Here’s a summary of Rowan’s current situation:
She had a new roommate who is an annoying childhood acquaintance, who had it in him to mess with her brain, either with his music or with his crooning abilities. Judging from all the stylish clothes scattered around their apartment, he was the kind of young man she hated the most: a ladies man.
She had a new co-worker and fellow trainee who she has to watch out for every free moment she had, since Ren was easy pickings for the Metalworks. And when he suddenly gets sick or tires himself too much, she had to take up the slack and work for two people.
She had a girl who was head-over-heels crazy about her, coming over to the coffee shop every single afternoon, just to stare at her while she worked. Somehow Chie found a way to smile at her uncle without anyone else in the coffee shop noticing. Besides that smile, Chie practically ignored his existence, and kept staring at her. Chie was a nice girl, and besides that annoying habit, Chie was not an annoying sort of person. But if Chie wanted more out of her, she would not be able to force herself to give more. It was not that Chie was a girl, understand. She was simply not interested in any relationship, with anyone.
She had a boss for a job she finally managed to keep for longer than three weeks, longer than three months, because he was a boss she really really liked and admired. She probably stared and dreamed of Chie’s uncle the way Chie kept staring at her. Soji was nice and sweet and handsome and hardworking. and he had not changed much as a person since she met him all those years ago. But the chief always treated her like a little girl, or as one of his employees and nothing more.
She still had Eloise to deal with, nearly every day, either keeping the Metalworks from doing damage, or decreasing the damage if it started without her.
It was a life. It was somewhat interesting. At least it was not boring.
Rowan woke up late again, and got to training hall just in time to see Ren hobbling through the main hall with a deep scowl. He lifted one hand off a crutch and waved half-heartedly.
“You sure you’ll be alright?” Rowan asked as she caught her breath. She looked through the many faces crossing the hall. Many were familiar, but none were of the Metalworks.
“Miss Bei’s right, I owe the Selati,” he sighed. “So I’ll do what he says.”
Rowan scratched her head. Her classes were at different hours from Ren’s; it would be difficult to skip any of them to come help him any time.
While they faced each other, Rowan noticed a young man, younger than any teacher but older than any trainee. He was seated, his back leaning on the opposite wall from where they stood. The young man with fiery-red hair watched the trainees file to their classes, his arms crossed over his chest. His gaze kept returning to Rowan and Ren.
His hair was clearly red. Not the way her own hair was an uncertain shade between rust and brown, depending on who looked at it. The fire programmer’s hair was short but was somewhat longer in front, hiding half his face.
Ren gulped as he stared at the redhaired young man. He began to reach for the hem of Rowan’s sweater.
Rowan thumbed toward the redhead and tossed her head in his direction. “You worried about him?”
Ren nodded, quivering.
“That’s just Plain-black-chicken-sandwich.” Rowan shrugged. “He’s harmless.”
“Huh?” Ren forgot his concerns for a moment and stared again at the redhead who disinterestedly read the posters on the wall.
“Oh, sorry.” Rowan slammed a palm onto her forehead. “He always gets brewed coffee and a chicken sandwich. He’s a friend of your high-strung healer.”
The redhaired young man turned to them and gave a small smile. He nodded to them once.
Ren finally loosened his grip on Rowan’s sweater. “If you say so.”
“He comes and goes. Sometimes he helps the teachers, like an assistant,” Rowan explained further. “Come on, let’s go to your class.”
Ren did not know what was worse: having to worry about the Metalworks at every moment, or having someone tail his every movement.
Beika’s redhaired friend stayed at the back of the lecture rooms, listening or dozing, always with an eye at Ren. When Ren walked through the halls, he noticed the redhead walking a short distance behind him, or watching him from behind corners or trees.
Finally Ren sat down on a bench. Beika’s friend stopped behind it.
“How long do you mean to tail me, Mr. Plain-black-coffee-chicken-sandwich?” he said.
The redhaired young man chuckled and sat beside Ren. “So that’s what she calls me, huh. My name is Lan.” He slouched on the bench and looked at the sky.
“What do you want?”
“Beika and Soji just asked me to keep an eye on you,” Lan said.
“You’re too obvious.” Ren frowned.
“That’s the point,” the redhead said, still watching clouds pass overhead.
Ren sighed. He needed protection so much that his protectors needed to be obvious for his sake.
“Aside from that, Beika asked if I can help with your training,” Lan said. “From what I’ve seen, you overuse your electric programs. Therefore you can’t use them offensively.”
“What do you know” Ren scowled.
“Please stop being so angry,” Lan said. “Anger depletes your lifecodes, which will affect your overall programming.”
Ren sighed before changing the topic. “But you’re not an electric programmer.”
“You are right,” Lan said. “I’m a fire programmer. But I use program lines more than most fire programmers. Since electric programs rely heavily on program lines, I’m in a better position to help you. You have to learn a few things already that your teachers in basic may not have time to modify for your sake.”
Ren harrumphed. “So you talk a lot.”
Lan shook his head.
“I’ve had too many tutors in the last few years,” Ren said. I don’t want any more.”
“How do you learn, then? Beika spoke highly of you.”
Ren harrumphed again. Beika spoke highly of everyone acquainted with her. She only saw the good points in anyone. “I like reading,” he answered.
“Ah, good. The last good electric programmer left several books of his notes in the grand library. It should be helpful.”
“So you don’t need to teach me.” Lan did not have to tail him everywhere.
“Yes, I do.”
“Teach me what?”
“How to walk, for starters.”
Ren sighed. He did have to learn that. None of his classes would teach it, since he was the only one who needed to learn.
But he needed to think about all this first. “I have work this afternoon.”
“Soji said he is willing to adjust your work schedule if necessary,” Lan assured him. “How about this: after your last class, we will come here for some practice. After that, we head to Harmony, so you can go to work and I can have my afternoon coffee.”
Ren took up his crutches and stood. “I’ll think about it.” He walked away from the redhaired young man.
There was another meddler in his life. He could never shake them off. And all because a girl threw him off a bridge one day.