Tang Xiao had made quite the impression with his rage-filled assault in the last fight. It left a particularly powerful impression on Gao Lei. He was so impressed, in fact, that he’d approached Tang Xiao before the training, patting him on the shoulder, and shared a few words. If he ever joined the forces, he’d said, Tang Xiao was sure to become an excellent soldier. He promised to lay a solid foundation so the young man could achieve that dream.
Then Tang Xiao…
Wang Hongyuan, Tang Lingyun, Mika and Xiuxiu were underwhelmed by the military training, when compared to the last month the students had suffered. For them this was especially true; what they needed, was combat experience.
It was also notable that they were still forbidden from using their Disciplines. To Lan Jue, the best way to become better was trial by fire.
When meal time came, the students wolfed down their nutrition like ravenous animals. They fell asleep almost immediately and, in conjunction with the injections the young women were administrating, they were right as rain by the time they woke up.
“Drillmaster Lei Feng.” Lan Jue turned to face the unfamiliar voice, an uninvited guest in their dormitory.
Tan Lingyun stood a small distance away. Even in her flaking mask she was a stunning vision of beauty. The tight-fitting flight suit accentuated her feminine charms.
“What is it?” Lan Jue’s door was open. He had yet to remove the mask, so his identity remained intact.
“I wanted to verify something with you,” she replied.
Lan Jue shot her a curious look. “Verify what?
The Savage Goddess’ chest heaved in a sigh. She looked as though she were struggling with herself. “That man in the green mask… he was the An Lun supersoldier wasn’t he? The one they call Prometheus.”
“Why do you say that,” Lan Jue answered.
She went on. “I know what kind of power you command. You showed that today with the fight – more than any normal man could handle. But the other one was even stronger. He was able to wander around here without any of the soldiers stopping him, and young. If he isn’t Prometheus, then I have no idea who else he could be.”
Lan Jue’s eyes reverted to the calm indifference they usually bore. “So you think he’s Prometheus. I guess he must be. It’s late, time for you to get some rest.”
Tan Lingyun didn’t move. She just looked back at him. She sputtered suddenly “That means you’re probably Zeus. I should stop calling you Lei Feng. Drillmaster Zeus – that’s what I should address you as.”
“Eh?” Now Lan Jue was truly taken aback. He thought desperately about how he revealed himself.
Tan Lingyun’s eyes twinkled fervently as she looked at him. “There are so few god-ranked pilots, and even fewer in DreamNet. You’ve worked hard to keep your identity a secret, but I first saw it during the god-ranked battles. There are a few small movements you and Zeus perform exactly the same. Furthermore, we’ve seen that you have a strong Discipline, that focuses on lightning. There are only a few famous pilots who fit that description. That, and your close relationship with Prometheus which we could guess from that exchange, just confirmed it. You’re Prometheus’ brother in arms – Zeus. I’m right, aren’t I? And that man who came to the NEU and helped with the training, that water Adept, he must have been Poseidon!”
Lan Jue rose to his feet, and approached Tan Lingyun. She unconsciously took a step back, but her eyes were as bright and excited as ever.
Lan Jue knew that look. It was the same way Poseidon’s fans looked at him.
The training schedule was a full one. The soldier training program was as brutal as it was trying. But the students were elated, because there were many devices here a soldier might use for training – tools they now had access to. Not least of these were the mecha used in actual combat.
A month was hardly any time at all to them. Though the work here was laborious and tough, and they only had about four hours of rest a day, but they had the best instructors and then those nutrition injections which made it bearable.
More and more the students were realizing that the hell they’d experienced during the first month was to help them achieve a very solid foundation. It helped them improve their skills, as well as their ability to carry on in the face of hardships. Now they were like sponges, and absorbed every little detail they came across.
Of course the bioelectricity, the medicine baths, and the protogenic emulsion they’d absorbed, all conspired to help them gain as much as they could from the experience, to absorb and assimilate it as quickly as possible. Of course, they didn’t necessarily realize it themselves.
Almost every day a student was breaking through to a new level – not just their Discipline, but their spirit.
Innocence was systematically drawn from the fresh faces of the young pilots. It was replaced by a steadfast resolution, a deep-seated iron quality. They adopted the same expressionless face the soldiers bore. No matter what they encountered, they did so with an indifferent façade.
They had also gotten used to this painfully dreary – and physically painful – existence. They were even starting to like this metal world they inhabited. Every day they worked, they had a deeper understanding on the An Lun soldiers and what they did for the Alliance. Not only were their bodies finely honed killing machines, their willpower was also forged to be hard as steel. Only men and women like these could defend the Alliance from its enemies.
“You’re certainly an effective Drillmaster!” Lan Qing stood on a metal platform, overlooking the training field. As always, his voice was soft, hardly louder than a whisper.
Lan Jue allowed himself a small smile. He wasn’t wearing his mask: his face needed some fresh air.
“Do you really want them to undergo the selection process?” Lan Qing turned his face to look at his brother.
Lan Jue nodded. “So they can prove to themselves how far they’ve come. Powerful people require confidence, and confidence is the root of power. If they use their abilities to improve their confidence, they’ll improve even further. Then they’ll really be ready to stand on their own.”
“What then? What’s the plan once they’ve completed this training?”
“Make me a battalion commander,” Lan Jue said off-handedly.
“Eh?” Lan Qing looked at his younger brother in stunned disbelief.
Lan Jue’s grin revealed rows of pearly white teeth. “I’ve always wanted my own team. I mean, my power has its limits but these kids are full of potential. I’m certain, in a few years, I could turn them in to an elite fighting force.”
“You. Join the Army.” Lan Jue just stared.
“Not now of course,” Lan Jue said. “If what the Clairvoyant said is true, I’ll come and find you when the enemy appears. I’ll be your errand boy, how’s that?”
“You believe these kids will continue to follow you?” the commander asked.
Lan Jue looked over the students gathered below. “Step by step, brother. Why do you think I brought them here? I’m certain they’ll never forget their days on An Lun, long after this month of training is over. In old China there was a saying, wasn’t there? ‘Only the father and son can win a battle.’ We don’t know who our father is, but when the enemy does show I want to be by my brother’s side.”
Lan Qing’s rock-solid face crumbled just enough to allow a small smile. He raised a hand and patted Lan Jue’s shoulder. “We’ve got to get stronger!”
“Yes. So if these kids do manage to pass muster and get selected, you’re going to owe me something.” Lan Jue said through a smirk.
The smile on Lan Qing’s face widened still further. “Everything you’ve said so far was building to this sentence.”
“Worthy of being known as the ‘God of Wisdom’,” Lan Jue said.
Lan Qing shook his head. “I didn’t guess. I knew because I’m your big brother. You’re never so nice as when you need something.”
Lan Jue brought his eyes back to Lan Qing. “If – when… when the day comes that I can, I’m going to beat the ever loving crap out of you.”
Lan Qing met his gaze. “I’m looking forward to it. Now let’s get going.”
“Go where?” Lan Jue asked.
“I’ve helped you train your Tai chi, and I see you’ve improved considerably. You have to keep it up.”
Lan Jue’s face scrunched in displeasure. “Don’t give me that. You just want to smack me around some more.”
Fifty-one students stood in five rows. Their faces were still, devoid of expression. This, and their dark flight suits, lent to the faint aura of deadliness that had begun to follow them.
Lan Jue, in his golden masked, stood before them. Tan Lingyun, Wang Hongyuan, Mika and Xiuxiu where fanned out to his left and right.
“It’s been nearly a month since we’ve arrived. Soon we’ll be heading back. This means that the second portion of our overall training is complete. It’s time to leave An Lun.” Lan Jue’s voice was soft, but carried well.
The students stood in formation, absolutely still. No one dared move, or make a sound. They were like statues, dangerous statues. At the very least, they were much more disciplined than when they’d first arrived.
But there was more in their eyes; loss.
Their time here on this famed planet was – literally and figuratively – a world different than the live they’d lived on Skyfire. They didn’t even want to consider time during the first month of training. Every day was a battle against the pain that consumed them, to where they hardly wished to live. They didn’t even want to remember those awful days.
But here, on An Lun, things were different. Although they were weary, beaten down, and in pain, but they felt enriched. They were learning knew things every day, things they they lapped up like a thirsty man in the desert. They could all feel the vast improvements they’ve made since classes started.
The impractical and showy fisticuffs they’d shown up with were gone. They’d learned the proper way to fight, simple and direct without any unneeded flare. Efficiency, callousness, obeisance and fearlessness – that was who they were now. These were things they learned from the soldiers, things only the elite could understand.
Many were surprised to discover that they liked it here. Only those who fit in could see, could understand the industrious and hardworking life the soldiers had here, and why they liked it.
In this world of steel and iron, every one of them had grown tremendously. And not just in power, either. They’d arrived as boys and girls, but now they were men and women. Now they were on their way to being warriors.
And now it was time to leave? The last two months were all that was left in their memory, that torment and torture and surprise and elation. It was almost done. At the outset the number of students who’d wanted out were innumerable. But that fear and loathing were gone, now they were struggling with regret.
Those emotional, conflicted eyes followed their Demon Drillmaster.