Lan Jue chuckled. “So afraid of death! In this aspect, your in much better straits than Jin Tao – thanks to your natural talent. You’ll suffer, to be sure, but don’t worry. Your path is considerably less dangerous. His Talent is simply too weak to match up to yours, unless we take steps to change that.”
Tang Xiao’s mouth hung agape. “Professor, surely you aren’t saying that with these measures Jin Tao could reach ninth rank?”
Lan Jue fixed his pupil with a stare. “Interesting response.”
“Man…” Tang Xiao almost looked dizzy from what he’d learned. “This guy’s making out like a bandit. If you had a method to get someone to ninth rank almost anyone would be willing to give it a shot, no matter the dangers. To reach the very pinnacle of human ability! Dumb-Mutt sure as hell is a lucky one.”
Lan Jue’s response came in quiet, earnest tones. “What I require from you is simple; don’t let him surpass you. If you do, it’ll prove to me you don’t have what it take to be my pupil. Do you understand? Alright, that’s all for you today. We’ll begin tomorrow, and your training will officially commence. We’ll find somewhere else to meet as well, away from the school. This place is no longer suitable.”
“Yes, Professor.” Tang Xiao rose, letting his respectful answer serve as goodbye.
But as he turned to leave, he suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Professor,” he began, his voice low, “If one day I’m strong enough, do you think I’ll be able to beat that man from yesterday?”
The question took Lan Jue by surprise, but it quickly became a smile. “If one day you’re strong enough to do so, you’ll have earned my pride and respect.”
Tang Xiao’s knuckles whitened as he tightened his fist. “It’ll happen.”
He quickly made his way from the small yard.
“Oi, this fatty. He actually wants to beat on me.” An indignant voice arose from nearby.
“What’s wrong with having such lofty ambitions? If there does one day come a time when you can’t best my pupils, you’ll probably have to give up the title of Poseidon.” Lan Jue hadn’t expected the intrusion, and grinned broadly.
“He’s dreaming,” Hua Li muttered in agitation. “But it looks like you’re really gearing up to train these guys properly!”
Lan Jue nodded. “If what Piao Hong said was true, then we ninth ranked Talents have a responsibility to all of humanity.”
“Should we wait here a while before we respond to them?”
Resolution shone in Lan Jue’s eyes, and nodded in agreement. “What are personal gains and losses when the fate of our galaxy lies in the balance? Moreover, in the last three years I’ve done nothing to improve myself. Thor will also need some polishing. When this competition they’ve concocted is over, I’ll really need to make myself stronger. I can’t keep losing out to him.”
“Good! Then we’ll train together. Without you trying to run ahead I wont have the motivation to improve myself.” Hua Li stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels, the picture of leisurely cool. Of course, this was somewhat offset by his giant facemask and ridiculous sunglasses.
It was then Jin Tao returned with the clearly confused Jin Yan. Upon seeing that it was indeed Lan Jue upon the bench, she visibly relaxed some.
“Professor Lan,” she greeted, smiling.
Lan Jue rose and returned her greeting. “Hello Professor Yan. I apologize for being bold in asking Jin Tao to call you here. It is something important we have to discuss. I felt it only prudent that I consult with you and his family, as close relatives, before any further action was taken.”
“Professor Lan, don’t frighten me,” Jin Yan stated. “What could be so important? Dumb-Mutt! What terrible thing did you do this time?” It appeared Jin Tao pulled her here directly without explanation – probably because he wasn’t sure himself of what his teacher was planning. He wouldn’t be able to explain it to her clearly even if he knew.
Lan Jue hastily waved his hands. “He didn’t do anything wrong. Professor Jin. Take it easy, and listen carefully to what I have to say. I’ve decided to take Jin Tao on as my personal disciple.”
Jin Yan looked at him in surprise, but it quickly changed to joy. “This is excellent news! This kid’s always needed a good guide. You probably didn’t notice, Professor, but that first time in your class I noticed how engrossed Jin Tao was in your lecture. I knew from that instant you’d be the only one to get through to him. Frankly speaking neither me or my parents have ever really had any success with him, we just hoped he’d grow to be a useful member of society. If you’ve agreed to teach him then that’s amazing.”
This time it was Lan Jue who was struck silent. He looked at Jin Tao. ‘Dumb-Mutt’ resolutely held his gaze.
No wonder he rushed headlong towards any opportunity. Even his family, the people who cared for him, expected nothing to come of his life. As a man, an adult, so much was hidden away, buried within him as a result of his treatment. Behind his flippant nature, there was deep insecurity – and an iron stubbornness.
“I plan to train his Discipline, Professor Jin. But during the training process he’s likely to encounter some risks. I cannot guarantee his safety. Of course, I’ll do everything in my power to protect him, and reduce the risk of harm. This is why I needed to speak with you. If you all agree to have him study with me, he’ll probably have to leave school for a time as we work on his foundation. From there he’ll rise quickly. It’ll take about three months. We’ll say he needs sick leave. This, too, will require you and your family’s agreement.” Lan Jue spoke clearly and slowly to ensure Jin Yan understood the gravity.
“Sick leave? Three months?” Questions were clearly written on jin Yan’s face. After a moment, she resolutely nodded her head. “You’re right! Jin Tao absolutely needs work, from the bottom up. You’ll need to start from the beginning. Professor Lan, I’m very sorry for all the trouble you’re going through to help my brother. This is no problem, I’ll have him set for sick leave as soon as possible. If it weren’t for our family connections he’d never even have made it in to the school, much less have graduated. Professor, thank you so much.”
Jin Yan bowed earnestly before Lan Jue. “I’ll take him now.” She grabbed Jin Tao and pulled him away without another word. Lan Jue watched them go, flabbergasted.
“She agreed awful quick,” Lan Jue muttered to himself.
Hua Li’s faint voice intruded on his soliloquy. “Sounds like she chose not to hear about that whole ‘dangerous’ thing. The kid hasn’t taken anything serious in his life, a big disappointment to his family. It’s also pretty clear this lady fancies you. Unconditional trust from the onset.”
“Stop spreading rumors,” Lan Jue hissed.
“Pfft,” came Hua Li’s dismissive response. “When it comes to reading people, you got nothing on me. And I guess I have to admit, if I weren’t here you’d be an attractive option.”
Lan Jue twisted to look back. “A-Li, you hide behind my lack of strength, without fear of repercussion for your obstinance.”
This caused Hua Li to chuckle. “And when you recovered whadda ya gunna do? Think you can take me on in a fair fight?”
Lan Jue shook his fist in his direction. “When I’m better we’ll give it a shot and see. Ah, right, and in two days the school is organizing a teachers trip to Taihua. I don’t think I can get out of it. I doubt you, as a late-arriving student, will be able to take leave either.”
Hua Li’s brows knitted in concern. “You’ll leave Skyfire? You sure you can’t get out of it?”
“What,” Lan Jue said, “You afraid they’ll hunt me down or something?”
“Your discipline has only partially recovered,” Hua Li said. “If you really do run in to something, you’ll be in significant danger.”
Lan Jue lifted his left hand, revealing the glowing Thor’s Promise. “Don’t worry, Thor’s with me. His damage isn’t so serious any longer. More or less finished with the repairs. And Taihua’s close, there’s no need for worry. And besides, if he can’t handle the fight, what’s stopping me from running? The whole thing should only be a couple days. And there’s another reason you can’t come with me. Tomorrow I plan to give Jin Tao the Fantascia Genetica decoction. You’ve got to help me keep an eye on him, to make sure nothing happens.”
Hua Li lapsed in to quiet thought for a moment. “Fine. I suppose it’s unlikely you’ll run in to trouble on Taihua. Just be careful. I’ll have someone erase any trace of you leaving Skyfire. Go early, come back soon.”
Lan Jue nodded. “I know my limits.”
“So if you got nothing going in the afternoon, how about we head back? We can get to Dreamburg ahead of schedule, that’d be good.”
Suddenly, Zhou Qianlin’s figure emerged through his memories. He nodded. “That’s fine. Let’s head home. If something happens I’ll come back.”
Hua Li and Lan Jue made their way back to Skyfire Avenue, proceeding immediately to the warehouse and the simulators stored within.
“Your reply?” Piao Hong was a little surprised to see Zeus standing before her. It had only been a day, and already the Four Divine Monarchs had an answer for her. The prize pool was massive, to be sure, but for any god-team to participate in an open competition before the three alliances – and thus revealing the scope of their abilities – was taboo to say the least.
“We agree, but not for DreamNet, and not for the reward,” Zeus replied. “It’s because of what you said yesterday. We hope what you said is true… otherwise what will befall the Guardians will be terrible. In addition, as partial payment for our agreement I hope you can assist me with something. It shouldn’t be anything DreamNet can’t handle.”
“Speak.” Piao Hong didn’t even ask, immediately ready to offer assistance.
Zeus lifted a hand, and a beam of light floated towards Piao Hong. A data-stream. More specifically, a video.
“Help me find the whereabouts of this woman. She deceived me once, and took something she shouldn’t have.”