The shins had no skin to soften the blow, and yet were densely covered in nerve endings. Lan Jue couldn’t help but yelp pitifully from the blow.
Tan Lingyun just glared at him, as one would something disgusting. She sniffed at him – her final insult – then sashayed away.
Lan Jue hugged his shin and hopped in place for a good minute. Eventually the pain eased, replaced with an anger so violent Lan Jue felt like his could spit blood. This was that obedient assistant he could command at will not a week earlier. The change on the other side of the mask was intense – this Savage Goddess was certainly a unique character.
“Just wait… oh wait, and one day you’ll see how I’ll deal with you.” Lan Jue snarled the words under his breath.
“Oh? And how are you going to do that?” Tan Lingyun stopped dead in her tracks.
Lan Jue’s face scrunched and froze. He forced the expression away, replacing it with a sheepish grin. Then, everything started spinning.
The sky was a lovely shade of blue as – to Lan Jue – it slowly slid passed his vision. The clouds were a beautiful fluffy white. It hurt like hell when he hit the floor.
“Remember this – if you’re going to talk shit, have the strength to back it up!” Tan Lingyun shook her red-knuckled fist in the air above his nose, ruining the picturesque scene.
Once she left, Lan Jue picked himself up off the floor and awkwardly stumbled to the campus exit. He hoped on his bike and started the ride home. All the while, the scene played out in his head. The more he thought about it, the more depressed he became. Was there no solution for dealing with this woman?
He dialed Wang Hongyuan’s number in to his communicator.
“Eh? Professor Lan.” Wang Hongyuan’s surprised voice answered.
Lan Jue replied. “Professor Wang. There’s some business concerning the ARC classes I needed to ask you to handle. Something we have to nib in the bud…
Good. And make sure you tell Tan Lingyun. It’d be better if she also appeared to deal with this personally.”
“Alright, got it.” Wang Hongyuan said. “By the way, Professor, I just got this message from the university. They’re planning another trip for the teachers who went to Taihua. We’ll be gone for about a weak.”
“Ah? Another trip?” Lan Jue’s lips curled in to a frown. Their last vacation had almost claimed his life! It’d turned out a blessing in disguise – one he inexplicably recovered very well from – but it had certainly made an impression. So now there was this, and then the competition in the North. He just got back, he was hoping for at least a few days of rest!
“Yup! The school’s trying to make up for what happened.” Wang Hongyuan explained gleefully.
“Sounds like you’re excited to go,” Lan Jue said.
“It’s free, why the hell not?” He answered. “They’re giving us play money and sending us to the West.”
The Western Alliance? Upon hearing this, Lan Jue’s brows raised. Wasn’t the West where the Wine Master had said the descendant was hiding?
“So you going?”
“I have to think about it,” Lan Jue said. “I’ve been skipping classes for so long. It’ll look terrible if I’m gone again.”
He could hear Wang Hongyuan grunt. “How? At this point, even if you restarted the classes you wouldn’t have that many students. It makes no difference if you come back in a few days or weeks. And with the clout you hold, the school will certainly help publicize when you’re ready. Just be consistent from then on.”
From Lan Jue’s mind to his mouth. It’s like he knew I need to leave again! They exchanged a few more words, then Lan Jue cut the connection. So they would be going to the West. According to Wang Hongyuan, it would be a famous travel destination. The planet was called the Barrows, a beautiful place said to resemble Former Era Earth.
A Journey to the West? He would have to ask the wine Master where, precisely, he wanted to go. They would be drinking the Cros Parantoux tomorrow, and perhaps the fine wine and his promise to help with soothe the flames of the Wine Master’s fury. It would be closer to the North as well, making it more convenient to leave directly for the tournament afterward. It wouldn’t delay or inconvenience anybody.
He decided to return to the Avenue and seek out the Wine Master first thing. He’d need to know if the Barrows was close enough to where he suspected the descendant to be. If so, he’d just separate from the other teachers and make a little side stop during their trip. So long as he let Director Wu know, there wouldn’t be any problems.
He trundled along the road toward the Avenue. His shins still throbbed and ached, but inwardly he smiled. If Hua Li and Chu Cheng could see him today, they’d say the same thing: karma, bitch.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Lan Jue’s communicator called for his attention. He looked down to see Xiuxiu’s number.
“Xiuxiu, what’s up?” He sounded a little surprised. It was very rare that Xiuxiu troubled him on his communicator. She only used it in emergencies.
Xiuxiu’s voice seemed strange. “Boss, you need to come back right away. We have an uninvited guest.”
Lan Jue’s pleasant bike ride was no longer so pleasant. “Alright, I’m on the way. Avenue or Underground?”
“Underground,” she answered. “And don’t worry, all four of us are here.”
“Got it.” Lan Jue hung up, then hopped off the bike. A light flashed from his hand, and the antique bicycle disappeared in to his interdimensional storage space.
Satellites were rarely trained on a single person, but even if one was it would be completely impossible for it to follow his speed. The scenery passed in a flash, and before long Lan Jue was back on the Avenue. A quick jog and elevator ride later, and he was in the Underground.
Just as the Coffee Master had claimed, the Underground seemed particularly busy. The streets were bustling with activity, surging with adepts from all over.
Lan Jue fought through the crowd until he reached his store. The door bells chimed as he entered. He was immediately greeted with the sight of his four Amazons, surrounding a very nervous looking man.
“What? You?” Lan Jue’s brows shot up.
Zhou Qianlin had already been busy all morning helping the tenants. She’d arrived early to make up for having been gone for so long. She missed all of her friends. With so much to do, she’d decided to take a week off of classes. She’d report in and tell her parents she was at school, and that would be fine.
After returning from the training, her parents asked her all about it. She replied with understatements and half-truths. Some were outright lies, like when she claimed it was just a normal school training. She was thinner, certainly, but they couldn’t tell anything from her face or mood to contradict what she was saying.
“Hey, Qianlin! You know your boyfriend is a fine young man. He’s come several times since you’ve been gone to look after us. Well, not so much this last month. Is he doing alright?” A kindly old granny asked.
Qianlin’s heart was filled with warmth, and she smiled pleasantly. “He’s doing very well, Granny Li. He’s been so busy this last month, but I’ll make sure to bring him soon to visit.”
“Good, good! It makes all of us old coots feel a little younger with you two around. You know when I was your age, I also had quite an umber of handsome suitors pursuing me. For example, when I first entered the service…”
The elderly never had too much to say, and Qianlin didn’t interrupt. She always listened attentively with a smile, and helped when they got stuck. She’d heard many of these stories several times, so she knew most of them by heart. She felt like it helped them remember the past.
Despite her busy morning, she didn’t feel the least bit tired. She couldn’t help but laugh – it looked like that training even helped her with housework!
Eventually Granny Li’s story concluded. Zhou Qianlin politely excused herself, then picked off her ruby gloves and went upstairs. She used them for cleaning, and to protect her delicate hands from becoming coarse. Although she didn’t care, her parents might notice and grow worried. Once she realized this, she’d started using gloves.
She made her way down the hall to the last door, and gently knocked. “Granny Bess?” She called. “Can I come in?”
The quavering voice of the tenant called back. “Come on in.”
Qianlin pushed the door open to see Granny Bess in her normal position beside the window. She stared in to the middle distance with an expressionless face.
Zhou Qianlin dexterously made her way to the elderly woman’s side, and spoke with her in a quiet voice. “I’m going to clean the room a little for you, if that’s alright. Then I’ll go clean your clothes.”
“Alright,” Granny Bess answered.
Qianlin wasted no more time in polite conversation, and busied herself with cleaning. She tried to be quick, but quiet so as not to disturb Bess. She deftly cleaned every corner, for she knew Granny Bess appreciated cleanliness.
It didn’t take her long to clean the tiny room. She gathered up the woman’s clothes and brought them to the laundry room, then returned. “Granny Bess? The clothes are washing now. I’ll bring them back in when they’re ready. If you’re ok here, I’m going to look in on the others.”
It was their tradition. She would pop her head in and explain, then leave without interruption. This time was different, however, as Bess waved her over with a hand. “Come.”
There was a moment of hesitation, but Qianlin quickly complied. Bess fixed her with those unusually clear eyes.
“You’ve changed a lot.”
“Oh?” Qianlin replied.
The old woman lifted her right hand with surprising agility, and grabbed at Qianlin. Her fingers were more like claws, and a sanguine light shone from her red-painted fingernails. A supernatural gloom blanketing the small apartment, until it seemed like the light was devoured completely.