The first time Lan Jue had performed this check of Zhou Qianlin’s abilities, they had just indistinct and only just beginning to manifest within her. This time, however, there was no mistaking its presence. It was far more substantial than it was the last time. For an Adept whose powers just awakened, didn’t even know what their discipline was… it was startling, the speed at which it was evolving.
“It must mean your genetic talent is very strong…”
Generally speaking, the strength of one’s innate talent and the speed at which their Discipline grew were inexplicably tied. As everyone’s level of congenital talent was different, so too was their cultivation speed. The better their Talent, the faster their improvement. If, for instance, a person’s Talent could reach in the levels of ninth-rank, even if they didn’t spend time cultivating their abilities they would rise to a certain plateau all on its own.
Some people express it as genetic talent being the denominator, and their actual power level as the numerator. The higher the denominator, the easier it was for the numerator to quickly increase. But if the numerator wanted to break the bonds of its denominator, it would take special circumstances.
Whether through the West’s Fantascia Genetica Decoction, or the North’s cyborg programs, there were ways to break that denominator or catalyze its evolution.
But ‘quick’ couldn’t appropriately describe the speed at which Zhou Qianlin’s powers were rising. Lan Jue thought back to his own youth, when his discipline had just awakened. His growth wasn’t nearly this fast. Jin Tao was the only person who could match it, and that was due to the genetica decoction.
“Is there a problem?” Qianlin asked.
Lan Jue shook his head. “Nope. It’s just your progress is incredibly fast. Strange. We should keep this under surveillance. We’ll wait a little while then check again, maybe then we’ll be able to get a clearer picture. I had no idea it was even possible for something like this to happen to someone your age.”
“What do you mean ‘my age’?” Qianlin said through a frown. “Are you saying I’m old?”
Lan Jue grinned ruefully. “No, of course not. Much younger than this body guard. By the way, I brought you a souvenir.” As he spoke there was a flash of silver light, and suddenly a crystal box was in his hands.
The Pelagic Pearl twinkled within, awash in misty blue light. It tinted the entire room, like a drizzly afternoon.
“It’s beautiful.” Qianlin admired. Her face betrayed the surprise.
Lan Jue flipped the box open and extricated the pearl. The thing itself was very small, perhaps the size of a cherry, and yet looking at it was like staring at a portrait of the universe. It was covered in layers of gradient blue, making it look like you were peering in to the misty depths of space.
He placed the pearl in her hand. “Make sure to take good care of this. There may come a time when you’re in danger and I can’t immediately reach you. If that happens, pour your Discipline in to the pearl. It’ll create an elemental ward that will protect you. But first make sure you cover it with a drop or two of your blood. It’s necessary for the pearl to recognize you and your power. Afterwards the pearl will head your command.”
Surprise emerged written across Zhou Qianlin’s pretty features. “This must have been very expensive. I can’t accept it.”
“Nah not expensive at all,” Lan Jue lied. “Anyway, this is me doing my job! Another way to make sure you’re being protected. After all, I can’t be at your side all day every day. What if I have to take a trip to another planet? With the pearl in your possession, it makes me feel better. I can relax a little. You should thing of some way to keep it on you at all times. A necklace, earring or something. When you find out what you like I can help have it made for you. For now, just keep it around.”
Qianlin was still shaking her head. She stuffed it back in Lan Jue’s hand. “Really too valuable. I don’t want it.”
Lan Jue had bought the pearl at auction specifically to give Qianlin. He hadn’t thought that she wouldn’t want it. It certainly wasn’t something he anticipated. 1
“Why not?” He asked. “Just because it’s valuable? You really don’t need to worry about any of that.”
Qianlin raised her head, looking him in the eye. “We are neither relatives nor friends, how could I take something like that from you?”
Lan Jue, seeing she was hesitant, backed away a few steps. “Look, I’m just your bodyguard. Protecting you is my responsibility.”
A calm came over Qianlin’s features. “So you do it yourself, don’t rely on a pearl. I don’t need it.”
Lan Jue looked at her, helpless. “Then how about this; I’ll loan it to you. When my contract is completed and our working relationship resolved, you can give it back. What do you think?”
Suddenly Qianlin smiled, stepping closer to him. “My dear body guard, you must think I’m stupid. Don’t forget that I’m a national scholar in the NEU. You can’t assume I wouldn’t know about Lir’s famed Pelagic Pearl. A high-class, a-ranked power gem that can only bind with a single person. A drop of blood, and it has a master forever.”
Lan Jue just stared at her for a moment, then an embarrassed grin spread across his face. “You sure are well informed boss! Bought I’ve already bought it, and it can’t be returned. If you don’t take, it’s a waste.”
“That’s not my problem,” Qianlin said through a sweet smile. Alright, it’s time for you to go. A man and a woman alone so late at night is improper.”
Lan Jue looked at her beautiful face, her moist lips, that impish smile. She made him want to throw himself to the ground in a fit. This girl! He thought. She makes me want to-
Lan Jue took a calming breath. “I’ve made up my mind, there’s nothing for it. If you want accept it, please forgive my impropriety.”
Qianlin took a cautious step back. “What are you talking about?”
Lan Jue chortled maliciously, and took a step forward. “What do you think?”
Before she could answer, his hand shot out to cover her small mouth. A flash of light, arcs of lightning, and Qianlin collapsed in to his waiting arms.
Lan Jue held up her unconscious form. “You know what, boss? My job as your bodyguard means sometimes I have to take extreme measures to keep you safe 2. All of this is necessary, as part of my duty.”
He pulled out her hand. A small pinprick of light, no thicker than a needle, appeared from his hand. It struck her finger, and a droplet of blood issued forth.
Lan Jue gently placed the pearl against her finger. As he watched, the pearl drank the blood into itself. The dim light it normally expelled became a powerful halo that bathed the room in blue light.
Then, the light congealed around Zhou Qianlin and was drawn in to her.
Zhou Qianlin’s body was numbed, she could neither move nor speak. But there was always the Soulcaller gem.
Zhou Qianlin: Don’t think you can skirt your duties as my bodyguard by giving me this thing! You absolutely must protect me in person!
Lan Jue: When did I ever say I was trying to get around our deal? I made a promise, and I’m going to stick to it. I may not always be best suited for the job, but isn’t this an example of me protecting you to the best of my abilities? You know I have a lot on my plate, and if something happens when I’m not around what will you do? This is exactly why I brought you the pearl. So behave.
It took a good five minutes for the intense light let off by the pearl to subside. Once again it was the pretty, quiet little pearl it had always been.
Lan Jue finally released Qianlin from the control he’d had over her. She quickly and violently shot to her feet. She was livid. “You forced me!”
Lan Jue coughed uncomfortably. “I’ve already explained my reasoning. I haven’t done anything I wasn’t contracted to do, boss.”
Zhou Qianlin turned her face away, striking him from existence.
Lan Jue snorted bitterly. “Bite the hand that feeds… this girl can’t recognize good intentions!”
Zhou Qianlin’s head snapped back to him. In one fluid movement she grabbed his arm, pulled it out, and viciously bit him.
Lan Jue didn’t move or attempt to evade. He didn’t employ any methods to lessen the pain. He just took it. His expression even bore a sort of softness.
Qianlin veritably gnawed at him, but when she noticed he wasn’t reacting she let go. She lifted her head and glared at him.
Her hard eyes met his gentle gaze, and the two simply looked at each other. Her look softened and then, soundlessly, she pressed herself in to his arms.
Her silken tresses had come loose, their fragrance filling his nostrils. The scent was burned on his heart. His raised his arms, as though to wrap them around her, but after a few moments frozen in the air he let them drop. Like he’d lost his nerve.
He took a deep breath, then pulled her to arm’s length. “It’s late, I should go. You should sleep soon. I’ll bring the pearl back once I’ve fixed it up.” Without waiting for her response, he fractured in to a thousand bolts of electricity and vanished in to the wall socket.
Qianlin swayed slightly on her feet, without his weight to support her. It had startled her. She thought back to it, that brief moment… clearly she’d felt there was some impenetrable barrier between them.
Lan Jue made his exit from the villa and Mount Tian as quickly as he was able. He wasted no time returning to Skyfire Avenue.
When he got back, he didn’t immediately go to sleep. He pulled out some tools, some precious metals, and set about fiddling about in his apartments.
Under the intense heat, the silvery-white metal began to change. Under Lan Jue’s deft guidance, slowly it began to take shape.
His cutting tool flashed, slicing away the metal and leaving slivers along his desk. Eventually, a fair and elegant bracelet began to reveal itself.
Zhou Qianlin washed her face and brushed her teeth, preparing for the morning. Listlessly she picked at her breakfast, then slung on her backpack and silently made for school.
Did he come today? He just got back from Lir yesterday, he’s probably too tired. He probably won’t be coming.
There was public transportation that served Mount Tian. Certainly she could find something that would bring her to the city. Sometimes, when Lan Jue wasn’t around, she would use them to get to school with Tang Mi. Sometimes just herself.
Although she was the Eastern Alliance Chairman’s daughter, she was careful not to employ any privileges it might afford her. She was like anyone else. A normal citizen.
For real woman. It’s not a diamond engagement ring, take the damn pearl! Of course, it was more expensive than a couple dozen diamond rings… ↩
I kinda think he just wanted to shock the ever loving shit out of her. ↩