Chapter 176: Overburdened Bicycles
Lan Jue watched the young man trot off. It was then he spied Chu Cheng sauntering over towards him with a lazy, unhurried gait. In his fine suit and vest, he was having no trouble attracting looks from the young girls around campus. From time to time he’d shoot a charming smile at them as they passed.
Lan Jue turned his back and made to leave, like he had no interest in dealing with the guy.
Of course Chu Cheng wouldn’t be denied, and his reaction time was nearly inhuman. Immediately his voice rose in a shout. “A-Jue, wait a minute!”
Zhou Qianlin and Tang Mi both turned to the source of the greeting.
Chu Cheng made his approach with big steps. By the time he arrived, he was already puffed up and beaming with pride. “What didja thing? Nice, right?”
“Him or you,” Lan Jue asked.
“You said two words,” Lan Jue muttered. “What’s good about it? Tell you what though, I had no idea how talented he was.”
A ghost of agitation flashed across Chu Cheng’s pained face. “Are you even capable of being a pleasant human being?”
“You’re free to keep your distance,” Lan Jue replied. “And when you’re all steeped in your machismo bullshit don’t tell people you know me.”
But Chu Cheng had already tuned Lan Jue out, the moment his eyes found the two young women standing nearby. His eyes lasciviously traced paths up and down their bodies.
“Eh? Little sister, you’re here as well.”
The second the words left his mouth, Lan Jue winced. The damage was done, there was nothing he could do.
“Little sister?” Tang Mi looked at Qianlin and Chu Cheng, back and forth. “Qianlin, what’s going on?”
Zhou Qianlin’s own appraisal and reaction skills were impressive. “I don’t know you,”she said instantly. “Xiao Mi, let’s get out of here. This one reminds me of Richard.” She grabbed her friend’s hand and pulled her away.
Lan Jue watched the exchange in conflicted praise. She was quite the sneak, but he wasn’t sure this was a good thing.
Chu Cheng watched her leave. “She really does look just like her,” he muttered, mostly to himself. “Cut from the same mold. I’m telling you A-Jue, you better know what you’re doing.”
“Will you shut the hell up, or am I going to have to make you a mute,” Lan Jue said in hushed tones. “Let’s go. I’ve got no classes, so let’s head back and get to practicing. I guess we’ll find out later when A-Li will show up.”
Chu Cheng laughed suspiciously. “Such a troublesome business, these concerts eh? If we wait around for a bit we’ll run in to him, I’m sure.”
Lan Jue raised a brow. “He spoke to you?”
Chu Cheng rolled his eyes. “You need to ask? You really have been hidden away from the modern world for much too long. Let’s go!”
The Soulcaller gemstone warmed as his will flowed through it.
Lan Jue: When are you going home? There shouldn’t be any classes this afternoon if I recall.
Qianlin: Original I’d planned to head out after the concert. But I just ran in to the R&D Director who says I’m expected to participate in the competition again Lir University. The R&D section, obviously. He said he wanted to have a word with me. I’ll probably be heading home later.
Lan Jue: Let me know when you’re finished and I’ll go find you.
The two young men left the campus. As they did, it was like Chu Cheng predicted; a furtive figure sneak up up to them trying desperately to remain inconspicuous. Hat, mask, glasses, and a school uniform. A-Li.
Lan Jue pushed his bicycle over to the bundle of mis-matched clothing. “Absolutely wretched. If only your fans could see you now.”
“Hush!” What little bit of Hua Li’s face could be seen was scrunched in admonishment. “Keep it down. You’ll know wretched if anyone finds me here.” He practically growled the words, trying to look every direction at once.
Lan Jue only chuckled. “Your concert today was really something, truth be told. It was just my first time seeing one but I gotta say, you don’t hold back with the Discipline do you.”
Hua Li chortled. “Indeed. Got a pretty moving voice if I do say so myself. First Star of the Alliances, I think it’s fair to say.”
Lan Jue smirked. “That’s enough. Let’s head back to mine, it’s time we finally got back to training our mecha combat coop.”
“Yup, let’s do it. Only you just have the one bicycle, what’s the plan?” Hua Li asked inquisitively.
Lan Jue paused. “This is a problem,” he said, glowering at the bike. “So who’s running?”
Hua Li’s indignation flared. “You’d make the First Star of the Alliances run home?! Do you have any humanity?”
Chu Cheng’s response was equally as wrathful. “You’d make the First Heart-throb of the Alliances run home? Do you have any humanity?!”
Lan Jue looked from one to other for a minute before answering.
“Do either of you have any shame?”
Five minutes later.
A bicycle wobbled precariously down the street in the direction of Skyfire Avenue. Lan Jue was peddling valiantly, Chu Cheng sat on the back, and Hua Li was perched on the cross girder just behind the handlebars.
The bike had long since started protesting with a series of painful squeals.
Lan Jue rode the bike a sight less gracefully than he’d have liked. The three of them with their long legs – none of them were shorter than a meter eighty-five – where too large even for this bike. In it’s time the antique was among the larger sized bicycles, but despite this it was a struggle to fit the three of them.
“No shame!” Lan Jue breathlessly rebuked his friends as he strenuously peddled forth.
Hua Li spat back at him. “It’s not your ass being split by this damn bar, what are you complaining about?”
Chu Cheng’s rumbling voice interjected. “Quite the experience though. If elder brother was here he’d probably have to stand on the handle bars.”
Lan Jue’s voice was cold and biting. “My brother has more self-respect than the two of you. If he were here the two of you’d both be desperate to hide from a beating.”
Hua Li snickered. “Well he ain’t here is he. Hm? What’s this person doing blocking the road.”
Lan Jue craned his head around the clothing mannequin perched in front of him. It was as his friend said; four people were blocking the small road, leaving no way around.
Lan Jue rolled to a stop and steadied himself on one leg. “The two of you get off!”
Chu Cheng only needed to let his legs relax and drop to the floor to be free of the bike. Hua Li had to wait for Lan Jue to release the handled before he could get down.
“Hey, you guys are blocking the road!” Chu cheng called out to the four figures before them.
“We’re looking for Lan Jue. If you aren’t him, you’re free to pass.” A cold and threatening voice replied.
The young men where clad entirely in black, and bore a sinister air. They stared with open hostility at Lan Jue.
Hua Li and Chu Cheng looked at their friend in tandem, but it was Hua Li who spoke first. “The hell is this? Looking for trouble?”
Chu Cheng was next. “These guys don’t know who you are, huh.”
Lan Jue regarded them both. “Time to earn your bike ride.”
Chu Cheng was literally hopping with excitement. “Oh! Oh let me! Me!” He was off at a trot towards the four young men before getting an answer.
One minute later.
The bicycle groaned pathetically as it struggled along the path.
“So who’d you piss off, A-Jue? Got these noobs hassling ya. Not a one higher than sixth rank. I didn’t even get myself going. What a let down.” Chu Cheng grumbled dejectedly from the back.
Hua Li huffed. “You didn’t leave any for me, either.”
Of course Lan Jue knew where those four hoodlums had come from. He could see the moment they used their Disciplines that they had Acquired talents. Clearly they were from the Western Alliance. Hua Li and Chu Cheng knew this as well, but that didn’t answer their question.
If they were from the Western Alliance then their master was obvious. Richard finally grew the balls to go for him? Lan Jue figured it was time the young guy was dealt with. He was becoming a problem.
“Hey A-Li, let’s get a song,” Lan Jue said, changing the subject.
Hua Li was easily swayed. “Any requests?”
“One of the ones from the concert,” he said. “Let’s hear ’em again.”
While Lan Jue and his two companions were slowly making their way home, the NEU was still awash in the afterglow of the concert. The excitement was still evident in the passing students and teachers wandering around campus. After all, this was probably a once in a lifetime event.
“What? Run away?” Mo Xiao had to employ all her will power not to smash the tea table in front of her in to pieces.
Outside, members of the media had already filled up the sizable reception room for Poseidon’s scheduled address. Hua Li had said he was going to change his clothes – and then, he’d just vanished.
“This bastard! I’ll KILL HIM!” Mo Xiao shot to her her feet in a rage, fists clenched and knuckles white. She paced back and forth in the dressing room. “Could he be any more unreliable?”
The assistant at her elbow spoke up in quiet tones. “Well he is a Pisces.”1
“I know!” She roared. “Alright… help me with some make-up. I’ll deal with the journalists. Such a goddamn waste of time.”
Ten minutes later.
Mo Xiao stepped out to the junket, and appologized to the media that Poseidon would be unable to participate. Tearfully she explained that the whole experience had been an emotional one. Poseidon was still composing himself, and so was currently unable to hold a fair interview.
The craze that had grabbed a hold of the students had also infected the journalists, and the vast majority understood and sympathized with Hua Li’s fictional plight. The vocal minority who were still upset with his absence were cajoled by Mo Xiao’s persistent apologies. She assured them that Poseidon would give interviews as soon as he was able. She followed by formally announcing the release of Poseidon’s Sounds of Nature special throughout the whole of the three Alliances.
By the time Lan Jue returned to the NEU campus, the land was covered in the encroaching darkness of night.
Zhou Qianlin was standing on her own, tiredly pinching the skin between her eyebrows. All afternoon had been talks and considerations, to the point where she was too tired to go on.
“By the looks of you, you haven’t eaten yet.” Lan Jue was standing beside his bicycle, calling towards her.
Qianlin lifted her eyes to look at him, and she couldn’t help a small smile from flashing across her face. She shook her head. “It’s fine, I’m not hungry. Just a little tired.”
Lan Jue produced a lunchbox from the bike and handed it to her. “Here.”
Qianlin took it with surprise. She opened it to see, and discovered a handful of dumplings steaming within.
“Chives and egg,” he said with a grin. He handed her a pair of chopsticks. “We’ll go when you’ve finished, otherwise you’ll get sick if we eat and move.” 2
“Mm.” Qianlin hummed her agreement. She found a nearby rock big enough to sit on, then tucked in.