Chapter 268: The Poseidon Program
Silence hung over the valley. The mountains hugged one another, bathed in the golden light of a rising sun. A new day begins.
The National Eastern University’s West Hill was also stirring, preparing. Fifty students stood in five orderly lines, buzzing with vitality, eager to begin. There was a hunger in them this morning. They were eager to continue their training.
The last ten days had been like a nightmare to them, but more than that it had been transformative. Just the memories of the training so far were painful to recall, but not one of them would ever forget. The torment of twenty years of harsh training had been condensed to two short weeks, but the results were clear as day.
Now that the seals were gone, everything was different. Every student could feel differences, some of them profound. Ten days! Though the suffering was beyond compare, it was a brief hell. The past was the past.
They rejoiced, not just for the passage and result of the last ten days, but because they were lucky enough to suffer the lash of their Drillmaster.
One sixth of their two-month journey was complete. What did the next fifty hold? What heights could they reach? Even if the future held suffering like the first ten days, the rewards were clear. Improvement was born of suffering, and they were ready.
Fifty students waited. The fifty first, though, didn’t join his comrades – he was still meditating. Tang Xiao’s body was covered in dust and dew, and he sat with the spiritual detachment for a monk.
Wang Hongyuan and Tan Lingyun stood before the students as assistant instructors, watching them gather. The emotional and qualitative changes they had undergone was no less than the students they proctored, perhaps even greater. The questions and misgivings they may have felt in the beginning towards the Demon Drillmaster had given way to respect, largely because his methods had seen results. Both of them could see how difficult this process was, and how much it drained him.
“You were all very lucky. Experiencing the birth of a Paragon is something that happens maybe once in a hundred years. Remember the power you felt – it will guide you for the rest of your life.”
Lan Jue stood at the center of the students’ attention, an intimidating figure in his golden mask. However, his abrasive demeanor seemed softer today.
“But it’s important to remember, this is just the beginning. The last ten days have been an awakening, tempering you so that you’ll be ready for what’s to come. The last several years you all have been like canaries raised in a cage. Now that I know you can take it, we’re going to spend the rest of our time here turning these canaries in to warriors. For the following twenty days, our focus will be technique. Your only job is to obey, and work hard. I promise you that once we get passed it, that final month will be an experience you’ll never forget. Completing my training over the next twenty days is the prerequisite, survive and you’ll have earned the second month’s experience.”
“Next we’ll be moving to our sim pods. You will not leave these pods unless you’re shitting, sleeping or snacking. It only ends when I say it does, so that sleeping I talked about, that’s not happening ‘till you’re where you need to be. Our pods have been specially adjusted for our purposes here, with electric shock devices installed in every one. If your heart-rate drops below a predetermined value, try to count the voltage coursing through you and get your heartbeat to that number. And this isn’t bio-electricity, which you’re familiar with. This is just your run-of-the-mill, high-voltage pain. Presumably your pain tolerance is better now, after so many days. Maybe. Now get in your pods.”
Five minutes later, the students had all found and entered their sim pods.
When Lan Jue told them the next section of their training would be in the sim pods, the students collective heaved a sigh of relief. Whatever the demon drillmaster had planned, it couldn’t be worse than the personal physical torture they’d endured. Sitting in the tiny make-shift cockpit was a far sight more comfortable than being stabbed, beaten or broiled.
None of them could see the impish grin behind Lan Jue’s golden mask.
Now we can get this training started.
Jin Tao ran his hands over the familiar equipment inside the pod. He saw it all with new eyes. I am a new man, he thought, no longer the piece of trash I was. I’ll make sure you see it, Professor. I won’t let you down.
The pod hummed as it started, but the occupants weren’t cast in to DreamNet as usual. The routines it ran were different.
“Training course commencing. Section One: Advancing, retreating, and strafing. The fundamentals of movement. Perform each action one hundred thousand times. Begin.”
Ten thousand times?
Jin Tao blinked. For real? That many times?
His surprise was interrupted when the screen flashed.A series of floating arrows hung in the air, pointing forward. Instinctively, he coaxed his simulated mecha in to motion. As his suit stepped forward, the arrow changed, pointing left. He moved left.
The arrows changed with each command, and he continued as instructed. With each correct movement, the arrows changed quicker. Jin Tao narrowed his eyes in concentration.
It was easy in the beginning, as the commands came slow. He felt his hands relax from the warm-up. However, as the sim program continued and the arrows sped up, Jin Tao began to find it difficult keeping up.
Too fast… this is too fast, right? Jin Tao’s brows furrowed as he struggled against the program.
However, he still wasn’t being overwhelmed. Much to his surprise, he discovered that – though difficult – he was hanging in there. The arrows popped in to existence, and almost automatically his hands were in motion. There wasn’t any means to test it currently, but Jin Tao was sure his hand speed was much faster than it had been. Maybe it was a result of the training.
Front, back, left, right. These were the basic commands for moving a suit. Even a child could do it. But the randomly generated commands were coming faster, and that’s where the students encountered their limitations. Moreover, it was boring! Four hundred thousand commands, he was asking. They weren’t considered crack students for no reason, so it took them little time to understand this was to teach them about driver fatigue.
An hour passed. Fingers, wrists and arms felt sore and heavy. Their bodies were already fatigued. Fortunately, their Disciplines were no longer sealed. Finally they could modulate their body’s output with their powers. This ended up being a curse more than a blessing, though, and they reluctantly continued.
Outside of the pods, Lan Jue watched his students from diagnostic screens. From here he was able to monitor the situation in each cockpit. He shot Hua Li a thumbs-up.
“Yup, I’d say this is mean enough. There’s some weird sadomasochistic thing going on with the Poseidon Group, isn’t there.” One hundred thousand times. Forget the students, just looking at the number was giving him a headache.
Hua Li answered with a shrug. “Guess you should ask my dad that question. I had to go through the same cruelty. My father holds the record for fastest to complete the segment. Eleven days and thirteen hours. I finished it in a little over twelve days. All I remember is crawling out of that damn pod, about half my original body-weight, seeing double. Not the most pleasant experience.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “I’m pretty sure this is classified as psychological torture. It’s a pity it won’t have much of an effect for me, otherwise I’d be tempted to give it a shot.”
“Yeah, forget about it,” Hua Li said. “We have the god-battle soon at any rate. We have our own pair training to consider, keep our bodies in shape.”
“Yeah,” Lan Jue agreed. “Speaking of, I wonder if Chu Cheng knows his uncle is a Paragon. More importantly, the Gourmet never accepted the mantle of Hades, likely leaving it for his nephew. It doesn’t look like our newly-minted Infernal Vanguard has any plans to return to his former family.”
Hua Li chuckled. “If I were in his position, I wouldn’t go back either. Life on the Avenue is slow, laid-back. Hardly any responsibility. I can bet the Gourmet has grown quite attached to the lifestyle. It sure is a surprise to discover Skyfire Avenue has so many titans of the Adept world though, I’ll tell you.”
This brought a bitter smirk to Lan Jue’s face. “You and me both, brother. I had no idea just how strong the Avenue really was until recently. It was like the two Western Citadels came crashing it and hit an iron curtain. But the Clairvoyant…” The memory of the respected, elderly leader of the Avenue filled him with a gloomy depression.
Of the Avenue’s Paragons, Lan Jue had the most contact with the Wine Master. After him was the Keeper. He only met the Clairvoyant a couple of times, but that didn’t diminish his estimation of the man in the least. In some ways, he was far and away superior to his two counterparts.
Lan Jue would forever remember the Clairvoyant’s eyes, orbs that seemed capable of piercing reality. He could see the universe in a way no one else could.
Hua Li sighed. “It doesn’t matter how strong you are. In the end all humanity must bend to natural law. The Clairvoyant’s help and accomplishments will never be forgotten, so long as humans exist. He will be remembered in the annals of history. He might not have been the strongest Paragon, but if you wanted me to pick one person who was widely beloved and respected, it’d be him.”
Lan Jue agreed. “You’re right in that. Now all we can do is swear to protect and maintain the organization he spent his life building.”
Hua Li’s answer was a determined nod. “Let’s go. We have some training of our own to conduct. I won’t go easy on you this time, I’m warning you. I’ve been enlightened by all of this myself. Today, you’ll know the extent of my power.”
Lan Jue looked at his friend.
“Pff-ha ha ha!”