Chapter 267: The Same Spirit
“Your brother and I were beat pretty badly, but once we’d recovered we found our power had increased quite a bit. Me especially. My Discipline rank was very low, and the effects were stronger on me. I thought maybe I was wrong, and this was the best thing that could happen to me. And so I show up day after day, hoping he’ll beat on me some more.”
“Later, when your brother and I were formally accepted as his Disciples, the Master asked if we were willing to tear everything down and start anew. I said I was. That was when he gave me a very sobering opportunity, one that at the very least endowed me with the belief that I can accomplish my goals. I want to be strong… to be able to protect my sister, and my family. I want to make them see that I, Jin Tao, am not garbage. All I ever need is an opportunity.”
Excitement was alive in his eyes. Already he was like a different man, bucking the expectations and assumptions of his classmates.
“Your Master is also the Drillmaster,” Tang Mi asked. “You also study under Nooblet?”
Jin Tao nodded emphatically. “I do! This is him. At first your brother wasn’t sure why he was being beat, and thought the teacher was just cruel. Later he also saw the chance we were given.”
Tang Mi wasn’t sure how to react to the news. She was sure it was she who gave her brother this opportunity to get involved. And yet, if what Jin Tao was saying was true, why didn’t Tang Xiao warn her, or at least let her know?
However, she wasn’t sure she would have wanted to know. If she had had even an inkling what this Demon Drillmaster was capable of, Tang Mi was afraid she’d never have agreed to join this training.
She trembled remembering everything they’d been through over the last ten days. For the rest of her life she’d remember the feeling of that needle as it pierced her. Nine of them! She could still remember the feeling, like she was going to explode.
“Now that you’re done meditating you should go rest,” Tang Mi said in her traditionally commanding fashion. “The Drillmaster said we’d be continuing with the training tomorrow.”
Jin Tao shook his head. “No need. I still feel like I have a bunch of pent-up energy. I’ll wait here with you for a while. So you won’t be lonely.”
Tang Mi burst in to a fit of tittering laughter. “Are you flirting with me?” 1
“Eh…” Jin Tao winced, and gulped hard. When he spoke, it was delivered sheepishly. “No, no. Of course not, I swear. Never in my wildest dreams. We’re from two completely different worlds. How could you ever like me? I’m self-aware enough to know that much. Tang Xiao is my fellow apprentice. But if I’m bothering you, I’ll leave.”
Tang Mi looked at him, saw his discomfort. “What are you doing?”
She dropped her eyes and smirked. “Still so self-conscious. Just now you spoke so strongly, and then suddenly again with the personal abuse. That’s a terrible thing for your confidence and psychology. Even if you become a powerful man, you’ll still have problems if this doesn’t get fixed. You’ll get vindictive. In this world life really is unfair. There is no balance among people. Some people are born privileged, rich, comfortable. Some are born with innately powerful Disciplines. But everyone’s soul… that’s the same. At birth everyone is born with the same pure spirit, unsullied and untarnished. It’s the things we experience during life that changes it. Souls aren’t inherently noble or humble, so you mustn’t look down on yourself. You do you. It’s not about being better, or being the winner. You don’t even need to prove anything to yourself. You just need to be better, every day. That is success. You need confidence, handsome guy.”
Tang Mi snuggled deeper in to her blanket as her words hung in the air. The night was a little cold. Where it not for Lan Jue’s strict instruction not to touch him, she’d have fetched a blanket for her brother long ago.
Jin Tao sat still and silent, Tang Mi’s words running round and round in his skull. She was one of the school’s beauties! Even just their brief exchange was more than he could have fantasized about. She was a woman far beyond his level, and here they were talking. Calmly, amicably – it was more touching than he could describe.
He sat in silence for a moment, thinking. Eventually his eyes hardened. I am different, he thought. After everything that’s happened, it’s like I’ve entered another world. I’m another Jin Tao, now.
Lan Jue and Hua Li stood in the darkness a distance away, hidden behind their golden masks. They’d arrived once Jin Tao woke from his meditation. After all, these two were his personal disciples, how could not pay them special attention?
Lan Jue had planned to tell Jin Tao the very same lesson Tang Mi had. In the end it was better she did it, he thought. It seems to have been more effective coming from her.
“That’s a good kid, there. A fine girl.” Hua Li mused.
Lan Jue smiled behind his golden mask. “What, are we smitten?”
Hua Li shook his head. “I told you, didn’t I? I already have someone.”
The Demon Drillmaster turned his face toward Hua Li. “Why won’t you tell me about her? How can we have secrets between brothers?”
Hua Li chuckled in response. “I course I can’t you,” he said, his tone mysterious and playful. “I haven’t succeeded in winning her over, yet. If, someday, she agrees to be with me then you’ll be the first to know. You can share in my happiness.”
Lan Jue’s face was hidden, but his body language clearly displayed surprise. “You mean there’s a woman in this universe who isn’t already madly in love with you?”
To this, the singer snorted. “Perhaps that’s why I want her so badly. We always want what we can’t have. Sometimes I know it won’t happen, but there’s always hope. I don’t have very many extravagant wishes, and anyway I’m still young. There’s still time. Hell, next to you I’m young and vibrant.”
Lan Jue’s tone took on a gruff displeasure. “You’re a year younger than me. Go on then, tell me about this girl. Is she so beautiful that she can ignore the advances of our illustrious Poseidon?”
Hua Li shrugged. “You’re wrong you know. It isn’t about looks. I’m interested in her heart. She has a huge and righteous heart, who sacrifices herself for the benefit of others. She would give up everything to protect those dear to her. She is brave, and empathetic, and she reaffirms the strength in everyone she comes across. To me, she is perfect.”
For a moment Lan Jue just stared at his friend in stunned silence. “I find it hard to believe there’s someone fitting that description around here somewhere.”
Hua Li turned his face towards Lan Jue, and that’s when Zeus spotted the mirth in Hua Li’s eyes.
“There isn’t, I made her up.”
It took Lan Jue a moment to recover. When he finally did, he responded by lunging at Hua Li’s neck and wringing it. “Are you messin’ with me?!”
Hua Li cackled as he fought for breath, allowing Lan Jue to shake him around.
Lan Jue eventually let Hua Li go. He rubbed his forehead. “It sounded real. Hell, the look in your eyes was spot on. So what about Mo Xiang, then? Have you told her?”
Hua Li nodded. “Yup.”
“What was her reaction?”
A bitter laugh, muffled and short, came from behind Hua Li’s mask. “She didn’t react. At the time she wanted to murder me, and we haven’t said anything about it since.”
Lan Jue sighed, and shot his friend a sidelong glance.
“I kinda wish she had murdered you.”
- Researching the phrase lead me to an interesting work called ‘The Thirty Six Stratagems on Chasing Women’. It is, apparently, a more, er, specialized version of ‘The Thirty Six Stratagems,’ an old book on how to trick your way in to success. Maybe one day I’ll translate them. Here’s a quick search on the Thirty Six Stratagems if you’re interested. ↩