Time flew by, and very quickly, five months had passed. The atmosphere within the Central Scout Academy started becoming restless, for the mid-year wide-scale ranking which would decide the fate of the students for the next six months was about to begin. For the sake of doing well in this critical ranking, all the students in the Central Scout Academy were hard at work making their final preparations.
Ling Lan had passed these past few months uneventfully — not standing out, but not being lost in the masses either. However, after Lin Zhong-qing's challenge, Ling Lan hadn't fought with anyone else again. Even during physical combat class, when her classmates would spar with one another to improve, Ling Lan had also refused to fight.
Of course, at the start, in the first month after school began, Ling Lan would still enter the combat hall to hold sparring practices with Qi Long, Luo Lang, and Han Jijyun. But these practices hadn't gone on for long when, in one of the later battles, Ling Lan had lost control and seriously injured Qi Long by accident. After that incident, Ling Lan had adamantly refused to spar ever again, only allowing Qi Long and the other two to spar with one another.
Honestly, it wasn't that Ling Lan didn't want to spar and exchange tips with her friends ... She had her own considerations for this. Because — she had discovered that, when going through the Number Five's most recent so-called 'Ultimate Training Method', a strange fluctuation would appear in her mental strength after every night of training she endured. As time went by and the nights accumulated, this strange fluctuation just got stronger and stronger. She had been constantly nervous, wondering what this strange phenomenon would bring, but no changes appeared in her daily movements, so she could only set the matter aside temporarily.
But gradually, she realised that whenever she was fighting, especially when she entered attack mode, it was all too easy for her to descend into a bloodthirsty frenzy, and she would be filled with the desire to destroy everything in sight.
In the beginning, she had still been able to contain this desire, so she thought that she was strong enough to overcome these negative emotions caused by the insane training. However, with the passing of time, she found it harder and harder to control the force of these negative emotions. She started having doubts, wondering if something had gone wrong with her mental state.
After injuring Qi Long, Ling Lan finally understood. There was indeed something wrong with her — her mental strength had gotten out of control. Number Five, who was said to have driven countless talents insane, had similarly caused Ling Lan to develop a mental issue after tormenting her for a month.
Thus, Ling Lan no longer dared to join in the fights. She was afraid that she would really kill Qi Long and the others next time. If that happened, it would definitely be too late for regrets.
Qi Long and the others knew why Ling Lan refused to fight, so when other students challenged her, Qi Long and Luo Lang had stepped forward. They said that if the students wanted to challenge their boss, they would have to get through them first as they were Ling Lan's followers.
And there were those who really were sceptical whether they would follow through, but when the third-ranked of their class put forth his challenge, Qi Long had immediately stepped in to accept on Ling Lan's behalf.
This time, the challenge was again set as an Open Arena battle, drawing the attention of the students of the Central Scout Academy. School hadn't started for long, but the first grade Special Class-A had already requested for an Open Arena battle twice — this gave the upper grade seniors the uniform impression that this year's new students were certainly a violent lot. Of course, this also increased their anticipation for the upcoming mid-year rankings. Would the rankings of the first grade Special Class-A change drastically? If that really happened, it would likely establish a brand new record within the academy. Mind you, in the past, the rankings of Special Class-A had always been pretty much stable and unchanging.
Qi Long and that third-ranked boy had fought bitterly for an hour, the battle dragging on till the very last moment. In the end, Qi Long's will proved to be stronger, and his stamina was better, and he successfully defeated his opponent.
This result made the initially restless students shut up completely. Think about it. Even the third-ranked had lost; if anyone else wanted to challenge, they had better weigh their own capabilities once more before doing so.
Qi Long's reliable performance helped Ling Lan earn several months of peace, which also gave her time to resolve the troublesome issue of her out of control mental state. But as the mid-year wide-scale ranking loomed ever closer, the originally calm Ling Lan began to get agitated, because she had still not been able to find a solution to her problem.
When the mid-year ranking tournament arrived, she would no longer be able to refuse the challenges of her peers, unless she chose to give up on her results and leave the Special Class to become a regular class student.
This was a result that Ling Lan could not accept. After knowing what it meant to be in Special Class-A and having experienced all its myriad benefits, Ling Lan wasn't so stupid as to let it go. That's right, Ling Lan really didn't want to stand out too much, but she also didn't want to become a weakling. She still wanted to be in control of her life, and become a truly free person.
"I must solve this problem," said Ling Lan, clenching her fists tight.
Ling Lan knew very well that if she didn't resolve this issue, she would not be able to fight — the Central Scout Academy would never condone the existence of a homicidal maniac. Her loss of control was already at a rather severe stage. Now, whenever she fought, blood would flow like a river, and corpses would litter the ground. She could still clearly remember how she had failed in the most recent mission given by the learning space.
This time, the mission she had received had been to rescue a hostage. However, she ended up killing everyone in the target area, including the hostage she was supposed to save. Consequently, she experienced the learning space's punishment for the first time.
Ling Lan shuddered violently in recollection — that had certainly not been a great experience. The electricity coursing through her body, lingering, as she hovered on the edge of wanting to die yet being unable to die, wanting to live yet unable to live — that suffering was pretty much on par with Number Five's perverse torments. She definitely never wanted to experience it again.
Now Ling Lan finally understood. The so-called learning space was not a helpful cheat code (with the exception of Little Four), but was definitely a malicious glitch that existed to torment her.
While Ling Lan was struggling with anxiety and helplessness, in the learning space, the great Number One who Ling Lan had the utmost respect for was ripping apart Instructor Number Five's personal training space with extreme prejudice.
At that moment, Number Five was busily plotting something inside. When he felt the ground shake and the mountains tremble, he looked at the rapidly disintegrating world around him and knew that the situation was not good. But just as he was about to run, a large hand clamped harshly over his neck.
"Number Five, I merely intended for you to train up Ling Lan's ability to withstand pressure and hardship, not destroy her." Number One steadily glared at Number Five, a deep and seemingly unquenchable anger smouldering within his eyes.
He was someone who put his full trust in his brothers and subordinates — since he had decided to entrust Ling Lan to Number Five for training, he wouldn't interfere in the process. Thus, he hadn't been aware of the abnormality which had developed in Ling Lan's mental state.
If Number Nine hadn't been keeping a close watch on Ling Lan and noticed her strange behaviour in time to notify him, he might have only found out the truth after Ling Lan had thoroughly descended into madness.
Facing Number One's wrath, Number Five was still extremely calm. Helplessly, he said, "Number One, I haven't destroyed her. She's just reached the point where she has to choose a Dao."
Number One's expression changed. "How did this happen so quickly? My initial estimate was that she would only reach this stage four years later."
Recalling something, Number One's expression turned frigid. With mounting anger, he asked, "Number Five, did you break the agreement you made with me and used your Extreme Hell Training Method?"
Number Five laughed, and his eyes were full of satisfaction. With that, Number One understood everything. Overwhelmed with rage, he no longer held back, instantly slamming Number Five violently into the ground.
With a resounding "BAM", Number Five's training space was once again sent shuddering. Number Five's entire body had been slammed deeply into the ground, and only his face remained exposed aboveground.
This force wasn't easily borne — Number Five's expression was gruesome; the tearing pain didn't allow him to maintain his smile any longer. However, Number Five was unwilling to admit his loss just like that. He forced the corners of his lips to twitch into a smile and said, "Number One, don't blame me. Who asked Ling Lan to be such a great piece of material ... originally, I really hadn't thought of using that method, but every time I set an outrageous mission for her, she still managed to ride it out. You just don't know ... how every time she completed a mission, I would get that much more excited. Even more unexpectedly, in half a month's time, besides the Extreme Hell Method, she had already worn out my bag of tricks. All my insane training torments had been overcome by her."
Number Five's expression turned a little wild. "That resilience ... it's abnormal. I've never encountered anything like it before. And so I became reckless with emotion ..."
"So, you broke the rules and let her into your Extreme Hell Training Method for training. You didn't know that doing so would destroy her," said Number One with profound heartache.
Ling Lan was the first person he had truly wanted to cultivate as an inheritor, but unexpectedly, due to his carelessness, she was on the brink of being destroyed by Number Five. He, who had never regretted anything before, actually felt the stirrings of regret in this moment.
"No, I didn't destroy her, Number One. Did you know, she really passed it — the Extreme Hell Training Method — she's the only one who passed it and kept her mind. She has only become caught up in the confusion of Dao." The more Number Five spoke, the more excited he became, and his face was brimming with the fervour of success.
"Passed? You said Ling Lan passed?" Number One couldn't believe it.
"Yes, she passed. The only regret, is that she actually couldn't find her Dao." Number Five's face was filled with regret. In his visualizations, anyone who managed to pass the Extreme Hell Training Method, as long as they came out with their mind intact, would become a strong fighter possessing Dao. But Ling Lan was an oddball — she passed with a clear mind, but was unable to find the Dao that was right for her, and thus descended into chaotic confusion.
"How did this happen?" Number One was also confused now, since he had faith in Number Five's deductions.
"I suspect that it's because she doesn't have a purpose to become strong." Number Five's expression was a little strange. After spending these past few months with Ling Lan, he had gotten a vague sense of how Ling Lan thought. Ling Lan's thoughts were contradictory — she wanted to become a strong person, yet she didn't want to stand out and be burdened with too much responsibility. Even more emphatically, she didn't want to be weak, unable to control her own destiny.
As a result of these contradictions and doubts, although Ling Lan's mental strength had already arrived at the doorstep of Dao, its weight wasn't substantial enough to push open the door to enter a more profound realm. For context, it should be known that once a person grasped the power of Dao, all aspects of their abilities would improve on a vertical axis. In future, regardless of what they wanted to do or learn, their progress would certainly cover a thousand miles in one day — things that would have taken them ten years to learn before, would very likely take them only two to three years to master.
"What Dao do you think she's most likely to enter?" Number One's expression was grim as he asked this. Number Five was the most familiar with Ling Lan's condition — Number One needed to understand more, so he could figure out how to help Ling Lan choose the right Dao.
"Killing Dao! A while back, she failed a hostage rescue mission. The reason being that she killed everyone at the camp site, including the hostage," said Number Five with a smile. If they left Ling Lan unchecked, then with the passing of time, it was almost a certainty that Ling Lan would enter the Killing Dao.
"Unacceptable. The Killing Dao is too bloody, incompatible with Ling Lan's personality." Number One rejected this Dao immediately. Frankly, the Killing Dao was also an extremely good Dao, except that anyone who walked this Dao must be able to become truly cold and emotionless, so it was unsuitable for Ling Lan.
Ling Lan may look cold and aloof on the surface, but inside, she was actually a person who cared deeply. This was why she was willing to pretend to be a boy for Lan Luofeng's sake, and go through all the accompanying troubles. It was also the reason why when Qi Long and the others had stuck to her and insisted on calling her Boss, she had decided to just give in. It was why even when she knew Lin Zhong-qing was just using her, Ling Lan had still chosen to help him out.
"The Demonic Dao is also a possibility," choked out Number Five amidst laughter. He actually knew well that Ling Lan was very against the Killing Dao, so it was highly probable that her heart would become troubled and conflicted, resulting in an internal demon. If the internal demon managed to fully develop, Ling Lan would have no other choice than to walk the Demonic Dao in the end.
Number One threw a cold glare at Number Five, causing his exposed head aboveground to break out in a cold sweat. He received Number One's meaning loud and clear. It was obvious that Number One hated his recklessness, which had resulted in this internal demon forming within Ling Lan, which may force her onto a path that Number One found distasteful.
According to Number One's original plans, four years later, Ling Lan would very naturally enter the gates of Dao. Then, she would have been able to smoothly transition into the problem-free Sovereign Dao or perhaps the Sage Dao. This was the Dao that Number One had intended for Ling Lan, for it was the broadest and most straightforward of Daos.
Unfortunately, Number Five had interfered. Although he had managed to push Ling Lan to the gateway of Dao within a terrifyingly short time, because Ling Lan's spirit wasn't ready yet, she was now plagued with a host of problems.
"Looks like, Ling Lan needs to find her personal reason for becoming strong as soon as possible. But, who can help her?" Number One sighed. He wasn't good at handling this sort of psychological issues.
"I'll go." A clear voice rang out from behind Number One.
Number Nine appeared, her sweet face filled with killing intent, and the gaze she directed at Number Five was almost heavy enough to kill. Number Five raised his head to look up at the sky, pretending that he didn't see anything. Right now, he simply didn't dare to annoy Number Nine who was in full protective tiger-mum mode.
Number One's expression eased and he said, "Alright. Number Nine, I'll leave Ling Lan to you."
Number Nine nodded and quickly disappeared.
Only then did Number Five smile bitterly and look back. "Finally, she's gone. Number One, can you let me out now?"
Number One stared at him coldly, and then stomped firmly right on top of his head, sending him straight into the ground so he was truly buried alive. Then, Number One immediately disappeared from Number Five's training space.
Not too long after, Number Five miraculously resurfaced from within the earth,. His expression was at ease as he said cheerfully, "So not just Number Nine has developed feelings, even Number One is affected, becoming more and more human. The experiment this time was very successful. Ling Lan truly possesses the ability to influence intelligent bio-entities ... the only thing left, is whether this ability is beneficial or harmful to us intelligent bio-entities?"
"Still, it's really dangerous for Ling Lan this time ... did I really go overboard? If something really happens to Ling Lan, then wouldn't I lose a lot of entertainment? There's no other material with such resilience, capable of withstanding every single one of my newly developed training methods. Hm, yes, looks like I'll have to think of a way to help her overcome this crisis ..." Number Five was deep in thought — at this moment, he was completely unaware that he, who had never cared for whether a material lived or died, was actually worrying over Ling Lan.I really struggled on whether to translate 'Dao' as 'Path' or 'Way', but ultimately decided to stick with 'Dao' as it seems to just fit within the context of this story.A pretty straightforward Chinese saying, meaning to cover much ground in a short time.