The actions of Ling Lan's four-man group surprised Lin Zhong-qing for a beat, but he was then overcome by a surge of joy. In all honesty, when he had greeted them, his heart was pounding, for he was afraid that Ling Lan and her group would just ignore his existence.
Unexpectedly, Ling Lan and her friends were really headed in his direction — this made him suspect for a moment that he was in a dream.
Lin Zhong-qing's tenacity and perseverance had gained him the favour of the simple-minded organism Qi Long; afraid that his sharp-tongued mate Han Jijyun would say something to hurt Lin Zhong-qing, Qi Long hurriedly called out, "Lin Zhong-qing, why are you looking for us?"
Naturally, Qi Long's good will was felt by the perceptive Lin Zhong-qing. With a grateful glance at Qi Long, he said smiling, "I just wanted to tell Classmate Ling Lan that, I've found him a seat."
Although Lin Zhong-qing had been smiling at them all this while, it was normally just a polite facade; but this time, his smile seemed to be somewhat genuine. For the first time, Ling Lan felt that Lin Zhong-qing actually looked pretty cute when he smiled.
Han Jijyun frowned slightly, and his originally cold expression became even colder. Meanwhile, Luo Lang sniffed, as if displeased at Lin Zhong-qing's unnecessary action. It was true though. A red-coat student would never lack for a seat. If they found a seat they liked (as long as the seat wasn't occupied by another red-coat student), they need only walk up to that person, and without having to say a word, the student dressed in a uniform of any other colour would automatically relinquish their seat.
Of course, Ling Lan's group of four would never do such a tasteless thing. The dining area was very large, so there would always be some seats open — they just needed to spend a little time looking that's all.
Lin Zhong-qing was unconcerned with what Luo Lang and the others thought. Solicitously, he pulled out one of the chairs and said to Ling Lan, "Classmate Ling Lan, please sit here."
Ling Lan looked at his slightly fawning face, and thought back on that slightly sincere smile, and felt her heart soften. So, she did not refuse, sitting on the chair he had pulled out. After all, Lin Zhong-qing was just a six year old child — Ling Lan, who was really a quirky auntie at heart, was truly unable to resist such a little kid.
Seeing Ling Lan take a seat, Qi Long and the others quickly chose a seat before them at random and sat down as well.
Ling Lan's first ever concession to him was obviously a good sign. Suppressing the emotional upheaval within himself, Lin Zhong-qing asked carefully, "What would Classmate Ling Lan and your friends like to eat? Let me bring it over for you all."
'Bring' and not 'buy'! Lin Zhong-qing very clearly articulated to Ling Lan and the others what his bottom line was in terms of service.
Ling Lan cast a searching look at Lin Zhong-qing. This child was just too artful with words and phrasing — he avoided offending them, but also didn't let himself be pushed into a corner. As long as this type of person got a chance, he would certainly become a commendable man.
Ling Lan decided that she would give Lin Zhong-qing that chance. She indicated for Lin Zhong-qing to push his wrist-communicator closer, and then used her own communicator to transfer some credits directly to Lin Zhong-qing. Not much, just 240 credits — the exact amount to pay for six deluxe set meals.
In this era, personal communicators not only could send and receive messages, but were also equipped with the ability to retain personal identification information, bank cards, and other miscellaneous services, truly providing multipurpose convenience.
"Six deluxe set meals, a double portion each for Qi Long and I." Ling Lan pretended not to see Lin Zhong-qing's stunned gaze, tonelessly listing out what they wanted to eat.
Frankly, Lin Zhong-qing could not be blamed for his reaction. Set meals were typically only chosen by children from the commoner families. Any child from a slightly better family background would basically order separate dishes which had an overall better taste.
Lin Zhong-qing did not know that Qi Long's and the others' credits had long ago been confiscated by Ling Lan on the first day of school. Since then, the communicators of the five of them, including Qi Long (as well as the two girls always hanging out with them), had never contained more than 1000 credits.
Thus, their every meal changed from the luxurious spread of delicacies they began with, to the current simplistic set meals, though these set meals were still of the deluxe variety. Even so, this was undoubtedly many brackets below what they were having before.
Of course, this wasn't a baseless decision by Ling Lan. Through Little Four's research, they found that the food groups within the academy's deluxe set meal could fully provide all the nutrition that the children needed. Even Ling Lan and Qi Long, who had extraordinarily high metabolisms, were able to fuel their bodies sufficiently by eating a double portion of said set meal. Of course, Ling Lan would never tell Qi Long and the others that after she went home, she still had to supplement her diet with a gargantuan supper. It couldn't be helped. Ling Lan was a glutton to begin with, and on top of that, every night she would be tormented ceaselessly by Instructor Number Five, so her energy consumption was rather off the scales.
Lin Zhong-qing very quickly regained his composure, and he felt the stirrings of gratefulness within his heart. Was this Ling Lan and the others' strange way of preserving his dignity? He said nothing, only casting a brief complicated look at Ling Lan before nodding heavily and leaving to help them get their food.
Looking at Lin Zhong-qing's departing back, Han Jijyun's frown eased slightly. With a hint of uncertainty, he asked, "Boss Lan, you seem to have some admiration for him?"
Hearing this, Qi Long and Luo Lang turned to look at Ling Lan, and waited for her answer. This would affect how they would treat Lin Zhong-qing — whether he should be considered as a companion or not, the treatment would be completely different.
"Yes, I have some admiration for his tolerance. If we were to switch places, I don't think I'd be able to bend as far as he has." Carrying out one's responsibilities while tolerating shame was not something everyone could do; even Ling Lan, with her two lives of experience, could not say for sure that she'd be able to endure it.
Ling Lan's words caused Qi Long and the others to descend into a thoughtful silence. Lin Zhong-qing's humility had made them forget that he was only six years old just like them — what kind of experiences had he lived through to have learned to be so tolerant?
Right at that moment, the sounds of a commotion could be heard coming from not too far away. Ling Lan and the others all turned to look, and saw a significant crowd surrounding a lone figure. Among those in the crowd were students dressed in red, as well as those dressed in uniforms of other colours, while the one being surrounded was definitely wearing bright red clothes.
They seemed to be arguing, which greatly surprised Ling Lan and her group. After all, the hierarchy within the school was clear — unless it was an uncompromisable conflict, the students in school uniforms of any other colour would never challenge a red-coat student. For if they were caught by the school disciplinary committee, it wouldn't end well for them.
"It's Lin Zhong-qing," exclaimed Luo Lang in surprise. From his position, he could just see the profile of the red-coat student being surrounded.
"The ones surrounding him seem to include some of our classmates." Han Jijyun had also seen some familiar faces in the crowd, and his frown deepened. Although Lin Zhong-qing was ranked lowest within their class, in last place, his popularity within the class was still pretty good. What reason could there be for him to be in a standoff with their classmates?
"It's Li Yingjie's group," said Qi Long with clear dislike. Ever since Qi Long had helped Li Jinghong brush off Li Yingjie, within the class, the two of them were constantly at odds. Every time they met, they couldn't resist exchanging a few barbed words. If one had to name Qi Long's most hated person within the academy, Li Yingjie would be it.
Right now, in the first grade Special Class-A, there was the incipient formation of two clear power bases. One of the power groups was Li Yingjie's — having the prestige of being at the top of the rankings, he naturally drew a portion of the students to his side. Meanwhile, the other power group was Ling Lan's party. In contrast with Li Yingjie's abstract rank, the strength displayed by Ling Lan's one-move defeat of Lin Zhong-qing was much more persuasive. Many students did not really acknowledge the legitimacy of Li Yingjie's ranking — after all, part of it was just based off interviews, and not truly earned through real battle with other students. This situation was very vexing for Li Yingjie, causing jealousy and hate against Ling Lan to rise within him. He believed that it was Ling Lan who was hindering his steps towards uniting the first grade Special Class-A under his rule.
After some thought, Ling Lan said, "Let's go find out what's going on."
Lin Zhong-qing was currently on an errand for them after all; it was the morally right thing to have a little concern for him.
The four of them walked over to the scene of the commotion and heard the surrounding students in lively whispered discussion. After listening for just a moment, the four of them had gotten a rough idea of the situation.
It turned out that when Lin Zhong-qing was passing by Li Yingjie's group, he had been stopped by one of the lackeys dressed in white. The lackey had ordered Lin Zhong-qing to go see Li Yingjie for a talk. Although Lin Zhong-qing's family background was common, and he was in last place within Special Class-A, he still had the pride of a red-coat student. How dare an insignificant white-coat student order him around with such a tone? He naturally did not respond well, refusing tersely without any concern for politeness.
If that lackey had just stopped there, this matter would have been swept away just like that. Unexpectedly, the lackey had brashly grabbed hold of Lin Zhong-qing. Enraged, Lin Zhong-qing had immediately sent the white-coat lackey flying with one kick.
Lin Zhong-qing's actions were taken as provocation by Li Yingjie's group, who all jumped up in anger and surrounded him, demanding that he apologise. And so this scenario was the result!
Right then, Lin Zhong-qing's expression was extremely dark — if it wasn't for his extraordinary tolerance, he most likely would have already started throwing punches, and this standoff wouldn't have happened.
The appearance of Ling Lan's group of four made Lin Zhong-qing's expression lighten a little, a trace of astonished delight flashing through his eyes.
On the other hand, when Li Yingjie saw Ling Lan and her group, his expression darkened noticeably, looking a little grim, but was mostly disgruntled. It looked like he was unhappy with Ling Lan's group butting in.
Suddenly, Ling Lan's steps paused. With a strange expression, she looked at Lin Zhong-qing, a possibility flashing rapidly through her mind.
Was Lin Zhong-qing's tolerant behaviour these past few days just so he could depend on her to handle Li Yingjie and his group?
When Ling Lan stopped, Qi Long and the other two stopped as well. Although they didn't know why Ling Lan had stopped, it was already a habit for them to follow Ling Lan's movements, so they also stopped without hesitation.
Seeing Ling Lan's group stopping still, Li Yingjie's expression eased a little. He was very pleased at Ling Lan's understanding of the situation. He really didn't want Ling Lan to come interfere in his plans at this moment, and Lin Zhong-qing was his first target.
In contrast, when Lin Zhong-qing saw Ling Lan staying put, his expression changed. He could vaguely sense Ling Lan's intent to just observe from the side-lines, and this troubled him. His initially somewhat calm expression dimmed significantly, and there was actually an almost unnoticeable trace of despair in his eyes.
Ling Lan frowned deeply, troubled and a little puzzled. If Lin Zhong-qing could thicken his skin and suck up to her, then why couldn't he do the same with Li Yingjie? Could he have some other unknown reason for this?
With a shift in thought, Ling Lan decided that she would help out Lin Zhong-qing this one time. After all, doing so was no skin off her nose — she was already on bad terms with Li Yingjie anyway.
Her halted steps resumed once more ... Ling Lan's actions rekindled Lin Zhong-qing's deadened and hopeless eyes, and there was even a hint of gratefulness within his newly brightened gaze.