Lan Qing’s quiet voice wafted towards the other three. “I have to get back. I’ll be on time for the god battle. You all need to push yourself. Think on what I’ve said.”
Chu Cheng and Hua Li nodded their heads. Lan Jue did as well, though there was a moment’s hesitation.
With a flash, the black-clad Prometheus was gone.
Hades and Poseidon gave audible sighs of relief. Hades, now safe, couldn’t help himself from complaining. “What kind of ‘brother’ is he, anyway? He gets worse every time I see him. Why did he choose to go after me first? You tell me, it’s because he knows I’m stronger than A-Li, right?”
Poseidon glared at his mouthy companion. “Oh yeah? And how exactly are you better than me? Especially when it comes to defense, you got nothing on me.”
Zeus interjected, his voice gentle. “I actually do know why he chose to attack you first.”
“Why, then?” Hades inquired with genuine curiosity.
“Because you talk too damn much.”
Dusk was quick approaching as Lan Jue bounced towards the NEU gate cockhorse on his bicycle. He’d already set a time to meet Zhou Qianlin via the Soulcaller gem.
Once she showed up, he wordlessly made for Grace Hospital. It was dark by the time he took her home. They only exchanged a few words during the entire evening, but the more time they spent together, the more there grew a wordless sort of mutual understanding between them. As they sped along home, Qianlin would often wrap her arm around Lan Jue’s waist for support. He didn’t stop her.
After he dropped her off, Lan Jue returned home. He ate a simple dinner, then spent some time at his writing desk composing something. When he finally did go to sleep, it was late.
Jin Tao was still in deep sleep, hidden within the nutrition chamber they’d left him in after the fantascia ginetica infusion. By now there were subtle differences in his physique becoming apparent. His bones were sturdier, his muscles stronger. Slender golden hairs covered his entire body… almost like he was reverting to his ancestral roots.
Tang Xiao had made his way to the Avenue after school, a religious habit he maintained after the competition. He appeared with a zeal that showed he’d forgotten – or was heroically ignoring – the pain his visits invariably ended with. Of course his zeal was in part due to the fact that Mika was his instructor, and the more vicious she was the more Tang Xiao pushed.
Morning. NEU Electives Office.
Lan Jue’s communicator beeped as he hung up. He rose to his feet, and walked to the nearby office window. As the warm sun blanketed him in a comfortable tungsten glow, he slowly stretched his lithe figure. From the outside, he looked like an angel.
NEU Teaching Affairs Office.
Wu Junyi closed the connection on his communicator, a knowing smile spreading across his face.
“Hm, Professor Lan’s gotten here so early, today. A, that’s right, he has class. And what high-brow content are we expounding today?” Wang Hongyuan spied Lan Jue as he stepped in to the electives office. He smiled pleasantly as he called out the greeting.
Lan Jue chuckled good-naturedly. “Early! Hongyuan, I am a professional and diligent professor. Can I infer from your tone you don’t agree with me?”
Wang Hongyuan’s lips curled in an accusing grin. “Sure you are. Diligent? Have you ever worked a full day here? Hell I’m lucky if I see you at all on any given day. Not sure that qualifies as diligent. All we have to do is look at your class schedule – you can’t even guarantee two classes a week.” 1
Lan Jue meandered over to Wang Hongyuan’s desk. “How about you and me have a little chat outside.”
Hongyuan’s eyes followed Lan Jue as he approached, curiosity in their depths. “What do you want to chat about?”
“Nothing bad,” Lan Jue assured, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Let’s go.” Despite his words though, there was a no-nonsense tone to his voice.
Wang Hongyuan had seen what Lan Jue was capable of. He knew he was no match for the man. Helplessly he rose to his feet, and followed the etiquette professor from the office.
Once they entered the hallway, Wang Hongyuan interrupted their trek with a few quiet words. “This is a school, professor. Don’t act recklessly.”
Lan Jue blinked innocently at his contemporary. “What are you talking about? If I were to do something like that, it wouldn’t be against you. You aren’t the Savage Goddess.”
Wang Hongyuan shot Lan Jue a nasty sneer. “I’m pretty sure not even god knows what you’ll do. If you got something to say fire away. I have classes to prepare.”
Lan Jue grinned. “It’s like this then. Yesterday Director Wu came to the electives office looking for me. With nothing but conjecture and hearsay, he puzzled out my abilities.”
Wang Hongyuan was understandably surprised by the news. “He found out you’re…”
Lan Jue nodded.
“What are you going to do?” Hongyuan asked, his brows furrowed. “Leave?”
Lan Jue shook his head, and grinning, went on. “Why should I leave? I’m a catch, aren’t I?”
Wang Hongyuan snorted. “I know Director Wu. Clever as a demon. I’m sure once he found out you’re a God-ranked pilot, he was pulling out all the stops to get you under his thumb.”
Lan Jue sagely nodded his head. “Indeed, the old fox is a tough one to deal with. I didn’t have any choice but to acquiesce to his demands. Starting today I’ll be assuming another identity and teach mecha combat as a ‘visiting professor.’”
Wang Hongyuan’s lit up at the news. “Mecha combat eh?”
This elicited a nod from the intrepid instructor. “Didn’t you find anything odd about what happened on Tai Hua? It was downright inexplicable. How is it that these powerful beasts just happened to appear? There’s a high chance we’ll eventually encounter even more intelligent life somewhere out there in the universe. If that’s the case, anything we can do to strengthen humanity as a whole is exceptionally important. With that in mind, I accepted Director Wu’s terms. Of course I’ll be wearing a mask during classes to protect my identity. I’ll also be continuing with the etiquette classes. I told our esteemed Director that, should anything happen and my identity become known, this great find of his will vanish as quickly as he came.”
Wang Hongyuan nodded in understanding. “That’ll work. With your instruction, it’s safe to assume we’ll see a number of excellent pilots graduating from our program.”
“Naturally,” Lan Jue replied. “I have my worries, though. After all, our school is not a traditional mecha combat university. Our students aren’t the greatest picks from the gene pool, Talent-wise. That’ll be their biggest hurdle in improving as pilots. I hope I’ll be able to find a few with higher natural ability, so we can train them as instructors and at least create a solid foundation for future improvement. That would net the most benefit. When all is said and done, it’s better to train a single Sovereign to Godhood, then a bunch of newbies to half-way decent status.”
The dance instructor just looked at him. “What’s all this nonsense, speak straight.”
Lan Jue answered by fixing the man with his stare. “Would you like to learn a few things from me?”
“Me?” Wang Hongyuan jabbed a finger towards his own nose, looking at Lan Jue in obvious surprise.
The god-ranked pilot only nodded.
“But I’m older than you are!” he exclaimed.
Lan Jue shrugged indifferently. “Knowledge is independent of age or length of study. If a teacher knows and can impart, then they are a teacher. You should know this.”
Wang Hongyuan looked unsure. His words only confirmed it. “Too sudden, I’ll need to think about it.”
Lan Jue patted his friend’s shoulder. “Sometimes opportunities are only available for the moment. You got till the end of the day – if you aren’t interested, I’ll find someone else.”
Wang Hongyuan visibly shook. He glowered in irritation. “Is there anyone as obnoxious and pushy as you?”
Lan Jue only shrugged his shoulders. “Then you go ahead and find another God-ranked pilot to come and teach you.”
Wang Hongyuan had no answer for that. “What rank are you anyway. Really.”
“There are no ranks for God pilots,” Lan Jue explained. “Though right now there are those trying to find a way to do so. But if you mean Discipline, then seventh-degree.”
“Seventh!” Wang Hongyuan whistled appreciatively. His normally sour expression gave way, and he couldn’t help but yelp. “Alright, I’m in!”
Wang Hongyuan was a seventh-ranked adept. It was enough that he knew what it meant to be faced with a ninth-ranked, seventh-degree Talent. The veritable top of the Adept pyramid – very nearly the peak of human cultivation. And so young, to boot. It was inevitable that he would break in to the highest levels of power.
Lan Jue gave him a small grin. “Call me teacher, lemme hear how it sounds.”
Wang Hongyuan gaped at him. “Me. Call you teacher. Hell no! Maybe when we’re actually learning something. Speaking of, how are we going to learn? Most of the students know who I am.”
Lan Jue’s face grew solemn. “You want to learn, but you refuse to call me teacher?”
Wang Hongyuan’s face grew red, then white, then red. His hands wrung together, almost unconsciously. Of course he was very interested in learning with Lan Jue; not just for piloting, but in Discipline as well. It’d been a very long time since he’d seen any improvement in either area.
But this Professor Lan was younger than he. And he was an instructor himself. For Lan Jue to force obeisance in this was more than he could stand!
He considered the trade-off for a moment. He gritted his teeth, struggling with the words. Seeing this, Lan Jue cut in. “Never mind, there’s another way. You don’t want to be my student I can’t force you. We’ll do this then; you can also assume a disguise, and be my teaching assistant. This way when I’m instructing the students you can listen in. You won’t be getting the benefit of being a student directly, but you can study on your own. How’s that?” 2
The relief in Wang Hongyuan after hearing the words was almost palpable. “Excellent. In truth, bud, I’ve got no problem calling you teacher. It’s just, I need to maintain a presence and reputation here you understand. So don’t take it personally! How about I call you teacher in private, whadda ya think?”
Lan Jue chuckled and patted his forehead. “Fine, don’t worry about it. We’re still and always will be contemporaries. After all we faced the fire together, stuck through it in a life and death situation. How can I really force you to do something like that. So it’s settled, then. I’ll let Director Wu know you’ll be acting as my assistant teacher. I have to head out and prepare for the afternoon class. Five o’clock, that the first class for these ‘visiting professors.’ I’ll get a mask for you, too. Find something you don’t usually wear, something people wouldn’t recognize 3. Hairstyle, too.”
He called the instructions over his shoulder as he swaggered down the hall.
Wang Hongyuan followed him with his eyes, until the young braggart vanished around a corner. He remained in place, dumbfounded, though there was gratitude in his heart. He was nothing special, and yet he acted inappropriately when a ninth-rank seventh-degree Disciple offered to train him.
What he didn’t see was the self-satisfied, guileful grin plastered on Lan Jue’s face as he left.
Righteous burn. ↩
To explain this a little better, we require some further insight in to Chinese culture. Mianzi, or face, is a massive underlying aspect of life in the far east. It’s a major underpinning factor in everything from family gatherings to highest-level government. What Lan Jue is asking in forcing his elder in both teaching experience and age to address him with that level of respect, if effectively emasculating him – making him lose face. You might think, then, that Lan Jue’s a bit of a dick forcing Wang Hongyuan to address him that way – but not really. Teachers demand a great deal of respect in China, and in fact it’s an absolute necessity in classrooms that the teacher command absolute respect. While that’s slowly hanging nowadays, the old Confucian ideal of respect thy teacher is still given a tremendous amount of lip service. It’s not only not unreasonable, but expected that a teacher’s students not only address them as such, but also bow and scrape and do whatever their teacher requires. ↩
He’s gunna show up in, like, a flamenco dress. Calling it ↩