“Shut up, and take it like a man.” Lan Jue’s cold voice was sharply contrasted by the scalding hot water.
Wang Hongyuan had had enough time, now, to react to the water. His Discipline wasn’t much stronger than Tang Xiao’s, though his cultivation was further along. However, the heat was proving particularly difficult to bear in contrast to Tang Xiao – largely because he didn’t have several centimeters of fat protecting him!
“Drillmaster, what is this? Why am I in here?! This water is boiling!” Wang Hongyuan realized his folly, and kept Lan Jue’s name out of the conversation. But that didn’t stop his screams from being any less shrill. He screamed and writhed, but dared not attempt to leave the water.
“Nothing. Behave, endure.” Lan Jue’s voice was calm and easy.
The intense heat worked as a stimulus for a person’s mental fortitude. Fortunately, Wang Hongyuan was a smart cookie. It took him no time at all to understand this was part of the training. So he shut his mouth, scowled through the pain and suffered in silence.
Tang Xiao and Wang Hongyuan were able to get this far largely due to their understanding of their teacher. The others students, however, didn’t have that benefit. One after the other they awoke to the heat and pain, and didn’t know why.
As one screaming voice arose another would join it. Then they would fall silent and another would take its place. The pained screams of men and women filled the pools. It was like a song of suffering.
Blasts of thunder would punctuate the cries. Whether screams or curses, Lan Jue didn’t hesitate to drop bolts of lightning upon his students. Under his brutal ministrations, not a soul could escape the boiling pools. This formerly relaxing room was now a living hell, filled the ear-piercing screams of its victims.
The female side was less soul-crushingly harsh, though screams were still heard. Likely because there were fewer of them.
In general, there were fewer women who were interested in becoming career mecha combat pilots. Other than Zhou Qianlin and Tang Mi, there were only two other female students in the class of fifty. Adding Tan Lingyun, their group had only five girls.
Tan Lingyun had had the longest opportunity to adapt, and her higher level of cultivation helped tremendously. She couldn’t employ her Discipline, but she could sense – little by little – the medicines in the water permeating through her. It was raising her own body temper to match the pool. As time went on, not only did she feel capable of bearing more punishment, contrarily she felt a sense of comfort spreading from within her.
The stiffness from the Drillmaster’s lightning attacks was beginning to wear off, along with the numbness. The catalytic properties were beginning to wane as well, but she could feel the results even in the suppleness of her movements.
Indeed, her Discipline seemed sealed, but there was more energy flowing through her veins with her blood. It brought the power to all of her muscles and meridians. She felt like something had taken root, and was growing.
Although Tan Lingyun couldn’t yet understand what benefit this treatment would have on her, she had to admit that she hadn’t felt her Discipline like this in a very long time. Not since it first Awoke.
The manifestation of an Adept’s Discipline was energy, but it was an energy that intermingled seamlessly with the body. Thus, as the Adept grew so too did their power, but it simply felt like the normal growth process. Like one’s own skeleton and organs, they grew as time progressed but their changes went unnoticed.
And what was this medicine in the water?
Admittedly Tan Lingyun had been too busy focusing on the pain to consider these sorts of things. Now she was able to start considering her surroundings, and as she did surprise filled her pretty eyes.
She was certainly no expert in medicine, but she’d used medicines to promote body and Discipline growth once before, when testing her Talent. She remembered the smell of it, and it smelled very similar to what she was immersed in.
Golden mugwort, that’s what was in the water. And what else? It was used to clear the collaterals and bring nutritive energies to the five organs. She couldn’t recall the name. 1
How much medicine did they need to fill up this whole pool?! The anger and indignation in her heart subsided, replaced by surprise.
Is this some sort of unorthodox teaching method?
At present Tan Lingyun was the only one to puzzle it out. Her body was strong enough to withstand the heat, leaving her mind free to consider other things.
The other students, Wang Hongyuan among them, were too lost in their abyss of suffering.
Just think; the smell of boiling students, so nice.
“Save me! I don’t want to train. Let me go. Let me out!”
“Drillmaster, I’m sorry. Forgive me! Forgive me please, I was wrong. I don’t want to be boiled alive!”
Cries of all sorts, curses of all styles, rang through West Hill. The training grounds had become purgatory for these pour souls. Cries rang out, rising and falling in a terrible crescendo, as dozens of bodies writhed and screamed themselves hoarse.
Not all present were screaming, however. The first to awaken – Tang Xiao, was huddled in a corner, taking long deep breaths. He was trying his best to avoid the other students.
Wang Hongyuan was not far away, similarly cowering in the waters. The both of them knew screaming would serve no purpose. Lan Jue would not allow them to escape. Though their understanding didn’t go as far as Tan Lingyun’s, as they fought for calm the scent of medicine filled their nostrils.
It shouldn’t be harmful… in fact, it mustn’t be harmful! Once they came to this realization, they simply shut their mouths and took it.
Where any normal person put in to this water, they’d have been cooked through in short order, but Adepts were a different breed. From the day their Discipline awakens, an Adept’s energy flows through them, nourishing and strengthening their bodies. It was also the reason why Adepts made the best mecha pilots – they could handle more than an average man.
The students were horrified and surprised to discover that the steel needles their Drillmaster had used somehow sealed their Discipline away. Still their energy persisted, and in fact had no problem protecting them from the more harmful effects of the water. None of them knew, also, that Hua Li had infused them with the water element to protect them.
With all that in mind, despite how cruel and terrible the situation looked there was no real risk.
The peels of thunder and blasts of lightning grew steadily fewer and farther between. Only a few hold-outs still had strength enough to struggle against the pain.
The seconds ticked by. After what felt like an age, Hua Li stepped close to Lan Jue and spoke in to his ear. “That’s enough, I think.”
Lan Jue gave him a slight nod.
He knew very well that going too far was just as bad as not doing enough. But today was the first day, so he had to make a show of being harsh. He had to teach them a lesson, so that they understood they will need to follow orders during the training. On top of that, there was a saying in former era China: First time taking the medicine, double the dose.
As for mental and nervous breakdowns, there was no chance of that happening. Part of the injection he’d given them was to prevent that from happening. If any of them were on the verge of having a mental break, the medicine would put them in to a medically induced coma.
This was designed to prove to them, unequivocally, that they were capable of suffering far more than they realized. Until now, not a single student had fallen unconscious. They sat in the water, still struggling against the pain with vitality.
Five minutes passed, and those in the water began to feel a drowsiness hang over them. Their struggles lessened, and that was the clue Lan Jue needed. The workers began feeding rails in to the water.
“You’ve got three minutes to climb these rails and get out. If after three minutes you’re unable to climb out, you’ll stay in another half an hour.” He delivered the instructions, then left.
The students looked at each other in surprise and uncertainty. Silence prevailed, until a fat body churned the already tumultuous body in his rush to clamber up the railing. It was a very clear display of the phrase ‘fighting for your life.’ He was out of the terrible water much faster than his girth would have to believe. Escaping the torture, he collapsed belly first on the floor like a puddle of flesh. He took large, heaving breaths as he lay inert, unable to move a finger.
The second to exit the pool did so with impressive grace. Like a swallow, he was up the pool and out on to the ground with pretty and dramatic movements. Obviously, it was the masked Wang Hongyuan.
With their example, the other students rushed towards the poles like a swarm of hornets. Their speed was impressive.
“It’s pretty hot,” Lan Jue commented in a leisurely tone, wiping sweat from his brow. He seemed decidedly less murderous than usual.
“Why do I get the sense hurting these poor kids is satisfying some dark craving in you.” Chu Cheng watched the exchange from behind Lan Jue, hands behind his head and fingers laced together.
“Because you have mental problems.” Hua Li’s voice interrupted his friend’s thoughts, as he approached from behind with his hands stuck in his pockets.
“You’re the one with mental problems. Damn near psychotic,” Chu Cheng muttered in irritation.
Hua Li looked over the students. “Suitably intense, but this required quite a lot of medicine. Next I guess we’ll see how they react.”
Lan Jue chuckle behind the mask. “That’s enough for this morning. We’ll pick it up after lunch.”
From the moment they arrived to now, with the students steaming pitifully on the floor, only two hours or so had passed. To the kids, however, it felt like a lifetime of wading through hell.
“Meet me in the training field in half an hour. If anyone’s late, you’ll try for round two of this treatment. Lan Jue’s icy-cold voice was like a blast of thunder to their eardrums. They lay panting on the floor, beat-red like well-cooked meat.
Half an hour!
Tang Xiao was the first to react, urging his body to turn just enough for him to confirm the time with the clock hanging on the wall. It was an act quickly mirrored by all the rest of the students.
With the lessons derived from Tang Mi’s tardy arrival, who would dare challenge the Drillmaster?
The situation wasn’t much better on the female side of the pool.
In order to save face in front of the others, and retain the dignity of an instructor, Tan Lingyun had found the willpower to sit up once out of the pool. Zhou Qianlin had tried several times to follow, but her body wouldn’t let her move. Tang Mi, one long leg splayed over Qianlin’s lower back, panted pitifully against the floor. It was quite the display, but even if the men next door were given an opportunity to take a peek, they were all too weak and beaten to appreciate the views.
Chinese herbal medicine, as part of the TCM system, performs functions based on their various properties in accordance to the ‘Five Phases’ – that is, their elemental properties. Those are Fire -> Metal -> Wood -> Earth -> Water. Ai Jiu, or Chinese mugwort, is used most often for moxibustion and aromatherapy, where it has properties of cooling and clearing. In addition, Chinese medical theory posits that our organs are separated in to Yin and Yang organs. The Yin organs are considered the more important because they provide essential energies for growth-reproduction-health. These are the Lungs, Liver, Kidney, Spleen and Heart. Technically the Pericardium is also a yin organ, but ancient texts bundled it in with the Heart, to call them collective ‘the Five Zang Organs’. In TCM, you’ll often want to support and/or brings nutritive energies to the Yin organs to help give them the power they need to fight illness. ↩