Skyfire Avenue Chapter 341-350

Chapter 341: Departures

Lan Jue gave her a wink and a sly smile. “Keep that a secret, eh?”

The Pharmacist offered a small nod. She faced him, and that disconcerting chill was gone from her face. Now her expression was like a warm spring breeze. “Thank you for coming. I thought you’d forgotten your promise.”

Lan Jue’s face fell in shame. “I’ve been off planet. I’m back for a few days, but I need to rush out again. I’ve come to see Jun’er, and also to speak with you about something.”

She nodded. “I already know all about it. You want me to go to the North and participate in this Adept competition. Originally I hadn’t planned to go because of Jun’er, but now that you’re here I can make the trip.”

“Perhaps you can take her with you,” Lan Jue said. “She may not be able to see, but keeping her cooped up in her home all day can’t be good for her. She’s a brilliant little one, but  being locked up in a house isn’t good for her health.”

The Pharmacist looked at him in mild surprise. They were words she hadn’t expected from him – bring Jun’er? She was blind from birth, and the only thing remaining of her lost husband. She was a priceless treasure to the Pharmacist, and they helped each other through every day life like partners. This powerful woman was, in the inside, truly was a fragile thing when it came to her child. And she knew it. For fear of any harm coming to her baby, the two were inseparable. They hardly left the Hall, much less the planet.

Lan Jue proceeded. “Being blind doesn’t mean she isn’t healthy. But if she never leaves this place, that will definitely change. Bring her out, let her play. It’ll expand her world. Whether or not to participate in these fights, doesn’t matter – I’ll give the Gourmet some excuse. I’m not here to convince you, but I really do think it would be good for the little one to get out.”

The Pharmacist gave an anguished sigh. “Outsiders truly do see our personal matters the clearest. You’re right. I’ve lost sight of what my daughter needs, and she is brilliant. She’s never bothered me about it. I’ve forgotten that she is, after all, a child. Thank you, Jewelry Master. Really.”

Lan Jue answered with a sheepish smile. “You said it yourself, right? I’m the father of your child. Caring for Jun’er is my job.”

The Pharmacist smiled, too. “Don’t worry about any of that. I won’t tell others. Just now I reacted on impulse. Sometimes I have a little trouble controlling my emotions. Come, I’ll take you to see Jun’er. This last month she must have asked a hundred times for stories about you.”

At this, Lan Jue couldn’t help but chortle. “Today I’ll tell her a story about soldiers.”

With that, the two of them took the short trip to Jun’er’s room.

“Mama!” Jun’er shouted excitedly as they entered. “Daddy’s here too, right?”

“Jun’er! How did you know?” Lan Jue asked, his voice rich with emotion.

Jun’er launched herself off the bed, and her tiny feet pattered excitedly as she ran toward the sound of Lan Jue’s voice. Her face was brighter than a sunbeam. “Daddyyyyy! You’re back! I heard your footsteps!”

The Pharmacist’s eyes were wet with tears. Lan Jue, too, was moved by the scene. This beautiful little girl was too cute to bear. She’d heard his footsteps only once and remembered them. This was clearly the thing she longed the most for, a complete family.

Lan Jue heaved her up with a dramatic grunt and ruffled her hair. Jun’er naturally threw her arms around his neck. “I missed you a lot, daddy.”

“Daddy missed you too,” he assured her. Lan Jue fell in to the role of father very quickly, after only the second visit. He looked at the Pharmacist, and saw in her eyes the same emotions afflicting him. She was missing a husband, and he was missing a wife. If Hera was still alive, they’d probably have a child of their own.

Lan Jue held her for a moment longer, then sat down on her bed. “You know I’ve been out finding new soldiers to help protect us. I just got back. Do you want to hear some stories about what they do out there?”

“Yay! Yes!” she clapped her little hands together excitedly.

Lan Jue adjusted her on his lap. One hand gently stroked her hair as he spoke. “These new young recruits were really amazing, you know. All of them were Adepts! At least level five. But they were still young and had a lot to learn. So, I decided that they would need a very special class to make them stronger as fast as possible. I gathered them all up, and then taught them what I could.”

Jun’er sat and listened intently, careful not to interrupt or be rude. The Pharmacist could see a faint golden glow emanating from Lan Jue’s hand as he stroked her hair – undoubtedly a gentle current of bioelectricity. He was trying to stimulate her atrophied eyes.

The Pharmacist had exhausted all options in trying to help her daughter live a normal life. Nothing worked. She had aplasia of the optical nerve – it never grew properly. That was not something medicine could fix. She watched appreciatively as Lan Jue tried, knowing full well that the chances were small. Still, there was always a chance.

She had lived for years in a dull, dim world. But now, faintly, it was as though color returned. It was like they were a complete family again.

Lan Jue regaled her for an hour with the exploits of he and his students. No detail was too small for the ravenous Jun’er. The whole thing was told from beginning to end.

This time, Jun’er did not succumb to sleep. Admiration and excitement shone in her pretty little face. She could feel the strange power radiating from Lan Jue’s hand, but said nothing about it.

“I want to be like all of them, daddy. I want to be a machine pilot, too.”

Lan Jue laughed affectionately. “You’re going to have to wait until you grow up, sweetie. I’ll teach you, what do you think?”

But the small girl’s expression immediately fell. “I can’t see…”

“No matter what, your daddy will find a way to get those eyes working again,” Lan Jue promised. “Then you’ll be able to see it all, all the colors of the world around you. You’ll see what your mommy and daddy look like. Sounds good, right?”

Jun’er timidly nodded her head. She was a child, true, but

smart. Her thoughts were simple, but her face still revealed doubt.

“Can you feel the tingly feeling on your back from daddy’s hand?” He asked.

“Uh-huh,” she answered. “My eyes feel funny.”

He chuckled. “That’s right. You have little nerves in your eyeballs that are weak. But you know, the last time I saw you I checked for myself. You know those weak nerves aren’t because you’re sick! What that means is, all we have to do is make them strong. Then they’ll start working with your eyes – and you’ll see! It’s going to take time, but we’ll find a way.

I turned this in to an ELI5 because he’s talking to an infant. TJSS wrote it in more medical terms. If you’re interested, a more faithful translation ensues; “Your optic nerves had atrophied. Last time, I examined them and discovered that the nerves were not pathologically damaged. That is to say, all we need to do is stretch these atrophied nerves and they will begin to interact with your retina.” She’s a smart kid, but damn. Interestingly, though, Chinese medical terms and the normal every-day use words are the same, so young children can effectively understand. But that’s not the case here, words like

‘atrophied’ ‘retina’, even the one he used for ‘stretch’ no child would ever know.

That shadow of doubt receded somewhat. “Really?! Will I really be able to see?”

Lan Jue nodded . “Yes you will. Little Jun’er’s such a pretty thing, she should be able to see how much.”

Jun’er threw herself against Lan Jue in a little bear hug, then kissed him on the cheek. “My daddy’s the best.”

Lan Jue gently stroked her hair. “So what would you think about going on a little trip, huh sweetie? In a few days daddy has to go out again. It might be a little while before I come back, like before. But I spoke to your mother, and she said we could all go together. We could go to a new place and play for a little while, what do you think? We’ll get to ride in a big airship!”

She gasped, and her big round eyes widened. Her chubby cheeks were a ruddy red from excitement. “Daddy! I love you daddy. I want to go! I want to go!”

Seeing her little girl so excited at the idea, the Pharmacist couldn’t control herself anymore. Streams of tears trickled down her cheeks, and she covered her mouth to stop the sobs.

Lan Jue stayed for a long time, until Jun’er fell asleep. Only then did he bid farewell to the Pharmacist. Children were pure, and spending time with his surrogate daughter had helped to ease some of the troubles in his heart. Things were also clearer. Now that it’d happened, acceptance was the only way. It is what it is!

When Lan Jue returned to the jewelry shop, he picked out a bundle of his choicest gems and relinquished them to Mika. She was to use them for upgrades to all their mechas, as well as all three Zeus ships. He knew he didn’t have to worry over management of the store.

Three days later, an enormous transport ship lifted off from the public air field. It was headed right for the Western Alliance.

Ships of this size were designed to transport three thousand passengers at a time, and a great deal of goods. All of them were equipped with FTL drives as well, for safety and commerce.

Like any transport, the ship was separated by class. First, business and economy as it had been for ages. The university teachers, naturally, sat in economy. After all, the university was footing the bill and their pockets weren’t bottomless.

Lan Jue hunched helplessly in his seat. Economy! It’d been years since he’d had to be subjected to this.

It wasn’t a luxury issue. He was simply too lanky. He sat with his knees practically by his ears. That hunch wasn’t from depression but because otherwise his head would strike the ceiling.

This certainly didn’t qualify as comfortable. Worse still, the trip would last five days and five nights. Although there would be periods of deep sleep as the ship passed through wormholes or made jumps, he felt like five days and five nights of this would either kill him or drive him crazy. Unacceptable! He had to find a way to upgrade!

It was made infinitely worse when one considered his company. Being economy class, passengers had no choice but to literally rub elbows. On his left was his most recent trouble, Zhou Qianlin. His sins from the past come to haunt him took the form of the Savage Goddess on his right.

Qianlin was slightly better than the alternative. Their relationship was strange, and her mood toward him was markedly cooler. But she was important to him, and that was clear from his lack of self-control.

Tan Lingyun was an entirely different matter. She had looked physically disgusted when she’d found out Lan Jue was beside her, as though he were an insect.

Chapter 342: The Two Great Beauties

It was unlikely any public airship would let you change seats on a whim while already in flight. Every seat was tied to its occupant’s ID’s, making changing a troubling issue.

“I warn you – if you touch me, you can’t blame me for my reaction.” Tan Lingyun growled in Lan Jue’s direction.

He could only reply with a tight scowl. He desperately wanted to say something, to tell her that golden-masked man she pined for was him! The look of shock and confusion on her face would be delicious.

The thought would have to die unspoken, however.

“Trust me, it’s definitely not a situation I want either.” As he spoke, Lan Jue shuffled as far as he could toward Tan Lingyun. He curls in arms in and pressed his elbows to his side, like a beaten dog licking its wounds.

Wu Junyi sat nearby. Although he was the teaching director, he was also among them in economy class. He lived by the doctrine of equal treatment for all – and after all, the

university’s coffers had its limits. Hearing the two bicker, he couldn’t help but snicker in spite of himself. He turned his face away so his mirth would not be discovered.

He was, of course, the architect of this seating arrangement. He would do whatever it took to keep Lan Jue tied to the university, so requests like this were happily agreed to. In inviting Zhou Qianlin, it clearly showed that Lan Jue had more than a healthy interest in beautiful women. If that was the case, then how better to keep the man that to surround him with beautiful women? From the beginning Director Wu had thought Lan Jue and Tan Lingyun were a suitable couple. The only obstacle was the Savage Goddess’ ignorance, for she didn’t know Lan Jue was Lei Feng.

When the ARC group returned from training, Tan Lingyun had sought out Director Wu. With a dogged determination, she tried to compel him to reveal the Drillmaster’s identity. Wu Junyi had made a promise, and more than that, was quite afraid of Lan Jue’s power. So of course he didn’t tell her. But how could a man as shrewd as he not immediately see her infatuation?

Tan Lingyun had become quite enamored with the mysterious, golden-masked man.

It was not an opportunity he could pass up. He would have to manufacture some sort of opportunity for things to take their course. The journey to the Barrows would take days, he thought
– what better opportunity than that? The school couldn’t afford first-class accommodations for Lan Jue, but he could at least be sandwiched between two gorgeous women. Perfect, he thought. The tighter the better.

Lan Jue could not know of Director Wu’s clandestine maneuvers. All he could do, is lament his situation. When he’d tried to scooch away from Tan Lingyun, Qianlin had reacted be recoiling, and blocking him with her hands. It wasn’t overt, but the expression on her face was like a stranger trying to keep someone at bay.

“Why don’t you just say what’s on your mind, huh?!” Tan Lingyun rudely rapped on his forehead with a fist. She was strong, Lan Jue remembered painfully.

“What the hell are you doing?!” He yelped.

Immediately, the Savage Goddess’ eyebrows shot up. “What do you think I’m doing? You better be straight with me or I will throw you from this airship! Qianlin, if he even breathes on you, you let me know. I’ll deal with him.”

Zhou Qianlin could see how tortured Lan Jue was, and for an instant her eyes revealed pity. She hurriedly shook her head, and dropped the hand she held up to keep Lan Jue away.

The ship calmed as it broke through Skyfire’s atmosphere. Portholes set along either side of the hull revealed the beautiful scenes as space slid by. Window seats always sold best. Qianlin had been given the one on their isle, and so she took advantage by aimlessly staring out in to the black. Lan Jue remained locked in the middle. Five days, he whined inwardly. He figured he’d probably die.

This must be what the students had felt during training, he thought. Pain of the body meant nothing, but afflictions of the soul were dire. Like them, there was nothing be could do about it.

“I need to visit the restroom.” Lan Jue half-stood as far as possible in this little nest.

Lingyun shot him a dismissive glance. “Who are you talking to?”

“You, of course,” he said in irritation.

“I guess your parents never taught you to be polite,” she replied.

“You-“ With great effort, Lan Jue managed to bite back the deluge of expletives he had in mind. His teeth audibly ground as he spoke. “Professor Tan. I’m sorry to trouble you. Thank you tremendously.”

She finally stood, and Lan Jue rushed passed as quickly and as carefully as he dared. His long legs send him toward the toilets and just short of a run.

A detestable scowl followed him as Tan Lingyun watched. She turned to her young student. “Be careful with that one. He looks useless, but he certainly is not a good person. Ugh, I can’t stand this kind of good-for-nothing garbage. And he’s supposed to be teaching etiquette! Back on Taihua he held everyone else up as we were running for our lives. Not only is he useless, he’s also stupid.” She didn’t despise him quite so much as she let on, of course, but the result of him running from the escaping plan was still fresh in her memory.

Her opinion of Wang Hongyuan had changed considerably since their encounter on Taihua. But this was not the case with Lan Jue. Him, she still hated.

“Prfoessor Lan can’t be that bad. I think he’s a good man, I’ve listened to his class.” Qianlin couldn’t bear to hear this woman bad mouthing Lan Jue so viciously. Of course, she couldn’t make here disagreement too vociferous.

“Oh? And what is his class like?” The Savage Goddess was genuinely curious.

Zhou Qianlin carefully weighed her words. “He teaches very well. Very noble. We’ve learned a lot of things you don’t usually learn in a university, and you can tell he’s very warmhearted.”

“Hmph,” Tan Lingyun grunted. “I really don’t know what the administrators were thinking. Making us sit with that waste of air, honestly…” It was as though she hadn’t heard Qianlin at all.

ζ

Lan Jue found a place with enough headroom for him to stand straight, and hung around there. It was then a familiar face came in to view.

“Professor Lan.” The tender voice was always a pleasure. Jin

Yan smiled up at him.

“Hello Professor Jin.” He replied pleasantly.

“What’s wrong? You look upset.” She had spied his unpleasant expression, and that was why she’d approached.

Lan Jue shook his head. “It’s nothing. A small matter.”

Jin Yan smiled prettily. “Professor Lan, I didn’t get a chance to thank you properly before Professor Wang joined us. Although I haven’t the slightest idea what my brother had to go through, but he came back a completely changed person. My parents and I hardly believe it. I’m certain this is a result of something you did, so thank you very much. Jin Tao was lucky to meet you.”

Lan Jue chuckled sheepishly, but said nothing.

Wang Hongyuan was like Jin Yan’s shadow, never far away. He slid seamlessly in to their little gathering. Who knows how, but he must have arranged it so he could sit beside her on this journey.

“Hello Professors.” He grinned wide at them.

Lan Jue greeted him with a flat stare. Jealousy was this guy’s only motivation. He couldn’t even seal the deal.

“Oh, Professor Wang. You were also looking for Professor Lan?” She cantered her head in curiosity as she looked his way.

Wang Hongyuan chortled. “No, no. I just saw the two of you talking and I figured I’d join. It’s boring sitting in one place, and anyway we’re all elective teachers. We have a commonality.”

“You two chat,” Lan Jue said, sighing inwardly at the inevitable. “I’m going to head back. Ugh, these long rides are rough.”

I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but train rides are a reality of life in China. They are far and away the primary means of getting around. These airships are sort of meant to evoke that, even more than airplanes. Every year during the New Year Festival, everyone has to return to their families, often across the country. Trains are the cheaper option, but you’ll have people sitting on little more than benches for literally almost a week in some cases.

Wang Hongyuan’s pleading eyes had forced him to leave. It was impossible to find a quiet corner in this tiny ship! Lan Jue was beginning to regret coming with the school. If he’d known it’d be like this, he would have gone with the Wine Master. But that would have blown his cover.

He made his way back to his seat. He stopped upon encountering Tan Lingyuan. “My deepest apologies, Professor. Could I trouble you to let me pass?”

This time, thankfully, she said nothing – only got up and let him pass unmolested.

He slunk passed and crouched in to his chair once more. Immediately he was even more uncomfortable than he had been. However, as he was musing on his misfortune, he felt a hand tug on his right sleeve.

Turning his head, Lan Jue saw Zhou Qianlin quietly lift the armrest between them. She scooched closer to the window, giving him a blessed few more inches of space. A warm feeling spread through Lan Jue’s chest. Although she didn’t say anything, her actions spoke volumes. She really was a great girl!

Ships were constructed like this in consideration of couples. It was a nice feature that removed the obstacles between them during these long flights, so they could keep close and comfortable.

Without the armrest to constrain him, Lan Jue was able to spread out. His legs and elbows were able to separate enough so he could at least breathe. It was still uncomfortable, but who was he to reject such a kindness.

Naturally, the close quarters caused their arms to touch. The Spirit Caller gem warmed.

Lan Jue: Thank you.

Qianlin: Don’t worry about it.

Lan Jue: I’m sorry, Qianlin. I was wrong before – I just reacted poorly to a sudden situation. I’m an adult, and there are certain things I’ve learned. I also know that we should always be looking forward. I’ve told myself endlessly that I need to begin my new life. But there’s a part of me that remains, a root that sprouts when things get emotional. I silence it every day, but it always comes back. It’s the part of me that never dies.”

Chapter 343: Lan Jue’s Lament

Lan Jue: You’re an amazing girl, and I like you very much. You’re perfect in so many ways. Had I met you before I met your sister, I’m sure I would have loved you as I love her. Like her, I wouldn’t be able to give you up. But that’s not the case. Your sister is gone, and she took my heart with her. Give me some time, please. I will never be able to forget her, but I’ll keep trying to put the pain away. If I can, then my heart is yours. Any other way would be unfair to you. Will you wait for me?

Zhou Qianlin quietly listened to Lan  Jue’s  confessions through the Spirit Caller gem. When she lifted her head, her eyes were puffy and red. Tears traced wet lines down  her cheeks.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. He told her through their soundless connection.

Qianlin: Who likes you, huh? Stop trying to make yourself feel better!

Lan Jue: You’re right, I’m trying to make myself feel better.
Don’t cry!

Ah! The cry was from Zhou Qianlin. Lan Jue felt his whole body tense up and then, he was flying through the airship’s fuselage.

Time slowed as he was in the air. He could clearly see Tan Lingyun’s hand gripping his shoulder. That’s what had pulled him up. He fought against his instinct, going through the many ways he might be able to free himself from this situation, but he’d break his cover.

“I…” Lan Jue had just enough time to lament his misfortune.

Bang! An instant later, he was a crumpled heap on the floor.

Tan Lingyun had ‘gone easy,’ at least considering what she was capable of. She’d only thrown him around through the air instead of doing any real damage. If she had chosen to use her full strength, it would have ended very poorly for Lan Jue.

All eyes were drawn to the sudden, dramatic turn of events. Tan Lingyun was on her feet, glaring down at the dizzy etiquette teacher. “Clearly you weren’t paying attention to anything I said,” she growled.

“I didn’t do anything!” Lan Jue looked up at her, his face pained and pleading.

Tan Lingyun’s eyes flashed dangerous, and she jabbed a finger toward Zhou Qianlin. “You didn’t do anything? Why is the arm rest between you two up then, huh? Why is Qianlin crying? You absolutely did something!”

Her screaming had attracted the attention of nearly the entire airship. Everyone nearby were faculty from the school, and they looked on in shock from their seats. Wang Hongyuan and Jin Yan, who had just sat down, were especially stunned.

“You must be mistaken, Professor Tan.” Jin Yan’s pleasant voice spoke up, and she stepped forward to insert herself in the exchange. She reached down to help Lan Jue to his feet.

“The truth is right in front of us,” she snarled. “How can I be mistaken? You mustn’t be taken in by his appearance – this man is a cancer!”

The bile rising within him wouldn’t be denied, and he couldn’t help but speak up. “A cancer! I haven’t done a single thing to you, ever! And yet you’re always focusing your anger

on me. I’m not bothering anyone!”

To this, Tan Lingyun huffed. “I can’t stand weaklings like you. Such a little bitch.”

“Alright, what’s going on!” Just then, the air marshals onboard became involved.

The two gentlemen were tall, and carried powerful equipment to deal with trouble makers. The most frightening thing for any airship operator was encountering mischief in flight. As a result, the marshals were always well armed, and treated exceedingly well. They’d only been in the air for a short time, and with all this ruckus they came running in a hurry.

“You’re just in time,” Tan Lingyun said. “This man is bullying your passengers. I think he should be isolated. I refuse to fly with him.”

“Me?!” Lan Jue’s anger was bubbling out of his control. Her constant abuse and the unwanted attention was more than he could handle.

Before the marshal’s could respond, a small sheepish voice interrupted. “That’s not right. Professor Lan didn’t do anything to me. You’re mistaken, Professor Tan.” This was, of course, Zhou Qianlin.

The Savage Goddess’ brows furrowed. “Don’t be scared, Qianlin. There’s no need to try and placate this waste of space.”

Qianlin continued. “No Professor, you’re wrong. I was thinking about family matters, that’s why I was crying. I pulled up the armrest so I could go to the bathroom. That’s when you…”

Tan Lingyun looked at her skeptically. “Are you sure?”

“You forget that I was part of the ARC class, Professor,” she answered. “He’s weak, so even if he did want to do something, I’d be able to protect myself just fine.”

Tan Lingyun couldn’t refute the logic. Although Qianlin had been among the weakest of the ARC participants, but she had completed the entire program on her own. Compared to any normal person, she was far stronger.

Lan Jue’s face alternated between a sickly green and a furious red. This was her plan? She was just as bad! She even looked pleased!

“I’m sorry, gentlemen. It looks like this was all a misunderstanding.” By now Director Wu had finally deigned to intervene. He spoke to the two marshals. “These two are teachers from my university. They seem to be having some trouble getting along. I do apologize. We’re sorry to trouble you. I’m the NEU teaching director, so I’ll handle this from here. I’ll make sure they don’t cause any more trouble.”

He was all smiles until the marshals left. This his face darkened dangerously as he looked toward Tan Lingyun.

“I have told you more times than I can count, Professor. You cannot just react, you need to understand before you decide to get involved! You’re far too impulsive! Apologize to your co- worker! How could you treat him so poorly, then expect him to behave the way you like?”

Tan Linyun looked between Wu Junyi’s face – dark as a thunderhead – to Lan Jue’s murderous scowl. Her mouth curled in to a distasteful frown. “Sorry,” she muttered.

Lan Jue ground his teeth so hard he thought they might shatter. If it hadn’t had been for Director Wu’s involvement, Lan Jue wasn’t sure he’d be able to constrain himself much longer. This Savage Goddess was a damn nightmare! He had to train. He had to keep training until he got his strength back, then one day he’d show her how wrong she was.

“Hmph!” He stomped back to his seat without any of the degrading begging from before. He crumpled in to that uncomfortable position and yanked the armrest down between he and Zhou Qianlin.

Director Wu turned his attention to the cabin full of lookie- looes. “Alright. Get back to your seats, there’ nothing to see here.”

As he returned to his own seat, he sighed inwardly. Ah, Linyun, this woman… She was handed a golden opportunity, and made a mess of it. Can’t she see how differently Qianlin looks at Lan Jue now? You’ve been around him for so long already, and you still you can’t see what kind of person he is.

Of course, he couldn’t tell her this. It was a thought he could share only with himself. Worse still, now the situation between Lan Jue and Tan Lingyun looked even more hopeless.

Lan Jue sulked quietly in his chair. He busied himself with conjuring up a hundred ways to torment Tan Lingyun. But alas, a proper man did not strike a woman. There would be no redemption for him. Moreover, though she had a very coarse exterior, Tan Lingyun was – somewhere deep inside – a good person. But these realizations only made Lan Jue more depressed. Taking out his frustrations on a good woman was even worse.

Alas, this woman was his bane. He was absolutely sure the only way to fix the situation was to stay away as far away as possible.

Lan Jue once more felt a light touch at his right shoulder. Lan Jue remained absolutely still, as though he never felt anything at all.

She tapped him again. Then her voice came through the Spirit Caller gem.

Qianlin: Are you upset?

Lan Jue: No.

Qianlin: It was Professor Tan who threw you. Why are you upset with me?

Lan Jue: Don’t think I didn’t see that smirk of yours when that whole thing was happening!

That’s right, I was just letting off some steam. Sometimes I wish I could beat you myself.


Qianlin covered her mouth, and forcibly choked back a laugh.

Lan Jue: No! Wait!!

Qianlin snickered, shoving him lightly with her shoulder.

Watcha gunna do about it?

Me? Lan Jue silently stretched out a hand and placed it on one of Qianlin’s long thin legs.

Suddenly Qianlin’s self-satisfied smirk froze. Strangely, her first reaction was not to push Lan Jue’s hand away – instead, her eyes immediately shot toward Tan Lingyun. She used her sweater to hide his hand.

The temperamental woman was not paying attention. Her eyes were closed as she rested. She didn’t seem the least upset by Director Wu’s rebuke, and it was unlikely she took anything he’d said to heart.

Qianlin: What are you doing?! Let go.

Lan Jue: Shit, I already have a bad reputation. I might as well try a few bad things!

Qianlin: Let go or I’ll scream!

Lan Jue: Go ahead.

Qianlin: You seem to be forgetting something.

Lan Jue: Oh yeah? What’s that?

Gzzt! The cocky Lan Jue felt a jolt of electricity sear up his arm, forcing him to instinctively retracted his hand. Half his body went numb.

He did forget. The moment they touch, Qianlin becomes his equal.

The airship continued on its way, ignorant of the drama occurring within. It entered light speed a little while later, where they would remain for a day’s time as they reached the next jump point.

Lan Jue nested in his seat, about as uncomfortable as one could get. He didn’t dare open the armrest between himself and Qianlin now, after what had happened. He was legitimately terrified of Tan Lingyun. Getting thrown around wasn’t a big deal. The worst was the disgrace! What a loss of face!

The trip and excitement had exhausted many of the passenger, who now were also feeling the discomfort of economy class. Zhou Qianlin was asleep beside him, unknowingly leaned against him with her head on his shoulder. Her body felt soft, and a sweet fragrance surrounded her. Finally, he thought, something peaceful and gentle in this trial of a journey.

Tan Lingyun saw it, too, and watched with a strange look in her eye. She wasn’t stupid, and the moment she heard Qianlin’s defense of Lan Jue she knew something was up.

Seeing the young girl leaning against him made it even clearer. There was definitely something strange about their relationship!

Chapter 344: Cosmic Turbulence

Her very first thought was that he wasn’t worth Zhou Qianlin’s affection. Although Tan Lingyun was herself a women, she recognized how attractive the girl was. More than that, she was also smart, and had a good character. After the ARC classes she was tougher, too. In essence, she was the pillar upon which the ARC class had stood. More than once Tan Lingyun had told those young men on the brink of collapse to look Qianlin’s way. That was enough to have them dig deeper.

But she couldn’t for the life of her understand why a girl like Zhou Qianlin would like a man like Lan Jue. As far as she was concerned, the man had no redeeming qualities. He taught a pointless subject, was exceedingly weak – except for passable looks, there was nothing special about him. Did the girl not understand that she needed to find a strong man? Looking the way she did, there must be many suitable men interested in her!

But to each their own, she supposed, and it didn’t seem like Director Wu cared. What could she do about it? Act like she didn’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind. So she closed her eyes, and went to sleep.

Lan Jue slept as well, though his was hard won. His dreams were fragmented, choppy, anxiety-ridden visions.

After some indeterminate amount of time, most of the sleeping travelers were rudely jostled away as the airship shuddered violently.

What was going on?

Space flight was very different from atmospheric travel. Space was almost complete emptiness, and that meant smooth travels. Of course, any problems were serious and deadly matters out in this endless vacuum.

Qianlin and Lan Jue woke up as well with the others. They exchanged a look before settling properly in their seats. Zhou Qianlin sat up quickly, but it took Lan Jue some considerable amount of effort to find an acceptable position. All the while he could feel… something.

The cabin was filled with a pleasant ding as the announcement system came online.

“Hello ladies and gentlemen. We seem to have encountered some cosmic turbulence. We’d like to ask all passengers to return to their seats at this time, and to ensure their safety belts are securely fastened. We repeat, we’ve encountered some

cosmic turbulence. Passengers should return to their seats and fasten their safety belts now. Thank you.”

Cosmic Turbulence? The phrase caused Lan Jue’s features to sour. While many average flyers may not know precisely what cosmic turbulence was, Lan Jue was very familiar with it. He’d encountered it before.

Cosmic turbulence was a special sort of interstellar phenomenon, where bands of plasma sweep through the void between galaxies. They also often followed the passage of large moving bodies, like comets. Flights like theirs shouldn’t encounter cosmic turbulence, because their flight paths were specifically calculated to avoid it. But now that they had, there was considerable risk to consider. These bands of turbulence covered enormously large swaths of space – avoiding it would be very difficult.

Lan Jue stopped worrying over propriety, and leaned over Qianlin to look out her window. He was practically squeezing the poor girl back against her seat.

His eyes were met by the blackness of space, but in the far distance was a faint twinkling light. In its center was a little black dot.

It was too vague to be seen clearly. Lan Jue’s heart rate quickened.

Zhou Qianlins voice invaded his thoughts: Is everything alright?

Lan Jue: I don’t know. If it’s space debris causing some turbulence than it isn’t a big issue. If it’s an comet, though, we’re in trouble. The impact force from something like that would obliterate this ship, even with its shields.

Bang! Once again the ship rocked violently. A milky white light shimmered just outside Qianlin’s window – they’d engaged the ships shields.

Shields were costly when it came to energy. Often they were left off unless absolutely necessary. If they were on, it meant the danger was real.

Tan Lingyun had pressed herself closer a well, though she couldn’t see anything.

“Get out of the way!” She snarled and yanked him back,

forcing Lan Jue to fall in to his seat. She wanted a look, but she also wanted to keep the creep away from Qianlin. She leaned over him to get a peak outside. Little did she know, the pose gave Lan Jue quite an unexpected eyeful of her full chest.

Lan Jue’s eyes nearly popped from his skull, and he whipped his head away quick enough to give himself whiplash. See no evil! He screamed in his head. See no evil!

Qianlin didn’t notice. She was nervously peering at the darkness outside.

“There’s an object in the plasma wave.” Tan Lingyun was a master in this regard, and began to recite her analysis. Her face grew more and more troubled.

Bang–! The sound of impact rattled through the cabin, and the whole ship pitched sideways a few degrees. Cries rippled through the passengers, their alarmed expressions stark in the blazing light of the shields.

“No good. If this keeps up we’re in real trouble.” From the last strike, Lan Jue knew they could only hold out for so long. If impacts like that continued, they’d be smashed to bits.

Lan Jue shoved Tan Lingyun out of the way and sprang to his feet. A hand shot out toward Zhou Qianlin. “Come with me!”

She didn’t hesitate for a moment. She swept passed the Savage Goddess to Lan Jue’s side.

“Where the hell are you two going?” Tang Lingyun challenged in surprise. She rose to her feet as well and hurried after them. The rest of the passengers where stricken with panic, and didn’t notice the three of them run off.

Wu Junyi saw Lan Jue streak by, and sighed in relief as he watched him go. Surely this meant he had a solution, and the airship’s bridge was where he looked to be headed.

Everyone was locked in their seats, the marshals included. Lan Jue had no obstacles as he raced across the whole of the ship to the front cabin. The bridge was right in front of them.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Several marshals sitting in the front row shot to their feet and blocked further passage.

Lan Jue came to a halt. His voice was urgent. “I’m a pilot. I

know what’s going on outside, and if you don’t let me in there that turbulence is going to tear us apart.”

“Hell no!” A grizzled older marshal spat. “This is a restricted area, authorized personnel only. Return to your seat immediately, or we’ll be forced to assist you.”

Lan Jue didn’t fault them, and in fact praised their dedication. The worst thing in a crisis was chaos, and these men were preventing that. There was no shirking their duties.

Their tasers were already in hand. Lan Jue just needed to take one more step forward, and they’d pounce.

Lan Jue couldn’t hesitate – lives were at risk. If their ship were to explode he’d survive, thanks to Thor. But he could only save one other! Even then, even knowing their coordinates, the likelihood that Thor could bring them to an inhabited planet before running out of juice was impossibly small.

This was it. He could no longer hide his strength. Something needed to be done.

Just then, he felt a hand clap down on his shoulder.

“Are you really a pilot?” The voice belonged to Tan Lingyun.

Lan Jue’s head snapped around, and he nodded his head emphatically.

Tan Lingyun’s voice was resolute. “Alright. I’ll believe you this once.” She pulled Lan Jue behind her as she spoke. As they exchange places, a vibrant green energy bloomed out around her. Four beams of emerald light fell over the marshals and froze them in place.

After the ARC classes, Tan Lingyun could feel that she was at the peak of eighth rank now. Ninth rank was separated by a thin wall, one she knew she would soon puncture. Although these marshals were also Adepts, they clearly were no match for her.

“Hurry!” Tan Lingyun shouted to Lan Jue. He shot her a thumbs up and then, pulling Qianlin after him,strode toward the bridge.

The bridge door flew open as they were about to reach it. A

man bearing a laser pistol barred the way. “No one move, or I start shooting!”

He looked like the co-pilot, based on his clothing. He must had heard the ruckus outside and came to investigate.

He was no more effective than the marshals, and shared their fate. Another beam of light arose to stop him from moving. He’d actually managed to fire his gun, but the energy couldn’t pierce through Tan Lingyun’s Discipline.

Lan Jue and Qianlin raced passed.

This airship’s bridge had space for thirteen crew. There was, of course, the captain and co-pilot. Aside from them were shield operators, piloting personnel, engineers and others. Each of them were responsible for their section, and all together they managed the enormous ship. Right now, each one looked increasingly more nervous than the last. The entire bridge was surrounded by windows, so they saw everything coming their way.

Lan Jue looked out in to space, and sucked in a breath. What he saw was precisely what he hoped he wouldn’t.

Several massive comets where headed their way, with blazing tails that extended kilometers back in their wake.

“Who the hell are you people?” The captain was a man who looked to be in his sixties. His voice was harsh and threatening.

“I’m a battleship pilot,” Lan Jue said. “You aren’t prepared to handle this turbulence. Please let me take over.”

“Horse shit! And how are you going to prove your identity, huh?” He asked angrily.

Tan Lingyun had joined them, and stepped forward. Once again beams of vibrant green light exploded from her. “I’m an eighth rank talent, and I’m confirming his identity.”

Lan Jue begrudgingly praised Tan Lingyun, though he would never say anything. Despicable as she was, you could count on her in a pinch. She didn’t even know why herself,  but  she trusted him in this dire moment. That wasn’t something many people did.

BOOM! The entire ship shook, and rocked fiercely to the side.

The captain staggered a few steps before catching himself. His eyes shot to the shield control array. The screen flashed a glaring red warning. Their energy stores were almost depleted.

“Captain, the incoming comets are far more densely packed.
What is your order?”

Chapter 345: Narrow Escapes

Lan Jue rushed over to the control systems with big strides, and took over control from one of the crew. Behind him, Tan Lingyun shot her hands out. The motion cast two beams of verdant energy that separated the other personnel from Lan Jue and Qianlin.

One of the crew sitting by defense system controls looked nervously at the Captain. The ship’s commanding officer lifted a hand in a silent order to remain still. Under ordinary circumstances, a breach would likely fail beneath the bridge’s state-of-the-art internal defense mechanisms. It was enough to easily overpower any Adept seventh rank and below. But these were not normal circumstances – they were staring death in the face. In fact, the likelihood they’d survive – according to the Captain – was no better than eighty percent. Everyone was in a panic. If this man really did have battleship piloting experience, maybe he could pull out a miracle.

But miracles were known for being rare! These plasma tendrils with their massive comets were the nightmare of every airship pilot. An armada could obliterate it with a densely packed bombardment. They were in a transport ship.

The moment he realized what they were encountering, the

Captain’s heart had sunk to the floor. They were doomed.

Lan Jue settled in the the seat. His hands shot out, and his fingers danced nimbly across the keyboard like bolts of lightning. He shouted over his shoulder. “Shrink the shields to just over the ship. Reduce shield output to thirty percent.”

“What?!” The crewman at the shield controls stared open- mouthed at Lan Jue. Their shields were outmatched as it is, and he wanted them reduced?

“Do as he says!” The Captain shouted from his chair. Now that he’d let the man take over, there was no going back. He was also a career pilot, and he knew what Lan Jue was intending; decrees surface area, and reduce energy consumption. Right now, the smaller they were the better.

The airship rolled sideways, narrowly avoiding a massive chunk of space rock. This unfortunately put them right in the path of three smaller stones. The ship shuddered and groaned as it was pelted by the dense and speedy debris.

Lan Jue’s features were serious and solemn. Meanwhile, he spoke to Qianlin through the Spirit Caller gem: Put your hands

on my shoulders. Then, I want you to focus your energies all around us. Block us from everyone’s sight.

Qianlin swept behind Lan Jue without hesitation, and placed her hands on his shoulders. A white, peaceful aura instantly sprang to life around her. A moment later, that protective force spread outward and penetrated through Lan Jue.

Tan Lingyun’s eyes lit up. She knew Zhou Qianlin’s Discipline was supportive, so perhaps she was helping improve Lan Jue’s reaction speed.

The rippling, milky light continued to spread in all directions. Those behind couldn’t clearly see what Lan Jue was doing any longer. Lightning flashed in his eyes as his power surged. He could feel waves of his own power flowing from Zhou Qianlin and in to him. The amplification wasn’t as dramatic as when they joined, but he was easily comparable to a ninth rank eighth level Adept.

It was stupendous that an amplification Discipline could lift someone up to this level. He could sense behind her, much to his surprise, Qianlin converting his own thunderbolt powers to that supportive energy.

He made a mental note that they would have to experiment more with the changes in their powers. Understanding each other’s abilities intimately would be immensely beneficial to them both. Assuming they weren’t evaporated by a titanic, gas- spewing space rock.

Lan Jue lifted his hand from the keyboard and placed it on a metal sphere set within the control station. This device was a power converter – it injected an Adept’s power in to the ship, to help it perform better.

Almost all larger airships had such devices installed. A single Adept couldn’t control a battleship, or inject it with enough energy to run it. However, by using a power converter connected to amplification power gems, the issue could be overcome. In normal flight, this gave it a fine tune up.

Higher level Adepts were, of course, more effective in this situation. For truly powerful Adepts, sometimes their own energy alone was enough to power a ship – it’s just that no one’s done it.

The instant Lan Jue’s hand touched the sphere, his energy burst from him in to the ship. In the space of an instant, he was in complete control. With Qianlin’s help, he was now as strong

as a ninth rank eighth level Adept!

It was like he became the ship. He could sense everything, feel all of it’s adjustments and settings. With a thought he could change anything to his specifications.

Meanwhile, Lan Jue’s right hand tapped furiously on the control panel, urging the ship as fast as it could go.

“You’re crazy! What the hell are you doing gaining speed?!” One of the propulsion engineers shouted at him. He tried to force his way through Lingyun’s barriers, but failed.

“Shut up! I want to live more than anyone on this damn ship.” As he shouted, the crew watched in surprise as a helmet descended from over the master control board.

“Total manual control?” The Captain watched in wonderment. Although he couldn’t see precisely how Lan Jue was controlling the ship through Qianlin’s waves of power, he did recognize the helmet as it descended toward them. The only people who would dare put a ship like this in manual control were true specialists. The Captain, too, was capable of this, but was not very proficient.

With the helmet in place, Lan Jue could more quickly and efficient feel every aspect of the airship. He closed his eyes, and through his connection with the ship’s systems he was able to see out in all directions, and much farther than his eyes could manage.

The comet swarm was drawing closer, and growing more densely packed. Lan Jue dexterously dipped the ship between two errant meteorites. They slipped through the frozen boulders with only meters to spare, avoiding the clouds of rock and dust as they smashed together.

The moment the Captain had recognized that Lan Jue was controlling the ship manually, his estimation of the young invader went up significantly. He looked at a nearby monitor displaying their detection reading for a closer look at the situation outside. It was obviously superior to simple line of sight.

But when he saw how Lan Jue evaded the meteorites, he couldn’t help but resolutely nod his head. He himself would not have been able to accomplish that – surely this man’s credentials were true.

The white transport ship deftly darted between incoming

comets and meteor fragments like a tiny fish in an unending purple sea. Although coming out completely unscathed was impossible, Lan Jue picked which rocks the ship could handle, and avoided the others. Sometimes he would collide with smaller ones purposefully, where they would otherwise be smashed against a moon-sized comet.

The ship’s energy systems were restored with Lan Jue’s power injection. The shields were fuller and ready for stronger impact. Soon they were at top speed, drilling through the heart of the comet swarm. However, this was anything but comfortable for the passengers. The faster they went, the more the ship shuddered as though it were going to shake itself apart. They were swept from side to side as Lan Jue threaded between certain death.

And it wasn’t just the travelers. Even some of the crew were beginning to look a little green. Tan Lingyun, on the other hand, stood with her feet planted as though they were nailed to the hull. No matter how violently the ship shook, she didn’t move an inch.

But that wasn’t the whole story. She stared out of the bridge’s window with a face made of stone, but the light of passing comets revealed her white-knuckle fists. She was an Adept, and like Lan Jue there was a small chance she could survive, but the

reality of that was silly to hope for. She was an eighth ranked Adept, among the best of humanity, but that meant nothing in the vast expanse of the universe.

But this situation, and her heightened senses had helped her to see things a little more clearly. Lan Jue was complete garbage, as she asserted – at least he could fly an airship. She never would have guessed. At least now she knew why Zhou Qianlin liked him. He had at least one redeeming quality.

For everyone on the bridge, it felt like time slowed to a crawl. Every second was an eternity as they swept past rocks going tens of thousands of kilometers a second.

Bang! Another one. The ship listed sideways away from the impact, which was just enough to push it between another two massive comets. Thrusters on the ship’s stern sputtered to life, spouting blue flame. And then – stillness.

The black expanse of space stretched out before them. Gone were the comets and screaming meteors that blotted out the heavens, barreling onward behind them.

The beauties of the universe were endless, and nothing was

more perfect than the site of those distant, fixed stars. The peaceful silence that overcame them was transformative.

“You did it… we’re alive!” A great cheer rose up on the bridge, as the crew unfastened their safety harnesses and began jumping for joy. Anyone facing the prospect of death is scared, but these men and women were trained to throw all of themselves in to a problem and not to break. But now that the danger was passed, and their safety was assured, they could celebrate. And why not? They knew the odds – one in a hundred survived an encounter like this.

Most everyone was sure they were doomed, and now that they were saved it was like rising from the ashes. They couldn’t control their jubilation. Some screamed and laughed, while others hid faces covered in tears. They stole their lives back from Death’s clutches! It was undoubtedly the most harrowing experience any of them had ever experienced. The sweat-soaked crew continue to cheer their survival.

Chapter 346: Can You Handle It, Professor Tan?

The Captain was the first to recover his senses. Sharp claps rang through the bridge as he attempted to gather everyone’s attention. He shouted over the din. “Alright! It’s not time to celebrate yet. Get us back on course, and broadcast to the marshals that we’re out of danger. Everything is back to normal. We are continuing in our route to the Barrows. Someone get me a report on damage sustained and remaining energy reserves. Turn off the shields!”

The crew members reigned in their joy and set about enacting the Captain’s orders. Lan Jue rose to his feet, once the helmet rose from his head. He didn’t dance or sigh as the others – he’d been through several life or death situations in his time. Zhou Qianlin dropped her hands from his shoulders, just as Tan Lingyun allowed her Discipline and its barriers to disperse.

Lan Jue made his way to the Captain. “I apologize, the situation was urgent and dire. I ask that you don’t advertise my involvement in any of this.”

The Captain replied by snatching up Lan Jue’s hand in a hearty shake. “Thank you. Thank you for saving all our lives. How could we not share this news? You’re a hero! I’ve never

seen anyone pilot a craft like you did. You’re one hell of a battleship pilot.”

Lan Jue retrieved with hand from the old man’s iron grip with some effort. He chuckled sheepishly. “If you really want to thank them, then let’s keep this whole thing quiet. I guess I couldn’t be opposed to a first-class seat, if you have one available. Tall as I am, economy class is pretty uncomfortable…”

“Not a problem, not a problem. Half the first-class cabins are empty. You and your friends are all welcome.” By now the Captain had returned to his normal, gruff manner. The qualities and character of a commercial pilot needed to be very high to reach the professional level this man enjoyed. He also understood some of Lan Jue’s reticence – after all, what he’d done was extremely illegal.

The ship’s crew looked at Lan Jue in an entirely different light now. Their eyes were full of admiration and appreciation. They were all trained airship operators, so everything they had managed to see, they understood. If asked to describe it, ‘master at work’ was the best they could come up with. Much like the Captain’s praise, they had never seen anyone pilot a ship like that before.

Lan Jue stretched his lanky body, and looked at Tan Lingyun. “Thank you Professor Tan.” She had been very helpful and compliant, questioning him only the once. He was also afraid he might have revealed himself, and wanted to find out more of what she’d seen. In the end, the Savage Goddess had made the right determination in the moment when he needed it most, and for that he was grateful.

She glared at him with hard eyes. Her face seemed a little pale.

Zhou Qianlin gave her a curious look. “Professor, are you alright?”

Tan Lingyun’s eyes swept toward Qianlin. Without warning, she doubled over.

“Raaghhwrw!”

Lan Jue watched wide-eyed and slack-jawed as Tan Lingyun vomited for what seemed like an eternity. She kept throwing up until nothing was left but bile.

Was this… was this motion sickness?

How could it be anything else? She’d remained right behind him, locked in place through the whole ordeal. She wasn’t protected by any shielding or pressure relieving apparatuses like the crew had at their stations. She had felt every pitch and jerk and drop.

In fact, the only way she was handling it this well was because she’d experienced the g-force training Lan Jue had put them through. If she hadn’t, she would likely already be curled up on the floor.

Fighting back a laugh, Lan Jue clicked his tongue at her. “Ah, Professor Tan – are you really suffering from motion sickness? You have to look after yourself! Take it easy…”

“Fu- oouuublaarrrwwghhh!” Tan Lingyun couldn’t even finish her sentence before her body doubled over once again. Lan Jue couldn’t help it, and a booming laugh erupted from him. Such release! Finally, for the first time ever he had the upper hand over this exceedingly unpleasant woman.

The Captain was a man of his word. After another vociferous round of praise, Lan Jue was led to his free first-class cabin upgrade. It was a small room, with enough space for two people. When you were ready to sleep, the spacious and comfortable

seats stretched out to become beds. Both chairs ended up being equivalent to two double beds. These tickets were about double the price of a standard economy seat.

The Captain assumed Lan Jue’s relationship with Qianlin and made sure the both of them were placed together in a cabin. Tan Lingyun had her own, all to herself.

Lingyun was too busy violently emptying her stomach to care very much about the room assignments. She could do little more than lay in her spacious seat and sip sugar water. This was her first time in a first-class cabin, though, so that at least improved her spirits somewhat.

According to Chinese medicine, sweet foods are suitable as medicinal cuisine to settle an upset stomach.

Lan Jue returned to economy to tell Director Wu about the changes, then sauntered pleasantly back to his spacious cubby hole. What a difference it made! He immediately spread his chair out and slipped the pillow under his head. Splayed out on a leather seat with a comfy pillow – what else could you ask for?

Zhou Qianlin sat beside him. She wasn’t yet interested in

laying down. She looked uncomfortable, with a slight tinge of red to her face.

After a moment of enjoying the new situation, Lan Jue noticed her discomfort. “What’s wrong?” He asked, surprised. “What’s making you uncomfortable?”

Zhou Qianlin didn’t say anything. She only glanced at him, then nodded toward the wall.

Lan Jue followed her eyes, where he spied a sign with large red letters: Unscrupulous Activities Prohibited.

TJSS put it as ‘married activities are prohibited’, I found that funny.

Lan Jue’s face was strange, and then suddenly he broke in to a fit of snickering laughter.

Qianlin smacked him playfully. “Don’t laugh!”

Lan Jue was in much higher spirits once leaving economy

class, not to mention surviving violent destruction. They were safe, comfortable, and the Savage Goddess was somewhere else entirely trying to heave her stomach through her mouth. Things could hardly get better.

“I think I’m starting to get used to the changes in our Discipline,” Lan Jue said quietly, changing the subject. “But it looks like there’s still a lot we don’t know. We should keep exploring the differences.”

Qianlin replied with a nod. “I notice it, too. Once we touch, I can share your Discipline. My own Discipline is still there as well, and can transform in to yours. I can still amplify your powers without being merged. It gives us more options and flexibility.

Lan Jue cut in. “That’s right. That’s precisely what I think as well. As for the summoning, obviously if you’re in danger don’t hesitate to call me to your side. We should try and test the maximum distance of this summoning when we have the time. I’d be curious precisely how far we can be before this stops working.”

Zhou Qianlin timidly nodded her head. She seemed a little less awkward now, and made herself comfortable by lifting her

seat’s foot rest. She sank in to the chair with a sigh.

Chapter 347: Arriving At The Barrows

Zhou Qianlin’s legs were beautiful, long and thin. The pants she wore outlined the firm muscle of her thighs.

Although they were in first class, space was still limited. Their seats were placed side by side, and the space between them was very tight. Lan Jue looked at her as he laid down, and was struck by how pretty she was, how soft she looked. How comfortable it would be to hold her in his arms, he thought.

The idea came unconscious and unbidden. As he looke at Zhou Qianlin, he saw her figire grow dim then vanish. Half a moment later, there was a warm body in his arms.

“Ah!” The cry had come from Qianlin, though Lan Jue’s face revealed his own surprise.

So it went both ways.

Lan Jue lay unmoving with Qianlin beside him, his heart filled with surprise over the revelation. Qianlin, too, understood the implications once her own surprise had worn off. Just as she had summoned him, now it was she who had appeared by his

side. It was strange, resting in his embrace, but also exciting.

Lan Jue blinked at her, but did not move. “I, uh… I didn’t mean to. I just was giving it a try. It looks like this time I meant it!”

Qianlins’ face reddened. “You still haven’t let me go.”

Lan Jue quickly released her, but the shift caused Zhou Qianlin to slip. Lan Jue instinctively grabbed her again to keep her from falling off the chair. In his rush the only leverage he’d managed to grip was Qianlin’s backside.

As luck would have it, precisely in that moment was when their door swung open. The airship’s Captain stuck his head in searchingly. What he saw was Zhou Qianlin lying awkwardly atop Lan Jue, supported by his hand on her rump. The two of them looked back at him with big round eyes, like deer caught in headlights.

“Ah! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to disturb the two of you. I just wanted to come by and thank you again. I brought some of my favorite cookies as a little gift.” The Captain gruffly placed the cookies nearby then, vigorously waving for them to

go on, left the small cabin. The door shut tight behind him.

Qianlin pushed herself away from him with a hand on his shoulder. “This is all your fault!”

The door opened again just a crack. A hand reached it, grabbed that red lettered sign, and disappeared once again.

Zhou Qianlin and Lan Jue watched in silence. Both weren’t sure if they should scream or laugh. For Lan Jue, that strange feeling within him only intensified.

Qianlin scrambled off and returned to her own seat, where she turned her blushing face away from Lan Jue. The former mercenary, meanwhile, nervously scratched his head. He turned as well and fought with the masculine urges within him. He fought them till he slept.

ζ

The next leg of their journey continued smoothly. Although they’d expended a good deal of energy evading the cosmic turbulence, their reserves were enough to complete the trip. In

five days, they’d reached their destination: The Barrows!

Thankfully, the marked improvement in his treatment made the remainder of their ride far more palatable for Lan Jue. He quite enjoyed it. It was the first time they’d spent so much time together alone, getting along. But they were not idle – in fact, there was one activity they engaged in rigorously.

Learning about the changes to their Disciplines, naturally.

For five days they trained and practiced, mastering the new changes. First was the process of sharing their Discipline. A certain degree of skin-on-skin contact was required first. Intertwining fingers didn’t appear to be enough, they hand to grip hands.

Next they practice summoning one another. The crux of it was that the summoner needed a true desire to see the other person. What’s more, the more they practiced, the more ‘direct’ the summoning became. The target appeared around thirty centimeters directly ahead.

The first time Lan Jue succeeded Qianlin fell in to his arms. However, that was because she’d been summoned from her

back, so of course that’s how she’d land.

The tight confines of the airship made determining a maximum distance for this summoning impossible. Nor could they practice merging, because the practice would sacrifice her clothing. She appeared in her birthday suit, and that was all. Qianlin flat out refused, and there was nothing Lan Jue could do about it.

Their experiments helped pass the time, so their five day journey didn’t feel too long. It had also given Lan Jue a chance to teach Qianlin more tricks in using their shared Discipline, and smoothed out their cooperation.

Lan Jue was originally a ninth rank seventh level Talent, after all, with a wealth of experience in a number of fields. It didn’t take long for grasp the essentials under his tutelage. By the time their journey was coming to a close, she had a solid mastery of the basics.

Their airship touched down on The Barrows. The Captain came to collect them personally, and send them off. He thanked them again on behalf of the crew. Lan Jue politely accepted the praise while reminding him to keep his involvement a secret. Lan Jue had never been interested in the praise afforded to

heroes. A man did what needed to be done, and that was all. If he’d had any interest in that, Taihua would already have earned him quite a following.

No, Lan Jue liked the feeling of the deed itself. Whether it was helping the elderly in Grace hospital or saving people from terrifying alien species, it was nourishing for the soul. Nothing could buy that kind of feeling, nor the positive karma it brought. Doing good things was good for the heart.

Tan Lingyun was terrible with information. The moment they’d disembarked from the airship, it seemed like all the teachers knew he was a ‘battleship pilot.’ Lan Jue helplessly faced them.

Wu Junyi’s estimation of his only grew, but Tan Liungyun’s judgements never changed – he was still a waste. But of course there would be resentment. He had, after all, gloated over her affliction. That was not something she was going to forget.

And yet she didn’t trouble him further. After all, he did save everyone on the ship. She decided she would have more patience toward him. She was much nicer to men with any skill to back them up.

When the ship touched down, the teachers were hearded in to a nearby mag-lev bus. They traveled to their destination, busily watching the scenery pass.

They ooed and ahhed at the passing buildings, in styles much different from that of the East. Most were built in the style of old-world Germany and France. Baroque influences were everywhere. A sense of history and culture permeated it all.

In contrast to the other worn-down teachers, Lan Jue was awake and alert. He had had a beautiful companion and a comfortable cabin. But despite his excitement, he knew that his easy days were coming to an end once more. Soon he would have a lot to deal with, but first among them was meeting up with the Wine Master.

Chapter 348: The Barrows

As the teachers tore through the scenic landscape on a mag- lev train, their mood had begun to improve once again. The only thing they’d had to do on their five day journey beside sleep, was sleep. Once they finally disembarked, they were still groggy. However, the gorgeous views and differences from what they knew in the East woke them up quickly.

Lan Jue, naturally, sat beside Zhou Qianlin. Everyone knew that she had been chosen to participate in the trip because of her outstanding performance during the ARC class – at least, that was what Wu Junyi had told them. There were some suspicions, however – after all, many of them had seen the exchange between Tan Lingyun, Qianlin and the etiquette teacher. Then, all three mysteriously vanished. More attention was being paid to the little known Professor Lan.

Jin Yan, too, would occasionally find her eyes wandering toward Lan Jue. When they did, her brows would furrow, and she’d get lost in thought.

“Are you alright, Professor Yan? You didn’t get hurt, did you?” Wang Hongyuan’s concerned voice drew her back. Wang Hongyuan had yet to leave her side. They were colleagues from the same office, and this colleague in particular had caught

Wang Hongyuan’s fancy.

“I wonder why Professor Lan is always with Zhou Qianlin!” She spoke quietly to the man beside her. “I wonder if something’s going on between them.”

Wang Hongyuan answered with a shrug. “How should I know? They do look a little more intimate than one might expect. If you look carefully, you can see something strange in the way they look at one another.”

Jin Yan’s pretty mouth curled in to a frown. “You’re right, I can see it. How could this be allowed to happen?”

Wang Hongyuan laughed it off. “Why shouldn’t it? Qianlin’s a post-graduate scholar, and she’s an adult – old enough to apply for financial aid. One without a partner is without family, they say. If it’s love, who are we to deny them?”

Jin Yan was unconvinced. “But…” She had always held Lan Jue in high regard, and that had increased by leaps and bounds after discovering the changes in her brother. But more than that, she’d always born a curiosity about Professor Lan. She always felt as though there was more to him than met the eye.

“We shouldn’t pry in to other people’s business,” Wang Hongyuan continued. “He’s a colleague. And if he’s got the skill to attract the attention of a beauty like Qianlin, then more power to him.”

“What makes you so happy to see them together,” she asked.

To this, Wang Hongyuan offered a light snort. “He’s my competition!”

“Competition? For what?” Jin Yan looked at him in curiosity.

Wang Hongyuan shrugged a shoulder. “I have a girl I like, who knows Professor Lan. This girl seems to have a little bit of an interest in the guy. If he were off the market, she has to give up pursuit, right? That’s my opportunity.” His eyes shone as he looked Jin Yan’s way.

Jin Yan blinked at him, surprised. “Really? Do I know her? Wow, this is the first I’ve heard you are interested in somebody! Who is she? Come on, tell me.”

The corner of Wang Hongyuan’s mouth twitched. He saw the

fire of gossip alight in her eyes, but inwardly could only lament.
Right over her head…

“It’s a secret,” he muttered.

Jin Yan frowned prettily. “Hmph, fine. Don’t tell me. I just wanted to help… but I guess it looks like you don’t need it.”

“You really want to help?” A sly light glittered in Wang Hongyuan’s eyes.

“We’ll colleagues,” she said. “Isn’t that what friends do for each other?”

He nodded. “Yeah, in that case there is actually something you can help me with. The woman I like actually came on this trip. Stop looking around! You’re making it too obvious. When I need your help, I’ll let you know, ok?”

Lan Jue’s ear twitched as he faintly heard his name from behind somewhere. He listened carefully at Wang Hongyuan’s attempts, and couldn’t help but smile. At last he was making his move. Lan Jue wished him luck.

“What’s with the sinister smirk,” Qianlin whispered at his shoulder.

Lan Jue chortled quietly. “It’s nothing.”

“Something bad, that’s for sure,” Tan Lingyun said. She was sitting on his other side. “One look at you shows you’ve got nothing but bad intentions.”

Lan Jue stared at her. “Is this how you speak to your savior?”

She grunted. “Oh, and who did you save, huh? I can’t think of anyone.”

Lan Jue grunted right back. “It’s no use trying to argue with the ungrateful. I’m done speaking to you.”

Tan Lingyun openly wagged a fist at him. “Are you looking for an ass-kicking?!”

Lan Jue deigned not to answer. He simply sat in silence, with a scornful expression on his face. He could almost see her

shaking beside him, but she wasn’t as ungrateful as Lan Jue had accused. She wasn’t one to let a good deed go unpunished. If it hadn’t had been for his involvement, perhaps they all really would have died out in space. Perhaps he wasn’t a total waste of space.

Qianlin snickered in to her hand on his other side. It was like the two of them had committed some unspeakable offense to each other in a past life. She didn’t suspect Tan Lingyun as any sort of romantic rival. If she couldn’t win Lan Jue over, then she suspected no one else could either.

The Barrows was an enormously large planet, easily three times the volume of Skyfire. They had views stretching to the horizon while they made their descend, and saw nothing but green stretching far as the eyes could see. All of the vegetation served to up the oxygen content of the air, which caused some of the newcomers to feel like headed. Once they got used to it, however, they felt very comfortable.

Endless scans and research on the Barrows had revealed a long time ago that the excellent surroundings actually served to extend its occupants’ lives. Normal people who remained here for a long time might see their lifetime extend by five or ten years. For this reason, the Barrows was often the host to dignitaries and others who needed a sharp mind.

But the West’s hierarchs were a cunning bunch. They didn’t let just anyone stay here for long periods. They turned it in to a tourist trap, and even the staff were switched out every few years.

It’s beauty and reputation, as well as the government policies around it, earned the Barrows quite the reputation. It quickly became a prime tourist destination. It was said that a visit here was cleansing for the body and mind, so the rich and powerful made regular pilgrimages.

Even more, a great deal of the West’s best foodstuffs were produced right here. It was to the West what Taihua was to the East. And like Taihua, over development was barred, to make sure the environment was protected.

The Barrows and Taihua were originally about even in popularity, however the tragedy on Taihua had changed things. Since the attack, the planet had since been closed to outside traffic. Control had been handed over to the military, and even now their scans and searches continued. They searched for any information about these beasts, and any remaining eggs, to ensure that another catastrophe like that would never happen again.

There were cities on the planet’s surface, but all of them were of very simply construction, entirely composed of wood. They were curious structures, since they could not employ or steel or concrete. But cities weren’t accurate. They were really more like villages. There were over ten thousand of these tourist bases scattered around the land. Hence the planet’s name; The Barrows.

There were also indigenous species, and the wooded areas teamed with life. However, the animals here were all good- natured. Very few of them even possessed the  capability  to harm a human. In all, the planet was an exceptionally harmonious place.

The National Eastern University tourist party trundled along on the mag-lev train until it reached its destination; a small village of wooded buildings, much like all of the others. None of the structures rose higher than three floors. The hotel where they would be staying sported a small lake to one side. A majestic peak rose opposite its wooden doors. It, too, was interesting, as it was entirely draped in green but for the very top, where snow turned it white. With the mirror-flat surface of the lake reflecting the gorgeous vistas, it was quite the sight to behold.

There were two teachers to a room. Clearly, it would be

impossible for Lan Jue to share a room with a student. Wang Hongyuan would be his bunk mate. Once they entered the place, Lan Jue immediately tapped a number in to his communicator.

“You’ve arrived?” Came the answer from the other end.

“Yeah. I imagine you are, too. Where shall we meet?” He asked.

“Turn on your positioning apparatus. I’ll go to you.” The Wine Master’s voice replied.

“Alright.” Lan Jue shut off the connection, then turned on his GPS locator.

“You’ve got friends in the Barrows?” Wang Hongyuan had overheard the brief conversation. His curiosity got the better of him.

Lan Jue smiled. “Yup! Some friends of mine will be coming by, and I’ll need to leave for a little while. But hey, old guy – good luck in your endeavors!”

“Old guy… how old do you think I am?” Wang Hongyuan glowered.

Lan Jue chuckled. “Nah, I’m kidding, you aren’t old. So how about Little Wang then.”

“Little Wang… ehn, we’ll stick to Professor Wang.”

Naughtiness implied. The original Chinese cannot be translated exactly, but I’ll try. He’s referred to as ‘Old Wang’, a form of respectful address to someone older than you. However, after Wang Hongyuan’s he changed it to little Wang. Clearly in English this is a crude penis joke, but in Chinese you have to add a particle to the end of the sentence that denotes an implied answer. Like a rhetorical question. However, the addition of that partical makes his name ‘Xiao Wang ba’ – which sounds like ‘little tortoise’ – which is slang for shithead, sorta.

Lan Jue choked back a laugh. “So it is, Professor Wang. So when are you going to make your confession to Professor Jin, eh?”

Wang Hongyuan suddenly realized his conversation on their ride over must have been overheard. He spoke, somewhat

embarrassed. “Actually, I have no idea. You gotta help, Professor Lan. Give me a couple hints. I mean, if you can get a girl like Qianlin, then you’ve got to have some good info for me.”

Lan Jue looked at his friend in surprise. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had a girlfriend…”

The dance instructor’s face went stiff. “It means I’m pure!”

Lan Jue blinked. “You’ve… really never had a girlfriend?”

Wang Hongyuan chuckled sheepishly. “Before I moved to Skyfire, I was actually a Westerner – something I imagine you’ve already guessed. You’ve seen my Discipline, my powers. It wasn’t something I wanted, but the moment my Disciplines awakened, I was thrust in to that world. It was days of training, trying to perfect my abilities, but I never really liked where I was. I never liked how it felt. So, one day I ran – and I’ve been running ever since. I hadn’t even dared to go looking for a woman. I spend my days in hiding, afraid they’ll find me. I bounced around, hiding from place to place for five years before coming to settle at the university. At last, I’d found a way to live out my days in relative peace, and it’s given me time to think. Professor Jin is a fine woman; beautiful, kind, enthusiastic… I

like her quite a lot. I’d like you to help me, Professor Lan.”

Chapter 349: Confessions

Wang Hongyuan’s expression confirmed Lan Jue’s suspicions. “I knew what kind of person you were from the day we fought shoulder to shoulder,” Lan Jue said. “I like what I saw. One’s history isn’t important. What’s important are the choices we make. Forget what has come before. As for Jin Yan, I’ll help you brainstorm. How about this…”

ζ

Due to how exhausting these long journeys were, the school hadn’t arranged anything for the first day. Rest was recommended, though many chose to wander the surrounding area. After all, this was all new to many of the faculty.

The diet on this planet was peculiar. Very few spices or other items were used in cooking, so as not to mask the natural flavors. All of it was greens or fruit, with no meat on offer. Killing the local wildlife for sport or sustenance was strictly prohibited.

“Mh! The food on this planet is delicious!” Jin Yan cooed.

Wang Hongyuan sat behind her, with a silly grin plastered on his face. “For you ladies, certainly. For us men, though, only a day with meat is a good day.”

Lan Jue stretched. “I’m actually quite enjoying myself. It’s relaxing here. You should ask around, Professor – I’m sure they’ll have someone around here that can sell you a bite of meat. So long as it isn’t meat from indigenous fauna, then it should be somewhere.”

Wang Hongyuan’s eyes lit up at the prospect. “You think so?
I’ll take a look tomorrow, and see what I can find.”

He then turned his head to Jin Yan. “Professor, I was hoping you might be willing to help me with something today.”

She looked back. “What’s that?”

Wang Hongyuan continued, his voice dropping lower. “It’s about that matter we discussed on the bus.”

Jin Yan’s face betrayed her excitement. “You’re ready already? Aren’t you afraid to rush in to things? Is hurrying

really the best option?”

Wang Hongyuan shook his head. “Not a problem. Everything’s ready. So how about you come with me to the place I’ve picked out and we think about how to make it better. Then, it’s time to make my move. What do you say?”

Jin Yan nodded zealously. “Alright. Do we want to bring any other teachers along as witnesses?”

“No need,” he replied. “In the event things don’t go well, it’ll be impossible for me to show my face. This girl is shy, too, so I think my best chances are when it’s just she and I.”

Surprise flitted across the young woman’s face. “I didn’t know you were so thoughtful, Professor! If it were me under all that scrutiny, I’d be so nervous. It would definitely effect the mood.”

Wang Hongyuan, on the verge of a cold sweat, inwardly sighed with relief. He shot a quick glance Lan Jue’s way. The Jewelry Master gave him a wink, and silently encouraged him to continue.

Obviously the emotional intelligence wasn’t coming from him.

“Let’s go then,” he said. “Remember to keep my secret, though!”

Jin Yan snickered. “Look at you, so nervous!”

This earned a sheepish chuckle from the dance instructor. “To tell you the truth, I’ve never actually had a girlfriend. I really like this girl. If in the end it shouldn’t work out…” As he finished the thought, his eyes dropped dejectedly to the ground.

Jin Yan rose to her feet, and gently patted his shoulder. “Come on, let’s keep this positive. A true man valiantly chases after his desires, right? You just need to keep at it, and that’s half the battle already.”

Wang Hongyuan stood as well, and waved toward Lan Jue. “Enjoy your meal Professor. Jin Yan and I are heading out for a while.”

Lan Jue lazily waved goodbye. “Enjoy.”

As he watched the two of them leave, Qianlin’s curious voice spoke up from his side. “They’ve got something going on, huh? Professor Wang looked so weird!”

Lan Jue chortled at her observation. “Of course there’s something going on, and I hope he succeeds. We should go as well. My friend is already here, so we’re off to meet up with him. We’ve got some plans that’ll keep us away from the group for a while – Director Wu knows about it.”

“Mh.” Qianlin responded, and she rose with Lan Jue to leave.

Lan Jue smiled. “You aren’t afraid I’m going to sell you off or something? You don’t even want to know where we’re going.”

Zhou Qianlin fixed him with a stare. “If you think you can sell me, you’re welcome to try.”

This brought a laugh to Lan Jue’s lips. “Let’s get out of here.”

ζ

Wang Hongyuan lead Jin Yan to the second floor, where he and Lan Jue’s room was located. As they slowly wandered down the hallway, Jin Yan said, “Professor, the most important thing is not to hesitate. Women can’t stand indecisive men. A man must have courage. If you approach her with self-confidence and purpose, and show her how you really feel, she’ll certainly respond. And you aren’t bad-looking! I mean, I never liked that haircut if I’m being honest, but you’re a handsome man! You’re also a strong adept, so that’s another big plus in your favor. I’m sure everything will work out great.”

Wang Hongyuan’s face beamed as she went on about his benefits. “Really? You think those things are true?”

Jin Yan resolutely nodded her head. She clenched her hand in to a fist and playfully shook it under his nose. “Confidence! You need to tell yourself, I’m the best! That’s when success comes to you. Where is your room anyway, we haven’t arrived yet?”

“Right here.” Wang Hongyuan lead her to a door, grabbed the handle, then stopped.

“I’m still a little nervous,” he confessed.

Jin Yan feigned irritation. “We haven’t even started yet! If you keep this up you’re going to pee your pants when the girl actually shows up. Hurry up, open the door and let me see what you prepared. Otherwise I’m going to have to help you adjust your attitude.”

Wang Hongyuan pushed open the door. He walked in first, with Jin Yan hurrying in at his heels.

Jin Yan rushed in to find blackness. The lights were off. The thick window curtains had been drawn, plunging the whole room in to dark.

“Professor… Professor Wang? Are you still here?” She couldn’t see anything, and a slight tinge of nervousness nagged at her.

Then, suddenly, there was light. A dim, red light, that hung in the air a few feet before her. The small point of light grew in size and ferocity until it was revealed to be a crystal clear flower bud. It slowly opened in to a beautiful rose.

A warm light dispelled the darkness, revealing that the rose had not been floating. Wang Hongyuan held it aloft, having

somehow changed clothes.

“Ah, that was fun! I was a little scared, but that rose was cute,” she said, oblivious.

Wang Hongyuan fixed her with a deep stare. “Jin Yan. We’ve known each other for three years.”

“That’s about right,” she answered.

Wang Hongyuan dropped his face slightly, and a dejected expression crossed his features. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time. But I couldn’t. Would you… like to hear my story?”

“Sure.” Jin Yan was starting to think something was strange.

Wang Hongyuan’s eyes were dim, and bitter as he recounted his tale. “I’m an orphan. I was on the streets since I was very young. I resorted to begging to survive. I never knew my parents, and I struggled against starvation since I was eight. I had to rely on the charity of others. You know, the reason I slick my hair back like this is because when I was small, my hair was

always in a mess. I always envied those kids with parents, parents who would help them comb their hair.”

“I don’t have as much class as Lan Jue, but I do make sure to take care of my appearance. That’s because when I was small I promised myself, that if I grew up at all then I’d be like them. A normal person, not a beggar.”

Jin Yan blinked, stunned. She didn’t know how to reply.

“When I was eight there was this man who would always offer me candy. I followed him home one day, and he had someone give me a bath, clean me up. Finally, I thought… Finally someone who’ll look after me, raise me. Things would change.”

“But then something happened that changed the dream in to a nightmare. I was brought to a place with a lot of other children, just like me. At first, as we all ate together, I was so happy. I felt like I was finally part of a family. That was, until I aw him. Some strange person, with a sallow face. Before I could react, he lunged at me, and bit in to my neck.”

Jin Yan gasped as his story unfolded. “W-why did he bite you?”

Wang Hongyuan was silent for a moment. “At the time I just remember feeling cold. Not pain, just… cold. Then, everything went dark. When I woke up, I was in some other place. Someone told me that I had been ‘embraced’, and that it’d gone well. I would live… in a matter of speaking. As a vampire. I had inherited that lineage.”

“A vampire?” Jin Yan unconsciously stepped back. Shock and fear shone in her eyes.

A pained grin spread across Wang Hongyuan’s face. “Professor Lan actually didn’t want me to tell you this. He said, if I did then my chances would be shot. But I think honesty is important. We might have gone our whole lives without you finding out what my Discipline is, but to me that is unfaithful. I want to tell you everything about me. I just ask that you let me finish. Let me say what I have to say, alright? I can’t hold this in any longer.”

Jin Yan looked at him with big, round eyes. Finally she understood – Wang Hongyuan’s confession, all of this, was for her.

Chapter 350: Sincerely Touching

Wang Hongyuan went on. “I didn’t have any choice in becoming a vampire – my only course was to follow the one who turned me. I was forced to learn a number of skills, and spent the years cultivating my abilities. They would only let me live if I could achieve third rank or above. I worked hard, because my life depended on it. I would later come to discover that it was the Dark Citadel that took me – but we called it the Black Congress. The strongest of the vampires, our Patriarch, was given the traditional moniker of Dracula.”

“A vampire’s life is tedious, lonely, and cold. Thankfully, I was only forced to drink a little blood from the living to promote Discipline growth. I never fed from a human, something I found to be different from my expectations. The years passed, and I grew both in body and Discipline. Eventually, they started to send me out on missions. I started to rise in the ranks.”

“But I didn’t like it. I hated the darkness – my hope was to live my life in the light like a normal person. They got to enjoy all the things the world of brightness had to offer. And it was a dream I could accomplish, since generations of evolution had caused vampires to no longer fear the sun. I decided to run, and I would do it while performing one of their missions. I chose the East, to get as far away from the Black Congress as possible. I

hid for a time, concealing my identity, until I felt like it was safe. Then I made Skyfire my home.

“I chose Skyfire because of the Avenue’s presence. I figured that would be a sufficient deterrent to the West, that would hopefully stop them from rolling in here whenever they pleased. Meanwhile, I was finally able to live the life of my dreams; I joined the NEU, and became an electives teacher. About that time I met a girl. She was beautiful, kind, vibrant, with maybe a screw or two loose – but to me, that makes her that much cuter.”

“I was finally happy. Every day I got to see this girl, and in order to earn her respect I worked hard. If the students liked me, then so would she, I thought. The school would like me so I could stay near her. That way I could continue to see her every day.”

“Eventually it was all too much for me to bear. I came to know my feelings as affection, something I hadn’t really felt before. And as that feeling grew it became something greater – it became love.”

“This went on for three years. That whole time, I didn’t dare speak – I wasn’t worthy of speaking to her. You said you don’t

like indecisive men, but that’s not me. It’s fear. Fear that I’m not good enough for you. I have no great ability, and my history as part of the Citadel makes it worse. I’ve never done anything brutal, like they wanted, but that’s my family background.”

“But seeing you every day makes me happy, and the more time we spend together the deeper I feel it. It makes it impossible to break away. When Professor Lan came, and I saw how you looked at him, it broke my heart. I was deathly afraid he’d steal you away. That’s why I wasn’t so nice to him when he first showed up. Eventually I came to know more about him, and those feelings went away.”

“Jin Yan. I really, really like you. Everything about you. I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to say it, but I never felt  like I had a chance. I still may not, not fifty or even one percent, but now is the time to speak my mind. If not now, then  that unspoken love would have consumed me. But don’t worry – I won’t cause you any trouble. No one knows about my affection for you. When we get back from this trip I plan to give in my resignation to Director Wu. I went with those students on the training, and experienced life on An Lun. It affected me deeply. A solitary man like me would do well in the army. I lived in the West far long than I did the East, but this still feels like home to me. Skyfire Avenue protected me when I needed it, so now it’s time for me to give back to this Alliance. Maybe on day, when I’ve earned enough merit and risen in ranks, I’ll come back. If

you still don’t have a husband, I can give it another shot.”

She stood in one place, unmoving. Her features were calm, but the light in her eyes revealed the turmoil in her head.

Wang Hongyuan dropped to a knee before her and, lifting the crystal rose in his hands, fixed her with his soft gaze. “Thank you for letting me get that out. I finally feel like the pressure has eased. I’m not an articulate man. I don’t know what I can say to make you happy, but there is something I need to tell you: I mean all of this. If you agree to be with me, I’ll love you with every fiber of myself. Every bit of me will belong to you. And I don’t care if you laugh, but I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’m a virgin, so –“

“Pfhfhfhtht!” Jin Yan couldn’t help it. She tried to stop the laugh, but it fought it’s way through her lips.

His face reddened with embarrassment. “I made this rose with blood from my own heart. If you take it, it cast’s a spell. If ever I am untrue, my heart will wither, and I will die. Do…. Do you, accept?”

Jin Yan looked at him, on his knees, and gradually her eyes

grew cold and hard. Every second was an icy dagger in Wang Hongyuan’s chest.

“I do not agree.” She said.

Wang Hongyuan knew it could happen. He’d guessed it might. Still, when the words left her lips he felt like he would collapse under his own weight. He even swayed ever so slightly, down on his knees.

“I’m sorry!” He staggered to his feet, then made for the door to let her out.

“Stop right there!” Jin Yan shouted. Wang Hongyuan froze.

“And not just me,” Jin Yan said, “no woman in her right mind would agree to accept some flower made of heart blood. A woman is looking for someone she can depend on. Not some death pact. This flower is a burden. A curse, and not just for you but the person who accepts it as well. Now put that thing away, because even if you do betray me someday, I won’t want you to die for it.”

“I, uh…” Wang Hongyuan stood, confused. He wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.

They stood toe to toe in the darkness. Jin Yan’s eyes sparkled as she looked up at him. “There was another colleague before, who was interested in me. You picked him apart, even struck him once. Was this also because you like me?”

He earnestly nodded his head. “Yes.”

“You have courage to fight someone but not to speak up and say something?” Jin Yan complained.

Wang Hongyuan hung his head. “I didn’t dare. I’m actually pretty thin-skinned and sensitive. I know my short-comings, just like I know I don’t deserve you.”

Jin Yan stepped closer. Her warm breath crashed against his neck in waves. “How much do you like me?”

His eyes widened, and he backed away half a step. When he saw the light in her eyes, though, he had no trouble finding the words. “So, so much. More than I could ever love myself.”

She chuckled. “Put your damn flower away, I don’t want it.”

“Oh.” He chuckled sheepishly, then the crystal rose dissolved in to silk-thin strands of light. The penetrated through his wrist and disappeared.

“Go out and get some real roses. There aren’t any here, and we definitely need some red flowers. Hurry up, I’ll wait for you here.”

“What?” Wang Hongyuan blinked at her. “Flowers?”

She waved him off. “Stop your nonsense. There aren’t any flowers here, and how is a girl supposed to accept anything if there aren’t flowers involved?”

“S-so you’re.. you’re saying you’ll be my girlfriend?” Wang Hongyuan timidly inquired.

Jin Yan didn’t even look at him. “We’ll talk about all that when you get back with the flowers.”

“Ah!” Wang Hongyuan yelped, suddenly.

Jin Yan finally turned her head to look at him. “What is it?”

He answered with a grin. “I just remembered that I forgot something. We were supposed to come in, I’d have the talk, and then…” As he spoke, Wang Hongyuan lifted his right hand. Suddenly, light flooded the room.

The quick change in lighting caused Jin Yan to squint. Once her eyes adjusted, though, she gasped in astonishment.

They stood in a sea of flowers. The entire room was filled floor to ceiling in gorgeous red flowers. They varied in size, but all released a pale pink aura that bathed the room in a gentle glow. Wang Hongyuan clapped his hands, and petals began to slowly descend from the ceiling. The soft scent of fresh flowers hung in the air around them.

He plucked one of the flowers from nearby, and returned to his post on one knee before Jin Yan. “Give me a chance, Jin Yan. I will love you more than anything or anyone in the universe. I will protect you, I will be your knight. I will care for you no matter what we face. If you don’t like how I look, I’ll

change. Whatever you want from me, I’ll be. Because I love you.”

As he spoke, he lifted a hand and rustled the carefully manicured hair on his head. He looked up at Jin Yan with eyes full of sincerity.

The rims of Jin Yan’s eyes had begun to redden. She stepped forward, and took the rose from his hand. “Stand up.”

Wang Hongyuan quickly shot back up to his feet. “So… are you my girlfriend?”

“Yeah.” Jin Yan blushed, and nodded her head.

He looked at her, unable to react. A moment later, tears began to poor from his eyes. He wrapped Jin Yan up in a big hug, and she screamed in delight as he swung her around in circles.

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