Chapter 164: I am Just the Gourmet!
“Ah?” Hua Li and Lan Jue cried out in unison.
Chu Cheng nodded his head, indicating he understood their shock. “You heard right. She was related to the Prince of Demons. What’s more, her power was as pure as his. She was Satan’s daughter.”
Lan Jue looked at him, slack-jawed. “Then it must have been exceptionally dangerous for your uncle’s lover, once grandpa found out.”
Chu Cheng sighed. “You bet! Grandpa was furious. He thought she must have been there to spy on us, sent by Satan. He wanted to kill her on the spot – to him, it was absolutely unthinkable to let her leave there alive. By then uncle was in love with her, head over heels. He would risk his life for her, and so he did… by raising his hand against his father. If uncle had chosen to go all out, not even grandpa would have been able to stand against him. But uncle focused on defense alone, protecting the girl as they made their escape. In the end they made it out, but not without suffering grievous injuries.”
“Grandpa sunk in to depression. The entire family was thrown in to panic. They had to rely on protection from the North’s army. After that day, uncle returned home just once. With red eyes he asked grandpa why he had tried to kill the girl. I was there with my father and grandpa when he asked, and we all just stood looking at him in surprise. Without any explanation or discussion, grandpa threw him out. Since then uncle has never come back home. I never would have thought, twelve years later, I’d find him here on Skyfire Avenue.”
“And that’s all I know. I never heard of what happened afterward. Though once when I went back to visit grandpa, he told me he never did send someone out to kill the girl. He only sent out people to find them, but none came back with any actionable intelligence. He got sick after that, and handed the reigns of the family to my father. He lived in seclusion since then.”
Hua Li looked on with a strange expression. “That’d explain your playboy nature. If you treat women like garbage your pops won’t be afraid you’ll go the way of your uncle, am I right?”
Chu Cheng shrugged his shoulders. “As possible an explanation as anything else, I guess. In this regard the family has never made any attempts to control me. Nor has anyone ever given me too much pressure. Their only stipulation is I don’t leave the North too often. Since we’re under protection, the Dark Tower wouldn’t dare come to the North and start trouble. They probably know where I am anyway, but taking me on directly is no picnic. Plus, Satan’s been pretty absent these last few years. We don’t know if he’s training, or it’s something else.”
Lan Jue’s brows furrowed as he took in the information. “I had no idea the Gourmet would have such a history. So sad!” After listening to Chu Cheng recount the tale, Lan Jue couldn’t help but commiserate with the Avenue’s cook. Perhaps the Gourmet felt the same way.
Chu Cheng went on. “This is information I have to report to the family, A-Jue. Will this influence you in any way?”
Lan Jue let a few moments of silence go by. “Give me some time. I should ask him.”
After a moment of thought Chu Cheng replied. “Give me an answer before tomorrow. This has to do with our lineage. I know my dad only wants him to come home, so…”
Ding ding ding! The familiar chime of the jewelry store’s doorbell interrupted their discussion. A decidedly upset looking Gourmet entered.
All three of the young men straightened, rising to their feet when they saw who it was.
The Gourmet paid no attention to the others. He fixed Chu Cheng with a cold glare while speaking. “Tell them I won’t be going back. I have no relationship with the Chu family. I have no interest in ever seeing you, or any other member of the Chu family ever again. If I do, you can’t blame me for my actions. From this moment on, all I am to you is the Gourmet of Skyfire Avenue.”
With that said, the older man turned on his heels and left. Ding ding ding!
As the tintinnabular sounds hung in the air of the shop’s interior, both Hua Li and Lan Jue silently turned their eyes to Chu Cheng.
The young Chu family member didn’t appear much changed from the exchange. In truth he’d expected just this result. “I figured this would happen. Oh well, at least we have an explanation for where he went. At the least he’s still alive.”
“Do you plan to give him an explanation, on behalf of your family,” Lan Jue asked.
Hu Cheng’s laugh was bitter. “You saw how he is. Do you think he’s ready to listen to any sort of explanation from me?”
Early morning, and Lan Jue was pedaling his bicycle to the foot of Skyfire mountain. He sent a small message through the Soulcaller gem, then waited quietly in the shade of the trees.
Chu Cheng had gone to find Hua Li, reputedly to watch his rehearsal.
Before long Lan Jue spied Zhou Qianlin descending the mountain in her school uniform. Her pretty face was still pale, but contrary to when he had left for Taihua her smooth features bore a smile. She looked like she was in a good mood.
“What’s got you in such high spirits?” Lan Jue called to her, a smile of his own on his face.
“Guess,” she said through a grin.
“Eh…, how am I supposed to guess? Fine, is it because that guy isn’t around bugging you?” He was of course referring to Richard.
“I’ve been home sick for a few days,” she said. “He doesn’t know when I’ll be returning to school. A few days of giving him the cold shoulder, and he was gone.”
Lan Jue shrugged his shoulders. “That’s good then. No more pointless trips in to the bush.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “Nothing. Just something between guys. My concern as your body guard. Don’t worry about it little miss.”
Zhou Qianlin glowered at him. “You know my name.”
Lan Jue jerked his head towards the back. “Let’s get going. I wouldn’t want you to be late.”
“Ok.” She plopped on to the back of the bike. Her right hand naturally slipped around his waist.
Lan Jue was surprised at her, this change in behavior, but pedaled forward without bringing attention to it.
“These last few days you’ve been uncomfortable, has there been anything that feels… different?”
“Actually yes,” she said. “It actually feels like there’s something more within me now. I don’t know.”
Lan Jue nodded. “How about I help check it out later?”
Zhou Qianlin remained silent.
“What is it?” he asked.
Her response was quiet. “I saw in a movie somewhere that men who speak like this to women are no good. They harbor bad intentions.”
The bike wobbled precariously, and Zhou Qianlin quickly clutched tighter to him. “What are you doing?!”
Lan Jue chortled. “You think I’m that kind of person? You think I regard you so cheaply?”
He regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. Flashes of the first time they met raced through his mind.
The awkward silence stretched for half a minute. “Alright,” Qianlin finally replied.
“Huh?” Lan Jue twisted his head to look back at her.
She looked back at him. “Didn’t you say you’d help me check? So I said alright.”
Lan Jue broke in to a smile. “After your studies we’ll head back to mine. I bumped in to the Seamstress yesterday, and he asked me when I would be bringing you around to have some clothes made. She said she was excited to work with you.”
Zhou Qianlin looked as though she wanted to speak further, but chose not to. Instead, she only nodded her head.
Since he’d started regularly picking up Zhou Qianlin, Lan Jue’s skill with a bike had improved markedly. In no time at all the familiar gates of the university pulled in to view.
They were approaching their standard corner when suddenly a huge dark figure roared passed overhead. Its speed was so great that a fierce gust of wind followed in its passage. The gust nearly pushed Lan Jue of the road.
He fought valiantly to keep the bike under control. There was no danger of throwing Qianlin from the bike, but she yelped in surprise nonetheless.
The two of them scowled at the passing shadow, a sort of blimp. As they watched it pulled up to the universities’ gates and stopped. It was a white ship, whose underside undulated strangely like sea waves. It gave the illusion the ship was floating gently in the water.
“Lir University?” Zhou Qianlin muttered unconsciously.
Lan Jue brought the bike to a halt. “Think they’re arrogant enough? Driving so fast in the city, not the best representation for this school.”
Zhou Qianlin nodded her head in agreement. “Lir University is ranked among the top five mecha piloting schools. So of course they have a lot of great pilots. Not to mention their military ties. As a result, they are rather unscrupulous.”
Lan Jue interjected. “I’ve heard people say they were coming for a competition, is that right? They major in mecha piloting, and us on research. What grounds could we possibly be competing on?”
“Mecha piloting of course,” Qianlin said. “Clearly to show they’re only here to bully.”
Lan Jue snorted. “I guess it’s a good thing you aren’t a mecha pilot. Go on then, anything you need call me through the soulcaller gem.”
“Alright.” Qianlin made her way towards the university’s gate.
Lan Jue pushed his bicycle behind her as she left, following at an inconspicuous distance.
The ship that had brought Lir University’s ‘diplomats’ hadn’t been allowed to enter the school grounds. Just outside the gates, its doors opened and scores of students in light blue uniforms disembarked. Interspersed were older passengers – teachers, surely.
The NEU had already arrayed a welcome party for their guests. Chief among them was, of course, teaching Director Wu Junyi. Another twenty-some were with him, university big-wigs.
With their flashy arrival, the only entrance to the school was clogged up tight. Qianlin approached as near as she could, but had to eventually come to a stop.
Lan Jue watched them as well, though he retained a natural and easy posture as he approached. To him, it was paramount that no one knew he was escorting Zhou Qianlin.
“Ah, Director Shi! Welcome, it’s been ages!” Wu Junyi’s greetings were pleasant and polite, but the look on his face was a serious one.
The man with whom he spoke was similar to him in age, but he was a fair amount taller. He was covered in a well-fitted turquoise suit that accented his sleek power haircut. He reached out a hand to grip Wu Junyi’s in greeting, flashing a wily smile. “It really has! A whole year. We were starting to worry we weren’t welcome here anymore.”
Director Wu chuckled good-naturedly. “Of course you’re welcome.”
Director Shi continued. “That’s excellent then. This year we’ve come fully prepared, and I’m eager for you to appreciate the skill of our teachers and students.
Wu Junyi’s expression began to slip. He cleared a path, and welcomed them in with a sweep of his arm.