All this simply by being near him. Indeed, if she could just be with him always then that would be grand. Zhou Qianlin felt a sudden surge of emotion, and tears began to drip from her eyes.
These last few months had indeed been torture. A torture that was difficult to describe. But as she thought upon the torment, she could suddenly feel something surging out from within her, aside from the emotions she felt. In the next instant, much to her surprise, there appeared another figure beside her upon the bed. Not a foot away lay the man she was just thinking about.
“You-… How did you get here?” Zhou Qianlin asked, stunned.
Lan Jue stared at her, wide-eyed. His pupils were struggling to adjust to the sudden shift in light. “How should I know?”
They looked in to one another’s eyes, and found confusion. What was this?
“What did you do to me?” Both of them expressed the same thought in the same moment.
“I didn’t do anything!” Again, together.
Silence. Not a sound was made as they lay in the dim interior of Zhou Qianlin’s bedroom. They simple looked at each other, confused and unsure on how to proceed.
Lan Jue sat up, got off the bed and turned back to face Qianlin. His features were serious. “I think it’s important that we perform some experiments. We need to figure out precisely how far this goes.”
“Alright.” Qianlin nodded her head. Yes! They did have to find out how close their connection had become. Did she just summon him?
“I had just gotten back to the Avenue. I was on my way to speak with the Paragons about what had happened, when suddenly I just found myself here. No warning, just poof. I didn’t even feel any sort of energy displacement or power. This has got to have something to do with you, right? What were you just doing?” Lan Jue’s questions were delivered calmly. Only logic would puzzle out what was going on here.
Her face reddened. “I was… I was thinking about you.”
He blinked. “So you were thinking about me, and I suddenly appeared?”
Qianlin nodded. “I thought it would be nice if you were beside me. Then you were.”
Lan Jue’s face darkened to a scowl. This was some shit! It meant he had practically no freedom, and Qianlin could summon him at her leisure. This…
“I wonder if it works the other way. If I just think of you beside me…” Lan Jue muttered to himself, focusing on the thought of Qianlin at his side. When he raised his eyes to look at her, nothing had changed.
“I’ll leave and try again,” he said. He didn’t even stop to let her respond before disappearing in to the power socket.
Zhou Qianlin rose to her feet. She, too, was surprised. She could summon him whenever she pleased, apparently. What was she to make of this?
After a short while, Lan Jue appeared once more from the socket, his face darker still. “Nothing. I tried thinking of you with me, but nothing happened. I suppose only you have the ability to summon me.”
Zhou Qianlin stood in silence for a moment, before speaking up. “Do you really want me with you?”
Lan Jue’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
She dropped her head, her face reddening once more. “It probably needs to be a genuine desire.”
Lan Jue was struck by the realization. He’d been so shocked with the summoning that he hadn’t considered the implications. They’d separated, and she honestly wanted him with her.
“Qianlin…” Lan Jue didn’t know what to say, but he felt it within him.
The young politician’s daughter reigned herself in. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to trouble you. It’s just, we are creatures with feelings and emotions. It was a…. a sort of hopeless attraction, I guess. It’ll go away with time.”
“That’s not what I meant,” he blurted out.
Qianlin lifted her eyes to his once more. “Then what did you mean?”
After a moment of silence, he responded. “Let’s keep trying to figure out what’s going on here, first. I’m going to try again.” With that, he was gone.
As he left, Lan Jue’s emotions were fluctuating more than his lightning Discipline.
Qianlin… if you feel this way about me, how can I face you? Hera will always be the only woman in my heart, and so long as she’s there I can’t give you all of me.
Five minutes later, he was back. Qianlin regarded him with an indifferent chuckle. “Still nothing? This is enough for now, we’ll continue with the experiments later. And don’t worry, I won’t trouble with – I’ll make sure to keep my thoughts in check.”
Lan Jue silently nodded his head. “Alright. I’ll start heading back.”
The room flashed with light as he became lightning, and vanished. The corners of her mouth curled in to a sad frown. It appeared as though her guess was right: You needed to wish with your whole heart in order for the summoning to work. He didn’t see her the way she saw him. He didn’t miss her the way she missed him.
Lan Jue’s mood was equally dour as he made his way back to the Avenue. Time and again he tried to fill himself with longing for Qianlin, but every time Hera’s smiling face swam up through the recesses of his mind to greet him. Every time, he failed.
Bess’ actions had created some wonderful changes in the both of them, but they were sudden and chaotic. Lan Jue didn’t know what to do about any of it. What would happen between he and Qianlin, he asked himself. What would become of their relationship?
From the beginning he’d wanted to keep a strict distance from her. There had to be boundaries. Now, as he tried more and more to let her in, he couldn’t. He acknowledged an affection for her, certainly, but affection and love were very different beasts. Worse still, he was sure how much of this affection was due to her similarities to Hera. This was most important.
When Lan Jue got back to the Avenue, he wasted no time in imploring help from the Keeper and Bookworm. They were busy men, but this was a very important matter.
“What?” After Lan Jue revealed his story, the two Paragons looked at each other. Their expressions were serious.
An unknown Paragon was staggering news in the Adept world. What’s more, this person had attacked a member of the Skyfire Council only several kilometers away.
The Keeper’s gruff voice was commanding. “Bring me to the hospital. I want to take a look.” The Bookworm nodded in emphatic agreement.
With two Paragons at his back, Lan Jue had no need to fear Bess. Of course, as Lan Jue had expected she was no longer there when they arrived at her room. She left no trace, no clue to her whereabouts.
“We’ll head back and discuss it.” The Keeper, after a cursory glance at the room, waved his hand dismissively.
When they returned, all four of the Avenue’s Paragons had gathered. Once more, Lan Jue shared his story, and as it progressed every one of the great powerhouses were scowling openly. Nearly killing a Council member made every one of them lose face! And yet, if this woman had indeed harbored malicious intent, Lan Jue would already be dead. Not to mention, Lan Jue was the Clairvoyant’s chosen successor! He was the future of the Avenue.
What followed was a series of questions and experiments. Lan Jue was no longer a Councilman, but a lab rat.
“This is very strange. From the outside it almost looks like a Discipline aberration. It penetrates all the way to your core, though.” The Keeper examined him from head to toe, and gave his determination after.
The Wine Master nodded. “I sense the same. It’s a mutation, caused by outside forces. But ultimately, this doesn’t look like such a bad thing for you. Once your energy and that other power combine, the result should be intensely pure. It possesses the very essence of this energy. It seals your core, but it also softens and compresses it. My guess is it will improve the rate and quality of your cultivation practices. I know that I don’t have any ability to seal a core in this way.”
The Keeper shook his head. “Nor do I. I doubt it’s solely the ability of the Paragon that caused this. Even a Paragon couldn’t do this alone. You’re only ninth rank seventh degree – she could easily have ended you if she wished – but doing this would be difficult, even for a Paragon.
To this, the Bookworm chuckled. “This Bess woman sounds like she was acting like a matchmaker 1. You and that girl are suddenly attached at the hip, sometimes literally. If you want to fight at your best, you’ll need her with you. So, if you aren’t together, then the net result in poor, correct? If the two of you marry, then all of your problems are solved. Not only thank, you’ll be stronger.”
Lan Jue’s brows tightened. “Let’s not talk about my relationship with Qianlin just yet. I can’t accept this sort of restriction. I’ve lost all freedom, like I’m chained up in a box. Is there any way to break this seal?”
“None,” the Wine Master assured. “We do indeed have the power to suppress the seal, but that would mean we’d have to be with you all the time. We’d have to be continuously pumping you full of energy. We’d be just as shackled as you are. The only way to do this, would be to obliterate your core. That would kill you. The only way for you to unlock this seal is to continue with your growth, until you’ve mastered the protogenic energies. Once your core has been infused in that power and born again, then the seal will be broken. Luckily, with this seal in place you’ll get about twice the result for half the effort in training. Right now, the only way to be free of this restriction, is hard work.
The Keeper nodded sagely. “This is also my conclusion. There are no other options, unless you seek out that Paragon. Only she knows the specifics of your condition. It’s as they say; only the one who used the poison knows its antidote.”
The Bookworm and Gourmet were newly minted Paragons. They had no solutions for Lan Jue either. He had no choice but to accept this situation. For now, he was a weaker man reliant on the presence of Qianlin.
Matchmakers were widely used in China for a long time. In rural areas it’s still a common practice, complete with dowries and other ancient practices.