Chapter 245: Afternoon Delight
It took about twenty minutes in total for the students to pull themselves out of the water, throw on some clothes, and gather in the training yard.
It was a slightly easier time for the women. There were only five of them, so it was easier to distinguish their clothes from the pile and get organized. While their hair was messy, they were at least fully clothed, if somewhat uncomfortable.
The young men bustled among themselves.
For a dozen or so of them, their clothes had been cast in a pile. In the midst of their pain – and the fear of being late – they chaotically rummaged through the fabric in a desperate search for their own gear. In fact, those who got themselves together in a reasonable time frame were the exceptions.
Tang Xiao, for instance, had simply wrapped himself in two pieces of clothing; one on top, and one on bottom.
Flight suits were form fitting, and sadly Tang Xiao had been unable to find his own. They were composed of an elastic fabric, but he was simply too large to grab any suit. So he had to improvise, using the two separate ones he’d grabbed for a shirt and pants. The middle was left bare, and his expansive stomach wobbled in protest as he bounded around.
But as comical and pitiful as he appeared, the other students weren’t any better off. Those with average builds were lucky, and they just grabbed whatever was lying around to cover themselves appropriately. Some of the slower students, they were dismayed to discover, ended up with no clothes at all. They had to settle with picking up whoevers’ underwear they could muster and running out to the field.
They were a pathetic sight, as they stumbled out on to the field. A number of students were still groaning. Residual tics and jerks still plagued a few.
Hua Li, Lan Jue and Chu Cheng were waiting in their golden masks. They stood in the center of the field, silent as the students desperately gathered.
Seeing them in such dire circumstances, it took everything Lan Jue had to keep his severe countenance in place and not burst in to laughter.
Tan Lingyun lead the girls in to position, all the way glaring daggers at Lan Jue. She snapped to attention. “Drillmaster. Assistant Instructor Tan Lingyun, reporting all our female students in attendance.”
“Line up,” was all Lan Jue would say.
The male students came in bits and pieces, led presumably by Wang Hongyuan. His figure was one of the lucky few where he was able to simply grab a flight suit that served its purpose. When he reported in, his tone was gruff and embarrassed. He stood to one side, his head hung and staring at the ground. The silver mask, however, retained its stoic expression.
It was an impressive feat, all things considered. They were all here, not one tardy student.
Lan Jue’s soft voice greeted them. “Smells good, doesn’t it – the smell of boiling people.”
Silence greeted his words. Even the groaning stopped. Who would dare single themselves out before this mad man? Who knew what other terrible things this monster had in store.
Now they were truly beginning to understand why the Drillmaster had chosen to call himself the Prince of Devils. It was a nickname that probably didn’t go far enough. Ever since becoming adepts, none of the students could imagine they would have to suffer such torment. And that’s precisely what it was – torment. How was this training?!
“Do you see yourselves? Like a routed army. As you are now, if you were really in a fight you’d drop everything and run like cowards.” Lan Jue addressed them, his voice both derogatory and disappointed.
“Director Wu assured me you were the best the NEU had. The university’s strongest and most skilled mecha pilots. Not according to what I’m seeing. I’m already doubtful there’s a decent pilot in the lot of you. Today’s class is going to teach you two things: First, I require absolute obedience in all things. Anyone who dares violate this rule, I have methods that’ll push the limits of what humans can endure. Second, you all are a team. As a team you will suffer as your team mates suffer. You will face the same trials and difficulties. These people around you, they’re your compatriots. Brothers and sisters in arms. Remember this when you make a decision, for it affects every person here. I don’t care who make a mistake, everyone – including our two assistants – will suffer the consequences.”
“This morning’s class will end here. You have an hour to get yourselves tidied up, shower, eat and rest. Meet back here when your hour’s up. You can be late… honestly.” The last few words were delivered with sincerity, the Prince of Devil’s intonation free and easy. But the gathered students weren’t fooled. They felt that chill running up their spine, heard the ominous wind at their backs. No one said a word.
“I’ll finish with a reminder,” Lan Jue went on. “Those needles are to be left where they are. Anyone who removed theirs, will be stabbed twice. Dismissed.”
He left, without saying anything further.
Once the three demon drilmasters were out of sight, the students were finally able to relax. Some left, a few immediately fell to the ground. Those of weaker mental constitution openly wept.
Very vocal complaints filled the air from all directions.
Lan Jue couldn’t care less how the students were reacting. Tan Lingyun and Wang Hongyuan would at least keep them from deserting. If they chose not to eat, and instead complain for an hour, Lan Jue didn’t mind. The afternoon class would be the same – largely because he hadn’t planned further than that.
Tang Xiao didn’t complain, didn’t belly-ache. He felt like his actions were correct, and didn’t waste time bemoaning his fate. He saved his energy for what was to come.
He fought against his tired and beaten body to find the one who had grabbed his clothes. Giving no consideration to the women in the audience, he quickly disrobed and switched clothing. Thankfully he had underwear to preserve some semblance of dignity. Once changed, he teetered away.
“Girls, with me!” Tan Lingyun’s commanding voice rang out over the field. Her own needle glinted in the light, still sticking out of her chest. It prevented her from using her Discipline, but the Savage Goddess’ physical fitness was already far and away better than most. She supported a couple of the girls as they limped off the field.
Tang Mi was silent, her face gloomy. The exhaustion, the discomfort she felt didn’t bother her. What did, was the fact that she had been propped up as an example of what not to be. Though none of the other students said anything, the look in their eyes was clear enough as they stared at her.
She pondered just how poorly this would have ended up, had she been a boy. Whether or not it was that loathsome drillmaster’s intention, the implication had been the morning’s torture lay squarely on her shoulders.
Tang Mi was not a spoiled girl, but she had always been talented even when she was young. She was no ordinary girl, as was evident by the fact she was the most skillful female student the NEU had. Never before had she encountered such treatment in her short, blessed life.
The pain she felt, both physically and emotionally, fundamentally altered her view of the world.
“Little Mi, don’t think too much about it. Let’s go eat.” Qianlin wrapped an arm around Tang Mi’s, and spoke gently to her friend.
Tang Mi nibbled absent-mindedly on her lower lip. She looked at Qianlin with red-rimmed eyes.
Qianlin responded by wrapping her in a hug. “Don’t think about it. We’re all in the same boat. What happened was a result of you being late, this was the Drillmaster’s plan all along. After all, why else would he prepare so many needles?” When she spoke, her voice was purposefully louder, so that the students around them couldn’t help but hear.
Tang Mi nodded her head, ever so slightly.
“Let’s go,” Tan Lingyun called to them. “We’ve only got an hour.”
Her jaw set, Tang Mi followed Qianlin towards Tan Lingyun and the exit. The other two girls were close behind.
The students rinsed themselves off and, with no time to change clothes, followed the worker’s instructions to the cantina. Upon smelling that full-bodied aroma, and seeing those steaming plates of food, the students were finally beginning to feel like they’d escaped the depths of hell.
They had an expansive spread to choose from, with at least ten different meals to choose from. Nine of them were meat dishes, and the tenth being a vegetable soup.
The students stumbled around, preparing to eat. The residual effects of their morning ‘training’ remained, and there wasn’t a soul present who wasn’t limping from the trauma.
The cafeteria was a bustle of activity.
Tang Xiao took to the food with a vengeance. It wasn’t so much eating as it was viciously throwing food at his stomach. At one point he’d managed to cram an entire drumstick in his mouth, extricating only the bone. He chewed just enough so as not to choke and swallowed it down.
They ate like ravenous animals, and to a man each student felt like their stomachs were bottomless pits. No matter what or how much they are, it was never enough. The women were no exception. No one was concerned with appearances at this point.
An hour was all they had, and it was hardly enough. Every one of them ate while staring fixedly at the clock. At this moment being late was their primary fear – after all, that hellish drillmaster had told them it was all for one. A single student could ruin it for everybody. No one was interested in suffering the murderous stares of their peers. Tang Mi might have been uncertain how they would react, but they understood quite clearly.
An hour later, every student was standing at attention in the training field. A few of them burped, still working through their lunch.
The three drillmasters were punctual, already waiting when the students arrived. In their golden masks, they really were like demons.
It couldn’t be said that the students’ clothes were tidy at this point, but they were at least in far better straights than earlier. The girls had showered and put their clothes right, but their hair remained a mess. They’d had no time to comb their hair.
Lan Jue regarded them calmly. Eventually, he spoke. “I trust you enjoyed your lunch. Our training is nothing if not humane, so you’ll find this afternoon’s class to be gentler. You just ate, after all. So we’ll keep the physical exhaustion to a minimum.”
Humane? Do you even know what that word means? The flabbergasted sentiment rang in the heads of every student. Of course no one had the gall to say it out loud. They still had the desire to survive this ‘training.’
Lan Jue waved at a group of workers standing nearby. They approached the students, bearing trays.
“Four for each of you. Rest them in the palms of your hands.” Lan Jue commanded.
As the trays arrived before the students, they noticed they were filled with razor blades. No, they were scalpel heads, like those used for operations. They were about an inch long, and half an inch wide – and exceptionally sharp.