Forty-two tickets with the name Zhou Qianlin! Holy hell with these guys – I’m going to drown in the sea of hormones here. Lan Jue could only sigh in defeat. He hadn’t expected what was normally an entirely fair raffle to turn out this way. The young men valiantly waving their arms in triumph each must have written her name on those papers in lieu of themselves. It certainly served to prove how important she was to the male half of the student population. But it was what it was, and there could be nothing for it now.
“Would Miss Zhou Qianlin please approach the podium and claim her prize.”
She did as requested, and approached Lan Jue. Her brows were wrinkled. He looked towards her and understood. He hoped she understood the truth, but he understood how it looked.
Zhou Qianlin plucked the diamond from the tray, pinching it between her fingers. He lifted it to her eyes and took a closer look, then put it back.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t accept the diamond. If you would, Professor, please donate it to Grace hospital instead. Call it a donation from the students of your etiquette class.”
“Very good,” he said, nodding.
Cheers arose from behind them. Of course there wasn’t an absence of jeers and shouts of resentment. No small number of young women scowled openly at the situation, likely assuming this was some ploy to ingratiate herself to the public.
However Lan Jue knew better. This was no ploy, Zhou Qianlin was honestly just a good woman. Her conscience wouldn’t allow her to take something she didn’t earn.
Though the result of the lottery had not proceeded as expected, for most it was the perfect end to the lesson. With it, the class successfully came to an end. Zhou Qianlin turned and exited, Tang Mi close at her heels. Shui Zhongdie was with them, but as they passed she slowed just enough to stare with interest at the diamond a final time. She playfully stuck her tongue out at Lan Jue before hastening to catch up with the other two.
“Jin Tao, Tang Xiao, if you two would come with me,” he said to his young pupils.
“Yes, Professor.” Anticipation was written clearly on their faces. They knew it; today was the day their training really began.
As Lan Jue passed, he looked pointedly at Hua Li sat in the back of the room. Poseidon rose and followed.
“Qianlin, why didn’t you just take the diamond? It certainly wasn’t a cheap bauble. And according to what Professor Lan was saying, it was above average.” Tang Mi walked at her friend’s side, firing off the line of inquiry.
“What kind of woman accepts diamonds so easily? Are you really such an air-head or do you just pretend?”
Tang Mi pouted at the harsh words. “What’s stopping a woman from doing just that! You’re just being stuffy. It was a prize! Luck of the draw.”
“From what I saw, it wasn’t so much luck.” Shui Zhongdie finally managed to catch up to the two. “I saw the guy next to me write Zhou Qianlin’s name on his paper. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one as well. Otherwise what a coincidence! Hhm, with Qianlin here the two of us don’t amount to much. I’m so jealous!”
Tang Mi sputtered. “Knock it off. You with your Student President boyfriend. And yet you’re still the flirty one.”
Shui Zhongdie chortled. “What about him. He just fancies himself as my boyfriend. I haven’t hung out with him recently at all.”
“And what has our illustrious chairman been so busy with lately?”
“Still with all the meetings,” she said. “Lir University once again wants to show off how much better they are. I really don’t know what the university’s higher-ups are thinking. Lir University is for mecha piloting, and ours is focused on research and development. What are they thinking with these endless mecha combat competitions? It’s so boring! Just thinking of that smug face of his makes me wanna squish it.”
Tang Mi echoed the sentiment. “You’re right! The last time we lost terribly. We were lucky to have Professor Tang with us that time. Otherwise it would have been an absolute embarrassment. And we’re doing it again this year? The school agreed?”
“What I hear is that the school hopes our constant losses to Lir University we’ll make us want to strive harder. Our mecha combat department isn’t the strongest, to the consternation of our school bullies.”
Tang Mi’s plaintive cries followed. “They’re upset, so much the worse for us! But us girls can’t be cowardly, bring those LU punks on. If any of ‘em say anything I’ll show em what’s up!”
Shui Zhongdie pumped her fists in the air. “You and me both, sister!”
Zhou Qianlin shot them a hopeless look. “It’s gotta be tiring being such war-hawks. In fact Professor Tan and I have been working on a new type of laser cannon. How about I give you guys a first-hand demonstration?”
Shui Zhongdie almost tackled her with a hug. “Qianlin, so catty! Do all your suitors know that?”
The McCrary high-alt verti-car slowly came to a stop just outside Skyfire Avenue. The doors rose, and out stepped Lan Jue, Hua Li and the two young disciples. The car had been brought today by Hua Li, though it was Lan Jue who insisted on a different sort of transportation after sending Zhou Qianlin. When he picked up the key from his friend, he couldn’t help but sigh in appreciation, returning to modern society.
“Man, sweet! When’ll I be able to get me one of these? I had no idea you had so much money, teach!” Jin Tao looked at the car in excitement.
Even Tang Xiao, who himself come from a family of means, looked on in appreciation. What man didn’t enjoy his sports cars?
Lan Jue suddenly grew serious. “Come on.”
He took them directly to Skyfire Underground. The Avenue’s overworld section was a sight more stringent, and Lan Jue feared even his status as a councilman wouldn’t be enough to get them in.
As the elevator doors opened, Jin Tao and Tang Xiao stared – struck dumb.
Jin Tao was appreciably better off. He was fearless in the face of the unknown. But Tang Xiao was different. He knew about the Avenue, about what it meant, and his excitement could hardly be contained at finally being here. But what he didn’t know was that there existed a second Avenue.
His eyes filled with the old-style buildings, the crowds of people, and he couldn’t help but blurt out. “Am I in heaven?”
“Not far off,” Lan Jue replied. “Skyfire Avenue is indeed a real place. A place for Adept exchange, and the largest gathering of Talents in he Eastern Alliance. It’s loosely managed, free. Here, an Adept can get anything at all that they need.”
“I’ve heard of it,” Tang Xiao assured, “But my dad said I had to wait until I graduated before I qualified to be here. The rest I can’t recall. I had no idea it would be like this – it’s amazing.”
Lan Jue revealed a strange smile. “Amazing? We’ll see if you still feel that way later.”