Those Who Learn Nothing (Lilian Rook)

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Those Who Learn Nothing (Lilian Rook)
Date of Cutscene: 15 July 2019
Location: Nova Heliosanctus/Arx Zenith
Synopsis: Lilian takes her experiences home with her.
Cast of Characters: 6895

Nova Heliosanctus, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 6:58am

Lilian had arrived exactly five minutes early. It was always five minutes; no more and no less. Just on time looks disorganized. Any earlier looks desperate. She checked her mirror, adjusted her ribbon by an imperceptible degree, determined that the hour she'd put into her hair and makeup this morning hadn't become any less acceptable, and that her uniform hadn't somehow become creased in the interim. Having little else to fuss about, she fingered her new seventh year brooch, absently feeling the empty space where her prefect badge goes every year, for the short time it'll be vacant. Tapping the smart device affixed to her choker, she swiped through the projected interface to check for new messages, and was just about to complain about the time, before she heard the pair of voices from behind her.

"Lilian!" both girls all but shouted at once. It was enough to break Lilian's gaze from the holographic window, dismissing it automatically, and finally turn away from the gigantic onyx statue of the Three Founders and its gold plaque. She stood up from the baroque reception hall bench.

Arx Zenith, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 12:55pm

Lilian had arrived exactly five minutes early. It was always five minutes; no more and no less. Just on time looks disorganized. Any earlier looks desperate. In the one hour space between her last class and this one, she had taken a twenty minute break, a fifteen minute beauty check, a thirty minute commute, and before that, a thirty minute shower. It saved her having to do any of those things around the austere steel, glass, silver, and polycarbonate architecture here that always made her feel as if she were under a magnifying glass. The changing rooms were the least busy around this time, but there were still two other girls on the opposite side of both dividers, which annoyed her immensely. Even after making it an entire year here, she still disliked sharing a room like this.

There were no surprises in the standard abjurative carbon weave bodysuit waiting with the rest of her second year things in the locker. She could tell at a glance it was a new one, accommodating the inch she'd grown over the summer. Since first period was always physical training, there was nothing in the way armouring or hardpoints attached to it yet. It still creaked in that new car leather way when she forced her fingers in all the way to the tips of the gloves. Compulsively checking her mirror again, she put it in storage, slammed the door, and marched out onto the bounded field, breathing in deeply the tingle of magic that washed over her when stepping through the fractal distortion outside.

Nova Heliosanctus, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 6:59am

"Eleanor. Sabrina. I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever show up. The welcoming ceremony is supposed to be assembling in seven minutes." Lilian replied. "Are you trying to make me late?"

"Oh don't be like that." Eleanor pouted, blonde and blue-eyed, and with a new bag that definitely wasn't regulation. "It's not as if you could be late anyway. Even if we got here at the very last second."

"Still, you should know where your own things are." replied Sabrina "We spent half an hour looking for that bag? Why couldn't you have taken your old one?" The brunette had cut her hair shorter than Lilian cared for at some point over the summer. They were still both the same height, and still slightly shorter than herself, however, so there were no real problems. "And you know you're not supposed to talk about 'that' on the first semester."

Lilian cut them off by turning and walking away, solely with the resounding echoes of her heels clicking over the inlaid marble floors, in exactly the way the high Gothic ceiling and stained skylights were acoustically designed for. The two girls habitually fell in behind her, walking to her left and right flanks.

Arx Zenith, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 12:59pm

Half the faces on the field were familiar. The other half were from Epsilon class, combined together for second year after fifty percent of the applicants washed out in year one. She had been told that was a phenomenal success rate, and that the trainees that year had been something special, but she already knew she was special, so she didn't pay it any mind. One hundred and seven fellow effective-second lieutenants were here, or would be shortly, and the identical suits made her uneasy. It still felt unnatural to line up and fill a designated place. Though her consolation was that at least hers was front and center of her block, it did keep her away from anyone she knew well. It did that for everyone, to minimize chatter and distraction. The faculty were stingy about that.

Lilian spent the last couple of minutes before commencement staring up through the kaleidoscopic mirage of broken glass reflections that hung over the field, letting the wind tease her hair, slowly breathing the ambient energy in and out, feeling the faint thrum of the leylines buried deep beneath the snow white grass and coal black sand. Thinking. She rarely "just thought" very much. There was always something to do. She contemplated the quality of the meridians belonging to the tall boy to her left, and felt satisfied that the "heat" he gave off at full charge was well below her own. She shifted her attention to the right, and reflected on the feeling of the unfamiliar red headed girl's more western-style aura. Like sampling notes in wine, she decided that she must be from a demonological Tradition. She could tell the girl was doing exactly the same thing too, because the redhead suddenly shuddered violently, and glanced nervously in her direction.

Nova Heliosanctus, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 9:03am

Lilian fiddled with her new prefect badge for the year, glancing out of the gigantic arched windows as she walked down the east wing hall. The view looked out onto the courtyard, and she wanted to see how much the aglaophotis had grown over the summer. Eleanor and Sabrina followed at her sides, a couple of feet behind her, talking about Eli in Silver class and the suspected identity of his new girlfriend, under Eleanor's suspicion that she'd run into her while spending her summer in a thaumoturgical lifecraft apprenticeship. Lilian wasn't even slightly paying attention. She was thinking about the sealed Book of Prophecy in her school bag, and how she might go about cracking it later.

"Hey. Miss Rook. You look great."

The comment dragged Lilian's thoughts away from the book and Castle Oblivion. Not many boys actually addresser her directly.

"Oh. It's you, James." Lilian replied. She didn't use his last name. He used hers. That was the arrangement with most other students. "I know I do. I have a mirror, you know?"

"Well, yeah, but I mean, more than before. It's been a few months." said James, now an additional two inches taller than her from last year. Same age. He was in Silver class while she was in Gold class, so they rarely saw each other. "You know. It's a compliment. You filled out a little over the-" He was interrupted by the two girls behind her immediately snickering.

"Well . . . congratulations on prefect. Again." he switched tracks.

"Why thank you~" Lilian replied. The exchange was completely pointless. They'd both been at this school for six years now. They both knew equally well that nobody else would dare run in seventh year. "I see you survived your little venture in Antegent biological research."

"Look who's talking." James laughed, though only very briefly. "I never figured you for the type to leave home and be a hero, you know? I was a little worried you might not have come back over the summer. A lot of people were. I guess now we know 'that thing' is too much to handle even out there as well."

"Oh like you wouldn't believe." said Lilian, a smug grin upturning the corners of her lips.

"So, same thing this year, right? Not a word from Silver class about 'that thing' to the underclassmen, and we get Friday and Saturday, right?"

"Same thing as last year." Lilian acknowledged. "Gina from Steel class already came to me and confirmed they still want Monday and Wednesday."

"Great! Great." said James, removing his hand from his hair and letting loose a breath of relief. "Superb. I don't know what we'd do without you. Oh, by the way, I heard that girl from sixth year . . . Gold class . . . Natalie, right? She put her name in for student council, so-"

Sabrina flinched at the name. "Oh. God no. Lilian you're not going to let her on are you?"

Lilian rolled her eyes. "Of course not. She probably thought she was being sneaky, submitting it by skipping the welcoming ceremony. Five years and she still hasn't figured it out. Honestly. I'll deal with it."

James gave a faux salute. "Thought you might like to stay apprised. I'll relay the usual back to the lads. Glad to have you back; there would have been a lot of broken hearts otherwise. Would have killed the mood at the party, y'know?"

"And when you go pub crawling after." said Lilian. "I know that bunch has been slumming it with the extras in Scarborough. Honestly, what do they get out of it?"

"You know how those guys are. Extra girls are stupid. Easy to score, easy to dump, can't text you or follow you home." James sighs.

"God! They're revolting!" Lilian replied, audible disgust darkening her features. "That's like fucking a barn animal. Just make sure it stays at that. If I hear that anyone is making mooney eyes at an unenlightened girl, I'll make sure they never show up here again."

Arx Zenith, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 1:00pm

The faint "pressure" of instructor Gerart's much more impressive energy made it to the training field well before the crunch of sand under his boots. The six-foot-ten beast of a man with his wild red beard and mane was promoted to Major during, not after, the Onslaught, so Lilian held him in higher esteem than her professors. She wasn't used to that feeling. Holding people in esteem. Not really, anyways.

"Welcome back to the fold." Gerart rumbled, assuming an arrow straight posture at the front dias. "I can't call you our chosen few, or the best of humanity, but if you're still here, that means you aren't gutless or incompetent, so congratulations on lasting longer than the failures you applied with. Those of you who make it through what I'm going to put you through this year, you'll have proven you aren't stupid for coming back too. I won't pretend otherwise though; I have a good idea which of you aren't going to."

The fact that he openly addressed her old classmates in Alpha class as failures made Lilian feel a little better.

"You kids had your first vocational, so your abilities are gonna be all over the map. Five columns, four rows. Katas for twenty minutes. Evocation for fifteen. You know how to do that, right? After that, I'll assign sparring partners, based on who won't kill each other by accident. We're keeping score on day one this year. Winners get cards for all extracurricular facilities for the rest of the year. Losers get the waiting list. You know what that means, right?"

The palpable aura of sudden, electric tension and anxiety running through the ranks made Lilian feel a lot better.

Nova Heliosanctus, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 10:45am

Half the subject matter of the class had already passed through one ear and out the other for Lilian. The first day of political science and world order was always dead boring, seeing as it always comprised of people sending in their year starting thesis and having the professor read them out for critique and discussion. Her own paper had already scored a perfect grade. Exactly what she'd expected from involving Gilgamesh, King of Heroes, on the subject, adding and stylizing his own input into her writing on "The Trajectory of Unenlightened Scientific Arts and Societal Values in Alternative Paradigms of Enlightened Traditional Dominance" for an extra authoritative and consistent textual voice.

Instead of listening to anyone else's opinion, sure to sound weak by comparison to her opening, just how she preferred, Lilian already had out the Book of Prophecy and the currently available translation data she'd gotten from Xemnas, copying her results slowly into her notebook file. The fact she was doing so was abundantly obvious, being in a class of only nine students, each given a wide stretch of the three-tiered oaken stands, with nothing blocking the view to the professor across a circle of bare floor painstakingly etched gold with sacred geometry.

She wouldn't be asked to stop, though. She'd had this professor for three years, and they knew not to bother. Said professor only bothered to direct surprise questions at those who let their eyes wander over to Lilian's work in admiring fascination, which was exactly what she was hoping for, just as much making any progress with the translation.

Arx Zenith, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 1:20pm

The katas were always mind-numbing, but that was the point. They were meant to be a sequence of bodily movements and postures designed to test every muscle, repeating the same motions and controlling one's breathing and meridian flows until one wasn't thinking at all, but acting perfectly automatically, focused entirely on the precise control of the body and spirit. It wasn't something Lilian particularly enjoyed, but she didn't hate it either, and she always made sure to put in an additional hour and a half every day, between 6:00am and 6:01am. She reasoned it was one of the few good things that the far east had come up with, given that doing so with a regular schedule heightened all aspects of the body, making one physically better than others, which could then be tested and measured, and more importantly, compared. In this Academy without real grades, she took things like that where she could get them.

It bothered her just a little bit to be in formation like this; in orderly ranks with identically dressed trainees, uttering the same syllables at the same time, moving as one, breathing as one, but she usually forgot about it a couple of minutes in. The rote motions were therapeutic, in a way. Left foot to ten o'clock. Slide right foot backward one half a shoulder length. Lower center of gravity. Draw energy up through the root. Split hands to ear and hip. Charge both hands from the solar plexus. Rotate both clockwise at identical pace. Release slowly from fingers to maintain a level charge. Stop at reverse hand position. Advancing right step. Pivot torso. Thrust fist. Release full charge into the air. Hear one hundred and eight simultaneous pressure booms and feel the collective wave of static. Advance to next motion.

Gerart patrolled up and down the lines. Lilian couldn't even imagine how fine his senses were to pick up on the millimeter deviances of body alignment he did, not to even think of how he could possibly differentiate and assess the energy flow of individual apprentices amidst the collective in and outflow of over a hundred people with each cycle. She just assumed she'd know what that was like when she was older. Every so often, he would stop to say something to a candidate, about their form or their meridian flow, but she'd rarely hear it; only when he came around to her, which was seldom.

"What's the young lady so pleased about?" said Gerart, appearing in her vision in a way too abruptly for a man so ripped to be allowed.

"Sir?" replied Lilian, not breaking her routine. She didn't really understand his tone.

"It smells of blood over here." the instructor asserted. She knew he didn't mean literally. "I'm not surprised. You're that type. I read your endorsement and your psych profile when you entered, like everyone else, but I can always tell. You're that rare kind that knows how to mask it, but not today though."

"You've changed your mind about something. Whatever you want out of this, it's not the same as last year."

"I wouldn't know, Sir." Lilian stiffly replied.

Nova Heliosanctus, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 11:15am

Eleanor and Sabrina hadn't followed Lilian to the dining room yet. The bell had just rung, and the two of them would be away offering Gina her ultimatum for the next little while, so it'd be up to Lilian to reserve their seats. The idea was a bit of a joke though. She had a favourite table, and everyone knew that sitting there was a selectively given honour.

Everyone except the first years on their first day, apparently. Lilian had barely entered the hall and set her eyes on the polished round table near the fireplace before she noticed the gaggle of younger students, with their opal first year pins and brooches, sitting in all nine seats, talking and laughing. She had arrived to a room with the atmosphere of people lining up to see Princess Diana, her own year class clearly revitalized to see the constant, central fixture of Heliosanctus that was her, like the snow melting in spring; the younger students looking at her with doe-eyed admiration, the bulk of the first years glancing and whispering in gossiping awe, the students older than her nudging each other to look and settle their bets.

James was right. Lilian Rook, of the Scarborough Rook bloodline, star pupil, seven year running prefect, student council president, second year achiever in the Immunes, having spent her summer with the Paladins and coming back for school like nothing had happened, had blown away most of her fellow students. The majority of the first years had apparently already heard of her, and had been out on some sort of celebrity watch. That was good. Perfect, even, but it also meant she had to be extra "clear" today.

Lilian walked unhurriedly up to her table with the eyes of two hundred and spare change students watching. As she approached, the first years at the table started to read the atmosphere, their chatter dying off, and those at the end of the table that faced her starting to stand up. A pair of young girls began tugging their friend out of the way. Lilian stopped behind a pair of boys who had yet to get the picture and were still deep in discussion of some video game or another.

"Excuse me." Lilian began, magnanimously as can be. The two turned to face her, then noticed half their table was staring at them, silently urging them to not rock the boat.

"You can't be sitting there. Don't worry; I know this is your first day here, so I know you didn't mean anything by it. But, my friends will be along in a minute, so if you wouldn't mind." said Lilian, making a little shooing gesture with her fingers. A portion of the table immediately pushed their chairs out, but the rest looked hesitant without a group majority, freshly bonded with the first faces they'd gotten to know here. All one class, it seemed.

"Oh, um, sorry." "Yeah no problem. C'mon Michael." "Is that really-" "Look at the badge, idiot. You want to get in trouble?" "I don't think they have control over tables though." "Christ, really, just sack up and move." "Sorry about him. Give him a moment."

Lilian stood patiently by, tapping her foot expectantly. Most of the first years were obviously feeling the pressure in the room. The two boys closest to her, however, didn't seem to be going anywhere. She recognized that frozen posture. They'd decided they didn't really want to, and now it was too awkward to back out of their commitment.

"Hey, we'll go sit somewhere else next time, but we were here for fifteen minutes already. There was plenty of time." "I didn't hear anything about this. If your friends want to sit here too, that's fine. We'll talk. My name's-"

Lilian leaned forward. "Look, I get it. You're ecstatic to be here. You got into Nova Heliosanctus of all places. Your families are incredibly proud of you. You worked hard to get here, and you're the best of your age to have pulled it off. It's your first day too, so you want to stick tight to the new friends that you'll be spending the next nine years with, and you want to make a good impression too. You can't just get up and walk off because an older girl told you to. It looks unmanly. Submissive. You've gotta show all these important people you have some backbone. I understand, really I do."

"But this is an ancient, prestigious school, built on centuries and centuries of rules and traditions. We take tradition very seriously here, because traditions are what hold us together, and what keeps everything working smoothly, long into the future. There are traditions to be respected here, and one of those traditions are this is my table. Do you understand?" Lilian said, a little too sweetly, and not asking a question.

"Alex, just come on. That's . . . you know . . . the one in the Immunes."

One of the young men bristles at that. "What's that supposed to mean? There's no magic allowed outside of the classrooms, and all the commons areas are recorded at all times. I read the handbook. You're expelled if you start a fight. I'm not moving. She can get another table." 'Alex' said, digging his heels in further with his irrational teenaged manliness on the line. "Yeah and there's the Paladins too. They wouldn't let someone who picks a fight like that stay. I know that" said his friend.

"Oh of course! Don't be ridiculous." gasped Lilian. "You really shouldn't spread the idea that Student Council President would assault a fellow student over a table! Spending time at Arx Zenith doesn't make you some kind of barbarian you know. This place has been my home for six years now. My respect for this institution and the people in it hasn't changed a bit since my first day."

Raising her hands harmlessly, Lilian took two steps back, smiled with a slow, reluctant tilt of her head, and-


Lilian grabbed Alex by the hair, dragged him out of his seat, pulled his head back, and struck him in the gut with the point of her knee and enough force to send him staggering off to the infirmary with contusions, before shoving him back into his chair. She swept the back legs out from under the adjacent chair occupied by his friend, and slammed her elbow into the center of his chest, angling all the force over the chair's center of gravity.

Exhaling, Lilian flicked her bangs back out of her face, and stepped back once again.


-without warning, Alex's friend tilted back and crashed to the floor along with his chair, rolling over on the hardwood and clutching his chest, eyes bulging out of their sockets at his struggle to breath; the shock had yet to set in. Alex himself abruptly doubled over in his seat and puked on the floor, resulting in a collective gasp of surprise and disgust from the rest of the student body. When he rolled over out of his seat, curled up in a reflexive, agonized fetal position, nobody even noticed the blood on his gasping lips. The rest of his friends went scattering away like mice.

"Oh my." Lilian remarked. "It looks like you aren't feeling well. Perhaps you should leave and go find the nurse." she added, in the same dry tone, hands on her hips. The older students were already starting to laugh. She could only imagine the unkind nicknames they'd have all year. She turned Alex over with the point of her shoe, daintily avoiding the mess. "How about you apologize for puking near my table first though, hmm? You can leave after you've cleaned that up."

Years seven through nine knew exactly what had happened. There wasn't a chance in hell that any of them would admit it though. 'That' was the open secret that any student younger than Lilian wasn't allowed to learn. That thing even the faculty pretended not to know. They'd all been wondering, of course, how the summer might have changed things. The answer was not at all.

Arx Zenith, Phantom Circle, 7/15/31AO, 1:34pm

Chu Xiao was an entire foot taller than Lilian, with a hundred and some pounds on her. Everyone in Epsilon class knew he was the favourite; he was the top pick by a mile in year one, drowning in girls, given his ninety-ninth percentile performance, his youthful good looks, and a body like a chiseled Adonis. Seeing Major Gerart pair him up with some pretty European girl from Alpha class still struggling to reach five and a half feet, with a kind of athleticism closer to a gymnast, the aura of someone who spends a lot of time in a castle surrounded by books, and entirely too perfect a beauty regimen, had been a naked surprise to a lot of people.

Of course, everyone trusted the instructor's uncanny, almost prophetic assessment of talent, but it seemed the graduates from the former Epsilon class of first year were debating with each other, or asking the Alpha graduates, if it was supposed to be some kind of punishment for something Lilian did, or to make a point to demonstrate. The chatter largely stopped once the Major set them to sparring, as it would become completely impossible to hear a conversation once the fighting started anyways.

In fifty four pairs across the monochromatic sand and grass, Gerart's carefully chosen best-picks at equals engaged in hand to hand combat, motivated by the conditions he had set out with a sort of too-serious desperation that he clearly approved of. One half of the class having round the clock access to all of the Academy's special facilities would be an enormous advantage towards making the cut at the end of the year, and being stuck on the waiting list would make graduating to third year exponentially harder. It wasn't friendly. Nobody held punches this time. The fact made them equally afraid as bold, and the Major paced about with a big, satisfied grin at it, bellowing "That's more like it! That's the smell of sweat and fear! You feel your heart slamming in your chest now huh? Your veins going cold? That's the littlest taste of what it's like on the battlefield! Learn to love it!"

It was a wonder he could be heard at all. Even the lower end of the second years, like those whose talents lay in second and third row combat assignations, specialized in things like summoning or remote reconnaissance, had still met the physical training bars for year one. The field was a deafening cacophony of fists thrown like gunshots, stomps and pivots shattering the earth, throws sending combatants crashing through rocks. There was a fierce breeze no matter where one stood, as the air rippled and pulsed with the constant popping of vacuum cavities and sonic wakes. Eruptions of light and colour punctuated the duels between pairs, as the Major had authorized meridian energy projection attacks for this year.

"Ground fighting Abboud! Ground fighting! Don't make me tell you again! If I see aerial combat again I'll break your spine and see if that makes you appreciate standing on your own two feet!" he yelled. "Alice that's pathetic! Do you want to wash out, huh?! Hit him like you mean it or you can go home right now! If I don't see a bruise on him by the end of this period, guess what's in store for you!"

Chu himself, standing at the opposite of Lilian across the thirty meter flat pit cleared for them, looked a little confused about the whole thing as well. He wasn't a bad guy, but the pairing was clearly meant to be some sort of demonstration. He wouldn't move until the instructor meandered back around and told them what he expected. Until then, he smiled awkwardly at Lilian, tapping the back of his neck.

"Hi. First time we've met. Chu Xiao, from Epsilon class. Cipher Adversary, Crimson Sword. Pleased to meet you." offered Chu, trying his winning best.

"Lilian Rook. Alpha class. Immaculate Extinguisher, Crimson Sword as well, same as you. A pleasure." replied Lilian. There was no hint of it in her voice, but she too was wondering what the hell this could possibly be about. Even if she secretly trained double what everyone else but the biggest meatheads did, the difference in a hand to hand fight here would be ridiculous. She went to a sorcery school. Chu was from a temple academy. She'd picked up fighting last year, and he'd been doing this kind of thing since he was a child. Her fingers clenched and unclenched slowly, reflexively feeling for the scabbard of Night Mist that wasn't there.

"Ah, rough deal." Chu said sympathetically. "Unless you're a resilience-type Immaculate, basic combatives are a raw deal for either of those types."

Lilian shrugged, wearing a resigned smile. "There's a reason they call first period 'Adversary Class'. I'll get over it." Inwardly, she was already fuming. Assessing her options, she decided the least awful way to proceed would be the 'go easy on me, I'm a girl' route, right before Gerart showed up.

The Major interrupted the attempt at conversational smoothing-over by stomping to the edge of the pit between them, burly arms crossed over his chest, and clearing his throat with a bass rumble. "What's the meaning of this pity party over here? Is this the way the big stars of Alpha and Episilon talk to each other? Where's the teeth? The snarling and growling?!"

Chu, attempting to be the bigger man, turned towards the instructor, starting with "Sir, I just don't think-"

Gerart cut him off. "Rook!" he bellowed.

"Yes Sir?" Lilian replied automatically, snapping to attention, heart beating fast.

"You are not permitted to use magic. Do I make myself clear?" said Gerart, dead serious.

"With respect Sir, that's the normal rule! If anything, you should be letting her use whatever her magic is! It isn't fair to put her up to this otherwise. Is this a disciplinary action? If so, I'd rather just split the punishment." said Chu.

"I repeat, Rook." said Gerart, ignoring Chu. "You are not permitted to use magic. Do you understand?" The subtlest inflection in his voice became more apparent the second time.

Lilian was stunned, but too suspicious to show it, maintaining a perfectly neutral expression in her reply. "Really? You're okay with that?"

"Why would I say anything I didn't mean, Second Lieutenant?! That's the rule for this entire year now! You cannot use magic in this class! Everything else at your disposal is available instead! I don't train sports stars! I train heroes! Do. You. Understand?!" bellowed Gerart.

". . . Yes Sir. Absolutely Sir." said Lilian. Her eyes flicked to Chu, who glanced back in confusion.

"Good." Gerart growled, relenting in his volume. "It still reeks of blood over here. I'm sick of seeing such a half-assed display."

Chu, mouth half open in bewilderment, slowly turned towards Lilian as their instructor went silent, and then hesitantly took up his stance, shrugging helplessly towards Lilian. "I'll . . . well, no hard feelings okay? How about afterwards-"

"Oh just shut the fuck up, you micro-dicked pissant." spat Lilian, discarding her respectful and formal tone like the flick of a switch, all the trepidation in her eyes turning to dull, imperious, dispassionate scorn.



Lilian crossed the pit in one solid lunge, leaving not a footprint in the sand. Stabbing her heel down between Chu's feet, she twisted her knee up into his abs with two hundred times the force she'd used on Alex. It felt like hitting a brick wall, so she rocked back, pivoted again, and hit the exact same place twice as hard. Then a third time. A fourth time. She could see the carbon weave of his bodysuit distended to its maximum tolerance from the amount of kinetic energy stacked into the blow, so she stepped back, brought up both hands, and hammered a vicious barrage of knuckle pressure punches straight into his sternum, hitting his ridiculously solid pecs over and over and over again, until the frustration of it started making her hit even harder.

King Tyron flashed into her head, and suddenly her next punch became a vicious right hook across the side of Chu's handsome face, leaving a frozen ripple in his cheek. For some reason, Lilian didn't feel the strain of holding time still for this long all at once. The adrenaline was sudden and unexpected, but it didn't feel like just a physical high. She thought of Tyron's smug, shitty little royal kids, and punched Chu directly in the throat for good measure.


-stared for the briefest instant of shock, then a thundering volley of dull impact thwacks and crunches caused him to rock back and then double over, his flesh visibly distorting and rebounding as if struck by an explosion. His head suddenly jerked sideways, causing him to teeter nauseously, clutching his throat and coughing breathlessly. Lilian huffed loudly, already breathing fast and heavy without doing anything.

The fact that Chu had somehow not fallen over was practically miraculous, to say nothing of the fact that he choked out "I thought . . . you said . . ."

"I sure didn't see any magic, Xiao! You think I don't know magic?! You think this training field doesn't have equipment to pick up magic?!" barked Gerart.

"Then how do you-" Chu gasped out, interrupted again.

"Suck it up Second Lieutenant! Grow a god damned pair! You're gonna learn about the real world today, because in the real world, people have parts of them that are just like your fists and your chi, and just don't show them out of some twisted sense of courtesy! You're gonna learn today son! Welcome to the real world!" bellowed Geralt, laughing uproariously.

Realizing his instructor had just thrown him into the fire, Chu's combat instincts finally kicked in, and he came at Lilian as a blur, crossing the pit at much greater velocity than she had. Eleven combination strikes came at her too quickly to see. The air exploded in front of his fists and feet, thundering sonic booms rolling off of each strike. Her blood still pumping white hot, Lilian didn't try to deflect, dodge, or counter a single one. For this fight, she had already decided that, since for today, time was being her absolute bitch, she would make Chu's hers as well. She stomped on time's tail over and over and over again, almost delirious with joy over the sudden ease of it.

The martial artist didn't come even close to hitting her. After the first few missed strikes, his next punch fired a piercing spike of flashing chi, then the next leg sweep cast off a blazing arc, the following stomp shattering the ground and dragging up a wall of gravel shrapnel. He threw walls of debris, blasts of pressure, and explosions of chi this way and that, tactically covering all of his angles and blindspots, predicting every evasive maneuver, and Lilian was never, ever there.


Lilian ducked under his outstretched legs and stomped her heel into the second joint of his grounded toes, repeating the motion to stack force until they would break.


Chu clenched his teeth with a grunt of stifled pain, rapidly switching his footing and releasing a palm blast at his opponent. Point blank.


Liliean leapt over him, briefly inverted overhead, balanced on her palm against his head, then flipped down over his back and axe kicked the back of his knees, reeling her arm back to catch him by the throat.


A clean miss. It wasn't possible, but it happened. Something cracked sharply, and Chu dropped to one knee, reeling back from the sudden shift in his center of balance. Lilian snatched his neck in the crook of her arm, squeezing his windpipe in a chokehold. A joke, considering the difference in their physique.

Chu kicked off with both legs, including the broken toe and knee, to pivot over her and throw, reversing the grip. It reminded Lilian all of a sudden of being grabbed by Xianren, and it made her skin prickle and her blood boil.


With Chu frozen overhead, Lilian pushed and pushed on the inside of his arms, applying more and more force, until they began to budge, his muscle fibers unable to contest her while frozen in stasis. She turned and grabbed him by the wrist, widened her stance, and then mentally calculated the exact moment she would need to twist her whole body.


She had already escaped his reversal by the time he reached the apex of his flip. With his wrist in her grip, Lilian kicked off the ground and turned her whole body into a counter rotating roll, twisting Chu's hand in the opposite direction of his own powerful spin. It snapped, and he fell to the ground with a howl of pain.

Even then, Chu kicked his legs up and out, leaping to his feet, but with one hand dangling uselessly by his side. His stare was that of a man cheated. Someone so incredibly confident in his power that the moment he had felt it kicked out from under him, even just for an instant, it had filled him with contemptuous anger. He looked to Lilian, staring at her bitterly through dark and clouded eyes, as she stalked towards him. He said "Is this how you want to advance? By cheating?"

It reminded her of Vergil, so she released a furious blast through her own palm meridians when he caught her next punch, swung in real time, causing a blur of pitch black and scarlet red to erupt through the back of his hand like a spearhead. Lilian briefly considered it odd, because it always came out gold without Night Mist in hand, but didn't really care.

Chu hopped back to gain some distance and assess his options. Lilian leapt on him with dive kick having all her weight behind it, breaking the ground where he deftly twisted a hairsbreadth to the side. He caught her waist, and then she stomped on his broken toes again, weakening his grip in pain, and then she stomped a second time for good measure. Pinned to that spot, Chu used the leverage to attack her with a snap headbutt, but Lilian just aimed for his throat again. Chu fell on his back, and Lilian advanced over him. Preparing for the ground fight, Chu raised his forearms to protect his face and neck. Lilian smashed his groin with her heel instead. Chu rolled over and howled, and once he ran out of breath, Lilian noticed she was laughing. She straddled, cocked back her arm, delivered three more blows to the battered second lieutenant's face, and then found her wrist caught by Gerart's vastly stronger grip on the fourth one.

"That's enough, Second Lieutenant Rook." he growled. It wasn't a request. It also wasn't a reprimand. Hesitantly, she stood back up. She noticed she was shaking. Trembling from head to toe.

"I've seen what I wanted to see. Today's the one you get for free. You don't get to overdo it like that tomorrow, or any day after." Gerart rumbled, slowly and deliberately. "Fucking finally, I can make something out of you. I can work with this. Only question is whether you'll learn anything from it. Because if you don't, you're going to lose more than your scholarship and your card. More than I can threaten you with."

"Sir?" Lilian said, confused.

"Go get washed up already. It reeks of blood over here." Gerart coughed, before raising his voice to yell past her. "And one of you limp-wristed toddlers get this unfortunate boy a stretcher! If you have any respect for yourselves, your sparring partner is going to look like this by year's end!"