When Ling Qin heard what Ling Yu said, his attitude gentled considerably. Shaking his head, he sighed, "Oh you, why didn't you say anything and just take all the blame on your shoulders? Youngster Hua, don't push yourself too hard. This time, you all still made it in time, otherwise my old bones would have been ended here today."
Ling Hua had been raised single-handedly by Ling Qin, which was why Ling Qin was so harsh on him. The deeper the love, the greater the expectation — Ling Qin had very high expectations of Ling Hua, cultivating him as his successor. It was his hope that after he passed away, Ling Hua would be able to take over his position and continue to protect the Ling family, Ling Lan, and her future children.
Still, perhaps Ling Qin had been too harsh on him, causing Ling Hua's personality to become increasingly reserved, bottling everything up inside his heart. Even when he had been wrongfully accused, he would still keep quiet, silently taking all the blame.
This time, Ling Hua reacted in the same way. Although Ling Yu had explained on his behalf, and Ling Qin did not continue to berate him, Ling Hua still couldn't get over his own inner guilt, saying, "Sorry, Teacher, I have disappointed you."
Ling Hua's fierce eyes were filled with pain and self-remonstration — his carelessness and wrongful judgement this time had almost ended in disaster, causing him to feel extremely ashamed.
Ling Yu felt that he could not let his team captain continue to blame himself; the pressure upon his captain was just too intense. He looked around briefly, and saw no sign of Ling Lan. His expression changed drastically as he asked, "Elder Qin, what's going on? Where's Young Master Lan? Why don't I see Young Master Lan? Did something happen?"
Ling Qin hurried to reassure him, "It's fine, it's fine, Young Master Lan is very well. He's just in hiding!"
He turned his head to look at Ling Hua, chuckling, "Young Master Lan is ... very intelligent, and also very level-headed. I believe that he won't be any worse than any of the previous Ling family heads — you'll like him."
Ling Qin's tone was full of pride — the rationality and calmness Ling Lan had displayed during moments of crisis was just too remarkable. Even Ling Lan's father Ling Xiao might not have done any better than Ling Lan at six years old.
Although Ling Qin had jumped out of the car at the same time as Ling Lan, Ling Qin had still spared some attention to keep an eye on Ling Lan's actions, afraid that Ling Lan would make a mistake under pressure. Unexpectedly, Ling Lan's conduct had thrilled him immensely — be it choosing a piece of debris to hide behind in mid-air, or even the handling of her landing, everything had been almost perfect. In the end, it was Ling Qin's hiding spot that had been discovered instead, forcing him to battle just for the hope of survival.
The more Ling Qin thought about it, the happier he became, and the smile on his face deepened accordingly. Perhaps grandparental love was a part of human nature, prompting elders in the family to take solace and fawn easily over their grandchildren and those of the same generation. Ling Qin selectively chose to forget that at six years old, Ling Xiao had already been thrown by his own father into the wilderness for survival training. In terms of resilience and keeping cool under pressure, Ling Xiao was certainly no weaker than the current Ling Lan.
At Ling Qin's words, Ling Hua's raised brows revealed his astonishment, but his expression was quickly smoothed back into his usual calm mask as he asked, "Teacher, then where is Young Master Lan now?"
Ling Qin signalled for them to walk with him. The three of them walked past several patches of shrubs and arrived at that wide expanse of flat plain, spreading out before them without a single hiding place in sight.
Looking out at this scene, the mature and reliable Ling Hua did not react in any way, patiently waiting for Chamberlain Ling Qin to explain. However, the young Ling Yu could not hold back his confusion, and asked, "Elder Qin, there's no place for anyone to hide here. Why did you bring us here? To look at the scenery? What's so interesting about a plot of yellow soil? It would be better to find Young Master Lan instead, so that we can protect him better."
Ling Yu's words implied that Chamberlain Ling Qin shouldn't fool around with them any longer, that finding Young Master Ling Lan was more important.
Ling Qin glared at Ling Yu irritably, and smacked him on the head, barking, "You rascal, am I that unreliable? Dammit, don't speak up if you know nothing. Disgraceful! Just keep following me and you'll see."
Ling Qin continued to lead the two of them forward, muttering all the way, "Really, you've been following after your team captain for around two to three years already, why haven't you learnt the least bit of composure? Still so impatient ..." Ling Qin was somewhat puzzled — Ling Hua was so steady; after being in constant contact with him for these two to three years, Ling Yu's character should have settled down somewhat as well. Why was he still so restless? In the future, how would he take over Ling Hua's position to become the next mecha squad captain?
Ling Yu pulled a long face behind Ling Qin's back, twitching his brows and eyes at his captain as if asking him — had Elder Qin always been so naggy like this?
Ling Hua smiled wryly, communicating with his eyes that Ling Yu should just bear with it — he himself was already used to this.
Ling Qin finally arrived at the piece of debris Ling Lan had used to conceal herself, and he chuckled as he asked the two men beside him, "Do you sense anything?"
Ling Hua looked at that piece of debris before them, and his eyes flashed, thoughtfulness stealing over his face. Meanwhile, Ling Yu's face was full of bewilderment, seemingly completely clueless about what Chamberlain Ling Qin meant. Before him was obviously a flat piece of land — even if there was a small sheet of metal on top of it, it was still just a flat piece of land. There was really no place at all for someone to hide here, right? After all, could anyone be as thin as a piece of paper?
Ling Hua squatted down and touched the sheet of metal. "Young Master Lan should be right below this, right? It is indeed a great hiding place. Young Master Lan is very smart."
At Ling Hua's words, Ling Qin's smile grew even wider, causing his relatively wrinkle-free face to crinkle up into a smile as vibrant as a blooming flower. "That's right, Young Master Lan is just below." Squatting down as well, he knocked gently on the metal sheet, saying, "Young Master Lan, it's safe now, come out quickly."
The metal plate remained motionless, as if no one was below it. But just as Ling Yu started to wonder if Chamberlain Ling Qin was going senile, misremembering the location, the metal plate actually started to move. It twitched and then lifted up slightly, revealing a tiny gap between the plate and the ground.
Although the gap was really really narrow, Ling Yu could still clearly see the difference. He looked on with a face full of astonishment — who'd have guessed that there was really someone hiding below?
When Ling Lan saw that the person standing outside was really Ling Qin, she excitedly threw off the metal plate on top of her, jumped out of the hole, and hugged Ling Qin tight. As she did so, her little body was actually trembling.
Ling Qin sighed, and hugged Ling Lan in return. Although Ling Lan had reacted well under pressure, making all the right decisions, she was still just a child after all. That life and death situation must have really frightened her.
Ling Hua and Ling Yu could now see the ground below the metal sheet, and so finally understood how Ling Lan had managed to hide herself under it. There was a deep man-shaped ditch in the ground, perfectly sized for Ling Lan's body. As such, the sheet would cover it completely when Ling Lan was inside, and still remain parallel to the ground. This would lead outside observers to believe that it was just flat ground, and utterly dismiss the metal sheet.
Ling Hua looked at Ling Lan with a complex gaze. This ditch was most likely forcefully created by Ling Lan at the moment she landed — this meant that their little master was not to be taken lightly, both in terms of strength and situational adaptability. No wonder Chamberlain Ling Qin was so pleased — with Ling Lan in the family, the Ling family would never fall.
Still, due to her young age, she was unable to keep calm to the end yet, and was starting to show signs of aftershock now.
Ling Lan seemed to take comfort in Chamberlain Ling Qin's hug, and when she lifted her head once more, her face had regained its usual calmness, and her eyes no longer held the remnants of fear and shock that they had when he first saw her. Ling Hua nodded to himself. Their Young Master Lan's mental resilience seemed to be exceptional, and she seemed able to adjust her emotions well. As expected of a child who inherited their Master Ling Xiao's excellent genes — several years later, she would certainly be able to become an ace operator, perhaps even a royal operator ...
Ling Hua directed a friendly smile at Ling Lan — he wasn't good with words, and he also had no idea how to interact with a child, but he couldn't go wrong with a smile.
Ling Lan glanced at him curiously, and then tugged lightly on Chamberlain Ling Qin's sleeve, silently asking for Chamberlain Ling Qin to introduce these two men to her.
Ling Qin pointed at Ling Hua and said, "He's called Ling Hua, a Ling family loyalist, captain of the Ling family mecha force, responsible for the master's safety when he is out working. This time, he's in charge of the squad guarding us in secret." And then he pointed at Ling Yu, who had been trying to pose as a big brother figure beside Ling Lan, and said, "This brat is called Ling Yu. He's a member of the force, Young Master Lan can just choose to ignore him." With Ling Yu's erratic behaviour, Ling Qin was afraid that Ling Lan would be infected by it after too much exposure, so it would be better to just separate them from the start.
Ling Lan nodded at Ling Hua, and then asked Chamberlain Ling Qin, "Did something happen to the mecha squad, which is why they didn't manage to keep up with us?"
Ling Yu sputtered in surprise, "Young Master Lan, how did you know we had encountered some trouble?"
Ling Lan rolled her eyes at him, saying in contempt, "Why else would you all arrive so late?"
Ling Hua's gaze brightened unnaturally, but he quickly lowered his lashes, shielding his thoughts.
Ling Yu thought about it and couldn't help but agree — since the Ling family squad had not managed to arrive until this late, it went without saying that they must have been lured away by the enemy or had been caught in a trap. Why was he so stupid? To the extent that he was being looked down upon by a six year old child.
He could only rub at his nose in embarrassment and pretend that he could not feel Ling Lan's contempt as he replied seriously, "When we had just passed by Qiya City earlier and entered this wasteland, the captain was the first to notice a squad of mecha sneakily trailing Young Master Lan. To ensure the safety of Young Master Lan, the captain sent Ling Ze and two other men to draw away those mecha, while the captain and I continued to follow the both of you from far away. But soon enough, we had met up with another group of mecha which already had their weapons set up, who clearly intended to harm Young Master Lan. The captain and I could only open fire and draw way those mecha personally ... and then find a way to slip away."
Reaching this point in his explanation, Ling Yu's expression was dark, "Later, the captain and I managed to regain contact, only to find that we had all been drawn far away from Young Master Lan, completely losing any sign of Young Master Lan. We realised then that we had probably fallen for the enemy's stratagem of Luring the Tiger out of the Mountains. Thinking back on those mecha, they were better than us in terms of both numbers and equipment. It was still possible for the captain to escape, but at my level, I shouldn't have been able to escape, but I managed to ..."
Ling Yu was very depressed. He bowed his head, deeply regretful that he had not noticed all this back then, almost causing trouble to befall the Ling family’s only hope. If he had figured out the enemy's intention earlier, even if he had to fight to the death, he would still stick to Young Master Lan. Moreover, he would send out a signal flare so that the other members would be able to rush to the rescue quicker.
Ling Hua was also full of self-recrimination. This cockup was entirely his fault — if he hadn't made the wrong decision, Ling Lan and Ling Qin would never have been pushed into such a dire situation, almost losing their lives in battle.
After Ling Lan had heard what Ling Yu had to say, her little face was grim. "This couldn't be helped. The enemy's plans were detailed and well-connected — even if you all had figured it out from the start and rushed over, it would probably have been useless anyway, and may even have forced the enemy to be even more vicious. Isn't everything just fine now? Everyone survived — that's a good thing, right? As long as we live, there's hope, and we can do what we want to do, no matter whether it's to protect or to seek revenge ..."
Ling Lan sent a warning glance at Ling Yu. "I sure hope no Ling family member is a retard ..." She had noticed Ling Yu's yearning to die in battle, perhaps wanting to redeem himself in this manner out of self-blame. However, this sort of retarded action was something Ling Lan despised — she would not allow her loyalists to become this kind of person.
Although Ling Lan's words were a little blunt, Ling Qin was very satisfied. Ling Lan's words had been both gentle yet firm, managing to convey the authority of a master without involving baseless anger, full of understanding and mercy. With this, Ling Hua and Ling Yu should be able to truly recognise Ling Lan as their master.
The Ling family loyalists — although generation after generation were dedicated to the Ling family head at the time, getting them to serve with their lives still required the head to earn their acknowledgement. This was the Ling family's way, a part of their rules and culture — according to the old ancestor's will, if the current head could not get the proud family loyalists to submit, then he should have no business pursuing any grand ambitions. He should just stay at home obediently and focus on siring children, living out his idyllic life.
The Ling family had set the submission of the loyalists as a trial of passage — success meant that the head could go out into the world and pursue his ambitions, while failure meant the head should just give up his dreams and stay home, and protect the already established family assets.
As expected, Ling Yu's face was full of emotion. His eyes were no longer downcast, but were shining brightly on his face. In this moment, he had truly become Ling Lan's loyalist and was no longer just a Ling family loyalist.