“Got something delicious cooking? Any cute girls?” Chu Cheng’s voice was clearly heard on the other end.
Lan Jue was nearly speechless. “How about you don’t come, on second thought. We’re looking for guests with some moral integrity.”
Chu Cheng snickered at the insult. “Hey, I have moral integrity in spades. If there aren’t any pretty women, I can live with it. Oh, speaking of, damn dude your school’s got no shortage of hotties eh? I saw a picture of that one that looks like Hera. Like twins bro! But look, if it’s true you don’t have any interest in her perhaps you’ll let me give it a shot, yeah?”
“Chu Cheng!” Lan Jue’s voice became a growl, heavy with the promise of violence.
“Hah, I’m messin’ with ya bro.” Chu Cheng’s stupid chortling echoed through the communicator. After a minute he regained his composure. “But seriously, A-Jue, she’s like exactly the same. Well, not as nice, but you – “
Lan Jue hung up.
Hua Li, dressed in a fine formal suit, kicked at the man at his side. “You got nothing better to do, idiot? Lan Jue’s been all broken up about Hera for so long, what the hell are you doing bringing it all back up?”
Chu Cheng stood lazily to one side, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. “Running away won’t solve some things,” he said quietly. “In fact I’m surprised you don’t see this as a good opportunity. Suddenly we have this woman here who looks strikingly like our lost Hera. Who’s to say she isn’t the reason for Lan Jue’s resurgence?”
Hua Li narrowed his eyes, a curious light in his dazzling blue eyes. “Let’s hope that’s the case.”
After hanging up, Lan Jue’s mind couldn’t help but turn to that alluring figure. A strange sense of agitation filled him.
She’s not Hera! She’s not Hera! She’s NOT HERA!”
The mantra did seem to bring him a sense of ease.
But what has she been up to these last few days?
Almost without thought, his consciousness reached out through the Soulcaller gem around his neck.
“I’m back.” He projected his thoughts out towards her.
Hm? Apprehension shuddered through him. The benefit of the gem was that the user’s thoughts were instantly transferred to the receiver. She should be able to know right away, unless she took it off.
“I’m back.” He tried once more.
“Got it.” This time there was a reply. Her response was calm, as though nothing out of turn had occurred.
“I’m ready to continue with the bodyguard duties. Tomorrow. Want me to bring you to school?”
“Fine.” The reply was short, to the point.
Lan Jue couldn’t pinpoint why exactly, but something didn’t feel right. His consciousness reached out again. “Where are you?”
“Home. I haven’t been feeling well, I took a few days off.”
“Not feeling well? What’s the matter?”
Zhou Qianlin was silent for a time. After what felt like half the night she answered. “Since when have you been so concerned with everything I do?”
Lan Jue blinked. She was right, since when did he start having such concern for her?
“Are you going to begin classes tomorrow?” He changed the subject.
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
With their little chat concluded, Lan Jue lapsed in to thought. Uncomfortable? Home sick? She was a very tough girl. What kind of sickness would put her out like this for so long?
His mind tumbled over the issue as he pushed his bike towards the exit.
“Professor Lan?” A surprised voice stopped him.
He lifted his head and spied golden-haired Tang Mi trotting towards him.
He nodded in greeting. “Hello, Tang Mi.”
She looked him over a few times. “It’s great you’re back, Professor. You probably aren’t aware, but now there are a whole slew of students who want to join your class. They’re saying you teach a whole bunch of things they can’t learn anywhere else. Didn’t you also go with the others to Taihua? So long as you got back safe that’s great. It must have been so scary with those monsters over there.
“I was lucky,” Lan Jue said. “I didn’t run in to any of the monsters. If I had, I probably wouldn’t be standing here talking to you.”
Tang Mi patted her plump chest. “Then we’re all in luck!”
It was Lan Jue’s turn to question her. “Tang Mi, what about that black haired girl I always see you with. I haven’t seen you two together for a while.”
Tang Mi looked surprised, then a little hurt. “All you men are always fauning over Qianlin. She’s home sick.”
Lan Jue chuckled at her distemper. “Just a teacher’s concern for his students is all. Is it serious?”
“I don’t think so,” she replied. “I went to visit her. Probably just a cold. She feels weak, so a few days rest at home and she’ll be fine.”
Lan Jue felt the inexplicable tightness in his chest ease somewhat. “Alright, I won’t bother you then. Class will begin again in a few days.”
Tang Mi called back. “Professor, do you guys really just like those gentle sorts of women?”
Lan Jue answered with a serious expression. “This is a school, young lady. Your task should be to study well, not busying your head with this sort of thinking. I hear you’re already an Emperor-Class mecha pilot, which is an amazing feat for your age. Such being the case, you should focus on studiously exploiting your natural talent. You don’t want to squander this chance, during this special time in your life.” 1
The young lady replied by sticking out her tongue. “Don’t be like that, Professor Lan! We students all find you fun and interesting, you shouldn’t act so much like Director Wu.”
Lan Jue’s expression suddenly changed. “Director Wu is here.”
Tang Mi covered her mouth as she tittered. “That’s right. Teasing sometimes is good fun. But you really are acting like him.”
“Acting like who?” A stately, deep voice boomed from behind Tang Mi.
The young pilot’s face suddenly went stiff. “Ah! W-well Professor, I have things to do. Time for training!” She ran off without looking back.
Director Wu watched Tang Mi flee with a shake of his head. “This girl. So fidgety. She needs to adopt a calmer character, then she’d really be making progress. She actually has more talent even than her brother. The two of them are the pride of our school.”
Lan Jue nodded his head in agreement. “I’m ready to begin classes whenever you like, Director Wu.”
Wu Junyi sauntered to Lan Jue’s side. “As long as you’re feeling well, all’s fine. This last trip got us all frightened, sad. For that I’m deeply sorry. We’ll be having another activity at a later date to make it up to the faculty.”
Another activity? Lan Jue had to physically restrain himself from flinching. “That’s fine, really,” he hastily assured. “What happened out there was a tragedy, no one could have seen that coming.”
Giving his farewells to Director Wu, Lan Jue then made his way towards the electives offices. However, the two he’d hoped to meet weren’t there.
Wang Hongyuan’s status as an Emperor-Class mecha pilot had not been revealed. He was off teaching class as though nothing had changed. Jin Yan was also in class.
Lan Jue busied himself with arranging his desk, and organizing his teaching materials. He aimed to wait until they arrived so he could say hello. However, he fell to busy work to combat the unsettling sensation that had grown within him.
Time passed, and though he can’t remember leaving the school, he found himself standing at the foot of Skyfire Mountain when his thoughts abated.
She’s just sick?
Should I go in and check up on her?
Is that really the right move?
I wouldn’t want people to misunderstand.
Just for a quick minute.
A figured appeared at the peak of the mountain, on the edge of the woods surrounding the nearby villa. For Lan Jue, the various security protocols in place were there in name only.
This was the East’s equivalent to the White House, and was suitably large for its status. Its security was tighter than normal, more than likely due to the wedding incident.
Lan Jue stood about five hundred meters from the villa. Miniscule bolts of lightning raced across his eyes as he spied the dim, partially visible glint of infrared beams. It was the first, outward-most defense system of the house.
“How many romantic love stories would be denied if all women’s houses were like this,” Lan Jue muttered. He chuckled at the situation, then was on the move.
Flickering electric blue light arose, with Lan Jue hidden in its midst. He dropped to a squat position, and stuck his arm down in to the dirt. Suddenly, soundlessly, he vanished.
Anywhere lightning could go, so could he. He was a creature of thunder and lightning. This power to enter and escape at will was known by a specific name, Fulmenating.
The hand he’d stuffed in to the ground had grasped a buried cable. With that the whole of the mansion’s metal structure and electrical network were at Lan Jue’s mercy.
Everything became an extension of himself. He saw all.
He spied Zhou Qianlin lying in bed, demurely covered in a pair of traditional white pajamas. She was covered to the waste in a comforter with her hair splayed out around her. She held a book loosely in her grip, and stirred on occasion.
Her face was somewhat pale, and her eyes weren’t a bright as they once were. She turned a few more pages then, as though tired, shut her eyes and put the book to one side.
Flashing electric light spat from a socket in the corner, it’s sparks and embers congealing in to a humanoid form.
She looked at peace, resting quietly atop the bed, pure as a lily. She looked so weak he couldn’t help but feel pity.
He spied the Soulcaller gem, still attached to her neck. Lan Jue gently pulled the blanket up until it covered her. He reached out a finger and placed it against her jugular, searching for a pulse.
A moment later a curious look overtook his features, speculation, which caused him to shake his head. He moved around until he arrived at the other side of the bed and climbed on. He gently placed the palm of his hand against her back.
A moment later he let out a long, quiet breath. He turned over, and climbed off the bed. He vanished in to the nearby outlet as quickly as he’d arrived.
A minute after his departure, Zhou Qianlin’s long eyelashes began to flutter. She slowly opened her eyes to the world around her. He reached a hand out from beneath the comforter to touch her neck. The corner of her lips turned up in a small smile.
In China, while it isn’t ‘illegal’ for children in university/high school to date, it is highly frowned upon. Students are expected to focus entirely on their studies. Only after they’ve graduated are they expected to find a spouse. Of course they are then expected to already have a car, a house, and an excellent paying job (for men). ↩