Lan Jue exited from the teaching affairs building, and made his way quickly back towards Skyfire Avenue. He was curious to learn more about Zhou Qianlin through their check-up. However, that wasn’t until later tonight. He had time enough to practice mecha piloting in DreamNet.
The entire campus of the NEU was a mess of chattering students and busy workers, all abuzz over the upcoming concert. It was, after all, the first time something like this had happened at the university. Hua Li was called the First Man of the Alliances – and that was hardly an exaggeration. Be it personal ability, looks, or his family’s spending power, he was far and beyond the ken of your average person.
“Professor Lan.” As he moved towards the university’s gates, a cold greeting stopped him in his tracks.
“Hm?” Lan Jue turned his head to find the source of the voice. His eyes fell upon Tan Lingyun, walking towards him in a black dress suit and black-rimmed glasses.
Was his fortune really so bad? Just a few more steps and he’d have been free! His expression was stiff as he addressed her.
“Ah, Professor Tan. Hello, hello.” He was clearly loathe to engage in conversation with this ‘Savage Goddess,’ but he had to at least say hello.
“Where’d you go that day? Weren’t you aware we’d stayed behind to find you? Do you have any idea of the cost?” She hissed at him in fierce and angry tones, the light of anger slowly growing brighter in the depths of her eyes.
Lan Jue glowered sheepishly as he spoke. “I was only thinking about helping who I could.”
“Dumbass!” She screamed at him.
Her voice rang against the sides of the buildings, and invariably drew the eyes of passing teachers. Lan Jue’s own sights were desperately searching for a place to hide or escape.
“Professor, we’re intended to be role models. Surely cursing at someone in public isn’t –“
“Cursing? I ought to beat you! About the only thing saving you from it is the fact that you’re normal, and wouldn’t be able to protect yourself from my power. Not to mention taking out the trash myself will only bring my status down. You know, its people like you I hate the most. Worse than trash, a pure coward. Make sure you keep yourself out of my sight, I don’t want you poisoning my eyes!” She unceremoniously kicked him in the shin before turning, and stomping off.
“Hssss!” Lan Jue hissed in pain and grabbed his lower leg protectively. He hopped up and down on his good leg like a cartoon character.
DAMNIT! Why?! Why is it I end up suffering every time I run in to the Savage Goddess?
Lan Jue slinked out from the campus. Under the curious eyes of the teachers and students he passed, he quickly clambered up on top of his bike and raced away.
After a few kilometers he settled down, and slowed. He was no longer the center of everyone’s attention. But it still stung – this was the second time that awful woman left him the battered victim in front of everyone. The first time, of course, being that day in the hall with Richard.
If that’s what she wants, then so be it. She doesn’t want to see me, and I sure as hell have no interest in running in to her again.
Still, he had to respect how frank and straight-forward she was. There was also a reason for her anger. She’d almost died that day, running through the forests to find him and Wang Hongyuan. In the end it came down to him, and he was the reason for everything that happened to her.
Little by little, the depression and anger within him subsided, replaced by a sense of hopelessness. There was nothing he could do about Professor Tan, but she had her heart in the right place. She was at least a person with a strong sense of responsibility.
Thinking on it made him sad.
Lan Jue made it home, entered his private DreamNet cabin, and proceeded to clean house. The results were heard later throughout DreamNet.
Nightly DreamNet News. Zeus – powerful mercenary and legend of DreamNet has appeared suddenly after an extended absence. From ten in the morning to three in the afternoon, for five continuous hours, Zeus defeated one hundred and three challengers without a single defeat. No one was able to stand against his explosive power – and in fact, none even landed a blow.
“Why do you look so tired?” This was the first thing Qianlin said to him, when she met Lan Jue at their corner after school.
“It’s nothing,” he replied. “I did some exercise, maybe a little excessive.”
Zhou Qianlin nodded, as though coming to a sudden realization. “I see. Well remember to consider your age, and not overdo it.”
Lan Jue’s face darkened, but when he looked towards her he immediately spied her impish grin. “Fine,” he spat good-naturedly, “go ahead and call me old.”
“Cousin, it looks like you have a short memory.” For the second time today, Lan Jue was interrupted by a rude voice from behind.
Only this time, he didn’t have to turn his head to know who it was. Without a moment’s hesitation, he spun around and took several long strides towards the source.
Richard’s face was a mask of displeasure. Zhou Qianlin had been out of school for some time, and it was his hope to reconnect with her once she returned. He hadn’t expected to stumble across her and Lan Jue bantering flirtatiously.
“Richard,” Lan Jue growled, “this is the last time I’m telling you: leave my family be. If you don’t, I’ll beat you so badly your father won’t even recognize you.” He shook a fist under the young man’s nose, then turned away with a practiced and dismissive grace. He climbed up on to his bike and beckoned for Qianlin to follow.
Richard was truly stunned. Lan Jue’s viciousness, his ferocity was a complete paradigm shift from the gentle and learned professor he was accustomed to. For a second he didn’t know how to respond.
But by the time he recovered and had a fair comeback on hand, Lan Jue had already ridden off in to the distance with Zhou Qianlin.
“Bastard!” Richard angrily stomped a foot. Suddenly, a dark and mysterious figure appeared at his side.
“Master,” the shadow hissed, “would you like me to take care of him?”
Richard cut him off with a wave of his hand. “That won’t do. He’s with Qianlin. If we want to deal with him, it’ll have to be at a time when there’s no one around to see. We have to be especially careful Qianlin doesn’t trace it back to me. I’m not only interested in her body. I want her heart, too.”
Lan Jue pedaled evenly along the bumpy road, a smile on his face. “Pretty intimidating, huh?”
“Oh yes,” Qianlin said. “Like a hoodlum, the kind that might kidnap girls1. And when did I become your family, anyway? My family name is Zhou, yours is Lan. Have some dignity.”
Lan Jue replied, ignoring the jabs. “I’m your bodyguard. Of course we’re family. At least so long as I’m on the clock. It’s my job to protect you, and he wanted me to stay away from you. I have to force him to leave if I’m to effectively do my job.”
Zhou Qianlin’s response was muted. “The Austin family is the most influential family in the West. You should be careful.”
Lan Jue’s grin widened. “Take it easy, don’t you worry. I’m a competent bodyguard, I promise.”
Zhou Qianlin suddenly changed subjects. “I’m planning on going to Grace hospital tomorrow. Are you coming with me?”
“Yup! I quite like it there actually. It feels like a good, wholesome cleanse of body and soul.”
Zhou Qianlin’s sweet laughter hung in the air as they trundled along the mountain path.