“If you gave me these fifty students to train,” Lan Qing said, “They’d be eligible soldiers within a year. At present, if they meet a powerful enemy they will most certainly fail, and at heavy cost.”
It was rare for Lan Qing to speak this much, at least as far as Lan Jue knew. In simple words, he delineated each one of Lan Jue’s tactical mistakes. He explained the capabilities of the students, and how they were still not reaching their potential. Every detail was delivered, painstakingly explained.
At first he’d been upset with his brother, but as Lan Qing’s instruction continued Lan Jue’s features changes. He grew serious and attentive. As he watched it was clearly shown that, without Lan Qing and Lan Jue present, the winning side would not have been his.
The An Lun soldiers were truly like machines. They made for terrifying enemies.
At last, Lan Qing finished his explanation. He handed a copy of the recording to Lan Jue. “Inside is all the data we’ve collected. When you get some time, look it over. Pay attention to the soldiers, and how they react in different circumstances. From there, teach your students in accordance with their needs.”
Lan Jue took it with a wry grin. “I thought I’d figured it out already. Now when I look at it, though, I see we’ve got a long way to go. Thanks for pointing it out. Do you think they should remain for a while longer?”
Lan Qing answered with a shake of his head. “We’ve focused on their deficiencies, but the kids you brought have talent. Under your training, they’ve been given a strong foundation, including in their Disciplines. They’ve gone about as far as they can go at this point in the fundamentals. But remember, the strongest get there through actual battlefield experience. Now, what they need is to be tempered, not trained. Here’s my suggestion…”
Lan Jue nodded his head, while his brother imparted his knowledge. “I feel like I’ve been hard, but it’s nothing compared to what you’re saying.”
Lan Qing’s voice was dispassionate. “A short time of brutality so that they may live longer in the midst of war. Are you their father? No – you’re their drillmaster. You’re here to teach them how to kill.”
“By the way,” Lan Qing went on, “This one here has a noteworthy Discipline. Unless I’m mistaken, that’s a very rare amplification Talent.”
The video passed frame by frame, focusing on two mecha suits. They were surrounded by a pale white light, and the bottom one was veritably tearing through whatever was in its path. They watched as it cut through the ranks of the Iron Army, blades flailing madly.
The other mecha remained plastered to the first one’s back, and followed where it went. The white light was coming from that one.
As Lan Jue watched, he blinked in recognition. Wasn’t that Tang Mi’s suit? Who was that behind her? He couldn’t remember assigning a student with that sort of Talent to her team! He narrowed his eyes in thought.
“If the Discipline is pure amplification, it’d have unending uses on the battlefield When you get back to your pupils, pay attention to this one.”
“Yeah.” Lan Jue nodded. He already had his suspicions.
By the time he returned to the barracks, most of the students had already gotten the excitement out of their system. As the milled about among the crisply-made beds, they felt free and uninhibited for the first time in months. It was hard for them to express the sensations they were feeling.
Lan Jue did not immediately share what he’d learned from Lan Qing with them. Instead, he walked directly to a single room, and knocked on the door.
A familiar, charming face answered. As the door opened and she saw the golden-masked man on the other end, she shook ever so slightly. However, she reacted instantly.
“Can I come in?” he asked quietly.
“Of course.” Qianlin opened the door wider. She took a step back, her heart still racing somewhat from the surprise of his arrival. Since the beginning of their training, this was the first time Lan Jue had taken the initiative and sought her out.
Lan Jue stepped inside, and Qianlin shut the door behind him. It was a small room, with little more than a single-person bed. There was hardly any room to stand, and with the two of them there it felt tight.
Qianlin pointed to her bed. “Go ahead and sit.” In this private setting, she didn’t refer to him by his title.
Lan Jue complied, sitting on the bed and pulling the golden mask from his face. For reasons unknown, Qianlin felt a wave of relaxation overcome her as Lan Jue’s true face was revealed behind the mask.
“Much better without the mask,” she sighed almost unconsciously.
Lan Jue answered with a chuckle. “Why? Am I not myself with it?”
Qianlin nodded her head emphatically. “I think so. You’re scary with that thing on. Everyone’s afraid.”
“How about you? Are you scared of me?” Lan Jue said around a smirk.
Zhou Qianlin returned his smile. “Yeah.” She shivered theatrically.
Lan Jue couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright, I never thought you were scared of me. I’m actually here to ask you something. Do you know what your Discipline is? You were the one supporting Tang Mi earlier, weren’t you?”
Qianlin had guessed this question was coming. She nodded her head. “Yes. I just… could feel it. I just suddenly knew. It was all very strange, but it seems like my abilities are purely support. It doesn’t work on all levels, but it does seem to join with the target’s own Discipline and amplify it. Tang Mi and I gave it a try, and it worked very well. You saw it on the battlefield.
Lan Jue nodded. “Try it on me, let’s see.”
“Alright,” she replied. Qianlin raised her hands, and gently pressed them toward Lan Jue. Instantly, ripples of pure white light radiated from her palms and fell over her drillmaster.
Lan Jue felt a sensation of warmth and comfort wash over him. A pale blue light emerged around him like a halo.
He searched his feelings, and was surprised at the result. His discipline was full, surging with excess and… oily? No – but motive, surging through the meridians like a raging inferno. Though the addition didn’t push him through to Paragon levels of ability, it was at least half a rank higher with Qianlin’s help.
For Lan Jue, amplification to this level wasn’t enough to turn the tide of a battle. But the fact she could even amplify powers as high as his was an impressive feat.
Qianlin was currently a fifth level genetic Talent. Where she to use her amplification Discipline on an equivalent Adept, the results would be spectacular. It was a truly impressive Discipline to possess. What’s more, if she kept improving at her current rate, her powers would be able to significantly impact his in no time.
“I never would have thought you’d have such an extraordinary Talent. It’s support, but a wildcard.”
Qianlin answered with a roguish smirk. “’Wildcard’ doesn’t sound like such a good thing. Did it help you?”
“A little,” Lan Jue admitted. “It’s true that a wildcard has few individual characteristics that are personally helpful, but as a good support the benefits are endless. Since it’s very rare for someone like you to use your powers on someone with an identical Discipline, you’re essentially a universal amplifier. You can help everyone on the field to push against the enemy. Your Discipline is also very pure, and very gentle. I felt no ill-effects from your energy. This makes your abilities even more precious. Keep improving, you’re sure to be the primary support for the ARC students.”
There were three other support Disciplines among the students.
“I’m just trying to keep up,” she said.
“It’s been rough on you,” Lan Jue replied. “You’re thinner.”
Qianlin sighed. “I can handle rough. I just miss my friends from the hospital. I’ve been gone for so long, and they can’t get out. I wish I could see them. I’m sure they’re worried.”
Lan Jue gave her a reassuring smile. “Take it easy, I’ve taken care of it. Ke’er and Guoguo go there often. They’re helping you look after your duties, so things are good when you get back.”
Qianlin’s face lit up. “Really?”
Lan Jue nodded.
“Thank you.” Qianlin could feel her cheeks redden with heat. She wasn’t sure whether it was from excitement or modesty.
The questions that needed asking were asked, and the results were pleasing. Lan Jue prepared to leave. He was, after all, in the women’s dormitory, and remaining in a students too long would certainly be suspicious.
Just as Lan Jue was rising to his feet, however, Zhou Qianlin reached down, perhaps to grasp something from the bed. It happened simultaneously, and the result was what one might expect.
Qianlin yelped as they collided, and Lan Jue instinctively wrapped an arm around her waist. The force of the bump plopped him right back down on the bed. The arm around her waist pulled her right on to his lap.
Qianlin instinctively steadied herself with an arm around Lan Jue’s neck. Her eyes shone, and there was little bashfulness there.
Her soft flesh and feminine smell lingered between them, and Lan Jue pulled her tighter. For a moment, he really didn’t want to let go.
But this was the dormitory!
“I should go.” He said.
“Don’t move.” Qianlin said, softly.
They remained that way for a moment, in each other’s arms. He looked to her eyes, framed by long lashes, and didn’t have the heart to make her move. So they sat, with Qianlin’s head on his shoulder and Lan Jue unsure of what he should do. Except remain calm.
His heart didn’t get the message. An intense ideological struggle raged within. Just then the gentle sounds of breathing arose. Zhou Qianlin’s supple body relaxed as she slipped in to sleep.
Her sweet smell hung in his nose, with her head against his shoulder. In his arms, she snuggled closer.