Chapter 122: Lan Jue’s Doubt
“Alright. I’ll send new as soon as possible. I must confirm once again – you two represent the Monarchs as a whole, and confirm that you agree to participate in the open competition?”
“Yes, we will participate.” Zeus and Poseidon each made their affirmations.
“Thank you.” Piao Hong, Guardian of DreamNet, a god-ranked pilot herself, actually bowed low to the two Monarchs. “Now that you’ve agreed, we’ll begin advertising. Our plan is already in place. We’ll begin by introducing you, and at the same time this competition. It will resound to ever corner of the Three Alliances.”
“Good.” Now that the two young men had agreed, there was no further room for hesitation.
“The decoction you desire will arrive at your DreamNet delivery location tomorrow morning. You’ll find it enclosed within. In thanks for your support of DreamNet, and your defense of humanity, we’ve sent a second vial as well.”
“Excellent.” Lan Jue was blunt, but thankful. It was an overly generous gift to give two of them. A single draught of Fantascia Genetica was comparable in value to an s-ranked power gem. Even despite being a product of the relatively rich Western Alliance, only a dozen were made a year. It wasn’t something that could be mass produced.
Dusk was approaching.
Lan Jue was clad in a pure white track suit. He waited at their normal corner, just outside of the NEU with one foot on the pedal of his antique bicycle. Eventually he spied Zhou Qianlin approach in her school uniform. Richard was not in tow. Apparently he’d abandoned his efforts.
Zhou Qianlin arrived and settled on the bike. “Let’s go.”
“Yup.” He waited for her to get settled before pushing off. They glided down the road.
“Hm?” She raised her brows at his back.
“In two days,” he began, “the school has organized an outing for the teachers. I’ll have to go with them, away from Skyfire for a while. I’ll have someone else pick you up in the interim. They’ll also be able to protect you. Is that alright? We’ll add the time to contract when I return, just keep track of what I owe.”
“It’s fine.” She shook her head. “You go ahead. This is normal circumstance for the university, so I wont add it to your time. And there’s no need to find someone else to look after me, I’ll just have Tang Mi close by for a few days.”
“Oh.” Lan Jue didn’t press the matter.
The bicycle continued to roll along, casting a long shadow. “Are you headed to the old-people’s home today?”
“I’ll go with you,” he said.
”With me?” She sounded surprised.
He nodded. “It’s a good place to clear your head. Doing good deeds isn’t solely for the benefit of others, it’s good for oneself as well. Seeing that smile from helping people is a reward all it’s own.”
“Alright.” For the first time in what felt like ages, a smile crept upon Zhou Qianlin’s pretty face.
“Ey? This guy with Qianlin again. He’s a good fella. Hey there son, what’s your name?”
“It’s nice to meet you miss. My name is Lan Jue.”
“Ah, ah… Lan Jue. Nice name.”
Their time in the old people’s home passed quickly. By the time they’d finished, however, it had already grown dark outside.
“Wait for just a minute. I’m going to go in and check on Granny Bess again for a moment.” Zhou Qianlin nodded to Lan Jue, rolling down her sleeves.
“No worries, I’ll go with you.”
“Alright, but no talking,” she replied. “Granny Bess likes things quiet.”
The two walked up the stairs side by side. Once they reached the landing, Zhou Qianlin led the way down the hall to the final room. The walkway was already dim.
Lan Jue stuffed his hands in his pockets, the very picture of casual. He walked a few steps behind Qianlin. Long, dark hair. Tall, slender body. She was beautiful, and yet at any moment one could sense the goodness in her. She was indeed a fine young woman. But he’d hurt her, and in that moment guilt flooded through him. Lan Jue quietly reiterated his promise to protect her, no matter what.
Zhou Qianlin walked along the hallway. She heard his steady gait behind her. To her it was like she had a lofty mountain at her back in support. A blanketing sensation of comfort and security surrounded her. In that moment she wouldn’t have minded if that hallway went on forever.
But, unfortunately, it did indeed come to an end. Two short, quiet raps on the door elicited a raspy response from within. “Come in.”
Zhou Qianlin carefully opened the door, Lan Jue at her heels. The room was a sight darker than the hallway. A closet, a bed, and a desk where all the comforts that could be found within. A single lamp upon the desk was the sole source of light.
An old woman was settled on a stool beside the desk. White hair as pure as snow fell down her back. It looked carefully groomed. In comparison to most of the elderly, who abandon meticulous self-grooming in their golden years, this woman still appeared dedicated to the art. She was thin, and was clad in a deep pink suit of fine material. Her clear eyes stared out of the nearby window, watching nothing, and yet appearing as though they could see all.
She didn’t turn to look their way, remaining precisely as she was.
Zhou Qianlin tenderly approached, doing her best to make not a sound. She deftly made her way to the woman’s side and took up the empty cup on the desk. She returned to the door and quietly spoke to Lan Jue. “I’m going to head out and get her a glass of hot water. Don’t alarm her. I’ll be back in a moment. Granny Bess needs to have her clothes replaced every day, and I’ve already cleaned tomorrow’s outfit. Wait here while I go get those as well and put them away.”
“Got it,” he quietly replied.
Zhou Qianlin left Lan Jue in the dim room. He stood silent, pleasantly awaiting her return and watching the meticulously kept older woman. As he waited he felt something strange. He didn’t know why, but he sensed an odd aura around the woman. There weren’t any clear pulses of Discipline coming from her, but an almost pervasive sense of ‘cleanliness’ surrounded her. It was a purity, from the inside out.
From where he stood Lan Jue could only see the woman’s side, and her eyes. As he looked at her clear eyes, he once again felt strangely moved. It was a mysterious sensation, one he hadn’t felt in a while. The first time he had, it was when he’d first arrived in Skyfire Avenue and came face to face with the Keeper. His aura, though, hadn’t been pure. It was… profound. The sense he got from this woman was different, but he knew intrinsically that this woman was different.
Grace Hospital really had such a special woman under their care?
It was just then the woman slowly turned her eyes to Lan Jue 1 He kept the gaze, nodding his greetings.
She said nothing, but her eyes brightened as they met his. She pressed a finger to her lips, imploring silence. Lan Jue understood, and nodded again.
She relaxed, and turned again to stare outside. Her frail figure began to move then, as she lifted her hands. She gently began to stroke her long, white hair.
Zhou Qianlin had wasted no time, and returned quickly with the woman’s glass of water and fresh clothes. She placed the folded garments in her closet.
“Granny Bess, your clothes have been cleaned and placed in the closet. Get to bed early, ok? Remember to eat dinner. The others have been telling me you haven’t been eating. That’s really not good for you. You need your nutrients to keep healthy, yeah? You’re already so thin. If you need anything just tell me.”
Zhou Qianlin assumed she was lost in memories of bygone days, as she often was. But as she finished, the old woman suddenly turned her face to stare at Lan Jue. Her aquiline nose twitched ever so slightly.
“Bring me a glass of red wine. You smell of burgundy.”
Lan Jue was taken aback by the accusation. It’d be days since he’d had any wine. How could this old woman possibly smell the burgundy he’d enjoyed so long ago? Indeed very strange! Burgundy was possibly the most important location for former era wine making, the Romanee-Conti he’d had so long ago at the Wine Master’s chief among it’s exports.
“Alright.” Lan Jue answered easily. He couldn’t sense her power, but he was even more convinced now that she was considerably more than she appeared.
After the exchange the two young people left the hospital. It wasn’t long before they were once more quietly rolling along the street on Lan Jue’s bicycle.
“You can’t be bringing Granny Bess any wine, you know. She’s an old woman, how can she be drinking alcohol?” Zhou Qianlin spoke to his back from her seat on the bicycle.
Lan Jue shook his head. “No… this Granny Bess is no ordinary woman, I think. You don’t feel anything’s off about her?”
Zhou Qianlin gave him a strange look. “She likes quiet and cleanliness. She doesn’t talk much with the others, but she always takes care of herself. Every time I come she’s looking out the window. I don’t know what she’s thinking about, but I do feel rather peaceful whenever I’m around her. No matter what’s troubling me, it’s better when I see her. Granny Bess hasn’t been at the hospital long, so that’s all I know really.”
“That’s already quite a lot,” Lan Jue said. “Whether or not she’s your average elderly sort, she doesn’t seem to care much for the world around her. I’ll bring some wine for her next time. This discipline and fear of disorder of hers, something must really have their hooks in her.”
Lan Jue went directly to Zhou Qianlin’s home on the mountain and dropped her off. He then proceeded back to the Avenue.
Tomorrow he’d be teaching another course, and in preparation he chose something from his shop as a display. He then retired to his apartments.
After dinner Lan Jue left to his room, and sat cross-legged on the bed. Hua Li sat behind him. The air rippled around the entire room as though they were under water. A pale blue light washed over everything. Everything was saturated with the sense of gentle power. The source of the blue light was Hua Li himself, and as the light issued from him, it soaked Lan Jue through to his bones.
- Creepy. ↩