Chapter 513: The List

    Chapter 513: The List

    "Understood, Drillmaster!" The students called out in one voice. No one else rushed to say they'd join.

    Lan Jue nodded. "That is all." He turned his back on them and walked away. The students remained where they were, looking at each other speechlessly. The expected return of their Drillmaster was at hand, and they suddenly realized fully what that meant.

    Lan Jue had pulled no punches in telling them about the danger, but he also promised to protect them as much as he could. The students felt it, felt inspired by it.

    "I want to be a soldier, and nobody's gunna talk me out of it. If it wasn't for the Drillmaster I'd have signed up already. My family always said I was good for nothing, well I'll show them. I'll protect them, and the whole Alliance! Without a country how could we have a home? What makes us different from those aliens then? I'll kill every one of them!" Jin Tao's spirited voice carried on the air.

    He was a very frank, very direct young man. In all the students of the class, he had improved the most. From the moment he agreed to start training with Lan Jue, he was a new person.

    Before meeting Lan Jue, Jin Tao secretly thought he'd never be strong. He never thought people would look at him with pride and concern, instead of pity and disdain. His family no longer looked at him like a waste of space. His desires to join the army never changed, though. He'd told Lan Jue that dream long ago, and now his Drillmaster was to become his division commander. There could be no better outcome for Dumb-Mutt.

    Tang Xiao chortled. "Yeah, you're the smart one, right? I'm definitely going, too. Your elder brother isn't so morally obligated, though. Listen. if I die under Professor Lan's protection, then that mean's it's lights out for humanity already. When it's war, you want to put yourself right next to the strongest person, that's the safest place to be. It's a simple concept. Easy as that. Let's go, I gotta take a shower!"

    Jin Tao's fire and Tang Xiao's practicality where mirrors of what all the students felt. Lan Jue, who had not gone far, secretly lauded his choice in disciples.

    Wang Hongyuan and Tan Lingyun fell in with their Drillmaster, the dance instructor leading the way. They left the small stadium and entered the nearby building. Wang Hongyuan led them up to the offices.

    "Back at last. You don't know how much the kids have been looking forward to this," Wang Hongyuan chuckled.

    Lan Jue pulled the mask away, revealing his true face. "It was always the plan, there was just a lot to do. Now that things are handled, of course I'd want to come back. After all, I raised these pups. I can't just abandon them, I want them to grow up strong. I want them to be a benefit to humanity."

    Wang Hongyuan nodded. "Where've you decided to bring everyone? At least me, anyway."

    "I've decided to bring them to Skyfire Avenue," Lan Jue answered.

    Tan Lingyun looked at him, surprised by the answer. "Skyfire Avenue?"

    Lan Jue affirmed. "Yup. It's where I come from, and I'm a council member. Those monsters will be here soon, and the Avenue's going to prepare by building its own army. We've got full coffers, which means the best equipment and the best training. They're going to be part of a force that will protect the Eastern Alliance."

    Tan Lingyun spoke up. "Why didn't you say so? If the kids knew they were headed to the Avenue, and were going to be so well equipped, no one would give up that chance."

    But Lan Jue shook his head. "I don't want them to join for the benefits. We aren't interested in numbers, we want quality recruits. I hope you both understand this."

    "Drillmaster." Tan Lingyun's self-control slipped for a moment.

    "What is it?" He asked.

    "Would you mind wearing the mask? I'm not used to seeing you like this..."


    Lan Jue fit the mask back over his face, and heaved a sigh of resignation. "Pay close attention to these kids over the next few days. If they make the decision, there can't be any reluctance. Leaving is not an option. I hope you both understand this, too."

    "Yes." Tan Lingyun was less uncomfortable now that his face was hidden.

    Wang Hongyuan shook his head. "Not a problem to me, and the students are smart enough to follow their own ideas. What about the university, though? How are you going to explain it to them?"

    Lan Jue waved his concerns away. "Easy to handle, I'll speak to them. We're going to need West Hill, too."

    West Hill was the closest military instillation to Skyfire City. There was enough space for what they needed. Especially now that they were creating the Star Division, they would need a place to train. After some thought, Lan Jue determined West Hill was the best place for it.

    With his connections to the Keeper, Lan Jue knew it wouldn't be a problem to talk the administration in to it. They had no reason to refuse.

    "I'l go with you to the Dean," Tan Lingyun announced.

    Lan Jue nodded. "Fine."

    As he suspected, no one opposed the idea. There were, however, some small requests. They asked him to keep special excursions to a minimum, and give two lessons to the top students once a month.

    None of their requirements were a problem, and Lan Jue agreed.

    With his business complete, the Demon Drillmaster replaced his mask with the three-piece costume he arrived with and left on his bicycle. As he rode along back to the school, he was suddenly struck with a thought, and pulled off on to a side street heading a different direction.


    Grace Hospital

    Lan Jue rolled up to the combination hospital and retirement home, and set his bike against a nearby wall. He pulled open the door and walked in.

    He hadn't been by in so long, and Qianlin had been off on the trip as well. His old friends popped suddenly in to his mind. He remembered feeling that spending time here felt renewing. Things were about to get very busy, and he wasn't sure when - if ever - he'd have a chance to make it back here.

    "Ah, Grandma Li - you're looking radiant! All rosy cheeks."

    "Grandma Zhang, how's your leg feeling? Hey now, slow down. Let me help."


    Lan Jue learned that Qianlin had been visiting the hospital a lot lately, and least three times a week. He, however, had been gone entirely too long for a polite young man.

    Reminders of his troubles with Qianlin made his heart sink. Their problems needed to be addressed, at least before he started training in earnest. If he didn't that painful distracted would eat at him every day.

    By the time he got back to the Avenue, the sky had darkened to night. He ruminated on the fact that he hadn't had a single day of solid rest since coming back. He stumbled in to his room and fell on his bed, bone tired. Still, he couldn't rest. Her image kept flashing through his mind.


    The night passed without incident. The next day...

    Lan Jue woke early in the morning, had his breakfast, than left Zeus' Jewelry Shop. He made the short trip across the street to the Gothic Winery.

    "So early," the Wine Master said in greeting. "Eager to embrace your new role!" He sat at the head of his long table, dressed in very gentlemanly attire, enjoying his breakfast. Bread, milk, jam, fried eggs, and a glass of white wine.

    Lan Jue pulled out the seat next to the old man, and took a seat. He took a glance at the fluted wine glass in front of the Wine Master before commenting, "They say only lovesick gentlemen drink sweet white wines. To drown their sorrows."

    The Cosmagus dropped his knife and fork onto the table with a clatter. "Do not disturb my pleasant breakfast!"

    Lan Jue chuckled. "I just can't stand to watch a prideful man gloat over his breakfast."

    The Wine Master didn't take the bait, instead lifted his hand over the table. He snapped his fingers, and in a flash of silver light a parchment appeared in his grasp.

    Lan Jue smirked at him. "What year is it? Who uses paper anymore?"

    The Wine Master sniffed in disapproval. "Paper is the best way to keep secrets. There are only two people in the universe who know about this list; you, and me."

    Lan Jue was captured by curiosity, and leaned over to get a better look. Across the top of a sheet was a string of script; name, age, Discipline type, specialty, mecha piloting rank and more. What followed was a detailed list of data.

    The top entry on the last was familiar:

    Name; Jewelry Master

    Age; Under thirty

    Discipline Type; Thunderbolt

    Specialty; Eastern martial arts and discipline integration

    Mecha Piloting: God-rank

    Below him was the Driver, then more familiar names after that. Not all of them had designations, either. Several of the names were true names of outsiders. When Lan Jue saw what it was, his face went solemn.

    The Wine Master went back to delightfully finishing his breakfast. Though, perhaps tellingly, he didn't touch the wine glass.

    He eventually finished, wiping the corners of his mouth with a napkin. Only then did he address Lan Jue. "What? Is there a problem with the list?"

    "Of course there's a problem. A lot of problems," he answered. "Off the top of my head, the mechas. If every one of these people are going to get a custom suit, that's going to require time. Where are we with that now? That's just one. Another thing, are all of these people even here on the Avenue? I've found a training area on NEU's West Hill. If we want to make a fighting force that means anything, we're going to need to understand that time is a factor. There's a whole lot to do, and only me to do it. I'm going to need help."

    The Wine Master fixed him with his steely gaze. "I'm here to work with you to solve all of those. First, the mechas. You're first - time is important. By our estimates it will take between three and six months before tailor-made suits are completed. But, your training can start right away. You've forgotten - DreamNet's upgrades are completed."
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