As the teachers tore through the scenic landscape on a mag-lev train, their mood had begun to improve once again. The only thing they’d had to do on their five day journey beside sleep, was sleep. Once they finally disembarked, they were still groggy. However, the gorgeous views and differences from what they knew in the East woke them up quickly.
Lan Jue, naturally, sat beside Zhou Qianlin. Everyone knew that she had been chosen to participate in the trip because of her outstanding performance during the ARC class – at least, that was what Wu Junyi had told them. There were some suspicions, however – after all, many of them had seen the exchange between Tan Lingyun, Qianlin and the etiquette teacher. Then, all three mysteriously vanished. More attention was being paid to the little known Professor Lan.
Jin Yan, too, would occasionally find her eyes wandering toward Lan Jue. When they did, her brows would furrow, and she’d get lost in thought.
“Are you alright, Professor Yan? You didn’t get hurt, did you?” Wang Hongyuan’s concerned voice drew her back. Wang Hongyuan had yet to leave her side. They were colleagues from the same office, and this colleague in particular had caught Wang Hongyuan’s fancy.
“I wonder why Professor Lan is always with Zhou Qianlin!” She spoke quietly to the man beside her. “I wonder if something’s going on between them.”
Wang Hongyuan answered with a shrug. “How should I know? They do look a little more intimate than one might expect. If you look carefully, you can see something strange in the way they look at one another.”
Jin Yan’s pretty mouth curled in to a frown. “You’re right, I can see it. How could this be allowed to happen?”
Wang Hongyuan laughed it off. “Why shouldn’t it? Qianlin’s a post-graduate scholar, and she’s an adult – old enough to apply for financial aid. One without a partner is without family, they say. If it’s love, who are we to deny them?”
Jin Yan was unconvinced. “But…” She had always held Lan Jue in high regard, and that had increased by leaps and bounds after discovering the changes in her brother. But more than that, she’d always born a curiosity about Professor Lan. She always felt as though there was more to him than met the eye.
“We shouldn’t pry in to other people’s business,” Wang Hongyuan continued. “He’s a colleague. And if he’s got the skill to attract the attention of a beauty like Qianlin, then more power to him.”
“What makes you so happy to see them together,” she asked.
To this, Wang Hongyuan offered a light snort. “He’s my competition!”
“Competition? For what?” Jin Yan looked at him in curiosity.
Wang Hongyuan shrugged a shoulder. “I have a girl I like, who knows Professor Lan. This girl seems to have a little bit of an interest in the guy. If he were off the market, she has to give up pursuit, right? That’s my opportunity.” His eyes shone as he looked Jin Yan’s way.
Jin Yan blinked at him, surprised. “Really? Do I know her? Wow, this is the first I’ve heard you are interested in somebody! Who is she? Come on, tell me.”
The corner of Wang Hongyuan’s mouth twitched. He saw the fire of gossip alight in her eyes, but inwardly could only lament. Right over her head…
“It’s a secret,” he muttered.
Jin Yan frowned prettily. “Hmph, fine. Don’t tell me. I just wanted to help… but I guess it looks like you don’t need it.”
“You really want to help?” A sly light glittered in Wang Hongyuan’s eyes.
“We’ll colleagues,” she said. “Isn’t that what friends do for each other?”
He nodded. “Yeah, in that case there is actually something you can help me with. The woman I like actually came on this trip. Stop looking around! You’re making it too obvious. When I need your help, I’ll let you know, ok?”
Lan Jue’s ear twitched as he faintly heard his name from behind somewhere. He listened carefully at Wang Hongyuan’s attempts, and couldn’t help but smile. At last he was making his move. Lan Jue wished him luck.
“What’s with the sinister smirk,” Qianlin whispered at his shoulder.
Lan Jue chortled quietly. “It’s nothing.”
“Something bad, that’s for sure,” Tan Lingyun said. She was sitting on his other side. “One look at you shows you’ve got nothing but bad intentions.”
Lan Jue stared at her. “Is this how you speak to your savior?”
She grunted. “Oh, and who did you save, huh? I can’t think of anyone.”
Lan Jue grunted right back. “It’s no use trying to argue with the ungrateful. I’m done speaking to you.”
Tan Lingyun openly wagged a fist at him. “Are you looking for an ass-kicking?!”
Lan Jue deigned not to answer. He simply sat in silence, with a scornful expression on his face. He could almost see her shaking beside him, but she wasn’t as ungrateful as Lan Jue had accused. She wasn’t one to let a good deed go unpunished. If it hadn’t had been for his involvement, perhaps they all really would have died out in space. Perhaps he wasn’t a total waste of space.
Qianlin snickered in to her hand on his other side. It was like the two of them had committed some unspeakable offense to each other in a past life. She didn’t suspect Tan Lingyun as any sort of romantic rival. If she couldn’t win Lan Jue over, then she suspected no one else could either.
The Barrows was an enormously large planet, easily three times the volume of Skyfire. They had views stretching to the horizon while they made their descend, and saw nothing but green stretching far as the eyes could see. All of the vegetation served to up the oxygen content of the air, which caused some of the newcomers to feel like headed. Once they got used to it, however, they felt very comfortable.
Endless scans and research on the Barrows had revealed a long time ago that the excellent surroundings actually served to extend its occupants’ lives. Normal people who remained here for a long time might see their lifetime extend by five or ten years. For this reason, the Barrows was often the host to dignitaries and others who needed a sharp mind.
But the West’s hierarchs were a cunning bunch. They didn’t let just anyone stay here for long periods. They turned it in to a tourist trap, and even the staff were switched out every few years.
It’s beauty and reputation, as well as the government policies around it, earned the Barrows quite the reputation. It quickly became a prime tourist destination. It was said that a visit here was cleansing for the body and mind, so the rich and powerful made regular pilgrimages.
Even more, a great deal of the West’s best foodstuffs were produced right here. It was to the West what Taihua was to the East. And like Taihua, over development was barred, to make sure the environment was protected.
The Barrows and Taihua were originally about even in popularity, however the tragedy on Taihua had changed things. Since the attack, the planet had since been closed to outside traffic. Control had been handed over to the military, and even now their scans and searches continued. They searched for any information about these beasts, and any remaining eggs, to ensure that another catastrophe like that would never happen again.
There were cities on the planet’s surface, but all of them were of very simply construction, entirely composed of wood. They were curious structures, since they could not employ or steel or concrete. But cities weren’t accurate. They were really more like villages. There were over ten thousand of these tourist bases scattered around the land. Hence the planet’s name; The Barrows.
There were also indigenous species, and the wooded areas teamed with life. However, the animals here were all good-natured. Very few of them even possessed the capability to harm a human. In all, the planet was an exceptionally harmonious place.
The National Eastern University tourist party trundled along on the mag-lev train until it reached its destination; a small village of wooded buildings, much like all of the others. None of the structures rose higher than three floors. The hotel where they would be staying sported a small lake to one side. A majestic peak rose opposite its wooden doors. It, too, was interesting, as it was entirely draped in green but for the very top, where snow turned it white. With the mirror-flat surface of the lake reflecting the gorgeous vistas, it was quite the sight to behold.
There were two teachers to a room. Clearly, it would be impossible for Lan Jue to share a room with a student. Wang Hongyuan would be his bunk mate. Once they entered the place, Lan Jue immediately tapped a number in to his communicator.
“You’ve arrived?” Came the answer from the other end.
“Yeah. I imagine you are, too. Where shall we meet?” He asked.
“Turn on your positioning apparatus. I’ll go to you.” The Wine Master’s voice replied.
“Alright.” Lan Jue shut off the connection, then turned on his GPS locator.
“You’ve got friends in the Barrows?” Wang Hongyuan had overheard the brief conversation. His curiosity got the better of him.
Lan Jue smiled. “Yup! Some friends of mine will be coming by, and I’ll need to leave for a little while. But hey, old guy – good luck in your endeavors!”
“Old guy… how old do you think I am?” Wang Hongyuan glowered.
Lan Jue chuckled. “Nah, I’m kidding, you aren’t old. So how about Little Wang then.”
“Little Wang… ehn, we’ll stick to Professor Wang.” 1
Lan Jue choked back a laugh. “So it is, Professor Wang. So when are you going to make your confession to Professor Jin, eh?”
Wang Hongyuan suddenly realized his conversation on their ride over must have been overheard. He spoke, somewhat embarrassed. “Actually, I have no idea. You gotta help, Professor Lan. Give me a couple hints. I mean, if you can get a girl like Qianlin, then you’ve got to have some good info for me.”
Lan Jue looked at his friend in surprise. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had a girlfriend…”
The dance instructor’s face went stiff. “It means I’m pure!”
Lan Jue blinked. “You’ve… really never had a girlfriend?”
Wang Hongyuan chuckled sheepishly. “Before I moved to Skyfire, I was actually a Westerner – something I imagine you’ve already guessed. You’ve seen my Discipline, my powers. It wasn’t something I wanted, but the moment my Disciplines awakened, I was thrust in to that world. It was days of training, trying to perfect my abilities, but I never really liked where I was. I never liked how it felt. So, one day I ran – and I’ve been running ever since. I hadn’t even dared to go looking for a woman. I spend my days in hiding, afraid they’ll find me. I bounced around, hiding from place to place for five years before coming to settle at the university. At last, I’d found a way to live out my days in relative peace, and it’s given me time to think. Professor Jin is a fine woman; beautiful, kind, enthusiastic… I like her quite a lot. I’d like you to help me, Professor Lan.”