison he was stuck in.

Lan Jue looked on, and nodded. This, was the strength of an adept’s core. The pure energy within them. Tang Xiao released a final, piercing howl. Then he fell silent. All that was left was the fierce white light, ever shining and buried beneath the golden fires.

Lan Jue narrowed his eyes, watching them carefully, judging that white light and it’s changes. He waited a moment longer, then spoke. “Mika, that’s enough.”

Mika waved, and the elemental hand, issued from the flaming column of her palm, was sucked back in to her and dissolved. The smoldering, red ball of metal came tumbling to the floor.

Clunk! The ball became soft and began to deform as though it were made of puddy.

After roughly a minute the waves of heat coming off the metal stopped, and it’s color returned to normal. The warehouse around them looked as though nothing had happened. Even the spot of ground that had been melted to ruin by Mika’s lotus slowly began to return to normal.

Any outsider, seeing this, would certainly have been pleasantly dumbfounded. Metal, that healed on it’s own. A property of Technetium. The warehouse’s metal construction was infused with it. Just the smallest amount, but enough to make one’s eyes pop. After all, even the slightest bit of technetium was worth just as much as a top-level mecha.

Over time the melted puddle that was Tang Xiao began to reconstitute itself, once again returning to it’s silver hue. Though, it was a sight darker than it had been at the outset.

Mika turned to her boss with a grin. “I’ll head out first boss.”

“Mn,” he replied.

Mika paused long enough to chuckle at the silver puddle, then left.

Several more minutes passed before the metal became Tang Xiao’s familiar, though frightfully naked, figure.

His skin from head to toe was red, like he’d been roasted. He was foaming at the mouth, and his breath came ragged. His eyes were rolled back in his head. He looked as though he could die at any moment 1.

Lan Jue approached the battered child and knelt at his side.
He felt his pulse, then nodded.

The power Tang Xiao revealed today was more than he’d shown Lan Jue in any of their previous meetings. It also seemed like his excessive weight really did have a positive effect on his metalmorphosis discipline. For his Talent to natural evolve as it did, it may in fact have been the right call.

When Tang Xiao came back to his senses, he felt like his body wasn’t his. He was weak, limp, and half of his body had no sensation.

In this moment, the first thought that came to mind was… gentle. Yes, gentle, and by that he meant Lan Jue. Only now did he realize how easy his teacher had been going on him.

“What’s that smell. It’s like pork…” A strange voice filled his ears.

Tang Xiao managed to turn his head with some considerable effort. He saw Jin Tao wander in. The guy walked smooth and easy, his face ruddy and smiling like he’d just gotten a full-body massage.

“Eh? Is that Tang Xiao? What the hell happened to you?” Jin Tao looked down on the naked fatty, rubbed his nose, then nearly leapt from surprise. “That smell is you! Hey fat-ass, who tried to turn you in to pork loins?”

Lan Jue chuckled good-naturedly. He once more moved to Tang Xiao’s side and reached down a hand. In his palm was a vibrant green stone. A thrill of electricity ran through the gem, and suddenly a gentle green light issued forth. It reached out and covered Tang Xiao like a blanket.

Tang Xiao began to feel waves of refreshing energy course through him, starting at his limbs then slowly moving inward. His breathing became smoother, and yet his chest was tight with violent intent towards Jin Tao.

What felt like ages later, Tang Xiao was able to pull himself up off the ground with no small measure of moans and groans. His skin felt burnt to a crisp, and every little touch was like fire. He was wracked with ticks and spasms. Just looking at him, though, you wouldn’t see anything the matter.

Lan Jue handed the green power gem to Hua Li, who’d entered with Jin Tao. He looked at Jin Tao, a strange look on his face. “I hope tomorrow you’re still in such a good mood,” he said.

A sudden fear filled him, and Jin Tao couldn’t help but stutter a question. “Teach, is it gunna be as bad Fatty Tang over there?”

Lan Jue shook his head. “Of course not. It’ll be worse. What happened to him was only the beginning. And your regrets come too late – your sister already passed you over to me. From here on out the rest is up to you. Tang Xiao, rest for half an hour then head back in. Tomorrow, same time, right here. Mika will be waiting. Tonight when you go home, meditate for at least two hours and focus on the changes in your body. Understand?”

“Yes, Professor.” Tang Xiao earnestly replied. Hearing that Jin Tao’s fate was to be worse than his brought some vitality back. Besides, no matter what people said, being beaten by a

lady as pretty as Mika was better than being beat on by some dude. Indeed, he’d had the pleasure of seeing her combat pose. Tomorrow, he’ll have to be more careful.

Chapter 129: The History Of Richard And Zhou Qianlin

Hua Li and Lan Jue walked from the warehouse. Hua Li repeatedly tossed and caught the green gem Lan Jue had given him moments before. “If people knew you were using the restorative stone or this, they’d curse you as a wastrel. It’s no cheap b-ranked stone, you know. Each time you use it, that’s one less. Eventually it’ll be gone.”

Lan Jue smiled. “Wealthy and headstrong, what can ya do. If it can really motivate Tang Xiao’s discipline evolution, then it’s worth the cost. I’m handing it over to you for the next few days. I’m heading out to participate in that trip soon.”

Hua Li’s response was sour. “You head out to play and leave me with all the hard work. If I’d have known from the onset it’d be like this I wouldn’t have come to help your ungrateful ass!”

Lan Jue slapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder and chortled. “Alright, stop complaining. I’ll be back in a few days. By then A- Cheng should also have arrived. It’s tough for the group of us to get together these days. When he shows up we’ll have some good joint training to undergo. We can’t lose this competition coming up.”

“When you come back,” Hua Li began, “I still have that concert. I was thinking, what about holding it at the National Eastern University? After all the students there are all fans of mine.”

“Are you crazy?” Lan Jue shot him a chastising look. “Aren’t you afraid of blowing your cover? What kind of nonsense is that.”

It was Hua Li’s turn to chuckle dismissively. “I’m holding my concert there to make sure you stop stealing away all the pretty girls. I’ll steal that Zhou Qianlin and you’ll be hopeless.”

“Bah! You still think the whole of the galaxy’s women like you?” Lan Jue muttered.

Hua Li loftily let his opinions be known. “Unless they’re lesbians, or don’t know good looks when they see them, there are no other exceptions.”

Lan Jue slapped his forehead in exasperation. “This arrogant punk. Do what you like, only make sure you have public security locked down.”

“All set. Gobi Entertainment has thrown countless of these sorts of things. Our experience is unparalleled in all the Three Alliances. We know precisely when and how to get it all done with government cooperation.”

Lan Jue lifted a brow. “It sounds like you’re saying Mo Xing has already arrived.”

Hua Li’s face turned bitter. “You think she wouldn’t? I got her message yesterday. I didn’t reply, but I can’t hide for long. You know her temper. If I keep avoiding her I’m liable to have an ‘accident’.”

Lan Jue looked as though he were suddenly counting his blessings. “Your problem, yours to deal with.”

“You aren’t going to help?” Hua Li shot back at him, full of indignation.

“How can I? You want to go up there and reveal to everyone that I’m Zeus? Good friend to Poseidon? Don’t forget, I’m a wanted man throughout all of the Eastern Alliance for what I did. If I dared to reveal myself I’d be run out of town.”

Hua Li scowled at him. “In my darkest hour it is revealed you are completely unreliable! Fine, you go then. I’ll go find Mo Xing. If she really does lose her temper I doubt I’ll be able to handle it.”

The two gentlemen separated at the door of the Jewelry Shop. Lan Jue returned to the surface and immediately made for the verti-car. He slipped in once the doors opened and engaged the auto-pilot to return the vehicle to the parking garage. He then began pushing his bicycle. Eventually, he arrived at that familiar corner.

It was precisely ten minutes after she’d finished her classes. She’d so far not used the soulcaller gem to make contact with him. Instead she made for their designated corner directly. As her eyes laid upon Lan Jue, they softened visibly. She pulled herself up on the bike.

Lan Jue also did not speak, but he knew his cue and began to pedal. They slowly made their way from the university campus.

“Are we going to the hospital today?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Lan Jue responded.

They kept going, along that long road, neither speaking. Lan Jue brought her to the foot of the mountain Qianlin called home.

“Bye.” He waved a hand at her.

She smiled back at him, waved, then made her way up the mountain.

Lan Jue watched her as she left, then turned his bike around to leave.

“Her cuz, I was hoping we could have a small talk.” Just then, a chilling voice could be heard from nearby.

Lan Jue paused, and turned his head to look. He spied Richard approaching from the shadows not far off.

“It’s you.” Lan Jue pushed his bicycle towards the young man. “What do you want to talk about?”

Richard responded in quiet tones. “Let’s find somewhere to sit.” As he spoke, he pulled his own bicycle from the treeline and hopped on. They both made for the base of the mountain.

Lan Jue always felt guilty whenever it came to Richard. After all, had it not been for him and his actions at their wedding, he and Qianlin would already be married. He had tried desperately to be kind and fair to the kid the few times they’d met.

Richard appeared to be quiet familiar with the road and their surroundings. They rode for about ten minutes before they found a deserted section of road to stop.

They stopped their bikes and placed them against the trees, stepping in off the road. Lan Jue narrowed his eyes at the suspicious behavior, but followed all the same.

They walked for another few minutes, until they were well within the pressing trees. Richard stopped, then, his back to Lan Jue, and began to speak. “It was a coincidence that Qianlin and I met. She was attending a birthday, last year, and my father was in the Eastern Alliance for a state visit. I accompanied as his entourage, successor to the Austin Family dynasty. It was her father’s birthday, the Chief Minister Zhou Xueguan. I met her first at that birthday party.”

“From that very first moment, even though it was only the first time I’d seen her, I was captivated. She had that simple, quintessential Eastern beauty. Delicate, without the slightest flaw. If she hadn’t spoken, just stood out there, I’d have thought she was a sculpture, the product of the galaxy’s greatest artist. From that moment, I knew, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from falling in love with her.”

“I used everything at my disposal, found every opportunity to talk to her. She asked me if I was some playboy. Of course I told her no, but then she left. I chased after her, asked what was wrong. She shook her head, and told me she was looking for a playboy. She was looking for a bad boy.”

“I changed my tone in a hurry. Of course I was a playboy, I told her. A bad boy. I told her about some things I’d done, trouble I’d caused. Peeping in to the girl’s bathroom when I was young and so forth. She started to pay attention to me then. Then she asked, if I wanted to get married. I felt… so lucky. The luckiest guy under heaven. Of course I agreed right away. I told my father first thing, and he was understandably surprised. He thought it was some trap set by the Chief Minister.”

“It took time but I convinced him. After his own investigation he determined this wasn’t elaborate ruse. So he decided to use this opportunity to deepen cooperation and relationships with

the East. None of this was important to me. All I cared about was making Qianlin my wife.”

“But that day… that was nothing short of a living nightmare. That guy, out of nowhere, stealing away Qianlin. The wedding was thrown in to chaos and my father, enraged, took me from here. For a long time I didn’t know what to do, something came over me. Until I knew she was safe I was completely oblivious. I just knew I had to get back to her, so we’d be together.”

A fanaticism had crept in to Richard’s eyes as he spoke. He looked almost crazy; paranoid, angry, intolerant.

“And then there’s you. You know, as far as I’ve been able to discovered Qianlin doesn’t have any cousins. Calling yourself that was a pretext. Why. Why does she sit on the back of your bicycle? Be straight with me.”

The craze in his eyes began to change, shifting appreciably to a bitter cold. The icy depths of abandonment.

Lan Jue narrowed his eyes. Thoughts raced through his head as the young man spoke. At first he’d felt sorry for Richard, but now, hearing his tale, doubt filled him. From the story he

determined the two of them must not have known each other long. Establishing a wedding date the first time they met? And why would Qianlin want a playboy? A bad guy as her spouse? It all was too strange.”

“I’m her bodyguard,” Lan jue replied, speaking frankly.

“Bodyguard?” The realization surprised him.

After discovering Qianlin had no older cousins, many possibilities came to Richard. His first thought was of course that the two of them were together. He  certainly  hadn’t expected that he’d be her bodyguard. Lan Jue’s revelation left him speechless.

As the heir to the Austin family, his ‘sixth sense’ had been finely tuned. After determining Lan Jue and Qianlin had no blood relation, there was nonetheless some strange, unexplainable crisis that assailed him. There was something strange about Lan jue, a peculiarity. As though he wasn’t what he seemed.

“You’re Qianlin’s bodyguard? Hired by Uncle Zhou [1]?” His questions came quickly.

[tl : [1] = Here he means Zhou Qianlin’s father.]

Lan Jue smiled, cool and relaxed. “Anything more is between she and I. And why did you call me here, Richard? To make your presence known? To tell me all about your history with her?”

Richard’s voice came low, almost a growl. “The wedding never went through, but Qianlin is still my fiancé. I don’t want you to have any further contact with her. Especially don’t go to pick her up. I hope you agree. If you are indeed her bodyguard then this should be easy to handle – here’s a check. Write a number, accepted at any bank.”

He fished out a blank check from his pocket, and stretched it towards Lan Jue.

It was a strange thing, made of some metal material. It possessed at least ten anti-faking checks, the best electronic money exchange available.

Chapter 130: Another Encounter With The Savage Goddess

Lan Jue laughed, and took the check from his hand. “Alright! Oh, but it looks like the place to write the amount is too small, with all the zeroes I’m thinking.”

Richard blinked at him, curiosity evident in his voice. “How much do you want?”

“To abandon my promise and tarnish my reputation?” Lan Jue looked looked at the young man. “A few hundred zeroes at least. So, where should I write?” Instead of writing, however, he handed the check back to him.

“Don’t go too far now,” Richard warned, his voice hard.

Lan Jue turned away from him, heading back towards the street. He spoke gently over his shoulder as he did. “You know at first, I didn’t bear you any ill will. I even sympathized with you. But now, with what you did here, I understand why Zhou Qianlin refused to marry you. The next time you want something like this, do yourself a favor and simply don’t bother me with it.” He waved a hand, and left the cover of the forest.

Richard remained where he was. His depressed, angry face watched Lan Jue leave. Dappled sunlight fell upon his sunken shoulders, and suddenly there about another figure beside him. Quiet, dark, almost weightless, it stood not far off.

“Young master, shall I…” The person’s voice was deep, sinister. They motioned with their hands, indicating the neck.

Richard hesitated. He’d done his research, or tried. He’d attempted to find all he could about this Lan Jue, but all he managed was a vague and ambiguous connection with Skyfire Avenue. It was a place that filled him with a sense of trepidation. If it was indeed true that Lan Jue was what he said
– simply Zhou Qianlin’s body guard – then there was no need to incite the Avenue’s ire.

“Forget it. Just keep an eye on him.” Richard’s voice was cold, his voice ominous. He was the heir to the top-most political dynasty of the Western Alliance, and apparently what that entailed was darker than he let on in public.

By the time Lan Jue reached his bicycle, his scowl had curdled. “So he decides not to make a move. Smarter than he looks.”

Richard couldn’t have known the pity, the guilt that was in Lan Jue’s heart for him. Now, however, it was all gone.

ζ

“What’s wrong with you! A simple message than you just run off to where ever?! Are you trying to piss me off?” Mo Xiao stood with her arms crossed over her smart business attire. She broke pose occasionally to angrily waggle a finger at the hooded, masked Hua Li standing sheepishly before her.

Hua Li smiled apologetically. “Alright, alright. Don’t be mad. You gotta give me at least some free time. You can’t have me working all day every day! I’ll tire out if you do that. But you were right, see, resting a few days has made my skin much better!” He slipped the mask from his face to show her what he meant.

His handsome face bore a suave smile, and this was enough to evidently cause Mo Xiao to relax somewhat.

“You have the nerve to talk to me about freedom? How many days a year do you actually work? All added together, no more than two months. The rest of the time it’s me doing all the

work. Even then you still dare to run away, without so much as telling me where you’re going. Not even a message on my communicator. I’m out hunting for clues, and if I’d never heard any news would you ever have shown your face again?”

“It’s not like that! I wanted to get in contact with you as quick as possible. Look, this entire time I’ve been here I was thinking about you. Come on, gimmie a hug.” He spread open his arms and tried to wrap her up.

Mo Xiao had her palm raised to push him away, but for reasons unknown she felt too weak to resist. She end up pressed against his chest. It was only a brief connection, but when he finally released her, Mo Xiao’s face had reddened visibly. The anger in her expression had also lessened.

“It’s always like this,” she muttered grudgingly. “Ok. Down to business.” Her eyes grew clear and sharp. She was wholly the businesswoman now. “Your idea to hold the concert in the National University isn’t a bad one. I’ve already got some people working on it. They’re getting in contact with the University’s people. They’re excited about it, but have a very strict confidentiality agreement we’ll need to agree to. You’ll also need to practice your songs. There’s no way you’re screwing this up on the day. For the next few days you’re under strict surveillance.”

“Can’t happen. I still have something I have to take care of.” Hua Li contradicted her in hesitant tones.

“Still?” Mo Xiao glared at him, and crossed her arms. “I know you don’t go running off for no reason. Spill. What was so important you had to come running off here?”

“Still A-Jue,” he said. “Ever since Hera died he’s been languishing out here. I heard a little while ago from A-Cheng that he’d found him. Later he got in contact with me, told me about this run in he had with the Pontiff’s Castle. How he’d been hurt in the ensuing fight. I came this time to look after him. Even though I was loathe to leave your side, I had to do my duty!”

“A-Jue? You mean Zeus?” Her eyes grew sharper still, piercing at the mention of the name. The expression in those cutting eyes underwent a series of rapid, curious changes.

Hua Li gave her a strange look of his own. “What is it?”

Mo Xiao puckered her lips in thought. “It’s nothing. It’s just been a long time since we’d met. How is he now?”

“He’s alright,” he said. “I can’t say good, but not bad. Finally starting to recover from the death of Hera.”

Mo Xiao nodded. “That’s good then.”

ζ

Two days later. Early Morning

As ever Lan Jue was astride his bicycle, pedaling towards the university grounds. In contrast, however, he’d swapped out his formal wear for a track suit. It served to give him a distinctly energetic appearance. He didn’t look any different from the students he taught, in truth.

The white exercise gear fit him perfectly. His feet her covered in similarly pure white sneakers, simple and unassuming. A backpack slung cross his back completed the ensemble.

He parked his bike in the security area, and waited patiently at the school’s large gates. He didn’t tolerate others being late, so naturally he had to abide by his own rules. It was only a little while before nearly all the teachers were gathered. Like him,

they were dressed casually. After all, this wasn’t a long trip. About five days, not counting the commute. There wasn’t any need to bring a lot of fancy stuff.

Jin Yan had also arrived early. She was clad in violet sportswear that set off her delicate features. Upon seeing Lan Jue her eyes lit up, and she hurried to greet him.

“You look quite good in a track suit, Professor Lan!” She smiled prettily at him.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve pulled it out,” he admitted. “ It feels strange to wear it again. Comfortable, though.”

“That’s good then. You look so young. If they didn’t know any better the others would probably think you were a student here.”

She stopped when she noticed Lan Jue’s faced go stiff, almost unnatural. She followed his eyes to the gate, in time to see the willowy figure swaying their way.

As she passed, the teachers almost automatically hustled to

clear a path. Only a few of the braver ones, huddled in groups, dared to greet her.

A pair of jeans hugged tightly against her, outlining her long legs and exaggerating her pert backside. Her top was an exercise shirt, white, similar to Lan Jue’s own. Her black hair was tied simply at the back in a pony tail and she wore no make-up. Still, she was beautiful, a natural gift. Despite how baggy her shirt was, it failed to completely shroud her alluring figure. Standing there she looked for all the world like a proud, newly budded daisy.

“What’s the Savage Goddess dong here?” His heart rate had increased at the revelation.

Jin Yan realized the predicament and chuckled. “Professor Tan is actually a very nice woman. She just has an… explosive temper. If she didn’t, with her charms, there’d be no end of men chasing after her.”

Lan Jue’s own estimation of the Tan Lingyun couldn’t have been further from Jin Yan’s. He shook his head. And yet, he kept a respectful distance form her. “It doesn’t matter how pretty she is. With such a cruel temper, no man would dare speak to her.”

“If you’ve got something to say then speak up.” A voice suddenly interrupted him from nearby.

Lan Jue turned his head, and spied Wang Hongyuan. He wasn’t sure when the man had approached. The dance instructor looked at the two of them with a dismissive expression.

Today he was dressed in a track suit as well, this one black. There wasn’t much that could be said about his oily hair and skin, but he did indeed keep good care of his figure. His suit was tight, and hugged his stature. He stood straight on thin legs, watching them.

Lan Jue greeted him with an easy smile, and didn’t bother with his impolite greeting. Jin Yan, however, was less constrained.

“What are you doing going about talking like that, Professor Wang. Don’t forget we are all electives teachers here, and here you are so ornery.”

“I just can’t tolerate seeing someone talk behind another’s back,” he said through a scowl.

Lan Jue’s smile disappeared. “And what exactly did I say that was so bad?”

Wang Hongyun sniffed arrogantly, his head high, and stomped off.

“Don’t be upset, Professor Lan. Sometimes Wang Hongyun’s just like this. He’s a little difficult to deal with sometimes, but he’s got a good heart. I’ve heard other teachers say he spends half his salary every month to help out poor students.”

“Oh?” Lan Jue looked at the retreating dance instructor with no small measure of surprise. He hadn’t expected any part of the guy to be worth a damn.

The appointed time was quick approaching, and a large verti- car was slowly making it’s way towards them. It stopped before them, and as the doors opened Director Wu was revealed.

“Alright, if you all would please get in the car. You all are adults, so I wont spend a lot of time on the do’s and don’ts. Remember that Planet Taihua is not a wholly developed planet. When we arrive, please make sure you keep safe and help each other out where necessary. Avoid anything dangerous.”

As it turned out, Director Wu’s leading style was less school leader and more old friend. It brought a smile to Lan Jue’s face.

His small speech concluded, the teachers began to file in to the transport. Naturally, the electives teachers mostly sat together. And naturally, Jin Yan sat beside Lan Jue. But what brought a decidedly depressing turn to his day was the fact that – for reasons unknown – Tan Lingyun chose to sat at his other side. There was an isle between them, but that didn’t stop Lan Jue from feeling uncomfortable with the situation. It was made worse when, her eyes sweeping over him, her face twisted in a disdainful sneer.

Looks like we’re to be mortal enemies. From then on, Lan Jue simply didn’t look her way, like there was nothing there to see at all.

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